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Down The Rabbit Hole: Pile It On

This is my yearly "Down The Rabbit Hole" post. Most of them are fairly dark.

2017: Lifeboat
2016: Atrocity Day
2015: Log of the _Blue Oyster_
2014: Pile It On (this one)
2013: Door to Door Inferno
2012: Future Imperfect
2011: Freedom From Fear: The Home Front
2010: War of Terror: On The Front Line
2009: America Back To Work
2008: nonfiction break "The Power of Nightmares," a censored film about Islamic and Christian fundamentalism
2007: In The Hole, Spectacularly Not Winning
2006: Security & Space
2005: GlobAll War Of Terror (now a series!)

(This scenario is loosely modeled on http://www.sjgames.com/ogre/scenarios/sanfrancisco/ )

My section of armored combat infantry is lounging around, flaked out with suits in low power mode around the evacuated Daly City BART station. I've authorized the XO to release some troops to rest and recreation, he authorized the platoon sergeant, and she released two sections -- sixteen troops -- to dismount and to help themselves to whatever luxuries they can find in the hastily abandoned homes and stores. Most have chosen to sleep in an actual bed.

I sleep in my suit. So does everyone else, when they can sleep.

One of the big problems with command armor is the instant videoconferencing. So far I've been an unwilling participant in conference calls with Battalion, Regiment ("3rd California") and even Division. They want us to know exactly what we are up against.

I'm a product of the California State Military Reserve's Academy, a so-called "Ninety Day Wonder." Physical fitness is not such a big deal when wearing half a ton of psuedo-musculature and a fusion reactor. Tolerance of stress and pain, the ability to multi-task under extreme stress, and a resolute refusal to be scared of something the size of a small mountain throwing nukes at you is more important.

The Nihon are moving forces all across the Pacific Rim to engage in "law and order" and "rescue operations." The nation-state of California has pointedly refused their "help." We need no peacekeepers. But because we know what we're up against, the civilian population of the San Francisco Bay Area has been evacuated inland, dispersed from the Lost Coast and the Sierras through to the inland valleys. Not concentrated in Sacramento, even though we have laser towers up -- one hyper MIRV could run Sacramento's whole day, not to mention popping Folsom Dam and depriving our nascent nation-state of a capital and a Legislature.

Suits are easy to build. Take half a dozen cars and run them through an industrial 3D printer. Nukes are almost as easy. Unfortunately, dirty nukes are much easier to build than clean fusion bombs, let alone pumped X-ray lasers like those carried on an Ogre.

The Nihon have an experienced Mark V. We have a battered, nearly obsolete Mark III, more experienced in jungle warfare than in counter-armor operations,

What is the big deal about Ogres?

You can nuke them. And nuke them. And nuke them. And like a glowing mountain of flaming death, they keep advancing and spitting out nukes of their own.

But they can be stopped. Simply blow enough treads off. And based on the tactical and strategic analysis, it will be infantry power armor doing the stopping.

About sixty nuclear strikes on the bogies and the transfer wheels, and the Ogre is a stationary gun platform instead of a nightmare that can shatter any defense.

Just sixty. No problem, right?

I had slung over my right shoulder a nuclear rocket launcher, a fire and forget system nicknamed the Davy Crockett after a primitive man-launched nuclear system of the last century. I could deliver six pocket apocalypi in one busy minute. If I could get nine troopers to do so with me, and if we all lived to exhaust our magazines, so much for the Ogre.

But in the meantime, the Ogre would be shooting back with primaries, and secondaries, and antipersonnel infinite repeaters that made machine guns look like a child's BB gun, and if the target were worthy, flicker-swivver missiles. The only hope was to overwhelm the Ogre with numbers, but ...

In Academy training they had taught us about a Viking legend about a cursed banner, which a brave warrior could carry into battle on behalf of his army. So long as the banner flew, the army could not lose and would certainly win the fight -- but the banner's curse took its toll by taking the life of each warrior who carried it that day.

Wearing power armor against an Ogre was a lot like carrying that banner.

So allowing a few of my troops to loot prior to their demise didn't bother my conscience on bit, especially when the area they were looting was likely to become radioactive debris.

I reviewed the defense plan one more time. My troops would hold pat until enemy forces crossed the Golden Gate. If possible, engineering units would drop it... but we had to assume that something would go wrong and the big orange thing would stay up. Then we would fire our opening barrage as enemy armor -- probably including high speed hovercraft or Ground Effect Vehicles -- raced down Highway 1 towards Daly City. We would then retreat, using hastily prepared positions roughly along the BART line, giving ground but striking back again and again.

The final defense line was San Bruno, between the National Cemetery and the Tanforan shopping mall. One of the crucial command posts for the Bay Area was located somewhere in the sprawling San Francisco International Airport.

One huge advantage of power armor is our ability to go underground and dig in. Just like infantrymen in the World Wars, we could hide among and between buildings, in basements and sewers and tunnels, popping up out of cover to strike a blow and retreat. But instead of Panzerfausts and RPGs, we had pocket nukes.

Unlike that ancient era, we could rely on our enemy to blast everything he could, to trap us under crater glass and ruined buildings, relying on firestorm effect to kill any unarmored soldiers or damaged suits.

"OGRE!" the cry came up over the command net. I watched in horror over a remote link as the Nihon Ogre drove THROUGH the Golden Gate Bridge, armored radar tower slicing cleanly through the roadway deck and antipersonnel repeaters lancing out to both sides.

But I also saw something else. Faint tracks on the heads up display.


Following my own advice, I rolled into a drainage ditch I'd already picked out, which would protect me from all sides but not put so much debris above me that I could not dig out.

Cruise missiles. The Ogre had provided a fatal distraction for the streaks of cruise missiles coming in to pound our positions, in Marin and Burlingame and Berkeley and the SF Airport.

One missile separated over Daly City and spread out bomblets.

Someone said quietly on the command channel -- an NCO or an officer -- "For what we are about to receive..."

The world went white. I hunkered down and waited a minute to let the rumble die away and the heat wash past me.

Then I stood, allowing my sensors to let me know what was coming next.

Instead of a city and a BART station and greenery, I stood in a rubble field surrounded by the brief blowtorches of superheated trees and foundations where buildings used to be.

All of the unarmored troops were now dead, unless they'd managed to get back to their suits and find cover in time.

"Lieutenant Alvarez!" I snapped over the command net. My platoon sergeant answered instead in a calm soprano.

"This is Sergeant Brown. Alvarez is dead."

"Brown, enemy GEVs coming ashore in the Sunset along the Great Highway. Call in howitzer fire along Lake Merritt, San Francisco State and Stoneridge Mall. By the numbers. Everyone else, hold tight and wait for it."

The howitzers were dug in above South San Francisco, in the hills. They had the range to punish the lightly armored GEVs as they raced across the flank of the City to come to grips with us.

I kept an eye out for that Ogre. It flanked north and engaged Sausalito, which began to burn fiercely. Return fire from the handful of heavy armor California had managed to scrape up dented the Ogre's primary weapons, but the tactical icons told of each heavy armor unit's fate as the Ogre gifted each with a barrage in turn. Nothing could survive that - but another Ogre.

"Splash," Brown announced as the northwest went white and mushroom clouds rose on the targets I'd called. Additional explosions revealed that we'd hit pay dirt, and that some of the Nihon GEVs hadn't survived their landing by more than a minute. Eggshells armed with sledgehammers.

A single light GEV made it to Daly City Boulevard, down by the Westlake Shopping Center. Its nose quested left and right, almost like a hunting dog.

"Company, launch one round on my tracking. Ten seconds."

I stood smoothly, brought my launcher up, let it optically "see" the invader GEV, and pressed both the mechanical trigger with my hand and the thought trigger ("KILL KILL KILL!") from the neural reader. The missile launched smoothly, and little puffs of launch dust revealed where at least a dozen of my troopers had done the same.

I ducked, the world went white again, and when I came up the GEV was burning wreckage in the ruins of Westlake Shopping Center.

"Evens only, fall back to Position One," Sergeant Brown called out crisply. She moved with them.

It was a measure of our losses that only about twenty suits showed signs of motion.

I was an odd, so I stayed put on one knee, ready to throw myself flat again. My launcher automatically reloaded.

The horizon to the north went white. "Our" Ogre, the obsolete Mark III, had come out from behind Alcatraz, slashed in with a devastating attack on its superior Nihon counterpart, and retreated south into the San Francisco Embarcadero.

Like a bull stung by a picador, the Mark V followed, lashing out with all its weapons except its handful of flicker-swivvers. It would save those for command posts.

The smaller Ogre would drive through San Francisco, using the skyscrapers and buildings for cover as it dashed back and forth, attempting to accomplish by speed and stealth what it could not do in a stand-up fight. It would be forced to retreat, either on the Highway 101 right of way by the old Candlestick, or the 280 right of way into Daly City, straight down our throats.

Either way, we were about to briefly get to earn our pay.

"Odds, move east to Alternate Position 4, Daly City overwatch. Prepare to engage Ogre."

I marveled that my voice was calm. I knew that I would die in searing agony in mere minutes, as nuclear ordinance overwhelmed my armor or as infinite repeaters battered my suit into scrap ... but while I still breathed, hope still remained.


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