2951-08-30 – Tales from the Service: The Battle on Knife’s Edge

Lukas Kaufmann waved his arc rifle’s scope back and forth over the door at the base of the airfield’s control tower, trying to think of what could be done. In reality, ideas were Lieutenant Jansour’s department; nobody expected a marksman corporal to come up with a tactic that would save a two-company raid, but Lukas couldn’t shake the feeling that the whole operation rested on his shoulders. In a little while, perhaps any moment, that door would open, and the two Incarnation air-crew who’d rushed in would come back out to re-board their aircraft. If it took off again, it might spell disaster.

“If only we had some cover on the approach.” Sergeant Calvo grumbled. “Pray for a rain squall, boys and girls.”

“Shame they’ll know we’re here if we use smoke.” Valero, the company’s other marksman, used his laser designator to mark a point near the tower. “A smoke rocket right here would blind that Sirocco until Calvo was right on top of them.”

Lukas sighed in silent sympathy with Valero’s frustration. The whole attack relied on surprise; if they started throwing around smoke rockets, the Nate defense program would put everyone on high alert in less than a second. Calvo’s idea, if assisted by a little divine intervention, was less likely to end in disaster. If only there was a way to generate smoke or mist that was not obviously the result of enemy action…

Lukas’s riflescope wandered up from the tower toward the marked point, backtracking along the line of the stiff breeze that cut shimmering rivers through the low, heather-like growth that covered the airfield. Then he kept scanning along that line, until a Sirocco’s blocky landing skid filled his view. He zoomed out until he could see the whole aircraft, and the maintenance personnel already swarming over its one badly damaged engine. As he looked on, two Incarnation techs pried the armored engine cowling loose and swung it aside.

“Lieutenant, I have an idea.” Lukas used his laser designator to mark a point on the aircraft’s fuselage away from the technicians. “But I need your gun up here as soon as possible.”

There was brief silence on the channel as Jansour puzzled out what Lukas was thinking and why his HKR P82 phasebeam carbine, a weapon not normally used in the marksman role, was necessary to putting it into action. “Be there in twenty seconds, Kaufmann.”

Lukas had only counted to seventeen when he heard the underbrush behind him rustle. He rolled over, hand going to his side-arm, but sat up and saluted the moment he saw Lieutenant Jansour’s brown oval face and the gold braid on his uniform shoulders.

Jansour waved the salute away and tossed Lukas his carbine. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Take my rifle.” Lukas shifted away from the arc rifle, which rested in place on its bipod, and lay down where he could place the carbine’s stubby barrel on a protruding root. Jansour was a good shot at normal battle range, but there was no time to instruct him on the finer points of arc-rifle gunnery. “Watch the door.”

As the lieutenant lay down and shouldered the heavy weapon, Lukas reached into his hip pocket for a meta-lens magnifier, and clipped it onto the low-magnification scope built into Jansour’s carbine. A laser was a very accurate weapon which needed very little range calibration, but its beam tended to scatter a bit at long range; the FVDA generally discouraged their use on targets beyond five hundred meters. This time, Lukas needed it to maintain its punch at three times that distance.

Swinging the carbine’s scope onto the damaged Sirocco, Lukas sighted in on a vulnerable-looking part of the now exposed inner workings of the damaged engine. For this to work, he needed to wait for just the right moment – and he needed not to hit any of the techs swarming around the aircraft.

“Going to try to make smoke by other means, Mr. Calvo.” Jansour reached over and patted Lukas on the shoulder. “Go the moment you have your cover.”

Lukas saw a technician pull a component from deep within the engine, look it over, then grab a replacement from his bag. He aimed at the center of the engine and watched the technician lean in to plug in the new module. He had to make the timing so exact that any onlooker would think the resulting flash was a result of that technician’s work.

The man’s shoulder jerked as the component settled into place, and Lukas pulled the trigger with one fluid motion. The phasebeam’s capacitors shrieked their usual tone, and several megawatts of energy in the form of high energy photons sped across the intervening space and impacted the engine.

Most of the technicians leapt back from the resulting flash and shower of sparks. The man whose work Lukas had timed his shot with jerked back, but came up short with his hand stuck within the engine. A moment later, flames erupted from several points as the superheated metal ignited lubricant, electrical insulation, and other flammable materials. The stuck technician and several others vanished behind a snarl of flickering flames and oily black smoke.

“Your smoke screen, Sergeant Calvo.” Lukas set the carbine down and gently nudged Lieutenant Jansour away from the arc rifle. Already, the smoke was beginning to waft away from the engine fire across the field toward the intact Sirocco. In only ten seconds, the aircraft near the tower was all but invisible within the dark pall.

“Squad, advance.” Calvo’s grim voice bore a hint of relief. “Hunt, Pelts, board the Sirroco. The rest of you, with me.”

“Supporting squads, make ready.” Jansour picked up his carbine, checked it, then scrambled to his feet and began working his way down the ridge.

When Calvo’s squad had almost reached the tower and aircraft, Lukas saw movement. The control tower door opened, and a trio of Incarnation personnel hurried out at a pace that suggested concern, but not alarm. They still did not know what was happening, but if they spotted Calvo’s men, they would.

Lukas sighted in on the middle figure of the trio, flicked off the arc rifle’s safety, and squeezed the trigger. A tinny buzz proceeded a strong recoil and a sharp crack like lightning. The scope briefly went black to protect Lukas’s eye from the light thrown up by the lightning-like discharge. The figure under the reticle burst into flame and collapsed. The two on either side of him went rigid and fell to the ground, their limbs flailing as their implants, scrambled by the electromagnetic discharge, fired random impulses into their nervous systems.

Calvo’s men reached the trio an instant later. As soon as Hunt and Pelts had gotten aboard the Sirocco, the sergeant finished off the three dying men with his side-arm, then led his troops toward the still-open tower door.

“Air threat neutralized. All squads, advance.” Jansour’s voice bore a hint of triumph.

Lukas turned his rifle toward the technicians servicing the third Sirocco, hoping to interrupt them from making it airworthy once more. Instead, he found them all shouldering their weapons and taking cover.

From somewhere down the ridge, Valero’s arc rifle cracked and spat a bolt of energy down into the mass of defenders. Lukas, still waiting for his own capacitors to recharge, scanned for likely targets. Though there would now be a sharp firefight, the outcome did not seem in doubt. The airfield, and at least one intact Sirocco, were as good as taken.

The FVDA, as its name implies, was initially formed as a garrison and defense force, and all reports suggest that it is rather late in developing offensive tactics to suit its personnel and equipment. Morioncruz, though it is a joint deployment with strong Marine support, has been something of a testbed for FVDA offensive doctrine.

Because of its lightweight standard equipment and frontier-raised troops, the FVDA seems to be focusing on small unit, rugged-terrain offensive operations, especially flanking and infiltration maneuvers through difficult terrain which Incarnation troops seem ill suited to defend. Such terrain has been common on most of the contested worlds along the Coreward Frontier, and perhaps counter-attacks of this nature on Margaux might have changed the result there.

[N.T.B. – Most likely, these small unit offensives have been with hand-picked veteran units. I doubt most FVDA outfits are capable of these tactics. Still, reports from Morioncruz suggest that the liberation of that world is imminent; the FVDA must be doing something right, even if it is just tying up enemy troops to keep them out of the way of the main Marine-led offensive drive.]