2951-10-18 – Tales from the Service: A Vertical Envelopment

Though the concept of vertical envelopment has existed in combat doctrines since before the First Space Age, I doubt most of our readers are familiar with the concept as it is conducted by Confederated Marines in this conflict. In brief, it is the act of attacking an enemy from an unexpected direction through the air while that enemy is already engaged in battle. We’ve covered unorthodox uses of the jump rockets on Rico suits many times in this text feed, but this tactic is one of the most orthodox uses of this equipment.

Video recordings of this tactic are quite spectacular; though there are no good videos available on the datasphere of its use in combat, there are a number of videos of Marines performing vertical envelopment in training exercises which can be found with a few searches, and I highly recommend doing so. Such video would make an excellent visual reference for this account of the tactic from the now-concluded assault on Quickley in the Lee-Hosha system.

As soon as he had checked that Singh was all right, Sergeant Myron Vergossen consulted the drone’s overhead view of the situation. The rocket swarm had cleared most of the concealing brush from in front of the enemy bunker, but had done little real damage. The squad couldn’t go too much farther in the drainage ditch before it turned and became exposed to enemy fire, and the crashing of fallen trees behind him was sufficient proof that there would be little benefit in pulling back into the woods. The bunker’s lasers would scythe through the trees for hundreds of yards.

In the privacy of his helmet, Myron winced. As usual, the enemy had set up their defenses well; there was no way to draw sustained fire from the fortification without giving them something to shoot at. Singh’s armor had withstood a few hits from a small-wattage pulsebeam, but there was at least one heavy emitter in there capable of severing thick, ancient tree-trunks in an instant; their armor probably wouldn’t be able to shrug that off so easily.

“Listen up, boys.” Myron kept up his gruff, hard-as-armor-plate tone as best he could, even though this was the part of being a non-com that hated the most. “On my signal, get up there and give it to ‘em with your primary, then get back down. And keep doing it again until I call a halt. Watch for friendly transponders in your fire arc.”

A series of acknowledging clicks and chirps indicated that everyone had heard. While the Marines scrambled into ready positions, Myron switched channels. “Columbera, start your V-E when you hear shooting again. Lead with rockets on the way in. We’ll keep them distracted.”

“Aye, Sarge.” Columbera sounded eager, and Myron couldn’t blame him; there was little more thrilling in the life of a Marine than an offensive jump-rocket maneuver. There was also little more dangerous, especially if the rest of the squad couldn’t keep those lasers occupied. Mid-jump, Columbera and his fellows would be totally exposed, out in the open in every sense of the word.

The danger would only last a few seconds. Whoever was going to get hurt or killed would probably not even realize it until it was all over. “Make ready.” Myron found a spot from which he could execute his own orders. After all, if someone was going to buy the plot today, he was at least as good a candidate as anyone else. “Go, go!”

As one, the Marines in the gully rose up head and shoulders above the lip and started firing. Railguns rattled, autocannons thumped, and plasma lances blazed away toward the enemy bunker.

Return fire was instantaneous. Myron’s suit flashed warnings as he took two low-wattage laser hits to his chestplate, and another to the far lighter armor on the suit’s forearm, far beyond where his own fingertips were. The hits did little real damage, but he dropped back down, moved to the side, and popped up again in another place.

When the sensors in the suit’s low mechanical head once again cleared the ditch’s rim, Myron saw a quartet of smoke-trails arcing through the sky above the bunker. He swept his railgun across the target at random as a flurry of white-hot motes zipped down from the sky to explode on the bunker’s flat roof.

Even before the explosions had faded into smoke, four Rico suits, their feet enveloped in fire, slammed down in their epicenter. Columbera and his three associates plunged right through the synthcrete roof, weakened as it was by the blasts, and vanished inside the bunker.

“Fall back!” Myron, already heeding his own recommendation, dropped back down, then turned to survey the damage.

As he’d expected, there had been casualties. Most of the Marines had scorched or still-glowing spots on their armor, but only two suits showed internal damage to systems and Marine – Kinneman was down with his chest armor melted nearly through and still red-hot, and Jedynak’s right arm hung lifeless, the machinery within spitting black smoke and occasional spurts of hydraulic oil.

Myron pointed toward Kinneman. “Get him out before he cooks. He’s still got a pulse but his suit’s a loss.”

Two Marines immediately flipped Kinneman over and began prying apart the suit’s interleaving rear plates. When they broke the atmo seal, hot, steamy air billowed out, followed shortly afterward by a red-faced and gasping Private Kinneman. Despite bearing a garish burn across the left side of his face, Kinneman got to his feet quickly, then dove briefly back into his suit to retreive his side-arm and Nine.

“Bunker is clear, Sarge.” Columbera was almost cheering his report. “Heavy weapons spiked and reactor scrammed. No casualties.”

Myron breathed a sigh of relief. Once Marines were inside a tight space like the bunker, Incarnation infantry were largely powerless and they knew it, but that didn’t mean there was no danger to the marines who’d penetrated the fortification. “Good work, Corporal. We’ll come up to you.

Switching channels, Myron raised his robotic fist. “Columbera’s cleared the bunker. Move up.” While the other Marines hurried up the slope, he turned to the other casualty. “Jedynak, are you stable?”

“Suit arm’s toast, Sarge. Mine’s pretty cooked too.” Jedynak’s voice was an octave higher than usual. “I’ll live. God bless painkillers, eh?”

Myron sighed and dropped a med-evac beacon. “Might be an hour or two before the lifter gets here and we have to keep pushing. Keep your heads down, both of you.”

“Aye, Sarge.” Jedynak waved in the direction of the bunker with his remaining arm. “Should we take cover in there?”

“Negative.” Myron stopped half-way up the slope and turned back toward the wounded pair. “Do not occupy the bunker. Take the beacon back along this gulley a little way.” He pointed skyward. “You know our artillery and air cover.”

Jedynak chuckled nervously. “That I do, Sarge.”

2951-10-04 – Tales from the Service: The Quickley Fortification

“In position Sarge.” Corporal Columbera sounded out of breath; on a world with more or less Terran gravity, like Quickley, that probably meant he and his detachment had been forcing themselves through thick underbrush for most of the last fifteen minutes. “I think so, anyway.”

“Understood.” Sergeant Myron Vergossen took one last look at the terrain map, then dismissed it and called up the targeting display instead. A haloed cross-hair appeared in the center of his helmet’s face-plate, then slid off the lower edge of the armor-glass screen as the display detected which way the railgun attached to his right arm was pointing. Just to be safe, he raised his arm and pointed the weapon toward the underbrush beside the road, and watched the cross-hair reappear.

Around him, most of his squad of Confederated Marines had probably already tested their targeting systems and warmed up their various weapons. The unit’s Rico suits were tough, but something always seemed to break in one of them after several hours of tramping about in the dirt and dust of an alien world; being caught by surprise by a failed targeting optic after the shooting started was not an option.

“Everyone ready?” Myron turned a half-circle to look at each of the men in turn. Less Columbera’s quartet, he had fourteen Marines for the frontal assault. Most of their weapons would do little against the walls of a hardened Incarnation bunker, but that was all right; knocking the position out was Columbera’s job.

Nobody answered vocally over the radio channel, but within two seconds, a series of blue status indicators in Myron’s HUD winked out and returned green.

“Follow me. Heads down.” Myron had already set the position and rough size of the enemy fortification, so it was a matter of two commands to call its virtual likeness up on everyone’s HUD. With as thick as the local underbrush was, the position would probably be invisible in visible-light optics if the Marines didn’t already know where it was.

A drainage ditch with several inches of slimy mud at the bottom provided cover for most of the approach, and within two minutes Myron had his suit’s back pressed to the root-choked slope facing the enemy. He waited as the other Marines, their suits hunched over and almost crawling on their hands and knees, took up positions on either side. No doubt the enemy knew they were coming and already had their guns pointed at the ditch; Incarnation sensor-nets were notoriously good.

“Let’s ring the doorbell, boys.” Myron turned around until it was his suit’s hardened chest-plate, not the weaker back-plate, that was facing the enemy. He reached down to the infantry micro-missiles racked along the sides of his leg, pulled two free, and held them in one huge alloy palm. The missiles, being on the tac-net, had already acquired the target, and now as each Marine readied his own, the weapons automatically established a saturation targeting pattern. A lucky missile could possibly sneak through a firing port, but Myron wasn’t counting on that. He wanted the smoke and debris cloud the salvo would throw up.

“Now.” Myron flicked the two missiles into the air. On either side of him, a swarm of gleaming tubes rose into the sunlight as thirteen other Marines did the same. Infantry missiles were more precise if fired out of launchers, but at close range, against a static target, it didn’t matter. Each one oriented itself with a puff of compressed gas, then zipped away as its solid-fuel rocket kicked in. The thunder and hail of dirt-clods that followed gave no indication of how many the bunker’s point defense had shot down, but Myron didn’t care.

Without needing orders, the Marines around Myron popped their heads and shoulders out of the ditch, leveled their weapons, and let loose. Most of them, armed like Myron himself, sprayed the target with high-velocity ferroceramic projectiles. Aliev and Kinneman pierced the explosion-thrown dust with yellow tongues of flame from their plasma lances, and Singh let loose a four-round burst from his armor-piercing autocannon.

Only a few seconds after the Marines started shooting, Myron sent a fall-back signal, and his Marines ducked back under cover just as the dust plume began to disperse. Most likely, they’d done nothing but rattle the defenders, but rattling was more than sufficient; even as Myron verified that everyone had pulled out of the firing line cleanly, lasers began to slash through the underbrush over their heads.

“Drone shows no obvious damage.” Private Morello, still in control of the tiny scout-drone circling a thousand meters above their heads, sent updated imagery to Myron’s HUD. “But we definitely got their attention, Sarge.”

“You don’t say, Private.” Myron heard a tree, cut in half by high-wattage laser fire, crash down behind them. ‘They’re not saving power, so they’ve got a reactor in there.” This wasn’t too surprising, but it did make their task a bit more dangerous; it meant their enemy could keep up continuous fire forever.

“Sounds like the party’s started, Sarge. Ready for V-E?”

Myron winced as Singh clambered back up to fire a few more cannon rounds and fell back almost immediately with a pair of glowing spots on his chestplate. “Not yet, Columbera. But get ready.”

“Aye, Sarge.”

It sounds like the bulk of the fighting in the Lee-Hosha system is over, but this account from the first day of the battle will take at least one more week to relay in this space.

Our own Nojus Brand, who went groundside with the Marines, reported back that he and the other civilian correspondents have entered the spaceport site at Q-S1, which was incomplete at the time the Incarnation occupied the world, and which they finished to use the place as a depot. Unfortunately for Seventh Fleet, the garrison slagged most of the infrastructure when it became clear that they were doomed, and the place needs almost as much work as it did to begin with before the world will be good for anything.

Nojus has taken many stills and many hours of footage of the battle’s aftermath, most of which should be available on our corporate datasphere hub within a few days of this posting. Obviously, any imagery that shows Confederated casualties will not be shown, out of consideration for the families of those wounded and killed.

2951-09-13 – Tales from the Inbox: The Computational Dilemma 

This week, we continue Nestor Palazzo’s account. Obviously, his claim of being involved in secret Kyaroh dealings is dubious to be sure, and is perhaps embellished, but it seems that he needed this embellishment to explain something about his changing relationship with his associate, the Gilehdat envoy Drase. 

“You negotiated work? Just now?” Nestor Palazzo frowned across the table at his cloaked companion. “That can’t have taken more than a minute.” 

Drase shrugged, her slight frame still not quite used to the gesture. “Hoyr and I spoke while you were seeing to your other business. I told him that I had no right to commit you or your ship until you granted me that right.” She flicked a long, golden finger into the menu, requesting a beverage. “He will pay very well.” 

Nestor set down his spoon and pushed aside his still only half-eaten stew. “Okay. What’s the catch?” He didn’t have any real problem with the idea of working for a Cutter – other than Hoyr, he had never really spoken to one – but the ease with which Drase had found him work was more than a little suspicious. 

“His time table is short, as he said.” Drase’s drink slid out onto the table, and she picked it up. “Also, the destination coordinates are quite secret. It is demanded by the leaders of the Kyaroh that no human may know the location.” 

Nestor frowned. “If I can’t know where-” 

Drase spun the token she’d been given like a coin. “The Kyaroh trust a Councilor to protect their secrets.” She peeled the film off the rim of the drink and took a long sip. “The only missing piece is your cooperation.” 

Nestor held up his hand. “How am I going to program the Himura drive if I don’t have a destination?” 

“You won’t program it.” Drase stopped the spinning disk with one golden finger. “You will teach me to enter coordinates into the star drive, and to purge its memory core.” 

“Woah, woah.” Nestor shook his head. “Back up. It’s not that simple.” He held up a finger. “Firstly, it’s not as simple as entering coordinates. The navcomputer needs to compute the fold radials and transit points, and send those over to the Himura prior to a jump. The navcomputer records are protected information, you can’t wipe that without getting-” 

“It is possible to directly configure the star drive.” Drase arched one eyebrow. “I have read of human spacers doing this in emergencies.” 

Nestor thought back to the last time he’d done the computations for a jump by hand. That had been as part of an examination when he’d updated his solo-operator certification, nearly six years prior; he’d never done it for real, and very no spacer he knew had either. How did Drase expect to learn all that math fast enough to be within Hoyr’s timetable? If she screwed up even one step, it could badly damage Macie Kurtz’s Himura Transitor, or simply deposit the ship at some random nearby location in several glowing pieces. 

Drase leaned closer. “This is a misunderstanding?” Still, her ruby eyes did not betray any hint of concern. Nestor resented how closed her thoughts were; even if she did know the enormity of what she was asking, she probably wouldn’t show it to him or to anyone else unless she wanted to. Every being was an open book to her, but her thoughts were her own. 

Probably sensing Nestor’s annoyance, Drase drew back. “Even now, you think my arts work to my advantage, Nestor?” She looked away, and this time, he could read the hurt feelings in her bearing. “If you do not trust me to act as your agent, I need not do so.” 

“Wait.” Nestor put one big hand on her shoulder as she moved to exit the booth. “I’m not sure you know what you’re asking.” 

Drase looked genuinely startled, though Nestor could not guess exactly why. “How so?” 

“You will have to do the computations by hand to keep their location secret. That takes weeks or months for most humans to learn. Even assuming you picked it up in a few shifts, I couldn’t check your work without access to the original coordinates.” Nestor shook his head. “If you do it wrong, it could kill us, or strand us to die in a wrecked ship.” He had only just begun to come to terms with Drase’s presence in his life and wasn’t terribly interested in having that process violently cut short.  

Drase nodded slowly. “I see. This is not a problem I had anticipated.” 

“Go and talk to Hoyr again.” Nestor dropped his hand. “Tell him that if time is critical, he needs to start trusting at least one human with the coordinates.” 

2951-08-30 – Tales from the Service: The Encirclement on Morioncruz

Though there has not been much datacast media activity regarding the place, Fifth Fleet has announced that an attempt to liberate the minor colony of Morioncruz is ongoing. Apparently the force sent to this world is considerable, mainly consisting of fast cruiser forces and some of the fastest troop transports available.

The battle line of Fifth Fleet is, it seems, not present; it remains at Maribel, ready to pounce on Håkøya should the enemy respond to the battle at Morioncruz in force. Admiral Venturi apparently does not fear that Maribel is in significant danger of the same sort of attack, but using only the fastest forces available is probably also a hedge against this eventuality.

We have gotten a few accounts, some extremely brief, from the mainly FVDA force deployed to Morioncruz. The battle on the ground has been difficult, but not, apparently, very bloody, at least not so far; the Incarnation troops there are reported to be numerous and well supplied but not well dug in, suggesting the world has been a sort of barracks depot for troops that were preparing for offensive action. This account, which will take at least two weeks to bring to this feed, is of a minor action at the fringes of the main battle area, one of probably dozens of such attacks and counter-attacks of similar scale.

Lukas Kaufmann placed his scope’s triangular reticle over the narrow doorway in the side of the landing field control tower half a kilometer away, then sent a double click on the squad comms channel to indicate that he was in position, ready to cover the advance of his compatriots. If any Incarnation personnel came out of that structure, they’d be walking into a blast of electrified plasma courtesy of his arc rifle.

A moment later, an answering chirp on the same channel announced that the advance was starting. Somewhere ahead of Lukas, down near the bottom of the ridge on which he lay, a dozen FVDA soldiers would be clambering through the underbrush at the edge of the cleared landing field to begin creeping toward the tower, its associated sensor station, and a nearby maintenance hangar.

“Be advised, Orbital reports we’ve got inbound enemy air.” Lieutenant Jansour’s thick Memoire de Paix accent filtered into Lukas’s ear through his comms earpiece. “Probably Siroccos coming back from the main event. Stay under cover until they’re on the ground.”

“How long do we have, Lieutenant?” Sergeant Calvo, leading the group tasked with taking the tower, sounded like he was whispering into his comms pickup. Though there probably was no chance of him being overheard from more than a hundred meters away, Lukas didn’t blame the sergeant for being cautions anyway; Incarnation sensor equipment was notoriously good.

“Ten minutes or less, Mr. Calvo. Abort your approach.”

“Acknowledged. Staying low.” Calvo didn’t sound happy about that, and Lukas didn’t blame his compatriot. If the Siroccos spotted any of the attackers on their landing approaches, they could sweep the area with their strafing lasers, putting a stop to the attack long enough for reinforcements to be pulled off the main battle line to thwart this behind-the-lines expedition.

Lukas, knowing that he was no longer required to cover the tower door, swept his scope across the field toward the maintenance hangar. He was just in time to see its main doors creeping open to permit a cavalcade of tracked and wheeled vehicles to spill out onto the apron, each filled with Nate technicians and their equipment. If Calvo had tried to go ahead with his attack, he and his men would have run right into this group and been outnumbered; even technicians, this close to the front line, would keep their laser rifles close at hand.

“Movement by the hangar.” Lukas reported. “Multiple vehicles. Looks like the maintenance team.”

Lieutenant Jansour was quick to respond. “Hold fire, Mr. Kaufmann.”

Lukas winced; the lieutenant should know he didn’t need to be told. Firing on the maintenance vehicles now would ruin the surprise of the attack, and that was the whole point. If possible, the objective was to take as much of the base’s equipment and garrison intact; once the sensor station was disabled, a group of transports would fly in to haul it all away. Headquarters might even be able to find pilots for a few Siroccos, if those managed to make it into FVDA hands intact. Even if the garrison managed to destroy them, waiting until the aircraft were on the ground would all but ensure they were removed from the battle for good.

Lukas watched the maintenance team lining up their vehicles until the deep-throated rumble of incoming Siroccos began to echo off the hills on every side. The sound sent chills down his spine. He had been under Sirocco attack on Mereena, and again at Glen Moore, and this time, he was glad to be out of sight at the ridgeline, rather than down with the rest of the squad.

Swinging the arc rifle up and along the opposite ridge, Lukas scanned for the incoming aircraft. Three huge sweep-wing vehicles came into view before long, flying low against the hills in a line. A thin trail of gray smoke trailed behind the second of the three, and the third was flying slightly askew, likely as a result of superficial damage to one of its wings.

Valero, positioned several hundred meters down the ridge with a better shot toward the hangar, beat Lukas to reporting their arrival. “Siroccos in sight.” Valero’s drawling Frontier twang carried a note of dry humor. “Two of ‘em are damaged. Looks like they’ve been having a bad day out there.”

Lukas hoped that was true. The fate of Morioncruz had still been very much in doubt when their group had set off on its long trek around to attack the enemy rear, and they had heard very little from Orbital about the progress of the greater battle. Though the world was hardly among the Frontier’s most populous or prominent planets, it would do everyone good to take one back from Nate for a change. If the hated Siroccos couldn’t sweep the battlefield without being shot half to pieces, things were not going the way Nate wanted.

“Make sure your men are out of sight, Sergeant Calvo.” Jansour’s warning was probably once again not necessary, but like Lukas himself, Calvo had the good sense to keep quiet. Jansour was nervous; they all were.

The first of the aircraft, the undamaged one, made a low pass over the landing field while the one trailing smoke slowed and deployed its landing skids. The huge aircraft came to a shuddering halt just in front of the maintenance men, some of whom were already swarming forward toward it before it even touched down. A moment later, the other damaged Sirocco came down near the first, resting at a weird angle on a half-deployed landing skid below the damaged wing. It, too, was soon the object of the technicians’ attention.

The final aircraft, as if suspicious that its enemies lay in wait not far away, circled the field twice more before bringing itself in for a far more graceful landing close to the tower. As soon as it was down, its belly hatch disgorged a pair of men who dashed into the control tower.

“The last one’s keeping his damned engines warm.” Calvo grumbled. “If we go now, he’s going to be airborne before we get twenty meters.”

Lukas scanned the Sirocco with his rifle scope. Like most Incarnation vehicles, there were no clear viewpanels on its body; the crew could see out only with the aid of the cameras studding its fuselage and wings. A hit on most of the aircraft would leave only superficial damage. He had a decent angle on the port-side engine air intake, but there was no telling what a shot with an arc rifle would do there. It might do nothing, or it might blow up the engine, and that close to the tower, an explosion might wreck most of what they hoped to capture.

“If we wait for those two to get back, he’ll be airborne anyway, Sergeant.” Lukas gritted his teeth. They hadn’t brought much in terms of heavy weaponry, certainly nothing that could take down an airborne Sirocco before it cut them to pieces. The crew of that aircraft could easily foil the whole raid, if they reacted fast enough.