2951-11-22 – Tales from the Service: The Brigands of Seven SRC 

“This is the target.” The officer in charge of the briefing whisked a metal pointer through the holographic terrain map for everyone to see. A red orb blinked sullenly on one side of the rugged mountain at the center of the display. “There are several entrances to the complex, but the VTOL landing pads here are going to be the least well defended. That’s where you’ll be dropped.” 

 Arjan Marchetti knew the score; ground defenses would be light at the landing pads because stiff anti-air defenses would theoretically prevent hostile troops from landing. Most likely, every shoulder of the mountain hid a nest of air-search sensors, guided missile batteries, and rapid-fire laser emplacements, all of which would shred any troop-transport long before it landed on the VTOL pads. 

The briefing was leaving that out because none of the men in the room could do anything about the anti-air, of course. The thirty-six men and four women of the Frontier Volunteer Defense Army’s Seventh Special Reconnaissance Company needed to rely on someone else to solve those problems. 

As the officer continued to explain what was known about the layout of the underground complex and the best routes to the command center, Arjan glanced over at Lieutenant Turati, sitting a few seats to his left. Turati was scowling, but that was nothing to be concerned about. According to bunkroom legend, the Seven SRC commander had fought his way off Adimari Valis three months after the planet had fallen to the Incarnation after having been marooned there by a wrecked dropship during the final battle. How he’d accomplished this escape, nobody knew for sure, but everyone knew that nothing since had been sufficiently dangerous to engage his interest. As long as Turati was scowling, the mission was nothing to be worried about. 

“Any questions?” The briefing officer set his pointer down and folded his hands behind his back.  

There were no questions, as usual. Since probably only half of Seven SRC had paid attention to the whole briefing, this probably dismayed the man tasked to give it, but they all knew not to take Naval Intelligence too seriously. Seven SRC had seen too many intelligence fiascos to believe that knowing what the spooks had come up with would be of any value in the field.  

Turati stood up first, gave perfunctory thanks for the intelligence update, then led the way out into the corridor. Seven SRC rose to follow him with barely a word.  

The forty members of the unit said little until they were back in the barracks compartment assigned to them aboard Olivia Maria. Few FVDA troops ever saw the inside of a Marine troopship, but the men of the Special Reserve were among the exceptions. The brass needed them for operations all along the Frontier, and so they were moved by the fast transports rather than by the FVDA’s usual bulk troopships. 

“All right, Lieutenant.” Sergeant Levitt, the unit’s second in command, raised his rough baritone as soon as the compartment had closed behind the last SRC trooper. “This seems like a damned death sentence. But you aren’t concerned, are you?” Levitt had been retired from the Confederated Marines only four months when the war had started, and had been wounded on Margaux before being transferred to the SRC program. 

“Three or four killed. Five wounded.” Lieutenant Turati shrugged. “That’s the worst case.” 

Arjan shook his head. “How do you figure that one, Sir?” He didn’t like the sound of ten percent dead in the unit, but it certainly wasn’t worse than other assignments Seven SRC had been given lately. 

Turati smiled, his cold blue eyes sweeping the room. “Intelligence is a bunch of idiots. We’re not going in the way they told us to. That’s damned suicide. We’d never reach the platform. We’ll set down in the foothills while the Navy flyboys are tangling with the triple-A and walk the rest of the way to the front door, and grab the base commander the next time he comes out. Then we just have to hide until someone comes to pick us up.” 

“That’ll take days, won’t it?” Levitt frowned. “There’s no way the Brass is going to be that patient.” 

“It’s Intelligence that wants this done wrong.” Turati sat down on a bunk at random. “But a few days won’t make any difference to the Brass. Most of this operation is going to be damned dull.” 

Arjan nodded. "Sounds like we’re going to spend a few days collecting wilderness kit.” 

“That’s right.” Turati held out his hands. “No doubt there’s plenty aboard this ship, but none of it is assigned to us. We have seven days to fix that.” 

Levitt grinned. “The usual fix, Sir?” 

“The usual fix.” Turati waved his hand. “The Navy can send us the bill later.” 

A wave of chuckles swept through the compartment. Within minutes, most of the company had congealed into groups of three or four, talking in low tones around one member’s bunk. 

Arjan felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see that it belonged to Sergeant Levitt. “Sarge?” 

“You’re with me on this one, Marchetti.” Levitt winked. “Lieutenant wants something special for this mission, and with your help I’m going to get it.” 

Arjan winced. “Yessir.” Though he’d lied creatively to get into the FVDA in the first place, he was quite free with his SRC fellows about his few years as a cartel enforcer. No doubt, this was what Levitt was referring to. 

“Ah, don’t worry.”  Levitt clapped Arjan on the back. “We won’t hurt anyone, and we’re only stealing from people who had it coming. The spooks, in this case.” 

“Oh.” Arjan brightened. “For a moment you had me worried. What’s the plan?” 

Nojus here. This is Duncan’s last week of leave. In fact, he’s due back here in three days as of the posting of this feed item. I was able to sit down for dinner with the Chaudhri family this week. They are very private people who would not want anything we discussed to appear in this space, but it was a nice evening all around. 

The FVDA’s Special Reconnaissance Companies program is perhaps the most tight-lipped portion of the normally fairly media-welcoming FVDA service, and it is a shame that we haven’t had an opportunity to mention them here before. When a story about their activities does reach us, Naval Intelligence invariably cuts it to pieces, citing operational security. If you ask me, it’s just as likely that the Intelligence boys have an unwritten rule not to permit good press for the SRC, as the SRC seem to despise Intelligence more even than they do the enemy. 

This particular account refers to preparation for an operation that was completed in mid-2950. Intelligence still scrubbed all specific details about the operation except for the name of their troopship before permitting me to bring the story to this feed. 

2951-10-25 – Tales from the Service: The Quickley Job

“You must be joking.” Avin Matveev folded his arms and leaned against the blast-scored wall of what had probably been built as a high-rise residence tower for the first wave of architects and technicians who would turn Quickley into a first-class colony. Now, it was the frowning massif looming over a forlorn ruin made all the more desolate by the fact that it had never been properly built before it was destroyed.

“Afraid not, Boss.” Leo Goranov, Avin’s chief architect, gestured down the arrow-straight street leading back the way they’d come. “Admiral Abarca’s rep says they have two brigades of fortress troops landing in thirty hours.”

“What in all hells am I supposed to do with thirty hours?” Avin threw his hands up. “We haven’t even been groundside for a whole shift! Has he seen what the grunts did to this place? We’re doing everything almost from scratch!”

Fortunately, Leo had worked with Avin long enough to know that these were rhetorical questions. He winced and pretended to make a note on his data slate, then soldiered on after a politely long silence. “The block tower will hold almost that many, if they don’t mind having room-mates and hot-bunking.”

Avin looked up at the twelve-story ferrocrete edifice. Most of its windows were dark, hollow sockets, and chunks of material had been blown out of its sides by wayward artillery fire. He’d already verified that its foundation was solid, but he’d expected that his crew had more than a week in which to complete their work. Leo was probably right, but even with most of the team working round the clock, there was no way they’d have that building ready. A new coat of paint wouldn’t even be dry in that time.

Avin dropped his shoulders. This was the part of being a military contractor that he’d never grown to like, no matter how big the payday. “Herb’s already on his way with the crane crawlers?”

“Soon as they’re unloaded.”

“Get back over and pull Lydia off the revetments. Bring her team this way as soon as you can.” Avin pointed toward the edge of the incomplete city, where one of his teams had already been bundled off to work on fortifications.

Leo nodded. “I’ll call ahead. The Marines won’t like losing their pet diggers.”

“The Marines don’t fill our bank account, Leo.” Avin shooed his associate away. “Go on, I’ve got to get the plan markers laid before Herb gets here.”

Leo scurried off, leaving Avin standing on the cracked walkway, staring up at the structure that would, in not much more than a standard day, be housing Confederated troops. They’d never have the whole inside ready by then, of course; running plumbing to sanitary stations on every floor alone would take most of the time he’d been given. It was time to do some of the famous Matveev improvising that his father and grandfather had built the company on. It didn’t have to be pretty; it just had to keep more than three thousand souls warm, dry, and mostly clean.

Walking across the street to the corner of a low building skeleton which had probably never had a complete roof, Avin reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of planning markers. Building a schematic in his head as he went, he set the markers down every ten meters or so as he circumnavigated the huge tower. The inside didn’t really need to house so many thousands of bunks; it just needed to have water, sanitary facilities, and somewhere to put the chow line. The fact that it was an ugly, over-engineered block of ferrocrete would also come in handy.

Just as Avin returned to his start point, he heard the rumble of polymer-coated treads on cracked pavement. Looking up, he saw the first crane crawler nose around a corner, a crimson Matveev Logistics insignia freshly painted on the front of the cab. Behind the telescoping crane mount, a flat bed held a towering pile of pre-fabricated metal beams.

Avin waved the vehicle over and hopped up onto its side while it was still moving. Inside the cab, behind a strung-out looking driver, Herb Armando was standing on the vibrating deck, scowling out at the ruined streets.

“This is impossible, Boss.” Herb handed Avin a disposable cup of coffee. “Did you hear we only have-”

“I heard.” Avin pointed to the tower. “We’re going to use that.”

“The whole crew working round the clock couldn’t make that ready in time.” Herb shook his head. “Prefab’s going to be faster, but still not fast enough.”

“Yeah.” Avin tapped his wristcuff to send Herb the locations of the planning markers. “Which is why we’re going to use that.”

Herb frowned. “I don’t get it, boss.”

“Start assembling support struts.” Avin looked out over the street, imagining a net of metal girders blossoming upward from the wreckage and converging on the top of the tower. Once the girders were secure, his imagination started dividing the intervening space with crossbeams, then flooring. Synth-canvas became walls, and a double layer covered the whole thing like a monstrous tent.

Herb, of course, couldn’t see Avin’s designs. He sighed and pointed to Herb’s wristcuff. “I need support beams to go from those points, up to the top.”

Herb glanced at the screen, then out at the building. “What good’s that?”

“Just do it, Herb.” Avin popped the top off the coffee, drained it in two gulps, then handed it back. “We don’t have time for the big picture presentation this time.”

Herb looked at Avin strangely, then smiled. “That almost sounded like your father, Boss.”

“Yeah, well.” Avin opened the door and started back out. He would need to head into the tower to set markers to give the other teams their marching orders before they arrived. “If we pull this off, even that grouch will be impressed.”

Though the fighting has been over on Quickley for some time, Nojus is still on that world and still talking to the combat troops and support personnel who were part of its capture.

Quickley is an interesting case; this was no hit and run raid. Seventh Fleet is apparently fortifying the world to resist attack long enough that the main fleet can depart from Sagittarius Gate to relieve it.

Among those who arrived on that world within hours of its capture was Avin Matveev, the chief executive of Matveev Logistics, a mid-sized civilian contracting company that has been building ground-side bases and facilities for the Confederated Navy for nearly seventy years. Nojus apparently knows Mr. Matveev from way back, and seems to have had little difficulty extracting this particular story of engineering exploits from him.

It should be noted that though the account included pictures of the odd circus-tent hab structure Mateev built to house the incoming troops, the strange building has already been largely disassembled. It was only needed for a few weeks, until Mateev Logistics could build more permanent barracks facilities.

2951-10-18 – Tales from the Service: A Vertical Envelopment

Though the concept of vertical envelopment has existed in combat doctrines since before the First Space Age, I doubt most of our readers are familiar with the concept as it is conducted by Confederated Marines in this conflict. In brief, it is the act of attacking an enemy from an unexpected direction through the air while that enemy is already engaged in battle. We’ve covered unorthodox uses of the jump rockets on Rico suits many times in this text feed, but this tactic is one of the most orthodox uses of this equipment.

Video recordings of this tactic are quite spectacular; though there are no good videos available on the datasphere of its use in combat, there are a number of videos of Marines performing vertical envelopment in training exercises which can be found with a few searches, and I highly recommend doing so. Such video would make an excellent visual reference for this account of the tactic from the now-concluded assault on Quickley in the Lee-Hosha system.

As soon as he had checked that Singh was all right, Sergeant Myron Vergossen consulted the drone’s overhead view of the situation. The rocket swarm had cleared most of the concealing brush from in front of the enemy bunker, but had done little real damage. The squad couldn’t go too much farther in the drainage ditch before it turned and became exposed to enemy fire, and the crashing of fallen trees behind him was sufficient proof that there would be little benefit in pulling back into the woods. The bunker’s lasers would scythe through the trees for hundreds of yards.

In the privacy of his helmet, Myron winced. As usual, the enemy had set up their defenses well; there was no way to draw sustained fire from the fortification without giving them something to shoot at. Singh’s armor had withstood a few hits from a small-wattage pulsebeam, but there was at least one heavy emitter in there capable of severing thick, ancient tree-trunks in an instant; their armor probably wouldn’t be able to shrug that off so easily.

“Listen up, boys.” Myron kept up his gruff, hard-as-armor-plate tone as best he could, even though this was the part of being a non-com that hated the most. “On my signal, get up there and give it to ‘em with your primary, then get back down. And keep doing it again until I call a halt. Watch for friendly transponders in your fire arc.”

A series of acknowledging clicks and chirps indicated that everyone had heard. While the Marines scrambled into ready positions, Myron switched channels. “Columbera, start your V-E when you hear shooting again. Lead with rockets on the way in. We’ll keep them distracted.”

“Aye, Sarge.” Columbera sounded eager, and Myron couldn’t blame him; there was little more thrilling in the life of a Marine than an offensive jump-rocket maneuver. There was also little more dangerous, especially if the rest of the squad couldn’t keep those lasers occupied. Mid-jump, Columbera and his fellows would be totally exposed, out in the open in every sense of the word.

The danger would only last a few seconds. Whoever was going to get hurt or killed would probably not even realize it until it was all over. “Make ready.” Myron found a spot from which he could execute his own orders. After all, if someone was going to buy the plot today, he was at least as good a candidate as anyone else. “Go, go!”

As one, the Marines in the gully rose up head and shoulders above the lip and started firing. Railguns rattled, autocannons thumped, and plasma lances blazed away toward the enemy bunker.

Return fire was instantaneous. Myron’s suit flashed warnings as he took two low-wattage laser hits to his chestplate, and another to the far lighter armor on the suit’s forearm, far beyond where his own fingertips were. The hits did little real damage, but he dropped back down, moved to the side, and popped up again in another place.

When the sensors in the suit’s low mechanical head once again cleared the ditch’s rim, Myron saw a quartet of smoke-trails arcing through the sky above the bunker. He swept his railgun across the target at random as a flurry of white-hot motes zipped down from the sky to explode on the bunker’s flat roof.

Even before the explosions had faded into smoke, four Rico suits, their feet enveloped in fire, slammed down in their epicenter. Columbera and his three associates plunged right through the synthcrete roof, weakened as it was by the blasts, and vanished inside the bunker.

“Fall back!” Myron, already heeding his own recommendation, dropped back down, then turned to survey the damage.

As he’d expected, there had been casualties. Most of the Marines had scorched or still-glowing spots on their armor, but only two suits showed internal damage to systems and Marine – Kinneman was down with his chest armor melted nearly through and still red-hot, and Jedynak’s right arm hung lifeless, the machinery within spitting black smoke and occasional spurts of hydraulic oil.

Myron pointed toward Kinneman. “Get him out before he cooks. He’s still got a pulse but his suit’s a loss.”

Two Marines immediately flipped Kinneman over and began prying apart the suit’s interleaving rear plates. When they broke the atmo seal, hot, steamy air billowed out, followed shortly afterward by a red-faced and gasping Private Kinneman. Despite bearing a garish burn across the left side of his face, Kinneman got to his feet quickly, then dove briefly back into his suit to retreive his side-arm and Nine.

“Bunker is clear, Sarge.” Columbera was almost cheering his report. “Heavy weapons spiked and reactor scrammed. No casualties.”

Myron breathed a sigh of relief. Once Marines were inside a tight space like the bunker, Incarnation infantry were largely powerless and they knew it, but that didn’t mean there was no danger to the marines who’d penetrated the fortification. “Good work, Corporal. We’ll come up to you.

Switching channels, Myron raised his robotic fist. “Columbera’s cleared the bunker. Move up.” While the other Marines hurried up the slope, he turned to the other casualty. “Jedynak, are you stable?”

“Suit arm’s toast, Sarge. Mine’s pretty cooked too.” Jedynak’s voice was an octave higher than usual. “I’ll live. God bless painkillers, eh?”

Myron sighed and dropped a med-evac beacon. “Might be an hour or two before the lifter gets here and we have to keep pushing. Keep your heads down, both of you.”

“Aye, Sarge.” Jedynak waved in the direction of the bunker with his remaining arm. “Should we take cover in there?”

“Negative.” Myron stopped half-way up the slope and turned back toward the wounded pair. “Do not occupy the bunker. Take the beacon back along this gulley a little way.” He pointed skyward. “You know our artillery and air cover.”

Jedynak chuckled nervously. “That I do, Sarge.”

2951-10-04 – Tales from the Service: The Quickley Fortification

“In position Sarge.” Corporal Columbera sounded out of breath; on a world with more or less Terran gravity, like Quickley, that probably meant he and his detachment had been forcing themselves through thick underbrush for most of the last fifteen minutes. “I think so, anyway.”

“Understood.” Sergeant Myron Vergossen took one last look at the terrain map, then dismissed it and called up the targeting display instead. A haloed cross-hair appeared in the center of his helmet’s face-plate, then slid off the lower edge of the armor-glass screen as the display detected which way the railgun attached to his right arm was pointing. Just to be safe, he raised his arm and pointed the weapon toward the underbrush beside the road, and watched the cross-hair reappear.

Around him, most of his squad of Confederated Marines had probably already tested their targeting systems and warmed up their various weapons. The unit’s Rico suits were tough, but something always seemed to break in one of them after several hours of tramping about in the dirt and dust of an alien world; being caught by surprise by a failed targeting optic after the shooting started was not an option.

“Everyone ready?” Myron turned a half-circle to look at each of the men in turn. Less Columbera’s quartet, he had fourteen Marines for the frontal assault. Most of their weapons would do little against the walls of a hardened Incarnation bunker, but that was all right; knocking the position out was Columbera’s job.

Nobody answered vocally over the radio channel, but within two seconds, a series of blue status indicators in Myron’s HUD winked out and returned green.

“Follow me. Heads down.” Myron had already set the position and rough size of the enemy fortification, so it was a matter of two commands to call its virtual likeness up on everyone’s HUD. With as thick as the local underbrush was, the position would probably be invisible in visible-light optics if the Marines didn’t already know where it was.

A drainage ditch with several inches of slimy mud at the bottom provided cover for most of the approach, and within two minutes Myron had his suit’s back pressed to the root-choked slope facing the enemy. He waited as the other Marines, their suits hunched over and almost crawling on their hands and knees, took up positions on either side. No doubt the enemy knew they were coming and already had their guns pointed at the ditch; Incarnation sensor-nets were notoriously good.

“Let’s ring the doorbell, boys.” Myron turned around until it was his suit’s hardened chest-plate, not the weaker back-plate, that was facing the enemy. He reached down to the infantry micro-missiles racked along the sides of his leg, pulled two free, and held them in one huge alloy palm. The missiles, being on the tac-net, had already acquired the target, and now as each Marine readied his own, the weapons automatically established a saturation targeting pattern. A lucky missile could possibly sneak through a firing port, but Myron wasn’t counting on that. He wanted the smoke and debris cloud the salvo would throw up.

“Now.” Myron flicked the two missiles into the air. On either side of him, a swarm of gleaming tubes rose into the sunlight as thirteen other Marines did the same. Infantry missiles were more precise if fired out of launchers, but at close range, against a static target, it didn’t matter. Each one oriented itself with a puff of compressed gas, then zipped away as its solid-fuel rocket kicked in. The thunder and hail of dirt-clods that followed gave no indication of how many the bunker’s point defense had shot down, but Myron didn’t care.

Without needing orders, the Marines around Myron popped their heads and shoulders out of the ditch, leveled their weapons, and let loose. Most of them, armed like Myron himself, sprayed the target with high-velocity ferroceramic projectiles. Aliev and Kinneman pierced the explosion-thrown dust with yellow tongues of flame from their plasma lances, and Singh let loose a four-round burst from his armor-piercing autocannon.

Only a few seconds after the Marines started shooting, Myron sent a fall-back signal, and his Marines ducked back under cover just as the dust plume began to disperse. Most likely, they’d done nothing but rattle the defenders, but rattling was more than sufficient; even as Myron verified that everyone had pulled out of the firing line cleanly, lasers began to slash through the underbrush over their heads.

“Drone shows no obvious damage.” Private Morello, still in control of the tiny scout-drone circling a thousand meters above their heads, sent updated imagery to Myron’s HUD. “But we definitely got their attention, Sarge.”

“You don’t say, Private.” Myron heard a tree, cut in half by high-wattage laser fire, crash down behind them. ‘They’re not saving power, so they’ve got a reactor in there.” This wasn’t too surprising, but it did make their task a bit more dangerous; it meant their enemy could keep up continuous fire forever.

“Sounds like the party’s started, Sarge. Ready for V-E?”

Myron winced as Singh clambered back up to fire a few more cannon rounds and fell back almost immediately with a pair of glowing spots on his chestplate. “Not yet, Columbera. But get ready.”

“Aye, Sarge.”

It sounds like the bulk of the fighting in the Lee-Hosha system is over, but this account from the first day of the battle will take at least one more week to relay in this space.

Our own Nojus Brand, who went groundside with the Marines, reported back that he and the other civilian correspondents have entered the spaceport site at Q-S1, which was incomplete at the time the Incarnation occupied the world, and which they finished to use the place as a depot. Unfortunately for Seventh Fleet, the garrison slagged most of the infrastructure when it became clear that they were doomed, and the place needs almost as much work as it did to begin with before the world will be good for anything.

Nojus has taken many stills and many hours of footage of the battle’s aftermath, most of which should be available on our corporate datasphere hub within a few days of this posting. Obviously, any imagery that shows Confederated casualties will not be shown, out of consideration for the families of those wounded and killed.