Chapter 2: House to house
There was a hill with a crater in it, looking so much like some giant had taken a bite out of one side. The vertical sides of the depression were made of some strange, smooth, drippy looking black stone; gravel and dirt fused together by an orbital C-beam. The inside of the crater was now was coated in a layer of dirty ice and grey-black snow, and sitting on all this was me, ration bar in one hand, the other on the grip of my assault rifle.
My name is Leif, a private of clan Honagar, otherwise known to any non-Reaver as D32-801 of the 18th Reaver company. I was one of the New Bloods just added. While most have a hard time distinguishing individual Reavers apart, I looked a bit different from the norm. This was thanks to the Gene-wizards that constantly tweaked variables and threw in slight mutations in order to keep us clones diverse enough that we couldn’t just be wiped out by a single gene-specific viral bomb. I stood shorter than most, at just over 6 feet, that and my blue eyes had a certain brightness to them that stood out. Needless to say that my training and education had perhaps a bit more impromptu hand-to-hand combat experience than most.
We were on Ithicus Prime, a medium population world of the Aquillian Empire, tasked with trying to take the world with as much of it’s infrastructure intact as possible. The planet apparently had large deposits of some semi-valuable material and facilities for the processing of said material. The Powers That Be have deemed that the prize of taking the world outweigh the cost, so here we were.
I took another bite from my ration bar and slowly chewed the tough substance. It tasted like synthetic coffee and plastic. Gazing out at the surroundings, I realized that this area was probably once a fairly well to do neighborhood. Large villas and mansions were scattered around the area surrounded by trees and parks, though now the buildings were all blasted out and the trees were but flash-carbonized claws, pointing accusingly at a sky covered with heavy clouds pregnant with ash. The sounds of distant combat could be heard, faint enough to sound almost gentle.
“Whelp, anything to report?” My ear-bead buzzed.
“All quiet Sergeant. Only ghost and memories stirring.”
“What? Has your first combat started you waxing poetic now? Heh! Trying to become a skald or something?”
“Awww, you know all the ladies love poets.”
“Yeah? But they only fuck warriors. Get your kit in gear, we’re moving out in five.”
“Roger that. Be back in two.”
I crammed down the last of my ration bar then checked my rifle and gear. The ammo count and battery charge on the MA-Rifle was fine and all my other gear was in place. Giving the nearby hills one last long look, I left the crater and headed back to rejoin with the rest of the squad.
The brief rest at the hill was only fifteen minutes or so, enough to eat a few ration bars and rest for the next leg of the mission. We only had a few more hours of daylight left and with that we needed to engage an artillery group bunkered in the outskirts of the city proper. Other Gamma teams would be hitting other points of interest as well, but we couldn’t count on them for any help.
As we got closer and closer to our objective, a heavy rhythmic booming detached itself from the background noises. The trees and villas gave way to apartment complexes and office buildings, the roads became wider and more choked with burned out vehicles, many of which still held blackened skeletons in their warped frames. The sky had turned a hellish red as the sun began to set, soon most of the ambient light would be from the occasional fire still raging amid the rubble and ruins.
We snuck from blackened wall to blackened wall. Most of the structures here were still mostly intact as it only suffered a light plasma bombardment, no explosives and no C-beams that could slag anything that could be salvaged, cold comfort for the poor civilians trying to evacuate the area.
Our point man, messaged back from his position. “Sir! MG nest in the second floor of the three story building up ahead. I think the objective is just behind it.”
“Right,” responded Lt. Hodir. ” Give me the video feed… okay, I see it. Everyone, I’m sending the image now.”
A small ping appeared at the edge of my visor, and with a command through my neuro-linked helmet, an image of a building appeared in a window covering the bottom left corner of the hud. On the second floor of the building was a stack of sandbags with the silhouette of a heavy machine gun on top, the whole setup superimposed with a red outline marking it out.
“That nest has a pretty damn good line of fire over the approach, but there’s plenty of cover between the corner and there. There’s also bound to be other bastards in the building next to it and in some of the other windows.” Several windows on the building were then outlined in red. “Pay careful attention to these ones, they offer the best line of fire on us as we approach. If need be, we keep up suppressing fire on these as we make our way over.” Lt. Hodir looked at us all and grinned. “Well boys, let’s get this done!”
“If you see the artillery, plant a targeting beacon near it. The whole fucking city is under a sensor shroud, but the beacon should be able to poke it’s nose through enough for a concentrated C-beam strike. Needless to say, we have only a few minutes to get out before the hammer comes down.” Sgt. Thorgrim added. “We’ll start by popping smoke. Let’s do this boys!”
From around the corner, we lobbed smoke grenades, and a thick grey-black cloud quickly billowed up, small metallic filaments that disrupted IR and other targeting systems caught the dying light of the sun and turned the whole area into a sea of embers. Into this we charged.
Visibility dropped to only a few feet, and even though I held my breath, the bitter alkaline smoke still found it’s way into my mouth. I came upon the twisted heap of a car and ducked behind it. Keeping one hand on the vehicle, I made my way around it, trying to keep an eye out for either another source of cover or the edge of the smoke.
Suddenly from up ahead came the sound of thunder that never ended. Over to my right a multitude of bullets pinged off metal and cracked into the asphalt of the road. I had no more time to cautiously make my way out of the smoke and ran forward, hoping that when I exited the smoke I would be near cover, and praying to the fickle Gods that a stray round wouldn’t rip through my body.
I burst out into the light again, the glittering cloud still clinging to me like some etherial lover. Just ahead was the remains of a van of some sort with two other Reavers huddled behind it. I ran and slid up to the side.
“Whoooo! What a way to start a party!” One of the Reavers laughed to me. It was Grimnir, from my original squad, the other man I didn’t recognize. Looking back, I saw two reavers, lying in steadily growing pools of blood at the edge of the smoke. Tracer fire swept the cloud, blindly strafing at anyone still inside, the white-hot rounds throwing strange little eddies in the smoke.
“Hey Leif, let’s get the fucker’s attention!” Grimnir shouted at me over the din of the machine gun with a grin on his face that made it sound like he just suggested courting a woman and not something spitting out 25 bullets a second. Oddly enough, I caught myself grinning the same.
“Haha! Well, we can’t stay here for…” My sentence was cut short when the brains of the third Reaver sprayed across the side of the van.
“Sniper!” I fired at the windows where shot was most likely to have come from, but there was nothing there now. Grimnir growled something under his breath
I ran around the corner of the van and dived behind a small car which gave me cover from both the sniper and the machine gun, tracer rounds tracking me the whole way, tearing up the asphalt behind me.
I let myself breath a sigh of relief for a second when it caught in my throat as I saw tracer rounds tear through the fiberglass chassis of my cover. Dropping flat to the ground and curling into the fetal position, I prayed to all the Gods and angels that they wouldn’t find their target. The machine gunner realized that his rounds were not stopped by the flimsy vehicle, and continued raining fire at me. By some quirk of luck, or perhaps the engine block offered just enough mass, I wasn’t torn to pieces by the time the gunner diverted his attention to more pressing threats.
Quickly patting myself down to make sure all my limbs were still intact, I spied the ruins of an overturned bus that would let me make my way to the front of the building that held the machine gunner. I took out another smoke grenade and lobbed it in the open space between ahead. Letting the smoke fill up nice and thick, I plunged into the cloud.
A stream of bullets left trails through the smoke over my head as I ran low to the ground. Running so fast through the miasma, I nearly slammed into the side of the bus as it loomed up in front of me. Edging around it, the sounds of rounds striking asphalt and metal drew away from me. Cautiously edging around the overturned bus, I saw the front of the building and that I was well below the firing arc of the machine gun.
I ran up and threw my back against the wall by the front door, eyes scanning the opening for trouble.
Looking back, it seemed that the rest of the squad was pinned down by the cross fire, so I was going to be on my own for a while. Deciding that if I distracted the gunner on my own now, me dying would leave more of the squad intact when they reached the objective, so it was time to make my presence known. Mission success over your own life was drilled into us since before we could understand words.
Sticking an optical snake around the corner, it looked like the room was empty, but there were plenty of places for an ambush. Better safe than sorry, remember the training, I thought to myself. I pulled out a concussive grenade, primed it and lobbed it in.
I counted to three, heard the muted whumph of the blast from within the room, and swiveled in, eyes straining to catch a glimpse of movement. I spotted the barrel of a gun was coming over the top of an overturned table, and while the synth-wood stopped most of the blast from my grenade, it couldn’t stop a burst of magnetically accelerated ferrous tungsten rounds. The wood splintered and blood splattered against the walls.
As soon as that was done, I caught more movement at my peripheral, and dove for cover behind a chunk of fallen concrete and lay on my back behind it. Bullets blasted chunks off the small piece of cover I had, whittling it down at an alarming rate. Heartened by having me on the run and with the effectiveness of his assault, he continued pumping rounds at me. Then I heard the tell tale click of an empty magazine.
Rolling over to the side of my cover, I caught a glimpse of my assailant ducking back around the corner he was hiding behind, reloading his rifle. I kept a bead on the corner he was behind and waited. When he peeked out again, a trio of rounds blasted his head apart before he could squeeze off a shot.
I got up, and moved to where he was. Taking a quick look around, it appeared to be some sort of kitchen, covered in a layer of ash, with a set of stairs in the back that led up to where the machine gun nest was. I knew full well that the way up would be closely guarded. I then looked up and saw the red outline of the machine gun nest directly above me. I grinned.
I took out my demolition pack and slapped it against the celling, right under the nest and ran back into the first room. As soon as I pressed the detonator, the room filled with dust and the never-ending thunder was replaced with falling concrete. The dust cloud was thick so I held my breath and switched to IR as I peeked around the corner. Even with the optics, vision was difficult due to the residual heat on in the dust, but I was able to make out three figures amid the rubble, two of which were slowly pulling themselves out of the ruin. Two burst from me stopped that. I put a burst into the unmoving one as well, just to be safe.
Stepping back into the other room where the dust was much thinner, I took a deep breath of clear air and saw several other Reavers run in.
“Fan-fucking-tastic job whelp! But don’t spend too much time patting yourself on the ass, we ain’t done yet.” Sergeant Thorgrim’s gravelly voice spoke up on my helmet vox. “Sniper’s long gone, but keep your eyes open, the little shit’s gonna be hanging off our ass like a piece of… shit… not sure where I was going with this, but you get the point. Step lively Reavers!”
We quickly searched the area and found two more of the PDF machine gunner team who quickly surrendered. Reavers take no prisoners. After that bit of business, we moved from building to building, the last rays of the setting sun caught the dust and smoke in the air, a thousand glittering fires dancing in the air. After a bit, even that bit of beauty faded away with the night.