My first impression of Australia was that it was hot and dusty. It was actually hotter than the Amazon had been, and all of the dust made you constantly thirsty, but I still prefer the outback to the jungle. My reaction to seeing Australian soldiers surprised me. I have never envied anyone else’s clothes before in my life, but I was really jealous of the shorts and short sleeved shirts of the tropical uniforms of the Australian Army!
I was really glad that air conditioners of the Gulf War surplus command tent were in good condition. As I laid out the plan for General Harrison and his staff, I was thinking that it was so nice to not need translators, and then they started in with questions and comments, and I thought for a moment I had been wrong. It actually didn’t take too long to get used to their accents, and we worked together for most of the day getting the plan ready for action.
As the sun set, we finally got suited up and went through our pre-battle checklists. As far as the company went, the number of bad starts were down to 5% which is the kind of numbers you were looking for in a production model. However, my personal confidence was a lot lower than the last battle. I had gotten very little training time in due to my injuries and other duties.
The air units were already circling overhead as we headed out of camp. The whole camp seemed to be in motion as everyone headed toward their assigned positions.
We were jogging to a small gully that the Australians had found that ran into the Taurs perimeter. A lot of hunched running and a couple of crawls later, we were in. We only had two hours to get our defenses in place before everything was scheduled to start. Dirt flew as we dug a series of trenches and berms overlooking our chosen kill zone. We finished quickly and then moved closer to the enemy base and repeated the process twice. As they were finishing the last one, my Giant Killers and Leon’s scout squad headed in toward the Taurian base.
When we could see the mob of Taurians surrounding the base, we each dug a concealment trench. Leon’s squad went on to camouflage theirs, but ours would not be in use long enough to merit such details. “Sniper, everything is ready up here, how is your position?”
“Just waiting on you dumb slowpokes.”
“Giant Killer Leader to base: slaughter the lambs.”
“Acknowledged, commencing operation.”
Prepositioned Australian battlesuit squads obliterated the five bio-soldier sentries closet to our main camp, opening a large gap in their sentry ring. I was watching the mob near the base as this happened. Most of the bio-soldiers were just standing there or pacing, only occasionally would one move into or out of the base. Suddenly, all of the bio-soldiers froze. Two figures ran out of the main building and clambered onto two of the Cyclops. A group of about fifty Centaurs and the two Cyclops who were nearest the direction of the eliminated sentries turned away from the base and took off at a dead run. My squad followed after as soon as they had passed, while Leon’s scouts stayed to observe the Taurians surrounding the base.
One aspect of my plan immediately started going wrong. In the jungle, the Cyclops tended to fall behind because they were not as fast at going around trees as their smaller brethren. In the open ground of the outback, they were not only keeping up with the mob, but they were starting to pull to the head of the group as they were big enough to simply run over bushes and small trees that the Centaurs had to go around. This meant that having my Giant Killers pick them off from behind was out of the question.
Time for plan B. “Giant Killer Leader to Tusker Battery, The Cyclops are yours as soon as they reach the kill zone.”
“Acknowledged, Giant Killer Leader. Be advised to move out of the fire cone.”
“Understood, we’ll be well clear. Sniper, this group is all yours. We’re heading back to the trench by the base to pick up the next group.”
“Alright, we can handle these fruitcakes.”
Looked like my team was out of the first round. “Fluffy, tactical map.” We hit the trench just as the Tuskers opened up on the Cyclops. For all the power and lethality of the Tuskers, they lack the impressive display of traditional artillery. This made them a little hard to market, as most generals and leaders expect a big light and sound show. The people at Prometheus managed to overcome this by calling it stealth artillery. The Tusker has twin cyclonic magnetic accelerator cannons. This means that they spin a set of steel ball bearings the size of softballs around in a circle until they shoot them out going about mach 7. There is no flash, no boom. The first thing you usually notice is that something that was just fine a split second ago, all of the sudden has a big hole in it. Watching it in action is far from being unimpressive; it’s downright spooky.
The Cyclops were running at full speed in the middle of the mob of Centaurs when they both just fell down. That was the signal for the rest of our company to pop up and open fire. Within 30 seconds, all of the Centaurs were dead. While this was going on, I was watching the Taurians gathered around the base. During the battle and for a moment afterward, there was no reaction among the bio-soldiers, then they all froze and none of them moved for two solid minutes. Suddenly, they all started moving at once. About 300 of them formed a defensive ring around the base, while the others formed three groups. The center group consisted of about 100 Centaurs, a dozen Gargoyles, and two Wyverns, who galloped, flew and flutter-hopped off directly toward Sniper’s position. One either side of this group, two flanking groups of about 200 Centaurs and three Cyclops took off in slightly different directions. They were trying the same maneuver that we had seen in the Amazon where one group would approach our forces from the front while the larger forces tried to hit us from the sides.
Unfortunately for them, flanking attacks require surprise in order to be really effective, and both here and in the Amazon, we saw them coming long before they arrived. “Giant Killer Leader to Tusker Battery, you are cleared to take out the Cyclops and Wyverns. Leon, as soon as they are down, it time to play follow the leader.” As they both acknowledged, I was watching my tactical display to for confirmation of when the heavy bio-soldiers fell. The Tuskers went about their tasks with silent efficiency. Within 30 seconds, there were no living heavy bio-soldiers on the battlefield. As I turned to tell my team to move out, the door of the headquarters building opened and something new began emerging. It was so large that it had to wriggle its way out of the door, making it look like the alien base was giving birth to the nightmare creature. “G-giant Killer Leader to Tusker Battery, we have a Titan, repeat we have a Titan.”
“Tusker Battery to Giant Killer Leader, we do not have a clear shot without hitting the headquarters. Do we fire?”
You might have noticed from my little stammer, that the appearance of the Titan had scared the crap out of me (not literally, thankfully.) The panicked part of my mind was screaming, ‘Yes! Make that freaky thing go away!’ But, the logical part of my mind was able to retain control, so I said, “No.” I took a deep breath, swallowed my fear, and was able to come up with a plan. “Tusker-1 & 2, maneuver until you have a clean shot at the Titan. Tusker-P keep locked on it in case it gives you a clear shot or moves out.”
I changed to my squad’s frequency. “Alright, let’s move out.” It was remarkably hard to get my legs to follow my own orders. The Titan had nearly unnerved me and I really wanted to hide in the trench until it was dead. I was really glad that my duties took me away from it instead of toward it because I don’t know if I could have made myself move towards it at the time. I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure it wasn’t following us, until the mob of Centaurs that was our target came into view. I forced the Titan (mostly) out of my mind and turned to the task at hand. “We’re going against 200 Centaurs this time without any cover. Long range shots to keep their attention only! I don’t care if we get no kills at all as long as we do our job and delay them until the main event.”
“Command to all units. The sentry ring is heading inwards.”
“Crud! Rico, your job is now to watch out for sentries so that one of them doesn’t shoot us while we are looking the other direction. Chinook-1 are you in position over the western flanking force?”
“We are in position and awaiting orders.”
“Unload your cargo as soon as you see fire coming from the Taurians. Giant Killers, fire at will.”
I distinctly heard someone say, “Who’s Will?” It was a running gag in our unit so I ignored it. In our first volley, only Sureshot brought one down (no surprise there,) but the whole mass wheeled around and headed in our general direction. We ran at an angle away from them, so they missed us entirely the first time.
“Why aren’t they firing?”
“I don’t think they saw where our fire came from, but don’t worry, they’ll try to kill us soon enough.”
As soon as we got far enough out to the side that I judged we were out of their field of vision, we let off another volley and dropped three more of them (Buddy missed.) The Centaurs charged in our general direction as we sprinted elsewhere. I was hoping to pull this off a few more times, but Rico let off a volley before we had gotten out of sight of the mass. A lone Centaur sentry was right in our path. Rico had let us get pretty close to it before letting it have it, but that still hadn’t given us enough time. The night was immediately filled with the blue spheres from the Centaurs, and I took a hit in my shoulder, but it didn’t penetrate. I vaguely heard the chopper pilot say he was dumping his cargo, but I was too busy running to reply. We had all taken hits, but the only real damage so far had been that Buddy had lost his recoilless cannon and was down to his rocket launcher. Still, although the Taurs were firing blindly, they were all firing at us. There was a good chance that they would have gotten us too, if the cargo from the Chinook hadn’t arrived just then.
Officially, we called it Chaff, but it was really all of the garbage from the camp being tossed out of the back of a helicopter (we improved the design quite a bit later.) In the Amazon, the Taurians had fired at everything that moved, which meant that they were frequently not firing at us. In the outback, there was very little else for them to fire at. I had hoped that giving them alternate targets would mean that they hit us less often, and it seemed to be working. Most of the garbage was paper that fluttered and blew about in the breeze, giving the creatures lots of moving things to shoot at in the dark. (We were actually saved by paperwork!) With the volume of fire heading our way dramatically reduced, we headed for a nearby gully to regroup and come up with a new plan.
I checked the tactical map to see what the overall situation was. The central mob of bio-soldiers had not reached Sniper’s position yet, and both flanking forces were being distracted. I made Buddy jettison his damaged cannon (We can pick it up later Buddy, ) and we followed the gully for about a half mile and then popped up to fire another volley (I got one, Sureshot got one and Buddy got six with a napalm missile.) I now had a plan for where to lead them other than just around. I was now actively leading them toward the other flanking group. The idea was to run the two groups into each other and try to make them act as one big mob.
After three more volleys, (the second of which my sniper cannon stopped working) we finally had the two groups moving towards a common destination. I sent Leon and his scouts back to watch the base. About this time we figured out that if you drop the Chaff first and then fire through it, it makes your night a whole lot easier.
“Allen, this is Sniper. We took care of these fudge rocks and are ready for more.”
“Head for the main gun line. I’ll meet you there and I’m bringing about 400 guests.”
“I have a set of trenches that we haven’t even used yet.”
“There’s no point. It would just expose everyone to unnecessary risk without any real gain.” Then I remembered that I was talking to my superior, “Unless, you think that using them is a good idea.”
“I’ll meet you at the gun line.” Something was wrong with his reply, but I didn’t have time to figure out if he was pissed with me or not.
It took us two more volleys before we herded the Centaurs in the right direction. As we were making the final sprint to the gun line I hear something that took a big load off of my mind.
“Tusker-1 to command, the Titan is toast, I repeat, the Titan is toast!” I nearly cheered.
“Giant Killer Leader to all units, your prey is on it way. Prepare to fire as soon as we get clear of the kill zone.” We headed for our designated place on the gun line and jumped into our trench, “All units FIRE!”
The combined firepower of an Australian Heavy Armored Battle group into a pre-targeted kill zone left me speechless. I was supposed to add my guns to the maelstrom, but at that point it just seemed like watering the ocean. To my amazement, about a dozen Centaurs survived long enough to be cut down by volley of precision fire. I thought that the firepower of our company was impressive, but it was nothing compared to this. I stood there awed by the spectacle of destruction that I had just witnessed until Lena came and tapped me on the shoulder, “Are you OK Allen?”
“Yeah, sorry, I was just lost in thought.”
“Sniper called you a couple of times and you didn’t respond.”
“Whoops! Sniper, this is Allen, what’s up.”
“Just need to know if we are flogging ready for Phase Two.”
“Absolutely. We should get everyone moving ASAP.”
“Good! Are you OK? I was starting to get worried.”
“Sorry, I was just thinking about some things and got distracted.”
“No problem as long as your sorry apple is OK.”
Phase One had gone extraordinarily well. Within an hour of the first shot being fired, we had wiped out the Taurian base’s entire offensive force as well as all of their heavy units. Phase Two was to wipe out their defensive ring. It took us nearly two hours to get everything into position, but once it was there, it became less of a battle and more of a turkey shoot. An old SWORD robot would fire a burst, the Centaurs would all turn and fire at that point (while the robot dropped into a trench) and three companies of Armored Infantry would slaughter the bio-soldiers from their blind spot. 350 or so dead Centaurs later, Phase Three commenced with three scout platoons (one of ours and one from each Australian company) entering the headquarters building while other squads secured the outlying buildings.
As this was happening, two fuel trucks and a group of engineers with heavy cutting tools arrived at the back of the headquarters building, and began the process of cutting an opening in the wall of the headquarters building. The scouts secured the lower deck of the headquarters and set a watch on the central hall of the upper deck and then went to help the engineers. The engineers carefully cut a hole in a large tank on the bottom level and began draining the fluid in it into the fuel trucks. The tech boys back at Prometheus had determined that this reservoir was what had exploded to destroy the last control room directly above it, so we decided to drain it before we tried to enter another one.
After the tank was dry, the scouts finished securing the upper areas of the headquarters, and finally stood at the entrance to the control room. Leon insisted that he would be the one to enter the control by himself and promptly received both good news and bad news. The good news was that the room did not explode! The bad news was that the room caught fire and he had no way to put it out, so we lost another alien soldier. Poor Leon was so mad it was hard not to laugh. I finally broke down and told him that he would have another chance sooner than he expected.
I only put in a brief appearance at the unit’s victory celebration before slipping out to go to a series of meetings that extended well into the morning. Prometheus and Royal Australian Engineers both assured me that they could put together some more effective and efficient Chaff dispersal systems in short order. The Chaff had really been an afterthought, but it had proven to make a big difference in open country. I had thought that the night on its own would be enough of a handicap to the enemy, but the sheer volume of fire had resulted in numerous hits as well as three serious injuries in Sniper’s group (no fatalities this time.)
After that, I went over to Sniper’s motorhome, and was quite surprised that none of the other squad leaders were there. “Am I early?”
“No, but we needed to talk one on one before everyone else arrives.”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“Did you do something wrong? Are you smoking me? We just took a Taurian base almost completely intact and didn’t lose a single gold drunk man! You just engineered to most brilliant engagement I have ever seen and have probably thought of fifty ways to improve it by now. Haven’t you?”
“I hadn’t counted them.” (I was caught off guard by his accusation and said the first thing that came to mind.)
“The only thing wrong with this whole monkey fishing situation is that you’re not commanding this company, and I’ve decided to fix that right now. As of this minute, I am resigning as commander of the FNC Special Forces First Armored Infantry Company, which leaves you in command. Here are your captain’s bars.”
I gaped at the insignia in my hands, “Are you serious? You’re retiring?”
“Heck no, I’m not flaking retiring. I’m just tired of doing a farting job that I’m not all that good at and never wanted. I took the job because there was no one else qualified and they promised me that they would give the damaged job to someone else as soon as they found someone who was more qualified. Well, my boy, that’s you.”
“Sniper, you’re a darn good commander.”
“No, I’m not. I’m a draping good NCO. I don’t see the big picture the way you do. I see the job at hand and the people around me: That makes me a good NCO. You see the big picture and how everything fits together: That’s what will make you a good commander. Now, I don’t want to leave the company, and since you don’t have an XO, I would be more than happy to fill that position for you, but that’s your decision. But, before you make that decision, your squad leaders are arriving, and you need to tell them what their new company commander expects of them and what our plans are.”
“Are you sure about this?”
“Have you cleared this with headquarters?”
“If you have decided to resign, I don’t see any choice, but we really need to talk about this later.”
The meeting that followed was a bit surreal for me. When I announced the change of command, I expected some shock and protest; I didn’t even get surprise. They all seemed to be expecting it and just took it in stride. The shock and surprise came when I told them that we were not heading home, but were going to take down several more alien bases before we were done. “We did a great job last night, but I know that we are capable of taking down more than one base every two weeks. I see no reason that, once we hit our stride, we can’t be taking down a base every night. More than that, we need to teach the national forces how to do the same thing. Remember, our first job is to make sure that the Warrior battlesuits are ready for action and to show the locals how to use them.”
We spent the next two hours going over the battle with a fine toothed comb and, figuring out ways to improve performance while reducing risk. After refining the plan quite a bit, we then came up with a number of alternate variations and gambits to use to keep the aliens guessing. “Right now we are slaughtering the Taurians because they are predictable. If we become predictable, we will be the ones who are slaughtered next.”
After the meeting broke up, I wanted nothing more than curl up and go to sleep, but I had one more thing to do that couldn’t wait. I went back to my room and smiled when I found my nocturnal visitor softly snoring (at least it seemed to me that she was snoring, while she insists that she never snores.) I sat down at my desk and dialed a connection, while I was waiting, I checked what time it was at Prometheus. To my surprise, General Moore picked right up even though it was close to midnight there. “Hello there, what’s on your mind Captain?”
“I just wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page about Sniper’s resignation.”
“It was a little sudden, but not unexpected. Are you going to keep him on as XO?”
“I’m beginning to think that he’s been my XO for a while and nobody told me.”
“It’s a little more complicated than that, but I think that this arrangement will work out best for everyone.”
“OK, then he’s my XO and I’ll consider that matter settled. That brings to the next thing I need to talk to you about. I just left a meeting where I informed all of the squad leaders that we were not leaving, but were planning on taking down several more Taurian bases before we went home. I realize that I was probably out of line making a pronouncement like that before I had even gotten permission to do so. I need to know if there are any problems with this change in plans, and what procedures I need to go through to make any such changes in the future.”
“Whoa there cowboy. Part of your problem is that your mind moves so fast that you often get ahead of yourself. You are trying to do too much for any one person to accomplish, so you have been taking shortcuts to get everything done. You need a command staff.”
“A command staff? Does Sniper have a command staff?”
“No, but he was just running a company. You, on the other hand are trying to create a strategy that will win the war. That’s a much harder job that will require you to keep in contact with a lot of people on a frequent basis. You need people to help you sort out the permissions, collaborations, research, political and financial considerations and much more. My young friend, you are going to need a group of very talented people around you if you are going to accomplish the tasks that you find before you.”
“How the heck do you get a command staff?”
“It’s like hiring people for any job position. You let people know you are hiring and interview them to see if you think that they fulfill the requirements for the position. Haven’t you ever hired anyone before?”
“Well, I assume that you’ve interviewed for a job before.”
“Yes, but I sucked at it.”
“ OK then, how about I recommend some people to you and we’ll go from there.”
“If you think it will help, I’m willing to try just about anything you suggest as long as I don’t have to give up piloting.”
“I’ll send some good people over by tomorrow. Take some time to go over everything in your plan and once your staff arrives, go over it with them to make sure that everything is in order, then call me up for a conference and we will get it final approval and implement it fully. In the mean time, get some rest. You look like you can hardly keep your eyes open.”
“Now that’s the best order I’ve heard all day. I’ll talk to you soon sir.”
I singed off and looked over at my nocturnal visitor. Too much had changed in just a few hours, and I was too tired to process it. One or two changes and I might have tried to work through them, but so much had happened that I was just overwhelmed. I just lay down next to my visitor and went to sleep.
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