2950-02-08 – Tales from the Service: The Ambush in the Tunnels

I never did get a chance to interview any of the prisoners on Hallman. I was recalled to Saint-Lô not long after last week’s entry hit the ingest network, and by the time you see this item, Fifth Fleet will be out of Berkant. With the speed we’re going, something has gone very wrong somewhere, and while there’s no official news as to what’s happening, the shipboard whisper network seems convinced we’re going to Håkøya. 

Two days ago, I would have thought Håkøya the last place the fleet would need to go, but with the disruption of the hypercast relay network in the inner Nye Norge region now entering its third day (I am writing this on the sixth), it’s only reasonable to blame such an infrastructure collapse on enemy action. 

As I have been aboard ship and far from the local hypercast relay, I haven’t been able to comb through the usual inbox backlog properly since we started out for Hallman. This week, we will conclude the underground encounter described to me by Corporal Rosenfeld. If we’re actually bound for Håkøya, it’s possible we’ll be far from any relays until after next week’s Tales from the Inbox is scheduled – if that’s the case, the system will use one of the backlog entries we’ve prepared for just that purpose. 

Boz Rosenfeld stepped back from the threshold and crept back to his three compatriots. He dared not send them a radio message, lest even the encrypted signal be detected by their foes beyond. “Looks like about a dozen of them. The cavern is about ten meters across and maybe twenty-five deep.” He was almost whispering, even though the volume of his voice was wholly controlled by his light suit helmet, and that was operating at the lowest speaker setting. “Two crew-served weapons with interlocking fields of fire, but they’re focusing on a couple of passages off to the left.” 

“Our friend Nate knows how to party.” Feng secured his carbine and began to unfold the precision rifle he usually kept slung behind his back. The large-bore, chemical-propellant weapon was far less than the ideal weapon for clearing Hallman’s winding caverns, but the Marine had insisted on bringing it along anyway. 

Boz pointed to the weapon. "You’ll knock out the heavy guns. Forget the gunners." The heavy projectiles of the rifle should be able to wreck the fine inner workings of any Incarnation crew-served weapon beyond any hope of repair. “But MacGowan, you’re going to start this show. Make them keep their heads down as long as you can. While their heads are down, that’s when Feng takes out those guns.” 

“Sure thing, Corporal.” MacGowan hefted his heavy automatic railgun, replete with cooling system and bulky hopper filled with ferroceramic slugs. He’d mostly recovered from his recent near-death experience, but even if his aim was shakier than an Annuska junkie, he’d be spewing enough ordinance to fill most of the cavern. 

“What about me?” Moralez, facing away from his compatriots as he watched the tunnel along which they’d come, still managed to participate in the whispered conversation. 

“You’re with me.” Boz unclipped a pair of thermobaric grenades from his webbing and handed them to MacGowan as he spoke. According to the techs topside, these weapons would have a decent kill radius and a minimal chance of collapsing the caverns. “They’re being led by an officer of some kind. We’re going to bag him, alive if possible. Could be it’s the ring-leader of this whole left-behind rabble.” 

“Alive? What if it’s one of those Immortals?” 

Boz chuckled. “Then we’re the damned unluckiest Marines on the Frontier, Moralez. But he’s probably just whoever Nate brass liked the least when they left.” 

The other nodded uncertainly, his helmet hiding what Boz was almost certain was a worried frown. After a few seconds, Moralez similarly handed off his grenades, then secured his carbine to the back of his suit. 

Boz pointed behind himself and waved MacGowan onward. “Give us about a minute to get into position, then start whenever you think it’ll cause the most confusion. Once we’re clear of the cavern, break off and home on the spike beacon. We’ll meet you there.” 

While MacGownan and Feng crept forward, Boz drew his suit-linked sidearm, a hefty bolt thrower. The flashy, crackling ionized plasma thrown by this weapon would dazzle and confuse the Nate soldiers’ infrared optics, but the weapon could also do plenty of damage to the implants all Nate soldiers carried. Before the war, Marines had almost always carried cartridge-pistol sidearms, but after Margaux, the chemical-propellant weapons had been replaced in most units by the previously poorly-regarded “lightning bug.” Boz still wasn’t sure about the bolt thrower in general, but he doubted any other weapon would have the morale impact of a series of blue-white lightning bolts cracking through the damp cavern air. 

Drawing his own bolt thrower, Moralez followed Boz back along the cavern to an intersection, then down a parallel passage to another opening into the large cavern. This one, which Boz had seen from his previous surveying, entered the larger space almost at floor level, with a pair of chunky stalagmites partially concealing its entrance. Nate had of course posted sentries to watch the many tunnel mouths along their flank, but three sentries had about a dozen openings to watch, and couldn’t possibly focus on all of them at once. They could rotate their heavy weapons and assorted troops to face a rearward threat in seconds, but to do so, they needed to know one was coming. 

As Moralez crept forward to the stalagmites to see what was ahead, MacGowan’s heavy railgun tore the air with its rattling report, and a spray of sparks and dislodged rock splinters cut across the floor and far wall. Leaping forward and slapping Moralez on the shoulder, Boz braced his arm on the pillar of stone, lined up the reticle in his helmet on one of the sentries, and squeezed the trigger. His helmet dimmed to protect his eyes and infrared optics from the brief lightning-flash as the weapon traced an ionized path through the air and discharged an arc of high voltage into the man, and when the dimming subsided, the sentry was lying on the ground in a heap.  

Another flash lit the scene as Moralez fired on another sentry at almost exactly the same time as the deeper crack of Feng’s precision rifle announced the demise of one of the crew-served weapons. 

Watching men scatter for cover, Boz sighted in on a soldier peeking out from behind the cover of a fallen stalactite and fired again. Though the bolt didn’t connect to its target, the flash sent the man careening backwards, his electronics probably scrambled. 

“There.” Moralez, no longer bothering with radio silence, bracketed a figure on Boz’s heads-up display. Though taking cover, the figure seemed to be shouting orders and waving at the crew of the remaining heavy weapon to spin it around to face the Marines. Like any good leader, the officer was as close to the front line as possible without actually getting in the way of his disorganized infantrymen, and he had found effective cover in an instant. 

"Put a shot over his head.” Boz crouched down, preparing to sprint into the confusion. “That should scramble his radio for a few seconds. Then cover me.” 

“Corporal, you’re a damned lunatic sometimes.” Moralez ducked to avoid hot rock splinters as a few of the enemy returned fire with their laser carbines, then popped up to fire a shot back. “At least wait for-” 

The precision rifle thundered once more, and Boz watched sparks erupt into the face of the gunner on the second crew-served weapon. “That was my cue, Moralez.” 

The Marine turned and fired a crackling bolt in the direction of the group’s leader, and Boz dove out of cover, following the brilliant energy blast’s path. As always with Nate laser weapons, he had no idea how many were firing at him – the weapons had no visible or audible indication of the passage of their microsecond-long coherent light beams, except when whatever they hit suddenly superheated and died. 

Since Boz hadn’t died by the time he reached the opposite side of the officer’s chosen cover, he preferred, in order to spare his nerves, to think nobody had noticed him in time to take a shot. Before any of the enemy could correct that oversight, he hurdled over the outcropping and landed atop the dazed officer. 

Though the Incarnation officer was fast enough to bat aside Boz’s armored fist with his laser carbine, the two went down in a heap. Kicking aside the laser rifle, Boz drove his suit-reinforced elbow into the figure’s midsection, then hefted him into an over-the-shoulder carry before leaping back over the outcrop. Even in Hallman’s zero-point-six gravities, a twinge in his back told him that he’d be feeling that maneuver later, but if it secured the officer alive for Naval Intelligence to interrogate, it would all be worth it. 

Seeing Boz emerge with his prize in tow, MacGowan seemed to shift his fire, until everything to Boz’s right erupted in sparks and rock splinters. Sticking as close to this hailstorm of death as he dared, Boz hurried to rejoin Moralez.