Fire Team Two was southeast of the spaceport on high ground.
“Sergeant.” It was their security number one, his sidekicks out somewhere in the boonies, ready to observe and, if called for, to fire at anything that moved in the vicinity.
“Word from above. Fire at will.”
The trooper slunk off into the bushes again, silent as a ghost.
He nodded, studying the layout through the optical scope. His own device had the audio turned way down to avoid distraction at a critical moment.
The enemy was coming down, just before dusk, but there was light yet and the only real problem was when.
“Can you hit them while they’re coming in?” Even one would be fine.
Psychologically it would be rife, although a single round probably wouldn’t be much to talk about.
Troop transports were big, relatively simple ships, with only the minimal hardening. They were all air and big compartments in a central cylinder, surrounded by systems and shielding.
This was mostly against stellar flares and cosmic background radiation. A hit in the right spot might cause a lot of concern…such things took time to properly repair.
“There are three separate crosswinds between here and there, Sergeant. Under braking and maneuver, that close to the ground, there’s going to be one shit-load of turbulence down here.”
Chewing his lip, the sergeant nodded.
“Okay. Why don’t we try that then. Who knows, we might get a bit of data. Try it on the first one—they’ll space themselves out and we might get lucky.” He thought. “Two, three rounds per ship, max. Let’s do armour-piercing.”
“Roger.” The kid grinned and gave him a sidelong look. “And my name’s not Max.”
“Take your time, it’s not that critical.” He just wanted to see what happened. “Max.”
Every little thing that they observed went into the notebook. Wesley was green, but he was also one hell of a shot—not so much intuitive as thorough, in doping the scope, using his brains where another might rely on courage. Or worse, ego. Even worse than that, luck.
This was something they were encouraged not to do.
Wes had a certain calm that some of the other kids lacked.
Dead heroes were essentially useless, to themselves or anyone else. They were bodies lost to the cause. Wounded heroes took up a lot of time, manpower and psychological resources.
As for the Barker, even in the pure vertical, admittedly a hard shot for people trained in conventional sniper operations, it would reach out and touch someone at a good five thousand metres. From their present location, the actual firing angle would be more like forty-five degrees.
He noted that Wes had already input the additional parameters. The youngster was struggling with the mount, much like a heavy photographic tripod for anti-air shooting. With hydraulic damping for the recoil, it weighed a good twenty kilos. The kid had been right to bring it along. That was the benefit of discipline and training. They had a bit of time, and finally the weapon was ready. Their position was on a hill, under the treeline, but with a clear view of the land and sky to the northwest. The spaceport was dead centre, but they could see part of the town north of that and the connecting roads and tracks all over the valley floor, more earth tones than actual greenery.
As far as anyone knew, the enemy was not in the vicinity.
“Here we go.”
The sergeant, eye protection darkening immediately upon looking up, watched as the hot-spots of the engines lit up the surrounding area.
That was them, all right.
Boer-class transports, and right on schedule. Data from Jane’s Fighting Ships streamed across the bottom of his VR set.
On impulse, the sergeant tapped the code for HQ into his com unit.
Graham came right on.
“Colonel. I’ve got ten credits that says Wesley can hit that first ship before she touches ground.”
“Make it twenty and you’ve got yourself a bet.”
He could hear the laughter and imagine their faces back there.
“Twenty credits. Hmn, That’s a lot of money, but I don’t mind taking it from you. If you don’t mind losing it.”
“In that case, I’ll give you five to one.”
Five to one odds.
“Roger that. Hang on—and watch the action.”
Nothing but silence, but they were there all right.
“Yes. Wesley. You and I will be drinking whiskey, next time we’re in town.”
There was a snort from the shooting position.
“Absolutely, Max. When has it ever been any different.”
“Smart-ass, eh. Hmn. I’ll try and remember that. Range, sixteen hundred…fifteen hundred. Fire at will, Wes. I mean, ah, Roger.”
The ship was moving past their position on a landing approach. The first enemy ship had decelerated significantly, slowly coming to a stop at low altitude as the ship read the field and verified its in-close bearings. From this distance, the size of the vessel was not overwhelming, but it was a hell of a lot bigger than a tank or a truck. It was a lot bigger than a person’s head and this kid could hit that a kilometre away under most conditions.
Then came the crack of the Barker, its round leaving a visible trail of condensation. It punched through the air, its initial velocity over six thousand metres a minute.
There was a pause.
The ship slowly descended, kicking up all kinds of dust and crud the closer it got to the surface.
“What do you think, Wesley.”
“It’s hard to say…wait. Ah.”
The sergeant’s own display lit up.
According to the round’s data, target impact had occurred at four thousand, two hundred and thirty-one metres. That was when the tracking signal ended, upon the round’s distortion or even shattering. Plus or minus a few centimetres. It had hit roughly amidships, about three metres to the left and maybe a couple down from the aiming point, but a big target excused a lot of sins.
“Congratulations, Wesley. You just earned your pay for a whole month.”
The crack of the weapon came again, as Wesley had a small budget of rounds and there was no time like the present.
“Fire at will. Two more ships on approach. Let’s puncture every damned one of them fuckers.”
In the command centre, the red blip that was the Nield helo moved with painful slowness, although the distance was relatively short. At cruising speed, saving fuel and following established routine, the helicopter was doing a bare hundred-forty kilometres per hour. It was only now coming up on the airport approach.
Fire Team Two, southeast of the port, was in visual contact, having acquired it on their scopes as it came low over the last big hill and began its descent.
The three Unfriendly ships were down. The ports and hatches were open, the ramps were down, and people and machinery were swarming all over the place. They’d be in a hurry to unload, aware that they had been fired upon and not knowing exactly who was out there. How much actual damage had been done was a good question. Sometimes damage was a secondary consideration.
Seven confirmed hits was at least something.
“Whoa. Missiles in the air. Repeat, missiles in the air.” A second later, there was impact and a confirmed one missile had gotten a direct hit.
The scope swung around and the blast of the launch revealed the battery’s position.
“Mark that, please.”
“Right.” A fresh symbol appeared on the battle map.
One surface-to-air rocket battery, arguably right on the edge of the flying field. They might nail it down a bit further as things went along.
A trooper brought up the feed from the helo. The camera was still good, the ground and sky spinning wildly in the view-screen. They winced when the satchel charge, still intact, went off at the designated altitude.
Still they had a picture.
The flaming debris, trailing a cloud of black and grey smoke, dropped like a stone on fire, from its altitude of two thousand metres. If nothing else, the Unfriendlies would send out a patrol to find it. They would want to know more. They would want to recover, or more importantly, identify a body. Someone might get a crack at them, Team Three or even angry civilians. It depended what street they went down. Falling behind low hills in a big open spiral, the helo was on the ground now.
“We’ve still got a picture, Colonel.” A trooper called from across the room.
There was nothing there but branches, leaves, with the indistinct horizon on a sharp angle.
Smoke drifted across the frame, blocking it out again.
“Hmn. Nice. Have the system keep an eye on that.”
Half the planet hunted for pleasure or food according to the briefing notes.
She watched and listened to Fire Two for a moment. They were on high ground, in desert rather than forest, which meant night-time evasion if problems arose. Daylight would be out of the question.
“So, what do you think?”
“I can hit anything you want, Corporal.”
“Ah…how about that big, black limo pulling out from the terminal area.”
“Yeah, why not.”
“Thirty-three hundred metres.”
There were the usual crosswinds, dust and even bugs in the air. The light was fine with the enhancement from night vision, hardly needed until this point.
“Wait until it gets a little closer.”
“Why don’t we wait until someone gets in it.”
“Ah—right. Why don’t we do that, then. Fire when ready.”
The corporal stared through the scope, waiting.
So did Dona Graham.
“So. They took the bait.”
“Roger that, Colonel. Team Three reports two missiles confirmed. One hit, the other one went into the boonies a few kilometres northeast of the city. The profile reads Red-Tail, according to their best estimates.” They were definitely fired from the space and airport complex. “The second missile was a self-destruct.”
“Excellent.” Red-Tails were one of the more effective, and therefore more expensive, Unfriendly tools.
They’d just spent a quarter-million credits. They hadn’t hesitated. And rightly so—that helo might easily have taken a lot of them out. The timing of the helo’s arrival had been lucky, very lucky.
With the usual three launchers per battery, and a limited number of reloads, it was food for thought. They now had a fresh radar profile for the Red-Tails in their database.
“And hits all over the place from the Barkers.” Their two authorized fire teams had popped off anywhere from four to six rounds each, no more.
They’d been focusing on the three arrivals, the pair of smaller landing ships from the initial assault were behind and just on the verge of being out of range. These targets were being held in reserve—a real psychological point, one hopefully the Unfriendlies would spend some time in considering. In some ways, it hinted where the fire teams must be—for what that was worth.
“Yes. They will figure it out sooner or later. Thank you, Trooper.”
The young man nodded, eyes on the screen.
“More action, Colonel.”
Touching a virtual button, his board hovering in mid-air, he brought up the view from Team One’s gun-scope. The cross-hairs and mil-dots were lined up on a line of three vehicles, one big and long and black and a pair of the more familiar civilian utility vehicles following at short intervals behind. Numbers changed as the shooter or their assistant doped the scope with all available information. Firing point elevation, target elevation, range, air temperature, wind speeds, humidity, barometric pressure, local gravity. Known projectile drop from the tables, type of round, et cetera. Pure applied science. Team One was on it as well, a different perspective, with two sets of data triangulating back and forth.
So far, the Unfriendlies weren’t jamming much of anything…that must soon change.
The vehicles pulled up in front of the loading ramp of ship two. A small cluster of field-grey figures hovering at the main hatch, put their heads down and scuttled for the vehicles.
“Jesus, Christ, Corporal.”
“Some of them are still wearing wooden shoes.”
The corporal snickered softly…
There was a momentary flash, minimal smoke.
He had fired a smart-round, data streaming back and forth, its micro-jets correcting it in flight across the intervening space.
The impact of a round from a Barker was substantial, and the vehicle rocked on its springs. Cars and trucks were steel, plastics, composites, as opposed to paper-thin alloy, like a spaceship.
Much more of the kinetic energy had been imparted.
Judging by the puff of dust from below and behind, and now smoke was rising, the round must have gone right through such a light vehicle, being capable of punching through seventy-five millimetres of properly-sloped tungsten-ceramic, admittedly, at much closer ranges.
The people on the ramp were headed back up the other way again…
The front window appeared to have gone opaque, with a tiny black dot for the hole and the rest was crazed and shattered as only automotive glass could without completely falling out.
The doors all flew open at once. At least four bodies flung themselves out, a couple cowering behind the machine and two making an honest break for it.
It was hard to tell if there was anybody still in there. Thin smoke lifted from the open doors, whipped away by the light breeze.
There was a moment of suspense.
The bolters seemed to have made the apparent safety of the shadows under the ship. They weren’t much of a priority, and the scope was swinging towards the next target anyways.
Let the radiation kill them. They were already casualties, and they knew it, too, turning and bolting again, using the bulk of the ship for cover.
Those in the command centre watched.
The sound was turned down, the crack of the next shot strictly imaginary.
Second vehicle, popped through the engine. The far back door opened and it looked like people desperately squirming out, which implied some training. Her best guess was that only two made it out. One would almost have to be a VIP.
“Nice. Give that guy a cookie.”
The trooper laughed. Zooming in on the icon, names came up along with service records.
It was a team of six. One vehicle, hidden a kilometre and a half away.
“I’ll just log that, Colonel.”
She laughed in spite of the tension.
One Barker, some other light weapons.
Trooper David Ovango. Five-year contract, made the class top ten in basic. All the qualifications.
He’d never fired a shot in anger. The young face came around, giving her an unreadable look.
He spoke into the microphone. Trooper Owens.
“Nice work, keep the data flowing.” Owens was one of Captain Aaron’s picks and good for him.
“Same to you, Trooper.”
“Thank you, Colonel Graham.”
With a pat on the back, she removed the headset and took a breath.
So much to be done, and so little time.
Even now, selected units were racing towards Deneb City and the Unfriendlies undoubtedly knew that, or they would very, very soon now.
(End of Part Nine.)
Image One. Confederation Public Communications Office.
Image Two. CPCO
Image Three. Alain Rioux
Image Four. Denebola-Seven Defense Force
Image Five. CPCO
Image Six. Colonel Dona Graham. Collection the author.
Image Seven. CPCO
Note: Writing a novel is tough enough without serializing the manuscript before it's even done. Basically the author needs to get to the end of the plot before he can go through it, check for errors of logic, errors, omissions and possibly taking a few small bits out. In that sense the completed novel (hopefully soon) will be superior. That's not to say this isn't fun, because it is.
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