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Old 22nd February 2011, 01:29 AM   #1 (permalink)
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All The Things I've Done

This general ethos is still kicking around in my head - sorry!

One

Dax kicked the door in and I fired a concussion round into the room beyond. We both stepped smartly out of the way, standing either side of the doorway, backs to the wall.

There was a flash, a bang, and the ground floor windows blew out.

Dax and McCabe went in the front, Andrews would be coming in from the rear. McCabe and Andrews were FNGs straight out of Boot, so I’d wanted to keep them close. However this was their third straight arrest of the day and they seemed to be picking things up just fine.

It was a two storey building, same as the rest of the street, with the living room taking up the whole front of the house. Dax went right, McCabe left, Andrews had the kitchen. I stood in the doorway, watching the dusty street, switching from pistol-shotgun to snub-nosed assault rifle. They’d sent us in light - just vest and helmet – as part of a new ‘zero impact policing’ initiative and I wasn’t happy. It wouldn’t matter if we’d dressed as Coco the Clown and handing out candy, the locals all hated us being there. You could feel the sullen resentment, just as sure as the high summer heat. Kicking in doors to arrest those on our list of agitators didn’t help matters much.

“Clear!” Dax sounded tired, more than that, weary.

“Kitchen is clear!”

“Clear…No, wait! I got something.” McCabe was fired up, eager to please, starting to irritate me. I turned my head so he could hear me.

“Speak to me, Marine. Always give a description so that if you get wasted your buddies have some idea of what happened.”

“Ah, sorry, Sergeant Cooper. Ah, woman and child, probably mother and daughter. Curled up together in the armchair. Not moving. I’m going closer.”

I was aware of him easing through the room, gun up.

“Careful now. Watch-“

“Lazy Gun Two this is Lazy Gun Actual, please respond.”

I swore under my breath. It was Lieutenant Morris aboard the support platform, and he’d been riding my ass all day.

“Dax, cover McCabe, I gotta’ take this.”

“No problemo, boss. Like the Sarge said, McCabe, nice and easy. Watch for a concealed weapon.”

I stepped out into the street, spitting to try and clear some of the pervasive dust from my mouth. Leander was a hot planet but not the best place to catch a tan. Widespread strip mining had given it an atmosphere you could chew on and every surface seemed covered in fine grey dust. Including us.

I left the Alpha Team channel open but down low so as to keep a handle on things.

“Lazy Gun Actual, this is Lazy Gun Two. Receiving you.”

“Cooper, this is Morris. Look, the brass are all over me about lack of progress picking up these damn suspects. Give me some good news.”

“Well, sir, we’re currently searching the third address and I’ve nothing new to report since the last time you asked for an update about fifteen minutes ago.“

“Lose the attitude, Sergeant, I’ve got-“

I mentally tuned him out as McCabe was speaking.

“No pulse on the woman. The kid is almost buried beneath a big teddy bear... Let me take Teddy for a minute, sweetheart, and I promise to hand him right back.”

There was real tenderness in McCabe’s voice, like he was used to dealing with a little sister or something. Everything in me just screamed wrong. My head whipped round.

“McCabe, No!”

“McCabe, don’t touch the-“

An explosion, a big explosion, has silence at its heart. There was a moment of utter calm, dead time, and then reality caught up in a rush.

Dax turned towards the doorway, lifting his right arm to shield his face.

I turned and crouched, bringing up my rifle in case this was the trigger for an ambush. The roar swept over me, instantly muffled by my twin earpieces.

The blast hit the open door and the open door hit Dax, sending him three, four metres through the air. That maybe doesn’t sound much but just try it sometime. He came down in a sprawl with the door on top.

The ground floor walls bulged, slid, and the whole front of the house collapsed into the street. Dust and debris and general crap swirled round me, reducing visibility to zero. My visor kicked in, but infrared was next to useless. I could pick up the nearest of two tracked APC’s we’d obtained from local forces but that was about it. The small bright blob was Harrison’s head sticking out of the driver’s position, the big blob had to Grozy on the gun. I heard shouts, curses, someone calling my name. We were blind and both APC’s were sitting with their tailgates down, vulnerable. I took a lungful of flying dirt masquerading as air and went wide band.

“Squad! Go visor, go IR, go IFF. Weapons free, weapons free. Take down anyone trying to get close that doesn’t show as friendly.” I coughed. “Jameson, you there?”

Corporal Jameson and two of his buds were transfers in from the disbanded Two-Seven. I had them on prisoner detail aboard the second APC while guys I knew took point. So sue me.

“Jameson here, Sarge. Can’t see squat. Our two guests are shouting their heads off but I’m not picking up anyone coming to their rescue. If we get overrun do I off them?”

“Not there yet, Corp.” I coughed again, “Everyone mount up and get those damn tailgates closed.”

“Lazy Gun Two, I’m picking up an explosion at your location. Cooper? Dammit, Cooper?”

“Lieutenant. Booby-trap, one casualty. Wait one.” I stood and turned towards the fallen door, silencing the command channel. “Dax, Andrews, I just told the man we have only one casualty. Don’t make me a liar.”

“Andrews here, Sarge. Load of kitchen crap came down on me but I’m OK. The rear of the building is still standing and I’m heading out the back window. Couldn’t get to the front room, it’s just rubble.”

“Front and centre, Marine. Get round here and remount the APC, pronto.”

“Roger that.”

The door moved, sliding to the side as Dax got to his hands and knees.

“I’m telling ya Sarge, there has got to be an easier way to earn a living.”

“Get your sorry ass in gear, Dax, you can die on your own time.” I smiled and turned back towards the nearest APC.

A woman stood there, right in front of me, her auburn hair streaked with dust.

It didn’t matter she was clearly unarmed.

It didn’t matter she was bleeding from a split lip.

It didn’t matter she was my wife.

My rifle came up and I fired a three round burst into her chest. Helen blinked, surprise plain on her face, her shirt bloody. She collapsed at my feet, hidden by a heavy swirl of dust. I knelt down and put my hand out.

There was nothing there, nothing but memories and dust.

Last edited by reiver33; 22nd February 2011 at 01:39 AM.
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Old 22nd February 2011, 09:29 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

....and loving it! PTSD for Cooper? Or something more sinister...
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Old 23rd February 2011, 02:30 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

Sinister? Me???

Two

There were voices around me but I ignored them.

“Who’s shooting?”

“We've got firing inside the perimeter!”

“I got nothing, just friendlies.”

“Sarge? Sarge!”

The APC engines roared into life, sending up plumes of blue-grey smoke and adding to the general bedlam.

It was all just background.

I felt the road surface in case there was a hidden trap-door or something. Impossible, I know, but no more impossible than a vanishing body. It had been my ex-wife, looking exactly as I remembered her eleven years ago, even down to the split lip.

Memory fought with reality for my attention and the here and now won out. I grabbed one, two stims from my vest and jammed them against my neck. They called this brand ‘Cold Fire’ and the initial hit is like battlefield aesthetic, a rushing numbness spreading out from the injection site. Then I got the tingle, and the supercharged burst of perfect clarity that fused body and soul into one vision, one purpose. I stood.

“This is Cooper. Accidental discharge, I repeat, accidental discharge. Look to your front.”

I looked round to see Anderson, J. helping Dax, I. to his feet, as the IFF overlay identified them. Against a high-tech opponent an active transponder would be suicide, but nothing I’d seen on this planet suggested the locals had anything like the required capability.

“You two, mount up!”

Anderson looked back at the ruined building.

“What about McCabe, Sarge?”

I shook my head.

“Nothing we can do, Marine. I seen this kind of thing before and that close to the explosion, well, at least it was quick.”

As we moved towards the APC I opened the command channel.

“Lazy Gun Actual this is Lazy-“

“Cooper? Don’t you dare cut me off like that again of I’ll have your stripes! Understand?”

“Reading you clear, sir.”

“Good, now report.”

“One casualty confirmed. McCabe, H. A newbie. Nothing for us to evac so I’m requesting the site be tagged for a Burials detail. Maybe they can sift through the debris and find enough to put in a box, but you’re talking body parts at best.”

“Noted. No sign of the target?”

“Negative. There were two booby-trapped bodies in the building, maybe his wife and child. Hardly matters but it means they knew we were coming and had time to rig up a big hello. You want us to move on to the next address or call it a day?”

The dust swilled away and I had a clear view of the support platform – a heavily armed airship on permanent station above the city. It served to provide us with fire support and remind the locals we were watching their every move. As I watched a helo lifted off from the topside pad and flickered away towards Camp Peacemaker.

When Lieutenant Morris came back on I could hear the hesitation in his voice.

“The One-Seven reported an ambush, but just your traditional road-side bomb. I’m not seeing any definite pattern to suggest the mission has been compromised, so press on for now and-“

The airship imploded. And I mean imploded, like some giant invisible hand crushed it, then let go. The crumpled airframe fell, trailing smoke from ruptured systems.

“Lazy Gun Actual, do you read?”

There was just static, and to be honest I was glad Morris was in no condition to reply during his fall to earth. I ran towards the APC, the last man to board.

“Squad! Actual is down, I repeat, Actual is down. The platform is a goner so I want every rifle topside and safeties off. The mission is officially a bust and until we hear from Command we’re heading towards the crash site. The chance of finding survivors is about nil but I want to stop the locals picking over the wreckage.”

I jumped and Grozy grabbed my arm so that I walked up the metal side, twisting at the top to sit by the HMG gun shield, my legs dangling.

“Move out, move out! Harrison, main thoroughfares if you can, anything to keep us out in the open.”

“Roger that, Sarge.”

The APC jerked as the tracks dug in, making me sway, but there were welded handholds to grab hold of. Sitting out like that, fully exposed, was just stim-fuelled bravado, but I needed to show anyone watching that we weren’t intimidated. I also need to show I was back in charge, as an accidental discharge was something expected from a newbie. At least Dax kept his mouth shut and just grinned.

We rattled down the street and turned into a small square, ignoring any right of way. Civilian traffic jammed itself against the pavements to give us room, but there wasn’t much in the way of protests and cursing. Not that I could hear, anyway. With the support platform down we were effectively incommunicado until the camp realised what had happened and launched a comms drone, but that was the least of my worries.

A wave of static erupted from the command channel, and words.

“Lazy…Two…This…Actual.”

I felt my chest go tight. No one could have survived that crash, it just wasn’t possible. It had to be a trick, but I answered anyway.

“Lazy Gun Actual, this is Lazy Gun Two. Say again?”

“Cooper?”

“Cooper here, sir. Glad to hear your voice. How many survivors?”

“Survivors? What…”

“Sir, you got shot down. The support platform crash landed.”

“Crashed? No, no…”

The static was like surf on the beach, rising and falling.

“Sir?...Lieutenant Morris?...Lazy Gun Actual, do you read?”

Crystal clarity.

“We’re still falling!”
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Old 3rd March 2011, 04:43 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

Three

The link dissolved in a wash of static and the flickering command channel icon blinked out. I just sat there for a moment, unable to work out what had just happened. Dax was looking at me hard, as he’d heard my side of the conversation and knew, just as I knew, that no one could have survived the crash.

I shook my head and looked to the front, filing the ghost of Lieutenant Morris away with the spectre of my ex-wife. The day had gone from bad to weird, and I don’t like weird.

We rattled along, closed on some local cops busting up a street fight while a two-man support team watched from across the street. All the police firearms and special tactics officers had been disarmed and stood down under martial law, replaced by an off-world private security outfit. Vern Security were pretty much hated and despised by all concerned, but they were preferable to the heavy-handed response you would get from the Marines in similar circumstances.

As we neared the armoured car their handcuffs corporate icon appeared in my peripheral vision, giving me an idea. They had a support tender in close orbit and we were patched into their emergency channel in case their ground teams ran into serious opposition. I was sure they’d be able to forward a message back to base, or even act as an ad hoc comms relay.

“Wayward Sun, Wayward Sun, this is Marine detachment Lazy Gun Two, please respond.”

Straight back at me, a woman’s voice.

“Lazy Gun Two, this is the Vern Security frigate Wayward Sun. I’m sorry marine, but this isn’t protocol. To advise us of an incident or request assistance please go through the local civilian police or contact our liaison officer back at Camp Peacemaker.”

“Yeah, well, as you may have noticed we’ve just lost our support platform. So I was wondering if-“

“Be assured that data transfer has been normalised. There was a minor backlog due to higher than anticipated information flow, but operational parameters have been adjusted to ensure this will not occur again.”

She’d pre-empted a question, only it wasn’t the one I wanted to ask and her answer left me floundering.

“Ah, that’s great. Could you maybe inform Marine command-“

“All appropriate authorities have been kept appraised of developments. At no point did we drop below contractual minimums…Was there anything else, marine?”

“Ah, no, no. Lazy Gun Two, out.”

What?

I had no bloody idea what she’d been going on about, except maybe Vern acted as some kind of radio backup for the airship, in case of atmospheric interference. It was just something else to be ignored for now. My head hurt.

“Hey, boss, I’m receiving GPS routing info. Looks like we’re not on our lonesome no more.”

I automatically scanned the horizon for a comms drone but anything up there was lost in the haze.

“Henderson? I’m not getting a command channel link. You sure it’s legit?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s coming through the MSN discriminator, proper prefix and everything.”

The Marine sat nav satellite system couldn’t support voice traffic, so I relaxed a bit.

“OK, so it’s giving us a best route to the crash site?”

“Negative. It’s taking us to that big park, just over a klick north-east. The one where Kuntz threw up in the fountain. You want me to play ball?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s sweet. At least we’ll be out in the open, good fields of fire. Get us there pronto.”

The APC lurched as Henderson tried for top gear, even though the tracks would start chewing up the road surface. I didn’t really care as the locals studiously ignored any considerate gestures, but were quick to shout the odds over minor infractions. Balthazar Park was looking pretty brown these days, since we’d commandeered the water supply which normally kept it irrigated. Command figured that showers for Marines were more important than greenery for the locals, and it had to rain here sometime.

We parked up near the statue of Balthazar himself, although I was a bit vague as to who he was in the planets history. Almost immediately another Marine icon popped up, making me smile.

“This is Lazy Gun Two calling Big Dog One. Mackenzie, that you?”

“Cooper? I heard some panty-wearing Marine outfit needed bailed out, but I never thought I’d have to slum it with the likes of you.”

“Well, don’t worry, we’re here to hold your hand and help with the big words, anytime. Whereabouts are you?”

“Closing on your position from the east. Less than two klicks out.”

I looked in that direction and spotted a dust plume.

“Roger that. Mind those flowerbeds though.”

“Screw them. They bitch if we drive on the pathways, they bitch if we drive on the grass” I heard him spit, “What’s your condition?”

“Two APCs, eight effectives, two prisoners. Lost one man to a booby-trap. You?”

“Started off with four vehicles, now I’m down to two. Road side bomb screwed one and I had to leave another behind on guard, awaiting recovery. That’s seven down, leaving me eleven and three guests of the Marine Corp.”

“And it’s not even midday…Any idea what we’re doing here?”

“You don’t know? Well, I got a side-band flash not long after the platform went down. We were on Long Avenue and had line of sight right down to the relay tower on the big church. We’ve to link up, send our prisoners back to camp in a two-vehicle convoy, then wait for reinforcements.”

“Reinforcements? What the hell we got on standby these days? I don’t fancy sitting out here like-“ Movement caught my eye and I looked up, ”Jeez, it’s a goddamn dropship. I didn’t know we had anything in orbit. Last I heard Persephone is dark side, fire support for the three-one.”

“Don’t knock it, man, if it is apes then we’re…”

Rising engine noise drowned him out as the orbital personnel carrier started to brake, having glided down from the upper atmosphere. It semi-stalled, hovered, then started to settle onto the grass, kicking up a blizzard of dust, twigs, small stones and general debris. I had to turn away for a moment, deaf and blind. The engine note didn’t start to cycle down, indicating this was a dust-off, but the down blast soon ran out of crap to throw our way and I was able to take a look without scouring my visor.

The slide door went back and a squad of Marines spilled out, all shiny in fresh fatigues and polished boots. Newbies? Well, better than nothing, but instead of doubling over they formed a defensive perimeter around the dropship. I upped the magnification on my gunsight, trying to identify which unit they belonged to, but they carried no insignia of any kind. Stranger still, there was no unit icon on my comms array, meaning I couldn’t even ask them the time of day.

Two men stepped out of the ship and started walking towards us, the marines adjusting their positions to form a moving defensive pocket. Two men, wearing civilian clothes cut in a military style, but not uniforms. Both of average height, average build, short brown hair, wearing sunglasses.

Just what I needed, some kind of intelligence dudes.

“Dax, Andrews, front and centre. Get that tailgate down, pronto.” I sighed, “And best behaviour, looks like we’ve got guests.”
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Old 3rd March 2011, 11:50 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

Great dialogue, great storyline. The only thing I find missing a little would be a few more descriptions of the world around them. It might help the reader envision the events a little easier. But I’m no expert. Personally I think it’s great and I would love reading more
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Old 4th March 2011, 02:58 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

The trouble I always find with short postings is the amount of detail I have to cut out, given the inordinate number of words it takes to translate a clear vision in my head to a description on the page. There is a 'calm before the storm' posting coming up (no.5) which has some detail of the city and its architecture, if that helps.

However, to get there...

Four

I jumped down, landing awkwardly and ending up on my ass. Dax paused on the ramp to watch me and snigger, so I gave him the finger while getting up with as much dignity as could be mustered. At least I didn’t have to brush myself down, as we were all so covered in grey-brown dust that rolling around in the dirt hadn’t made matters any worse.

Dax and Andrews stepped out to cover our two guests and the other Marine detachment promptly withdrew, folding back towards, then into, the dropship. Its engines began winding up, making conversation impossible, and Big Dog One came charging up, adding to the general mayhem.

I took a time-out and a swig from my canteen, although all it did was dislodge the crap coating the roof of my mouth. I spat and tried again, savouring the tepid water as it slid down my dry throat. We were supposed to have thermos canteens and an on-board water cooler - but we were supposed to have a lot of things that had failed to materialise. You live with it.

The dropship rose vertically for maybe twenty metres and hung there for a moment. Then the nose dropped and it began moving away, parallel to the ground, picking up speed until the stubby wings provided lift. It sprang skywards, engines on full blast, clawing for altitude at a stall-defying angle of climb. Just your typical fly-boy antics.

The crap storm was still settling and I walked to the edge, or at least where it was appreciably thinner, where Mackenzie joined me. It was a calculated insult, not greeting our two guests straight off, but I wasn’t happy with the way things were panning out and I figured they’d get the message.

Mackenzie pulled down the scarf he’d been wearing over his mouth and spat, hitting my boot. I grinned and pushed up my visor.

“I’m surprised they let you off the leash, Mac. Things must be pretty bad if someone thinks you’re fit for independent command.”

“Woof, woof, asshole. Is it true you just attach your stripes using velcro, given how often you lose them? What is it now, five, six times you been busted?”

“Twice, but at least I didn’t earn mine the easy way, saving some candy-ass captain who was just pinned down by sniper fire.”

Mackenzie laughed.

“Ouch, I’m hurt.” His smile hardened, “I seen your two so-called reinforcements. We talking some kind of intelligence op?”

“I guess. Could turn out to be a right pain in the ass. Bet you there’s some spook related crap on board the airship and we’ll have to stooge around, keeping the locals at bay, while they take their own sweet time either recovering it, or destroying it in situ.”

Mackenzie snorted.

“I hear ya. A helo went down on the ice shelf outside Boor Landing, on Franconia, two tours ago. They had us on perimeter security for five hours, freezing our collective ass off, before even letting us check for survivors. God knows who we were guarding against, Skate Fish maybe, or rogue mermaids…Speaking of the airship though, any idea what happened? I just saw the big plume after it went down.”

I shook my head.

“Not really. I saw it happen, but it just seemed to crumple up, like maybe a serious airframe failure.”

Mac’s eyes narrowed.

“Crumpled up? Sounds like something I seen two, three weeks ago. When the two-seven was stood down we inherited some of their kit – maybe six, seven APCs. Enough so we could afford to stick one on Sore Thumb, that bald hill overlooks Long Avenue, on convoy protection.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know it. Real obvious spot but a commanding position.”

My companion lowered his voice, his tone conspiratorial.

“Right, well I’m on convoy escort and we’re driving past, no problem, locals keeping well out of it. Then the damn sentry APC folds up on itself, just like that. Right in front of us, crumpled up into a ball. Course it blows up, what with the ruptured power cell, fuel and ammo, but I swear nothing touched it beforehand.”

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand.

“Not good, bro, not good at all. Survivors?”

“Naw, we were over there in nothing flat but they was all dead. All crushed, just turned to mush. Even Jensen, who was sitting topside. You’d have to hose them out to get anything worth burying.”

“That’s some serious ****. What did the incident report say?”

He laughed, but without any humour in his voice.

“Well, officially, they said the transfer paperwork hadn’t gone through and the report was kicked back to the two-seven. End of story.”

“And unofficially?”

“Unofficially? Well, unofficially I heard the wreck got airlifted out by a sky crane, destination unknown. Go figure.”

I could tell Big Dog was worried, and if he’s worried, you best sit up and take notice – the man has a personal shitstorm detector like you wouldn’t believe.

Mac gestured behind me with a jerk of his chin.

“We got company.”

I turned round to find the two civilians, or at least non-marines, approaching us. They didn’t seem put out at being ignored, but I decided to smooth things over anyway.

“Gentlemen, I’m Sergeant Cooper and this is Sergeant Mackenzie. Sorry to keep you waiting but we were discussing our immediate security concerns…Ah, before we go any further may I see some form of identification?”

Up close I could see one man was slightly shorter and stockier than his companion. He was the one who spoke.

“I’m Mr Smith and this is Mr Jones. That is all the identification your mission will require.”

Ah-hah, it was going to be one of those ops, and I felt my sunny disposition take a nosedive. Their arrival was either an incredibly elaborate setup or I took them on face value and rendered ‘all available assistance’, as the saying goes. Lacking communication with higher command I couldn’t run the risk of pissing off someone who would, in all probability, go out of their way to see me busted. Again. I tried giving Smith a reassuring smile.

“OK, sir, I understand from Sergeant Mackenzie that we’re to send our collective prisoners back to camp and escort you to-“

“Change of plan, Sergeant. Three vehicles will return to base with the suspects for interrogation, while we remain here with you.”

Mac and I exchanged glances, and neither of us were happy. He spoke up first.

“I’m sorry, sir, but that’s not Regs. Minimum operational deployment is in pairs, for good reason. Leaving a single vehicle way out here, on its lonesome, that’s just asking for trouble.”

Smith smiled.

“And trouble, Sergeant, is precisely what we’re hoping for.”
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Old 4th March 2011, 08:01 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

It’s certainly catching. I love the dialogue, it makes the characters seem very realistic. I don’t understand all the abbreviations, but that could be because I’ve not read the beginning.
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Old 5th March 2011, 04:18 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

Five

Smith continued before either of us could reply.

“Sergeant Cooper and his men will be quite safe with us, I assure you. We’ve known for some time that the relay station at Whitechurch has been compromised. The whole point of that ground-based communication you received was to alert the enemy to our presence, and then pique his interest with a high-profile insertion.”

I wasn’t jumping for joy at this turn of events, to say the least.

“You want us to act as bait, is that it? Well, fly in the kit to set up a proper defensive perimeter and I promise you, enemy numbers won’t matter. As it stands we’ve got some serious firepower relative to the locals, but sometimes we run out of bullets before the bad guys run out of bodies.”

Smith made a dismissive gesture.

“Irrelevant. I want the other three vehicles out of here soon as. Is that clear?”

Mac and I came to attention. It was that kind of moment.

“Sir!”

Smith and Jones retired to the APC, leaving Mac looking decidedly worried.

“Jeez, Cooper, talk about pulling the short straw. I promise, as soon as I’m back in touch with base I’ll kick this upstairs, all the way to the Old Man himself if need be. No way is this a sanctioned op.”

We shook, arms grasping each others forearm.

“Keep the faith, bro.”

“Hardcore.”

I walked back to our two APCs.

“Right, listen up! Jameson, your rig is returning to base along with Big Dog One. Just don’t let Mackenzie boss you around. One change though, I want Grozy and Kuntz to trade places.”

Grozy glowered at me and I could see Kuntz wasn’t too happy either. As the men started raking their gear together Corporal Jameson stepped up, his voice carefully neutral.

“What gives, Sergeant? I don’t like breaking up my crew.”

I rubbed my eyes, trying to dislodge some grit.

“Officially, Grozy is better qualified on the minigun and you’ll need all the help you can get if the locals mob up. Unofficially, I don’t have to justify my actions, but Grozy has a wife and kids, something approaching a home life. The rest of us are either between marriages or between divorces.”

The vehicles carried a range of weapons as their main gun. Jameson’s APC had the standard multi-barrelled minigun but mine carried a vintage twenty millimetre autocannon, a real museum piece. The Corporal gave me a wry smile.

“Didn’t think you had a sentimental side, Sarge.”

“Mention this to anyone, especially Dax, and you’ll be on a charge….Right! Move it, Marines, get the lead out!”

There was the usual ordered chaos as the three vehicles made ready to move out. Mac gave me a salute and shouted something, but engine noise drowned it out. Probably just abuse, anyway. The convoy headed north, and we were able to track their dust plume for a long, long time.


- - - - -


We settled in and I called a chow break. It was just the usual self-heating crud in a spare helmet, but better than nothing. Usually. I stood topside, a mug of something approaching soup in one hand, field glasses in the other, just having a look-see.

The park lay to the south of Blast Circle, the big ring road that allegedly marked the limit of total devastation should the city reactor become ground zero. Inside the ring road it was all prefabricated buildings, the original accommodation modules giving way to commercial premises as the economy expanded. The foundry complex itself was just a big smudge downtown, pumping out broad plumes of grey-black smoke.

Frontier worlds like Leander aren’t big on eco-friendly production methods, and the city of Foundry – not big on imagination either – had gone from a green field site to major industrial complex in under twenty years. You could taste industrialisation in the air.

I took a mouthful of gloop and shifted position, looking south and west of the park.

It was obvious that civic pride had started to rear its head, which probably dated from when Leander moved from colony to fully-fledged independent world. Buildings this far out from the used more natural materials, like wood and stone, and the street plan became less rigid. Foundry was a low-rise sprawl as land was cheap, practically worthless. There was an entire planet out there, waiting.

I could understand the lure of a frontier life, almost. Setting down in the middle of nowhere, carving your own place out of the wilderness, making your mark on the landscape. But not the life I’d choose. I was born in space, aboard the Magister Militum, and that’s where I felt most at home.

Dax stuck his head out of the top hatch.

“You want any of this? Andrews swears it actually tastes not unlike an approximation of beef stew, which is a helluva lot better than that reconstituted gunk you’re trying to swallow.”

I looked in my mug, made a face, and tossed the contents.

“OK, Dax, I’ll take a plate, but no singing round the camp fire, got it?”

He laughed.

“Roger that. What about our two guests? They’ve been walking in circles for the best part of twenty minutes, apart from water stops at the end of each circuit.”

“Yeah, I suppose. How’s the juice holding out, anyway?”

Dax made a face.

“Gonna’ be a problem if we’re out here much longer. Definitely if it’s overnight. I’d say we’re looking at hitting a local market, or better still, a bar, and sooner rather than later.”

“Fraternisation, Corporal Dax? I’m surprised at you. You’ll be dating a local girl next.”

“Fat chance!”

He ducked inside and I stretched, trying to get some of the kinks out, before sliding down the front glacis onto the dirt. Smith broke away from his partner and came over to me. I was feeling hungry now Dax had put the idea in my head, but I had to be polite and wait.

“Sergeant Cooper, we have to change our position. We’re not exposed enough.”

I frowned.

“Not exposed enough? You want us deeper in the park, away from the trees?”

He shook his head.

“No, that type of relocation would be too localised, too obvious. I want you to head back to camp via the spaceport.”

I couldn’t keep the frustration from my voice

“Spaceport? It’s just a landing pad, a big expanse of sprayed on concrete. Man, this time of day, this weather, it’s gonna be like an oven out there. You might as well just microwave us and have done.”

Smith smiled, just a twitch of his lips, as if at some private joke.

“Sergeant, never a truer word spoken in jest.”
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Old 6th March 2011, 01:24 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

This is just a continuation of the above scene, but made it too large for a single posting.

Six

I yanked off my helmet and held it under my right arm, wiping my forehead on a sleeve. I wasn’t happy and decided to let Smith know about it, raising my voice just enough for the squad to catch on.

“Look, Smith, I don’t like you, I don’t like this setup and I don’t like the feeling we’ve been hung out to dry. We’re isolated, with no comms, no backup and a big hole where the mission briefing should be. So unless you and your pal come up with a real good reason not to, I’m all for packing up and heading towards the nearest relay tower. Savvy?”

I was jabbing my finger at him but not making contact with his chest as something about him made me think that would be a really bad idea. Smith seemed unperturbed by my getting in his face, but I could see the trickle of sweat by his left ear and his body posture reminded me of a pau fighter I’d seen on New Brazil. Jones stopped walking and looked over, but made no move towards us.

Behind me I heard the snick of a safety being released, and a nervous cough.

Smith smiled, about two seconds before I dropped the helmet and went for my knife.

“Very well, Sergeant, I’ll play ball, as long as you realise there may well be severe consequences for both you and your men….There is a gun platform in orbit, on an irregular track. It’s far too technologically advanced to be local, or to be from any other Heimat world for that matter, so we’re assuming it belongs to one of our corporate cousins. Locating it has proved surprisingly difficult, especially so given the estimated power output, which means it carries a highly sophisticated array of stealth measures.”

I shrugged.

“So it’s a gun platform, a poor man’s bombardment barge. You saying we’re stuck out here to give it some target practice, so your buds can spot it firing? Well, you might be feeling suicidal but that sure as hell don’t get my vote.”

“Suicidal? I assure you my colleague and I are worth far more to the Alliance than you and your meagre detachment. Yes, we’re here as bait, but our mission is to locate and neutralise the enemy ground-based spotting teams. Without them the orbital weapon is quite useless.”

I sensed rather than saw Dax at my shoulder. He’s a smart cookie and more gen up on technical aspects than me.

“You’re saying it requires a designator? A laser designator, in this cruddy atmosphere? The damn thing would stand out like a neon tube, trying to penetrate all this airborne dust.”

Smith frowned at him, obviously irritated at getting drawn into technical details.

“The weapon in question requires pin-point accuracy, so we’re talking triangulation rather than conventional designation, or even trilateration. Range to target is critical, so we believe each team has an x-ray reflector to establish the true vertical interval.”

I half turned my head.

“Dax? In English?”

“Ah, well, what I think he means is that you have two teams, and you know exactly where they are on the surface, and how far away they are from you, in orbit. They tell you the bearing they have on the target, horizontal and vertical, and from that you can figure out its precise position, plus distance from the orbital weapon. I don’t understand why the range is so important though.”

“Well, Corporal Dax, we believe that the weapon in orbit is a rail gun, an electro-magnetic projector. It fires a micro-singularity dense enough to penetrate all known material, natural or synthetic. When the electro-magnetic containment field fails, the singularity is exposed and an implosion takes place. The area of effect is quite limited, but the loss it total. And there is no defence.”

I understood enough of that to know I didn’t like what I was hearing.

“It creates a mini black hole inside a vehicle, or a building, or next to some guy sitting on a park bench, and everything within range gets sucked in? ****.”

Smith arched one eyebrow.

“Well, not quite how I’d brief the Joint Chiefs, but close enough.”

I snorted.

“Don’t be so sure. I’ve heard that General Cain has as much time for techno babble as any guy on the front line. With him you speak plain or not at all.”

Dax, though, sounded worried – and that me worried.

“The ground teams, they don’t need anything fancy, they could be using optical equipment as long as it’s accurate enough. They could be looking at us right now and we’d never know!”

Smith seemed pleased by his agitation, as inside information placed him firmly in control of the situation.

“Calm yourself, Corporal. We don’t have to spot them, the gun platform will do that for us. Both its x-ray projectors will sweep the approximate area until they encounter a reflector, and then lock on. They will be tight beam emanations, and almost impossible to detect using conventional means.”

I was irritated by the smug undertone in his voice.

“Look, Smith, I’m just a grunt but even I can hear the great big ‘but’ that’s coming, so spit it out.”

Smith held up his left hand, as if to introduce his partner, who was now walking over.

But, we have access to unconventional means in the person of Mr Jones. Mr Jones has a most unusual visual spectrum. He can see x-rays.”
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Old 6th March 2011, 06:32 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

Still has me sitting on the edge of my chair. Love the black-hole idea
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Old 6th March 2011, 08:11 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

Moving on then...

Seven

I thought about this for a moment and then delivered my considered opinion.

“Bollocks.”

Dax sniggered and Smith glowered at me.

“I assure you, Sergeant, that-“

“Never mind, just back up a bit. Why have you got the hots for this wonder weapon anyway? It must have been damn expensive to develop and it’s hardly cost effective taking us out one vehicle at a time, is it? I say we just ignore it, publicise the effect and it’ll belike sniper fire – something to get used to it. Eventually this gizmo will give itself away and you can bracket the approximate position with nukes.”

Smith almost seemed uncomfortable.

“Unfortunately, Sergeant, like a sniper, this weapon seems to have been designed with assassination in mind. If they can get away with using it here on Leander, they can get away with using it in another, equally militarised, environment.”

I snorted.

“You’re worried about a political assassination? We have to go through all this so some stuffed shirt can sleep soundly in his bed? Who are you Smith? Senate Secret Service? Consular Guard? Why don’t your lords and masters just grow a pair instead of sticking it to the military every time someone stubs a toe? The triumvirate never go anywhere together, and even if the Consuls were being turned to mush on a weekly basis, there’d be no end of Senators eager to take their place.”

“Keep mouthing off like that, Sergeant, and you’ll talk yourself right in front of a firing squad.”

It could just have been bluster on Smith’s part, but I had let my mouth run on a bit, and no mistake. Luckily Dax was there to bail me out.

“Look, Mr Smith, Mr Jones, all the Sergeant is trying to say is that he thinks you may have missed the boat on this one, OK? If taking out the airship represented a successful weapons test, then I really don’t see them coming up with a harder shot, given the targeting limitations you described. I take it there have been other incidents, building up to this?”

I spoke up, remembering what Mac had told me.

“Yeah! There was a stationary APC, with the one-seven, and it got crushed into a ball. Am I right?”

Smith shrugged, the most human gesture I’d seen him make.

“Possibly, yes. That’s all I’m prepared to say. However, my instructions are quite clear – we’re to present ourselves as a target and that’s an end of it. I insist you redeploy to the edge of the spaceport, immediately. Should you fail to do so, should you return to base without my authorisation, then I’ll have you charged with cowardice in the face of the enemy.”

I could feel the squad tense up and Dax was clearly incensed, stepping up beside me.

“Cowardice? Us? Given what we go through on a daily basis? You’ll never make that stick and you know it. You were talking about firing squads a minute ago? Well, out here we’re the ones with the guns, we’re-“

I put my hand on his arm and he shut up, face flushed, rifle at the ready. Now it was Smith’s turn to realise he’d gone too far and he took a step backwards.

“Obviously the success of this mission depends upon our continued close co-operation. It may well be, as Corporal Dax has suggested, that destruction of the support platform represents the culmination of orbital weapon testing. In which case our continued presence here serves no useful purpose. I suggest you complete your meal break and we then reassess the situation in light of our mission priorities.”

I had trouble getting my head round what he said, but the gist of it was clear enough.

“So, Mr Smith, after chow we move out. I recommend we stick to hard surface routes, so as not to unduly advertise our presence by kicking up a dust plume. That would be Blast Circle, if you don’t mind fighting it out with local traffic. Maybe even take a shortcut across the spaceport landing pad, if it’s not in use.”

Smith inclined his head.

“I don’t have a problem with that, Sergeant. We might even pause at the spaceport so I can do a little birdwatching. It was a boyhood pastime of mine.”

I laughed.

“You do know there ain’t no birds on Leander? Like there’s no dogs or cats or mice or anything like that, just insects and reptiles? There’s nothing warm-blooded that we didn’t bring out here ourselves.”

“Nevertheless, Sergeant, I’ve found that most of the enjoyment lies in anticipation, as in life itself.”

“Fair enough.” I cleared my throat, “You two want something to eat?”

“No, but thank you anyway. We’ll continue to keep watch.”

Dax and I went back to the rest of the squad and tried to act normal, so they’d relax. Everyone was stood down but we’d set out a perimeter of motion detectors so I wasn’t afraid of the locals sneaking up on us unannounced. Anderson passed me a mess tin of approximate stew, and I dropped my helmet on the ground to serve as an ad hoc stool. We ate, and it wasn’t that bad.

The back of my neck itched and I scratched, stopping abruptly as I felt the skin lift.

“Uh, guys, what just happened here?”

Dax leaned back to take a look.

“Turn your head, Sarge… Other way… You got something between your fingers and it sure looks like skin, but you ain’t bleeding. Keep pulling, just real slow…Yeah, I see it now, ah, no sweat, it’s just a cosmetic dressing.”

“Cosmetic dressing?”

I pulled it off and held it in front of me; an oval maybe ten centimetres long by three at its widest, it matched my skin tone perfectly. Dust in the air had stuck to sweat on my helmet liner, turning it into sandpaper. It had been abrasive enough to catch the dressing and tease up an edge, or I’d never have known it was there.

“Yeah, boss, you got a scar at the base of your skull, quite recent. No one tell you?”

I frowned, reaching up to finger it.

“Naw, last time I was in the infirmary I came out with some new grafts on my back and two replacement ribs. Nothin’ to write home about but nobody said anything about a neck injury.”

“I’d say that was surgical, its way too neat for a wound. Although I seen some take a man’s leg off clean as a scalpel. Maybe they wanted to protect it from your helmet and this is all they had.”

“Yeah, well, maybe. It don’t hurt none, hell, it don’t even itch now.”

I stood and stretched.

“Saddle up, boys. We got some birds to spot.”
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Old 7th March 2011, 11:13 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

Oooo, exiting. Wonder what the wound was...
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Old 13th March 2011, 09:38 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

This is 8 of 10...

Eight

We rattled along Blast Circle, trading jeers and insults with the local drivers. It was a six lane highway and impossible to regulate without bringing the city to a standstill. As such the locals had started to equate speed with freedom of expression, and even fuel rationing hadn’t had much impact.

Everyone was topside, apart from Smith and Jones who seemed to prefer the stifling interior. Even Harrison had his seat jacked up so that he was half way out of the driving position, enjoying the breeze. Of course it was risky travelling like this, but we were authorised to open fire, without warning, on any vehicle we didn’t like the look of. There had been enough incidents to make the locals wary, so I wasn’t expecting any real trouble, at least from them. I tapped Dax on the shoulder.

“Yeah boss?”

“From now on use word of mouth. Stay off the comms. I get the impression our two passengers can monitor short range transmissions and I’d rather keep them out of the loop unless absolutely necessary.”

“Roger that. You figure on them causing any trouble?”

“Well, I don’t buy this continued comms blackout, no way. Command would have had a drone on station ages ago, but we’re still cut off? Go figure.”

“I hear ya. So you’re not sold on this whole rail gun detection thing, then?”

I shrugged.

“The gun, maybe, but not who’s behind it. I don’t see any corporation hauling it way out here for testing, it’s just too risky. And how’d they get it here in the first place? The whole system is seeded with surveillance buoys in case some Heimat gunrunner tries to resupply the rebels.”

Dax grinned.

“Careful with that R-word, Sarge, or someone might report you…But, yeah, even if this gun platform can hide out in orbit, I don’t see how they can hope to smuggle it out again, now that the Navy knows it’s here. You think it’s ours then, some kind of black op?”

“Maybe, maybe. I’ll say this though, if it works the way Smith says it does, it’s pretty much useless if they were aiming to snuff the Heimat leadership. I get the feeling this could be domestic politics, some kind of powerplay between the Consuls. Smith and Jones rolled over way too easy when I nixed the op, like they were just waiting for an excuse to spill the beans.”

Dax flushed, remembering his outburst, and glanced down into the APC interior.

“That could still come back to bite us in the ass, boss, even if we’re just here to be fed misinformation. You know what the rumour mill is like, word of this weapon will soon spread throughout NavyNet, all the way back to Command Interstellar.”

Before I could comment, Andrews sidled up.

“Three vehicles back, Sarge. Blue van. It’s been keeping pace with us, even when Henderson screwed up that gear change and we almost stalled. Everybody else swept past and gave him an earful, but chummy held back. Only the driver that I can see, so it’s probably just a tail.”

I looked behind us without trying to appear too obvious.

“Crap, I see it. OK, boys, looks like we need to get off this racetrack pronto. We’ll cut across the crash zone and hit the landing pad right opposite the loading bay. Skirt round the edge so as not to piss off the flight controller, and take it from there. Anderson, give Kuntz the heads-up, Dax, tell Henderson.”

I had a quick look-see through the fieldglasses. The spaceport took up a whole wedge of the area surrounded by Blast Circle, much of it undeveloped scrubland to allow for screw ups during take off and landing. The main off-ramp was still some distance ahead, so I had Henderson ease over to the inside lane and pull a sudden 90 degree turn. The perimeter fence was dilapidated chain link and offered no resistance, so we were soon trundling through the undergrowth.

God it was hot, and my humour wasn’t improved any by the constant shaking. At least the ground vegetation meant there was less dust, and Henderson even managed to get us up and over the final gravel berm on the first attempt. We stopped for a moment, to give the aging engine a breather.

The landing pad stretched out in front of us, a vast expanse of grey-white concrete, shimmering in the afternoon sun. It was like a barren desert but without the laughs. I looked back the way we came and wasn’t best pleased.

“Dax? Take a gander at this and tell me I’m wrong.”

I passed him the fieldglasses and he swore.

“Nope, I see them. The blue van and now a flatbed truck, parked up where we left the highway. There’s something on the truck, under a cover. Think it’s a weapon?”

“I don’t intend to find out…Henderson!”

“Boss?”

“No dicking about with going round the perimeter, head straight across the pad, best speed. If the locals give you a ticket I promise to pay it myself, OK?”

“Roger that, Sarge. I’ll open her up and see just what this piece of crap can do.”

“For your information, fly-boy, this piece of crap is actually a fine example of tried and trusted technology. Just try not to break it until we reach base.”

Smith spoke to me from the interior, although the light-dark contrast when I looked down rendered him invisible.

“Is there a problem, Sergeant?”

“Unwanted attention, sir, so you’ll forgive me if we don’t hang about.”

“Is there-“

The APC lurched forward and he lost his balance, engine roar making further conversation impossible. Just as well, as I didn’t want him shouting the odds about some theoretic weapon when we were probably in the sights of something much more plausible.

I crouched on the upper hull, beside the twenty. Movement brought no relief, no cooling breeze like we’d had on the highway, and I could feel the sweat soaking through my fatigues. Sweat kept pooling in the eyepieces of my fieldglasses and I started running out of dry cloth to wipe them with. Despite this I had a pretty good view of the secondary access road we were aiming for, and once there we’d be out of sight of anyone back on Blast Circle.

There was a mass lifter sitting in the loading bay, to the right of where we were headed. It was just a big square plate with an engine on each corner, bridge at one end, reactor at the other. With no aerodynamics to speak of, it used brute-force engineering to transfer goods to and from orbit. I could see it was fully laden with cargo pods, which meant there must be a freighter in orbit or expected real soon. Some part of me wondered if the gun platform attacks coincided with merchant traffic, but I had more pressing matters that required my attention.

As I watched, counter-rotating amber warning lights lit up and the mass lifter rose on its AG field, used for taxiing. I sore under my breath as it began to move, slowly nosing out onto the landing pad proper, and definitely heading across our path. If this was the locals making a point, they’d sure picked one helluva time for a game of chicken.

Smith stuck his head out of the top hatch and looked around.

“Oh good, my ride’s here.”
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Old 13th March 2011, 12:19 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

Screw-ups or even screwups, who knew?
I sore under my breath as it began to move, slowly nosing... Great. )
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Old 13th March 2011, 09:48 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: All The Things I've Done

I like it.

You may need to drop in some form of 'As You Know, Bob' about the squabbling factions, but I'd guess we've cold-warring mega-corps turned independents, with the Marines trying to keep the lid on the ructions...
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