Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 39
Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, (Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow).
– Horace, Odes
Turning away from the window at which she stood, Bethany asked her leader, Christopher Robin, “Why do the shuttles keep coming down? I’ve seen the one that brought us come in at least six times.”
“Probably to try to bullshit the Balboans into thinking that there are a lot more of us than there are, get them to take more time getting ready, expend more ammunition, which they can’t have an infinite supply of, while other shuttles really are bringing in reinforcements.
“It’s clever of the High Admiral, if she’s behind it, but clever doesn’t mean it will work. Okay, now back at your windows. You’re firing…you’re firing…and damn! Clear a stoppage again.”
Wallace went through the drill for what seemed to her the fiftieth time, slapping her top mounted magazine down, jerking the charging hook, releasing the hook, hitting it forward, and then resuming her aim. The unexpended round flew through the air to clatter on the tile floor. The other few members of the team did the same, their own rounds likewise hitting the floor.
Robin’s small crew were in a large room in the basement of one of the public buildings of the town. They come in through a side door, though, and none of them had the slightest clue what the functions of the building were, beyond a general idea that it housed some of the inevitable bureaucracy. Her occasional shore leaves had never brought her to this part of the town, the government area north of the central park.
There were windows in the basement, but all were above, well above, shoulder and eye level.
Thus, the first thing Robin had done was have them push tables under each of the windows, then mount the tables to see if they could see out. It wasn’t perfect; the men had to scrunch down while Bethany had had to pile several flat monitors to see out. It was an unstable platform.
But best I get used to it.
The Balboan artillery fire, which the crew could hear and feel but not see, seemed to be coming in a fair and even safe distance away, somewhere – some on the edge of town, some inside it – where Bethany couldn’t see. She could see, from time to time, tracers lancing upward from positions near hers.
“Trying to keep the Balboan drones off our backs, I suppose,” had been Robin’s judgement. “There really aren’t enough of us to hold the base if – when – they attack, not unless they’re very, very cautious. They won’t be cautious if they know where we are.”
At his temporary command post, on the reverse slope east of Atlantis Base. Ham studied the map, worrying in turn about the oncoming Zhong paras, the defense he might be facing ahead, and what had to be admitted was the fragility of both his own command and his state of command over it. With one hear he listened to the radio chatter, as well.
“And there goes another fucking one,” came the curse over the radio. The voice was familiar, if only from recent acquaintance. “Tell Carrera’s kid that at this rate, we’ll run out of drones before we get anything worthwhile.”
‘Carrera’s kid?‘ thought Ham. Well, I am, of course, or mom would have a good deal to answer for. But is that all I am? I suppose the next couple of days will tell.
“Tell Seaman – hell, what was his name? – oh, yeah, Wilson. Tell Seaman Wilson to pull back the drones.”
From an entirely different radio, the intelligence net’s, came the words, “Flash! Flash! Flash! For the commander; the Earthpigs are sending in empty shuttles to try to seem stronger than they are!”
Well, isn’t that interesting. Explains the effort they put into driving back the drones, too, doesn’t it? But what does it mean? And what do I do about it? Well, first off, ammunition isn’t unlimited so, “Have the artillery and mortars cease fire.”
One; they’re weaker than they’re trying to look; that much is obvious. Two; they’re either trying to bluff us into not attacking at all or buy time for more help to arrive so that we’ll be too busy fighting them off to attack. Three, eventually they will get stronger. They may even have time to call in their Marines from around the world when they just might become too tough a nut to crack. No, I don’t think they’d be that tough, even so, but I could be wrong. So, “Fire support?”
“Smoke screen, as thick as possible, northern edge of the base, from the shore to as far in as we can go and still make it thick. How long to prep for and lay the screen?”
“Top of my head, twenty-five minutes. But we can’t keep it up long; not enough ammunition unloaded.”
“That’s good enough. Ops?”
“Yes, Ham,” David Cano answered.
“Have all the armor back off and shift around to the northern edge of the ridge – a caldera, I suppose it must be – to support the two maniples up there. Once the screen is in, they go in to grab the northern edge.”
Ham thought, As tanks go the Ocelots aren’t. Lightly armored, they still carry a decent gun. So ‘boot, don’t spatter.’ “Ocelots, too.”
“Once we have the northern edge of the base, we’ll peel from that, working north to south and bringing the rest in as the way becomes clear.”
“Roger,” agreed Cano. “Intel was silent on this, but they’ve probably got thermals integral to every rifle and machine gun. They ought to be advanced enough for that, anyway. The smoke won’t do that much good.”
“It will worry them. Doubt they’ve ever seen smoke up close and personal before. Even so, the second we have a good screen established shift fires slightly southward and inward and make it high explosive. We’ll see how well they can use their thermals when they’re shivering and shitting their pants.”
Not every firearm in the legions had a thermal imager, not nearly; they were just too expensive for the budget to support. Instead, snipers had them and one or more machine guns per weapons squad had them. In the case of Negrón’s squad, he had control of their one thermal imager, though some other weapons squads had two. One thermal, of course, wouldn’t do for three machine guns. What to do; what to do? Well…maybe it will do, at least for a while.
Negrón knew what he wanted his guns to suppress, so, once the smoke had built up enough to obscure the edge of the base, he called the first gun forward.
“Set up your tripod here,” he said, pointing at a spot on the ground, “oriented there.” His finger gave a general location to the south. The crew, who hadn’t had a lot to do on their long voyage but gun drills, set up the gun on the tripod with a minimum of fuss. Thereupon, Negrón slapped the thermal onto the gun, ordered the gunner away, and got behind it himself. He set the range on the thermal, then elevated the gun until the sight was on the building – indeed, on the particular window – he wanted suppressed. Then he locked the gun into place on the traversing and elevating mechanism, telling the gunner, “You’re on now, close enough. When we begin to engage, I’ll give you the thermal back for ten seconds or so, so you can make fine adjustment.”
“Works for me,” the gunner agreed, before turning to curse the ammo bearer for being just that bit too slow in bringing up the heavy boxes of ammunition.
Negrón then took the sight back, stepped about five paces to the left, and called up the next gun.
With an Ocelot infantry fighting vehicle, serving as an assault gun, to either side, Vicente’s platoon walked toward the topographical crest, the very top of the ridge, shrinking their posture as they neared it. Several meters before reaching the crest they dropped to the bellies to crawl over it, to avoid being silhouetted. This took longer, of course, causing the boys to bunch up a bit while they were still in defilade and while it didn’t much matter.
Even so, Rodrigues, taking up the rear, with the forward observer team and the medic, Parilla, worried. What if we take some mortars or artillery? What if they have some air capability beyond just shuttles? What if…what if…what if…
What if I stop worrying about things I can’t do anything about? Yeah, what if that?
“Hey, Third Squad; keep your bellies to the dirt as you go over that crest.”
Off to the left Negrón‘s crews had begun a desultory prep. Though it sounds funny, thought Rodrigues. The implied question wasn’t answered until Rodrigues, himself, crested the ridge. Then he could see Negrón, trotting from gun to gun with his thermal in his hands, letting the gunners see potential targets through the smoke – potential because no one was actually shooting back yet – and write down the data from the traversing and elevating mechanism to find those targets even without an imager.
Maybe fifty meters down the forward slope, and with his elbows beginning to feel the scraping from the long crawl, Rodrigues arose to his feet, though still at a crouch.
To Rodrigues’ right, one of the ocelots ten-centimeter cannon blasted. The shell was a low velocity high explosive – and probably high explosive dual purpose; there was no way to tell without asking the crew – hence he could follow the round by eye until it disappeared into the smoke.
The explosion, when it came, told everyone – not least the boys and girls of the United Earth Peace Fleet, the UEPF – that, no, it was neither anti-armor nor high explosive nor dual purpose, but a thermobaric warhead, several times more powerful than anything of the same size involving conventional high explosives. Whatever had been on the receiving end, none this side of the smoke screen who lacked a thermal imager could say? But the sudden brilliant flash could be sensed, even through the smoke, while, looking above the screen, the rising mushroom cloud spoke of much greater destruction than mere high explosive would cause. Even before that, the thump in the chest felt by every man and boy in the assault told of something unusual.
Can only imagine what that thump felt like on the receiving end.
Perched on her unstable platform of monitors, the whole assembly sitting atop a table of no great strength, Bethany Wallace peered out through the narrow basement window. She glimpsed the smoke screen building up, but had no idea what to do about it. Over the relatively soft thumping of the smoke shells, she heard something she suspected were heavy engines.
“You’ve got the ability to see through the smoke,” Christopher Robin shouted to his team. “Your scopes can do thermal imaging. Look for the green button on the left side. Push it.”
Bethany did – I should have remembered on my own – then peered through her scope. Her heart nearly stopped at what the scope revealed. Rising from the ridge outside the base were a dozen armored vehicles she could see. They moved forward, right across the sharp cut, until their centers of gravity caused them to flop downward from the front, a move as menacing and frightening as anything she’d ever seen.
A dozen? Gods alone know how many I can’t see. Following those behemoths, scores of – “Infantry,” I suppose they’re called, or “Marines” – likewise rising from the earth to follow the armor. She wasn’t experienced enough to say how good those foot troops were, less still the armored vehicles.
But I am pretty sure they’re better than we are.
There came in her view a sudden flash from the muzzle of one of the lesser vehicles. Given the angle, and the low velocity, she had no trouble following it for most of its flight, right up until is disappeared behind a building which, almost immediately after, disintegrated. The shattered roof, itself, flew off in pieces, giving birth to a rising mushroom cloud.
And my building’s not a bit better built than that one.
Bethany let that sink in. I’m going to die. We’re all going to die. There’s nothing we can do. We have no defense. I’m going to…
And then she screamed, dropped her firearm, and leapt from her precarious perch, screeching for the door.