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Into the Light Snippet #23

Aliens? Invading aliens? What will Earth do? Well...we may have a few more resources than we first thought. Come join a friendly discussion about David Weber's newest Tor series - "Out of the Dark."
Into the Light Snippet #23
Post by GraysonLady   » Tue Aug 25, 2020 7:20 am

GraysonLady
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Joined: Tue Aug 04, 2020 9:34 am

It wasn't actually all that violent an explosion, he realized later. In fact, it was no more powerful than the "flash-bangs" he'd used himself when he'd run the NC Justice Academy's Regional SWAT In-Service Training program before the invasion. It was, however, totally unexpected, and he lurched forward, going to his knees while red damage codes flickered at the corner of his visor's HUD.

The backpack sensors flashed an identifier in his visor. A mortar round?! What the hell were the defenders doing with a frigging mortar?!

"Mortar!" Corporal Niedermayer announced . . . rather unnecessarily in Palazzola's opinion.

"Where's it coming —?" Palazzola began, then winced as a second "mortar bomb" exploded. This one was only about three feet away, and it felt as if someone had just clubbed him across the back of the head.

More codes flashed on his visor. Someone in Project Heinlein armor would be effectively invulnerable to something as feeble as a legacy, pre-invasion mortar, but that didn't mean the armor itself was impervious to damage. Nothing short of a direct hit was likely to knock it out, but enough near misses could degrade its capabilities — especially its sensor capabilities — badly. Not to mention that even an armored Space Marine this close to a genuine 120-millimeter mortar bomb would be shaken up at least as badly as the flash bangs were managing to disorient Palazzola.

"Find the fucking thing!" Cunningham snarled while Palazzola tried to uncross his eyes and sort out his platoons' icons on the HUD. They showed him exactly where each of them was, but at the moment, they were a little harder to follow than usual.

Shouldn't have surprised us this way, a tiny corner of his brain reflected while the rest of it was still unscrambling synapses. Our sensors should've picked up anything the size of a frigging mortar, however hard Hilton tried to hide the damned thing!

Except that they hadn't looked for one. They'd been briefed to go after a group of lightly armed guerrilla fighters. No one had actually said anything about who those guerrilla fighters might be supposed to represent, although Palazzola had a few suspicions. But the briefing officer had been clear that they had reports only of legacy small arms, maybe a couple of squad light machine guns, but no heavy weapons. And a 120-millimeter mortar was about as heavy as an infantry unit's support weapons came! So where the hell —?

The third and fourth bombs began walking their way across the clearing, and what the hell was taking so long about back-plotting the incoming? Their sensors should make pinpointing the incoming fire's point of origin child's play! They'd all run through the processes without a hitch after the NET download sessions.

But they'd been in a quiet classroom at the time. And what had been easy enough in a classroom was a lot harder out in a wet, mucky clearing, surrounded by dense pine trees, while someone dropped those nasty, disorienting flash bangs on top of them. It was so hard to think, to sort through the implanted knowledge. It was like trying to scroll through a dropdown menu in a pickup truck racing down a potholed road.

Rounds five and six landed, and the status window at the bottom of Palazzola's HUD indicated a twelve percent loss of function on his simulated armor.

"Got it!" Corporal Justina Fredericks, one of Jeff Samuelson's wing leaders barked finally, and the mortar's coordinates and bearing appeared in yet another corner window on Palazzola's visor. It was on 3rd Platoon's side of the clearing.

"Watson, Briggs — flank left! Jeffers, you and Francotti take right!" he heard Samuelson snap, sending four of his five "wings" sweeping out to flank the mortar position. "Jake, you and Bourbeau on me!"

He headed straight down the middle with Staff Sergeant Jacob Tyson and the fifth wing.

"Timmons and Jolson, you hold what you've got," Palazzola ordered, detailing the pair of his own wings farthest from the mortar bearing. "The rest of you, reorient to support Third Platoon."

His people started moving — two or three of them considerably more slowly than they had when they first exited the helicopters as their own exoskeletons reacted to the theoretical damage their theoretical armor had sustained. They moved with something less than textbook precision, as well, which didn't surprise him one bit, but at least they were moving.

"Wish to hell they'd included some of those frigging drones they say they're working on!" Cunningham growled over their link.

"Or just bothered to tell us about the goddamned mortars!" Palazzola snarled back.

"Just slipped their minds, you think, Sir?" Cunningham said.

"Oh, sure it did! And if you believe that —"

"Shit!"

It sounded like Jeff Samuelson . . . because it was, responding to the sudden, blinding glare his visor had just blasted directly into his eyes to simulate the impact of an M72 LAW's four-pound shaped-charge rocket. His exoskeleton locked instantly, sending him crashing to the ground, and Palazzola swore viciously as he realized where the "rocket" had come from. Someone less than two hundred meters away on Samuelson's left — which would put him just inside the pine trees — had been waiting for the assault team to charge the mortar . . . and offer a perfect flanking shot. And he wasn't alone. Four more of the damned "rockets" came scorching in. Fortunately, they weren't very accurate against individual, moving human-sized targets at that sort of range, but they managed to take down Corporal Frank Barbeau, another of 3rd Platoon's Marines.

"Keep moving!" Staff Sergeant Tyson barked, but the speed of his own advance faltered as he and Kyle Boyd, Barbeau's wing, tried to link their "armor" systems now that each of them had lost his original partner.

It should have been almost instantaneous, Palazzola knew, but once again there was a minor difference between executing a simple function in a classroom and in the midst of howling chaos.

"Parker, you and Michaels cover left!" he ordered. "Try to find the bastards, but if you can't, at least keep them pinned down!"

"Roger," Corporal Parker acknowledged, and Palazzola finally heard return fire ripping back at someone. From his own HUD, he figured that Parker and his partner, Jadiel Michaels, were firing blind, but despite the mortar and despite the LAWs, he was damn sure there wasn't any Heinlein armor out there in the bushes. So they might just get lucky. They damned well deserved to get lucky about something, anyway!

"Got 'em!" Ollie Watson announced suddenly, and Palazzola's HUD was suddenly even more complicated as the tac window switched from a single icon indicating the mortar's predicted position to an entire cluster of icons, showing the mortar tube and its five-man crew.

Watson and his wing, Declan Buck, never stopped moving as they opened fire on their tormentors. At least part of the simulation worked perfectly, probably because it required no conscious input from the operators. The training lasers fitted to their M-16s synced with their visors, and precise aiming points flashed before them. They took down the mortar crew in a handful of seconds, and Palazzola allowed himself a deep breath of relief. Now, all they needed was —

"Oh, fuck," Cunningham groaned over the command link as the second mortar opened fire from the other end of the clearing. "What the hell else are they gonna do to us?!"

And why didn't you think to look in the other direction, too, rocket scientist? Palazzola asked himself harshly. If you had, then maybe

A crimson visor code flashed as Elliott Timmons took a direct hit from the third incoming "mortar round." Unlike Simpson and Barbeau, he was technically still alive, but the computer monitoring the exercise had decided to completely disable his armor. And a moment later, two more LAWS took down Declan Buck and Mariah Johnson. According to the computer umpire, Buck was still alive, although badly wounded. Johnson's exoskeleton locked as she became a fatal casualty.

That was five out of the two platoons' combined starting strength of twenty-four. Palazzola doubted that a twenty-one percent casualty ratio against legacy-armed opponents was going to look very good in the after-action analysis. And they weren't done yet.

"Found the bastards!" Ryan Murphy, Timmons partner, announced, and Palazzola heard more outgoing fire. His visor showed him everything, relaying the tactical feeds from each of his people currently engaging the enemy, which he suddenly discovered was not a good thing. There was simply too much data on too small a display. He needed to reduce it, switch back to a display which showed only the cursors of his own forces, but yet again, he had to stop, think his way through the command steps, and while he was doing that, Corey Lawson and Guillermo Jolson joined the incapacitated list.

At least the platoons' survivors managed to take down the second mortar and both of the remaining LAW ambush parties while he was trying to sort things out. Unfortunately, that accounted for less than half of Brian Hilton's op force, and neither Elinor Simpson nor Jackie Walsham were among them. That meant Palazzola's battered and chastened Marines had to go find them, too, and — knowing those two redoubtable ladies — the worst was yet to come.

For some reason, Aleandro Palazzola found that thought less than exhilarating.

"Christ, I am so not looking forward to hearing from the Old Man about this," he moaned to Cunningham over their private link as the single reorganized, oversized platoon he had left headed with exemplary caution into the pine woods.

"Gotta get better, Sir, right?" Palazzola looked at his habitually pessimistic platoon sergeant in disbelief, and Cunningham shrugged. "I mean, we're already so screwed our efficiency curve has to go up from here, doesn't it?"

"As in from 'total cluster fuck' to simply 'screwed the pooch,' you mean?"

"Exactly." Cunningham actually grinned, and Palazzola shook his head.

"You're always such a comfort to me, Ezra."

"What I'm here for, Sir. What I'm here for."
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