Prologue, Book 2, The Hammer Falls
View to a Kill
Salomek, 2000 yards west of the “Crayon Factory”
April 19th, 3057
Another stinking day in this damn rathole. Sergeant Maria Detwieler scanned the street again through the scope of her accurized Federated Long Rifle. Like most scout-snipers in the Inner Sphere, she used the weapon she was most comfortable with, and for her, it was the Long Rifle. Eh, that new M-42 might be a real looker, but it’s a little too “modular” for my taste. Plus, ol’ Jake here hasn’t let me down yet. But will be nice to get back to the Battlegroup HQ, turn in my report, get a shower and some hot chow.
They’d been out for three days, doing a bit of outpost work for Alpha Regiment, giving a bit of help to the guys holding that pile of rubble they called the “Crayon Factory” and trying to stay one step ahead of the damn Capellans as they turned Salomek into something out of Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell. The brigade had ten such two-man teams, and they’d all been busy doing a variety of things. One team had even made a try to wack Archie McCarron himself. Shame that went so badly, heard they did take down Marcus Barton. Good. I had friends at Fort Bourgogne. They’d picked a point that was pretty good, it was the remains of a shattered hovertruck whose remains had landed on top of a rubble mound overlooking the length of the street. A little work with the issue e-tool, and an IR scrambler net, and it was the perfect hidey hole. After three days, it was getting pretty rank, with their sweat and dirty uniforms chafing painfully against their bodies. Thank god my sense of smell is gone, I really hate to think what I smell like. Her light brown skin was crosshatched with smudges of black and green camo paint, and grey smudges of crushed ferrocrete dust. Her eyes were bloodshot, she and her observer hadn’t gotten more than four hours of sleep a night, only the stim tabs and fear were keeping them both awake.
Been with the Rangers since Aldebaran, and I thought that was bad. What the hell did I know? The light from the burning buildings on either side of the shattered street was the only ambient light on this moonless night. The pops and hisses of burning material filled her ears, with the far-off rumble of heavy weapons fire completing the ambiance. I think I am getting too old for this. Sarah might be right, and it may be time to retire, assuming I live to see the end of this thing. She blinked her eyes and turned her head from her 10x Leopold-Zeiss scope for a moment, to regard her new spotter, her fourth in a period of three days. He was new, some kid from Novalya Zemlya who’d been a pretty good hunter back home, knew how to move quiet, and didn’t talk too much. Got the makings of a good scout, but he hasn’t earned the tab yet. Hope he lives long enough to fix that. I don’t even know his name. He had a large, wan face, with almond eyes that were pools of black in the poor light, framed by the lopsided camo netting that was draped over the issue helmet. His “footie pajamas” two-piece camo smock went over the rest, and made both look like shambling, formless apparitions. But with practice, you can move pretty good in this getup. Hope he lives long enough for that.
He was on his own weapon, an Intek Laser Rifle. It too had a scope, but he wasn’t using it currently, to rest his eyes. He had one hand on his weapon, while the other held a ration bar he was absent mindedly chewing on, going through the motions of eating. Though we’re both so damn scared and tired, hunger both gnaws at us, and means nothing at the same damn time? Shit. I really have been at this too long. Even my woolgathering is getting boring.
Detwieler didn’t like matching wits with Capellan snipers. They were damn good at what they did. House DiaDaiChi ran their sniper program, and it turned out some very talented snipers. Every Capellan sniper I ever killed, boy I had to work at it. And I suspect if McCarron’s got people out there, they’re just as good as the rest.
Suddenly, the hair stood up on the back of Detwieler’s right hand. Trouble. Shit.
The sound was almost imperceptible. A soft crunch of gravel. It wasn’t a ‘Mech. Even the lightest of them had pretty loud footfalls and most vehicles in the Inner Sphere made a ton of noise. Even the fusion engine stuff would make noise from the tracks or the wheels, and the hover stuff? Shit that hum you hear miles off. Nope..that’s dismounts out there…but where?
Detwieler reached out and tapped the kid, who startled, but had the presence of mind not to shout out. He looked at Detwieler with large eyes. Detwieler gave him a serious look, deftly pointed toward the street, and gave the hand and arm signal for “wait till I shoot” and “take the bastards from right to left, two shots only.” She didn’t have to tell him after that, they were going to displace and haul ass. Any scout-sniper who didn’t know that was a damn fool. Especially with that glorified flashlight of his. We’ll probably only get two shots then run before they find us and fix us.
She turned back to her sight. Her reticule was manual. A rarity in the Inner Sphere, as most folks at least used a digital sight with laser RF support. Detwieler was something of a luddite. I learned to shoot on Broken Wheel with a beat up 7mm Federated Arms Carbine and Iron Sights, and I was bagging rabbits at 200 yards by the time I was ten. And I didn’t have a scope either. Not to mention the zero on that old thing was crap. Still managed to bullseye nine times out of ten. Detwieler slowed her breathing, she wanted to make sure the first shot was a good one. She knew they’d only get two, and anyhow..if she was really lucky, maybe there would be an officer? It’s fun shooting officers, most of them don’t have the sense god gave a drop bear.
More crunches of rubble and the sound of a soft curse as someone slipped on a precarious patch rang out over the slight breeze from the street. The sound was about 200 yards out to their front, and whoever they were, their noise discipline was pretty good for leg guys. They’re not a scout-sniper team, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one overwatching em. In fact, if I were them, I’d use these guys as bait to find someone like me.
Detwieler leaned down for a second and reached for a device on her wrist the size of a small noteputer. It was a short-range, text only comms unit that was issued one per team of two. It was conformal, a bit heavy, but Detwieler was used to the weight. So it didn’t affect her ability to place shots, and she quickly typed a message.
<<“RAMROD 2-2 TO KING SIX, HAVE ENEMY FORCE OF ESTIMATED ONE INFANTRY PLATOON IN SIZE 200 YARDS TO MY FRONT. WILL APPEND GRID REF TO MSG. PLAN TO ATTRIT, THEN RETREAT 1000 YARDS TO RV ZULU. REQUEST EXFIL SUPPORT AND GREETING FOR UNEXPECTED COMPANY, OVER?”>>
She then hit SEND, and the message went screaming back to the Regimental BG HQ, where she sincerely hoped someone was paying attention. Everyone is a bit busy these days. But they’re usually pretty good..the unit softly vibrated with a response to the message, the screen read:
<<“KING SIX TO RAMROD 2-2, APPROVE COA. GOOD HUNTING, WE WILL SEE YOU AT RV ZULU. EXPECT MECH LANCE TO MEET YOU WITH APC AT RV ZULU. CALL SIGN IS THOR THREE-THREE. HAVE YOUR ID PANELS ON! THREE-THREE HAS BEEN TOLD TO FIRE ON ALL DISMOUNTS NOT WEARING PANELS. SIX OUT.”>>
Lovely, thought Detwieler. Someone thought it was a good idea to tell some ‘Mechjocks that it’s ok to be even more trigger happy then they usually are. And when the hell are we gonna be able to slip on our ID panels while we are legging it with about 20-odd pissed off Capellans behind us? ******, this is going to be fun.
The sounds became more frequent, and shapes began to form in the darkness as Detwieler trained her rifle towards the source of a particularly loud crunch of rubble. The Leopold-Zeiss had good low light properties, and the 10x scope easily picked up a shape of a man in outline, caught against the light of a burning building. He was hunched over, his black form clutching the shape of a rifle as he moved carefully down the remains of the street. Surprised they aren’t moving from cover to cover, then again, perhaps they were told nobody was here. Oh well, makes my job easier. Or maybe some Capellan bastard with a Minolta 9000 is sitting out there waiting for me to make a mistake. Detwieler’s stomach began to drop, and her hands began to sweat. Shit, not the shakes. Not now. I always get nervous before it drops in the pot. It was the anticipation coupled with a side effect of the stim tabs, once she sighted in, she was fine, but the fact was, it was a sign she was going to be puking like she’d gone on a bender afterwards. The shakes always made her nauseous. And it’s a bitch to get that nasty metallic taste out of my mouth.
The shape prodded forward, timidly, down the left side of the street, dodging around a hole where an exposed water main jutted out from below like some sort of modern art sculpture, the water or sewage having long spewed onto the street. He was young, impossibly young, his equipment was immaculate, and his rosy cheeks contrasted in the firelight against the impossibly white skin of the rest of his face. He was looking all around him, a noise from what must have been an animal, or settling debris startled him as he nearly jumped out of his skin. Probably pissed off his squad leader, hence why somebody this young and obviously bad at his job is on point. Guess I will do this kid a favor. Not like I want him anyhow. Where’s your boss kid? Where is your NCO, or better yet, your LT?
More figures resolved themselves on either side of the street, they moved as quiet as they could, but some of their gear still jangled, and their feet shuffled. One man had a Kaskia Arms Light Machine Gun, good gun, but violent extraction issues, don’t grease the cartridges, and you wind up tearing the spent rounds in half..nasty jam to fix. Yeah, you and your loader go first.
She stole a glance at her loader and mouthed “shoot the loader for the machinegun”. The kid nodded and settled his laser rifle into his shoulder. Detwieler turned and began to breathe slowly as she settled her sight onto the face of the machinegunner. She noticed her target’s nose was running, the snot was slick in the light of the fire against his face. He cursed softly as he reached into his snivel gear bag on his right hip and produced a dirty hankie. He had turned slightly, it wasn’t as good of a shot…but Detwieler had a nice view of his temple. Ok, zeroed for 200 yards, wind is from the south at 1-2 knots. Yeah, right on the money.
Detwieler slowed her breathing more as her finger began to take up the slack on her trigger. She’d modified that instead of the normal 4lbs of pressure, her trigger slack broke at 2lbs. She liked it, it allowed her to do follow up shots in a hurry if she needed to. I always relocate after shot number two though. It’s a good habit I never, ever break.
The gunner coughed and put his dirty hanky back into his snivel bag, then began to move up to catch up with the rest of his squad as they carefully walked down the ruined street. His face was Detwieler’s world, and she began to squeeze the trigger. Her weapon was carefully braced on a small pile of rubble, and she’d taken a few shots to sight in. A night shoot like this didn’t get much better. She built up the pressure and let out a final breath, just as the slack broke and the weapon went off, as if by surprise, just like Detwieler was trained.
The 62 grain, 7.62mm x 55mm semi-armor piecing round covered the 200 yards in about half a second, and hit the Capellan soldier right in the forehead, plowing through his skull with sickening ease, and leaving an eruption of blood and brains out the back of his head where his helmet had a new hole, courtesy of the high velocity rifle round. He pirouetted, then fell with all the grace of a puppet with its strings cut, a rooster tail of blood filling the air as he fell. It all happened so fast, that the crack of the round and the report of the rifle were only heard a half-second after the gunner was hit. The casing extracted silently, with the only sound being a soft ping as it hit a bit of broken glass in the position.
Her spotter’s Intek lit the night up with a beam of coherent light that linked firer and victim in a line of death that caught the gunner’s number two, a short fellow with Asian features right in the middle of the chest. It was a classic center mass shot and the Intek plowed right though the armored vest, blowing a fist sized hole in the man, and leaving a small fire burning around the hole as he tumbled over face first into the street, dead before he hit the ground. But their position had been given away. Not like we had time for him to zero something else before we set out, and hell, they were gonna know where we fired from sooner or later. Detwieler thought as she lined up another fellow, this guy was giving a bunch of obvious hand and arm signals. He didn’t wear any obvious rank, but he was yelling and gesticulating at folks to get under cover, fast.
Her next shot was hasty, but no less true, and it caught this target in the lower abdomen, and the round went right through the front of his body armor and sprawled him out in the street. He wasn’t dead though, as he immediately began to scream in Chinese. It was a mournful, horrible sound. Detwieler hated this part of the job, leaving a wounded man out there to draw out more of the enemy. But it was a job, and she was good at it, no matter what others thought.
Her spotter dropped another random rifleman who got too adventurous peeking out from cover, and gave Detwieler a look as if to say time to go? She nodded, and grabbed her rifle, slithering out feet first from the hide and looking as the new fella followed her. She motioned him onward at a trot as they vanished into the ruined night, and the Capellans finally came alive, rounds beginning to ping off the ruined hovertruck in a futile attempt to kill them.
Battle for Sarna, Part 2 - Battle of Salomek
Sarna, Part 2
Attacking Units: 12th Vegan Rangers (all four regiments), 1st Kestrel Grenadiers
Defending Units: McCarron’s Armored Cavalry (all five regiments), Sarna Home Guard
The fighting settled into a bit of a stalemate, as the Capellans began to reduce Salomek to rubble, block by painful block, both sides spending two weeks bleeding each other white as they lived like rats and killed each other in the ruined urban canyon of Salomek. By the end of April, both sides had lost upwards of 50% casualties, and the Salomek perimeter had stalemated.
General Stancel, commander of the 12th Vegan Rangers Brigade, was desperate to break the stalemate, and began to prepare an operation he codenamed “PUNCH DRUNK” to send a scratch force of light 'Mechs and hover tanks to raid the McCarron brigade HQ in the outskirts of town, but he held that option in reserve, wanting only to commit it once McCarron relaunched offensive operations in earnest.
In other news, the 1st Kestrel Grenadiers detached their Armored Grenadier battalion and launched a raid on the Tengo Aerospace Plant on the continent of Becktal, which shut down the plant for three weeks, as well as savaged a battalion of the Sarna Home Guard. The commander of the Guard in the wake of the raid, demanded more troops from McCarron, who was forced to detach a scratch battalion from volunteers from his other regiments to reinforce the 5th, who by now, had completely lost contact with the Kestrel Grenadiers (who were happily running rings around McCarron’s troops) and were repeatedly blundering into ambush after ambush.
Capellan Military Justice
11th Maskirovka Field Support Battalion
April 23rd, 3057
The tent itself was quiet as a tomb, the exception being the clacking of the keys from the noteputer of the clerk in the corner. All was to be properly recorded for the glory of the Capellan State, even it’s disappointments, such as these.
Commander Ju-Shing Tai, president of the summary tribunal, sat down at the field desk he had been occupying since the Capellan State had returned Sarna to its warm embrace and opened the folder with the current caseload. It was long and promised a busy day all around. He nodded to the senior NCO and stated, “Bring in the first traitor, let’s get the day started properly.”
A bedraggled young man of perhaps twenty was frog marched into the open area ten paces in front of the desk, he was in chains, both leg and arm irons. His face belied the scars of “coercive measures” yet his eyes burned defiance. This one could be…troublesome. Tai’s mind remarked.
Tai opened the folder, and shuffled the papers, he didn’t need to read this man’s file. He’d studied up on the day’s cases as part of his morning routine, and for the most part, determined their verdicts. Some can be reclaimed by the Capellan State, this one, probably not. But we shall see.
“Corporal Evgeny Rustakovich of Jensen’s Fire Lance, 2nd Company, 1st Battalion, The Wild Ones Regiment, McCarron’s Armored Cavalry. You stand accused of the following specifications of violations of the laws of conflict as stated in CCAF regulations, specifically, Articles 112 Cowardice in the Face of the Enemy, 291 Striking a Superior Officer, 301 Encouraging Defeatism, and 445 Insubordination. You stand accused of 1 specification each. The court has your legally extracted confession, but will entertain any mitigating circumstances, or pleas for mercy, before your legally mandated summary execution.”
The figure sat and regarded Tai, then spat at him with all the fury he could muster, the gob of mucus and hate landing well short of the desk.
“It is good, Corporal, that that missed. Otherwise I would add a specification of violation of Article 399, Assault on a Superior.”
“Go ahead and shoot me, you bastard! You’ve already made your mind up, just do it!” stated the manacled Corporal, his Russian accent was evident, but slurred, obviously he was nursing a slight concussion from when they had extracted the confession.
“Oh, but the Capellan State will not suffer any slights, not from the likes of you, boy. No, we’re not just going to shoot you. We’re going to make your entire family Servitors. As obviously, such grievous disloyalty to the state had to be learned somewhere. And we cannot go rewarding such families. Isn’t your brother a Subcommander with the Red Lancers? I suppose they’ll adjust to being sharecroppers on a state farm on Yuris, dispossessed and all.”
The Corporal’s eyes went wide. “You sonofbitch! You leave them alone!”
“Or you’ll do what? Kill me? Like you tried to do to your lance commander?”
“That dumb bastard almost led us into an ambush. He should be the one on trial.” the Corporate spat out
“He would be for gross incompetence and loss of Capellan State Property, but he had the good sense to die in the service of the state. You, you’re just going to die. But I will give you this chance. Sign this confession, and record a statement admitting full guilt, and any punishment will only fall upon you. You have my word as an officer of the Capellan State.”
The Corporal’s face went pensive for a moment, then he nodded.
“Good, Corporal. I feel your sudden change of heart has some promise. Alright. I hereby sentence you to be reduced in rank to Recruit, and to be immediately turned over to the custody of the 191st Corrective Infantry Battalion, where you will serve either for a term of 1 year, or until you are wounded in the service of the state. Upon that time, you will be returned to regular service in the CCAF. Remember, Recruit, you can be shot for ANY infraction at any time by the NCOs and Officers of the 191st, so mind your behavior.”
The Corporal nodded and was dragged from the room in preparation for the next case.
The court manager, a Subcommander leaned over and whispered, “Are you really going to spare his family?”
“No, of course not. Have papers drawn up for all the males over the age of 14 in his family to be arrested and enrolled into the nearest Corrective Battalion. We cannot have this disloyalty gaining currency. Iron discipline and correct thought are the cornerstones of loyalty to the state.”
And on the day went.