Operation Steel Valley pt 5.... The Night Shift by Rich
5:00 PM :
Under the guns of the mechs and GEVs, the Gurkhas advanced halfway across the parking lot and began laying out rolls of razor wire. Nobody thought that that would stop the monsters, but with any luck it would inflict some damage. If the demons followed their usual tactics, then they'd just run right into it; and that wire was sharp
. Others, with the help of Calvert's jump troopers, installed searchlights on the roof, along with some rotary mortars and "blasters". Evidently the mortars could depress their barrels for level fire, which technically made them "gun-mortars". The blasters, like the Ranger's PPCs (or Jaffa staff weapons), fired a "package" of charged particles, delivering a combination of heat, electricity, and kinetic energy. The Gurkha version of the weapon was less powerful than the mech-mounted variety, but had a higher rate of fire. The Gurkhas seemed to use them like U.S. forces used the M2 .50 caliber machine gun, and almost every hovercraft mounted at least one. The "grenadiers" had tripod mounted versions attached to each squad. They also had flamethrowers.
The hovertanks carried bigger blasters in their turrets, dual-mounted with something like the mech's autocannon. The Rangers classed their guns as 2s, 5s, 10s, and 20s, with the number roughly equal to the diameter of the bore, measured in centimeters. By that standard, the Gurkha guns would have been considered "4s" - too big for a light weapon, but not quite a medium. Several of the tanks also mounted heavy needlers or flamethrowers to deal with soft targets, and one platoon of four tanks had light mortars mounted on their back decks.
The next attack came at about 5:45. Shadows were lengthening across the lot. This charge was mostly the smaller demons. As expected, many of them were cut up by the wire. The Gurkha's needlers didn't have much effect but their heavier weapons did, in spite of the fact that they were shooting into the sun.
The mechs didn't really need to join in, but they did anyway; the attackers fell back after only a few minutes.
The sun had been down since 6:00.
The food court was the largest open area in the mall, so that became the temporary Operations center. The General had sent along some medical personnel, and these teamed up with the medics from the Rangers and Gurkhas and set up a field hospital in a home supply store. The only patient so far was Ludmilla; the other wounded from the mall had been sent back to RBR in GEVs, escorted by some of the "reserve" mechs. Ludmilla was apparently doing well - the Clans hadn't just bred for size, they'd also bred for resilience. Ludmilla could heal a lot faster than most people, although the process required a lot of nutrients and threw her into a fever-like state due to the acceleration of her metabolism. If she made it through the night, she'd probably be conscious by morning. Big Lud became a one-man security force for the "hospital", since everyone knew that he wasn't going anywhere else anyway.
MacKenzie's people had found the controls for the lights in the parking lot, so when the demons attacked again at 6:30 they were clearly visible. They didn't seem to realize this - they snuck around the edges of the lot, behaving as if they were hidden, and never noticed that they could be easily seen. When they charged, they were cut down as easily as before.
They tried again at 7:00. This time Crook led the light wing around the mall and came in on the demons flank, then just slaughtered them at close range. The same thing happened again at 7:45. The monsters made no attempt to modify their tactics. It was beginning to look as if demons just weren't very bright.
Now that the Regiment's support elements were up, there was no danger of running out of ammo. MacKenzie had "requisitioned" some garden hoses from the home supply store, and hooked them up to the mall's sprinkler system. If a mech showed signs of overheating, it would fall out of the line and the techs would turn the hoses on it until it cooled down.
There had been another attack at 8:40. This time, the demons had sent a force to intercept the light mechs as they came around the mall, and the lights had pulled back. When the demons pursued, they walked into an ambush set by the hovertanks, and the reserve mechs. As usual, most of the demons refused to retreat; and as usual, they died.
At about 9:00, everyone had noticed that in all their attacks, the demons had come only from the west; not once had they come across the road from the south. The Colonel sent a group of mediums across the road, who cut behind a Dairy Queen before turning west, eventually coming back to the road in a used car lot. This put them on the demon's southern flank. They poured in fire for about two minutes, then advanced onto the road and began withdrawing to the east.
When the demons tried to follow, the mechs in the mall parking lot hit them from the northern flank. This lasted for about five minutes before the surviving demons pulled back again.
While this was going on the Gurkhas laid more wire. The engineers dug a shallow ditch behind it, and laid landmines in the bottom; and some claymores behind the ditch.
The next charge came at 9:30. This time almost nobody had to shoot at all - between the wire, the mines, and the claymores, almost none of the demons got close enough to be worth shooting at.
They'd stopped trying to estimate the number of kills. It seemed pointless, since there were always more.
The next attack came at 10:47. This one didn't even get to the wire.
There hadn't been an attack on the lot for over an hour. A team of Gurkhas had gone through the mall and collected the
bodies. Two of the drained bodies had apparently been turned; one was dusted by the Gurkha's kukris. The second had broken free and run for the nearest shelter - the hospital. Big Lud had clubbed the fledgling down, then stomped and kicked until most of it's major bones were broken. As they had learned in the basement, there is some damage so severe that even vampire healing just can't cope with it. One of the havildars put the vamp out of everyone's misery.
At the moment, the biggest limiting factor for the Regiment wasn't ammunition or heat; it was the pilots themselves. Sustained operatios were nothing new for the Rangers, but they had pulled out of RBR more than twelve hours ago, and had been fighting for about nine. The mechs wouldn't wear out, but eventually the people would. The Colonel had allowed them to "stand down" in shifts, so that they could nap, change clothes, or eat.
The food court was up and running. Sergeant Klinger and Randy had fired up the oven in the pizza place; Sergeant Jefferson had recruited some of the Gurkhas for the sub shop, and a couple of Calvert's troopers were frying rice in the Happy Wok. Starbucks was going through coffee at a rate that would have overjoyed the owners, if anyone had actually paid for any of it. Everyone agreed the food probably would have gone to waste anyway. Things were being thrown together in combinations that no chef had ever intended, but everyone seemed to be enjoying the results.
Hannah and Crook sat together at one of the tables. Hannah was going over the footage from what everyone was calling "Fetterman's duel". Something about that had disturbed Hannah the first time she'd seen it, but she still hadn't figured out what. She watched it again; a vast body, moving ponderously across the lot on a multitude of long, spindly legs. She smiled, and Crook thought, "Aha !! Somebody's in trouble !"
Three of the big fire demons attacked at 12:40. As before, they came slowly, dripping fire and crushing any smaller creatures who couldn't get out of the way. As before, they screeched as they came.
There were large, longlegged creatures on earth - horses and giraffes, to name two. But truly massive land animals, like elephants and hippopotami, tended to have thick, massively muscled limbs. It had been the same on every world that Hannah Miles had ever seen, and she'd seen a lot
Whatever universe these things came from had to have a much lower gravity than earth. The many thin legs were already under more strain than they had evolved to handle. They were difficult to hit; but when they were hit, they snapped like twigs. The huge creatures went down. They tried to pull themselves forward, but while they were pulling the other demons were swarming them, tearing and ripping. The titanic demons fought back fiercely, lashing out in all directions. It took fifteen minutes for them to die, and most of the rest of the attack died with them. A short volley of blaster fire finished the survivors.
At 1:45, they'd run the "cross the road, sneak behind the Dairy Queen and attack from the south" trick again. This time, when most of the mechs feigned a retreat, a few just faded back away from the road, then came back behind
the demons. It worked like a charm.
At 2:27, the demons had launched their strongest attack yet. this one included a pack of the "snake/millipede/chameleon" demons, and it got within 200 yards. The Colonel ordered a missile barrage and that pretty much settled things.
Major Sanchez and Commander Rana were in the food court. Sanchez had watched most of the fighting from the roof, then stopped by the adhoc hospital to check on Ludmilla. Now she was eating pizza, and Commander Rana was trying to decide whether a turkey sub was allowed under the dietary restrictions of her religion. Eventually she settled on a vegetarian one, although she didn't recognize some of the vegetables.
Sanchez said, "This all reminds me of the European wars of Imperialism in the nineteenth century. The Europeans had firearms, and their enemies didn't, or if they did they weren't as good. As long as their ammunition held out, the Europeans won almost every battle, unless they were overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers. Of course, maybe that didn't happen in your universe ?", she asked.
"Oh, it happened, " replied the Commander, "But it wasn't always Europeans
doing the conquering."
She paused for a while, then continued. "From what I've been able to gather, in this timeline India was occupied by the British, correct ? And my people were recruited to fight for them ?"
"Yes," answered Major Sanchez. "At first, it was a group of merchants called ... 'The East India Company', I think. But eventually, the British Crown took over."
"Something like that happened in my universe as well," said the Commander."But when the British merchants arrived, they found that a coalition of Chinese
merchants had beaten them to it... by about three centuries."
"The subcontinent was never really conquered - but eventually it became part of a Federation that also included China and Japan. China dominated at first, of course. The Europeans still built their empires in Africa and the western hemisphere, but most of Asia managed to stay out of the whole business. It was actually a Japanese
trading company that formed the first Gorkha regiments, and used them to fight against the Russians. The Tsar's advance to Siberia had been blocked, so he tried to advance southward instead. That was a big
"Gurkha troops with Japanese officers ?", asked Sanchez, "Certainly not a fight that I'd
want to pick".
There had been two more attacks, and neither one had been any more successful than any of the previous ones. Nobody was even bothering to count them any more. The last attack had been the weakest they'd seen so far. There had been only a few hundred demons, and they'd gone down just as easily as all of the others.
The Colonel had heard that some people thought that the demons had a strategy. If so, it hadn't displayed itself in their tactics. The Regiment had been fighting all night, and the enemy hadn't tried to outflank, or encircle, or cut them off. It still hadn't tried sending any of it's forces across the damn road !!
. The mediums that had crossed hours ago were still there, firing into every concentration the demons put together, and the demons hadn't even tried to drive them out. Their only tactic was what Crook had called "roar and charge", and they really didn't do that one very well.
Ian Youngblood had read Sun Tzu at the Academy, and had wondered what all the fuss was about. The old scholar had written about the need for planning, preparation, and accurate information. He'd spoken of the usefullness of deception. Was there anyone who didn't
already know these things ?
He was later to learn that there were; he'd worked for several of them, and defeated others.
From ancient times, armies that had good supplies and good leadership had shown that they could fight for a very long time - and from ancient times, their enemies had tried to separate them from their supplies and their leadership. That was the goal of mobile warfare, and the purpose of the fabled "blitzkrieg"; find a gap, or make one, and drive deep to cut off the enemy from what he needed to fight. Guerilla warfare had the same goal, although the methods and targets were different.
What did the demons need ? How could an enemy like that be cut off ? That
was what they needed to know. Answer that question and they could win this war.
The sun would be up soon, and they'd see what the day would bring.
Ludmilla was awake. She and Ludwig were singing again, and Major Sanchez could hear it echoing through the mall:"Cause you can’t starve us out and you can’t make us run
Cuz we're them old boys raised on shotgun
And we say grace and we say Ma’am
And if you ain’t into that we don’t give a damn
We’re from North California and south Alabam
And little towns all around this land
And we can skin a buck; we can run a trot-line
And a country boy can survive
Country folks can survive
Country folks can surviiiiiive !!" *
She thought that one was pretty good.
* "Country Boy Can Survive " is by Hank Williams Jr.
...and I'm not entirely sure what a "trot-line" is...