2948-06-30 – Tales from the Service: Melee on Mereena

Glorinda Eccleston nearly lost her breath as her huge, unfamiliar combat suit crashing down on the scarred street near the Mereena Spaceport’s outskirts. Laser fire pulsed through the air, painting glowing heat-scars on the fabcrete of nearby buildings, but most of it seemed far away. Light Incarnation handheld weapons were unlikely to defeat full Marine battle array in any case – even a FDA soldier’s simple armored chestplate would stop two or three pulses before failing.

Raising both arms, Glorinda showered a building ahead with indiscriminate railshot from her underarm guns, then checked the tactical display inset. Colonel Pokorni had landed only seconds before, but he was already a hundred meters away, calling out targets for missile suppression. Only Lieutenant Slezak, the colonel’s ECM officer, had kept up with the commanding officer’s pace – the rest of the command team was strung out across the intervening jumble of half-ruined residences and storefronts, fighting Nate infantry that seemed to be shooting out of every window.

“This is more than an infiltration team, Colonel.” Captain Low grumbled on the command channel. “Seems like a whole damned regiment.”

FDA better start issuing eyes to their grunts.” Slezak retorted, undoubtedly without interrupting what he was doing.

“Sir, I don’t think FDA would have missed an infiltration on this scale.” Glorinda remembered her old service fondly; it had only been a few months since she’d been posted to Pokorni’s 12th Marines. Sure, her old unit was still light-years away on the Rock, but they had no better training or equipment than the units deployed on Mereena, and even the worst sentry in the company would have been able to see Incarnation troops skulking past in such numbers.

“Seems unrealistic, doesn’t it? Thin them out a little bit. We’ve got support incoming.” Pokorni’s calm and unruffled voice indicated that he had once more processed the situation sufficiently to predict what his intelligence liaison was reporting.

The colonel didn’t ask Glorinda to figure out the enemy’s penetration vector – he probably had figured it out already. Still, she called up detailed terrain maps on the Navy’s local ad-hoc datasphere and scrutinized the area. The spaceport, built on a relatively flat plain, had few natural features which might conceal such a host of attacking troops, much less shepherd them into the perimeter without being noticed.

“On your left, Eccleston!”

Before even processing the source of the voice, Glorinda threw herself to one side and pointed both her railguns left just as a doorway disgorged a whole squad of grey-armored Nate infantrymen. Her suit armor registered a few laser strikes as she focused both her under-arm guns on the doorway and slaughtered the entire group with a prolonged burst of railshot.

“Good reflexes, Lieutenant.” Captain Low, the 12th Marines executive officer, stomped up to clap Glorinda on the armored shoulder with one heavy suit hand. “Any damage?”

“Negative.” Only after it was done did Glorinda’s adrenaline kick in, and she struggled to control her breathing and speak calmly into the comm. “I thought that building was… marked clear?”

“It was.” Low moved up the street several paces and fired a tiny missile out of his shoulder pod into a nearby structure. After a brief delay, every window and door erupted volcanically outward, spraying pieces of furnishings and finely shredded human remains across the scarred pavement. “Let’s go check it out.”

Dismissing the terrain map, Glorinda followed the Marine toward the building which had produced her first kills of the day – her first kills, she realized, of the battle on Mereena, and thus of the whole war. She had enough time to query its schematics from the datasphere but didn’t learn anything from them. It was a standard structure, fabcrete formed into a pattern of rooms and hallways common across thousands of frontier towns across the Coreward Frontier. It wasn’t connected to the city’s sewer mains or any other underground space which an infantry squad might be able to squeeze through with armor and weapons.

Low’s suit was too big to enter the structure’s human-sized doorway, so he simply walked through an adjacent wall, close-quarters blade deploying both his suit’s right gauntlet since the rocket pod and heavy plasma lance on his suit were inadequate for room-to-room work. As the fabcrete crumbled into a cloud of choking dust, Glorinda knew she should be the one in front by standard Marine protocol, with her more nimble armament, but she was no Marine – she had only a few weeks’ training in suited combat, not enough to be trusted on point.

As Glorinda approached the new entrance, two Incarnation soldiers leapt out of the shadows toward the back of Low’s suit. “Two behind you!” Not wanting to perforate the Marine, she deployed her own close-quarters blade and lunged at them.

The blade bit fabcrete on the wall in an instant, and she thought she had missed, leaving the man’s less-armored flanks exposed for a critical instant. She wrestled with the stuck blade for several frantic seconds, expecting the Nate soldiers to be on her any second. Only when Low’s suit gauntlet reached out to pry her blade free and reveal red smears on its length did she realize she hadn’t missed. Wincing, she turned her head and saw the bloodily-bisected corpses in shredded gray armor.

Low didn’t comment on her poor form, but she felt ashamed all the same. Even the worst Marine in the 12th would have been able to take apart the two soldiers without getting their blade stuck in a wall. “Let’s go.” He turned back into the building and walked through the next wall as easily and noisily as he had the first.

Glorinda followed closely. This time, there were no enemy troops waiting to ambush them on the other side. The inner room was larger, poorly lit, and almost empty.

It was empty, Glorinda saw, because its floor, supposedly placed on a simple block foundation, was almost entirely missing, leaving a gaping, lightless hole down into the depths.

“Damnation. Colonel, they’re tunneling in.” Low switched on his suit’s forward lights to survey the sloping tunnel. It was nearly six feet across and tall enough for soldiers to walk upright. “Eccleston, do you have sounding gear?”

Glorinda stepped forward and hopped down into the tunnel mouth, confident that Low’s plasma lance had her flanks covered. She warmed up the suit’s acoustic sounding equipment, then listened as each jarring ping taught the computer more about the extent of the tunnel. Soon enough, a picture took shape on her visor inset – a picture of one tunnel at first, then branching off into others. “Stars around! They dug all of this in a few days?”

Low’s plasma weapon spat a blue flare which illuminated the tunnel for an instant like a bolt of lightning. “Company, Eccleston. Time to go.” Without warning, he turned the weapon upward and fired again, blasting the upper level and roof skyward. Bits and pieces of what had once been synthform residential furniture rained flaming down on the intelligence liaison. “Head for the Colonel.”

Low’s suit jets roared to life, and he blasted through the shredded floorboards and roof above a moment later, showering Glorinda with more debris.

“But we just got here.” Eccleston wanted very badly to explore the tunnel network further, but she could hear footsteps somewhere nearby, and didn’t want to take on Nate infantry alone in the dark. Glancing upward to plot a vertical course, Glorinda Eccleston engaged her suit’s propulsion system and clumsily roared into the air once more.

The battle on Mereena has ended inconclusively since the first part of this story (Tales from the Service: Mereena Besieged) was posted. The civilian population evacuated, the 12th Marines and the FDA left in good order. There was no large-scale fleet action at Mereena –by all accounts it is a beautiful world, but I think Admiral Zahariev is probably wise to have abandoned it to the Incarnation for the moment with few losses.

The force sent there is a fraction of what appeared at Matusalemme to take Adimari Valis months ago – there’s speculation that the enemy was hoping Fifth Fleet would commit to Mereena so they could strike a more important target. How these rumors could possibly be based in fact, I cannot say – regardless, the Navy, Marines, and FDA appear to have generally performed well in the orderly extraction of the affected population in this instance, and we applaud the successful completion of the Mereena operation as planned.

[N.T.B. – As planned, sure, but Nate still got another planet. This one’s deep in the Frontier, not far from the important inner frontier worlds like Margaux and Maribel. With victories like this, we sure as all hells don’t need to be defeated to lose this war.

The only saving grace is that Mereena doesn’t have any orbital infrastructure to speak of – they’ll spend months turning it into a proper forward base, giving Zahariev plenty of time to strike back.]