The mission was simple, drop and set up a choke point twenty kilometers from the colony port city. No one and nothing was to get past us and we were to hold at all cost. The port city was in a valley and the narrow pass was the only way in. Normal colony ports are protected from raiders or high flyers by automated defenses so they could not land their ships.
The closest place would be down the pass another ten kilometers. I thought we were the only ones here since we had been briefed that the regiment was headed to the next system. The first two days were spent digging fighting positions, including for our armored carrier. I made sure each position had thick overhead cover.
Each also had both a working camouflage and a portable shield generator. Not that the shield would stop the big stuff but it would help. We settled into a routine that was shattered two weeks later. I heard the scream from the comms and spun to look towards the distant port in the darkness.
The port had gone dark and that meant the automated defenses had been activated. I looked up when the huge transports began descending towards lower end of the pass, "everyone up!"
I moved to my position forward of the squad and dropped into it. I switched on the squad bio monitors and hard line comm, "Alpha?"
I glanced at the bio monitors, "Bravo?"
I looked out using a scope, "Carrier?"
What I saw sent a chill through me, "heads up men. It looks like a battalion. I see armor being off loaded as well as fast movers and air transports."
Sgt Boske whispered back, "we count two fast movers and four transports. It looks like six tanks and twelve ground transports."
I grinned and continued watching until they began to move up the pass, "guns free. Sergeant Boske your primary targets are the two fast movers and then the air transports. Corporal Jones and Waller start with the tanks. Jenkins and Leonard start on the ground transports. Smith and Norris, I want you on the troops when they dismount. Everyone else pick targets that seem to lead or give directions."
I woke up sweating as the dream started and sat up before moving out of bed, I knew I would not go back to sleep. I showered and dressed before going to make coffee and later breakfast. Today was the first day of a cattle drive down to the auction yard outside of the closest town of Tin Buck Two.
The dream was not new or unexpected, it happened several times a week. I cleaned up and grabbed the large bore rifle in the rack by the door as I walked out. My ranch was huge with over ten thousand head of old earth white face cattle, I was taking five thousand to market. I saddled my horse and the pack horse and put the others on long leads before riding out.
I had twenty modern herding drones to move the herd and pulled the controller out of my saddle bag. I had brought the herd close to the house yesterday to get a fresh start today. I sat and watched as the drones started moving and the cattle slowly began to head south. Twenty days later I was watching the cattle flow into the large corral.
I had prospective buyers watching beside me. This was my fourth year and I watched the buyers expressions to give me an idea of how much the cattle would go for. When I walked away from the auction that night it was with a lot more credits than I expected. I headed to the only diner in town and sat at a corner table.
I smiled at Missy when she came to take my order, "coffee and a thick steak that is not chard black."
She grinned, "still burning your food Mr Melborne?"
I shrugged, "I never got the hang of cooking I am afraid."
She was back a minute later and poured a cup of coffee before glancing at the door, "there are newsies asking about you."
I glanced at the door to see an older man, "why."
She looked at me, "they talked about Melborne Pass."
I almost growled at the name and she smiled, "we sent them south to look for your ranch."
I grinned, "thanks."
She grinned back, "there is also a man with his daughter."
I waited and she shrugged, "he said his name was Mendez."
I looked at the door, "he staying at the hotel?"
She nodded and I sipped my coffee, "how is your dad?"
She grinned as she turned to head for the kitchen, "stubborn and grumpy and still looking for my husband."
I smiled as I sat back and a minute later someone cleared their throat. I turned to see an older man and a girl. I knew who it was and stood, "sir."
He smiled, "do not call me sir, I work for a living."
I smiled back and took his hand, "I did not know you were coming."
He shrugged and turned to sit in a chair. I moved to hold a chair for the girl before sitting, "what can I do for you?"
He looked into my eyes, "you know the newsies published your official after action report."
I nodded and he kept looking at me and finally smiled, "that would be the one you leaked."
I shrugged, "that asshole general Smith got promoted and the whole plan was covered up. My men deserved better, your son deserved better."
He sighed, "Remone knew what it meant to serve."
I leaned forward as I slapped the table, "you do NOT use soldiers as bait and leave them to die!"
He smiled, "no and he and those others that planned it have paid."
I snorted as I leaned back, "not enough."
He looked across at the girl, "my granddaughter needs to hear how her father died."
I looked at her and smiled, "you would be Gabby."
She smiled, "Gabrielle."
I nodded, "Remone always called you Gabby."
I looked at Missy as she came to the table, "it is alright Missy. Bring another coffee and..."
I looked at Gabby, "juice?"
She nodded and I turned back, "also a couple more steaks with all the trimmings."
She grinned, "sure thing. Momma said to let you know the newsies called and are coming in to eat."
I sighed and nodded, "I will pretend I am not here."
I looked at Gabby when Missy left, "your father died trying to save one of his men."
She looked at her grandfather and he gestured, "tell her the whole thing."
I looked at him and then away, "I have tried hard to forget."
I finally looked at the girl, "we were to protect the only pass to a new colony. We were told we would be the only ones on the planet and to hold at all costs."
I looked at the table, "we were bait, there was no one in the colony and the regiment was in hiding. Sergeant Boske and corporal Martin destroyed the flyers and air transports before the carrier was hit and they and Allison died. Corporal Waller and Jones managed to take out the tanks before they were killed."
I looked at retired sergeant major Mendez, "Smith and Norris ripped most of the ground troops apart but Smith was wounded while Norris died from a mortar round. Your father went to pull Smith to safety and was shot ... he did get Smith to safety but he died of his wounds later."
I hesitated before continuing, "Jenkins and Leonard drew fire destroying the ground transports and were killed shortly after your father. Sergeant Reach and private Harris were killed during the first attempt to break through our positions. It was after the third attempt that they had enough and ran towards the ships. That was when the regiment attacked in assault shuttles."
I shut up and she looked at her grandfather who cleared his throat, "how many times were you wounded."
I glanced at the door as several men entered, "twelve."
I sighed and turned to accept the plate Missy slipped onto the table. I heard the talk stop at the door, "staff sergeant Melborne?"
I ignored them as I started eating. Sergeant major Mendez and Gabby looked at the men as they approached. One touched my shoulder, "we want to talk to you."
I looked at the hand on my shoulder, "keep your hand there and I will cut it off."
He yanked his hand back as another moved around, "what is your reaction to general Smith's appeal to the armed forces board?"
I went back to eating and another cleared his throat, "he appealed his forced retirement. He claims the mission was a success because of all the raiders they killed and the starships captured. He is applying for reinstatement to active service."
I stopped eating and looked at the reporter before pushing the plate away. I stood and turned towards the door, "put it on my tab Missy."
I yanked the door open before stopping. I took a breath before looking at the reporters, "the general and the regiment did not kill all the raiders. My squad did and they died while the general and everyone else hid."
I walked out and closed the door quietly before heading towards the horse corrals. I saddled a horse and then the pack horse before putting the other horses on leads. I activated the herding drones to follow before swinging into the saddle. I leaned over to open the gate before riding out and heading north.
I rode back the way I had come and as it started to get dark I made camp. It was an hour later that I heard the horses coming towards my camp. I stood and a minute later Missy and Gabby rode into the camp. Missy swung down, "I am sorry about those newsies."
I nodded and she turned to Gabby who swung down awkwardly. Gabby looked at me, "grandfather said to come. There were men looking for you."
I looked at Missy and she nodded, "they looked military."
I looked to the south and Gabby walked closer rubbing her butt, "grandfather said they were special ops."
That did not make me feel better. I finally shook my head before reaching for Gabby's hand, "I will worry about it in the morning."
.... There is more of this story ...