Authors: Jonathan P. Brazee
Ryck had to get his attention off the legionnaire. It was crunch time, and he had to focus on the mission. He waited until
his squad had debarked, then got the Marines moving out of the zone and out of the path of any possible incoming that had targeted the LZ. He toggled up the route overlay on his display, then nudged the icons for his lead team over another 30 meters. Peretti, on point, would see where Ryck had positioned the command avatar for him and then move to the right until he was where Ryck wanted him. It was a very simple, yet effective method of troop placement.
Ryck quickly zoomed out
his display view. Echo was already forming the perimeter around the target, even placing a platoon behind the small mountain in case their targets had a rabbit hole that had not been identified. Ryck could see the Navy shuttle approaching with Fox, ready to land two platoons in the LZ Golf had just left. Golf’s Second Platoon was moving forward in line with Third and First Platoon followed in trace. Things were going according to plan—so far.
The Marines moved through the five-meter tall
fern-like vegetation. This was the first planet Ryck had been on that had vegetation but had not been terraformed. He’d seen alien plants before at a few botanical gardens, but never in their natural state. There was an odd homogeneity to the forest with none of the variation in height or variety found in terraformed worlds.
The two platoons moved at a fairly good clip through the fern-tree-things, simply pushing them aside. As the
Marines approached the target, though, the terrain worked to pinch the two platoons together. This was the reason that only Golf was going in as the point of main effort. There simply was no room for any more units within the confined area.
As they passed one of the hillocks to their right, Ryck took a quick look with full sensors. He knew the recon team was on that 40 meter-tall rock jumble, but he couldn’t pick up a thing on them. That always impressed Ryck. Going out into bad-guy
territory pooping and snooping with minimal armor seemed risky, but if the bad guys couldn’t see them, then Ryck figured it was a risk worth taking. He sure appreciated having actual human eyes on a target, not just sensors. He gave the unseen team a nod of respect despite knowing they couldn’t see it.
There was a surprising lack of
comms chatter. As a rule, Marines were supposed to keep talking to a minimum. Even with frequency shifting and scrambling, the enemy could pick up the fact that communications were taking place, and with good AIs, could calculate potential courses of action based strictly on the amount, duration, and direction of voice comms being made. The less said over the net, the less there was to analyze. Still, voice comms were sometimes needed. So far, though, not much had been necessary during the movement to contact.
As the squad moved around another outcropping,
about 300 meters from its target, a small yellow flashing number on Ryck’s display caught his attention. Martin’s PICS was running slightly hot. It wasn’t into redline territory, but that was something that needed to be monitored. He made a mental note to have it checked.
Ryck toggled Martin’s readout to the top of his display so he could keep an eye on it when the world around him erupted into a flash of flames and smoke. Ryck was thrown to the ground, banging painfully against the inside of his PICS. His display disappeared, leaving him with only a
clear visor through which to see the dust cloud forming around him.
was all he could think as he tried to get his thoughts straight. He could taste blood where he’d bitten his tongue.
rything was down. No comms, no data display. He couldn’t even move his PICS. Ryck’s immediately thought of his first mission when a squad of PICS Marines had been put out of action through a Trojan that had been wormed into the combat suit’s control system. Four of the Marines had been killed. Despite this flashback, he was surprised at how calm he was as he hit the reset. To his tremendous relief, the status lights came on and the suit’s AI began the start-up check. A set of PICS feet stepped into view, then the PICS ponderously bent over to reveal Cpl Rey’s face. Ryck had no comms nor movement yet, but he winked back at his team leader. Rey gave him a thumbs up, then moved out of Ryck’s narrow range of vision, probably moving to check on someone else. Yancy Sullivan had been just to Ryck’s left where the blast seemed to have originated. Ryck needed to know if his PFC was OK.
Ryck was confused as to what could have hit them. Nothing was picked up
by the sensors as incoming, and their sensors should have identified any mines.
The dust cleared, but Ryck couldn’t see much. Marines were moving back and forth
in front of him, but Ryck was facing away from the direction he wanted to face, that towards Sullivan. Two more of the squad bent down to check Ryck, turning him onto his back.
Ryck tried to take stock of himself as his PICS started coming back
online. He’d banged his left arm pretty good, and he knew his tongue was bitten, but other than that, he seemed in one piece.
Lips put his face shield against Ryck’s and shouted out “Are you OK?”
Ryck could hear him clearly, but muffled, through his face shield, so he shouted back “Yeah. How about Sullivan?”
yelled, he splattered blood across the inside of his face shield. It started to form into droplets and drip back down on his face. Instinctively, he tried to shift his body, and his PICS responded. It was coming back online. The display on his visor came to life—covered in blood splatters.
“Sullivan’s out of action. Doc’s got him stable though, but his leg’s pretty fucked up. That blast twisted it like he was some sort of doll,”
Tizzard Rey said, his shout coming both through his PICS and over the comms.
“What the fuck was that?” Ryck asked. “How come we didn’t pick anything up?”
“Don’t know yet. Sergeant Kyle is doing a scan,” Rey told him.
Frank Kyle was the EOD team leader. He would have some basic analyzing tools in his PICS-E, but Ryck knew they had to keep moving
, and Frank might not have time to do a full scan. Knowing just what had exploded might have to wait for the Navy Seabees to come down and determine what had hit them.
Ryck slowly stood, checking all the readouts he could. He bent his knees and flexed his arms. He seemed to be moving OK, but he could
n’t check the actual readout figures. Much of his face shield display was obscured by the blood he’d spit out. For all the advances in battle suit technology, something as simple as blood inside was a big problem. He couldn’t just reach up and wipe it, after all. Not only did it block his view of some of his readouts, but it blocked some of the small micro-scans embedded in the face shield that read the eye commands used to activate the PICS’ various display functions.
He turned to where PFC Su
llivan had been and took his first steps to see if his PFC was OK.
“Sergeant Lysander, you back online?” the lieutenant asked over the person-to-person circuit.
“I think so, sir, but I can’t really tell. My display is sort of covered in blood. I’m OK, though,” he said, his words slightly slurred as his tongue was already swelling. “Can you wait one, though? I need to check on Sullivan.”
The platoon commander said nothing else as Ryck
arrived at where Sullivan was down, Doc Grbil working on him. The blast had wrenched the PFC’s right leg, actually bending it at the knee at about a 70-degree angle. The joints were the weakest part of a PICS, but still, that had to have been one hellacious blast. Luckily, the PICS leg had not completely detached, so Sullivan’s leg had not been amputated. The angle was gruesome, but Ryck thought a couple of months in regen would make him as good as new.
Yancy, how’re you hanging?” Ryck asked as he approached the Marine.
The PFC’s face
shield was on clear, and Ryck could see Sullivan’s face, a goofy-looking grin plastered across it.
“Oh, copacetic, Sergeant.
No pain at all. Doc’s hooked me up,” he said as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
’ve given him somamine,” Doc Grbil passed to Ryck on a person-to-person. “He’s not going to be feeling a thing.”
was one of Pfizer’s newest painkillers. It worked by changing the pain impulses into something the brain recognized as a warm feeling of contentment. The science of it was beyond Ryck, but it was a favorite among the Marines. They called it “happyland.” It couldn’t be used for too long as it could permanently re-program the brain as to what was pain and what was pleasure, but it was very effective in situations such as this.
“Is he going to be OK?” Ryck asked.
“Yeah, he’ll be fine. He’s going to have to go through decon, though. The blast broke through his armor, and he got some of this toxic atmosphere that leaked in. I’ve gunked the break, and that should hold for now. As for his leg, it’ll probably take some surgery to repair the damage, then regen to heal it. I think a couple of months, tops.”
“Sergeant Lysander, I can see your stats even if you can’t. All your readings are in the green. Are you effective? We’ve got to keep moving,” the lieutenant asked.
“Uh, roger, sir, I’m still effective,” Ryck responded.
He could hear the slight click that told him the platoon commander had switched back to the platoon net.
“PFC Sullivan has been WIA’d but is in no danger. He will be picked up by G-One for a casevac. We’ve still got our mission, so move it out. We don’t know what ordinance was used against us, so until we identify it and devise countermeasure, watch your dispersion. Gee-Three-Six, out.”
Ryck turned to go back to his squad, he caught sight of Major Laurent standing 20 meters off to the side, clearly studying Sullivan. Ryck was suddenly washed over by a feeling of foreboding. Laurent was an observer, so he was bound to observe. Ryck couldn’t help but feel, though, that he might be too interested in a weakness in the Marine PICS.
as a team from First Platoon arrived to take charge of Sullivan, the platoon was back on the move. Ryck’s PICS was moving normally. His problem, though, was visibility. Back on Prophesy, when the PCDC declared bankruptcy and pulled out, the economy had shattered with many people finding themselves out of work. A number of people took to standing at intersections and washing the windows of hovers for a few credits. Ryck would have paid 100 credits at the moment if one of those men or women was there now and could reach inside his PICS to clean off the blood.
The top of his face
shield was clear. Ryck was using this section for visibility as he moved forward. This was where the anti-fogging vents were, though. In certain conditions, such as when out of direct sunlight in open space, the outside of the visor would be bitterly cold while the inside was kept warm. This could lead to fogging, so a simple vent system blew warmed air over the inside of the face shield. This was a basic, old-fashion method that worked surprisingly well.
On a whim, Ryck activated it. He didn’t want to dry the blood
where it was. That would make things worse. But he turned up the vent to its highest speed anyway. It worked. With the fan pumping out the air, it blew the droplets down the inside of the face shield to where it caught on the edge of where the face shield met armor. There were still streaks of blood which started to dry, but Ryck could see through his visor. More importantly, he could see his displays again.
The lieutenant had told him his numbers were good, but Ryck ran a quick check anyway. Other than a still slightly elevated pulse rate, everything was normal. Less than five minutes had passed since the explosion, so that was probably adrenalin still coursing through his body
that had shot up his heart rate.
He ran a quick check on the rest of the squad. Sullivan
’s avatar had turned to the light blue of a Marine out of the fight, but still alive. Everyone else had normal readings.
This had been an unexpected delay, one that had cost the platoon a Marine, but the mission was
still in place. Ryck forced his mind back on point, pushing the blast to the back of his mind.
He expected another blast, though, all his senses on the alert. However, they made i
t to Phase Line Rat without further incident. This was the final phase line before the Final Coordination Line, the FCL. Rat was in defilade to the final objective, out of any direct fire weapons. From Rat, the EOD team moved forward, supported by First Squad. The boomboom boys and Second Squad crossed the FCL and moved carefully to a point about 100 meters from the disguised entrance to the hidden depot. Ryck watched through piggybacking Popo’s visuals as Sgt Kyle unlimbered his DSD
and sent it trundling up to the doors. The small robot extended the first of its sensors, sending the readings back to Kyle. The EOD team leader shook his head, then deployed the drill, trying to take a core sample. The drill easily moved through the outer, rock-like covering, but when it hit the actual door beneath, it stopped its progress. The little robot’s front tracks lifted off the ground as it applied more pressure to the drill.