Rain on a parade...
fiction by Black Echo
.... and then I blinked.
Twice I think, not sure.
Williams, Andy "Holly" Hollis I thought to myself. My name. Ringing in my ears, parts of me hurt. I couldn't tell what was what or which end was up, but I hoped that however I had landed that something was covering my BPC plated ass and that no one was painting it rosy red with a target designator right now.
Snap to it.
Williams, Andy "Holly" Hollis. Corporal, 5th to the 1st, TACOMBINE, mobile infantry. There was more... I thought harder, bit my lip, didn't break the skin, but tasted blood anyway. Maybe that wasn't sweat running down my face. Sweat wasn't sticky. Think. Hard to think with all the bells and whistles of the battlesuit going off around me. Flashing icons, flashing indicators, flashing lights, readouts, sounds, alarms. I feel like the birth of Creation is going on inside my can. Think... I am...
"Four Corporal Williams... do you copy?!"
I am Four Corporal Williams. Now I copy. I was just happy to still be breathing. Pain is God's way of telling you that you are all right, at least in my book. I got my bearings and rolled with it. I hurt. The suit knew I was hurt, but not bad. I felt one pin prick near my thigh, another in my upper back, and two more on my chest. My system came awake as the mild stimulant and some artificially manufactured pseudorphin chains raced through my system. I blinked again, and everything became crisp. Cold air hit my nostrils from the vents near my face mask, programmed shock effect, the air was laced with a stimulant and I winced, breathing deep and blinking back a smudge of blood in my left eye, the reward for having hit my forehead against the side of the tank after I had been tumbled by that last shockwave. Something had gotten our range, the explosive solids had been a air burst, multiple independently targeted explastic munitions. Armor busters normally reserved for thick skinned track layers or fast fans, but they worked equally well on hard shelled infantry if they could pick up our smaller EMS spikes and make positive target lock, which they hadn't ... if it had been AP munitions, well...
"Four Corporal Willams, DO you copy?!"
I killed most of the tell-tales to silent mode, dumping my sitrep to a cache for review in a few. I keyed the mike up to the squad channel.
"Ten and ten." I said flatly into the comlink, throat mike picked it up if the rest of the sensors in my tank didn't. Not even sure of who said it. Someone I know...
A short EMS spike told me my words had gone out. Flashes, memory catching up to an artificially accelerated nervous system, the post injection crash, the thirty second letdown, rapid fatigue combat stimulants and drugs losing their punch, but still loitering around my system. The squad point defense array had allowed us to get most of the MITWs using combined fire from our sidearms, aided by the drone targeting and the redundant painting from the heavy Thompson T4Ds, even through our deployed point defense cluster munitions, but the rest... there just wasn't time. SquadNet painted a few choice pieces of hard cover on our overlays, good places to park our asses, I think I was almost to the one I had picked when a explosive solid decided to produce a three meter deep crater to my port side. My suit gyros didn't like that, and I went along for the helpless ride, tumbling in mid jump. My squad scattered for the deeper tree lines, flashes of orange and yellow, splintering trees, engulfing dry brush in sheets of cascading liquid flame, and the rolling shock waves, white concentric rings expanding outwards to smash with indifference. I was mid bounce, heading for a nice looking creek bed when I caught the edge of a shockwave and it scrambled my gyros, sending me tumbling. Turbine power to the lift thrusters fell as the lift units reached their stall speeds. Then I fell. All my monitors and inputs went off-line as the shock wave rolled over me. I felt the rumble through the suit, and heard the armor plates creak and groan in protest. Groan, but hold. Possible micro-fractures, but the seals held. The inside of the suit was bathed in emergency red, there were more red lights than the pleasure district in Old Amsterdam ...
Who had wasted a anti-tank cluster on a squad of infantry? Amateurs, but it was the only reason we were still around. Or were we?
"Four Corporal Williams. Ten and ten. Squad sit rep now!" I said.
I struggled with the suit gyros to right the suit, got a few no-gos, switched to backups, braked the gyros to a stop, initialized a three second level 4 systems check, wasn't happy with the results, but jump started the gyros back to spin. I watched the RPMs build to fifteen kay and the suit motor reflex functions steadied out. I managed a slow baby crawl with some effort until I could get the suit into a more upright position. It wasn't pretty or graceful, but it worked and I managed to roll over the lip of a crater and tumble downwards where I lay, checking my systems with a more thorough eight second Level 5 diagnostic. Things didn't look as bad at this level, or if you simply ignored all the small stuff and damn, there was a lot of the small stuff! The seconds crawled by as I did a check on my assignments. Definitely not good, my checklist was missing a few lines of essential equipment. The locator tags were not responding, but that could be because the suit was still coming back online and SquadNet was still off-line, rebooting. Some of my gear was scattered, OK, I still had my sidearm and my heavy barreled Ibarra repeater but my stand off TAC missile pack was gone, the locator tag on it didn't light off even after some of my other stuff gave me the 'I'm here, come get me' notification, meaning that if I did find it, it was only going to be so much useless scrap. I plugged my intermediate weapons into the software command structure and linked them to the suit network, offering at least some form of self defense and limited fire back capability. I reclined in my suit, settling into the cushions and breathing deeply, feeling the stimulants and pharmaceuticals race through my system. I stared down at the small sidearm clipped to the right thigh of the leg armor.
A souped up electric BB gun, about all it amounted to. I'd need to get the Ibarra if I was going to do any damage to anything with thick skin. I reached over and grabbed up the heavy Ibarra.
"Four Corporal Williams. Ten and ten. Squad sit rep now!" I repeated. "Give me a sit rep, people. Call in."
The sidearm was still serviceable, three quarters of a magazine and one spare cassette over my shoulder, but when I plugged the Ibarra back into the suit network, I was rewarded with multiple input and relay error messages. Damn! I said a few more words, none of them becoming of an officer. Maybe the Ibarra would resync... If not, I had just lost my second best armor puncher compared to the wrecked scrap I used to call a missile launcher. I wasnt even getting a transponder repeat from the TAC missile launcher, which meant that it was nothing more than scattered junk, probably laying all around me. Hell, I may even be sitting on the damned thing for all I knew. The displays in my tank started to stabilize and the suit seemed to shrug as its guts came back awake. The gyros were peachy at full spin, and seemed to be happy again, sure made the suit a lot easier to sling around. The tac pulse came back negative, I looked up, totally having forgotten that someone had rained on our parade and that someone was still out there! Mistake, I thought. Make too many mistakes and you don't go home. Whatever had hit us wasn't interested in anything more than busting up a few hard shelled beetles moving in the tree line. No incoming rounds, no ground huggers, and no fast movers coming for a look-see to verify if we were moving in our shells or not. And no follow up CBU or CCM style AP rounds to clean up their first mistake...
And they weren't trying to bake us by raining down thermals on the woods around us.
First bit of good news I had today.
"Two Enlisted Smith!" I shouted into the squad channel, trying to get my squad reassembled. "Hello, Two Enlisted Smith. Got your heads up yet?"
Whatever was out there ranging in on us was in better shape than we were, even if it might have moved on. It had hit us and we hadn't returned fire... yet. I was wanting to return the favor.
"Two Enlisted Smith? Do you copy? I need a TSR mike fox papa!"
I wasn't even getting a locator beacon on her suit which was bad. Two Enlisted Smith was our EO, a lot of our suits had her unique 'touch' to them. Our electronics were modified, not exactly to field regs either. One of the reasons we had survived as a squad as long as we had. If Smith was gone, we would be in the hurt locker until we could get another competent EO from reserve draw. And tomorrow was her birthday ...
"Three Enlisted Travetti?" I asked, expecting the same zero response.
The squad net crackled, filters kicked in and fine tuned the input. A voice. Three Enlisted Travetti!
"Aye. I'm still mobile. S-net's down, I'm rebooting. Two Enlisted Smith's gone. I found what was left of her suit near 296. Found the drone near 285. Both total combat losses. One of the MITWs must have locked onto Two Enlisted Smith's spike. Looks like it hit her mid shoulders. Hard cover didn't do her any good... I tagged her in the latest datapulse."
The drone was somewhat expendable, Two Enlisted Smith was definitely not. Smith would have been nineteen tomorrow. I logged her as KIA and added squad honors for good measure. I also logged the Squad as having position Two for an EO as open. Three Enlisted Travetti had delivered his report with just a bit too much professionalism. Maybe he took a tumble harder than I had, his speech sounded like he was riding a pseudorphin high. Internals? I checked my monitors, looking for the squad medical pulse as still smoking dirt landed around me. Hot smoke and dust suspended in the air wafted over my position. I jumped lightly into a crater six meters away from my previous position, crouched, and began organizing my squad into the squad net. Rogers, Pierce, and Three Enlisted Travetti resynced and I started getting data from their arrays. Things were starting to look better, most of the damage was superficial, some scratches, bruises, Two Enlisted Smith was gone, so was one of our drones. Three Enlisted Travetti had managed to keep one of the Thompson 4TD Heavy Weapon Systems with him. Five Enlisted Pierce had the other squad Heavy Weapon while One Enlisted Rogers was showing he had salvaged Two Enlisted Smith's sidearm and integrated it into his own suit array.
God bless SCRIBOL!
I double checked my BDA as my onboard flagged me it was online. One by one, the red illuminated indicators in my tank turned to a 'stand by' yellow, and then to a solid green. The [NOMINAL] icon began to illuminate next to a whole hell of a lot of functions that I thought were gone for God.
We were back in business, shaken, and looking for some payback! On the bounce! My thrusters kicked in and I made a smooth transition from ground to NOE tactical jump. I came out of my bounce, sprawled under some hard cover, bounced again and cleared the lip of a large crater. The thruster units were still in the green, full power to the turbines. The holographic overlay showed one combat loss, but the SquadNet was just coming online now, integrating our four remaining suits on a squad level via the SLICS interface. It would take another ten full seconds to reinitialize and reconnect, until then, we were going to have to do the best we could, on a one by one basis, and move towards a regroupment. One drone was gone for sure, the other one was waiting on the squad net to reinit before it synced up. Till then it was tight beam voice only. The other thirteen drones would integrate when the SquadNet was back online.
Five seconds to squad integration, a hell of a long time.
"Smith is gone." I said on squad channel. "Travetti, Pierce, Rogers! Form on me, on the bounce! Squad come together at 0312."
Two seconds, integration already initializing on subdependent processes, SquadNet and our onboards were anticipating a reunion, it had been a long time since they last talked together. Over two and a half minutes. They were lonely, and had a lot of data to share. Squad net came online and I smiled again for only the second time this day. It was like opening your eyes for the very first time. One of our surviving drone was painting an orphan Pan missile tank on the edge of our tactical engagement ring. The other thirteen drones, three of them still answering to me, all interlaced. Our data and engagement rings expanded with each drone that logged in. Nothing but the Pan snake charmer. It wasn't paying much attention to us, looking to the north and slowly moving that way to set up a salvo point about 1700 meters north of our position. The Pans had stepped into it pretty deep with the boys and girls of the 5th Combine Armor Battalion and they were hurting for it. Bleeding all over the real estate according to the confirm kill pulses coming in on TACNET. I managed to patch into a battalion drone and update our displays. The Pans were calling in their artillery, and the missile tank was responding as fast as it could, with us right behind it moving in fast on its 295 angle.
Just keep looking that way... don't look back at the four angry hard shell beetles coming to bite you in the tender spots... My tank painted a virtual picture of the Pan climbing a hill, stabilizing, and starting its descent. Amateur. The Pan crew had just presented a perfect outline for brewing them up, too bad we weren't in range and didn't have any hand off armor busters left in our inventory...
I checked our own EMS outlay. SLICS was blending us into the background EMS of the nearby furballs and the residual background from the recent fire fight. I figured three bounces, a slide, and we would be all over the Pan, probably before he ever saw us. Two bounces and we would be within his minimum fire range and he could do nothing but try to run... We could get close in on this bastard, neither the drones nor my suit was showing any kind of DAPS tracking spikes which meant he was either not equipped or it was off line. Amateurs. I pulsed him at 20 klicks an hour and having some trouble with the broken terrain, he wasn't picking his path, just trying to bull doze through which meant either he wasn't very old in the seat or the Pans were desperate for fire support or both. The Pan missile chuckers weren't as mobile as our units were, but I didn't see any of our units in the tac area, not even so much as a light GEV. Nothing we could use as a hand off or sync up to make our jobs easier. Well, we were in the iron, so we better earn our pay by doing what we had been trained to do.
I was somewhat amazed at how fast the furball was traveling.
While we were on our backs in the woods, the furball had moved about three klicks north and was waxing fierce. Fresh units responding as fast as they could poured in on both sides, some dying as fast as they came. If we hurried, we might be able to make it to the party and claim a few souvenirs. I pulsed the Pan again for recertification of my target fix on it. The drones identified it and kept its lock, updating through SquadNet. Four angry hardshells moved and acted as one, coordinating on a single target. Tracks were slower than battledress, especially in terrain like this. Ballistic data was painting the missile chucker as the one who had rained on our parade which made it the primary outlet for my frustration at this point in time. The others saw the Pan as well, helped by the drone and my painting. I keyed the Pan as 'next target: engage' and the squad accepted.
Four very angry hard shell beetles, moving fast, using every bit of natural cover that we could, bouncing low and jumping fast. The Ibarra resynced and despite some scratches and a few dings, still showed that it was over 98% operational. That was good, the Ibarra was an excellent can opener at close range, not near as efficient as the two squad support level Thompsons 4TDs that we carried, but then I had a little bit more reason to get close and personal and that lousy track laying missile chucking Pan dead in the squad sights was one can I was looking forward to peeling wide open ...
I came out of my jump in the bottom of a crater filled with stagnant muddy water. A quick pulse, and I was clearing the crater for a hill face 30 meters south-south west of the Pan. The Ibarra showed ready and I brought the targeting reticule onto the bore sight, lining up with the Paneuropean missile tank. Overlays for the fire lines of the rest of the squad appeared on the display in my tank. I was impressed at what we could still throw at these amateurs The Thompson 4TDs showed up readily when they began to fire at extreme range, scoring hits on the Pan in his tracks and engine compartment. The 14/12mm HyVelocs that the Thompsons fired blasted away the light armor plating of the missile tank, six klicks a second easily punched through what little protection the Pan had covering his ass.
"Payback." I muttered, crouching for a second, pulsing, and then bouncing away at an oblique angle to the Pan track layer.
I brought the Ibarra up and began to pump a stream of HyVelocs into the rear deck and FiConSys blister of the Pan, poking out their eyes one by one. Three Travetti and Five Pierce opened up behind me with the big Thompsons. The passage of the three centimeter rounds fired from the T4Ds created dim hypersonic echoes, ghosts passing through my suit despite the insulation and all the seals. At upwards of eight klicks a second unassisted their passage was something you just felt in your bones and those big rounds were viscous! They only fed on one thing, armor, and their appetite was insatiable... Orange and black blossoms appeared along the surface and sides of the Pan outlined by the shards and shreds of armor that was left behind by the primal feeding frenzy of the T4D's rounds. I saw armor plating chewed away, jagged pieces break apart and fly away, interior explosions within the hull, and the smaller yellow and black explosions as the rounds from my Ibarra made contact. The second burst from the squad and the Thompsons found softer things to ravage under the thin shell of armor...
We brewed the Pan and its green crew up nice and toasty before we began our slow bounce north. Along the way, we picked up two surviving members of Giovanni's squad and another pair of drones. Two klicks later, 4 Corporal Robert Samson's squad fell in and we all spread out in a wide angle, fully integrated with SLICS, and brewing up any Pan orphans that we could find including those that were disabled. We put extra rounds into those just to make sure. We took out all the artillery they were trying to get into place and made it a hell of a lot nicer for the boys and girls in the 5th to play.
Tomorrow was supposed to be Smith's birthday. She would have been nineteen...
-From the personal diary of William Hollis, 2nd Lt., TACombine.