2184: New Mercia
It had begun to snow again, but this went unnoticed by the solitary figure that crunched its way across the frozen ground of the New Mercian mining outpost. Captain Samantha Chang, Singapore Armed Forces (currently attached to ‘C’ Company, 681st Infantry Battalion, 13th Infantry Brigade/Raja Retnam, TNI-AD) scowled behind her helmet visor at her datapad, but she couldn’t think of any further improvements to the defensive plan. With a reluctant sigh, she sent the plan to her platoon leaders before ducking behind one of the prefab shelters and tugging off her blue helmet for a quick smoke.
She jumped when a hand clapped down hard on her shoulder, but the cigarette stayed clamped in her mouth. “Not very nice to go around scaring your 2IC, sir.” She spoke around the stick before taking another long draw. The hand withdrew itself with a chuckle, and its owner stepped in front of her, his unvisored face split in a wide grin. She gave her nominal superior a quelling look as he lit up his own smoke, before settling for puffing a smoke ring at him. The young Singaporean had joined the unit only a few weeks earlier, before the rumours about ZOCU forces being sighted on planet started flying around. Since then she had often wondered if her superiors had somehow known of that, and instead had sent her to take a firsthand look at what the upstart colonials could muster. She brushed that thought from her mind as she finished her cigarette. “How’s Lieutenant Suparman doing?” she asked idly, recalling the previous company 2IC’s finger-stumps after he suffered a particularly nasty case of frostbite that led her to assuming his position. While she was technically just an observer, the company commander, Captain Muhammad Aizat bin Abdul Rahman, had been a fellow classmate during her tour at the Armour Training Institute where they became close friends, and she wasn’t one to turn down a reasonable request from a friend. Far better to break a few regs than to let good soldiers die due to an overworked OC missing something or a lack of cohesion from a platoon that lost its commander to fill the 2IC’s shoes.
“I hear he’s recovering, he’ll probably be out of action for a few weeks while they regrow his fingers though.” Captain Aizat replied after a moment’s hesitation. “I saw your plan.” He continued, changing the subject, “It’s not bad, considering the circumstances. I wish we could do more, but Major Janek certainly isn’t making things easy for us.” Chang merely grunted in a agreement as she lit another stick. The Polish major was certainly a major pain in the ass. Someone above had given him overall command of this relief supply run, and he insisted that his escort troops be used to aid in the offloading of supplies, ostensibly to get them to the civilians as quickly as possible, and obviously not to look good in front of the journalist who had tagged along for the ride. Without him, Janek would probably be cursing his ill luck at “babysitting” duty while there’s a war going on. Instead, he and his troops also joining in with the unloading work, and they were making a right mess of things too. Janek had ordered an “all hands” effort, but there were only so much space in the little settlement, and over three hundred pairs of hands only got in the way of each other. To make room, he ordered the IFVs to park on the outskirts of the settlement, and left only a small detachment to dig a small line of foxholes in the middle of the camp, and sent up a UAV to keep watch topside, which would give them advance warning in case of an attack of some kind.
Unless he was using it to take aerial photos that is.
Granted, they were far from the fighting, the thickest of which was going on several hundred kilometres away, but it never hurt to be prepared. The rebels might have infiltrators or guerrillas who would love to catch a pair of mechanized companies with their pants down. Thus, Aizat took Chang’s suggestion that they deploy their weapons platoon with their heavy railguns and anti-tank missile launchers in defensive positions while the vehicle crews helped out in their place. Digging in would have been too visible, so she recommended that they deploy in the outer buildings of the settlement while the civilians were busy collecting their supplies. Fortunately, “defensive positions” were easy to find, the structures were reinforced to withstand New Mercian weather and they offered excellent protection against small arms fire. They were short on time, nevertheless she did what she could while Aizat ran interference with the Major. She was about to ask how he managed to distract the guy when her helmet crackled, and she popped it back on her head. It was the platoon commander, their troops were in position. When she looked back at Aizat, he took was listening to a voice message, one that made him grimace mightily. He chuckled at her cocked eyebrow. “Our esteemed leader desires my presence, probably for a photo-op with the head bluetop. Take care of things while I’m gone eh?” With that he slapped own his visor and marched off.
Chang sighed and flicked her stick into the snow. She slapped down her visor and patched into the UAV's feed and sure enough, one of the bird's cameras was focused on the chaotic mass in the middle of the settlement. Major Janek was on the back of one of the trucks, handing out aid supplies alongside his men. A blue helmet appeared and bobbed and weaved through the crowd before its owner leapt onto the back of the truck, which was rapidly emptying. Janek turned to Aizat and started speaking. From the gestures, it looked like they were discussing pulling out of the place. She grunted, they were finishing ahead of schedule, maybe she misjudged the Major after all. Movement in her peripheral vision drew her attention. She noticed that one of the cameras had detected a number of rapidly growing IR sources and was about to comms the UAV operator to ask him what they were when her feed disappeared. She blinked in surprise before a dull crump made her look up. The UAV, bits of it at least, was falling to the earth. Two dark shapes streaked past, the roar of their sonic booms masking her "Oh crap." She thumbed her commset and dove to the ground. "ARTY INCOMING!"
The thunderous explosion of a dozen thermobaric bombs roared and the blast wave crashed into the building she had been leaning against. Not even the sturdy building could take that much punishment, and it collapsed, pushed by the force of the blast, directly onto Chang's prone form. Her armour protected her from most of it, but a large piece came crashing down onto her leg and she cried out in pain. She gasped for air as her suit dumped analgesics and stimulants into her system. After a moment, the pain started to disappear, and she crawled out from under the wreckage and took a look around. There wasn't much to see. The shockwave of the bombs had flattened every other building in the settlement as well. She tried to comms her weapons platoon, but got no answer. A body had landed close by, it was a civilian, his body contorted into an unnatural angle as the force of the blast sent him cart wheeling against the ground, a line of gouged, crimson snow marking his trail. Her hearing was coming back, her helmet had stopped her eardrums from blowing out, but they were still ringing. The sound she heard made her dive for cover again.
She gasped at the lack of an explosion and in a phenomenal burst of strength, grabbed a big piece of shelter and hid under it. The sound of hundreds of anti-personnel bomblets exploding merged into an unending rumble. Several bomblets landed nearby, sending their deadly fragments scything overhead or into her cover. A direct hit would have ended her there and then, but for some reason she was spared. Another sound cut through the rumble, the sharp cracks of the surviving IFVs as they fired their railguns and lasers in air defence mode. The incessant rumble lightened up as they thinned the incoming salvoes. But there were too many, and the forward observer was a sharp one. The follow on salvoes were purely anti-armour rounds. AA fire cut down some, lasers blinded the sensors of others, but some got though, blasting the thinly armoured IFVs apart.
The young officer was reduced to a sobbing wreck now as the AA fire steadily reduced in volume before being silenced. Her decision to pull the drivers and gunners out of their vehicles drastically reduced their ability to intercept incoming artillery. Sure it was the right decision had there been a bunch of guerrillas with technicals... But if she hadn't they might have been able to get away... Her mind raced as she waited for the next salvo, but it didn't come. They were attacking. She shoved the wreckage off her and staggered to her feet, looking for a weapon, and for the enemy. To her surprise, she saw one of her missile teams struggle out of the wreckage, set up their weapon and fire. She followed the streak until it detonated in midair, shot down by active defenses. A second team got a shot off before the return fire of a dozen heavy railguns blasted their positions into a bloom of snow and smoke. She dove to the ground again as her head snapped to the source of the shots. She paused for a moment before her brain registered what she was seeing before laughing hysterically. How absurd it was now, to think that the IFVs could have escaped, that their deaths were her fault. None of them could have outrun the three platoons of hovertanks, a full company, pushing closer towards the remains of the settlement, railguns of all calibers spitting precise shots, neutralizing all resistance. She rose unsteadily and raised her hands in surrender, no point in resisting anymore, and ASEAN was neutral in... A burst of fire interrupted her thoughts, ripping into her torso and slicing her legs out from under her, and she crumpled to the ground. She lay on her back, looking up into the blue sky, the snowfall slowly obscuring her visor.
"Dad always wanted to see real snow." she said to no one in particular before she lost consciousness, her failing heart pumping more blood into the already crimson snow.