Karnov “Lady Lodestar”
Nine hundred meters above Central Divide
Approximately thirty kilometers North of Drazi
0030 hours 09 December 3080
The Lady Lodestar flew through the night air, its rear ramp open. A pair of pallets sat in the center of the cargo bay and an assistant load master checked the straps on its parachutes one last time. Four troops were on either side of it in jump seats, lounging as they awaited the word to get ready. The rest of the platoon was further in the craft, all seated much as the pallet teams were.
Top of the ramp stood the load master who looked out into the night air, a hand to an earphone. After a moment, the load master walked forward towards the front of the crafts. Stopping by the lead trooper by the starboard door, he tapped him on the shoulder. When the trooper looked up, the loadmaster (who doubled as the Jump Master) held up five fingers then moved on towards the door and triggered it open.
The trooper he tapped, Sergeant First Class Anthony (Shade) Sadowski took a deep breath after acknowledging the message. Four minutes, He thought to himself and stretched once before sitting up proper. Looking back over his stick of troopers, he could only lament over their job tonight and how odd it was.
Shade was part of the Phoenix Lancers’ infantry contingent, which was made up of a number of disciplines ranging from standard foot to special operations. Right now, he was the acting platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon of Bravo Company, Third Battalion, 173rd Airborne Regiment. And they were about get stuck in for the first time this invasion.
Paratroops were a rare thing in the late 31st century, with most militaries using one of the tried-and-true forms of grunts or the flashy Jump-pack types for the non-power armored sorts. The Lancers, being the odd sorts with their lineage and habit for *non-traditional* means of conducting warfare, elected to use maintain units like his in their forces; indeed, they had three battalions of them.. It was rare they deployed anywhere and in his twelve-year career, he had only been off world twice for contracts and had five combat drops (one a near-space HALO drop!) between those contracts. And in his career, he never expected to be doing a combat drop on his own world.
And yet, here he was…. And about five minutes from showtime.
As the side doors opened on both sides of the craft, he could hear the engines change pitch- the pilot settling into a slow stable speed for dumping troops. Above the doors, a red light snapped on, bright in its glow. The Load Master turned to face back towards the troops on board the craft.
“FOUR MINUTES. OUTBOARD, STAND UP!” The Loadmaster screamed out and the troops on the outboard positions stood and turned towards the door.
“INBOARD, STAND UP!” The troops of the inboard of the craft duplicated the movements of the outboard troopers.
“JUMPERS… HOOK UP!” At the command, the troopers clicked the static lines to the central cable that ran the length of the bay to the door. The troopers by the pallets did the same for the floor snap-rings for the ramp deployment. Then they hooked their lines to the center cable that ran to the back ramp. They would be following the pallets when they rolled out.
“JUMPERS…. CHECK STATIC LINES!” All the troopers checked the lines that ran from the hooks to the chutes and made sure they would work as they were supposed to. One didn’t need a failure when it was time to step.
“JUMPERS…. Check EQUIPMENT and SOUND OFF” The next thirty seconds was spent by the troops checking snaps and chutes, making sure the clasps were in the proper position to function. From back to front all sounded off that gear was correct. Gearbag tethers were checked to make sure they were connected properly; the biggest mistake was always not checking this and losing your bag. Such an event would suck as it usually held spare ammo and other items that could be important on the ground.
The light about the door changed to Yellow. “JUMPERS… STEP UP” The line of troops either side of the craft moved forward two steps towards the doors. The troopers by the pallets rested hands on pallet releases.
The light turned Green. “GO GO GO GO GO!”
Shade stepped forward and spun- he’d be the last one out and he patted each man in his stick on the shoulder as they stepped out the door into the night sky. As soon as the last man went, he followed them out the door.
The process was duplicated on the opposite side of the craft, his assistant platoon sergeant doing as he did. The troopers with the pallets hit the released and gave the platforms a shove which sent them down the ramp into the air, followed by the troopers assigned to them.
As soon as all the troopers were out of the craft, the Lady Lodestar flew on for another three minutes before banking south for another five minutes of flight then made a turn for the route home.
Elsewhere, a similar process played out with four other craft, their passengers all hitting the night sky and floating to the surface of Centarus for their missions.
Shade unbuckled his harness after he gathered in his chute upon landing a few minutes later. As near as he could tell, all thirty of them managed to land without major mishap. At least so far…. But he wasn’t counting on shit just yet.
Dropping the harness on the balled-up parachute, he shoved it under some brush as best he could and went back to his gear bag. Withdrawing his M18 Modular Battle Rifle, he made sure it was loaded before slinging his gear bag over a shoulder. Others near him did the same and within the next six minutes or so, the troops formed up into small teams and headed towards the location of the pallets.
The M18 was a very updated version of a twentieth century design, the M8. Over the centuries, the weapon concept had been refined and was the standard rifle for the Lancer Para and Special Operations troops due to the options the weapon allowed for. For this mission, everyone was using the Carbine loadout, with at least two men set up for Marksman and two running the light machine gun configuration. The platoon could dish out serious fire power if needed… And if they did their jobs right, they would not need to unless they chose to.
Dumb shit always happens though, which is why his platoon had a pair of LS3 robotic pack mules. The LS3 was a concept dating back to the 21st century and had seen use periodically over the centuries. Their use allowed forces like his to have heavier weapons and equipment for missions of importance… much like this one. Carried on the two machines with them was excess ammunition, a collection of one-shot Antitank launchers and various shelter tarps/netting for the soon to be established base camp.
Shade had been pleased to have the machines for this mission but was also dubious about bringing them because they might not survive it… Supply was notorious for being pains in the asses over expensive or sensitive equipment and these things were NOT cheap. A battlefield loss could be written off, of course, but it would play hell with the budget for next year… or so his CO had said.
He thought that was bullshit; the damn planet was invaded, and some supply puke was giving them crap about accountability for this thing? That motherfucker could come out here and claim it back his damn self.
Approaching one of his squad leaders, he knelt next to her. “Shantz, you got everyone?” he said in a near whisper.
Sergeant Ekat Shantz, a five-foot five brunette dynamo and native to Centaurus gave him a thumbs up. “’Course I do,” She replied. “no one twisted an ankle, either. Dunno if that’s good or bad… Already saw Mikey; he has all his goons too. Even Bear.” The one she referenced, Bryan ‘Bear’ Bogdonivitch, was every bit as big and burly as his nickname. And just as sleepy most of the time too… at least when he wasn’t busy. There had been a betting pool he was gonna nap through the drop and be asleep on landing.
“Nice… was he awake?”
“Yep- even had his chute balled up and stowed. You owe me five credits…”
A shake of the head. “Shit…” A pat on the shoulder and Shade moved out, collecting the rest of the platoon and the two MULE teams. If he was right, they had about four hours to get to the base camp site and then through the pass to the Objective. It was a small field supply point for the other side, located in one of the wineries and his platoon had been lucky enough to draw that straw. It wasn’t supposed to be all that large but still of importance, even if it was just for ammo.
If things went right, he and his troops would hit it at sunrise and either take it or blow it. All things being equal, he’d rather take the place. Clover Hill made a very nice spiced-wine and the place they were to hit was where it was made. He really would rather not have to blow the place up…
About four and a half hours later, the assault sections of the platoon were in place at the outskirts of the winery as the sun began to peak over the horizon. Overlooking the place, Shade panned his infrared mag-noculars around and took in what was there. By his count, there was about a dozen, maybe a dozen and a half, troops defending the place and another fifteen to twenty technicians of various sorts.
Several Caterpillar P5550 Power Loaders were sitting by portable generators and roughly twenty tons of munitions were stacked neatly between rows of wineberry vine-racks- all covered with netting. Several pallets of armor and the fuse-welders for its attachment were sitting to the side of the pressing barn. No major repair facilities otherwise; the site was meant for reloading and basic armor repair only. And everything was protected from aerial observations by the netting.
It was neat and orderly… and not terribly out in the open either. However, it was likely to be busy come mid-morning, though. His platoon leader, First Lieutenant Charles Norris, had told him the armored boys had given the southern defenders of the central divide a big ol’ shove north. It had cost them some, but it cost the invaders more in position and their tanks. Of the battlemechs, it was more ammunition and armor on the machines; may not seem like much but the invaders had retreated.
Norris figured they would likely come here not long after first light- battlemechs had a rough time at night- and it would be here that they would get a surprise. First of many…
Shade had made sure every squad had an antitank rocket or three when they left the base camp and was glad he did. The disposable weapons didn’t have great range, but they were able to hurt a mech…. Or blow up an ammo pallet. And right now, he didn’t want to face a mech. So, blowing the place, as much as it pained him… was going to have to be a thing. Having to blow this place up hurt his soul… but such is the hell that was war. I hope they have a warehouse somewhere with this year’s haul, he thought. This will suck if I’m the one who destroyed this year’s product…
Activating his platoon net, he gave orders to his squad leaders. “Shade to all teams… we are blowing the place. Engage in ninety, nine zero seconds…. On my mark. Acknowledge.” One by one, his squad leaders acknowledged, and Shade lifted his rifle up. Quickly adjusting his sights, he settled his aim in on a large bell hanging on a post by what looked like a hand pump.
“At the sound of the bell, unleash hell…” He said into his microphone and focused his aim. Breathing in, he held it for a moment and then let it out…. Squeezing the trigger at the natural pause in his breathing, the rifle fired.
The shot split the morning air and it flew true, the round striking the bell with a resounding PING and subsequent ringing with the shock to the device. A moment later, the morning air was further torn apart with the sounds of multiple rifles shooting at defenders and antitank rockets streaking into ammunition pallets, detonating the contents in a maelstrom of explosions and fragments.
The resulting explosions had the effect of taking out nearby pallets of armor, damaging them and wrecking various structures they were near. A few of the power loaders toppled from the concussive wave of sound energy and air, the machine falling like dominos. Some of the technicians were caught in the explosions and not terribly many survived being engulfed. Those that did, did not live long. Few defending troops were able to return fire, the surprise being as complete as one could have hoped for and their lack of expecting to be engaged was plenty plain to see.
Shade pulled back from his sights and watched the carnage unfold. After about three or four minutes, he decided the place had had enough and called into the platoon net once more. “Eagle Platoon, disengage and fall back to rally point. This place is toast.” As the squads acknowledged, he watched a little longer before turning to his RTO (aka Comms Tech; the phrase RTO was something from a looooooooong time ago that was still used. Damned if he knew why…). “Alrighty Sparks, let’s get the flock out of here.”
The RTO, Specialist Jane Sparks (her real name), nodded. “Couldn’t agree more, Shade; Ain’ no one gonna be happy down there…” She headed out ahead of her platoon sergeant, her weapon at the ready as they moved. “Fuckers shoulda stayed the hell away; crazies get you killed.”
Shade agreed with his RTO; the bastards down there should have not gotten involved with the Word and this was not going to end well. Not if he had anything to say about it.