2949-06-01 – Tales from the Service: The Landsman Bulwark

Private Yudai Boyd saw the blinking indicators in his heads-up display only moments before touching down at the end of his final pre-calculated jump toward the Incarnaton fortress. Acting reflexively, without making any conscious decision, he engaged his suit rockets one more time, jetting laterally fifty meters just before a heavy pulse-beam cut into the icy vegetation of his initial landing point.

Though his short evasive rocket-jump had evaded the targeting optics of the slow-tracking fortress guns, it nearly planted all five hundred kilos of his armor-suit rig on the shoulders of a light F.D.A. fireteam trading fire with an Incarnation infantry patrol. He barely heard the chorus of cursing his suit’s microphones picked up; he was focused on the emplaced weapon which had very nearly boiled him inside his armored shell.

Leaving the infantry to their duel, he stomped forward under the cover of a dense copse of trees toward the ridgeline, hoping the fortress guns didn’t choose to simply scythe blindly across the hilltop. Most of the Marines had come down in defilade positions on the reverse slope, but he’d landed behind a cut in the ridge which gave some of the heavy guns a clear shot. The cut didn’t appear on the relied map in Yudai’s HUD, but even the greenest Marine knew better than to trust pre-battle intelligence data, and Yudai was far from green.

Crashing through the copse, Yudai deployed the pair of spotter drones attached to the back of his suit, watching their cameras as they flitted up through the frigid canopy into the open air. Even from the ridge several klicks away, the massive installation loomed large, its gleaming walls possessing an ageless, cyclopean quality that did its best to dispel the reality that the fortress hadn’t existed fourteen months earlier. Equal parts prison and garrison, the structure housed a massive population of transplanted Confederated civilians, their innumerable, pitiless guards, and a sizable military force.

The spotter automatons picked out the emplaced pulse-beam which had almost killed Yudai within seconds; its barrel of magnetic metalenses glowed fiercely for the drones’ infrared sensors. As he watched, another gun of the same type bloomed into fierce heat as it spat an invisible burst of coherent light toward another point on the ridge where another F.D.A. squad or Marine trooper tarried in the open long enough for the targeting systems to lock on.

“Boyd, Prentis, those beam turrets are yours.” Corporal Ori “Ice” Berg marked the two weapons on the tactical net, and indicators bracketed each. “Get them before the F.D.A. armor comes around the ridge.”

Yudai winced, remembering how lightly armored the “armor” assets assigned to the skirmisher force were. They were really little more than fast carryall trucks with one-centimeter armor-alloy plates bolted to their noses and sides – agile and easily capable of navigating the ad-hoc road network of Meraud’s ice-rivers, but not really prepared to withstand anything but small arms fire. He focused his spotter drones on the turret mount assigned to him, which he couldn’t help but notice was the same one which had nearly killed him. At four klicks away, the weapon was outside the range of most of his weapons, but he didn’t need to destroy his mark right away – all he needed to do was get its attention.

Yudai switched his suit’s integral rail-cannon to its highest muzzle velocity, lowest rate of fire setting. Attached to his right arm, the weapon probably didn’t have enough power to penetrate the armored gun-shield of the fortress turret, but it would make enough noise to tell the gunners where he was. Crashing through the last line of trees, he raised his arm, locked the suit joints, and opened fire, each projectile tearing through Meraud’s chill atmosphere with a thundering crack.

The targeting optics in Yudai’s helmet registered a few hits, but the turret was already swinging toward him, so he cut in his rockets to rush into the cover of a huge boulder covered in vine-like vegetation. The plants coiled and reached for the warmth of his suit, but he swatted them away idly, watching the turret come to rest pointing directly at him with his drones. The weapon couldn’t reach him behind cover, and it couldn’t turn to face a new threat without giving him a chance to move and attack once more.

“Ice, I’ve got mine tied down.” Yudai itched to destroy the weapon, but he knew better than to approach before the fortresses revealed its other weapons.

“Copy. Keep it that way.”

As Corporal Berg acknowledged Yudai’s update, he saw a group of new heat signatures rise from within the fortress’s outer wall, climbing quickly into the air. Yudai cursed; if he was pinned down by the turret, enemy close air support could pick him off only too easily.

Fortunately, the planners of Operation Landsman had accounted for this probability. With a rumbling sound, three sleek arrowheads sped overhead, cresting the ridge barely ten meters above the treetops. Marine Puma interceptors, as agile in atmosphere as in the vacuum of space, sliced through the cluster of climbing air-support craft, sending two tumbling back to the ground and scattering the rest.

Knowing he owed the pilots a drink, Yudai repositioned his spotters to keep an eye on the remaining aircraft as well as the turret. He still hoped to slag the offending pulsebeam, but to do it, he needed to get a good deal closer.

Operation Landsman resulted in the rescue of nearly two thousand civilians from the frozen hell of Meraud’s Incarnation labor camps. Confederated casualties were light – about thirty killed across all services and another fifty or so wounded. Most of the casualties were suffered by the Frontier Defense Army, but this service contributed most of the ground troops, so this should come as no surprise.

The fortress prison-camp itself was not penetrated during Operation Landsman – its static defenses are reported to be far too formidable for a light raiding force to threaten. As Private Boyd’s account indicates, the fast-moving Marines struggled to engage the defenses effectively, but the fortress in turn generally lacked the ability to threaten Marine troopers at range.

No doubt both the Confederated and Incarnation armed forces will learn much from this raid. For the thousands of civilians rescued and the many more still in bondage behind the fortress walls, Operation Landsman gives some hope that the horrors brought on by this conflict will soon be at an end.