Near Ladysmith, VA, United States of America, Sol III
0912 EDT October 10th, 2004 ad
The Twenty-Ninth Infantry Division artillery fire was like a slight tap against a hornet's nest. Slowly at first, practically one at a time, the hornets began to wander out, looking around for whatever had kicked their home.
Ersin held onto the ceiling grab bar and the seat in front of him as the Humvee left the ground for the fifth time, this time striking a streambed with a tremendous splash that threw water over the hood of the all-terrain vehicle. Above him the twenty-five-millimeter chain gun burped. How anyone could expect to hit anything while airborne was beyond him but the gunner in the seat next to him grunted in satisfaction.
"Better get us hull-down, Tom," the gunner shouted over the howl of the engine as the vehicle dug itself out of the stream. "I got the God King."
He turned to look at the Special Forces master sergeant on the seat next to him and laughed. "I knew all that time playing Death World was going to come in handy someday!"
Ersin glanced out in time to see the trees behind them begin coming apart under the hammer of Posleen guns. In response the Humvee cornered so hard his clamped hand came loose and he slid across the compartment and slammed into the gunner. The wide stance and advanced traction of the combat vehicle permitted maneuvers that would roll any normal off-road vehicle.
"Sorry!" he yelled to the gunner as he forced himself back across the seat.
"No problem, Sarge." The gunner tapped the four-point harness holding him in place. "That's why we changed out the belts in this thing." He glanced at his monitor and shook his head. "Nothing in sight."
"Another klick to the interstate!" shouted the vehicle commander over the howl of the diesel engine. "I told them we're coming in!"
"Just make damn sure they're ready to pass us through the lines!" Ersin tapped his AID. "AID, get me Sergeant Mueller."
"He is standing by, Master Sergeant Ersin."
"Yeah, Ersin. I understand we got company."
"How's it coming?"
"We're hooking up the blasting caps as fast as we can."
"Well, you got hostiles at about a klick, klick and a half from the IP. Hurry."
"Roger. We need to keep them from coming down U.S. 1, they're not as far along."
"How the hell do we do that?" snapped Ersin.
"Do you know how to lead a pig?" asked Mueller.
The master sergeant gave a feral smile in return and spared a glance out the back window. The Posleen were not to going to like their reception by Twelfth Corps.
"No, but it's the orders. Edwards," he continued to the driver, "you be ready to put your foot in it as soon as you get the word."
"Okee-dokee, Sarge," said the driver of the Bradley. In sheer nervousness she gunned the throttle.
"Now, Irvine, you gotta . . ."
" . . . launch the rocket off-axis. I got it."
"Hopefully, that way the lander won't fire right at us. When the Posleen turn this way, we'll lead them down 632."
"What happens if they do take us out, right away, that is?"
"Four track will wait for the ground response and take it under fire. Not that we'll care," he ended, parenthetically.
"I got family in Richmond," responded the gunner. "Target," he said, indicating that the target was in sight in his scope.
"Right." The vehicle commander looked through his repeater. The missile launcher was pointed into a tobacco field. With any luck the gunner would be able to turn the wire-guided missile and get it on a course to hit the Posleen landing ship before it was destroyed by counterfire. The alternative, firing directly at the lander, had been determined to be suicide on Barwhon. At that point, the thinking went, the Posleen would send their forces towards the launcher. Towards them, that was, as they retreated down the country road.
Since their vehicle was nearly three thousand yards from the lander, the only Posleen weapons they had to worry about immediately were the automatic weapons on the God King saucers and the defensive fire of the lander itself. Not that either system was very survivable for a tin can on tracks like a Bradley.
If the plan worked, the Posleen would be exposed to sniping flank attacks by cavalry units scattered throughout the woods and fields and it would give the ambush sites more time to prepare. "Confirm, target identified. Fire."
"Man," whispered the gunner as he closed the firing circuit, "I really wish they'd used an Abrams."
* * *
The United States Ground Forces were in the unusual situation of having incomplete battlefield intelligence. Knowledge of an enemy's abilities and intentions is better than half a battle won or lost. For years the pre-Posleen Army had worked on systems to insure that future commanders would have an almost Godlike view of the physical and electronic battlefield. Satellites would look down from their Olympian orbits while closer pilotless drones and deep-viewing reconnaissance planes with sophisticated radar and visual systems gave precise moment-to-moment information on enemy movements.
The coming of the Posleen had ended for all time the concept of "sundering the fog of war."
The satellites were already gone. Most of them had been destroyed during the ponderous atmospheric entry of the Posleen battleglobes and the rest were picked off at leisure by the automated sky defense systems of the landers. The same defense system created a virtually impregnable information bubble around the Posleen forces. To find the Posleen, small units were forced to maneuver forward until they made contact. It was a return to the bad old days of information warfare; the days of skirmishers and scouting parties. The term "Dark Ages" was used frequently.
Given Posleen psychology, if they saw a target, it would be taken under fire. Once taken under fire, if there were any survivors the Posleen would give chase. If they gave chase they were bound to run into defenses, defenses which were still not prepared. The whole concept of the defense and the information war had been predicated on cavalry or infantry patrols making contact but not being seen.
Now those slowly probing patrols were converting to skirmishers. In most cases the results were poor. On the north edge of the Posleen bubble, in the Tenth Corps area of operations, a reconnaissance platoon of the Twenty-First Cavalry found out the hard way that Posleen can be fast and brutal in movement-to-contact.
Probing forward on U.S. 1, the two Humvees and two Bradleys would bound forward in echelons. First a Humvee would move, then a Bradley. When they were in place with troops deployed, the next echelon would dart forward, twenty-five-millimeter chain guns constantly questing for heat signatures.
As the Bradley of the second echelon was bounding forward, without warning a company of Posleen came out of a side road at a trot. Before the standing echelon could even call in the sighting, all four hundred normals opened fire at under five hundred meters.
The moving Bradley was the first to be hit, as a three-millimeter railgun tracked across the personnel compartment. The tungsten rounds penetrated the thin magnesium armor and began tumbling through the compartment, chewing up the troops within. Their moment of horror was brief, however, for within seconds of one another, four of the twenty hypervelocity missile launchers in the Posleen company found the armored cavalry vehicle. When the slugs of gadolinium traveling at .3c struck the vehicle with near simultaneity, there was not enough left to do a chemical analysis.
The forward Humvee was gone seconds later, victim of massed fire from 1mm railguns and shotguns, and the rear echelon, taking fire from nearly a hundred 3mm railguns and HVM launchers, lasted only moments longer. The entire battle was over before the standing unit could send out a sighting report, before they could even move out of their positions.
The dense smoke and crack of HVMs from the skirmish, however, was not lost on the next echelon of scouts. The backup company a thousand meters behind the point went into a hasty defense and called in a sighting report. Their platoon of Abrams main battle tanks turned to the rear of a nearby strip mall. With a brief, almost unnoticed, crash 120mm cannons shivered the remaining display glass from the inside. The shadows of the buildings effectively hid the massive combat vehicles within.
* * *
Arkady Simosin watched the main IVIS display start to light up with Posleen sightings and knew they were doomed. The Fiftieth Infantry Division had just reached its defense points and started digging in. The slower Forty-First was not even completely in place. One look at the number of sightings, and the rapidly blunting blue arrows as cavalry forces were pushed back, told him that the Posleen were coming to dinner and they would not be denied. He punched a button on his command panel and an officer in helmet and LCE answered.
"Corps Arty," the officer started to say and stopped when he saw who the caller was. "Yes, sir."
"I want you to target those sighting reports at will, just as if they were valid calls for fire," he told the artillery officer abruptly.
"Yeah, but by the time they fire on them, every single one of those roads will be packed with Posleen. Can the battleships range to here?"
The officer looked off-screen at another display. "Yes, sir. It can easily range to the interstate points, and all the way along the cav's front. Right now we only have the Missouri; the Massachusetts is on the way. But they're not linked into the tac net; we have to give them vocal calls for fire."
"That'll do. Feed them those coordinates. I want to pound the follow-on forces as hard as possible. Do it."
"Yes, sir." The officer punched a series of keys. "So ordered."
"Out here." The general cut the display and leaned back. He zoomed the IVIS out to cover all of northern Virginia, punched in another series of commands and grunted. At current rate of advance, the ACS battalion was still six hours away. And he was fairly certain that one battalion was not going to be able to make a difference. The Eleventh Mobile Infantry Division was getting closer, barely ten hours away, but it was a division in name only, with a brigade and a half of troops fully suited and only partially trained.
He punched another button and called up the Chief of Staff.
"Okay, I've had a really bad idea."
"So far we have failed miserably at every movement we have tried to make, but I think we need to get ready to make another one."
"What, now, sir?" asked the COS, upset and startled. The corps was barely getting into its positions and he could not believe the general was preparing to move.
"Not now. I said prepare for one. With the way they are boiling out of there, we might have to turn this into a battle of maneuver. If so, I want to be as prepared as we can. This battle is in play mode; it's up to company commanders now. So get the staff working on a plan to pivot the corps to a north-south axis, anchored on the north by the Occoquan. Start the Nineteenth towards the west; they'll anchor the left flank. If we find ourselves being pushed out of position we'll need to pivot towards Manassas and slow their rate of advance towards Ninth Corps."
"What about the Forty-First, General? They'll be swinging in the breeze."
"Plan it with them on the north flank, but I agree that they will have problems completing the maneuver. However, they can retreat towards the Occoquan bridges or, barring that, they can move down to the Potomac and be Dunkirked under the cover of the battleships."
"You're assuming that we won't be able to stop them, sir."
"You are correct. At a tactical level we cannot maintain visual contact with them long enough to get good calls for fire, at least not so far. We will have to see what happens when they come into contact with the prepared positions. If we had had more time, more room to trade for time, we might have been able to pull this off. But without good trenches, wire and bunkers, I think they'll overrun us. We'll see."
* * *
"Aiming point this instrument!"
"Aiming point identified!"
The missing platoon sergeant and One Gun had linked back up during the move and Keren was back where he preferred to be. The L-T had handled the sudden move—and the linkup with the missing tracks—with remarkable smoothness. As the hammer came down the lieutenant seemed to be getting more and more into harness, like a young horse that never really shines until up against a competitor. He was laying in the section under Staff Sergeant Simmons's direction and doing it well. The guns were up almost before anyone knew it and almost simultaneously the released troops dove into their tracks to check the IVIS displays.
Red enemy marks sprinkled the entire front of the Twenty-First Cav, only six miles down the road, and the hammer of missiles and artillery could be heard from the distance.
"Look," said Keren, scrolling the display to the west, "it's solid along their front all the way to the edge of the division."
"So?" asked Sheila.
"I doubt that they just end there because the divisional front does," snorted Riley.
"Huh?" The ammo bearer was only seventeen and straight out of basic training. Most of the symbols on the display were still foreign to her.
"The Posleen are probably out around the cav's flank," explained Sergeant Herd. "And there," he continued, pointing to a unit marker in movement down Gun Truck Road, "is the response."
"Only a company," muttered Keren.
"They're stretched thin covering a three-division front," pointed out Herd. "Besides," he pointed to a mass on the primary roads, centered on the cavalry division's forward units, "that's the main thrust. If the Posleen are off the roads, they're slowed down." He turned towards the front of the track and began a fuel and maintenance report.
As the rest of the squad began maintenance or personal activities, Keren stayed to track the scout company as it rushed down the twisting backroads towards the threatened flank of the division. Before it was halfway there it flashed the purple of in-contact then dropped off the screen.
"What?" asked Sergeant Herd standing up quickly and banging his helmetless head on the overhead of the crowded track. "Damn! Cocksucker!"
As the sergeant cursed every piece of metal ever designed by an engineer with the express purpose of making an infantryman's life uncomfortable, red enemy icons began popping up to the rear of the westernmost regiment of the Twenty-First. A fuel convoy, driving forward to refuel the thirsty vehicles of the embattled division, went purple then winked out. Other logistics units began to report contact as the main reserve of the division started a movement to the west.
"Posleen have turned the cav's flank," said Keren. "They must have bypassed the security companies and they're in the rear area."
"Shit." Reed hung upside down from the top of the APC watching the inverted screen. "Better get ready to rock and roll, boys and girls."