The vehicle slowly rolled forward, and started down the embankment of the crater.
“Holy shit, look at these special motherfuckers.” Al commented as they took in the spectacle before their eyes.
A quarter of the soldiers on the ground were in a typical military parade formation, another quarter, were running around unpacking supplies that should be staying on the Expandable Service Vehicles, another quarter were attempting to set up tents, and the final quarter were ascending the wall on the west side of the crater.
Pale Horse 21 arrived at the bottom of the crater, and rolled up to a Darter Scout Car outfitted with an inconceivable amount of antennas and satellite dishes, Greg assumed this was their Combat Operations Center (COC). Exiting the vehicle, Pale Horse 21 walked to the darter, their hands in their pockets, and rifles slung across their backs. Greg hopped up on top of the Darter and banged on the large metal door as Al leaned against the vehicle, keeping his eye on the Pintel. The hatch opened, spilling dull light out of the vehicle’s busy interior. A confused man, no older than 30 stared at Greg with a confused expression crossing his face.
“Can I help you?” The man said condescendingly, attempting to maintain a level of bearing.
“Yeah man, where is Bricklayer 6?” Greg said, noticing the man was a sergeant.
“Who the fuck are you!?” The man snapped, “You don’t just say man to a fucking Ops Sergeant!”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Greg feigned and apologetic attitude, “You can call me Greg, or Leathers, or Weapons Sergeant Major, whichever you choose.”
“Hey motherfuckers!” Al yelled as he pushed off of the Darter and started towards the Pintel, “Does that look like your shit!?”
A group of soldiers froze near the bed of the 141 as Al stomped up to them.
“Uh, no sir.” One of the men piped up.
“Then get the fuck away from it.” He snapped as the soldiers backed away, sharing glances at one another.
He jumped up upon the bed of the Pintel and sat down, irritated. “Fucking kids, you can’t leave shit alone for thirty seconds without some dumbass trying to jack your shit.”
Greg stood inside the Darter, arms crossed, talking to the Sergeant over the chatter of the COC.
“He’s motivating Delta company right now Sergeant Major, I couldn’t tell you when he’ll be done.”
“Where’s your ops-chief then?” Greg spoke, over the top of radio communications flooding in from all over the Operations Area.
“I will find out,” The Sergeant said as he turned and yelled into the driver’s seat “Cortez!”
The head of a young man, no older than twenty appeared from the hatch of the driver’s seat.
“Yes Sergeant.” The kid responded.
“Go find Sergeant Major Durgan and let him know Pale Horse 21 is here and would like to talk to him.” The Sergeant instructed, and the kid nervously slid by Greg, avoiding eye contact.
Al watched from the 141 as the soldiers finally reached the crest of the crater and started fanning out along it’s edges, setting in a loose security cordon as the main body frantically ran about accomplishing nearly nothing within the crater. His head snapped behind him as he heard quickly approaching footsteps, expecting Greg, but instead, a young soldier sprinted past, no rifle, no armor, no helmet, no nightvision, just a red lense flashlight and an expression of extreme fear.
“Good evening, Sir!” He sounded off as he passed Al.
“‘Sup,” Al responded, beneath his breath as he watched the kid sprint into the darkness. ‘The only person in a hurry here is a private,’ he thought, ‘This is gonna be an interesting deployment.’
Back at the Darter, Greg waited, impatiently, replying to the Sergeants inquiries with uninterested, one word replies, as he studied tactical control measures on a map of the operating area. Finally the hatch of the Darter opened and the young private dropped in and turned to the Sergeant, Greg noticed the kid was now wearing body armor and a helmet.
“Sergeant,” The kid panted, “He’s at the smoke pit, he said ‘If pale horse needs to see me they can come to me’.”
“Great,” Greg hissed beneath his breath, shaking his head.
“And,” The kid took a breath. “Sergeant Major Durgan wants you to take him his armor and helmet.”
“Where’s his armor and helmet?” The Ops Sergeant replied.
“I’m wearing it,” The kid said remorsefully.
Greg opened the hatch of the Darter as profanity began spewing from the Ops Sergeant's mouth.
“I’ll meet you at my Pintel, Sergeant.” Greg said as he climbed from the vehicle.
“Sounds good, Sergeant Major.” He paused yelling for a second to acknowledge Greg.
Al glanced at Greg as he walked through the black to the 141.
“Dude, this is a clusterfuck.” Al said as he gestured to the soldiers lining the crater wall.
“Oh, I know, man,” Greg said as he leaned against the vehicle, handing Al a cigarette. “Bricklayer 6 is holding that formation over there motivating their delta company, and we are going to head over to the smoke pit in a minute to talk to their ops chief.”
Al lit his smoke, inhaled, exhaled, then said, “We seriously need to get the fuck out of here, this place is probably a target for the DCA, and/or waiting for a counter-attack by the DCMS.”
“We’ve got 22 watching over us.” Greg said, completely understanding the situation.
“Right, I get that but they have one A70 and a 25 mil, that’s not gonna stop DCA fires or hold off a lance of DCMS-” He was cut off as the Ops Sergeant emerged from the dark.
“Okay gents,” He sighed, “Ready?”
“Yep, hop in.” Al said as he gestured to the passenger seat of the Pintel.
Greg slid into the driver’s seat and started the vehicle.
“Just up here, and behind that Expandable is the smoke pit.” The Ops Sergeant advised as Greg turned the vehicle slightly to avoid a group of soldiers, huddled together to escape the cold moist air.
They spotted the glow of a cigarette lighter and slowed, stopping beside the crates and a circle of rocks that indicated the smoking area, which was set up coincidently right beside a large expandable with a label that read “FUEL” and “EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE”.
Greg pulled himself from the Pintel and dropped to the ground, followed by the Ops Sergeant and Al.
They approached an older looking soldier who was cackling loudly.
“Pale Horse,” The rugged man said cheerfully, “Glad you could join us.”
“Oh, my pleasure,” Greg said, with an air of sarcasm only obvious to Al, who sneared slightly.
“Nothing as exciting as a planetary assault, huh?” He took a drag of his cigarette and nodded, as if affirming his own words.
“Well, getting blown to hell is pretty exciting, but in a different way.” Greg said.
“That’s why your second team is in the hills, so that doesn’t happen, unless you need us to do your job for you.” He grinned.
“Our job is only to support your insertion, Durgan, not to babysit you from a ridge.” Greg retorted, relighting his own cigarette. “This location is certainly a DCA predetermined target, and I’m very surprised we haven’t received incoming yet.”
“Roger that, Sir,” He said, condescendingly, “We’ll relocate, at Bricklayer 6’s guidance.”
“Thanks, Durgan.” Greg said as he turned to his vehicle.
“Pale Horse.” Sergeant Major Durgan added, as they loaded up, the two turned back to him, “You forget to shave?”
“That’s an affirm’, Durgan.” Al said with a smile.
“You might wanna fix that.” He said as Greg started the 141.
“Oh, we’ll get right on that!” Greg called without looking up as he shifted his rifle to a more comfortable spot in the cab.
Ascending the crater wall to a level spot to stay the night, the 141 jolted and bumped, as it’s tires thumped over rocks, then dug in desperately for traction. Greg didn’t want to be anywhere near the center of the crater if they started to get hit by DCA fires.
“Pale Horse 22, 21,” Al said into his microphone, “Be advised, Bricklayer is going to most likely set up the FOB in the center of the crater for the night.”
“Are you serious?” 22’s voice responded over the comm system.
“Yeah, it’s a clusterfuck down here.” Al sighed, bracing as the tires caught a bit of traction and yanked the vehicle farther up the wall.
“They probably have DCA aiming right at the crater,” 22 came over the radio.
“Yeah, we know, we’re gonna set up on the south western side and dig our own graves for the night.” Al responded.
“Sounds good, we’ll be watching.” 22 said as Greg slowed the Pintel as it approached a fire team of soldiers, lazily holding security.
Turning the vehicle off, he pulled himself out and landed on the ground. Al followed as he approached the soldiers, who were all looking curiously at the two.
“Bad guys are that way,” Al pointed, somewhat annoyed no one was watching.
“Anybody got a smoke?” Greg said quietly as the dirt below him slipped from his feet.
“Yeah,” One of the soldiers said as Greg crouched beside him, being careful that he didn’t put the muzzle of his rifle in the dirt.
“Thanks bud.” Greg said, “Who are you guys?”
“Archer Company, Yellow platoon.” The soldier responded. “How about you?”
Greg smiled vaguely with the cigarette in his mouth. “I’m Greg,” He pointed to Al, “That’s Al.”
The soldiers smiled and chuckled at the laid back nature of the two bearded men, “What are you?” The soldier smiled.
“Federation Suns soldiers, just like you” Al said as he leaned back in the fighting hole dug by the fire team.
“No way, you have different armor, different helmets, different guns, everything is different.” One of the other soldiers responded.
“Any of you guys got names?” Al asked, avoiding the question.
“Uh yeah,” The soldier said, then pointed at himself, “I’m the team leader, Team Corporal Joel Wunder, that’s Corporal Evans,” A dark skinned kid raised his hand briefly, “Private Stewart, and Warren.”
“Nice to meet you guys,” Greg said, as he scanned the horizon, he had a sickening feeling that something was very wrong. “Al.”
Al looked up, cigarette in his mouth, helmet lying beside him on the ground.
“Get the D-RAY up, point it out there.” Greg gestured to the south eastern horizon.
Al slid down the embankment to the 141 and started cranking a lever, raising the large cylindrical antenna of the Directional Radar into the sky. Aiming like a mounted gun, he pointed it at the horizon then jumped off the Pintel.
“You want me to get the MASCR?” Al called up the canyon wall.
“Sure,” Greg responded.
“What’s going on?” Wunder asked, on edge and fingering the trigger guard of his rifle.
“I heard something.” Greg said quietly, ear to the sky, “You guys have any batteries for A70s?”
“I’m sure we do down below at the ammo supply point.” Wunder replied, eyes now darting about beneath his night vision.
“Enemy detected,” The heartstopping call came from the D-RAY. “Enemy Detected.”
Greg and Al’s, Detection vision lit up, targeting an enemy vehicle.
“Lynx” it read as Greg noted it was coming straight for them.
“Al, call it up to Bricklayer and 22, lance of DCMS Lynx’s to our south southwest.” Greg ordered as he jumped and slid down to the vehicle, grabbing the large tubular A70 and scrambled back up the hill.
Al quickly called it up as Evans rolled onto the Fire team’s 13mm machine gun and switched on its thermal imaging. Drops of rain started dotting the ground as the battalion of soldiers frantically ran to battle positions on the edges of the crater.
“Eyes on, I have eyes on a lance of Ravens also.” Evans said, as he ranged the large, bird like, machines, barely visible on the horizon.
Greg, lifted the sights on the A70 and switched them on, a small red light appeared, indicating, no lock was achieved.
“Be advised, Bricklayer, we are about to engage two lances of SCMS ‘mechs to our south south east, over.” Al said into the radio as Greg held the thumb spoon down on the A70, trying to acquire a target lock.
Suddenly, the horizon lit up in dots of bright white.
“Incoming!” A soldier screamed as the tell tail pop and hiss of Long Range Missiles echoed throughout the mineral desert hills.
The sky ignited in streaks of light as the missiles quickly approached.
“Incoming!” Al screamed and jumped from the crater’s edge, quickly followed by Greg and the fire team as the missiles crashed into the ground and spun passed them.
The sky snapped and popped as Pale Horse 22 called in the rain of Palace’s kinetic weapons. Tracers lit the horizon while the glowing blue streak of projected particles snapped overhead, briefly raising the hairs on the nearby soldiers as it passed. The crater erupted in the thumping of machine gun fire and singing of pulse lasers as Al jumped onto the MASCR, leveled it with the ground and targeted one of the ravens.
“Raven to the left of a spike, 800 meters, tricky wind, Left hip.” Al rang off as he loaded the bipod, waiting for Greg who was setting up the Eye Ball.
“Roger, left hip, half form left, send it.” Greg replied immediately.
The ground shook and dust exploded from the muzzle of the MASCR as it sent a 25mm APFG round through the air at 4,500 feet per second. Al loaded another 25mm round into the action of the massive weapon, as Greg watched the armor piercing, fin guided round in flight.
“Good hit, limping, standing by for round two.” Greg said as he adjusted the gain dial on the top of the Eye Ball.
“Where’d he go?” Al said as he searched the horizon with the long anti-material rifle.
“Two V shaped spikes, in the center, it’s limping behind it now, 760 meters.” Greg responded as Evans opened up with the 13mm.
“Roger, Two V shaped spikes, limping behind the right one, 750, half form left.” Al called.
“Yep, drop that half form.”
“Roger, right hip.”
“Send it.” Greg said, then waited as Al smoothly squeezed the trigger.
The blast hit him in the chest, making him blink. Focused, he watched the round fly down range, plowing through the mineral spire and knocking the ‘mech’s hip actuator from the body. The raven dropped to the ground beneath crumbling mineral spires and a cloud of dust.
“Good kill!” Greg called as he readjusted, searching for a closer raven. “There’s too many, I’m gonna use the A70.”
“Roger!” Al responded then sent another 25mm round into the group of ‘mechs.
Greg shouldered the A70, targeting one of the Lynxs as it closed in on them.
“Burn area! Burn area! Burn area!” Greg screamed as the light blinked green in the A70s sight.
The fireteam either didn’t move or was looking back at him puzzled.
“That means get the fuck behind him!” Al screamed, then re-shouldered the MASCR.
The soldiers immediately jumped from the fighting hole and rolled down the hill towards the 141.
“Clear!?” Greg yelled as he aimed in on the Lynx.
“Clear!” Al answered.
Greg held down the trigger of the A70, it clicked while the sight blinked off for a moment, when the sight returned, there was a massive, burnt hole in the pelvis of the lynx.
“More ammo in the black pack!” Greg screamed as he tossed the A70 down the hill to the fire team.
Droplets of rain dripped from the MASCR’s muzzle as he blew the knees and hips out on DCMS mech’s every few shots.
“Ten rounds left!” He yelled as he sighted in, targeted a Lynx’s oddly shaped cockpit, and squeezed the trigger. The rifle waited until he lined up the shot, then fired, digging it’s bipods deeper and deeper into the increasingly muddy ground.
“Roger!” Greg yelled back, then got on comms, “22, 21, I copy two platoons of Sabaku’s to our North East.” He got off comms, to yell to Al and the fire team, “They’re flanking us from the north east!”
Private Warren frantically dug through the back of the 141 for a black backpack, outgoing fire filled his ears. Finally finding it he unzipped the main pouch, water dripped constantly from his helmet into the bag as he rummaged about, searching for the A70 batteries.
“Incoming!” Greg screamed and ran down the hill towards him.
Another volley of rockets blasted overhead, followed sharply by buzzing particles and singing lasers, as Al rolled down the embankment from the MASCR.
The sky sounded like popcorn as Pale Horse 22 called in kinetic strike after kinetic strike from the Leviathans in orbit.
Machine gun fire and small pulse lasers tore up the ground around their position.
“Greg!” Warren screamed, standing in the back of the 141.
Greg turned and caught one of the 70mm batteries for the A70, opened the breach and slammed it into the energy weapon.
“Al, I need you to mark a target for me!” Greg yelled as the downpour increased.
“Gotcha,” He said as he jumped on the Eye Ball, the MASCR completely dry of ammunition.
Peering through the sight of the A70, Greg watched as a red box locked onto something on the other side of the defilade.
“Marked!” Al yelled from the Eye Ball, located on a muddy mound at the crest of the crater.
Greg waited until the A70 sight blink green then dashed up the embankment, slipping in the mud and falling on his face right before he reached the top and aimed in with the laser.
The weapon clicked, and the sight shut off momentarily. The raven collapsed with it’s pelvis and part of its beak like front end blown through, a few mineral spires fell behind the raven, obviously collateral from the A70. Greg spun in place and slid through the mud back down to the 141 as he felt the heat of a pulse laser temporarily dry his left sleeve as it passed. As he loaded up another battery, he noticed Warren and Wunder run to the side of the vehicle. Quickly realizing that the Pintel was starting to slide down the crater. He jumped in the back, throwing equipment and bags out to the ground before it started to pitch forward down the embankment.
“Let go of it!” He yelled as he dove from the vehicle, which caused it to slip further.
Readying the A70, he called up the wash, “Al! Get me a target!”
He peered through his sight, waiting for the targeting box to appear… Nothing.
“Hey bro, I need a target.” He said over comm.
More kinetic rounds dropped from space, this time impacting beyond the north western side of the crater.
“Al!” Greg screamed, “You good, bro!?”
Still no response. Greg dug into the side of the wall, desperately trying to climb in the slippery mud to Al’s position as he heard the 141 finally slide down the embankment and roll, snapping the D-RAY off as it tumbled down the muddy crater.
Without thinking twice, Greg ran across the crater wall, attempting to find a way up to the crest, slipping down further with every step and getting more stuck in the mud. His pants were frigid and soaked and his rifle was caked in mud, but he pressed on. A volley of missiles hissed overhead, overshooting the crater completely as Greg slipped and fell face first in the mud and water. He gathered himself, and looked down into the crater, searching for anything that could get him up the hill. He then realized that the crater was filling with water, soldiers frantically shoved equipment into the Expandables in at least a foot deep of muddy rainwater.
Covered from head to toe in mud, he continued up the wall, the thuds and pops of the battle: a peripheral priority to him at this moment. Thunderbird fighters circled overhead, occasionally swooping down for laser gun runs in between firing long range missiles.
Weapons Sergeant Thomas Sullivan and the team air controller, Sergeant George Harris of Pale Horse 22 had long since run out of 25mm, and A70 ammunition. Underneath a tarp strung up to their 141, they laid side by side, taking turns on the Eye Ball, and calling in kinetic fires from the Palace located somewhere outside the atmosphere. Their helmets, which they had had off since the beginning of the torrent, had filled with water. The brim of their boonie hats dripped water onto their optics and radios.
“21, 22,” Sully said into his handset. Which felt frigid against his bare face, “21, 22.”
“22, 21 send it,” Greg’s panting voice finally transmitted across comms.
“Hey, brother, be advised, it looks like the DCMS is pulling back or regrouping right now, you may need to get a ball rolling down there.”
“Roger, can you let Bricklayer Main know that, I’m trying to find Al.”
“I got it.” Harris said, as he keyed his own handset and started relaying the information to Bricklayer Main.
“22, 21, I cannot find Al.” Greg said, over the radio, an obvious air of urgency in his voice.
“Roger, let me have a look,” Sully, peered through the eyeball, scanning around Greg. “Where was he last?”
“He was on the South Eastern side of the crater, where our 141 was.”
Sully scanned the area, seeing nothing but a few fire teams of Bricklayer Soldiers firing sporadically towards the retreating enemy. “I don’t see him, 21, try raising him on comms.”
“I already tried, no good,” Greg said as he slid down the crater wall into the now meter deep water. “Last time I talked to him he was marking targets for my A70.”