Operation Steel Valley II pt.4...to the Airfield by Rich
Most Americans probably knew the name "Guadalcanal". Many would likely recognize it as an early battle of the Pacific campaign in WW II, which had dragged on for months. So many Japanese had died there that they nicknamed it "Starvation Island".
Many people probably didn't realize how close the U.S. had come to losing the battle. When a Japanese naval attack had crippled the U.S. task force covering the invasion fleet and forced it to withdraw, the invasion fleet had no choice but to withdraw as well. When it left, it took many of the ground force's supplies with it. By any rational calculation, the U.S. Marines left on shore should have been destroyed.
There were three reasons why they weren't: the disorganization of the enemy, the bullheaded tenacity of the Marines themselves (Marines aren't stupid, they just sometimes have a stupid job
), and the fact that they had already captured the only thing on the island worth capturing, and the only reason why anybody would fight there to begin with. They would name it "Henderson Field".
If complete, Henderson would have given the Japanese the ability to strike at U.S. shipping headed to Australia; in U.S. hands, it gave the Americans the ability to strike further up the chain of the Solomon islands. The Solomons led to New Guinea, and New Guinea led to the Phillipines. That tiny strip of dirt had changed history. In a modern war, airfields matter
Colonel Youngblood had a plan, and he'd approved it. The Colonel wanted the Youngstown-Warren airport, and he wasn't wrong. He was just taking a hell of a risk.
A Sergeant from Calvert's "platoon" gave the Slayers a briefing on the use and functions of the utility vest. Sanchez had never gotten the briefing, so she sat in, and halfway through decided that the garment must have been designed by Bruce Wayne. There was a communicator, a first-aid kit, a survival kit, a variety of mini-multi-tools, an air filtration mask, a water-filtration unit, several homing devices, flares, two knives, and a collapsible shelter complete with air mattress and portable mini-heater. The vest itself would turn a knife blade, stop a small caliber bullet, and had built in temperature controls that Sanchez hadn't noticed, even though she'd been wearing her vest for days.
After the talk about the vest, the Sergeant demonstrated how to use the pulse laser rifle. Sanchez had wondered if the notorious Slayer "instinct" would apply to a weapon like this, and Doreen had surprised her by suggesting that it wasn't instinct at all. Doreen thought it was memory
. Sanchez had heard about Slayers' prophetic dreams, and that only some Slayers got them (and usually didn't understand them). She hadn't grasped the significance of the "fighting" dreams which every Slayer had, several times a night. According to Doreen, these were memories of actual battles, fought by earlier Slayers and passed on by the Slayer "spirit" - battles fought with every imaginable weapon against every possible opponent. Doreen said, "We don't need to be taught
how to use a sword; we just need to be reminded of what we already subconsciously remember".
Of course, that wouldn't apply here, but it turned out not to matter. Unlike a firearm, the laser was a literal line-of-sight weapon. It fired wherever it was pointed, exactly where it was pointed. Slayers seemed to have a natural sense of where that was. The weapon had both optical and laser sights, but the Slayers didn't need them; they just knew
. So maybe there was an "instinct" after all.
Colonel Youngblood's POV:
The Rangers' first fight with the demons had been a meeting engagement, back on the road to the school that was now Rally Base Refuge. It hadn't been planned by either side, and had been won because the officers of the light wing had seized control of the situation before the demons could react. That was what light mech commanders were supposed and taught to do, and his officers had done it with the speed and intelligence he expected. That was why he'd made them officers in the first place.
The second fight, at the mall, had been a surprise attack against an unprepared enemy. In fact, he didn't think the demons were aware that they could
be attacked. They'd reacted with fury but no particular sense; and fury had been a poor answer to concentrated firepower.
The third fight had been a more deliberate matter. First they'd prepared the ground by extensive scouting, and gradually whittling down the enemy; then they'd lured them into a trap with a feigned retreat which wouldn't have fooled an experienced corporal
in a veteran unit. The only really difficult part of that had been the infantry assault to relieve the civilians in the circle, and even that had depended mostly on surprise.
The battle coming up would be the fourth; and the third in as many days. He didn't like the idea of repeating a tactic; as blindly thoughtless as the enemy had been up to now, he couldn't rely on that happening forever. So he needed something a little different. This time, there wouldn't be a feigned retreat. This would be a genuine, full-on attack, straight down the corridor between highway 11 and county highway 159.
Of course, that didn't have to be the only
Back at the Food Court:
Pilot First Class Jan Omas had never felt so free
in his life. When fate had given him an opportunity to slip away from his unit, he'd been sure that his escape would be noticed - and it was. When he'd met that Jedi and the Jedi had somehow felt
his disgust with what was happening, he'd expected the Jedi to turn him away. Instead, the master had somehow clouded the minds of his pursuers and smuggled him to freedom. He still
didn't understand how that had happened, but it had.
The question was what to do with him after that. It was best to have him as far away from his former masters as possible, so he'd been attached to a Republican unit operating on the eastern front; there were no Sith there, and evidently not likely to be; the local commanders had expressed rather strong opinions on the matter. His new commander, however, hadn't really had any place to put him. His crew rosters were filled, and adding a former Imperial to one of them would not have been well-recieved.
So he'd been assigned to a local unit (which apparently wasn't really "local" at all), to do...well, that part wasn't really clear. But the locals had accepted him and put him to work; so far, as what they called a "gopher".
He was working for a "Major Sanchez", who he hadn't actually met because she was evidently very busy. Unlike the Imperial officers he'd served under, this one didn't believe that her rank entitled her to loaf while everyone else worked. According to his new comrades, if she had a flaw it was that she didn't delegate enough
His fellow workers included: A "Staff Sergeant" from something called the "National Guard", who technically was assigned as a clerk; two members of the "State Police" who assisted the Major in her dealings with the local populace and authorities; and various members of the "Ranger" and "Gurkha" units, who seemed to come and go on an ad-hoc basis. When the Major needed assistance, they just seemed to appear out of nowhere. In practice, everyone seemed to do whatever needed doing at any particular moment; and he'd never appreciated how much there was that needed doing. In his old job, if you needed something, you just contacted the appropriate person - now, he was
the appropriate person. Somebody needed a report, someone else needed a place to sleep, somebody needed food, and everyone, all the time, needed coffee. In the Imperial forces, Sergeant Jefferson's coffee would have qualified as a controlled substance. Why would anyone need a stimulant
with all this going on ?
At the moment, the Ranger representative was a "Sergeant Keogh" whose mech had been destroyed in an earlier battle, causing her to be placed on reserve status. She'd gotten into the fight briefly last night, in order to allow another pilot to get some sleep; but that had been a temporary assignment. Mech pilots generally stuck with one mech.
That was just one of many things that surprised him. For example, pilots were allowed to customize their machines to suit themselves, subject to command approval. Many of them even decorated
their mechs with slogans or paintings. If he'd suggested such a thing to his former commander, he would have been recommended for a psychological screening. These people seemed to treat their mechs as personal property. He'd been even more surprised to learn that in a sense, that was exactly what they were.
"Look," said Keogh, "The mech belongs to the Regiment, right ? Well, I'm part of the Regiment; hell, I'm even a shareholder
. So yeah, the Colonel is the primary owner - but I'm at least a part
owner, and the mech is at least partly my property. Besides, nobody else cares, as long as I don't screw anything up for the unit." The idea of a soldiers actually owning
their equipment, in any sense or to any degree, left Omas baffled. In the Imperial forces, you were lucky if they let you own your own name
He was having the time of his life.
The Colonel's POV:
The drones had confirmed what they'd already suspected. There were a lot of demons around the airfield, and south, west, and east of the airfield. There were very few dragons; the actions of the last two nights had killed most of the ones in this area, and there hadn't been time for more to move in. There were also very few demons north
of the airfield; they'd been drawn into the earlier fighting, and had mostly died in it.
Yesterday, Subadar Sakai's scouts had managed to penetrate deeply into demon territory without detection. They'd been drawn from Commander Rana's "rifle" companies, and specialized in light infantry work, including infiltration (the "grenadier" companies were more like old-style "panzergrenadiers"). His plan would require them to do the same thing again, on a larger scale.
The airfield wasn't large, although it could take military aircraft. It had two runways; the longer of the two ran from northwest to southeast, and the shorter one ran off at a right angle to that. There was a cluster of buildings near the junction, which was at the south end of the longer runway; that seemed like the terminal. There was a group of much larger buildings bordering the north side of the long runway; those looked like hangars. The field was bordered on the east by the Youngstown-Kingsville road, and on the north by Kings Graves road. The terrain to the north was fairly open, with few buildings. It would be difficult for a large force to infiltrate across it without detection in daylight.
It would be easier after dark. Especially if the infiltrators were led by people who could see in the dark, and sense demons.
Major Sanchez's POV:
As usual, the Colonel had called a meeting of his command personnel to discuss the plan, and as usual she sat in. She'd learned that the Colonel usually came to these meetings with a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do; the purpose of the meeting was for the others to try to shoot holes in his idea, which apparently didn't bother him a bit. In order to do that, the others would need to understand
the plan, and that was what he was after. If they understood what was supposed to happen, then they could change the details without undermining the purpose; and the details always
changed. Sanchez had had too many commanders who didn't grasp that idea - they told you what to do without telling you why, then wondered why subordinates couldn't make the proper adjustments when something went wrong.
The plan seemed sound, provided that the timing worked out. There would be two main elements, and they'd be too far apart to support each other. If their movements weren't coordinated they might be defeated in detail. There was also General O'Neill to consider; taking the airfield would only be useful if there was someone ready to use it. Nobody objected to killing more demons (and that was pretty much guaranteed), but if that was all they were doing then there were simpler ways to accomplish it. She was the Regiment's link to the HSC, which meant it would be up to her to cordinate that part of the operation.
Jan Omas's POV:
Another thing that surprised him was the attitude of the different groups.
If these had been Imperial troops, the many civilians would have been stepping aside, dropping their eyes, and keeping their mouths closed out of fear. The civilians he's seen here were sometimes grateful, sometimes respectful, and sometimes irritated or confused, but didn't seem to be afraid at all. They were actually interested
in all the strange people walking around; some of them had even tried to start conversations with him. In all his years in Imperial service, he didn't think that that had ever happened.
The Republican troops here had similar procedures and equipment to those he knew; but again, the element of fear and intimidation were missing. They didn't do their jobs because someone was threatening them, they did them just because it was their job; and their superiors seemed to expect them to do exactly that.
The Gurkhas had a similar attitude, but an easier manner. They were always friendly, cheerful, and polite; they seemed almost to act like a family. Of course, if one of his temporary co-workers was to be believed, many of them were
family. "In the old days," he said, "the recruiters tried to enlist people from specific tribes. The old tribes are mostly gone, now; but many of us come from large extended families, and some families have a tradition of service in the Rifles." In the short time he'd been here, he'd met three "Rana"s (beside the Commander) and at least six "Gurung"s, so maybe there was something to what his new acquaintance had said.
It was the Rangers who really confused him. First of all, they all wore uniforms, but which
uniform seemed to be largely a matter of personal taste. Most of them carried personal weapons, which would have driven an Imperial officer into a frenzy; in the Imperial forces, carrying a weapon that wasn't issued would have been considered evidence of intent to mutiny. Evidently almost none of them ever wore the insignia of their rank. Sergeant Keogh had said, "We already know who the officers are, and we'd just as soon not tell the enemy."
They were quick enough to salute Allied officers, but never saluted their own unless they were called to attention, which generally only happened on formal occasions, or during morning inspection - which they usually didn't hold. In fact, the whole concept of "rank" was handled differently. In the Imperium it determined everything; what you could do, who you socialized with, what you could say, and who you could say it to. In the Rangers, it was just part of your job description; it determined who you could give orders to, and what kind of orders you could give. On duty, everything was "yes,sir" and "no, ma'am" - offduty, it might be "Give me a freakin' break, sir". Of course, they still said "sir"; it was only polite, after all.
They moved out about an hour before sunset, which wasn't that different from their usual habit. The Colonel and Major Sanchez had shown them the route on the map, but stressed that the final decision was theirs. The Slayers had shown during the clearing operation yesterday that they could sense the demons better than the Regiment's drones could, and the Colonel was counting on them to do so again. The point was to arrive in position near the buildings at the airfield without being detected, and as long as they got there in a reasonable time the details didn't matter.
Jenny decided to take the column down the Youngstown-Kingsville road, hugging the shadows, until they were about a mile north of the airfield. At that point, they'd split the column; Tamiko would take her group south toward the "terminal". Jennie would move her group across country, to a position north of the "hangars". Both groups would then signal the main body, and wait for the shooting to start.
She wasn't sure that a signal was even needed, since Doreen would be with the Major, and Doreen was pretty good at knowing where everybody was. But the signal would serve as confirmation, and she guessed that was a good thing. For the plan to work, they needed to be in position before the mechs started their attack.
They all wore their vests, and they all carried the laser rifles; but they carried them slung. She needed her hands free for her greatsword, didn't she ?.
She'd always thought it was funny when characters in old western movies would say "it's quiet...too quiet". She was beginning to think they might be on to something. She was riding with Calvert's platoon again, and they all
looked nervous; even the Luds.
The Colonel planned to use a pair of "fighting columns" in parallel, with the right column, under Fetterman, leading by a short distance. They'd start out headed south, then when they reached a position opposite the end of the long runway they'd turn left about 45 degrees. That would put the Colonel's column in the lead on the new heading, with Fetterman covering his flank. The intent was to advance down the runway, firing as they went. The Slayers and riflemen, meanwhile, would seize the buildings and cover the Regiments left flank.
Of course, it really wasn't the left
flank that worried them. The light and medium mechs, and Commander Rana's other troops and vehicles, had to be ready to deal with attacks from the right flank, or the rear. Nobody knew exactly what kind of numbers to expect, but this could well be the largest force of demons that they'd met so far. Working in the dark might give them an advantage, or it might not. The key question was whether the General would be able to do his part.
Jan Omas's POV:
He was fascinated by the mechs. He didn't know of any Imperial vehicles that compared to them. His own AT-AT mounted powerful lasers, and he thought those might
be more powerful than any mech-mounted weapon he'd seen (although Keogh said he hadn't seen them all). But the sheer number and variety of weapons on the mechs was bewildering. They had at least a dozen different models of lasers alone, to say nothing of all the other weapons. Also the AT-AT was much larger than any mech he'd seen, and it was much less agile. Keogh said that Assault mechs couldn't run, but they could turn, sidestep, backstep, pivot at the waist, and even turn at the shoulder up to a point. The AT-AT might outgun
a large mech, or it might not, but he didn't think it could outfight
That was because the mechs weren't troop carriers. Sergeant Keogh said that her civilization had such things, but the machines used by the Rangers, except for some of the lights, were pure combat machines - and even the lights were heavily armed for their size. The only thing he knew that came close was the AT-TE, and that had six legs. The vast majority of mechs, according to Keogh, had two.
The thing that was most baffling to him was that all of the walkers he was familiar with had crews of at least two people, and some had more. Evidently almost all mechs had only one. There was something called a "neuro-helmet", which linked the mech's own AI to the pilot's balance and kinesthetic senses; but everything else - steering, navigation, sensors, engine management, and that confusing multitude of weapons, was controlled through a system of pedals, switches, buttons, and joysticks - by just one person. Driving one, he thought, must be incredibly difficult; fighting in one sounded impossible.
As she'd expected, Tamiko got into position first; she'd had a straighter route. They'd had little trouble getting here. The only snag was when they sensed a nest of vamps about a mile back; they'd still been half asleep, and the girls had cleaned them out in maybe a minute and a half. One of the havildars smiled at her as she wiped the blood off her blade.
She got them about a hundred yards out from the hangars, then handed control over to the Junior Subadar in charge of this company. He deployed the men and assigned objectives, although they'd gone over that as a group before they set out. They'd been able to download some information from the internet, which didn't give layouts for the buildings; they'd also talked to some of the rescued airmen, who did. They knew where the demons were likely
to be, but not exactly where they were. Which was why Jenny and her team would go in first.
She sent the signal, and waited.
The Colonel had estimated how long he thought the trip should take, and an hour after sunset he gave the order to get the mechs into position. The signal came in ten minutes later.
The lights moved out first, ranging in front of the column like hunting wolves. A handful of demons had infiltrated the area during the day, but Calvert's drones had already spotted them; the lights burned them down and kept going. The Mediums kept pace with the heavies on the right flank, then put on a burst of speed to intercept a pack of hyena-things charging from the west. They went down just as quickly as before.
So far, it was easier than they'd expected. They didn't hit any real opposition until they were almost to the pivot point.
The Slayers had a bet about who'd hear the mechs first. Jenny won. She looked at the Subadar and mouthed "go". He nodded and waved his hand, and everyone jogged forward. Jenny's group aimed for the building on the left, and were no more than fifty feet from the door when something howled, and something else dropped from the roof directly into her path.
Jenny's greatsword was modeled on those used in the renaissance, by infantrymen who fought against armored knights on armored horses. They were meant to be wielded by large men, using two hands. Jenny only needed one. She cut the thing down and kicked in the door.
Sonya Zhukov's POV:
The columns didn't even fire their weapons at first; they just plowed through the monsters, crushing them underfoot and kicking them out of the way. The lights and mediums cleaned up the survivors. The heavies reached the pivot point and made their half-turn almost like they were on a parade ground. It was only when they started moving down the runway that they opened fire.
The demons were swarming on to the field now, but there was no order to it. It looked like they'd been caught by surprise again. The Colonel ordered a halt and waited. When the demons had almost filled the field, the heavies fired a volley of missiles and advanced a few steps, then waited until the field filled up again, then fired again. It was the same tactic which she'd used on the road, but on a much bigger scale.
There were more demons coming up on her right side, and from the west. She turned her lance and formed line facing southwest. A lance of mediums deployed to her right. Their time was coming.
The way they were going, the mechs would sweep the runway in about five minutes, ten at the most. She sent her signal to the General, then nodded to Calvert. He ordered the driver to head for the hangars. The rest of Calvert's platoon followed them.
If Jenny and the riflemen had done their job, the building should be clear of demons. She glanced over at Doreen, who just said "No problems, ma'am".
The columns were half way down the field now, and the demons to their front were thinning out. This was partly because they were also taking fire from the hangars and the terminal; it looked like that part of the plan had worked. The demons to the south, however, were massing for a major attack. Major Fetterman detached his 'Cats and Marauders and placed them under Captain Crook, who deployed them to support the lights and mediums already on line. As usual, the demons howled before attacking. It was more annoying then anything else.
They charged, and the mechs opened fire. This, thought Sonya, is getting very monotonous.
Between swords, laser rifles, and kukris, they cleared the building in less than two minutes. The Gurkhas were all grinning and staring at her now; she knew her hair was a mess, but she really
didn't think that was very polite.
Major Sanchez and Lieutenant Calvert pulled up in front, and Calvert began deploying his people along the line of hangars. The Subadar and his men joined him, and they formed a skirmish line to defend the buildings. That was the reason for taking them in the first place. That, and to distract the demons.
If the demons had the buildings, then they could attack the columns from the left flank. The columns could defend against that, but only by destroying the buildings; and the Colonel wanted them intact. The whole point was to take the field with a minimum of damage, so that the General could put it to use.
Speaking of which....
The rest of Commander Rana's Gurkhas were deploying now, in a defensive line around the buildings. Her hovertanks moved to support the mechs dealing with the attack from the south, which was getting more serious.
The Columns had reached the terminal. Major Fetterman's column split off another lance to watch for enemy movement to the east, while the rest joined the Colonel to sweep the other runway, heading southwest. That would put him on the flank of the demon concentration to the south. Of course, it also put them on his.
For the next few minutes, things got very confused. A probe from the east was stopped by Fetterman's detached mechs, assisted by the hovertanks - and by Stirling's infanty, who were riding on them. The Colonel drove about halfway down the shorter runway before he was attacked from the left, so he pivoted to deal with that. Most of the demons to the south were turned back, but a few broke through and headed for the hangars. Captain Zhukov fell out of line to deal with them, and the line redeployed to fill in the gap.
A pack of hyena-things were charging the hangers, and Sonya ran them down from behind, pulse lasers firing without stopping. Most went down, and the survivors turned, snarling. It should have been easy.
It might have been, if an octopus-spider creature hadn't picked that instant to reach out and snare the legs of Sonya's Osiris. The mech went down, and the hyena-things closed in.
She had never felt so embarrased in her entire life
. She'd seen the creature, even stepped over it; but she'd assumed it was dead. She should have just burned it anyway. She cracked her hatch and looked out. The creature was still there, and the hyena-beasts were circling, and there were more things coming up behind them. Those people up on the line needed to tighten it up. Of course, maybe the line wasn't there anymore - she thought her best bet was probably to stay where she was. Then the octopus-monster reached for her hatch; she slammed it closed, but the thing was faster.
The hatch was torn out of her hands, and then she felt herself being pulled out of the mech. She reached for her machine pistol and fired a burst into its' face. That had worked for Randy, but it didn't work for her. It was pulling her closer....
Something came hurtling through the air and landed between her and the creature. It didn't look like a girl with a sword; it looked like a threshing machine with a girl attached. The impossibly long blade flashed impossibly fast, in circles, spirals, and figure-eights, and with every move blood spurted. The tentacle that pulled at her severed, and she dropped to the ground. A hyena creature leaped at her, and it's head went flying. Another one stumbled away, ripped open from hip to sternum. The spider-octopus lost a leg, then another arm, then two legs, then collapsed squealing before it's saclike body was cut in two. Something that Sonya couldn't describe fell at her feet with it's skull split to the chin.
She realized that she couldn't hear the demons screeching anymore. The line must have held after all. Lieutenant Calvert was there, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. The Luds looked pale, and Major Sanchez was just grinning at her. She looked around, and the girl (if it was
a girl) was perched on her fallen mech, gazing to the south and twirling that awful
sword like a baton. The blood was flying off of it in all directions.
From the north, Sonya heard the sound of helicopters.
Major Sanchez had a talk with Lieutenant Miles after everything had calmed down a little, which took another two hours. When Jenny got back to the mall, The Lieutenant presented her with a tee-shirt, in the Regimental desert camouflage. On the front, in white letters, was the motto " "There are lots of scarier things than you..and I'm one of them"
A/N: Would you believe I had that "threshing machine with a girl attached" line in mind before
I started writing this chapter ?
Also, I'd like to thank DarthTenebrus for letting me borrow Jan Omas. I think he brings a unique POV.