Battle Luna – Snippet 11
And that was it. No real weapons, and no defenses beyond a couple more of the monofil traps that had briefly derailed the Uey advance. Within an hour or two, unless Pappy could pull something out of his hat, the enemy would be rolling unopposed into Hadley.
When all else failed — or when you needed to play for time — a good soldier could always fall back on talking or Psy Ops. Pappy checked his radio display, found out the frequency Chakarvarti was using, and keyed his transmitter to it. “This is Papillion MacLeod,” he announced. “Where are you, Colonel?”
“Greetings,” Chakarvarti said. “I’m a bit surprised by your question. My rangefinder puts me approximately a hundred sixty-two meters from your line of foxholes.”
“You’re running the Dunsland?” Pappy asked, frowning. “I’m surprised.”
“Full colonels don’t usually lead the charge themselves,” Pappy said. “Normally a lieutenant would be a more proper commander for what’s essentially a mechanized platoon.”
“Agreed,” Chakarvarti said. “But in this case, United Earth Command was hesitant to share the true nature of this mission with anyone but trusted senior officers.”
“What mission would that be?” Pappy asked. “The complete subjugation of the Lunar Colonies?”
“I think you know what the mission is,” Chakarvarti said. “And the true pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
“You’ve got the accent wrong,” Pappy said, feeling his lip twist as he studied the Uey position. He’d hoped that the need to clear out the rock pile pinning the Dunsland in place would have Chakarvarti ordering every spare hand to that task. But the colonel was clearly still wary of the Loonies’ cement bombs, and had left both three-man shield teams in place to guard against more such attacks.
“I’m British, not Irish,” Pappy said. “No leprechauns or pots of gold.” Not that the second shieldbearer team was even necessary. Not anymore. With Morgan’s bomb gone, Pappy’s earlier idea of lobbing two of them in rapid succession was already over and done with.
He keyed off the radio. “Morgan, is there any chance we can aim our catapult high enough for plunging fire?”
“You give the bomb enough of an upward vector that it lofts over the shieldbearers,” Pappy explained, frowning at her catapult. “Like at a sixty- or seventy degree launch angle. I’m not seeing any way to do that.”
“There isn’t one,” she said. “They’re not designed for anything higher than forty-five. I guess no one thought we’d need anything higher than that.”
“Or else they didn’t want one of us accidentally firing it straight up and dropping it back on top of us,” Pappy growled. So much for that idea.
Chakarvarti was talking again, and Pappy keyed his transmitter. “Sorry; what was that?”
“I said I didn’t mean to insult your heritage,” the colonel said. “I assumed the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow had entered more common usage.”
“It has,” Pappy acknowledged. “Just wanted to clear up any misconceptions as to who you were talking to.”
“Oh, no misconceptions at all,” Chakarvarti assured him. “Former Sergeant Papillion MacLeod of His Majesty’s Special Air Service ‘A’ Squadron Mobility Troop. Joined September 2027; discharged February 2042 after the Birmingham insurgency left you with a permanently damaged left leg. Joined the Lunar Colonies fifteen months later as an accountant. An accountant? Really?”
“I also work with inventory and acquisition,” Pappy said, his gut twisting as a hundred half-buried memories came flooding to the service, threatening his composure and focus. Probably the reason Chakarvarti had brought up the Birmingham disaster in the first place. “None of it requires much walking around.”
“And no one’s shooting at you,” Chakarvarti said. “At least, no one was until now. Speaking of which, I believe one of your team has been injured. If you’re willing, I can offer him help.”
The knot in Pappy’s stomach tightened another half turn. “He’s hardly injured. A couple of scratches, that’s all.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Chakarvarti said. “Still, I don’t see anyone from Hadley Colony rushing to his aid. We, on the other hand, have a fully-equipped first-aid setup here.”
“In your Dunsland that’s currently going nowhere?”
“The operative word being currently,” Chakarvarti said. “Your rock slide was most impressive, but all it accomplished was to block that wheel and axle. Once we clear away the rubble we’ll once again be free to advance.”
“Maybe,” Pappy said. “The work would probably go faster if you put more people on it.”
Chakarvarti gave a low chuckle. “You mean draw off our advance line? No, thank you. Those adhesive bombs of yours are extremely effective. What is the material inside, if I may ask?”
“He’s stalling,” Morgan murmured in Pappy’s ear.
Pappy keyed off his transmitter. “I know,” he told her. “Watch the ridge — he may be trying to move in more flankers.”
“What do I do if I see any?”
“Paintball the crap out of them.” He keyed his transmitter again. “It’s a vacuum cement we use for emergency repairs,” he said. “Very tough stuff. You can repair dome damage with it.”
“Very tough indeed,” Chakarvarti agreed. “I’m surprised you haven’t tried marketing it on Earth.”
“We might have,” Pappy said. “I really don’t know. Could be the Council decided running the gauntlet of environmental vetting wasn’t worth the effort. Chemicals leaching into the groundwater or confusing aphids isn’t exactly a problem up here.”
“Definitely not,” Chakarvarti said. “But I’d like to return to your wounded soldier. I presume you’re aware how quickly a man can bleed to death in a spacesuit. If you bring him to me I personally guarantee on my honor to deal with his injuries and to treat him fairly and justly.”
“As a prisoner of war?”
“Are we at war?” Chakarvarti countered. “After all, the presence of insurgents in Birmingham didn’t mean the entire city was at war with the United Kingdom.”
With a conscious effort, Pappy unclenched his teeth. Chakarvarti was really pulling out all the stops on this one. “They’re hardly equivalent situations.”
“Aren’t they? The insurgents used guns and explosives, just as you did. That alone violates the most recent agreements between the Lunar Colonies and United Earth.”
A movement to Pappy’s right caught his eye, and he turned just in time to see a helmeted head drop back out of sight behind the ridge as Morgan’s paintball spattered a splash of bright red onto the nearby rock. “Damn,” she muttered.
“Keep firing,” Pappy ordered, stifling a curse of his own as he again cut off his transmitter. And his own gun was stuck in the next foxhole, across twenty meters of open ground.
No choice, though — he had to risk it. “And keep an eye on the whole ridge,” he added. “That one might have been a feint. I’m going to get my gun.”
Morgan’s protest was cut off as he yanked out the cable, bent his knees, and bounded out of her foxhole. Leaning forward, he bounded off across the ground as fast as he could, his muscles tensed in anticipation of the machinegun bullets that could tear into him at any moment.
But if the Ueys attacked, none of the shots came near enough for him to spot. He dropped into his foxhole with a puff of relief and scooped up his paintball gun with one hand and the cable to Morgan with the other. He spun around toward her, his eyes sweeping the ridge for attackers as he plugged in the cable. No one was in sight, but there were two more fresh paintball splotches. “Morgan?”
“You were right — he was a feint,” she said. “Two more tried coming up at –“
“Yeah, yeah, I see the marks,” Pappy cut her off, scanning the ridge. No one yet. Reaching down blindly, he snared the comm cable to KC and plugged it in. “KC? How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine,” KC gritted out. “Look — those two Ueys Morgan plastered? I think they’re –“
“Damn it,” Pappy snarled as it suddenly clicked. How the hell hadn’t he caught that himself? Oxy starvation, or just damn mental rust? “Morgan — listen — those Ueys you pinned earlier spotting for the others. We have to blind them –“
“No, no, wait,” KC interrupted. “Not yet. Give me a second.”