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chapter nine
Part Five

Hreha jumped as Cummings' face blanched and he slid from view. She couldn't see the injury but it was obvious he'd just been shot.

Instinctively she dove to catch him and then reflexively pulled back as another shot careened off the side of the doorframe in a micro-shower of sparks. With the passenger side door of the Troop Carrier open Hreha was completely exposed.

In a flash of clarity she remembered the doors were pneumatic and she toggled up the controller on her side, slapping the door closed and at least protecting her from stray bullets and lucky shots. But that mean her Corporal, her injured Corporal was not only wounded but completely exposed.

Private Valerie Hreha grabbed an EarComm from a pocket and clumsily struggled to get it on as she climbed out of her seat and crouched in the tiny open space in the middle cab long enough to trigger his chair forward. Here she accessed a panel of supplies, combat gear and weapons, as she reported in.

“Flak! Flak!” She barked, it was a term that would automatically open a channel to every member of the Squad with priority emphasis. “Base under fire. Corporal down on the passenger side! Prepping for recovery.”

Fifty metres away, face down in the open grass, Finnegan's EarComm came to life, humming out the local noise so Hreha's message came through loud and clear. And if that wasn't enough a text interpretation of her message began scrolling across his left Cuff-Display while his suit's Comm-Badge automatically recorded everything, both for the post-mission review and an instant replay option, should he need it.

He checked his Cuff-Display to confirm he heard correctly and then triggered his Command Channel, “Negative, Private. Stay put! We're already in field. We'll handle this!”

A glance at Jones confirmed she'd heard everything, a nod told her to mobilize the Squad. Instantly the Sergeant began hand signaling her orders. First objective was getting behind that Troop Carrier so they had cover. Next would be firing back at those best in sight of the wounded Corporal so that the Squad could affect recovery of their fallen comrade.

The first objective as easy enough. Whoever their opposition was they weren't terribly good at firing hand weapons, particularly when being similarly engaged. The Squad made their way to the Carrier's protection in short order and without further injury.

Slamming against the outer hull of the Troop Carrier Livingston remembered the outer holds and lockers positioned here. He waved his hand over the locking mechanism, holding it in place long enough for the electro-lock to register his “key”, and then on opening it Livingston grabbed two Composite shields from among the other riot gear and pulled them out. He'd have to remember to track down the bureaucrat who had correctly guessed they'd need riot gear on a peacekeeping mission and buy that person a serving of their favourite beverage.

Then, aiming high and to the right as per doctrine, Jones, Lumly, Armstrong, Wallace, Cooper and Ruby took paired turned engaging the shooters on the right and center flanks. It was like a game of “Whack a Mole” firing towards any head that reared itself over the ridge.

Once a system of cover was established Livingston and Rodgers, clutching their Composite Shields in much the same way a Roman Legionnaire would on an advance, moved forward, crouching behind their shields as they quickly made way around the front of the Carrier and up behind the wounded Corporal Cummings.

Livingston momentarily glanced up at the passenger side door to the cab. Would that be the best way in, he thought? No, he dismissed the idea immediately. The cab was the most operationally sensitive part of the vehicle and exposing it, and the unprotected Private inside to direct fire simply wasn't smart. Besides, it would probably take more time to climb in, carrying the wounded Cummings, than it would to retreat back the way they came.

The surprise came when a shooter entrenched behind a ridge directly ahead of the Carrier opened fire. Now the Squad was defending from three flanks.

Finn turned to Jones, “Grenade him!”

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Ruby, the Squad ordinance master, reach for a Grenade to launch from the front of his Marwayne rifle. Her hand came out to his arm stopping him as she turned to Finnegan and asked, “Concussive?”

Finn paused a half second. In the heat of this he was at War, but through that fog the remembrance came that they were on a Mission of Influence, which put very heavy emphasis on Defensive only actions. Reluctantly he nodded.

Private Jonathan Ruby had practiced this many times, he was in the top three percentile for Grenade shots back in Basic and because he had a gift for this he kept it up. But this shot worried him; he had trained to fire at targets kilometres away, not a mere forty metres. The ballistic arc would have to be steep to get over that ridge but the velocity would have to be the merest fraction of what he'd normally use or the grenade would land in another county.

Ruby shook his head in frustration, you'd think a compensation calculation would've been built into the Marwayne for this sort of thing. He decided right then that once they had a moment he'd sit down with Private Rodgers and work out some sort of sub-routine for this.

The lob was anti-climatic. The grenade burst from the chamber on a high energy grav pulse which pushed the ordinance straight out for the first 40 metres at half the speed of sound and then, having reached position, the grav-pulse reversed, brought the grenade to a halt and then dropped it.

Had any of their opposition been proficient with their aim there was a small chance one of them could fire on the weapon, exploding it short of the ground, but none of them even saw it coming.

It landed two steps back of Horst and when it blew it launched him skyward, over the ridge and into plain view. He landed safely enough, on his back, and slid down the near side of the ridge feet first and unconscious. It was quite a bit closer than Ruby had intended.

What they didn't know was that Tilkey and Schmarchuk were near enough to Horst that the concussive blast had knocked them off their feet, and Majors was blinded by the flash and a wave of dirt that washed over her before she knew what was coming.

They'd recover but not soon, and the rest of the posse, Anderson, Caleb and Trinity were too stunned by the response to keep firing. From their perspective Horst had been atomized, Tilkey and Schmarchuk knocked dead and Majors struck in the face. All with one shot that came from no where.

Jones nodded for her Commander to enter first but he waved her off and took a step back ready to engage anyone who showed themselves. Jones rapped the driver's door open and while giving him a harsh stare she motioned the Squad inside, Livingston and the wounded Cummings first.

Inside the Cab, Hreha ready to join in, had already force vented the ANSE mist from the back of the Carrier, opened the mid-door and was in the passenger seat bringing the grav-systems up to speed so they could bug out if ordered.

Jones tried to step back out so Finnegan could enter but he waved her off as he climbed inside, secure that he was the last one in. It rankled Jones that he was that insistent but at the same time she knew it wouldn't hurt morale.

He motioned Hreha to get them levitated, but at her request for directions he replied simply, “stay put unless they get bigger guns.” He knew the outer hull of the Carrier would withstand any of what they've been getting, but he wasn't sure these people didn't have more to throw at them.

Finn moved past the lav and command alcove into the back of the Carrier just as Lumly, the only Med rated member of the squad, powered up the Auto-Med Systems. Meanwhile Livingston and Rodgers did their best to get their wounded comrade in the nearest cot.

Finn tried to remain out of the way while Lumly worked but he could tell, they all could, the vitals were dropping fast. Lumly had taken the shot through the back but it had severed a major artery and Cummings was quickly bleeding out. In the few seconds it took them all to settle the Corporal was dead.

Finn turned with a cold simmering rage. “I want full systems to bear, it's time to neutralize this threat.”

The tone was enough to wave red flags to Jones, she stepped forward, “A moment alone, sir.”

Finn continued to direct members of the squad to their stations. Armstrong had accessed the rear control systems and was bringing up the major ordinance that essentially elevated this Troop Carrier to light tank.

Sergeant Jones was insistent, her hand came out to Finn's arm and she gripped, “A moment alone!” and then to reinforce her insistence she put special emphasis on, “Sir!”

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