This book should be available now, so this is the last Snippet.
Battle Luna – Snippet 29
The ramp had barely closed to knee height when the pile sloshed into the back of the vehicle, filling it.
“Well done!” Andre shouted.
The vehicle rocked, indicating the boulder had in fact entered and rattled around. Something in there was damaged. Something critical?
The hatch jammed with a pile of dust. That was a huge load, spilling out, around and over. The vehicle was buried forward to the front wheels.
Rojas almost gloated. “They’ll have to shovel that out, and it’s going to be everywhere inside–under, behind and in equipment. Any gas connections will need wiped clean. And as soon as they turn on any inside environment, it’s going to blow into a cloud. It may not have stopped them, but it’s certainly hindered them.”
Andre said, “I expect all their support equipment, and main commo, is in there. The individual vehicles have short range transmitters, and of course they can relay through a remote to their lander. But that one probably can burn to Earth directly. That may no longer be possible. They pulled their power tools out of there. They won’t be doing that now. We probably slowed them significantly.”
“Hopefully. It looks like we’re wearing them down.”
He said, “We are. I hope it’s fast enough to matter.”
The Ueys went to dig the dust out, scooping and pulling. As before, it static-clung to their face shields and suits. They had to take frequent breaks.
Andre said, “I wish we had another load right now, for them, or one of their personnel vehicles.”
Godin pointed. “Yeah. See the guy heading to the truck?”
“I expect he’s getting an oxy bottle. I wonder how many spares they have, and how many they can reach.”
Godin said, “We can try another, but there’s risk of them shooting one down, or trying to rush us and wreck things. That’s not slow.”
Andre agreed. “Yes, that’s good for now. We stage our responses.”
The troops dug, heedless of the solar influx beating down on them with its long shadows. They managed to clear enough to lower the ramp partially, though it stopped well above plane. More spilled from inside, and they kept throwing that.
Eventually they worked inside, but it was only a partial fix. They’d have shade, they might reach spare bottles, but any equipment back there was still endangered.
Godin said, “Oh, here’s the pic the pilot got as she passed overhead.”
Andre turned around to take a look.
The image was difficult to discern due to sharp shadows. The area in shadow were near black, with just the barest hint of illumination from inside.
Rojas said, “I’ve got this.” She gestured and Godin stood up.
She sat down and got to work.
First she cloned the image and left the raw. That second one, she blew up to examine.
“That looks like one of their boots there. That angle suggests it’s being worn.”
Andre looked at it. He’d not have caught it, but he had to agree with her. That was good. “I concur.”
She kept itemizing. “Three oxy bottles there, and I’m guessing from the spacing they’re in a rack, probably connected to a manifold. In fact, what’s the scale here?” she glanced down, wrinkled her brow, and said, “Probably an old Dash Eight. When were these vehicles made?”
Godin said, “Eight years ago. That makes sense.”
“Okay, so that gives them at least two full charges per person.”
“Is that another bottle there?” Andre pointed.
“On the floor. Empty or discarded.”
She reduced the image, shifted, chopped off everything in sunlight and brought up the brightness on the rest.
“God, that looks like crap,” she said. Even chopping off the area in direct light left saturation from the reflected rays. That and the internal illumination created a lot of irregular outlines. “I’m going to say that ghost is the tech whose boot we saw in sunlight.”
Andre followed the outline and said, “He’s bent over a bench.”
“Yeah, likely prepping components for something.”
“What about back there?” he pointed.
Rojas said, “That is just barely another person. I think that’s the arm. That might be the helmet shadow on the forward airwall.”
Godin asked, “Is there a driver as well?”
Andre said, “Typically, the driver is part of the element, and especially here with them having limited support.”
He looked over the array of images and considered.
“Okay. Two crew. They apparently weren’t injured. No one evacced them or looked overly concerned. That’s definitely long range commo gear. Figure they have enough oxygen for sixteen hours nominal, which means under ten the way they’re exerting.”
Rojas said, “They could detach someone back for more supplies. Is it wrong of me to hope they were injured?”
She was icy calm, but there was hot anger under that.
Andre tried to sound neutral. “No, though it won’t really help.”
“It would certainly be fair, though.”
Then his brain caught up with the comment about going back for more supplies.
“They could, but I suspect they figured to resupply off us as soon as they secured entry. There’s still nothing to suggest a large logistics footprint.”
Malakhar commented, “That means in another six hours or less they have to either be back at their craft, or cry uncle here. They need at least a half hour, call it an hour with safety. Five hours.”
Andre said, “Hopefully before that. I can’t risk cycling them in that fast. And we need to watch out for a sympathy ploy.”
Rojas was wide-eyed. “You think they’d violate Geneva like that?”
“We aren’t at war. They’re police as they see it. Don’t count on them abiding by anything. Especially after claiming residual vapors in vacuum constitute a chemical weapon.”
“Good point.” She was looking pissed, but still acted calm. She trembled slightly, though.
He said, “But, in the four hours they’ve had, they’ve done some damage. I don’t think we can hold them another six. Or even four.”
Godin noted, “They’re now using the lock and passage as their sun shade. But outside is brutal if they’re going back and forth.”
Rojas looked at the outside of the image, full screen. “We damaged their solar package. That means they’ve got onboard power for everything, and the conversion cell aboard each vehicle.”
Godin said, “That will still last well over the remaining time they need.”
“I have another aerial picture and report,” Malakhar said, “Their numbers are down. I think they detached some for the Old Lock.”
Andre felt another adrenaline burn and said, “Crap. The only defensive measure possible there is a rockfall.” He looked around. I guess that’s up to me, since I’ve done them.”
Godin said, “I’ve done one here. Want me to do it?”
His tone suggested he’d enjoy it.
“Yes. You need to pop the lock, shoot the protrusions outside, drop the debris. Keep the backblast outside, and remember arming distance.”
“I’ll let you know if it’s clear,” Rojas said.
Good point. “Yeah, no reason to open it if they’re right there.”
Malakhar added, “And I’ve got imagery from the skimmer, and our man on the mountain. There actually was an element heading for the Old Lock, but it looks like they couldn’t get over the ridge even in low G, and are now heading back.”
“Good.” That was less of a concern, then.
Looking at the view, Godin said, “Well, they picked the low saddle, which isn’t the easiest route, just least altitude.”
“Right,” Malakhar agreed.
Andre asked, “Are there enough in that element to account for the balance of their force?”
“No!” Rojas replied. “But I do see several on a dolly crawler. It looks like they’re heading back to their ship.”
“Two with probable suit damage, including the one who got stuck. One other who may be an exertion or heat casualty, or has a suit malfunction. There’s one driver and one other I think is escort.”
“So, five out of commission for now, and the twelve we have detained.”
Malakhar said, “A notable amount of the element. Given their support numbers, and the count on those moving around, we’ve probably cut their effectives by a quarter.”
“And run out half their time,” Andre said. “They have to be exhausted.”
“It’s working, Boss,” Malakhar said. “Also, my observer is going down for oxy and power. He’ll be back in a half hour.”
“I’d ask for quicker, but I know how much of a struggle even that is. I’m glad of the support.”
The man leaned back and mused, “I wonder how much support we actually have among the other Loonies.”
Andre said, “Probably a very mixed bag.”