Operation Steel Valley....part 2..The Approach by Rich
A/N : This is basically done... although I might "tweak" it some more.Walking in the Country....zigzagging west
Like most of the pilots, Sonya had followed Crook's example and was travelling with her hatch up. Normally, when approaching congested terrain, mechs traveled buttoned up, to avoid snipers. It was a harsh reality that a single bullet in the right place could neutralize a multimillion credit machine - by neutralizing the pilot. It was one of the first rules taught in training, and right now half the Regiment was breaking it.
But they weren't expecting snipers, and probably no ambushes either, at least not yet. Checking out the industrial park wouldn't have been necessary if it didn't lie within a few miles of the base. Since it did, the Colonel had decided to kill two birds with one stone; from here on they'd proceed less cautiously. Speed wasn't a factor. She had to keep her speed down anyway, or she'd get too far ahead of the others.
She'd deployed her mechs more widely than usual; but Captain Forsyth's Pumas stayed close, so she wasn't worried. She'd never really noticed, but Crook and Forsyth had worked out a system over the years. On raids, Forsyth took command, and on recon, Crook did; and it seemed to work automatically. Evidently he was doing the same thing now; letting her take the lead and adjusting his mechs to hers. She didn't know Forsyth as well as she knew Crook. She'd have to work on that.
When she veered to avoid a subdivision, her mechs adjusted their headings accordingly. Nobody needed to say anything.
Karma was a bitch. For years, his policy had been: 'don't report anything until you have something to report'. And for years, Hannah had given him hell over it. It was a kind of private game; he enjoyed teasing her, and she enjoyed getting mad about it. The Colonel usually just watched in amusement. So it was only fair that now, Sonya was doing the same thing to him.
she hadn't found anything yet; he wasn't expecting her to. He just wanted her to tell
him about it.
He could see her lance up ahead, shifting direction to avoid a subdivision. He also saw the man come out of the house with the shotgun.
She knew exactly when the man stepped out of the house. Her sensors had picked up his heat signature from two hundred yards away, and motion sensors detected the opening of the door. She had him targeted before he'd taken two steps, and she knew her lancemates probably did too. So she felt fairly safe when she turned to him and said "Good day, sir. How can I help you?"
He seemed surprised that she could talk. After a moment he said, "You're one of those mech people, aren't you ? I saw you on TV. What are you doing here ?"
"We're just passing through," she replied, " and after we have, you should probably think about leaving. There's a base at the middle school. You should check in with them, and they'll help get you to safety."
"Young lady," he answered, "I've spent eight years working on that garden," he pointed into the back yard, and really it was a nice garden, "and I'm not going to just leave it to rot. I'll stick it out here."
Sonya wanted to climb down and shake some sense into him, but she didn't have time and doubted it would do any good. Instead she said "Well then, good luck to you. I'll tell my friends not to trample your garden." then she moved on.
As she moved away she heard him say "You take care now, miss Tyler".
Major Fetterman's POV:
He laughed when Crook relayed the message about the old man's garden. He wasn't surprised; his grandmother had been a gardener and he knew how fanatical she
He wasn't too concerned about the mission so far. The deployment was good, everyone was maintaining their spacing, and Captain Zhukov was keeping on schedule and on line. Not that he hadn't expected that. He didn't know if Captain Crook had really grasped the fact that Zhukov had been running the recon lance for a while now; Crook had built the lance and made the decisions, but it was really Zhukov who got things done. The Colonel had been thinking about promoting her since their last campaign, and it was time for Crook to move up as well. Running solo missions was fun and he was damn good at it, but it was really a waste of his talent.
Major Sanchez's POV:
She was riding with Lieutenant Calvert in one of the six-wheelers, part of a small column of vehicles, surrounded by the Assault mechs of The Colonel's column. The engineers they'd brought along were riding with Major Fetterman, a large man who seemed a bit slow, although Major Hailey had told her not to trust that impression.
She'd always been good at multitasking, but that talent was being pushed to the limit now. Besides keeping track of the action (so far there hadn't been much of that), she also had to sort out the equipment she'd been given, while simultaneously absorbing as much information as possible.
Calvert had scrounged a light armored vest in desert camouflage which was roughly her size, and which had various pieces of gear attached. She only recognized about half the items in the first aid kit, so she hoped she wouldn't need it - which was actually a good idea in principle. The communicator was surprisingly simple, on the theory that if you really needed it you didn't have time to figure out which button to push. There were only two: an on-off and a "talk". There was a way to switch frequencies but she'd figure that out later. She had no clue about most of the other items, but one of them might have been a packet of food pellets...or maybe mini-grenades.
Commander Rana had given her a needler, which seemed to operate like the weapons she was used to; pull the bolt, point the weapon, and squeeze the trigger. She had three drum magazines, each of which held three hundred flechettes - enough for about twelve seconds of sustained fire. Luckily there was a burst selection mode or she could run dry in less than a minute.
Driving down the Fairway......Southwest
He saw the recon lance bypass another subdivision without incident, then come to a treeline. The map said there was a large open area on the other side, running more or less southwest. They stopped to allow the following units to catch up. From all reports, things could start getting tense pretty soon, and they needed to tighten up the formation. Sonya wouldn't enter the open area until he was in position with the mediums.
In the inner sphere, mining was big business.
Every planet had some sort of mineral deposits, and all of them could be used for something. The technology had been perfected centuries ago. The difficulties weren't technical; they were economic, as perhaps they had always been.
In some cases, extracting the minerals was too expensive to be worthwhile. In others, extraction was easy but shipping costs were prohibitive. Sometimes there just wasn't a market, or the market was glutted, or it was controlled by someone else who could do the job faster and cheaper. So even today, people could make a living by searching for that one perfect strike, in the perfect place. Wanda Horsebreaker had been one of those people.
She'd found a rather barren planet near the edge of Davion space and scanned it from orbit. It was livable; the gravity was a little heavy and the planet's two moons had left the atmosphere a bit thinner than most people liked; but the scans were promising. So she'd landed to check it out. It took her two hours to realize she'd struck gold - or more accurately, transuranics, and a lot of them. Those were always
in demand; everybody needed them, and everybody wanted more. She needed to register the planet, and for that she needed a name. The terrain reminded her of places she'd seen on vids as a child. So she flipped a coin. If it had come up heads, the planet would have become "Monument Valley"; but it came up tails, and that was how "New Moab" got it's name. At least, that was the story.
The planet had towering buttes, gaping chasms, meandering canyons, majestic mesas, a wide variety of very
hardy fauna and flora, and gorgeous vistas everywhere you looked. It also had over two million square miles of reddish rock and pale sand. The Rocks gave the Regiment it's name, and the sand inspired it's preferred uniform.
What the planet didn't have was grass. So Sonya's reaction wasn't totally surprising.
She was stunned. She was gazing out over several acres of the brightest, greenest
, most perfectly manicured lawn she'd ever seen. There were patches of sand here and there, and she saw some poles with flags on them, which seemed to serve no practical purpose. The whole place looked like a giant waste of space. She'd seen the map but had no idea what the words meant. But then, she'd never played golf.
Captain Crook had insisted that she hold position until he had the mediums in place, which took a couple of minutes. Then she started down the length of the course. She and Terry took the left side, and she sent her second element down the right. They'd stop when they got to the other end, and Crook would move up. Fetterman's column would follow close behind. They were about halfway there when sensors picked up movement in the trees on the right side.
The things that burst from the trees could have been hyenas if hyenas stood eight feet at the shoulder. The came on fast and loud; the sound was more of a shriek than anything else. They never had a chance. Sonya burned them down easily. apparently these weren't the "unkillable" kind of demon.
There were about twenty in the first pack, and twice that in the second. By the time the third pack hit, the entire light wing was up and firing. As the Colonel had ordered, they stuck to energy weapons in order to conserve ammunition. In three or four minutes, they killed hundreds of the things - then the monsters stopped coming. Either they were all dead or they'd gotten smart, and Sonya wouldn't bet on "smart". That didn't seem to be a common trait among the creatures they'd faced so far.
The lawn wasn't green anymore - it wasn't even a lawn. The grass was burned, the ground was plowed up, and hundreds of dead hyena-things were apparently turning to ..goo ? Sonya had been to busy to notice that in their previous fight. She thought whoever maintained this place might have some complaints about all this. She was glad that they wouldn't be complaining to her.
Major Sanchez's POV:
Major Sanchez was scanning the notes which Hailey had given her, which contained pictures and specs for the different mechs in the regiment. She already knew about Pumas and Osirises, and thought she could recognize the "Cats" on sight, and maybe the "Bushwhackers". She knew that the Colonel piloted a "Hauptmann", and Major Fetterman a "Fafnir". Looking around she saw an "Atlas", a "Daishi", a "Deimos", and a "Defiant". There were mechs that looked like a bigger version of the "Cats"; apparently those were "Mad Cat IIs"; which meant that the designers had scaled down at some point. There was a tall ungainly looking machine, called a "Rifleman". She'd also seen at least two different versions of "Marauder", which was easy to recognize, because it looked like a cross between a praying mantis and some kind of crustacean (a 100 ton crustacean).
She was struck by the fact that the Rangers had a wide variety of Heavies and Assaults, but only two types of lights. She'd have to ask about that at some point. She also knew that different mechs of the same type often carried different weapons, and she'd ask about that too. One thing she could tell just by looking was that the larger mechs didn't just carry more weapons; they carried much bigger ones. If the stories she'd been hearing about the Hellmouth were right, that fact could become very
From up ahead, she heard nails-on-a-blackboard screeching, which was drowned out by what could only be weapons fire. She stuffed her notes in a pocket, then checked her weapon; because that was what everyone else seemed to be doing. it sounded like the lights had made contact with something.
The first engagement, if you could call it that, was over before the column could get involved. It was a sign of things to come, though. He knew they'd have to close up the distances from here on. Once they cleared the "Golf Course", they'd move west until they hit a railroad. He'd heard that this area was called "Steel Valley" because of the large number of steel mills in the area; apparently that wasn't as big an industry as it had once been, so he didn't know if the mills were still operating. But he guessed that the railroad might have been put in to carry ore to the mills.
Strolling through the suburbs....west
Once past the golf course, things started to get crowded. The light wing was moving as a unit now, with her lance still in front, Forsyth's Pumas close behind, and the mediums close behind them. From the air, it should have looked like a "column of lines", but she knew it wouldn't. This was a residential area, and the houses were built closer together than the areas they'd crossed earlier. They were smaller, and looked older. In places, the mechs had no choice except to use the roads. and that distorted the formation. Fortunately there was no traffic; either this area had already cleared out or everybody was hiding. But the mechs were close enough for mutual support, and wide enough to scan ahead over a broad front, so it worked all right. As she'd heard Randy say, "close enough for country music".
Her sensors were bothering her. Several systems were showing some kind of "shadow", which disappeared when she checked more closely. She reported it to Crook; neither of them had an explanation, but he told her to proceed cautiously.
Sonya hit the railroad and deployed along it, scanning the other side; taking an overwatch position. They'd hold there until Fetterman came up, and the Colonel's column was in sight behind him. Just as he was wondering where the demons were, something like an eighty foot snake shot out of an alley on the left. It had fangs like swords in both jaws and could easily have brought down an elephant. It reared up, then struck at one of the Bushwhackers.
Elephants don't weigh fifty-five tons, and they don't wear armor. The impact knocked the mech back on it's heels but that was all. Then the pilot hit the thing with a burst of armor piercing shells from his autocannon and blew it's head apart. That was overkill - two shells from that weapon would have been more than enough.
"Sorry, Captain," the pilot radioed, "reflexes."
"Understood," replied Crook, "but next time, use your laser". He changed frequency and ordered the wing to travel buttoned up from now on, and to watch their sensors. The sightseeing was over. They were now officially at work.
There were a lot
more of them in the next block. They weren't hard to kill, but were almost impossible to sense until they struck. That could be a problem; then Sonya radioed back: "watch the shadows !
." That was all they needed.
Major Sanchez's POV:
Calvert's people were very interested in the rapidly-dissolving Hyena-things. Apparently they hadn't really been involved in the fighting on the road and hadn't gotten a good look at a demon before. She had, of course. She'd have to talk to the Colonel about that; he deserved to know who he was working with. She heard the sound of firing up ahead, but it didn't last long. Evidently the problem had been dealt with.
They'd had another contact. The WTFs had been killed easily enough, but should never have gotten that close to begin with. If they started running into demons who could mask themselves from sensors, the job could get a lot more dangerous. Luckily, and it wasn't really luck, Captain Zhukov had figured it out; they weren't just big snakes, they were snake/millipedes; they could strike and charge simultaneously, giving them eye-blurring speed. They were also chameleons. Their skin changed color, absorbed radar, muffled sound, and conducted excess body heat into the ground. What Zhukov had spotted was that they couldn't hide their own shadows. Once you knew what to look for the problem wasn't hard to solve. Fetterman wondered what they hunted in their native dimension. Obviously they were ambush predators. What kind of prey was so dangerous that something like this would need
to hide from it ?
They'd follow the railroad south for a while, then deploy the two columns on each side of what looked like a major roadway, heading roughly west. The real search would begin there.
Movin' on down the line....south
Sonya saw Major Fetterman's column come up from behind, and could see the front lance of the Colonel's column a short distance behind him. She started down the railroad line; or more accurately, down the roadbed. The line itself was narrow, but the cleared area around it was wide enough for four mechs to travel abreast, two on each side. They'd counted on that when they laid out the route.
The area on the other side of the railroad was even more built up than the section they'd just traversed. On the map, and the aerial photographs she'd seen, it looked like it would thin out as they neared the objective. She hoped so, because fighting in such cramped areas could get very tricky. Plus there were some very strange creatures in those streets.
The mediums were close behind her, and Fetterman's column was entering the roadbed behind them. She couldn't see the Colonel's column but knew he wouldn't be more than a few hundred yards behind Fetterman. They had another mile to go before they hit the turnoff point. At the intersection, they'd deploy on each side of the road and head west.
As they moved south down the rails, Crook scanned the streets of the neighborhood to the west. His uncle had been a commercial diver; as a teenager, R.T. had spent his vacations helping him out on the boat. He'd been fascinated by the lifeforms under the sea: Corals, starfish, shrimp, and things like big hollow worms covered with tentacles.
It was a bit disconcerting to see things like that overrunning a residential suburb in Ohio. How could they even breathe ?
Half a mile from the intersection, they had another contact. This was one they'd expected. A pair of dragons were closing on the column from the northwest, headed for the Colonel's column.
She'd noticed (and you couldn't really miss it) that mechs didn't have turrets. Some carried missile launchers on their shoulders, and the "Marauders" had cannons or "PPCs" on their sloping backs. Most mechs, however, had their weapons either in their torsos of their forearms. Calvert said that that gave them a wide range of lateral movement, but the heavy "musculature" needed to support large weapons and absorb heavy recoil made it difficult to elevate the weapons above 45 degrees (although the "Deimos" could manage about 60).
The "Rifleman", however, had it's main weapons attached directly at the shoulder joint, which gave them a limited range of motion in the horizontal plane, but a range of over 180 degrees in the vertical one. They could fire straight down, straight up, or even behind
themselves. Throw in advanced sensors and aiming systems, and you had the perfect anti-aircraft system.
They were used to shoot down strike aircraft, which in the inner sphere (as on earth) could travel at several hundred miles an hour. The dragons were doing about eighty... tops.
The engagement was over in maybe thirty seconds.
The road was up ahead. The map showed a lot of commercial development, which meant there'd be parking lots - they'd have room to deploy but things could get tight. Somewhere down that road, they expected to find the reservists. Of course, they hadn't heard from them for a couple of hours, so the "recovery" might turn out to be "revenge". They had no way to know, and no way to find out except to look.
Headin' on up the road....west
He'd talked it over with Sonya and Bob Forsyth, and they'd both agreed to split their lances to cover the intersection, and then to cover the Regiment's six during the advance. The last thing they needed was for the monsters to come in behind them and hit them from the rear. The rest of the light wing would continue to act as a screen for the columns.
Major Sanchez felt a little like a fifth wheel (in this vehicle, perhaps a seventh). She had a respectable amount of combat experience - more than a lot of men, and against a wider variety of opponents. But in a battle like the one coming, all she could do was stick with Calvert and his team, and hope to be useful.
The large troopers, who seemed to be called "The Luds" by their squadmates, had "Heavy Jump Armor"; about half the others had "Light Jump Armor"; Calvert and the rest had "Sneak Suits" with jump packs. She'd been told that the engineers with Fetterman's column had "Light Battle Armor" which weighed about 1500 pounds (God only knew what the "Heavy" stuff weighed). She had a vest with miscellaneous stuff hanging of it. She felt a little
underdressed. Her needler was lethal but maybe not lethal enough.
Calvert also had some built in communications gear, and right now he was using it.
The lights had reached the intersection. Captain Zhukov left her second section, and their accompanying Pumas, to keep watch from the railroad while she moved down onto the four lane road they'd be travelling. Captain Crook followed her, dropping off a couple of MadCat IIIs to join the overwatch element. That hadn't been in the plan but it made sense - the detached mechs could trail and cover the Regiments back while the rest of the force advanced. He supposed the light commanders had worked it out among themselves, and he approved. He continued past the intersection, then deployed his column on the left side of the road, facing west. About a minute later, the Colonel's column came up, and he deployed on the right side.
They began to move, spread out four abreast on each side where the terrain permitted it - which so far it did. About two miles down, Fetterman could see a large "shopping mall" on the right. In the parking lot, he could see thousands of demons, and at least a hundred different kinds, rampaging around and ripping up parked cars. He was pretty sure that they'd found their lost reservists. He'd been afraid it might take a lot longer.
All they had to do now was get them out.
Back at Rally Base Refuge:
Sergeant Max Klinger (the third), formerly of the Ohio National Guard and now of whoever-the-hell-these-people-were, had been asked by Lieutenant Miles to monitor communications. Specifically, he was to listen for any messages from Lieutenant Calvert. Evidently someone called Captain Crook was a bit lax about reporting, so Miles had asked Calvert to keep her posted.
"Lieutenant Miles," he said, "it sounds like they've found them."
I did some research, and the Youngstown-Warren area seems to have about twenty shopping centers, dozens of Golf courses, and it has (or used to have) dozens of steel mills, and lots of railroads. I have no idea how many of the mills are still operating, or exactly where the railroads are.
So I figure that the geography described here may not exist, but it could
and that's good enough, and as much as I can hope for without actually checking out the area personally. Just keep reminding yourself it's only a story...
An exercise in self-review (insert appropriate joke here)
This chapter was a bear to write, and I'm still not sure about it.
I got the people where they needed to be. I got in some info about mechs, and how they might actually work
in the field. and I really
liked the snake/millipede/chameleon demon.
Lots of backstory, and random incidents. I like writing those, and I like reading them. But others may not agree, and they do slow down the action.
The bad :
1. I think it drags in places.
2. I think it's a bit confusing.
3. I think it's long.
I tried to fix #1 and #2, and hopefully had some success. But everything I did seemed to make the thing longer
, so I figured it was time to just go with what I had.
So, if you have time and are so inclined, please let me know what you think. You can even review my review, if you like.