Battle Luna – Snippet 10
Another burst of chips. Still, at least they weren’t mad enough to open up with full-auto. The machinegunner chipping away at the lunar landscape was limiting his attacks to single shots and three-shot bursts.
Pappy frowned. Unless the gunner wasn’t mad at all. Unless this was part of a deliberate, carefully coordinated strategy.
But to what end? He had Pappy pinned down, but that still left KC and Morgan free and clear. Granted, aside from two more cement bombs the Loonies didn’t have any real weaponry, but the Ueys didn’t necessarily know that.
Carefully, Pappy eased up onto his left side and looked back over his shoulder at the spot where the Uey had opened fire before losing his balance and falling backward. Eyeballing the vector for his fire…
Pappy hissed between his teeth. From that vantage point, not only could the soldier pin down Pappy, but he also had a clear shot into Morgan’s foxhole. There should be enough space along the side for her to be safe from direct fire, but there would be no way she could make any countermoves from that position. Both of them would be sitting ducks.
And the remaining member of their group, KC, was already injured and half out of action. A little more judicious gunfire from their two gunners, and the Ueys would be able to clear the Dunsland and roll into Hadley Dome at their leisure, with their three opponents unable to do anything but watch helplessly as they drove past.
Or rather, two of them would watch helplessly. Pappy himself would be long dead. He wondered if the soldier on the ridge had noticed his lack of oxy tank before losing his footing. Or, if he’d noticed, if he cared.
Mentally, Pappy shook his head. Irrelevant. What was relevant was that he was about to die, and Morgan was about to come under attack, and without a direct-line cable there was no way he could communicate with her or otherwise make plans without the Ueys having a front-row eavesdropping seat.
Another shot, well wide of the mark. Still, Pappy couldn’t stay here forever. He started moving forward, noting with distant annoyance that the standard SAS elbow-and-knee crawl didn’t work nearly as well in lunar gravity, where it had a distinct tendency to make him bounce. He got about a meter when there was another shot, this one a triple, just in front of him.
And with that, there was no longer a choice. A shot that close strongly suggested they Ueys were losing patience; and if it was a choice between getting shot and suffocating, he might as well go with the shot. Lunging up to his feet, keeping his attention on the machinegunners on the Dunsland, he leaned forward and bounded toward Morgan’s foxhole.
Out of the corner of his eye he spotted something moving in his direction from Morgan’s direction. Reflexively, he dodged sideways, fighting to keep from losing his balance as he snapped his attention back that way.
It was a cable — a comm cable — snaking gracefully toward him. He grabbed it, his eyes tracking it back to Morgan’s foxhole. She was standing mostly upright, her helmet partially exposed, either oblivious to the machinegunners or else ignoring them, her faceplate turned toward Pappy, her paintball gun gripped in her hand but pointed toward the sky. Pappy gave another bounce, fumbling the comm cable jack into his suit —
“Get down!” she snapped.
It was the first time Pappy had ever heard Morgan use that tone. But he knew how to respond to it. Even as he bent his knees for his next hop he froze his legs in place, letting himself topple to the ground onto his outstretched hands.
Or tried to. To his consternation, his elbows buckled unexpectedly under the impact, dropping him flat on his face and stomach. He blinked with disbelief…
And suddenly realized he was gasping for breath, his lungs burning, his muscles twitching as he rushed toward the limit of his air supply. Something flew out of the foxhole ahead, arcing over his head. He grabbed for a rocky protuberance, but discovered his fingers wouldn’t close solidly around it. There was another motion in front of him, something bigger this time, but he couldn’t tell what it was through the sudden sparkling glitter sprinkling across his vision.
A shadow passed over the rock he was trying to grab, plunging it into darkness. The darkness and the sparkling made it nearly impossible to see, but he couldn’t remember why he wanted it in the first place. He tried again anyway, forcing his fingers to close…
Without warning, a flood of cool air washed over him.
He inhaled deeply, aware that he was panting again, only this time actually clearing out his lungs. The sparkling in his vision faded away, the pounding in his ears diminished —
“Yeah,” he managed. His voice sounded like something coming from a frog pond. “Yeah.”
“Come on.” Someone — the big shadow from earlier — Morgan? — grabbed his arm and dragged him toward the nearby foxhole. Pappy pressed a hand against the ground, trying to help by pushing himself along as he felt strength starting to flow back into the weakened muscles.
And then, abruptly, he remembered.
He twisted half over, nearly breaking Morgan’s grip on his arm in the process, and looked behind him. The Uey soldier who’d followed him must surely have recovered from his fall and scaled the ridge again.
He had. He was there now, along with a companion who hadn’t shown himself earlier. Both of them were leaning half over the crest, their long-barreled pistols gripped in their hands.
Both of them glued solidly to each other and the rock of the ridge by a cake-frosting spatter of glistening white from a vac cement bomb. Which, Pappy realized now, must have been the smaller shadow that had passed over him while he was suffocating.
And then he and Morgan were at the edge of the foxhole, and Morgan was shoving him over the rim. Pappy managed to catch the edge with one hand and turn himself around to land on his feet. Morgan was right behind him.
He’d just dropped below the level of the surface when another burst of gunfire spattered across the ground and ricocheted off the foxhole’s rear wall.
“You okay?” Morgan asked, breathing a little heavily herself. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“I needed to slow them down,” Pappy said. His breathing was nearly back to normal now. Amazing what a fresh oxy tank could do for a man. “Did it work?”
“If you mean did it drop a pile of rocks against the back of the Dunsland, yes, it worked great,” Morgan said, a little sourly. “If you mean did it make the Ueys mad, oh yeah, definitely. If you mean did it immobilize the Dunsland, no it didn’t. It looks like a bunch of the rock landed on both sides of the left rear wheel, but they’re already working on clearing it away.”
“Yeah.” Pappy gave himself another couple of lungsful of air, then eased his head carefully up over the edge of the foxhole. He confirmed that the two men on the ridge were still safely cemented in place, then turned his attention to the Dunsland.
For all the anger Morgan had referenced, the Ueys still had their priorities in place. Much as they would probably love to send another team to perforate Pappy’s team in their foxholes, the important part was to get the Dunsland free to roll into Hadley and grab this Mimic thing nobody wanted to talk about.
His radio crackled. “Hello, Hadley Dome Defense Commander,” an accented voice came in his ear. “This is Colonel Chakarvarti of the United Earth Command. Please respond.”
Pappy looked at Morgan. “Is he talking to us?”
“He must be trying to reach Lieutenant Sassou,” Morgan said doubtfully. “I don’t know if he’s listening to radios right now, though.”
Pappy thought back to his brief conversation with the man at Hadley Control. “Or if anyone else is, either.”
“Hadley Defense Commander?” Chakarvarti prompted.
Pappy gazed out at the Dunsland and the soldiers working like busy little ants around it. With Morgan having used her cement bomb to pin down two of the Ueys — quite literally — they had only one bomb left, which was currently lying twenty meters away in Pappy’s foxhole. Aside from that they had cable, cutting torches, oxy tanks, and paintball guns.