Read Merkiaari Wars: 02 - What Price Honour Online

Authors: Mark E. Cooper

Tags: #Space Opera, #Science Fiction, #war, #Military, #space marines, #alien invasion, #cyborg, #merkiaari wars

Merkiaari Wars: 02 - What Price Honour (7 page)

BOOK: Merkiaari Wars: 02 - What Price Honour
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“Load me,” she said and Eric did.

Gina targeted another group and fired. She didn’t kill many, but the explosion added to the chaos she had generated by taking out the leaders. Eric loaded her again as rockets began launching from the upper floors. She had hoped, but not counted on it. Stein had wanted damage kept to a minimum, but there had been no word from him since the battle began. By using her rockets, she had likely opened herself to criticism, but better that than her people dead. She launched one more rocket then discarded the rig in favour of her pulser.

Gina tongued a control in her helmet and selected communications. “Eagle One to any surviving officer, come in.”

“Eagle One, Red… Red One…” a halting voice came over the comm. “I’m hurt bad. Stein is down… don’t know if he’s alive.”

“Orders, sir?” she said intently. “Orders, sir!”

“Orders?” Lieutenant Strong said vaguely. “Kill them all,” he whispered. “…out and kill them all…”

“Red One? Lieutenant?”

“Eagle One, Blue One,” Sergeant Denton said. There were screams and shouting in the background.

Gina ducked as one of the rebels targeted her. Eric glared and killed him before she could even take aim. “Blue One Eagle One, go.”

“Stein is down, unconscious. Strong is dead. What are we doing?”

How the hell should she know?

“What about Captain Noble and the others?” she asked and fired a burst out the shattered windows.

“Dead.”

“Lieutenant Goldman?”

“Dead too. They’re all out of it, Gina. The rebels got lucky. They were on the way back to their units when Charlie Company got hit.”

“Wake up Stein,” Gina said and ducked as rebel fire hit her position again and showered her with plascrete fragments. Something was burning nearby, but she didn’t have time to worry about it.

“I’ve tried. No go. You’re senior to me, what are we doing?”

“We’re following Strong’s last order.” She switched her comm to battalion wide before she could change her mind. “Alpha and Bravo Companies move in pursuit of the rebels by squads. Charlie Company will hold here and see to the wounded.”

“Blue One copies.”

“Green Two, moving out.”

“Copy that, we’re moving.”

“…One copies.”

“…Three, on our way.”

“…Two, on our way…”

Gina listened only absently to the acknowledgements as they came in. She was too busy to answer or pay very much attention. She had no doubt her order would be followed. They were Marines.

Gina waved her people forward giving them covering fire until they could find good firing positions of their own. Eric was by her side as she ran in a crouch across the plaza toward a doorway. Using it as cover, Eric fired from one knee while she stood above him and took pot shots at what was left of the rebels.

She fired and took down a rebel attempting to retreat. She noted others pulling back in the same direction. Her thoughts raced as she realised they were getting away. She couldn’t allow that. Her eyes narrowed as an idea came to her. Without hesitation, she ordered five squads forward, and another five down the side streets with the aim of squeezing the rebels between multiple fields of fire.

Gina was in her element, never had she felt so complete. The rebels were withering under a storm of plasma bolts as more and more Marines added their own fire to the weight already hammering them. One or two rockets went out but not many. Most were expended on the vehicles at the beginning of the action. The heavy thudding of multiple AARs blotted out the hiss-crack of plasma rifles. The occasional grenade exploded with men and pieces of men raining in all directions. Over it all, she could hear the battle chatter of nearly a full battalion, and she, a lowly gunnery sergeant, was directing it into battle.

She snatched a grenade free of her webbing and rolled it through an open door. She ducked back as the hiss-crack of a rebel pulser sought her life. A second later, the rebel’s fire was silenced by the dull whump of her exploding grenade. She ducked forward and back taking note of the building’s interior and the bodies lying motionless upon the floor. When no one fired at her, she dove inside and up the stairs. The second floor seemed deserted, but…

She raised an eyebrow at Eric. “Anyone inside?”

“Two,” he nodded at the first door. “One near the window... he must be a spotter—I’m picking up his comm traffic. The second is hiding behind the door—left side. Only the sound of breathing from him.”

Gina nodded and aimed her rifle at the wall. “About there?”

“Just a bit to your right… that’s it,” he said as she made a correction.

She squeezed her trigger and held it down. The wall exploded into dust, and Eric charged through the hole. She quickly followed, but it was over before she could blink. The rebel by the window was dead. Only a red stain remained where the other one had stood by the door. She took a quick look out the window, and noted another attempted breakout by the rebels. She estimated their numbers and trotted back downstairs already calling ahead to Alpha Company’s Second Platoon. Eric followed upon her heels a moment later.

Two hours later it was all over, and Gina found herself feeling depressed. A strange quiet had fallen over the city broken only by the wailing sound of the emergency services tackling the blazing buildings.

She made her way back surrounded by her squad, and entered the parliament building—what was left of it. Fire had damaged what had survived the rebel attack. It was in a bad way, but it was repairable. She pulled off her helmet to run a hand through her sweat-soaked hair. She reeked of blood and smoke. The stench clung to everything. She didn’t want to consider some of the things she had seen burning in those now collapsed buildings. It would take days for the burned pork smell to fade.

She frowned at a scar running along the right side of her helmet. The nanocoat was completely burned away. She slid a finger along the groove trying to decide if the damage was repairable. Going by the depth of the burn, it wouldn’t be. She would have to requisition a new one.

“Damn,” she muttered. Setting up a new helmet’s systems could be a royal pain in the butt.

“Stein’s awake,” Staff Sergeant ‘Bulldog’ Denton said as she entered the reception area. “He wants to see you.”

Gina needed a shower and about two weeks sleep in her rack, but she had to make her report first. “Pete, see to our people. Food, water… whatever.”

“No problem,” Westfield said.

Gina nodded and followed Bulldog to the Major. “How bad is he?”

“He’s got a concussion, but the Doc says he’ll be fine in a few days.”

“That’s good.”

“That civ friend of yours was with him a while ago,” Denton said.

“Eric?”

“Yeah. He walked in bold as you please. The Major ordered everyone out while they chatted. What do you think of that?”

Gina shrugged. “Maybe he wanted another take on things.”

Denton’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “From a
civ?

She shrugged again but was saved from any further explanations when she reached the door of the conference room.

“Stein’s inside,” Denton said and left her to it.

Gina ran a hand over her head again, but making a Marine’s ‘high and tight’ crop presentable, especially after it had been crammed inside a sweaty helmet for hours, was impossible. She tucked her helmet under her arm, knocked once, and entered to find a number of people attending the Major.

Eric was standing to one side of the room watching the proceedings. He was wearing a viper’s black BDU (battle dress uniform) complete with rank insignia of a captain in the 501
st
infantry. He nodded to her, but did not speak.
Stein was half reclining on a couch, while Doctor Pearce, still wearing his bloodied combat armour and sidearm, worked on him. One look at Lieutenant Pearce’s face relieved Gina of some part of her worry. He was concerned for his patient, but it was nothing more than that. Stein must be on the mend.

Gina came to attention and saluted. “You wanted to see me, sir?”

Stein waved Pearce aside so that he might see her better. “Yes, Gunny. You were aware, were you not, of my orders concerning the rebel attack?”

“Specifically, sir?” she asked in puzzlement.

“Specifically the orders pertaining to collateral damage.”

She stiffened. “Yes, sir. We were to keep collateral damage to a minimum, sir.”

“And did you?”

“No, sir.”

“Why not?”

“No excuses, sir.”

Stein smiled. “Relax, Gunny, I didn’t call you in here to ream you out. I want to hear what you did and why.”

Gina glanced at Eric, but he gave nothing away. She didn’t believe his innocent expression for one minute. He had been telling tales—she would bet her pulser on it.

“I took command and attacked the rebels with everything at my disposal, sir.”

Stein laughed but winced and raised a hand to his bandaged head. “I’m aware that you attacked, Gunny. How did you deploy your forces?”

“I ordered Charlie Company to hold here and defend the parliament building, while Alpha and Bravo advanced by squads into the plaza. Once the rebels had been softened up with rocket and pulser fire, I sent five squads from each company down the side roads in an effort to flank the enemy and bring them under multiple fields of fire.”

Stein nodded slowly. “I see. And did that work?”

“Yes, sir,” Gina said with just a trace of pride in her words. “The rebels failed to take note of the manoeuvre, and were utterly destroyed some little time later.”

“Prisoners?”

“No one surrendered, sir.” She glanced at Eric again. He had a small smile on his face.

She hadn’t lied. The rebels hadn’t surrendered, but then, she hadn’t given them time to offer. Lieutenant Strong had ordered her to kill them, and that’s exactly what she had done—down to the last man and woman.

“I’ll be writing a commendation in your permanent file, Gunny,” Stein was saying. “You cared for my people when I was unable to. That holds great weight with me. I’m promoting you to lieutenant for your outstanding contribution to our mission here.”

Gina gasped. A battlefield commission? Such things were almost unheard of these days.

Stein smiled briefly. “Well, have you nothing to say?”

“Thank you,” she gasped. “I mean thank you, sir, but I don’t deserve—”

“Cut the crap,” Stein said with a mock glare. “You deserve it. You know it and I know it. In just a month or so, headquarters will also know it. I have no doubt they will concur with my decision, but until then you have the grade, but not the pay I’m afraid.”

“The Alliance always was stingy,” Eric said with a straight face. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you, sir.” Gina shook his hand. She turned back to Stein. “The money means nothing. That you believe my actions deserve this means a lot to me, sir. More than you can know,” she said in a choked voice.

Stein looked pleased. “Your actions deserve this and more. By rights, you should receive the Alliance Star for bravery as well, but I thought the rank would mean more to you than another ribbon on your chest.”

“I have more than enough ribbons. The rank does mean more to me.”

“I knew it would,” Stein said with a small smile. “Dismissed, Lieutenant.”

Gina braced and saluted before turning to leave. She could hardly wait to tell her squad the news.

* * *

 
Chapter 4
 

Planet Tigris, Border Zone

Kate Richmond stepped off the stolen shuttle and scanned the area. She found nothing but steaming jungle in the dark. The screeches and cawing of strange beasties didn’t help, but her electronics told her all she needed to know.

She was undetected.

Tigris was a border world with few things to recommend it. It was hot and humid jungle for the most part, and uninhabited by humans except in carefully selected areas. Tigris was a heavy grav world, though 1.12g was hardly excessive. People could afford to be choosy with so many Earth-type worlds available. That being the case, Tigris was an essentially untouched resource.

Why then was she here?

“That’s a damn good question.”

She mopped sweat from her face and continued her sweep.

The briefing had been very sketchy about the reasoning behind the mission. That made her uneasy. She knew who her target was, she knew what he looked like—Intel had managed to scrape up an old picture of him. It was out of date but she would manage. What she didn’t know was why he must die. In her experience, when they failed to tell you why, someone high up was playing games. That meant the mission was blacker than black, probably off the books altogether. Someone on Bethany, a member of one of the ruling families it had to be, was using his contacts to protect his interests or hurt a rival. She had seen it before on other missions. All they cared about was their stupid power games, and if she died, so what? Tools got broken all the time—just buy a new one. She scowled.

BOOK: Merkiaari Wars: 02 - What Price Honour
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