Yeah we get pushed around by the bad guys: the criminals, the Vanduul, every slimeball in the ‘verse that wants to take away our property, our worlds, our freedom. We’re supposed to be the good guys, the compassionate ones. But some days you just gotta pull the covers off the gatling guns… and push back.
ZOMBIE-13, AIR SUPPORT IS INBOUND
Gonn, Oberon System
Another Gorgon slammed into the dome. A hemispheric pattern of hex facets shimmered in the air when the warhead went off. The force field soaked up most of the frag but a surge of heat and overpressure rocked the Marines inside.
“Last pack out!” Lampley shouted, jacking the orange handle to eject a spent powercell and seat the last fresh one in its place. The force field emitter thrummed and the sound of battle dulled. Lampley looked at the display and patted the device. “She’s good for two, maybe three more hits max.”
“SITREP!” Dragon barked, her eyes towards danger. As a MARSOC Gunnery Sergeant, Emi “Dragon” Comoto had a rep for keeping a cool head when the shit hit the fan. At the moment, surrounded by at least a hundred Vanduul, the entire fan was submerged in shit. The rotating blades were just stirring the brown stuff.
The responses came rolling in. “Badger good.” “Mercer, good to go.” “Lampley, Kyle and Scones, all good.”
Dragon tracked the shout-outs to the translucent icons spread across her HUD. She didn’t expect an answer from Yeltzin; chunks of him were dripping down what remained of the left-side wall. That left just one unaccounted for.
“Jansen,” she barked. Half a breath wait, then “JANSEN!!”
A wet cough came from Dragon’s far right. “Yo” The voice was muddled.
Still tracking enemy movements with her carbine she reached back, snapped her fingers and pointed forcefully in Jansen’s direction. “Get eyes on Jansen.”
Kyle scrambled over rubble and slid in beside the seated heavy weaps specialist, diving into a rapid assessment. It took only a moment. “Shit Gunny, he took some frag.”
“How bad?” she asked, ducking reflexively as the crimson finger of a beam laser scraped across the dome. She expected Kyle’s typical smart-ass dismissiveness, a product of the medic’s well-earned confidence. As a rule, if the head is attached, Kyle figures he can get it home still blinking. The silence tore her gaze off the front line.
Jansen was seated, the front plate of his armor rocked open where Kyle was forcing a thermal coagulant into one of three notable entry wounds. Blood bubbled out of the other two, a bright red froth that came out in gouts each time Jansen’s chest settled. Comoto winced. Lung wounds.
“Crystal Palace,” she shouted into the comms, “this is Zombie 13 actual, we are bandicoot, I repeat, we are bandicoot. Where the hell is our air support?”
“Don’t get your panties in a knot, Dragon.” Even over radio static the voice was warm, laced with a familiar southern drawl.
Comoto’s eyes flared. “Luce, you son of a bitch, tell me you’re here.” For the first moment since this shit-show fell apart, she felt a glimmer of hope.
The voice came back. “Roger that Zombie-13, The Fallen are three mikes out, rolling hot. Looks like you threw a real party down there.”
Another Vanduul missile shrieked in from the old factory down the street; a solid hit. The dome shuddered, overpressure hammering Comoto’s ears and chest. She scanned the ruins that surrounded her Marine’s position, every corner layered with Vanduul crew-served weapons, shoulder-fired missiles, mortars. It seemed like every dark crevice blossomed with muzzle flare.
“They’re right on top of us,” she shouted, a hint of scream tainting her voice.
“That’s why command cared enough to send the very best darlin.” Then Lucifer’s voice lost any hint of humor. “Keep your head down Dragon, we’re about to fuck some shit up.”
Dragon spun to her troops, palms mashing towards the ground. “GET DOWN!!”
The air outside the dome ripped in half as a fan of hypersonic missiles screamed in, low and flat. The Gorgon launcher disappeared in a ball of fire, along with eight or nine other heavy weapons. A wave of Hellstorms followed, belching submunitions that skipped across the broken pavement like oversized ping-pong balls before bursting white-hot. The heat washed over what was left of the dome, scorching metal just outside the field.
Thunder shook the ground as the Fallen screamed by, barely twenty meters off the deck. The shockwave that raced behind them peeled asphalt off the roadway.
Comoto looked up, her eyes tracking the carnage. The primary Vanduul crew-served weapons were now tangles of burning metal. The AT-88 had been blown completely off the roof of the parking garage, now smashed and burning in the adjacent alley.
A garage-style door rolled up and an ad hoc vehicle lumbered out into the street. The commercial flatbed truck carried a fixed-base missile launcher. She barked into the comm “Technical, vector two-four-five!!”
The drawl responded, “Well shoot the damn thing Marine, what the hell good are ya?” The mirth was back, a soft chuckle just before the comm clicked off.
Goddamn right, Dragon snarled under her breath. This was our fight to begin with. “Marines!” she shouted, “My target, now!”
On her mark Lampley cut the dome and the Marines unleashed hell. Small arms fire raked the vehicle and launcher. The windshield dissolved in a cloud of glass, blood and brain matter, none of which was human in origin.
Driverless, the truck rumbled forward until its nose crunched into the side of the service center. Three of the eight missiles screamed off the rack, one venting flame from half a dozen holes along its length. It spiraled into the sky and detonated. The other two scorched off in search of loitering angels.
In response, one of the chameleon fighters color-shifted from ambient blue to blaze orange, as visible as it could be against a backdrop of tan dirt and grey sky. The missiles locked on, wheeling over at almost right-angles to give chase.
True to its name, the Fallen plummeted from the sky, yanking nose-up at the last moment in a burst of jet-thrust and countermeasures. The jet screamed skyward, fading back to shades of blue as the two missiles, lost and confused, slammed into the parking garage. The multi-floor structure collapsed in a roar of pancaked concrete.
The lights in the room snapped on and Colonel Charles “Hammer” Martell set the remote on the podium. Mnemonic Recordings made After-Action Reports more vivid and detailed than any collection of narrated video or 3D animation. The men and women around the table were breathing hard, some visibly rattled. Politicians, even senior command staff, can live a lifetime without experiencing a cutting-edge SF engagement firsthand. The M-REC cut through all the bullshit. He could tell by the unblinking eyes that he had only to close with authority.
“Total engagement time one minute thirty-seven seconds. Five over five performance, bad guys dead, good guys come home.” Martell looked around the table where UEE brass was flanked by Xi’An and Banu counterparts. The turtles were understandably invested, it was their shit that got stolen. The Banu were less than thrilled; they’d been trusted with the package. When something gets stolen on your watch its a matter of honor to get it back yourself. If the Empire steps in and pulls out a win in the fourth quarter, the Banu look even worse. That weakens them, gives us leverage with the Xi’An we can work for decades.
Martell looked around the room. Who would have thought that a platoon of antique statues could pay off in modern-day political clout?
The probability of mission failure was low; the enemy was a criminal enterprise not some fanatic zealots looking to die for the cause. These clowns were in it for the money, used to dealing with cops who lacked Special Forces training, hardware and the authority to engage. These pirates, thieves, whatever their name or whatever rock they crawled out from under, were about to get a lesson in shock and awe.
“I’d like to turn this briefing over to Major Frank ‘Lucifer’ Hawkins, commander of The Fallen. He will explain to you how the unique capabilities of his team will handle the situation. Major?”
Hawkins stood with a nod of deference to Martell. He picked the remote off the podium and tapped a button. The screen lit up with the image of a sleek, shark-like fighter.
“The Aegic Dynamics Saber…”