Rain on a parade...
Fiction by Christopher T. Shields
.... and then I blinked.
Twice I think, not sure.
Williams, Andy "Holly" Hollis I thought to myself. My name. I mumbled my service number. 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 rosey 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. Screaming is God's way of saying that you're moving air (which is another good thing) and that your airways are clear. 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 my tank after I had been tumbled by that last shockwave. Something had gotten our range, probably that Pan missile carrying tread slapper we had been trying our best to skirt but missiles are faster than fans, unless you're using those fans to blow a cushion under you.
... The canister arrayed explosive solids had been fused as an air burst format; multiple independently targeted explastic hunter-killer capable munitions in an anti-personnel mixture of powdered fuel-air concussive charges, self-targeting / self forging tungsten penetrating sabots and passively targeted EMP wave generators. We had been hit with overpressure high enough to crack BPC, self-forging tungsten darts driven at 5 klicks a second by their explosive decoupling saddles and short range but extremely high intensity electro-mag spheres of influence that did their best work against our onboards. Standard low-key tactical engagement munitions normally reserved for hard shelled infantry (if they could pick up our smaller EMS spikes and make positive target lock ... which they had) but this type of munition worked equally well on thin skinned track layers or fast fans which were a lot easier to acquire and saturate.
"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 flashing than the pleasure district in Old Amsterdam ...
"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 full 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. The feedback relay seemed sluggish and I restarted it as well. 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 that the onboard was griping about!
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 slaved drone missile launcher. I wasn’t 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, which 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 was near us but a track laying Pan snake charmer and it wasn't paying much attention to us, being too busy moving to the North East where it could do the most good in a support role. I decided to try to give it a wide berth since it had far more range than we did. 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. 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 fur balls and the residual background from the recent fire fight. I was somewhat amazed at how fast the fur ball was traveling. While we were on our backs in the woods, the fur ball had moved about three klicks north and was waxing fierce. Fresh units responding as fast as they could poured in on both sides, hovers, tracks and infantry, 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 and some bragging rights.
We were four very angry hard shell beetles, moving fast, using every bit of natural cover that we could, bouncing low and jumping fast. The Ibarra re-synced and despite some scratches and a few dings, still showed that it was over 89% 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.
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. We began our slow bounce north. Along the way, we picked up two surviving members of Giovanni's squad and another pair of drones, one of them a TAC launcher with about a quarter of its munitions left. 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 ready to brew up any Pan orphans that we could find including those that were disabled. We put extra rounds into those, partially to just to make sure and partially as payback for Smith. We took out all the artillery the Pans were trying to get into place and made it a hell of a lot nicer for the boys and girls in the 5th to have some fun on the playground. Up ahead was the war, already I could see the flashes on the horizon, the columns of smoke and the trails of HyVeloc rounds burning up at the end of their trajectories. We had a job to do, we would mourn our losses later, if we lived to see the end of the day.
Tomorrow was supposed to be Smith's birthday.
She would have been nineteen...
-From the personal diary of William
2nd Lt., TACombine Mobile Infantry