by Maurice Fitzgerald
SAN ISABEL NATIONAL FOREST
DECEMBER 16, 2130
SECTOR 29 – COALITION AREA OF OPERATIONS OUTSIDE OF CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN, COLORADO
Continuing their move to Checkpoint Omega, Blue Three’s vehicle commander, Corporal Stefan Gangestad was trying to discern the signatures of the other two contacts they had picked up right before engaging the Ares.
Feverishly working his onboard systems, he could not get a fix on what or where they were. They were as good as ghosts. A call from his driver broke his silent contemplation, “Nizzlebats one o’clock!”
He didn’t need to find those ghosts, they found him. Mercs, providing security for the complex?
Corporal Gangestad looked through the front viewport of his Scarab and confirmed the sighting; two Nizzlebat light grav-tanks had crested a low hill and were angled towards his position to cut him off. A spread of snow and soil rooster tailed out from the sides and rear of each craft, kicked up by the turbulence as both tanks hurtled at a high rate of speed toward them. The deafening bass thrum of the anti-grav drives at full power shook the Scarabs and everyone inside with their approach.
The Nizzlebats swung in his direction lining up their Light Plasma Cannons on his vehicle, they know I’m the jammer so they’re trying to hit us first, thought Gangestad.
“Blue, engage right!” Gangestad yelled into his mic. The three Scarabs faced to the right, presenting a smaller profile while simultaneously bringing their guns to bear. As he let off a quick snapshot, Gangestad feverishly sent off another brief contact report. “Blue Three engaging two Nizzlebats to the southwest. One Ares hit and disengaged, the second is still out there, position unknown at this time, out.”
All three Scarabs rippled several volleys at the tanks but the outcome was concealed by the berm that came rushing up to Gangestad’s front. Blue Three’s driver in his haste to get them under cover had rammed the vehicle into a deep berm, the blunt nose of the Scarab digging into the hard packed soil of the frozen ground.
“Driver back up”, Gangestad commanded while trying to track the closest Nizzlebat. As his driver reversed the vehicle a quick scan out of his viewport showed the other two APCs of his group spread out to the sides of the onrushing Nizzlebats, sandwiching them in from the flanks. Blue One had taken some damage from at least one plasma blast but the damage looked minor, nothing that would limit its effectiveness in the fight.
Both Nizzlebats appeared unscathed as they continued their move towards his vehicle, rapidly closing the distance. Depressing the trigger on his control yoke, Gangestad fired off another salvo of shots and then reactivated his EW suite. Knowing he could not outrun the faster grav-tank, Gangestad ordered his driver forward back into the berm they had just come out of. “Driver forward, get us back into that berm, now!”
His shots hit the rear Nizzlebat but the craft just shrugged off the damage and continued unimpeded at him with reckless abandon, each firing as it came. Both Nizzlebat shots impacted as the Scarab moved into cover, sending a powerful tremor through the vehicle as armor crunched under the assault. A quick glance at his damage schematic showed the front drivetrain was impaired and more concerning, missing armor near the turret. Another hit there would prove fatal.
Magnusson saw the Scarabs were in trouble and called in air support to assist Blue while he moved the rest of the battlegroup to cover their fall back. “Red One this is Gray Six, you’re cleared hot to assist Blue, expedite! We’re still seeing multiple signatures out there but can’t ID them yet, so don’t linger, over.”
“Roger that Gray, Red is Oscar Mike, out.” McNulty responded as he led his pair of Dragonfly VTOLs on their run. Both VTOLs screamed across the sky, their resonance permeating the air as the craft gained altitude and speed on their course to Blue’s position. McNulty planned to buy the Scarabs some time while keeping his craft safe from ground attack. The only real threat to them would be enemy air.
The ground slipped beneath them in a blur; a tapestry of colors rolled past beneath the VTOLs as they made their way above the snow covered forest. McNulty kept his eyes dancing around inside his visor watching his real-time readouts and scope, continually scanning for enemy contacts. His IFF squawked showing positive idents for Blue’s Scarabs; vectoring his view from there he was able to get a solid fix on the two Nizzlebat grav-tanks that were his targets.
“Red Two, take the bandit I tagged for you. Egress to the northwest and see if we can’t pick up any more targets on the way out. Then we’ll swing back and provide cover for Blue.”
Each Dragonfly climbed to 2,500 feet, allowing an extra few seconds to get a solid lock on their targets to increase their chances of hitting. “Fox one!” called McNulty as he depressed his firing trigger, a second later he heard the same thing repeated by his wingman as both craft loosed their Ripper direct-fire missiles on the targets below.
Gangestad saw the UN Nizzlebats charging at him on his scope, rock and dirt raining down on his Scarab as the berm he hid behind took a constant pounding. The mercenary gunners must be thinking they could force their shots through the ground but the odds of hitting through this heavy cover were minimal. Blues One and Two called out hits on the Nizzlebats repeatedly, which targets they were he couldn’t tell from his vantage point. Just then the sky overhead went black momentarily and he felt a massive impact onto the top rear of the vehicle. Gangestad checked, fearing it was the Ares he had forgotten about but the scope was clear of all but the two grav-tanks engaging him. PFC Irwin Pratt, Gangestad’s young driver was the first to realize what had happened. “We got run over!”
Pratt’s assertion was correct; the second Nizzlebat had landed on top of the Scarab as it crossed the berm. Slowed down by the damage it had already taken, it didn’t have the momentum to carry it over the length of his vehicle. The impact proved fatal to the already heavily damaged grav-tank as it spun wildly out of control into a cluster of boulders, coming to a violent end in a sickening shriek of metal and ceramic. Seconds later the craft exploded in an intense fireball, melting the surrounding ice and snow while spewing armor wildly across the field. At the same time the other Nizzlebat seemingly exploded on its own, the reason was made clear as his radio crackled to life.
“Scope’s clear Blue, get to Omega ASAP, over.” Red’s team leader McNulty barked. His attack run had finished off the last Nizzlebat and Gangestad could tell that he was quite pleased with himself.
Gangestad felt a surge of relief and silently took back all the bad things he had ever said about the ‘fly-fly’ boys.
“You heard the man gents, let’s get to Omega, out.” Gangestad called to his team. Switching to the air freq Gangestad called up to Red One, “Bravo Zulu Red, thanks and we owe you one.”
“Damned skippy on that Blue, you do owe us one.” McNulty further taunted in an imitation Irish brogue, “one case of Jameson my lad, oh and we do look forward to that, aye, we do.”
Turning off the levity, McNulty finished, “we’ll swing back around and cover your move to Omega Blue, you’re welcome. Out.”
The three Scarabs formed up and made their way at cruising speed, the best that Gangestad’s vehicle could muster due to its damage, in the direction of Checkpoint Omega.
Keying up his radio, Gangestad called up to Battlegroup commander Magnusson. “Gray Six this is Blue Three, heading to Omega, ETA 10 mikes. Two Nizzlebats destroyed, one Ares damaged, one other out there status unknown, over.”
The radio chirped as Magnusson’s response came back, “Roger that Blue, good work, although you did have a little help. I sent Red over to assist, sounds like they arrived just in time. Forget the Jameson, get them a case of Porsbrännvin instead.” The Major was always teasing McNulty about the merits of Swedish vodka over Irish whiskey, “See you at the checkpoint Blue, out.”
Gangestad thought about what his CO had just said and figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea. He could pay back the pilots for saving his bacon and at the same time have a little fun with Captain McNulty, giving him a case of Swedish vodka in place of his beloved Jameson Irish whiskey.
PFC Pratt broke him from his silent reverie, “give me a case of good German beer any day over whiskey or vodka. Swedish, Irish, it’s all nasty. Nothing can compare to the golden nectar of a good German brew.” Pratt spoke as if he were some sort of liquor connoisseur, yet didn’t appear old enough to shave, let alone drink. The words were almost comical coming from his mouth.
“Easy there Cochise, let’s get back to the rest of the Battlegroup and get this baby repaired before we start thinking of celebrating.”
“Roger that, I’m just glad we got through that Corporal, it got a bit hairy there.”
“That it did, that it did. You did well for your first taste of combat, though we might need to work on those driving skills of yours a bit”, Gangestad teased.
Color rose in the cheeks of young Pratt, a feeble “sorry Corporal” was all he could manage in response. He knew he’d never hear the end of it from the others in the group but he was glad he’d be able to take that ribbing; it meant he was still alive.
Replaying the scene in his mind he had to chuckle at it himself, that chuckle was infectious and grew to a raucous laughter from the both of them. Amazingly through all of this, Pratt was able to keep his vehicle in formation with the others of the section. Both men were coming down from the adrenaline high that combat produces, giddy at the realization that they were still alive and able to fight another day. The wheels of the three Scarabs crunched through the snow, ice and rock of the Colorado countryside as they made their way to the safety of the rest of the Battlegroup at Checkpoint Omega.
With his recon element safely on their way to Checkpoint Omega, Magnusson mulled over the recon team’s discovery in the compartment of his Growler. Nizzlebats meant private military contractors, mercs. Is money really a motivator to fight anymore? Inwardly he shrugged; determining the motivations of others is best left to the head shrinkers.
With the element of surprise now gone, a foot recon team could no longer be inserted into the complex undetected to gather the proof they needed. Instead of a stealth approach, they’ll have to do it the old fashioned way and force their way inside. Not an easy task with this facility, but it’s not the same fortification it was more than a century ago. After much geological shifting brought on by the UN’s weather modifications, there were two known weak points that could be exploited to get a team inside. Can they do it before the government recognizes the threat is real and destroys the proof they’re after?
Magnusson decided to move the timetable up on the alternate plan, Infinite Nighthawk will succeed. It must succeed!