2952-05-21 – Tales from the Service: The Advance on the Ridge 

The attack proceeded just before dawn, precisely as command had instructed, but the sun was already poking its limb above the horizon before the enemy had any inkling of it. With the whole company crawling up the ridge using the gulch in Sergeant Helen Keir’s squad sector, it was something of a miracle that nobody forgot themselves, stood up, and tripped the sensors on the ridgetop.  

Fortunately, Nate had not sent another team to finish the sensor post which an overnight artillery shot masked by a ranging pattern had destroyed. Probably, their commander had sent the replacement work team to another spot along the line to avoid letting his enemies learn of their “accidental” good fortune. 

When the whole company was lurking among the boulders, and Lieutenant Barden had returned from crawling forward as far as he dared on personal reconnaissance, the word was whispered down the line: prepare to attack. The last hundred meters to the top of Ortberg Ridge was a bitter no-man's-land of broken stone in which nobody could move without being noticed, so the element of surprise would be quickly lost the moment the company started its final advance. Weapons trained on positions far below would take a few moments to re-aim against closer targets, but those few moments would have to be enough. 

Helen, her back pressed to the same boulder she’d used for cover the previous afternoon, felt all the tension of the last twelve hours weighing on this moment. She had done all she could to provide Barden’s attack with some faint hope of success. She could do no more but lead her squad from the front, and trust that someone would take her place when she went down. 

Barden held up his hand from his position behind a rock-pile near Helen. He couldn’t send radio transmissions until after the attack started, but he’d carried his high-power comms pack all the same. The company’s tiny battery of rocket artillery carriers was already instructed to counter-fire any heavy weapons that revealed themselves, and hopefully the swarm of recon drones the company was prepared to release into the sky would draw the fire of most of the lighter emplacements.  

Despite these precautions, Helen knew her own chances of survival, and those of any other member of the unit, were slim. She’d known the low odds of ever seeing Berkant again when she’d signed up for a unit deploying into Sagittarius, but now that those odds were compressed into a single moment, she was terrified. Not terrified of dying, not quite – she was afraid that when everyone else rose to the attack, she would remain there, catatonic. She’d seen it happen to better troopers than herself more than once. The psych-warfare squints claimed that their screening and mental health schemes prevented nine out of ten psychological casualties, but that was no consolation to anyone who’d seen the other one. 

Barden’s hand fell to his side – the signal to begin the attack. As one, nearly two hundred volunteers hefted their weapons and ran out from their concealed positions, while scores of drones buzzed into the air over their heads. 

Something roared overhead and collided with the ridgetop, blasting dirt a plume of dirt and rocks high into the sky. It was only then that Helen realized that she had stood with the others, and was several paces up-hill from her hiding place. That was encouraging, especially since she wasn’t dead. 

Helen now keyed on her radio; stealth was long gone. “Take that impact crater. The dust will cover our advance.” She was surprised at how calm her voice sounded. Even now, the crack and hiss of laser fire scoring the rocks was all around. 

Helen nearly tripped over a trio of troopers who had taken cover and were firing blindly up at the ridge-line. Smacking one on the helmet, she got them to their feet and led them onward. They weren’t from her squad, but the other sergeants would understand, in such a mixed-up situation. 

Another object roared into impact with the ridge-top just as one of the men beside Helen staggered and crumpled to the dirt. She left him where he lay and kept going. The only hope any of them had was to silence the guns on Ortberg Ridge, now only a few dozen meters away. 

Sergeant Keir survived the assault on the ridge uninjured, and was notable for commanding a squad with more troopers in it after the fighting than before. The extras proved to be stragglers from another squad, and her people did suffer two wounded and one killed, but her leadership was, by all accounts, commendable. 

As her honesty regarding her mental state just prior to the attack probably indicates, Keir requested transfer to a rear-area unit shortly after the planet was declared secure.  

According to FVDA analysis, a non-commissioned officer is only capable of perhaps two to four weeks of total sustained combat in a six-month period before they become a breakdown risk. Some might find this figure incredible, but I have read five of these stories for every one that is published, and I find it only too realistic. Unfortunately, there is rarely a good way of cycling out NCOs every month during an extended operation, and most of them would refuse these rotations even if offered. 

A note on last week’s outage: the raid on the Hypercast relay chain was apparently conducted by a small Incarnation force moving fast. Confederated first response forces never sighted the fleeing raiders. Seventh Fleet has taken measures to harden the relay network against this sort of attack in the future, but we can expect additional attempts to disrupt connectivity across the Gap.