Lieutenant Kelly Jensen-Matthews glanced up at the SitRep Display in the Weapons Platoon Field Command Post hut. Several stealth drones were overhead providing a composite view of the other side of the ridge and the surrounding areas. It was the easiest way she could track the battle. The only other, besides the Mark I eyeball, was the visor display in her helmet. It was a much smaller display. The company was set up near the end of what the military calls a cirque, a box canyon to anyone not a geologist. The ridge was a relatively low upthrust compared to the tall cliffs that formed the side walls.
The CO had positioned the three Rocket-Assisted Mortar (RAM) tubes on the backside of the ridge and had the rest of the company dug in on the other side of the ridge. The hut, a lightweight 3m x 3m x 3m tall, was also set up on the backside of the ridge. It was almost at the base where the slope started to flatten out and just behind a slight ripple that would offer some protection if the Swarm made it to the crest of the ridge or something catastrophic happened in one of the mortar pits. Because of that potential she and Gunny Rogers, the Weapons Platoon NCOIC, had sited the mortar pits a relatively safe distance apart and about a third of the way below the crest and the CP. The number one tube was near the right end of the ridge where it butted against the cliff. The number three tube was sited on the left end and the number two tube was sort of in between. About 40 meters separated the pits.
The AI monitoring the operation from the Home Plate posted the stat on the screen. Shit, despite each of her three mortar crews dropping a 120mm round every 10 seconds for the last 20 minutes, the valley still looked like a roiling gray-green sea in a storm. The mortar bombs were using the rocket assist not only for the initial boost but also for the terminal phase. The sudden increase in speed tended to throw off the Swarm ability to track the incoming bombs. The bombs were also set to detonate at 75 meters above the ground. That was optimal height to provide the deadliest dispersion of their cargo of tightly packed half centimeter diameter explosive dodecahedrons. She was still losing about one bomb in every five to Swarm laser beams. She watched three more 150 meter hemispheres take bites out of the front of the Swarm horde. As the blast hemispheres started to dissipate, rivers of gray-green poured into the areas, rapidly covering the exposed and torn ground. Thousands more followed them.
The scary part was that the Marines had enticed the Swarm into this area on the interdicted world of Tulak in the Tulakat system. The company and a tactics team had been sent to Tulak to demonstrate a new battle plan that Sector Command's War Games Section had come up with for the CMC Tactics, Techniques and Procedures manuals.
The company had played a lethal game of fox and hound. The Marines were the foxes. It had taken ten hours of controlled ambushes of the increasingly larger Sa'arm units. Initial heavy engagements were empty the magazine at effective long-range, with rapid controlled fire and disengage. And lead the Swarm survivors, or the investigating reinforcements, to the next site while providing intermittent, harassment fire. At the next ambush site, the first Marine unit joined up with a second unit. As they were disengaging, the first unit would leave through a transporter pad and a third team reinforced the second unit. Each ambush force was incrementally larger than the prior force. The teams changed frequently. The Company was to be an anvil. The Company was there to test weapons, tactics and dirty tricks. The mortars were one of those weapons.
The direct fire elements of Kelly's platoon were detached to the three rifle platoons to provide each platoon with another heavy-fire laser. Every couple of minutes they were having to relocate as the Swarm meld mind, or whatever it was, located their positions and they started to draw fire. She'd already had two troops injured; one was minor and still with his team. The medics had quickly thrown a patch on a chest wound of the second man and carried him through a transporter to home plate. A couple minutes later, she'd received confirmation the he was in a med-tube getting his right lung put back together. He would do well. Maybe next time would remember that he was a foot taller than he'd been before enhancements and duck a lot lower.
A heavy thump and whoosh announced another volley of rocket-assisted mortar bombs being launched down range. Kelly checked the proximity of the troops that were putting direct fire on the advancing horde with the impact points for this volley. The second set of bombs were going to detonate within 100 meters of the base of the front side of the ridge. That would be a little close. She got on the command circuit.
"Ramrod, this is Mortars. I've got two volleys in the air. The second will be danger close, say again danger close. Splash in 15 tics. Interrogative: Ramrod, you gonna di di mau for Home Plate?"
"Mortars," the Commander had jumped onto the general frequency this time. In the background she heard the carrumph - boom of the first volley exploding. Ramrod continued warning the entire company, "Incoming danger close, incoming danger close!"
"Weapons," the Commander was now just talking to her and the Weapons Platoon Gunnery Sergeant. "On my command, I want your tubes to give me three more rounds each as fast as you can drop them in the tubes with minimal flight time to impact 100 meters in front of my line." She heard the second volley impact. "We're starting egress right after I fire the claymores. The Swarm should notice we're falling back and attempt to overrun our positions. I'll give the fire command before I go through the locus. You'll launch the 3 round salvo, spike the tubes and you di di mau. No dallying, got that?"
"Aye, aye, Sir!" She shifted to Gunny Rogers' frequency. "Gunny, you copy that?"
"Yes Sir." Her display showed him by the number three tube on the left flank, they were her weakest crew.
"Gunny," she said, "if we leave anything, I don't wanna just spike the tubes. I want them destroyed. What's the best way to do that?"
"L.T.," he growled, "I like the way you think." There was a brief pause. " I've netted the gun captains so they will know the plan and will set things up. After the Commander's volley, we point the tubes straight up, lay extra rounds set for sympathetic burst in the pit with the tubes, launch a couple bombs straight up, then everyone goes through their locus. Even if the dickheads get there, they can't stop what's gonna be falling from the sky. We'll set the first one we launch to Explosively Formed Penetrator and have them detonate 50 meters above their target. When the penetrator impacts, most of the bombs we've set for sympathetic will also detonate. The second bomb will time detonate on a delay a couple seconds after impact and we best not be here when things go bang 'cause we'll most definitely alter the terrain. Over."
"Roger, Gunny." She checked the display; the green wave was creeping closer toward the electronically marked Company Line. "All tubes! All tubes! Prep for final volley! Prep for final volley!" The Swarm horde was roughly 200 meters from the Company Line as the company's lasers and grenade launchers went into rapid fire. The Commander allowed the forward elements of the horde to within 75 meters before he ordered the detonation of the claymore anti-swarm mines. Except for small isolated groups and individuals, the horde directly in front of the company was shattered and ripped to shreds for a depth of 50 meters. Lasers ripped at the survivors as a dozen BH-7 anti-personnel rockets whistled above the inrushing mob of dickheads to explode hundred-meter circles of mutilation in the oncoming masses of dickheads.
The SitRep Display was already showing blue friendly trails as the company's fireteams broke off, one from each squad, to race back toward the closest platoon pick-up point. Her three tripod mounted RLA-20 heavy laser teams increased their rate of fire to maintain the volume of out-going energy.
The second wave of fire teams withdrew. Kelly realized that the teams that had fallen back had created a perimeter around their transporter locii. Then the Commander ordered every grenadier to empty their GLA-8's into the oncoming Swarm and all teams to fall back as grenades were launched at any dickheads standing. Her gun teams fell back with the riflemen under the covering fire of the platoons that had already relocated around the transporter pads. Then about 20 meters from the pick-up point, the right flank gun team and the fire team they were moving with stopped.
"Team Whiskey Charlie to Weapons," that was the Charlie team's NCO, "we got lazed; the grunts took out the dickheads. Both teams took a casualty. Brice took a hard hit, and one of the grunts got his arm mangled. We're moving again. Both casualties will go through to medical as soon as we get to the locus. See ya topside L-T. Out here."
"Copy," she replied. Fuck! Now she had three troopers down. She wanted to get the rest home safe. One more job to do. On the SitRep Display, she saw the clusters of blue rapidly get smaller as troops rapidly egressed through the transporters.
Then the Commander called, "Mortars! Mortars! Mortars! Final mission, FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!"
"All gun captains, after this last volley, after mortar three leaves the tube, we're gonna fire two bombs to destroy anything we don't take with us. Tube captains, we go with the plan as the Gunny outlined. Once that last bomb leaves the tube. I want you to set the self-destruct on the locus and go through it on the double." Even as she spoke, Kelly could hear the first bomb of the Commander's volley leaving the tubes. "Loaders, as soon as you drop your bomb in that final set, you di-di-mau! Tube captains, copy?"
She heard a chorus of "Yes, Sir!" as another bomb was launched.
"Gunny, what's your physical?" She grabbed her G-T-F-O pack then her RLA-10, checked the chamber make sure there was a crystal in the chamber and that the safety was engaged.
"I'm about three meters from the CP," he replied and she heard some rocks slide down the hill. A series of whooshes announced the last of the Commander's volley. Now the TCs would already be elevating their tubes to vertical for the last two bombs. The Gunny stepped into the CP and glanced at the transporter disk. The rim glowed a reassuring green.
"TCs," Kelly verbalized, "confirm your locus is green. By the numbers, I want a verbal on that."
Tubes one and two responded briskly. Three was delayed long enough that she was already hand-signing to the Gunny using her left fist with the three fingers extended then with her thumb near her ear and her pinky next to her mouth. Before the Gunny could start the contact, Corporal Baxter, Tube Three's NCO, replied.
"Uh, we're good, the transporter is green." Kelly looked at the Gunny, more than a little confused. He held up a hand with thumb and forefinger making a circle. If the Gunny was okay with it, she could wait on it.
"I don't want anyone standing around. If a troop doesn't have a task I want that troop to C-S-M-O. Copy." Almost immediately she noted that someone had transported out of Tube 3's gun pit. She raised her eyebrows at the Gunny. Again he responded with the okay sign.
She glanced at her SitRep Display. The mass of dickheads was overrunning the company's former positions, tripping explosive booby traps and Bouncing Barbies as they came. "All Tubes, mission check. Affirm, green ping on the SitRep Display. Negative, red ping.
"All tubes locked vertical?" Three greens.
"Excess bombs set for sympathetic detonation?" Three greens.
"First bomb, set for proximity EFP at 50 meters?" Three greens.
"Second bomb, set for delay detonation two T-seconds after ground penetration and rocket assisted descent?" Three greens.
"I want a green ping with each launch." she looked at the Gunny. He smiled grimly at her. She glanced up at the display. The lead dickheads were already only 30 meters below the ridge crest. "Thank you, Marines. See you on the other side. On my command." She paused, "Drop. Drop. Drop." The Gunny ripped the display off the wall and tossed it through the transporter locus. Kelly shifted her focus to her visor display.
A thump! Almost immediately she received the expected three greens. Five seconds later a second set of thumps and three greens. "Everyone G-T-F-O! Fifteen seconds!" Three seconds later, one, two greens. Kelly looked in the direction of three's gun pit. Third green! She let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
She glanced once more at the top of ridge and the Swarm laser trails leading up into the sky, then turned to the Gunny. He had his RLI-1/GL-8 combo at ready as he watched the other end of the ridge. "Let's G-T-F-O, Gunny."
"Damn!" The Gunny exclaimed, staring up the ridge toward the number two mortar pit. Then his rifle was coming up.
Kelly spun back toward the ridge. She slammed her helmet's face shield down and her Heads-Up Display went live. A flashing red dot appeared on her Heads-Up Display. As her eyes tracked up the hillside, a gunsight reticle opened and began sliding up the HUD. Swarm troopers were emerging from the hillside.
"They must've dug through from the opposite side," the Gunny barked as he began to laze the emerging aliens. "We don't want them to get a good look at the mortars!"
The reticle, bore sighted to her RLA-10, was on the tunnel opening as the line of Swarm continued to almost tumble out of the hillside. She had 100 rounds in her C-Mag. She pulled the trigger back and walked the beams across the line, dropping dickheads. On her HUD the ammo count began to fall, fast!
"Reloading!" warned Gunny Rogers as he dropped his magazine then slapped another 30 round magazine into the magazine well.
Kelly had found the front of the column of dickheads and was walking her beams across their eyes, hoping to dazzle or blind them. More dickheads were exiting the tunnel. They were running out of time! And she was running out of ammo.
Gunny Rogers stepped up beside her and she caught a glimpse of the forestock of his RLI-1 and the underslung grenade launcher. "Gunny!" she screamed, "put all the grenades in the tunnel!"
"Fuck!" he exclaimed as he lifted his point of aim and fired. Kelly actually heard the almost musical poink, poink, poink as the grenades were electrically fired from the tube. The launch tube ejected and the gunny was pulling out the reload. The tunnel mouth gouted flames, smoke, dirt and Swarm bits. Kelly was double tapping the closest Swarm troopers still uphill from the number two pit. Gunny sent another triple shot, these set for proximity.
Twelve meters from the tunnel they exploded, knocking any standing Swarm troops tumbling.
"We're outta time Gunny! Incoming!" as she grabbed the rucksack on his back and jerked him toward their locus. "Go!"
The Gunny's grin was gone, "Yeah, let's go check the toll." He stepped onto the transporter pad and vanished. Anxiously Kelly waited the couple seconds for the pad to turn from red back to green, and made the three running steps through to Home Plate. The pad turned red.
Two seconds later in quick sequence three bombs exploded approximately 35 meters above the top of the ridge. A pillar of brilliant, actinic light streaked to the gun pits they'd been launched from, homing in on the tube that had launched them, ripping through leveling and targeting mechanisms and baseplates in a shower of sparks and burrowing into the soil. Bombs started exploding in and around the three gun pits, tearing at the gun tubes and abandoned bomb transport cases.
Seconds later the last three bombs came racing toward their target, the shock diamonds of their rockets chasing them from the sky, laser bolts burning past them. Then one was hit by a bar of brilliant light and its rocket began to burn through the sidewall of the guidance tail. It wobbled and, now slightly off target, continued its downward plunge. A second was hit several times as it flashed straight down past the Swarm gunners that now lined the crest of the ridge to impact and bury itself a couple meters from the tube that launched it.
For two seconds things were quieter. Fires continued to crackle and pop. Overheated brush ignited in a flash. Small teams of Swarm troopers were cresting the ridge and pouring out of the reopened tunnel, sliding toward the ravaged gun pits and the little hut at the bottom of the hill when the delay elapsed in the buried bombs.
In a massive but staggered explosion, they detonated. The renewed inferno caused any unexploded bombs to join in the fury of explosions and flames. Other bombs, randomly tossed out of the pits by the force of their exploding peers, sympathetically provided air bursts in the faces of the Swarm that were cresting the ridge. Secondary explosions continued for several minutes. Volatiles flashed into flame. Flammables ignited and burned until the fires reduced the fuel to ash. The ash continued to smolder.