2951-05-31 – Tales from the Service: The Tread of a Titan

 “Where in all creative hells did our air cover go?” Sergeant Marienne Von Brandt brushed concrete chips off the shoulders of her smart-cloth camouflage cloak and tried to make herself a smaller target as a heavy Incarnation armored vehicle rumbled past. She had never seen anything like that monster before. She was so close she could hear its fusion engine humming and its turret bearings whining as it swung back and forth. From the glassy face of the turret, an eerily silent pulsebeam stabbed out intermittently, turning sturdy buildings to flying chips and dust almost at random.

“The only squadron up there is tangling with a bunch of Sirrocos in sector K-31, Sarge.” Corporal Arif Schorel reeled in the antenna he’d carefully snaked up an exposed section of draining pipe, then cautiously peeked out of the ruined building they were hiding in. “Not sure they’d be able to stop that thing anyway.”

“Well we’re sure not going to stop it.” Marienne brielfly wondered if she’d rather be in a sector being lashed by strafing Siroccos or crushed by a couple of tracked behemoths. In the end, she decided she preferred the armored vehicles, if only slightly.

A pair of rockets flashed out of a building on the other side of the broad street toward the Nate vehicle. One of them exploded prematurely, intercepted by point defense, and the other exploded against the smoothly rounded side of the vehicle’s hull without apparent effect. Infantry anti-armor missiles like that would punch a hole through a Rico suit and the Marine inside, but against armor that probably belonged on a naval destroyer instead of on the ground, they were little more than a child’s toy.

As soon as the explosion faded, that hideously blank turret swung around in the direction of the attack, and another silent beam of death lanced out. The offending building exploded into another hail of splinters and a fresh plume of chalky smoke, likely marking the graves of at least a few brave FVDA soldiers.

While the turret was turned away, Marienne poked her head up and aimed her rail carbine at the monstrosity. Shooting it with such a weapon would do even less than the rockets, but she could at least paint the target with a rangefinding laser and broadcast a clear visual image of the vehicle on the command network. The Pumas weren’t coming, but perhaps there were quite a few un-occupied guided missile battery commanders back at the LZ who would see the value in not letting that thing get any closer.

As if sensing the invisible targeting laser, the vehicle ground to a stop and its turret spun back toward Marienne and Corporal Schorel. With a snarl of annoyance, she grabbed her compatriot by the shoulder and dragged him flat against the ground just before the ruined wall they were hiding behind exploded into a new hail of shards and dust.

By the time the pair had extricated themselves from the rubble and coughed up most of the concrete dust in their lungs, the behemoth had moved on. To its crew, crushing two soldiers probably seemed pointless, when in ten more blocks, it would reach the top of the rise and bring its weapon to bear on the supplies piled at LZ.

“Are you through making it angry, Sarge?” Schorel helped Marienne to her feet and peeked around the corner. “It’s gone. Let’s see who’s still alive and fall back.”

Marienne reached a finger into her helmet to wipe dust off the screen of her heads-up monitor. “Tell everyone to rally at that broadcast tower.” She pointed to a drunkenly-leaning latticework studded with comms gear. “We’ll figure out-”

Marienne’s helmet comms beeped. “Sergeant Von Brandt, resume painting your target.” The voice was gruff, deep, and unfamiliar; it certainly wasn’t any of the artillery officers she usually heard. “Highest priority. Please confirm.”

Marienne winced. “Schorel, give me your antenna reel, then get to that rally point.” He wouldn’t need a bigger antenna to reach the scattered members of her company, but she would need it to respond to whoever this was.

Schorel winced and nodded; he hadn’t heard the order, but it wouldn’t be too hard to guess at its contents. Slapping her on the shoulder, he passed on the antenna reel. “Be careful, Sarge. We’ll be waiting at the rally.” With that, he darted across the debris-choked street, cupping one hand to the microphone at his chin.

Marienne hooked the antenna unit into her comms unit and extended its whip-like aerial a few feet. “Confirmed receipt. Who is this?”

“Major Marius Kerr, 2nd Battalion, Twentieth Marine armored. We’re inbound at best speed.”

Marienne hadn’t realized the attack on Masinov had included any of the vanishingly rare Confederated Marine armored brigades. The last time she’d heard of any of them being deployed, it had been at Margaux, and she’d never so much as seen one of their combat vehicles. “Aye, Major.”

Stepping out into the street, Marienne loped in the direction the behemoth had gone, wincing each time she heard a building ahead collapse into rubble. With all the smoke and dust, she hoped she’d be as invisible to its crew as it was to her.

The only warning she had that she’d caught up to the huge armored vehicle was the telltale whining of its turret bearings barely twenty meters away. Instinctually, Marienne dove to the pavement, but the pulsebeam wasn’t meant for her; somewhere ahead in the dust cloud, another building flashed into splinters and collapsed in on itself.

Crawling forward now, Marienne began to see the dark outline of the huge machine looming out of the dust. Cautiously, she raised the antenna spool’s aerial a little, then hooked the device to her belt and crouched behind the twisted, burned wreckage of a civilian groundcar. The wreck wouldn’t be much protection against that high wattage weapon, but it would conceal her even better than the dust, and perhaps the crew wouldn’t be able to tell exactly where the target painting laser was coming from.

With a quick prayer, Marienne crossed herself, slid the barrel of her carbine through the groundcar’s charred skeleton, and flicked on both the camera and the target painter.

Today’s account is not from a recent engagement, unfortunately. The counterattack at Masinov took place last November, and though it did not result in recapture of that world, it did succeed in causing significant damage to enemy infantry formations and rescuing a significant civilian population which was taken when the planet was unexpectedly occupied two months previously.

Sergeant Von Brandt’s account of a super-heavy Incarnation armored vehicle is the first such sighting I have seen reported anywhere, even though it reaches us many months after the event. This indicates that this vehicle exists only in small numbers or is fielded only by a small number of enemy formations. Since at the beginning of the war, there seemed to be almost no ground armor in Incarnation inventory, this is yet another new weapon they’ve introduced based on battlefield experience.

Naturally, Confederated troops are also getting new weapons to deal with these enemy innovations. Von Brandt’s account also included a description of at least one rarely-seen (though not quite so new) Confederated weapon system, and it is for this reason that I intend to continue to feature it next week.