Hugo Harghest, CaillieGirls™ May YC121
I barely had any time to wash the dust of the Ngelgnieg off me before I got the call from the Bosena Accords that they had agreed to take me on as a ride-along.
All the better, as I had already burnt through the last of my per diem in one of the nicest hotels the Angels Cartel had in their pocket, which was to say all the ones that mattered in Sa’kak. I was still hung over from the night before when I was told they had already sent transport to pick me up, forcing me to leave behind a fair amount of broken bottles, dirty towels, a high femme krusual woman and a waifish sebeistor twink I’d shared a bed with since coming in to town. I had, however, remembered to take the block of hashish we had been splitting that I picked up from the nomadic tribes of the wastes in exchange for a few goods from the cities; more than enough to last me for however long I’d be stuck on the frontline of the Skarkon War.
A Saga scout car came by and drove me to the outskirts of the city, where the UNF’s ArcSec and Bosena Accords mercenaries had been working to establish a fortified outpost while Bosena’s Mobile Command Center fleet hung above wrapped in a circle like the tabor wagon forts I’d seen out in the Ngelgnieg. I brushed the hair out of my eyes to get a better look at the ships, hovering lazily in place like massive gun-strapped buoys bouncing up and down in the surf. Last time I had seen a warclone MCC they were hot-dropping Dragonaur troops in my home city. I wondered to myself, statistically, how many of the soldiers I’d meet today were there on Caldari Prime that day.
The briefing was relatively swift; several hours ago a twelve kiloton blast had rocked the city of Kor’ali. The blast was enough to send shockwaves across the Gulormola Channel and be heard in Sa’kak, which I can only assume I had slept through blissfully unaware thanks to the hashish. Reports indicated that the blast wasn’t the result of the original payload, but instead was triggered by a smaller antimatter charge that had activate a larger supply of radioactive materials. Ipso facto, the Krullefor forces were now potentially sitting on nuclear deposits across the city and were out for blood. The perpetrators and reasons for the explosion were yet unknown, but the threat of retaliation was high. In accordance, a Chakram II black ops Heavy Assault Vehicle team was dispatched across the channel to conduct damage assessment and comb the city for potential nuclear stockpiles across Kor’ali. One of the tanks were detracked by a man portable rocket launcher and sunk into the rubble, and was now surrounded by hostile Krullefor and enemy militia that were eager to blame the Accords for the recent explosion.
The Accords’ 1st Hellawes Fighter-Bomber Squadron had been at work all through the night conducting SEAD missions over the city, accompanied by a flight from the UNF’s spaceborne advanced fighter squadrons launched from the Wyvern-class supercarrier Wellspring Source. Now that the airspace had been cleared, I would ride along a warclone-piloted Crotalus VTOL bomber to hang on-station and support the Chakram II combat team. The pilot, a tall son of a bitch, kept me on a short leash as he brought me from the briefing room to the runway for sortie. He towered over me, clad in his sealed dropsuit frame as I struggled to keep up while we made our way down the tarmac.
“Hey man,” the six-foot-seven war machine laughed down at me, “Don’t worry about it. I was five-nine before I took this job. I’m assigned to babysit you, so keep up, sit down, shut up and don’t touch anything so you can blog all about it later. I don’t need a dead reporter on my consciousness or our records, so let’s knock this sortie out and we can send you home to your polycule in Luminaire or wherever you came from.”
His crew was just finishing their pre-flight checks and helping load armament with the aid of their powered exoskeletons as we boarded. The clone nearest to me hunkered down next to the door gun, assumedly staring at me through the piercing lights of their helmet. All of the clones wore their signature armor, even this far from the front lines. Each bore their own individual markings and personal flair, either in the form of unconventional and improvised equipment, custom decals or stickers, battle-weathered paint jobs, or scratched out insignias bearing marks ranging from the Republic Fleet to the unmistakable emblem of the Guristas. Standardization, quite simply, was not a concern for these soldiers. Their armor was their only source of identity separating them from each other and the pale, featureless clones sealed inside.
As we passed over the Gulormola Channel, I could see passing CBD patrol vessels below circling long black veins of distant smoke plumes rising from the water. The bomber banked right, pulling away to the very edge of the patrol frigate’s range of fire to give the Caldari troops a wide breadth. I’m informed over the on-board radio channel that CBD patrols had tripled since the sinking of the Kor’ali-Sa’kak ferry and that they were looking for any reason to fire on our dropship.
“How are the Bosena Accords managing the situation here on the ground?” I shout, looking out over the open ocean down onto the Caldari fleet, “Seems like everything’s a bee’s dick away from civil war. Is someone running ■■■■ down here, or all you just ‘cowboying’ your way into this?”
“Galm Fae has been keeping a close monitor of the situation personally from the front,” the pilot responded from the cockpit, a fair amount of frustration in his voice.
“From the front?,” I pry, shaking my head and pulling back from the door into my seat, “You mean from orbit? I tried getting an interview with the guy, last I checked he was coordinating efforts in space alongside the UNF.”
“Hey!” the door gunner groans, quickly changing the subject as if inspired while she carves new markings into their armor with her survival knife, “I got a riddle for you paperboy; A man and his son are out for a drive in the countryside. Both get in a horrible accident. The man dies on impact but the boy is airlifted to the hospital. He’s sent to the emergency room for life saving surgery. The catch is, it’s got a forty percent chance of killing him. Only one doctor’s willing to take the risk, but when he sees the boy on the operating table he stops and says ‘I can’t operate on him, he’s my son!’ How’s that ■■■■ work?”
“He’s got two dads,” I answer flatly, unimpressed.
“Ha! Yeah,” she spits, clicking her tongue and going back to her carving, “Good answer I like that one.”
“Did you have a point or?–”
“Naw,” she barks wolfishly in a thick Lonetrek accent as she brushes aside a pile of paint dust to reveal a newly etched effigy of a ghostbird on her arm guard, “Just checking to see if your a homophobe I guess before I decide to throw you off this ship or not.”
I squinted incredulously, trying to search for some sort of hint or tell from the four “eyes” that made up the optics on her helmet before realising how pointless that was. If there was any deeper meaning to her riddle, it was lost on me.
Twenty minutes later we were passing over the coast of Kor’ali, lowering ourselves down between the jagged buildings to avoid ground fire. The onboard geiger-counter began to spike, alerting us to the radiation that was already wafting over the city from the ruins that were once the riverside slums. Small arms fire bounced off the tritanium hull while the door gunner rained a line of hot plasma down on scattered rooftop infantry. Clearly, they were expecting us.
“This is Persival,” the radio called out as we made our way deeper into Kor’ali, barely audible from the caucoffany of fire around us, “Our HAV has been detracked. We’ve been deploying troops via our onboard reanimation unit to defend this position while we conduct repairs but are receiving heavy artillery fire from the enemy command post to the north and are being swarmed by enemy infantry. Requesting ‘hammer down’ on our position, then release the remaining payload on the enemy base.”
“Copy all Persival,” the pilot called back without hesitation, “See you in the next life.”
With that, the Croaltus flew over the target position. I watched out the side window, catching a passing glance of the Bosena Accords tank formation in the center of the street surrounded by burning rubble as the barrel bombs released and came down on top of them. The shockwave shook the bomber, causing me to lurch up out of my seat, my safety strap barely keeping me from tumbling out. The bomber climbed up over the next several adjacent blocks and dropped our remaining payload on a stout administration building brimming with gun positions, completely caving in facade as the support pillars collapsed. We hung briefly on station, waiting silently for any response from the HAV team. Eventually, a weak signal began to come in.
“This is Percival. Good effect on target. Multiple hostile and friendly KIA, but the tank is still in one piece. We’re reanimating now and staging to clean up that command post so we can get rolling again. Good talley, boys.”
There were only a few short moments of celebration before the pilot received a message from friendly forces informing us a “Block” electro-optical missile had recently been spotted in the air by UNF aircraft. Rather than relying on acquiring a direct thermal or radar signature before firing, the Block missile is fired from the ground to hover at a high altitude, using an AI algorithm to parse multiple camera angles across the spectrum to identify aircraft based on their overall silhouette. While the missile had no way of identifying the advanced UNF aircraft, our aging bomber had no countermeasures that would block it from acquiring us as a target. With that, the pilot hit the afterburner and turned us back to Sa’kak for our next sortie.
I was later informed in the after-action briefing that the missile had been fired by CBD.
End of Part I. Next article, UNF’s Lauralite Anne Brezia gets electric on Eugales VI while punk icon Renee Ramalin shows us how hot Mannar can get!
(Above: Crotalus dropship bombers strike at Krullefor positions.)