2952-05-15 – Tales from the Service: The Ridge on Ayam

Helen Keir crossed her arms and shook her head. “That can’t be done, sir.” She pointed to the frowning brow of Ortberg Ridge, named for the poor sod who’d been the first to die in an attempt to take it. “They’ve hauled at least a couple heavy AFVs up there overnight. If we tried what HQ is asking, they’d shred us before we got fifty paces.” 

Lieutenant Barden nodded. “I understand, sergeant.” He turned as if to retreat into the half-buried tent that was serving as the company command post. “They’ll just order it anyway, unless we come up with an alternative.” His shoulders drooped; Barden had been in command in close combat for more than two weeks, and the burden was beginning to show on his lean frame. “I’ve been looking at the maps. There isn’t one. Or if there is, it’s one we can’t see unless we’re halfway up the ridge already.” 

Helen sighed. “Last patrol before dawn made it up almost that far before taking fire, but going up in daylight would be suicide. They can’t spare us a survey swarm?” 

“I asked. Command says the drones would be blown out of the sky before they could gather any data.” Barden looked over his shoulder, staring up at the ridge. “They’re probably right. If there are AFVs up there, that means at least a dozen sky sweepers.” 

As if in answer to this guess, a high-pitched screeching noise rose from the ridgeline, and soon it was joined by several more screeches. Helen knew this to signify invisible lasers stabbing out across the afternoon sky, chasing an unseen target high above, probably a reconnaissance Puma flying above the optimal range of the Incarnation weapons below. After building to an almost ear-splitting crescendo, the whining of those rapidly-cycling capacitors began to tail off, as one by one the lasers gave up their attempts to hit the departing craft. 

Helen shuddered; sky sweepers were best at targeting low-flying aircraft, but they could be leveled against ground troops just as easily, though without pinpoint accuracy. She’d seen a squad cut to ribbons in an instant those weapons. Unless Barden found a way to bypass the ridge, that might be the fate of her own squad and others at dawn, slaughtered in pushing home an attack against the strongest point on the whole line. 

“I still might find something.” Barden turned once again toward his tent headquarters. “Or you might.” 

“A patrol up the ridge in broad daylight?” Helen shook her head. “We’d be-” 

“No more slaughtered than you will be if we carry out the attack.” Barden coughed. “But I won’t order it, and neither should you.” 

Helen saluted. “Yes, sir. I’ll look for some volunteers.” 

Hurrying through the scraggly trees around the company command post, Helen reached her own squad’s part of the front line, just after the terrain began to rise toward the knees of the ridge. There, behind a stand of boulders, lay the camp-site that was temporary home to Helen and her fifteen subordinates. Two days ago, there had been seventeen of them, but Helen preferred not to dwell on the names and faces of those who’d fallen. 

“What’s the word, Sarge?” Reyer looked up from field-stripping his rail carbine.  

Several others glanced up from their own busywork. Helen could feel the tension in the air; they had heard, somehow, about the attack. The rank and file always somehow managed to catch wind of bad news before the normal channels could catch up. 

“Command wants an all-out attack at sunrise.” Helen gestured up at Ortberg Ridge. “We’re going up.” 

Strangely, this pronouncement seemed to relieve the tension in the air. It was almost as if it was a relief to the squad that the bad news had been confirmed. Helen knew this to be a sign of their weariness as much as anything; certain death was, at least, certain. 

“We won’t make it fifty paces.” Danielsen shrugged. “Unless there’s enough air support to reshape the damned ridge, anyway.” 

“Or we find a route up that’s under cover until almost the very top.” Helen held out her hands. “I’m going up there to have a look. It would be best if I had two or three volunteers with me, in case...” She shrugged. “In case the likely thing were to happen. If we do find a way to get within small arms range of the top without being seen, the attack has a chance.” 

“Still not much of one." Reyer spat into the dust and cleared his throat. “I’ll go, Sarge. No harm buying the plot twelve hours sooner.” 

“I will also." Tuominen, the slight, almost elfin Hyadean sharpshooter, reached for her rifle. “If we do get close, someone will need to stay to mark the path for everyone else.” 

“Thank you both.” She pointed to another. “Corporal Hartley, you are in charge until I get back.” 

Hartley saluted. “Got it, Sarge. I’ll make sure nobody plugs you on your way back down, eh?” 

Helen smiled. “Please do.” She rummaged through her pack for anything that might prove useful on such a perilous patrol, then stood, stuffing a few things into her pockets. “Let’s get this over with.” 

This week’s account also comes to us from the in-progress fighting on Ayama, which is proceeding slower than it seems Seventh Fleet had planned. Evidently the enemy garrison on the world was better equipped with heavy weaponry and armored vehicles than initially expected, and these armaments have slowed the liberation of the world. 

Fortunately, it seems that casualties on Ayama remain comparably light, despite the dour outlook of those on the ground, as evidenced here by Sergent Keir’s pronouncements of disaster and concerns about her under-strength unit. Most likely, one or both of the F.V.D.A. troopers her squad has lost were wounded, not killed, and the attack on such a strong point was (apparently without any prior notice to her or her commander) heavily supported by Confederated Marines, including a squad equipped with super-heavy Kodiak suits.