Gust front lota 2, p.1

Gust Front lota-2, page 1

 part  #2 of  Legacy of the Aldenata Series

 

Gust Front lota-2
 



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Gust Front lota-2


  Gust Front

  ( Legacy of the Aldenata - 2 )

  John Ringo

  The aliens had arrived with gifts, warnings, and an offer we couldn’t refuse…

  Our choice was simple: we could be cannon fodder, or we could be… fodder. We could send our forces to fight and die (as only humans can) against a ravening horde that was literally feeding on its interstellar conquests — or remain as we were — virtually weaponless and third in line for brunch.

  We chose to fight.

  Thanks to alien technology and sheer guts, the Terrans on two worlds fought the Posleen to a standstill. Thank God there was a moment to catch our breath, a moment, however brief, of peace.

  Now, for the survivors of the Barwhon and Diess Expeditionary Forces, it was a chance to get some distance from the blood and misery of battle against the Posleen centaurs. A blessed chance to forget the screams of the dying in purple swamps and massacres under searing alien suns.

  For Earth it was an opportunity to flesh out their force of raw recruits with combat-seasoned veterans. Political, military and scientific blundering had left the Terran forces in shambles — and with the Posleen invasion only months away, these shell-shocked survivors might be the only people capable of saving the Earth from devastation.

  If the veterans had time to lick their wounds.

  Because the Posleen don’t read schedules.

  Gust Front

  by John Ringo

  In Memory of William Pryor Ringo, Engineer Extraordinaire.

  Prologue

  “Well, Tir, you think your plans for the humans are working?”

  The Darhel Ghin waved a stick of incense through the air and placed the message to the Lords on the Altar of Communication. The background of melodiously chiming song-crystals and the mirrored silver colonnades aided his contemplation of the multitudinous alternate futures. At the moment he sorely needed the aid. Most of the futures looked bleak.

  His Indowy body attendants lifted his robes as he rose and turned to the attendant Tir. The younger Darhel’s foxlike face was the well-trained mien of a senior Darhel manager. He returned the Ghin’s ear flick of polite query with total impassivity. In fact better than two-thirds of the overall plan was in total disarray, mostly because of the actions of a single lucky individual. Admitting that, however, was not a route to power. And there was little for this old fossil to pick apart. The entirety of the plan was known only to himself.

  “No plan unfolds in perfection,” the Tir said smoothly. “That is the purpose of management.”

  The elfin Ghin flicked his ears again. The gesture was deliberately ambiguous. It might have been polite agreement. Or it might have been polite disbelief. The difference was subtle. “We retain Diess.”

  The Ghin deliberately did not ascribe that as a positive or a negative trait. Destroying the allied human forces arrayed to defend the planet might or might not have been part of the young pup’s plan. Leaving the statement ambiguous was a deliberate trap with overtones he doubted the Tir was aware of.

  The Tir flared his nostrils in agreement and glanced at the gathered Indowy. “It is an important world.” The corporations of Diess were entirely Darhel-controlled despite the billions of Indowy residents. The laborers of the Federation were as disposable as bacteria. “The revenue is significant.”

  The Ghin’s nostrils flared. As expected the young fool had sidestepped. “And Barwhon as well.”

  “Regrettably the human loss there has been great.” The expression he displayed now was one copied from humans, cat-pupilled vertical-lidded eyes opening wide. The wide mobile mouth turned down, exposing the edge of sharklike teeth. Even the ears drooped. It was a subtle and effective expression and one difficult to copy. Humans would have slumped in apparent defeat as well. Sorrow was not a Darhel emotion. Hatred, yes. Anger, definitely. Sorrow? No.

  The Ghin took a moment to contemplate his own plans. The Ghin knew that the road to mastery was not one of plots alone. A clear understanding of reality was paramount. That the young fool had risen to his current place was a sign that the quality of the opposition had fallen off.

  Or of a deeply laid plan.

  The Ghin gave an internal flare to the nostrils. No. No deep plans here. His own plans had every path to the future open to his own designs, and every path shut to the young fool. There were no flaws in his approach. It was a warm feeling.

  “Your plan will require further… adjustment? You were frustrated on Diess by the actions of a single human.”

  “Yes, Your Ghin,” agreed the Tir. He had set the trap and the old fool had wandered right in. “I fear my presence on Earth will be required for the next phase.”

  “And that is?” The Ghin set the targan trap and waited for the quarry.

  The Tir’s face settled into even less readable lines. The next phase was obvious. Even to this old fool. “The humans must enter the path to enlightenment. Individuality is an obstacle to oneness that must be overcome.”

  “And you propose to do that how?” The Ghin flicked his ears again in that deliberately ambiguous manner.

  “There are so many paths to success it would take days to describe. Suffice it to say that the humans must be pawns to the Path of Enlightenment. Their myth of individuality shall be crushed and with it their passion. The way of passion is not the way to success in our current endeavors. Nor is it the way to enlightenment.”

  The Tir paused, trembling slightly. “The time of heroes is past. And the time of certain individuals in particular is long past.” The Tir was a master of facial control, but his control of body language was still spotty. The deep breath and rippling of muscles along the upper limbs spoke of surging anger.

  The young fool was on the edge of lintatai! The Ghin schooled his face into immobility. The Tir had been reading his reports and analyses too long. He had forgotten that, hidden deep beneath the veneer of civilization, the heart of the Darhel was the heart of a frustrated warrior. This was the very urge that he now fought. And that heart told the Ghin that his opponent had seriously miscalculated. Humans would not be so easily vanquished as a threat to Darhel control.

  “I am joyful that our people have such exquisite leadership,” the Ghin said. Then he also copied a human expression as his lips drew back in a broad smile. The glittering teeth of a rending carnivore were exposed for all to see and the watching Indowy shut their eyes and turned away. None of them had the stupidity to actually run or otherwise embarrass the Darhel lords, but none of them would ever forget the sight. “Our future is in good hands.”

  Chapter 1

  Ttckpt Province, Barwhon V

  1625 GMT November 23rd, 2003 ad

  Kabul town was ours to take —

  Blow the trumpet draw the sword —

  I’d ha’ left it for ’is sake —

  ’Im that left me by the ford.

  Ford, ford, ford o’ Kabul river,

  Ford o’ Kabul river in the dark!

  — “Ford O’ Kabul River”

  Rudyard Kipling

  A burst of machine gun fire took the lead Posleen in the chest. The orange tracer of the fifth bullet drifted past the crumpling creature as steaming yellow blood stained the purple ferns of the undergrowth. The company of centaurlike aliens began to spread to either side as the remainder of the humans opened fire. The ford behind the humans echoed a liquid chuckle, as if laughing at the poor soldiers called to their deaths by its aberrant presence.

  Captain Robert Thomas peered through the ever-present mists and whispered a call for fire as the Posleen deployed. His company was heavily outnumbered by the approaching Posleen battlegroup and low on soldiers, ammunition and morale. But they had also dug in on the soggy, forward side of the ford. The unit had a choic
e of fight or die. Crossing the ford with the Posleen at their backs would be a losing proposition.

  It was a desperate position to take, almost suicidal. But unless someone got their thumbs out and reinforced them, the surprise strike by the Posleen would turn the flank of the entire Fourth Armored Division. In a situation like this Thomas knew his duty. Place his soldiers on the deadliest ground possible; when the choice is death or death, soldiers tend to fight the hardest. It was the oldest military axiom in the book.

  The heavy vegetation of Barwhon had prevented engaging the centaurs at maximum range, so it was the sort of point-blank shoot-out that favored the Posleen. Thomas grunted in anger as his Second platoon’s machine gun section was taken out by a wash of plasma fire, then snarled as the first God King made an appearance.

  There were several ways to distinguish the God Kings of the Posleen from the combatant “normals” that made up the bulk of the Posleen forces. The first thing was that they were larger than normals, being about seventeen hands at the complex double shoulder versus the normal’s fourteen to fifteen hands. The second thing was that they had high feathery crests running along their backs and opening forward like the ceremonial headdress of the plains Indians. But the main way to distinguish a God King from its bonded normals was the silvery ground-effect saucer it rode.

  The device was not only transportation. A pintle-mounted heavy weapon — in this case a hypervelocity missile launcher — bespoke its prime reason for existence. In addition the vehicle mounted a mass of sophisticated sensors. Some God Kings used them actively, others passively, but the sensor suite was just as dangerous in its own way as the heavy weapon. Denying information to the enemy is the second oldest lesson of warfare.

  However, in the last year of give-and-take in the jungles of Barwhon V humans had learned a few lessons about fighting God Kings. All the heavy weapons of the company redirected their fire to the forces around the saucer as the company’s sniper targeted the God King and its vehicle.

  Well before the units had left the blue-and-white ball of Terra, the American military had begun modifying their weapons to deal with the changed threat. First the venerable M-16 had been replaced with a heavier caliber rifle capable of stopping the horse-sized Posleen. In addition there had been changes to the sniper force.

  Ever since snipers were reactivated as a position in the 1980s there had been debates about the appropriate standard rifle. The debate was ended by a special operations group deployed to Barwhon. The only reason that any of the reconnaissance team survived to see the green hills of Earth was the use of a .50 caliber rifle by the team’s sniper.

  The debate went on over the use of bolt-action versus semiautomatic. However, that was a debate for military philosophers. The M-82, the semiautomatic “Murfreesboro Five-Oh,” had become the weapon of choice.

  Now SP4 John Jenkins demonstrated why. He had chosen to set up on a slight mound behind the company and across the gurgling ford from the likely direction of contact. His coverall, sewn all over with dangling strips of burlap, made him invisible to the naked eye. However, the God King’s sensors would not be fooled. To avoid having the sniper detected, the company had to cover his actions with mass fire.

  As the M-60s of the three line platoons took the forces around the God King under heavy fire the specialist triggered a single round from the thirty-pound sniper rifle. His two-hundred-pound body rocked from the recoil and the saturated ground under him squished in shock.

  The round that the rifle used was essentially the same one used by the time-honored M-2 .50 caliber machine gun. Three times the size of a .30-06 round, it had a muzzle velocity normally associated with antiaircraft cannons. A fraction of a second after the recoil shoved the heavy-set sniper backwards, the armor-piercing bullet struck the saucer to the left of the pintle base.

  The Teflon-coated tungsten-cored bullet penetrated the cover of an innocuous box at the God King’s feet. Then it penetrated the slightly heavier interior wall. After that it passed through a crystalline matrix. It would have passed entirely through the matrix but its passage had disturbed the delicate balance of the power crystals that drove the heavy antigravity sled.

  The power crystals used a charge field to hold molecules in a state of high-order flexion which permitted tremendous energy to be stored by the crystals. However, the flexion was maintained by a small field generator embedded deep in the matrix. When the dynamic shock of the bullet shattered the field generator, the energy of the crystals was released in a blast equivalent to half a ton of high explosives.

  The God King vanished in a green actinic flash along with better than half his company as the shrapnel from the shattered saucer washed outward. The fireball consumed the two dozen remaining senior normals immediately around the saucer and the blast and shrapnel killed better than a hundred and fifty more.

  The first volley of cluster ammunition artillery seemed almost anticlimactic to Captain Thomas. The next wave of Posleen disagreed.

  * * *

  “Echo Three Five this is Pappa One Six, over,” Thomas whispered hoarsely. The past two hours had been a blur of charging Posleen, hammering artillery and dying soldiers. He felt that they were about done. He blew on his hand to warm it and stared out at the battlefield. The slope down to their position was littered with Posleen corpses but the damn horses just kept coming. As usual, there was no way to tell how many more there were — aerial reconnaissance was a distant memory in the face of the God King sensors and weapons. But there were at least two thousand scattered in front of his company. The bare hundred soldiers he had brought to the table had destroyed twenty times their number.

  However, the horrific casualty ratios were beside the point. He was down to less than a reinforced platoon and the next push should slice through them like a hot knife through butter. The problem with fighting the Posleen was rarely killing them; the problem was killing enough of them to matter. Unless the promised reinforcements arrived he was going to have destroyed his whole company for nothing. Having been on Barwhon since the first day the Allied Expeditionary Force arrived, the captain could handle killing his entire company. It had happened before and it would happen again; the unit had had two hundred percent turnover in personnel in the last year. But it irked him when it was for nothing.

  He dropped back into his water-filled foxhole. The cold, viscous liquid came up to his waist when he sat on the bottom. He ignored the discomfort — mud was as common on Barwhon as death — slid another clip of twenty-millimeter grenades into his AIW and called brigade again. “Echo Three Five this is Pappa One Six, over.” No response. He pulled a steel mirror out of his thigh pocket and held it up where he could see the battlefield. The tired officer shook his head, put the mirror away and jacked a grenade into place.

  He moved to a kneeling position and took a deep breath. With a convulsive lunge he popped up and fired a string of grenades into a set of normals that looked ready to charge.

  In general, once their God Kings were killed the normals gave one burst for glory then ran. But some of them were more aggressive than others. This group was hanging around, exchanging some fairly effective fire and generally being a pain in the ass. Since most of his troops were scrounging ammunition, patching wounds and preparing for the next heavy assault they did not have time to deal with harassment. This would have been Jenkins’s job, but he had bought it almost an hour before. So the company commander spun another group of grenades at the idiot centaurs, dropped back into his hole and switched out magazines. Again. Overhead flechette rounds flailed his hole for a moment and then stopped. Posleen normals were so stupid they had eclipsed all other ethnic jokes.

  “Echo Three Five, this is Pappa One Six,” he whispered into the microphone. “We are under heavy attack. Estimate regimental strength or better. We need reinforcements. Over.” His company was good; after this long they had to be. But ten-to-one odds was a little much without prepared defenses. Hell, ten-to-one against the Posleen with prepared defenses w
as a little much. What was needed was a concrete or rubble wall and a moat filled with punji stakes. Not a company on the ass-end of nowhere and barely enough time to dig in. No mines, no claymores, no concertina and damn sure no support.

  The radio crackled. “Pappa One Six, this is Echo Three Five, actual.” At that moment Captain Thomas knew he was screwed. If the brigade commander was calling it could only mean the shit had truly hit the fan.

  “Situation understood. The second of the one-ninety-eighth was ambushed during movement to reinforce you. We have at least another regiment moving uncoordinated in the brigade’s rear area.”

  In the pause Thomas closed his eyes in realization of what that meant. With over two thousand Posleen in the brigade’s vulnerable rear, there was no way they were going to be able to spare reinforcements.

  “Your retreat route is impassable, Captain. There are Posleen all over it.” There was another pause. The sigh at the other end was clear even over the frequency-clipping radio. “It is imperative that you hold your position. If we have time we can handle this. But if another oolt’ondar breaks in right now the whole salient will be in jeopardy.” There was another pause as the colonel on the other end of the phone tried to find something else to say.

  Captain Thomas thought about what it must be like to be on the other end of the phone. The brigade commander had been here as long as Thomas and they knew each other well; the commander had pinned on Thomas’s first lieutenant and captain’s bars. Now he was sitting in the heated tactical operations center, staring at the radio, telling one of his subordinate commanders that the situation had just murdered him. That he and his whole unit were nothing but centaur fodder. And that they not only had to die, but that they had to die as hard as possible. Die alone and forlorn in the cold purple mists.

 
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