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Clean Up

by Karl K. Gallagher
October 19, 2017

We were last to the fight. My squad was on the flank, out in the breeze with no one on our other side. So naturally the Ogre attacked on the other flank. We burned down our batteries trying to get to the action.

At least the terrain didn't slow us down. It used to be forest with some gentle hills. Nice cover. Then the Pannies decided to solve their cruise missile over-production issue by firing them all at us. Smashed the trees flat. Then the next wave smashed the debris. The wave after that smoothed it; the rain helped. You haven't seen rain until you've been in a thunderstorm the big bombs bring on. So the terrain is featureless now.

I led the boys wide around a crater. It was only a week old and still warmer than I like. Passing it brought the Ogre into view. "Fox to House. Have visual on biggie."

The company commander replied, "Good. Form up with 3rd platoon."

3rd's LT was still in action. I reported in to him. "Good. We're making another rush, wide line, follow us in," he ordered.

"Roger. Who's the EWO?" I asked.

"Lost them all. Put yours in control. I'm passing you privileges. Out."

My HUD notified me I had control over all the jammers in the platoon. I passed it along to Corporal Schroeder and then called him. "Shred, you're platoon EWO. Make with the magic." We were only a klick behind the others now as they moved in on the Ogre.

"Whoo! New toys!" Shred retuned everyone's jamming. I flicked up a tactical display. He'd taken advantage of our separation from the other squads to fool the Ogre's radar. Should look like the platoon was grouped in the center of our triangle instead of spread out. Nice work.

I toggled to the open squad circuit now. "Boys, we want time on target. Watch the LT's countdown. Time it for simultaneous impact. Make sure you're aimed for the treads, not armor." We were coming into range just in time. The spotter drones had the target point marked. I instructed the bomb drones to charge and they sped out of my sight.

The platoon countdown appeared on my HUD. My launcher flung its rocket off right on time. Perfect shots from the whole team. I watched them track in. My comm filled with cheers as metal panels and a roller fell off the Ogre. I scanned along it, looking for more weak points to target.

Then I saw the turret swiveling back. The barrel foreshortened into a circle. I don't remember it firing.

When I woke up the Ogre had moved on a few more klicks. I saw a little crater a few hundred meters off. Looks like the Pannie had fired right where Shred wanted it to.

My diagnostic display reported me fully functional. I was, too, now that the pain meds had kicked in. My suit needed work. A chunk of rock had hit my knee hard enough to stick. I worked it out but the drivers for knee and ankle were shot. I'd be dragging that leg until I got to a shop.

The squad status popped up on my HUD, proudly informing me it'd made telemetry connections with the rest of the squad. All alive. Good for Shred. "Report. Who's combat capable?" I transmitted.

No one. Joey giggled about losing his arm. I'd have to check how much of a dose the medkit had given him. The kid was last. "I'm good except for my gun, Sarge."

I turned to look at him. The blast wave must have tossed him up and he'd landed on his shoulder mount. The gauss gun was crushed. "Fine. Drop it and take mine." I unlatched the M-LAWS and slid it off the rails. He took it. I had to help him slide it into place, as one rail was bent. But his suit telemetry said it was a good fit. "Go join 3rd. Fire a practice shot on the way to calibrate. Good luck!"

"On it, Sarge!" He bounded off.

A few minutes of field repairs had us moving again. Shred had to borrow a battery. Ramirez's hips were partially crushed. He walked slower than me. One of the drones had a clogged turbine; an easy fix. I assigned it to the kid and sent it off. Then it was hiking time. Joey still had full speed. He kept circling us and laughing.

I transmitted our status to the CP. All I got back was, "ACKNOWLEDGED." No tactical updates. Guess they didn't need to let me in the net if I wasn't combat capable. OPSEC.

The smoke and flashes around the Ogre gave me some idea of what was going on. I passed the word when it stopped dead. Softy'd lost half his visuals. The smoke drifted off. Apparently we didn't want to pay the price to finish it.

Three slow, painful klicks later we saw something more beautiful than Miss March: a hovertruck heading right toward us. It was a flatbed so we'd have to keep our helmets on but it beat dragging my dead leg back to base.

The driver pulled up right in front of us. "All aboard, gentlemen!" It took three of us to catch Joey and force him onto it. Once we had him laid flat I ordered his medkit to zonk him. Wouldn't want him jumping off when this thing was going full speed.

"So how'd we win?" I asked.

"Captain Bliss found an anti-Ogre mine in inventory," said the driver. "He got a pick-up squad together and stood right in front. The thing decided to just squash him and ran right over the mine. Bam! Wrecked drivetrain. It's going nowhere. Colonel says we'll have a howitzer here in a few hours to finish the job."

"Great," I said. "Too bad about Bliss." Happy was a sensible officer. He'd even asked for us to get transferred out once all the cover was blown away.

"No, he's alive," he said. "He's under the thing where the AP guns can't get at him. Totally stuck. He said the Ogre's cussing at him in French too."

I laughed. "So he's still in charge?"

"Nah, he handed it over to LT Gouda."

"Makes sense. Hard to keep track of everything from there." I could live with Cheese. He was a hard-ass, but didn't waste your time. "Hey, you're going the wrong way. We need to get back for repairs."

"Nope. You're working with me. Orders. I'll transmit 'em."

The terse command from Gouda popped up on my HUD. "Recovery operations? That's bullshit. We got blown up. We're out of it."

"Ain't my call. But I'll point out you boys had less time in combat than anyone in the regiment 'cept me."

"Shit."

The hovertruck slewed to a stop next to a blasted heavy. Ramirez and I stayed on the truck while Shred knocked on the turret. When he held up three fingers I tossed him that many lead-lined rescue balls. A tanker's combat suit will keep him alive if they've got an air breach, but there's a lot of places around here you want more mass between you and the ground than that. Softy and Shred took turns carrying the bubbled tankers to the truck. Ram and I tucked them into the cargo net.

I leaned down to check on the last one. "You okay there? Any claustrophobia?"

"No," yelled the tanker. "But ask me again tomorrow."

Our driver took us a few more klicks back along the Ogre's trail. This spot had a crater big enough to use for cover. He circled around it, muttering "There's supposed to be another one here."

Softy yelled, "You missed it!"

It was obvious once he was pointing at it. The crater rim had another heavy buried in it, knocked onto its side. I could make out the upper set of treads.

Softy banged on the bottom hatch. A minute went by while he pressed his helmet to it. "Sarge, these guys don't want to come out. They say they're mechanically good and they can make it home if we dig 'em out."

"Well, shit," I said.

"I got some shovels," said the driver. "Blue box."

So we dug. It's nice to have a heavy around when it hits the fan. You should never be the most valuable target in range. I entertained myself by thinking we could ride home on the tank and blow off the damn recovery job. But I knew I wouldn't actually do it.

Ramirez and I dug out the bottom treads while the more limber boys cleared off the top. Then it took all four of us to push the damn thing over. Dropping a heavy is loud.

The track commander promised us a case each at the club. I watched him head off to the barn.

"Ready for more, Sarge?" asked Shred.

"Yeah. Just admiring the view," I said. We got back on the hovertruck.

"Good news, gentlemen," said the driver. "Only one more stop on this trip."

The wrecked GEV spread over half a klick. The turbines were all sitting close to where it was hit. The rest sprayed away, pointing away from where the Ogre had been. I formed us in a line, Shred and Softy on the ends, and started walking through it. Softy found a torso sandwiched between a couple of window panels. I sent him back to the hovertruck with it.

The rest of us kept walking. The debris was getting thin at this point. "Hey, it's a boot," said Shred. "Um, full."

The driver radioed, "That's good. We can get ID from that."

"Great," I answered. "Come pick us up."

Ramirez looked over the wreckage. "Sarge, I don't care how much trim those guys get. Some jobs are just too damn dangerous."

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