Despite a hazardous ten tu'rurn movement to the jumpoff point, the Ba'kol and 2nd Arm arrived without incident. She squeezed the entire unit into the first floor of a building then went to the roof. Moments later she was join by Ma'streg, commander of 1st Oleg, which would be supporting Ba'kol with the few heavy weapons they had left. From where she lay the distance from the jump off point to the objective seemed insurmountable. They would need to traverse two blocks to reach the main avenue, which ran east to west across the city and led directly to headquarters. There was a large rotary. Just across lay a long curved five-story building with two large cylinders jutting out the rear. The building had a few holes already shot in it during some earlier fighting but was nevertheless intact. Beyond it was a large open area with vegetation, then more buildings. The objective commanded the avenue of approach to the Noc'Sol headquarters, for quite a distance in all directions. And it sat squarely along the Hu'Man axis of advanced. There was heavy fighting several hundred meters north as advancing Hu'Man elements battled with the Noc'Sol.
"Tis a task before you comrade. I see a long run for you Warriors." Said Ma'streg.
"Made shorter with the steady aim of your Juves."
"See yourself the crumpled dwelling angled off from our vision? Seems to me the Hu'Mans hold there, in defense of their flank. And yet again to your right I see only one armored vehicle, squat and covering to the west. Other than that, others are just passing through to the hunt. Cast your gaze at the base of the objective. Yet a small group that seems to guide others forward.
To me is it a perfect spot to hit. Your Leg engages the two strongpoints, my warriors, swift and straight, dash along either side of this perpendicular road. Straight through them like dra'at through a magyam will we."
"Hoi. But weigh you now two courses. Do we wait for the gravs to strike and draw their attention or do we go it alone?"
"I lean to surprise. The gravs are out of our control. Set upon their path already. They are but a diversion. Their strike shall alert the enemy's main body. No, I say strike now and strike swift."
"Tis your bacca not mine, friend. You say, I do."
"So be it."
Bo'Kol checked his chrono. I give you three Tu'runs to position your long guns, then we move."
"Hoi. Across the home lagoon, sister."
"Hoi, across the home lagoon." So the two veteran warriors departed with the traditional parting.
Ba'Kol descended to brief his warriors. They sat squatting in silence as was their custom, waiting for the inevitable commands. Two watched the street from windows.
"Gather close." Before him were 23 Kra'Vak warriors, divided into three claws and his own small contingent. Some were Juves, some past puberty, but all proficient and committed to his every word. While most were armed with advanced combat railguns, two bore heavy auto-railguns and one an explosives projector.
"See you this road outside? It leads straight to the objectives. Past two roads and we are there, you can not miss it. It is a large oblong building with two cylinders in the rear. It commands the enemy advance. The 1st Commander was wise in choosing this point, for the objective commands their routes and at this point their defenses are weak. The Hu'Mans smell the blood of the dra'at Noc'Sol. They have no clue that the P'Ah'Cad stand poised to fall upon them in great fury. So shall be their undoing." They grunted and murmured in approval.
"Listen here Warriors. Don't fool yourself. The task is grave, but paramount. In a Tu'run or two begins the 2nd Leg's supporting attack. They will smite the two enemy positions blocking our path. At that moment, I want First and Second claw across the street, moving with haste. No dalliance lads. On this side, third Claw and my own. Stop for nothing. Heads down and full speed. If you see anything, kill it, but do not stop."
"You cannot mistake the objective. A large oblong black building with two cylinders behind it. It lays across a circular round junction at the third crossing. Get across and get in it. Once inside, First Claw clears to the top of the building, second and third take up positions on the ground floor. Clear your fire lanes, for the Hu'Mans will shortly realize the value of their lost position and come upon us in a fury. So much easier the slaying. Once in the building we stay until Ja'Fol orders otherwise. Clear?"
"I see before me 23 P'Ah'Cad warriors. Enough for any task. Now to your posts." They assembled into their strike Claws and stacked up by the door, Bo'Kol in the lead.
The time wound down.
Suddenly in the foreground of noise which comprised the ambiance of the battle, there erupted a rising crescendo of cracks and explosions as the second Leg opened fire on the Hu'Man positions. A moment later another spate of firing joined it from the right as the second Hu'Man position, one block to the west, was also engaged.
Ba'Kol needed no prodding. "Follow me!"
They raced down the avenue, hugging the building on either side of the street at a full run. The lightly armed warriors are capable of moving very quickly, sustained speeds of upward to twenty kilometer per hour. So complete was the surprise of the initial volley, combined with the boldness of Ba'Kol's rush, that the warriors were across and past the Hu'Man checkpoint before any fire was directed at them. In the lead, she kept herself focused on the rotary, one block ahead, pumping her legs. The warriors followed behind, strung out as some chose to fire at opportunity targets. The Hu'Mans began to react, with more and more fire being directed their way as the defender.
"Forward! Forward! Quickly!" She commanded.
The Hu'Mans were now firing from all sides. Several times she felt tugs or jabs as rounds struck her armor. From a door before her a Hu'Man emerged, looking in the opposite direction but then turning, the look of shock on it's face as Ba'Kol ran over the creature swinging at it's head with the butt of her rifle. She crossed the second round and ran out into the rotary, the objective in sight. To her right, a previously unnoticed enemy tank, swung its gun towards her and fired. The heat of the blast passed close buy her. The Tank corrected its aim, the main gun depressing lower. Ba'Kol was aware that this was the end. She fired ineffectually at the enemy armor with her rail gun, running straight towards it in the hope of drawing its fire from her warriors. There followed a tremendous flash which knocker her to the ground. She rolled with the blow and was up again. The enemy tank was in flames, its turret cast aside on the street, upside down. She looked behind her and saw the Juve with the explosive projector stand up and then fall over, struck by fire. Another warrior grabbed his launcher. The entrance to the building was in sight. Ba'Kol killed two Hu'Mans at the entrance and bulled her way inside, clearing the darkened room in both directions. She activated her thermals, detected two shapes crouching behind some piece of furniture across the room. She fired at them,. The 8mm rail rounds penetrating both furniture and victim with little effort, The room secured, Ba'Kol turned back to the entrance as the first warrior ran through and skidded to a halt. She motion him forward to make room for the next, counting them through as they passed. One...two…three, this one carrying an auto-rail, four, another auto rail, five…six…seven, eight. A Juve carrying the projector was almost to the door when he was killed. Behind him, a second stopped to pick up the weapon and was killed. One of the warriors already inside dashed out to the middle of the street picked up the weapon and ammo satchel and ran back. Entering the doorway, she collapsed dead, but the projector was in.
Ba'Kol made a quick check: nine warriors and Juves, plus herself. All were hit and injured I some way. There was no organization to their claws. To their credit, both auto-rails and the projector were in their possession. There was no time to mourn. She quickly reorganized them into three teams, a warrior and two Juves in each. She sent two to the top of the buildings to clear the levels and set up fields of fire. The third team she set up on the ground floor, covering the entrance. From the dark corner, the they had a good field of vision out into the road. Ba'Kol herself cleared the rest of the ground floor, placing a mine at each of the two other locked entrances to the building.
Over the commlink she contacted Ma'streg. Her teams had eliminated both strongpoints. She instructed one team to occupy the building across the street in the direction they had come. It was too dangerous to try and join them here. Ma'streg's second team was to move further up the road and attempt to cross to gain a building which could command a field of fire covering the rear of Ba'Kol's objective. This would giver her building cover on both sides and complicate and Hu'Man attempt to counter attack. She ran to each of the surviving warriors, checking their condition, deployment and fields of fire. While there was plenty of firing, the Hu'Mans had made no attempt against the building. From the top floor, Ba'Kol spied an enemy armored vehicle, cautiously advancing with beside it, several troops. It was exposing only enough of itself to observe and engage the building. The projector barked once and a shot hit the turret of the enemy vehicle sending sparks shooting into the surrounding Hu'Mans. The vehicle reversed in haste, leaving several bodies. Ba'Kol commanded the team to relocate. Instantly enemy fire hit the window from where they had fired. She ordered the team to relocate after each shot, lest they be caught by return fire.
There was a second explosion behind the building, unobserved by Ba'Kol, followed by a report from Ma'streg: "Second hit on that tank. Destroyed. My glimpse of he road is unobstructed. With that last blow, the Hu'Mans have gone to ground."
"And the others?"
"Still attaining position. How many have you."
"We are but ten warriors."
"Enough for any task…"
"Hoi. Now we wait."
As they climbed up the final bluffs to the extraction site, Charlie felt profound sense of relief. They'd done it and they were away from that infernal city. Atop a small bluff sat the squat shape of a landing vehicle. A small party lay around it. As they approached, Charlie saw Brooks, sitting to one side with his leg propped up, commo gear around him. To another side stood a group of Gs looking angry. About the ship were a number of blue-uniformed NSL Security Police. As Lawrence's party approached, a short rotund officer and several large hulking police walked out to meet them. Charlie saw a man lying beside the ramp of the lander, with guards around them. The officer stopped before him, expecting Charlie to do the same, but he ignored the man walking to the ramp. Tied up on the ground was Bergmann. He looked as if he had been beaten.
"What the hell is going on?" Charlie's party including Huber's men had set down their burdens and stood with weapons at the ready.
"Master Sergeant Lawrence," said the small man from behind him, "I am Herr Leutnant Mogen, Security Polezei." The man stood erect, in an impeccably turned out uniform with shiny boots. Charlie half though that he expected a salute. Charlie, for his part was still in his ragged prisoners clothing.
"Why are these men tied up?"
"They are enemy spies."
"Spies? What is your proof? They have been fighting and dying with us for weeks."
Mogen stepped forward annoyed at having to explain himself to an NCO, though limited in what he could do because Lawrence and his men were NAC. He held out a sheet of paper with pictures on it. "Do you recognize any of these men?"
Charlie looked at the pictures, Mellor by his side also. Among others there was Mills, Direlwanger, the female, Karlsen, plus the man they had met after climbing out of the garbage truck on their first trip into the city. "Yeah I know these people. Some have been killed in the recent fighting. This here is Mills."
"No, not Mills. Colonel Anatoly Pyatkin 5th Bureau, ESU special intelligence."
"How do you know?" Charlie felt a headache coming on.
"All of your transmissions to headquarters were being routed also to us by normal procedure. By a fluke someone in the office though he recognized Pyatkin and ran a match. Once we were alerted we studied the tapes carefully and began to identify others. For months before the attack we had been suspecting that the ESU had a cell here on the planet. You can imagine the damage that Mills was causing, what with him being placed so high up in the security apparatus."
"How the fuck did you guys let him get posted here in the first place?"
"He is not the same Mills that was sent out four months ago."
"Jeez, what a goat rope," said Mellor. "That explains how he had the resistance movement up and running so quickly. He already had his cells in place."
"Molitoris, untie Bergmann and check him over."
"What? Absolutely not, that man is a spy."
"Whether he's a spy or not he's been fighting on our side against the Kra'Vak since we got here. What with an alien menace threatening the survival of the planet you still want to play bullshit games amongst ourselves?" There was a standoff as the security men and Charlie's men pointed weapons at each other. Molitoris bent down and untied Bergamnn's hands and began to check him over.
Mogen spoke to Huber. "I order you to disarm these men."
"Negative. We'll not take part in this. My men have to get out of these suits NOW. We've been in them since we landed."
Mogen was furious. "You are going on report!"
"Look, lieutenant, You must allow this man medical treatment per Geneva Convention regulations."
Mogen decided not to press it, he had bigger fish to fry and could deal with them later. "Where are the rest of these people?" He said, pointing at the pictures.
"These three are dead. Killed in the fighting." Said Mellor.
"You are sure?"
"Hell yes I'm sure. These two we haven't seen in days. Mills slipped out of here this morning to head into town."
"We must find them at once."
"There in the fuckin' city!"
"Do you have any idea where they could be?"
Mellor and Lawrence looked at each other. Mills a spy? He didn't know what to think. Too many mixed emotions. "I'm pretty sure I know where he's heading." Said Lawrence.
"You have to take us!"
"It's right in the middle of the fighting!"
Charlie was stalling. "This is not part of the plan. I need to establish contact with our FOB."
Mogen produced a vidpad and gave it to Lawrence. "Here you go."
There were two recorded messages, one from Rölle and one from Dees, ordering 946 to assist Mogen in any way possible. Charlie was backed into a corner. "All right, we'll take you back. But we have to hurry. Wait one." He called 946 aside out of earshot.
"Well ain't this a fuckin' situation." Said Donner.
Mellor said: "Yeah well it's a big shit sandwich so we all have to pull up to the table and take a bite."
"All right settle down. This is what we're going to do." Charlie was thinking on the fly. "Eric, you stay back here and see that Miner and Brooks get medevaced on that bird. Donner, grab whatever gear we'll need off of Brooks to arrange for our own extraction and coordinate with him to make sure he watching out for our interests up there. If Dees and the rest of the company are with the Task Force then that means there will already be a SOCCE set up somewhere. Make sure Brooks gets to them and make sure we're not fucked on extraction when we get back.
"Got it." A SOCCE, or a Special Operations Command and Control Element, would be a small team of senior company men attached to the battle staff of TF Hannibal to ensure the proper use of the SF teams on the planet. They watched out for their men's interests, who could be easily misused by most conventional forces.
"OK so we're heading back in. We'll take the gully route. We'll travel light since we're going to double time the whole way back. I want these fuckers worn out for when we get there. Kurt you in with us."
"Yeah I'll throw in with you guys."
"Good. We leave in zero five."
Charlie walked over to Huber and his men. He tapped the armored suit on the shoulder. "Thanks. Good working with you guys. You really saved our bacon."
"It's no problem Sergeant. Glad we can be of service. I'm sorry about that schwein."
"Don't worry about him, we'll deal with it. Are you guys heading up with the lander?"
"Yes. We are. We'll make sure that your people get back alright."
"I appreciate that. Good luck."
Charlie walked over to Gibbons and Handley, standing by the ramp and looking anxious to leave. "Well Sirs, how did you find your brief taste of special operations?" He was grinning.
"Do me a favor Master Sergeant Lawrence," Said Gibbons. "The next time you decide to throw one of these affairs, kindly leave us off the guest list." The two naval officers seemed almost in good spirits. Extraction would do that to a man.
"Ha ha! Sure thing. And sorry about all the rough edges. You guys did all right." They shook hands.
Charlie walked over to Mogen. "Ok are you ready?"
Yes we are ready. Mogen had selected four hulking men to accompany them.
"Is the ship heading out?
"As soon as we leave. Another will be back here at midnight or whenever we call for it."
"Fair enough. Look lieutenant, I'll say this once. We have to move fast, I'll expect you to keep up. That city is crawling with Kra'Vak so once we get there you do what I say and that's that. Understand?"
"I am in command of this mission Sergeant. You are wearing my patience thin."
"Yes, Sure, you can be I command, but when we get in the city, if you want to live, you better listen to me. Now let's go. We're going to be following the gully at the bottom of this hill into the city and we have to move fast. I have an idea of where they might be, but there is no time to waste.
"Then I suggest you lead on."
Go to Caught in the Grinder (Part 3), chapter 11, of Röt Hafen
Return to Bri's Science Fiction Collection