Battle Luna – Snippet 07

“Probably decided to try something else,” Morgan said. “Maybe acids or a different type of cutter.”

“Or they’re just going to get more guns,” KC muttered.

“They need the Dunsland to move the Mimic,” Pappy said. “Right, Morgan?”

She didn’t answer. “Fine,” Pappy growled. “Either way, this is our chance.”

“Our chance for what?” KC muttered.

“To take the bastards down for good,” Pappy said, frowning. KC’s tone had suddenly taken a nosedive. “You okay, KC?”

“Oh, sure,” KC said. He didn’t sound especially okay. “My brain just caught up with me, that’s all. They’ve got machineguns. They’ve got soldiers. We’ve got paintballs. What the hell are we doing?”

“Our job,” Pappy said firmly. “So they’ve got numbers. We’ve got brains.” He nodded toward the Dunsland. “Let’s give them another cement bomb.”

“Okay.” There was a hollow-sounding hiss as KC took a deep breath. “So where do the brains come in?”

“Right now,” Pappy said. “Morgan, get your catapult ready. As soon as that new batch of shieldbearers are in position between us and them, lob your bomb at the tank.”

“They’ll just block it again,” Morgan warned.

“Yep,” Pappy agreed. “And once they’ve done that, while they’re floating back down, I’ll throw my bomb. They won’t be able to react, and hopefully no one else will have time to, either.”

The last word was barely out of his mouth when the remaining machinegunner abruptly opened fire again.

Reflexively, Pappy ducked his head, only then noticing that the rounds weren’t coming anywhere near his foxhole. Instead, the entire salvo seemed to be going in KC’s direction.

But not at his foxhole. Instead, they bullets were blasting into the steep-faced rock stack on KC’s far side, splintering them into stone chips and sending them spinning into the sky in lazy arcs.

“Too late, Bozo,” KC said sarcastically, lifting a one fingered salute toward the Ueys even as he prudently ducked his head below ground level. “I already used my bomb. And you’re a lousy shot, too.”

Pappy caught his breath as he suddenly understood. “KC — down!” he snapped. “He’s not missing. He’s trying for a ricochet!”

KC snarled a curse. “Son of a bi –“

The word disintegrated into a grunt of pain. “Aahh!”

And to Pappy’s horror he saw twin puffs of expanding air drift up out of the other foxhole. “KC?” he snapped.

There was nothing but a low moan. “KC?” he called again. The Uey machinegunner was still firing into the rock stack. “Report, soldier.”

“Yeah,” KC said. It was more a curse than a word. “Yeah. Okay. Got me.”

“How bad?” Pappy asked. He couldn’t see any more leaking air, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Even autoseal could only do so much, and it was entirely possible that the ricochet had dug a hole big enough that the suit would have no choice but to close off the affected area. In that case, one of KC’s limbs or a large section of his torso could already be exposed to vacuum. “Where are you hit?”

“I don’t think it’s too bad,” KC said through clenched teeth. “Shoulder — hurts like hell. And I think he got my helmet, too.”

Pappy mouthed a curse. “Okay, hang on,” he said, unplugging his direct line to KC. He started to unplug Morgan’s as well —  “Morgan, I need cover fire,” he said. “On three, start firing at anything over there with a faceplate, starting with that SOB with the machinegun. And for God’s sake, keep your head down.”

“If I keep my head down, I’m not going to be able to hit anything,” she warned.

“I don’t care if you hit him,” Pappy said. “I just need him too busy to shoot at me. One, two, three.”

He yanked out her comm cable, put his hands on the edge of his foxhole, and with a convulsive push launched himself out onto the surface. Keeping as low as he could, his skin crawling with anticipation of the bullet that was surely on its way, he crossed the open ground in a handful of short kangaroo bounces and jumped into KC’s foxhole.

And nearly landed on the other man. KC was sprawled on the bottom of the hole, twitching, his left hand over his shoulder as if he was trying to pat himself on the back. Pappy managed to find two open spaces for his feet as he fell and landed in a crouch straddling the other man’s torso.

KC had been hit, all right. The bright orange of fresh autoseal showed where a bullet had cut through his back on an angle and eventually penetrated somewhere in the vicinity of his right shoulder blade. Another, more worrisome spot of orange showed on the back of his helmet. It was less angled than the one on his back, indicating it had gone in at a steeper angle.

Steep enough, and traveling fast enough, to penetrate KC’s skull? Because if it had, the man was in serious trouble.

Pappy took a deep breath. First things first. Yanking open his emergency kit, he pulled out a set of patches and carefully spread them out over the two tears. The med readout jack was on the front of KC’s suit, momentarily out of reach. Pappy double-checked both patches, then leaned forward and pressed his helmet against KC’s. “Can you hear me?” he called.

“Yeah,” KC’s voice came back, distant and tinny. “How’s it look back there?”

“Stable,” Pappy said. “How about in there? Are you bleeding?”

“Don’t know. Haven’t checked.”

Pappy blinked. “Say again?”

“Of course I’m damn bleeding,” KC bit out. “I’ve got a bullet in my back, you idiot. Hurts like hell.”

“Okay, hang on.” Digging another comm cable from his kit, Pappy plugged them together. “Can you hear me better now?”

“Yeah, fine.”

“I’m here too,” Morgan added. “How does he look?”

“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Pappy said. “What about our friends out there?”

“I emptied most of my first magazine at them,” Morgan said. “They stopped shooting, so I did, too.”

“Are they coming toward us?”

“No, they’re still sticking close to the Dunsland,” she said. “The four who went inside are back, though, and all six are working on the wheels again.”

So the Ueys still hadn’t gotten the axles unsnarled. That should buy them at least a little more time. “Keep watching,” he said. “KC, we’re going to roll you up onto your left side — nice and easy — and get a look at your med readout.”

“Sure,” KC said. “You know, I might have popped a painkiller. I don’t really remember.”

“If you don’t remember, you probably did,” Pappy said. The side-effects of the painkillers they packed into Loonie suits were well-known and just a bit spooky. “I’ll check. Okay; nice and easy.”

“I think my head might be bleeding, too,” KC continued. Already the pain was fading from his voice and being replaced by a sort of dreaminess. “I’ve got some blood dripping on my faceplate.”

“Got it,” Pappy said, wincing. Dripping was probably okay, at least for the short term. Gushing or pouring would be very, very bad. “Just relax. I’ll do this.” Between the lower gravity and the inherent padding effects of the suit itself, he got KC on his side with a minimum of effort on his part and only a few vague comments of discomfort on KC’s.

SAS doctrine trained you to be prepared for the worst. In this case, fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as Pappy had feared. The med display indicated a small-caliber bullet lodged below KC’s right shoulder blade and a shallow furrow across the back of his head. Neither was immediately life-threatening, but both needed attention.

“Pappy?” Morgan called hesitantly. “How is he?”

“He’ll be okay,” Pappy assured her, falling back on the standard low-information answer for when you didn’t want people to worry. KC’s comm cable back to Hadley Dome was hanging down the back of the foxhole, over the catapult. Pappy plugged it into his suit and cut KC and Morgan out of the circuit. “Eagle Four to Hadley,” he called. “We have a man down; repeat, man down. We need that MASH truck, stat.”

There was no answer. “Hadley, this is Eagle Four,” he repeated, louder this time. “Hadley, please respond.”

“This is Hadley Control,” a harried voice came back. “Who is this?”

“Eagle Four,” Pappy said. “Where the hell were you?”