Operation Steel Valley II...pt.1 Preparations by Rich
Calvert's POV : "No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy..."
...And this one might not last even that long. Calvert and Sakai had joined efforts. Calvert was running his monocycle probes further and further up the road, and now they were being backed up by Captain Zhukov's recon mechs. They were inflicting damage and drawing the demons out of position, but more importantly they were clearing the way for Sakai's observation teams, who were infiltrating forward one block or building at a time. When the Regiment moved, they'd know pretty exactly where all of the demons were; well, most of them anyway. With any luck, they'd take them out so fast that they'd be halfway to route 11 before the monsters even knew they were there.
Calvert's drones were over route 11 now, and he had good sensor readings of the whole area. there were a lot
of demons up there, and even more on the other side. Altogether, there were probably more than they'd faced last night. The good news was that the area close to the road was mostly open and the light was good. As long as they could keep firing, and manage their heat, they should be able to cope with the numbers. MacKenzie was already adding extra heat sinks to those mechs which could take them, and that would help a bit with the heating problem.
Unfortunately, demons weren't the only things on route 11.
Hannah Miles had gone to talk to MacKenzie, and Major Sanchez and Commander Rana had both tagged along; both were interested in seeing the "Mobile Field Base" in action.
What Major Sanchez saw was something like a three or four story building, with no windows and huge gates on both front and back. What she saw on the monitor, however, was the interior of the unit - basically a huge empty space, lined with an enormous number and variety of robotic machines. The machines were working on a Puma; apparently Captain Forsyth's. He wanted to swap out his autocannon for large pulse lasers, and add some heat sinks. The whole process was preprogrammed - all MacKenzie had to do was monitor it, and shut it down if something went wrong.
Evidently the unit was transported on three trucks, and you needed a lot of flat space to set one up. There hadn't been room in the compound back at the school. Here, MacKenzie had just staked his claim to a large section of parking lot.
The machines removed some armor from the arms of Forsyth's mech, exposing the inner structure; artificial "muscles' sheathing artificial "bone". They disconnected the weapons at the end of the arms and moved them aside, then moved up the arms and removed the ammunition containers; these were armored themselves, to contain any accidental explosions (this was called "Case" for some reason). Having cleared the space, they attached the pulse lasers and a couple of heat sinks, which apparently were more like heat pumps, then reattached the armor. The "gates" opened, and the Puma strode out. A Bushwhacker on the other side walked in, the gates closed, and the machines went back to work. The whole process took only a few minutes.
"Depending on the job," said MacKenzie, "we can modify ten to fifteen mechs an hour, although most jobs take a lot longer. Older mechs take more time, of course; a lot of them were designed around a specific set of weapons, and you have to practically take the mech apart to get them out. But the Puma was originally a Clan design -what they call an "omnimech". Those were built to be modular from the beginning; the designers expected people to configure them for particular missions, so they made it easy."
He continued, "We won't be able to finish the changes before the Regiment moves out, but we should be able to make a good start. It's all tradeoffs, of course."
Lieutenant Miles had already explained that part. The mech's skeleton could be made of different materials - either standard steel (which wasn't exactly steel), or "endosteel" which was lighter and stronger - but took up more space, reducing the space available for weapons or armor. The armor could also be of different types; some was optimised to resist impact, some was designed to reflect laser fire, some could do both but weighed and cost more than either of the first two. Ballistic weapons ran cool but needed a lot of ammunition, and you had to carry that somewhere; energy weapons didn't need ammo but you needed heat sinks to keep the temperature down. The space you used for weapons couldn't be used for sensors, and vice versa. And everything
it seemed, increased the weight, and anything that added to weight reduced speed (except for a bigger engine, but that
reduced the space for everything else). You could do a lot of different things; you just couldn't do all of them at once, and whatever you did could prevent you from doing something else. As MacKenzie had said - everything was a tradeoff.
They'd heard about the damage done at the junction of route 11 and I-80, and about it's effects; hundreds, maybe thousands, of cars backed up, with no way to go forward or back. They'd seen video taken from the few drones that the HSC had managed to get into the area. There were cars torn apart, cars burned out, cars standing with the doors open, and cars pushed or driven off the road. They'd also seen footage of people abandoning their vehicles and trudging away on foot. Some had trudged west, and Calvert didn't want to think too long about that.
That footage was visual, however; it didn't scan for heat sources. Calvert's drones did, and what they showed changed everything. It looked like a lot of those cars were still occupied. God only knew how, but some people had stayed with their cars without getting caught by the demons. Possibly it was the "confusion" factor at work; maybe some of the demons didn't realize that the vehicles had even contained people in the first place. There were individuals, couples, and family groups, hiding amidst the miles-long traffic jam. In some places, they'd even banded together - Calvert could see two, three, or more vehicles, parked side by side or nose-to-tail, with small groups of people lying low in or around them.
About a mile south of where the Rangers planned to hit, someone had even set up something like a "laager". There were between fifty and a hundred vehicles in this, drawn up in a circle two vehicles wide. It looked like some of the people had been equipped for camping - Calvert could see tents inside the circle, and what he assumed were cookfires. A handful of men were patrolling, carrying weapons. He couldn't imagine how they'd avoided detection, because they weren't making any effort to conceal their presence. They seemed to be daring
the demons to attack.
As the three officers walked back to the food court, Lieutenant Miles said, "I was thinking, Commander; our last contract involved equipping and training a "Presidential Guard Unit", and I think we still have some equipment in inventory. I'd have to check, but I believe we have close to two hundred pulse laser rifles. You have what - four companies, with about twenty squads in each ?"
"Yes," replied the commander. "Are these weapons difficult to use ? Because we don't have a lot of time to learn how to operate them."
"No," answered the Lieutenant, "They're pretty much point and shoot line of sight weapons. If you can use a submachine gun, you can use these. I could have Major Stirling's people brief your NCOs if you like. They won't become experts in ten minutes, of course, but they should be able to pick up the basics. The weapons are battery powered, so we'd have to get you some charging units to go with them. And you'd still have your needlers to fall back on."
She continued, "Major, I'd like to offer you one as well."
"Thank you, " Sanchez replied, "I'm hoping I won't need it; but it's better to have a weapon you don't need than to need one you don't have."
They walked a bit farther, and the Commander spoke up. "I was wondering, Lieutenant, whether you're a mechpilot yourself ?"
Lieutenant Miles laughed. "A mechdriver
maybe. I can take one around the practice course, and usually hit what I aim at on the target range. But there's a big difference between practicing on the range and doing it under fire, and making tactical decisions at the same time. It's the difference between kata and combat." Both of the other women understood the reference; at one time or another, all of them had trained in martial arts ('and isn't that
interesting ?', thought Sanchez).
Lieutenant Miles continued, "There's a certain amount of natural talent involved; maybe a combination - reflexes, coordination, situational awareness. The Clans certainly think so; they selectively breed their mechwarriors just like do everyone else. I don't think I could ever be as good as R.T. or Bob Forsyth, let alone someone like Sonya Zhukov or Major Fetterman, or the Colonel."
Commander Rana responded, "I noticed last night that the Major seemed to be extremely skilled."
"One of the best," answered Miles, "He took second place in the arena on Solaris, two years in a row."
Sanchez asked, "Is the Colonel that good as well ?"
"Who do you think took first
?" answered the Lieutenant.
He sent the drone over the improvised encampment. He could see a group of demons approaching it from the west. Evidently the "sentries" had seen it as well. One of them pointed and seemed to be shouting.
In the middle of the circle, a half dozen young women were talking. For some reason, all of them seemed to be carrying one or more antique melee weapons. One of the them glanced where the man was pointing, said something to the others, and began strolling over to the sentry. As she walked, she casually twirled what looked like a two-handed broadsword. It appeared to be only a few inches shorter than she was. Calvert thought that was a bit curious.
She exchanged a few words with the sentry. Calvert wished he could lip-read. Lieutenant Miles could; he'd have to show her this footage. The girl then jumped easily over the two rows of cars. That was even more curious.
She took a few steps towards the demons and stopped, with the point of her sword resting on the ground and her hands draped over the pommel. She looked like she was waiting for something. The demons approached closer; then one of them lifted it's head and sniffed the air. It barked, and all of the demons began to move away
from the circle of vehicles. 'This', thought Calvert, 'is getting very strange.'
The strangest thing of all was when the young woman raised her head and stared straight at the drone, thousands of feet above. She was looking directly into the camera; he could see her face clearly, and she seemed to be completely aware of what she was looking at. She looked a lot like his niece - the one that was still in secondary school.
The work was going as well as could be expected. They wouldn't be able to modify all of the mechs, or even half of them. Some of the modifications just couldn't be done in a reasonable amount of time. Major Fetterman's Fafnir, for example, had it's massive heavy gauss rifles built directly into the upper torso, in what would be the upper pectoral muscles of a human. You couldn't even access one of them without unhinging the shoulder, and removing one would take a minimum of half an hour; to say nothing of the time it would take to put everything back when you were done. They didn't have time for that kind of project right now.
He glanced over at the fourth truck. Lieutenant Miles already knew about that, and the other officers hadn't asked.
Two years earlier, the Regiment had salvaged the basic building blocks - the "bones", "muscles", and heavy duty gyro - of an "Omega". For the right buyer (and the Colonel was still looking), this was a valuable find. Only about three dozen had been built, and most of those had been destroyed.
Designed as a command mech, it was also designed to be the most dangerous thing on any battlefield. Three gauss rifles on it's back, and Twin Lbx-10 autocannon in the arms, gave it more than fifty tons of weaponry. It carried fourteen tons of ammunition for the weapons, and twenty seven tons of armor - almost nine more than the Fafnir. It could outshoot almost any thing on the field, and take more punishment than any mech in existence - period.
But, as he had told that HSC Major, everything was a tradeoff. All of that firepower and armor pushed the weight up to 150 tons, and the strongest engine available coudn't move it faster than about 32 kph. Most assault mechs were twenty kph faster, and some lights as much as four times faster. The Omega could beat anything it could catch, but it couldn't catch much of anything.
There were people who'd buy it anyway. Having something like this to guard your palace, or factory, or spaceport could bring a lot of peace-of-mind, and a lot of prestige. But so far, none of those people had made an offer. In the meantime, MacKenzie liked to think about fixing it up and turning it into something that might actually be useful.
It was all about tradeoffs.
The plan had been simple. Move straight and fast up the road, with a clear path for most of the trip. Hit the demons on route 11 with a missile barrage, or two, and go in shooting. Keep shooting until they broke, or died.
That wasn't going to work now. They'd seen yesterday the effect that missile fire had on parked cars, and had been counting on that to eliminate much of the opposition early in the fight. They could still do it that way; but they'd eliminate hundreds of civilians as well. The laager alone probably held at least four hundred people, and maybe more. There were at least as many concealed along the rest of the stranded convoy.
They couldn't fire at the cars. They couldn't even fire in the direction of the cars. They'd have to somehow get to the cars and fire out
, or get the demons away from the cars and attack them in the open. Calvert didn't see any easy way to do that. Hopefully, the Colonel could; because otherwise this was going to get very
Captain Crook's POV:
It was a little after noon that the relief force arrived from RBR. They came up the road from the east, and though they didn't look fast that was deceptive; their legs were so long that they covered a lot of ground with each step. Even the Colonel looked somewhat impressed.
There was something called an "AT-ST" that was built like a recon mech, and five very
large machines that looked like troop carriers. Those were more than twenty meters tall (and that was conservative), and moved on four legs. They had what looked like large lasers slung under their "chins", and smaller weapons on the side of their heads. Crook guessed that they might be vulnerable from the sides or rear, but they seemed to be very well armored. Against the kind of enemies they had to fight here, these machines should do very well.