2947-12-10 – Tales from the Service: 11th Mechanized at Meyerfeld 

This has been a more active week than any since the Battle of Berkant here on the Frontier. While Duncan still insists that it is beyond the purview of this feed to relay every detail of the war, skirmishes were fought at Matusalemme (this is at least the third major raid on the orbital infrastructure of Adimari Valis) and near Margaux. Lone Tyrants were driven off planetary raids in several other places, though in those cases the Incarnation vessels retreated even though the local forces were insufficient to seriously threaten those vessels. 

It is estimated by our friends in Naval Intelligence that Nate has between twenty and sixty Tyrant vessels (plus an unknown number of logistics hulls) in the Coreward Frontier at this point, based on the increasing regularity of their attacks. While this force still can’t stand up to the combined throw weight of the Fifth Fleet, they are making good use of the speed and range of their cruisers to keep the Navy on the defensive.  

Admiral Zahariev, however, is not one to cede the initiative entirely. Earlier this week, the press pool was informed that an Incarnation forward supply base at the spaceport of the abandoned colony of  Meyerfeld had been taken by ground assault by the 11th Heavy Mechanized Battalion of the Confederated Marines. While the single Tyrant-type heavy cruiser defending the station was drawn away into an inconclusive skirmish with Fifth Fleet destroyers, the 11th made a hot drop from its trio of assault transports to secure the site. Though Nate was apparently unprepared for the attack, the base personnel put up a stiff, if uncoordinated, defense. 

Carolina Durand provided Cosmic Background with a significant amount of battlefield telemetry from the operation. While an episode of the Vidcast series will be dedicated to showing selected scenes of the ground action, Duncan and I thought it would be good to focus on the experiences of one vehicle – the TA-39 “Lucky Penny” and its crew. 

Before we get any questions from those of you familiar with the habits of Marine ground-pounders, the vehicle is apparently named after a rather attractive armor technician on their transport crew, and while I doubt she posed as inspiration for the likeness on this TA-39’s glacis, if she looks anything like that rather skillfully painted pin-up, none of these ground-pounders have the faintest shot with her until they start earning some serious medals. 

[D.L.C. - Fear not, Cosmic Background fans with children. Ashton will never let shots of this vehicle’s rather arresting crew markings into the main vidcast program. Fortunately, the art, positioned as it is on the middle of the vehicle’s heavy bow armor, is not visible from the camera clusters aboard “Lucky Penny” itself.] 

Lucky Penny paused briefly just behind the last hilltop overlooking the target, and its commander opened his hatch and half-climed out to peer over the crest. On the plain below, a tumbledown ruin of a spaceport city which had once housed six thousand hopeful colonists was slowly being overtaken by a rippling sea of blue-grey foliage which extended to the horizon, as if a particularly slow tide was coming in and flooding its outskirts. Already, many of the half-ruined outer buildings sat as islands amid the false swells of the wind-blown xeno-grass. 

As the other five TA-39s in the column worked their way up to their starting points on either side of the lead vehicle, Lieutenant RansuWaters surveyed the ruins for a few seconds, then turned to watch the command vehicle’s antenna briefly shoot up to send a tight-beam transmission to one of the drone relays circling high above to indicate that his platoon had reached the jumping-off point and receive new orders. 

“Think they know we’re coming?” Bion Vlahovic, the vehicle gunner, asked over the intercom. 

“Would take a minor miracle for them to have missed us plowing into atmo and coming down so close.” Ransu ducked back into his hatch, grateful for the heavily insulated flex-armor issued to vehicle crews. Despite its abundant local life, Meyerfeld was a fairly cold place, with summer temperatures rarely exceeding ten degrees celsius, and it was nowhere near high local summer. “They know we’re coming.” 

“Gardener Actual to all Gardeners.” The platoon captain’s voice cut into the intercom. “Vehicles to line abreast. Apes, you walk from here.” 

Lucky Penny rocked as the four nine-hundred-pound armored assault troopers riding on her rear deck jumped off. “Walk? Hell.” The sergeant leading the infantry platoon assigned to Task Force Gardener shot back. “From here, the apes fly in.” 

On the infantry circuit, doubtless that braggadocio had encouraged a rowdy cheer, but on the tankers’ channel, the only response was the triple-beep signal to ready for the attack. 

Ransu reached up to pull the hatch shut over his head, then engaged the vehicle’s atmospherics and anti-nanite systems. Nate agents were loaded to the gills with nanotechnological dirty tricks, so their ground forces would undoubtedly use similar weaponry; he hopednanodefense systems deployed years before Nate’s appearance in Frontier space were up to the task. Being microscopically chewed into pink mush pooling in the bottom of the vehicle’s crew compartment was not the way Ransu wished to die. 

The two-beep signal for imminent attack sounded, and Lucky Penny’s driver Eddy Dawson began to throttle the fusion-bottle behind the crew compartment up to full combat power. The steady rumble of the fusion powerplant was reassuring, even as Ransu knew it stood a not-too-remote chance of going critical if the vehicle was hit badly by enemy fire. Speed was better than armor, and only a fusion powerplant could give a seventy-metric-ton smart-track vehicle anything resembling speed. 

“What do you think our odds are, Chief?” 

“Bion, they supposedly thing this base was secret. I don’t think we’ve got more than a one in ten chance of buying it here.” 

“One in ten.” The gunner repeated slowly. “And what do you think the odds are of me getting into Penny’s-” 

The long, low single-beep of the charge order sounded, and Eddy dumped power to the electric drive, hurling his two crew-mates back into their padded restraints. On his camera feeds, Ransu watched the other five vehicles of the platoon surge down the broken, scrub-strewn hill in a ragged line. The infantry, clearing the hilltop amid a cloud of dust and sand, sprinted forward only a few steps before their suits leapt into the air and sailed over the rapidly accelerating armored tracks. At the tops of their rocket-assisted jumps, each one fired suppressive bursts of railshot down into the ruined buildings ahead, and each angled in to land just ahead of the heavy armor.Ransu knew their projected landing sites were painted on the driver’s forward view for Eddy to avoid. 

Swiveling his cameras, Ransu picked out a sturdy but dilapidated building which appeared to have been reinforced by struts of newer metal. In the ancient methods armored vehicle crews had been using since antiquity, he kicked his gunner lightly in the shoulder as he put a mark on the building. “Bian, this house offends me.” 

The turret slewed toward the target, and a sizzling dart of plasma belched forth as Bian twisted his trigger-lever. The camera facing the building went white for a moment, then cleared to reveal only foundations and the torn remnants of what looked like a Nate inflatable weather-shelter. 

As if the shot was the signal, the ruins ahead erupted with plasma and laser fire. Eddy threw the vehicle to one side and then the other as energy weapons seared the scrub-brush and rocks on either side. On his console, Ransu could tell most of the incoming was relatively light fare – man-portable and crew-served equipment of the sort they had expected to run into, which would take far too long to eat through Lucky Penny’s armor to stop them from breaching the perimeter. He left these defenders to the infantry – their rapid-firing railguns would either shred these lighter defenses or force the Nate soldiers crewing them to take cover. Instead, he switched to thermal imaging and looked for the bad news. 

The bad news announced itself when the vehicles were halfway down the slope, in the form of a huge energy blast spewing forth from the mouth of a half-ruined alley and coming within a few meters of the captain’s vehicle. Whatever had fired was remarkably well concealed, even in infrared – still, Ransu had seen where it had fired from, and he kicked Bian again, marking the spot. 

Lucky Penny fired again, but two other crews had fired first. Between the three plasma cannons and at least two converging streams offerroceramic railshot, the two buildings shielding the hidden emplacement were blown to pieces so completely that Ransu couldn’t even see any remains of the weapon the defenders had hidden there. 

The infantry started their second leap just as the armored vehicles plowed past – and one, directly through – a cluster of outlying buildings. A trio of Incarnation ground personnel scrambled out of the way of the assault, and Ransu targeted them with the remote railgun mounted on the turret roof. The weapon rattled overhead, perforating all three with red-hot slugs within seconds. The infantry could clean up any stragglers later, but he didn’t like the idea of leaving three Nate soldiers behind his vehicle. 

Because the city was abandoned, and most of its buildings were in any case lightly built and crumbling, the formation of TA-39s plowed directly into the outer ring of structures. Lucky Penny bucked and jumped as it crushed an already half-collapsed one-story structure, smart treads automatically projecting cleat-like spikes into the rubble to achieve traction. This, apparently, was not what the defenders had expected – on the far side of the structure, Ransu saw a pair of wide-eyed Incarnation officers and a small air-skimmer in one camera angle just in time for the entire scene to vanish under the vehicle’s nose as Eddy pushed through the second structure. Most of the cameras blanked out, covered in dust and debris, and only cleared when the vehicle rolled into the open space of a wider street and the camera-lenses flushed themselves of the offending substances. 

“Gardener has penetrated the perimeter.” The captain’s announcement was for the benefit of higher officers, but it carried to Ransu’sheadset as well. “Defenses are brisk, but mostly light. Proceeding to objective Bravo.” 

Bravo, Ransu knew, was the two-pad spaceport the Incarnation detachment had cleared and restored to working order. Why they had decided to install their forward supply dump on a planet rather than setting up on an asteroid or simply parking a fleet of logistics ships in the interstellar darkness somewhere, Ransu didn’t try to understand – Nate was as unintelligible as any alien foe. 

Just as Eddy got the vehicle rolling roughly along the road toward the spaceport grounds, the TA-39 to Lucky Penny’s left shuddered to a halt and began smoking furiously. Ransu didn’t need to see the incoming fire to know the assault vehicle had been hit. “Eddy, get us out of here!” 

As the vehicle wheeled and charged for the cover of an alley nearby, Ransu watched the stricken vehicle. After several seconds, a hatch in the turret roof eruped open and two figures in black tankers’ flex-armor spilled out. A moment later, a second hatch in the roof of the armored bow popped open, but before the driver could get clear, the vehicle erupted in a pillar of fusion-fire, briefly washing out the camera’s digital capture-chips and causing Lucky Penny to rock almost off one of its tracks. The fusion-bottle's safety systems directed most of the blast upward, and the flex-armor of the two fleeing crewmen insulated them from the briefly searing heat and flood of harsh radiation, but even so the blast threw them both across the street and slammed them against a nearby building. 

“Ten percent, Chief?” 

“Shut up and find him, Bian.” Ransu wheeled his cameras around, looking for the armor-killing weapon in visual and infrared wavelengths. A gun capable of coring a TA-39 in one shot had to be very big, and was probably very close. 

Another vehicle’s commander highlighted the gaping storefront-windows of a building several blocks down the wide street, and in infrared Ransu saw the wash of hot air billowing out of this opening. “Got it.” He locked the point for Bian, and the turret swiveled. A weapon inside didn’t have line of sight on any of the other vehicles after they’d all scurried for cover, but none of the TA-39s could train their main guns onto that target without exposing themselves. 

“Where are the damned apes?” Eddy griped over the intercom. The question was barely worth asking; the clatter of automatic railguns and the sizzle of plasma cannons a few blocks away suggested that most of the infantry had found their own problems.  

Fortunately, the infantry charging into the teeth of the high-powered weapon hidden inside the structure proved unnecessary. With a rumble which jolted Ransu even through Lucky Penny’s ample suspension, the vehicle toting the gun which had cored the unfortunate vehicle rumbled forward, the shell of its covering building collapsing around it. The Incarnation ground vehicle was easily twice as large as a TA-39, and it had clearly not been designed as an assault weapon – heavy strakes of ablative armor had been haphazardly bolted to the framework gun-shield protecting a massive barrel covered in a forest of cooling vanes. Most likely, the supply base’s defenders had used spare parts available in their stockpile to turn one of their ground-transports into a last-ditch armored monster. A more skilled crew could have sniped at Task Force Gardener for many blocks, and probably claimed several more vehicles before it was cornered – the operators were obviously overconfident novices. 

“Hold.” The captain’s voice urged. 

Across the street, Ransu watched the two surviving crew of the stricken vehicle stagger to their feet and limp toward the shelter of a nearby ruin. Until the ersatz Incarnation tank had been dealt with, they were on their own. 

The overloaded, haphazardly-built monster lumbered closer. Eddy nudged Lucky Penny back into the alley a few meters, forcing Ransu to deploy one of his two camera-drones above the rooftops to watch its plodding progress. 


The vehicle was barely a hundred meters away now. Ransu knew if the Nate crew spotted any of the vehicles, it could probably fire through the flimsy buildings and knock out another TA-39 with ease. 

Without warning, the single long, harsh beep of the charge signal sounded. Reflexively, Eddy engaged the drive, and Lucky Penny surged forward into the open, along with the other five remaining vehicles. As soon as the turret was clear of the alley, Bian swung it to the side and fired, knowing that speed, not accuracy, was their only hope of a quick and clean victory. 

Ransu didn’t see which of the five plasma-bursts killed the huge vehicle, but its front plates erupted into a fountain of molten metal, and its huge barrel, blown clean off its mounting, smashed the framework casemate to pieces as it tumbled to the street. Though it kept rolling ponderously forward for several seconds, the command channel erupted with war-whoops and shouts. 

The captain put a stop to the celebration quickly. “None of that. Let's move. Leave survivors to the apes.” 

As the five remaining vehicles formed up and started rolling, Ransu saw an assault-suited infantryman with a medic’s red-and-white markings on his chest-plate leap into the street from two blocks away and head for the two stranded tankers. Of their driver, who had not made it out before the vehicle’s fusion-bottle had blown, he knew nothing would ever be found.