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[GZG] [GZG Fiction] Night Fight

From: <Beth.Fulton@c...>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2011 23:38:25 +1100
Subject: [GZG] [GZG Fiction] Night Fight


Sorry its been a while and I was in the process of trying to get the
Jock reports together for a lulu effort, but its taking a long time so
might as well send out some instalments here in the mean time. Starting
off with night fight, which I think I already posted here a year or so
back, but what the heck here it is again ;)



Night Fight

The 2/34 is finally returning to the front line. A few weeks doesn’t
seem long to be away from the fight, but it feels like a life time ago
that we were in the midst of constant action. We’re all rested and
mostly recovered. Those who won’t be coming with us have largely
shipped out to their new training regimes. Although Turps was there to
wave us off, the contact points for his new legs glinting in gunmetal
grey as he sat on his hoverchair.

We’ve also picked up some replacements. They have been dribbling in
over the last week, some of them only touched down to join us as we were
about to fly out, so not all of them are fully settled in yet. Most are
green recruits, but we have also picked up a unit of native pilots who
are from a unit now too deeply in Kra’Vak held ground to join up with
them just now. Even for the ‘refined young things’ in the 2/34 these
old guys have come as a bit of a rude shock. To a man they are all older
than Baxter. All lined, bronzed, weathered skin, silver or salt-n-pepper
hair. They all have old style Martian gills. The flaps that flutter just
above their collarbone are hardly noticeable once the initial novelty
has worn off and their whistling lilt is quite light on the ear, but
getting used to the spitting takes a while longer. You have to give it
to the original gene-engineers who came up with the design though. For
the cost of needing to hawk up a mucus pellet of fine sand a few times a
day you are completely freed from being dependent on a filter mask. I
must admit when I first got to Mars I found the spittoons a quirky
touch. While we don’t have any spittoons with us, most members of this
crew are good about being discrete and not firing a pellet at your feet.
Moreover between them these guys have an unbelievable and invaluable
amount of accumulated experience of flying on Mars. They’ve literally
been flying here longer than I’ve been alive. They also know the area
exceedingly well and will be a critical asset, even if their personal
habits take a little getting used to.

We flew from Camp Henna to the forward airbase at Aureum and there we
sat waiting for our ride down to San Juan and our return to the Tokalau
Isthmus. This is typical of the bipolar nature of war on Mars. It
continues to amaze me how quickly conditions change through space and
time in this conflict, extremes of action and inaction separated by only
tens of kilometres or a few hours.

While we were waiting for our troop transport slot, there was a fighter
scramble. The northern VR link had gone down and infantry to the west of
San Juan needed immediate support. The pilots and groundcrew all bolted
for the field as soon as the first clanging of the sirens began. They
were wheels-up in under 3 minutes and there was confirmation they were
on station in under 10 minutes.

It was deep night before our transports arrived. Most would be going in
by airship, but I had a place on the VTOL escort. There were 8 gunships
in total. The first four came in low over the sea, descending so quickly
I feared at least one would crash. Pastel yellow and blue lights marked
their landing zone. The lights weren’t the best for your night vision,
but apparently they were less visible to the Kra’Vak and that was most
important in this war.

The VTOLs whipped the fine dust of Mars into thick clouds, which
actually hid the other 4 gunships from site as they hovered above. I
searched the sky for any hint of their presence, but even the low light
enhancers (or BUGS, as in bug eyes, as they were affectionately known)
in my specs couldn’t pick them out. The dark and dust had let them
melt away. That was quickly reversed however as they lowered down
through the cold, dry dirty cloud to the ground. As soon as they were
enveloped in it their decent was lit by a light show that created an
eerie halo glow. The lift planes glittered as if coated in
phosphorescence and the closer to the ground they got the brighter it
seemed to grow, even activating the light shield in my specs. My skin
tingled and the sound meter on my spec-cam indicated that the night was
actually alive with crackling and popping, though the noise of the VTOL
engines and my earplugs meant I didn’t hear the static charges arcing
through the night.

We were on board and secure in a matter of minutes and then the VTOLs
were lifting off again. They did not immediately turn into the dark
night, but instead roamed the perimeter of the field. They kept their
running lights on, washing back and forth across the field as the
airship loading was also finalised. It took about 15 minutes for the
airship to be ready and then it slowly lumbered into the sky too and we
were on our way back to the frontline.

The VTOL ahead of us kept its lights on as it swept across the
semi-sleeping base. As soon as it cleared the seaward perimeter however,
the lights flicked off, suddenly, as if they’d passed through a
light-absorbing veil. My head was on a swivel trying to take in all the
action going on around me, the pilot seemingly flying completely in the
dark, though in reality his specs would lighten the scene to an image
like a dull day back home. Likewise the gunners sat in apparent
darkness, but were scanning their arcs, looking for threats and targets.
The Kra’Vak small arms weren’t as visible in the dark as ours, there
was less strobing muzzle flash and they used tracers less frequently.
Nevertheless an experienced eye could still pick them up and the
motion-AI in the specs helped. The gunners’ hands never left their
guns and I was confident the they would be able to put considerable
volumes of fire down on a ground target within seconds of anything
getting started.

Progress across the Pyrrhae Sea was quiet and even a little long for my
liking, time seeming to drag. We saw some action off in the distance,
explosions, lasers and lights flickering off the low cloud along the
horizon toward Ariza and Ordunna and I figured the Kra’Vak must be
counter attacking there tonight. Our flight was undisturbed however,
even as we flew in low over the western shoreline of the tip of the

The gunships dropped in low over the chill desert and I watched as the
land speed past below me, trying to pick out features and land marks. We
followed a meandering river valley into the barren inland. Looking up
the streams and tributaries I noted most disappeared under the sand
fairly quickly. Tokalau hadn’t become any more inviting in our

The fairground ride quickly came to end though as the pilot warned of a
ground contact up ahead. Six of the other gunships peeled off, banking
back up to the airship, flocking around it like chicks around a hen. We
stayed low and through my specs a bizarre light show began to dance
across the rushing landscape. Lances of laser light criss-crossed below
us, some in random collections others concentrated on specific
locations. I switched my specs to mesh mode so I could discern our
infantry from the Kra’Vak, it looked like a small Kra’Vak force had
run into one of our roving patrols.

Off to the left a ring of light indicated a squad cut-off and signalling
to the UAVs circling out of sight for support. A drone suddenly dived
down past us, answering the call, I was less aware of its dark rushing
body than the solid rod of light it appeared to ride down to the ground,
before it fired, banked and disappeared into the night now running dark

My specs made the scene below fairly clear and you could hardly call it
dark, it was much clearer than even the fullest of moons on Earth.
Nevertheless it felt odd, foreshortened, like it was in 2.5D and
didn’t run all the way to the horizons. I knew it was a trick of the
technology and much better than acting in the dark, but it was a feeling
I had never managed to shake.

We cleared the combat in under a minute and after about another quarter
hour we were on our final approach. The gunship came in low and fast,
again. It didn’t slow until the last second when it just came straight
down, the gunner talking the pilot down. The sensors could have done it
solo, all the UAVs did without issue, but even after centuries of flight
human pilots tend to trust themselves over the instruments alone.

Unbuckling I followed the two Lieutenants I’d been travelling with out
onto the ground. Dawn was coming, but the light was still dim enough to
need the spec’s augmentation. I followed the Lt’s to the waving
Lumestick where I was greeted by Rurik, one of the Martian pilots
who’d joined us back in Aureum. I hadn’t realised that a prep force
had been dispatched, but there was no other explanation for him getting
here ahead of us. He tapped my shoulder and rotated his index finger,
indicating I should turn away from the gunship. As it lifted off I was
glad of his reminder, the exposed regolith kicking up and peppering my
back with sandy debris.

We wound away back through the dark to a higher step in the plateau. The
area was a hive of activity as the airship came in and started to off
load the main body of the 2/34. We spent much of the rest of the morning
unloading crates and getting vehicles ready. The next phase of the 2/34
deployment was to be a roving patrol, simultaneously patrolling the
northern sector of the peninsular and harassing any Kra’Vak doing


I spent much of the next few days with Rurik. The making and breaking of
camps became second nature, as did the cleaning of kit and the stream of
rough Slavic humour. Rurik was quiet when in a group, particularly
around the younger men of the 2/34, but as the numbers dwindled he
opened up. At 83 he was perhaps the oldest member of the Armed Forces
I’d encountered on Mars. Age was hard to judge when there was such a
mix of naturals, splicers and juicers about. There was enough variation
in the naturals as it was and some people responded to the rejuvenation
treatments more or less effectively than others. Hardly anyone but those
form the urban ghettos went for the knife or the needle anymore so they
stood out as starkly as those who had opted for cybernetic implants.
Juicers used a nano-delivered cocktail of synthetic hormones and other
treatments to slow aging, while the splicers used gene-tech. Both aged
more naturally than those who’d opted for more physical interventions,
though those in the know suggested the extra cost of the gene-tech paid
off in the end. Maximum age had not increase by much on the naturally
defined upper end, maybe extended it from 120 to 150, but the difference
was the quality of life and independence lasted until the end. I had
picked Rurik as a juicer, I doubted he’d have had the money for
splicing, at least from an early enough age for it to really pay off.
Although who could tell on Mars where a family could sequester itself
away and slowly accumulate a fortune they chose not to put on display.
At first I felt it rude to ask, but in the end I succumbed to my
curiosity and was greeted by a hearty laugh from Rurik.

“Nyet! What yoo see ees what you get. One hundred percaynt Slavic

It turned out he was a great grandfather who had lived on Mars his
entire life. He’d been born in the industrial town of Vologansk, south
of Eos Chasma. He had got his pilots licence ay 17, he’d taken lunch
time flying lessons over the course of six months while working in a
fabricating plant run by his Uncle. In his twenties he’d agreed to be
one of the first company-sponsored pilots to get gills and nano-hemes so
he could do the long haul equatorial routes they were opening up. He’d
been repeatedly decorated for bravery during the First Solar War though
his most remembered event of that time was meeting the prophets Taletha
and Bemun before they were martyred in 2137. Influenced by his
experiences he joined the Ashacithra after the war and led a largely
peaceful life. Marrying twice and having three children he spent much of
his life shipping materials around Mars watching life slowly creep
further and more strongly across its surface. When two of his great
grandsons had died during the turmoil of the Kra’vak landing in 2194
Rurik had enlisted with the UN led forces.

“Ee feegoored ee coould still contriboot. Ee am tsar of Mars sand and
vind. Beseedes my leefe iz done. Better for me to reesk than for yoong
men.” Hard to argue with that logic. During the next few days I asked
the rest of the pilots if that’s why they’d also joined up. While
some had led a less peaceful life than Rurik in recent decades and had
admitted to almost drifting into the role, all had felt drawn to using
their decades of experience to baluster the fight against the Kra’Vak.

“I know I don’t run so fast anymore, but I figured I could give then
a darn good shellackin’ with me walkin’ stick” joked the baby of
the unit 64 year old Ryce Jones.


Rurik had spent the evening trying to teach me the Russian names for the
most common constellations, or at least the ones we could pick out
between the skittering clouds that randomly blotted out patches of our
vista. The Milky Way painted across the sky in breathtaking, but fitful
brilliance. Off to the south explosions created a low rumbling
accompaniment to our lesson. About midnight I called it quits and turned
in. It felt like I’d just closed my eyes when Rurik came bustling into
our shared pod and shook me.

“Come Jock, you come see zees. Big leet show.”

Rurik grabbed his rifle and headed back out of the pod. Guessing by
light show Rurik meant an attack. I stopped to pull on my combat rig
before heading outside.

My BUGS kicked in and I could make out troops moving to defensive
positions. Some were climbing up into vehicle mounts, others dispersing
to points around the perimeter. I activated my spec-cam and called on
its greater sensor power to try and see further out on to the plain.
Still to little avail, the specialised image enhancers helped, but their
depth of visibility was still limited on such a dark night.

A string of flares arced from the edge of the convoy-come-caravan into
the Martian night, raising the ambient light levels to the point the
BUGS phased out. There are many strange things about night fights and
this is yet another one. When illume rounds go up they create enough
light for your specs to grade out the enhancers, but as soon as the
rounds dim the BUGS kick in again. I used to find this oscillation quite
unsettling – the first time I felt sick to my stomach and about fell
flat on my face. Now however it is old hat and squinting just as you
anticipate the shift is just another battlefield trick to call upon.

My eyes quickly located the mortar crew tucked in between two of the
big-wheeled transports firing the illumination rounds out over the
on-coming Kra’Vak. Each shot went up as a pinprick of light, like an
old style firecracker, but instead of ending in a flowery explosion it
blossomed into a glowing balloon of pastel yellow light that drifted in
the light Martian breeze. The flickering preternatural light cast long,
but sharp shadows that ran long distances toward the edge of the light
field. Even I could see the Kra’Vak infantry caught in the open ground
closing on our position. Fire opened up on them from soldiers in the
vehicle weapon mounts or kneeling tucked in behind the vehicles for

Right on the edge of the light I saw a Kra’Vak support team set-up a
firing position. Some were attaching mortar tubes to stabilisation
plates, others were working on pads probably dialling in the strike,
while still others loaded the munitions. Once I realised what was coming
I sprinted for the cover of some ration crates, the armoured positions
in the vehicles were more inviting, but people with a purpose needed
those. I only just made it to my bolthole before mortars were tracing
lazy parabolas through the night sky. The Kra’Vak weapons weren’t as
lit up as ours, but they still left a glowing trail on your vision.

The Kra’Vak tracers were green, red or violet-tinged blue whereas ours
tended to be more orange and yellow. It made it easier to identify who
was who as the shots laced across the night toward targets on either
side. Suddenly I was the target. Kra’Vak fire snapped across the
ground beside the crates and up over the boxes. Pulling my head down I
hoped the body of the crates would be as safe as they’d looked from
the pod door. Small rocks and sand flicked up by the shots whipped into
my legs and I could see the tracer rounds thud into the dirt within arms
reach. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one tracer slug puncture a mesh
cage of water bottles, ricocheting twice before settling in the wreckage
and making the whole thing glow a dull but fading green.

As the cold of the night folded in around me I heard a Mantis VTOL fly
in and take up position overhead. It stabbed fired down onto the
Kra’Vak mortar team, its rockets streaking in on dead straight
vectors. Then the pilot tipped the VTOL and slid off to the left of our
position, firing again. I guessed the pilot must be working with our
FST. Bruce was most likely on the counter battery radar, his little
“ball catcher”.  He’d have placed his ring of little dishes around
him and would be using them to perform electromagnetic sweeps of the
sky, looking for the black comets that marked an incoming round. From
there it was up to the AI to locate points of origin and feed them to
the Mantis’ targeting list.

The Mantis hit twice more with rockets before opening up with its MG
across the Kra’Vak in the open to our southeast. BARRRP, BARRRP, BARP,
BRP, BRP. The Mantis then slid off into the dark, I found out at the
debrief the next day that the VTOL had been returning from a mission in
the south and had had limited ammunition and fuel so couldn’t stay
with us for long.


I pulled in tight against the crates, crouching, curling up over my
feet, arms over my head. The rocket whooshed overhead and struck the
rear of the camp. Showering me with small stones, but doing little real
damage. I felt exposed and really wanted to find somewhere with more
cover. I rose onto the balls of my feet and peeked over the crates,
looking about for a more secure position. I spotted a wombat with its
tail down. I could duck in there and use the wall of the APC for cover
and with the ramp down I’d still have a fairly unimpeded view. With a
deep breath I took off at a sprint for the Wombat, a couple of Kra’Vak
bullets kicking up sand as I hurdled a stool-sized rock. I don’t think
they’d intentionally been targeting me, more likely just random
strikes in what was a chaotic firefight. Nevertheless my heart was
pounding as I thudded up the ramp breathing hard.

Inside I found Reg and another medic trying desperately to patch up a
young Corporal. It didn’t look good however as her right leg was
saturated with a spreading pool of blood that had made the floor of the
vehicle slick.

“Friend!” I declared breathlessly as the other medic pulled his

“Jesus Jock!” Reg said placing a hand on the gun and pushing its
muzzle toward the floor.

“Sorry guys, it was getting a little hairy out there. Need any

“No, but you can cover the door.” Reg said tossing me a rifle. I sat
on the rearmost sit and wedged myself with my back to the wall, scanning
for anything threatening to head our way. Every few seconds my eyes
would flick to the little tactical insert projection (“tac screen”)
on my specs. There was still a mass of Kra’Vak out there.

“Friendly birds inbound. Cleared hot and danger close.” Baxter
declared over my earbud, warning everyone to keep their heads down.

Two phoenix strike fighters thundered overhead. Doing a first pass they
picked up the enemy on their sensors and began a live feed down to our
tac screens. They were probably double-checking their visuals with
Baxter, making sure they were targeting the right bodies. Any mistakes
with the Kra’Vak this close could spell big trouble for us. I noticed
that someone had set a string of pastel blue flares along the perimeter
under most direct attack, marking out our position.

The fighters circled out and around behind the camp, before going into
shallow dives down over the camp. As they cleared our position they
opened fire with their nose mounted cannons, strafing the approaching
Kra’Vak with thousands of rounds. The tracer fire was coming so thick
and fast, it looked like a constant stream of cadmium yellow flame. The
volume of fire was deafening, drowning out the chattering of rifles and
small arms. Then a mighty WHOMP rolled across the battlefield and pushed
at my ears and chest. One of the Phoenix had fired a missile, destroying
half the Kra’Vak advance with a single devastating strike.

Concentrating on my spec’s tac screen I countered about 35 Kra’Vak
remaining. We easily outnumbered them. They had lost their mortar
support, but may still have had some heavy slug throwers with them. The
ground contact obviously had a bit to run, but I was feeling better than
when Rurik dragged me out of bed.


The firefight had lasted another half hour before the last of the
Kra’Vak launched one of those suicide beserker charges of theirs. Most
were cut down before they reached our defensive line amongst the
vehicles, but three got in. They seemed to be on some kind of adrenaline
high, swinging, slashing, dismembering and hardly pausing under the
blows they sustained until they finally fell dead from the cumulative
fire. It was a costly contact though. They brought down seven of the
2/34. The casevac has already taken them out, including the body bags
containing the rendered remains of Privates Kit McKinley and Cal Rogers.

I’ve witness a few such charges now and I’ve seen more mowed down by
disciplined fire than I’ve seen close. Still every charge I see
unnerves me and I’m supremely glad I’ve never had to personally
repulse one. There maybe plenty of jokes about my Highland beserker
ancestors, naked except for the woad, lurking in the mist claymore
swinging, but a roaring Kra’Vak bull charging weapons pulled is the
stuff of my nightmares.

With the action over, two squads had been sent to clear the perimeter
and four others kept watch. The body of the force however was occupied
breaking camp. Dawn was just starting to light the far horizon by the
time we were all done. Rurik made my day by pushing a steaming mug into
my hands before swinging into the cab and pulling down his hatch.

I settled back into the passenger seat, harnessed up at Rurik’s
behest, boots up on the bulkhead under the windscreen. I munched my way
through a ration bar, nursing my coffee as long as my gritty eyes would
allow. Then despite the jostling ride I dozed. When I woke the sun was
up and we were out amongst the rocky ground of the plains between San
Juan and Marin, west of the coastal highway.

I don’t know how Rurik was managing as thick dust obscured the view of
the truck in front of us. Leaning down I switched on the external
viewers and looked around, the heavy dust also blocked the view of the
vehicle behind us. The shape of the big flatbed loomed out of the dust,
barely missing our tail, a collision barely avoided.

My sharp intake of breath, betrayed the narrow miss and Rurik chuckled.

“Been zat way all morneeng.”

“Why don’t we spread out some more, run in a few columns?” I asked
Rurik, looking at him and nodding to the vehicle ahead of us. “Zat is
why” he said wrapping his knuckle on a projection of the terrain
around us. It showed our path marked in green with the terrain around us
marked in various hues of yellow and orange. There were deep drifts and
hidden drop offs and embankments to either side of us.	There were also
ominous blinking red dots, the detectors mounted on the flanks of the
vehicles marking them as suspicious objects. It was likely the Kra’Vak
had laid mines in the sand on either side of the road.

We crawled across the plain for nearly an hour before the inevitable
happened and one of the big trucks slipped off the road ahead of us. It
slid and sunk down into the sand, bogging to the chassis. Just as it
seemed to settle its rear kicked up explosively. It had hit a mine. The
concussive blast and rain of debris suddenly cascading down the
windscreen startled Rurik, who instinctively ducked away, dragging the
controls of the truck with him. We headed off the embankment too.
Unconsciously I sucked in a deep breath and threw my hands against the
frame of the door and ceiling, pushing back against my seat and bracing.
The truck slewed left and right, Rurik fighting the wheel, somehow
slaloming between the biggest mine markers. The side glanced off some
buried boulders and we began to totter, I was convinced we would tip.
Throwing us roughly the other way Rurik pulled us back upright, but the
tail swung wide. I was thrown hard forward as the whole body of the
truck jerked violently. We were airborne and I could see sand and sky
spinning around us out the window as we flipped. We’d hit a mine,
we’d either miraculously missed the main force of the blast or it had
been a smaller device, not a truck killer. If we could land softly we
might stand a chance. The seat bracing was digging into my thighs and
shoulders and my head was whipped one way and then another, as we
bounced back up the embankment. With a sickening crunch we rammed into
one of the smaller jeeps.

Once the world was still I gingerly poked at my aching thighs and ran a
hand over my face checking for anything more than superficial cuts.
Relief, disbelief and awe swept through me as the probing suggested I
was intact. Rurik was groaning beside me.

“You ok?”

“Da. Da. ” He said, though there was the hint of pain in his voice
and he had a nasty gash across the bridge of his nose, his eyes already
blackening and swelling.

I was hanging in my harness and looked about for some handholds. I was
after the easiest way to hold on so that when I released the clasp I
wouldn’t just drop and crack my head. I had been concentrating on
holds around the harness mounts, but dropped my eyes to see if there
were any on the bulkhead when my eyes finally caught the grisly tableau
framed by the windscreen. The frame of the jeep was bent sharply in
front of us and blood and tissue was splattered and smeared up across
the plexiglass. I could see part of an arm and a pulpy mass was snagged
on the lower edge of the port. My attention was riveted to the gore. I
couldn’t force myself to look away. With furrowed brow I tried to
resolve what I was looking at. My stomach plummeted as I realised it was
a maimed cranium, brain and hair all combined. I started gasping,

Rurik looked up and then shot out an arm to me. Where had he found a
sick bag? How could he be retaining his composure?

“Jock?! Jock?!” A sharp rapping on the side window finally drew my
attention back from the carnage and my roiling stomach. I could see the
CSM’s big dusty face mask, his hand swiping at the dust on the window
trying to see in. Seeing his mouth move outside the window, but hearing
his voice in my earbuds added to the surreal feeling overwhelming me.

“Are you ok?” The CSM asked both through the earbuds and using an
odd mix of hand gestures through the window.

I nodded weakly.


Rurik also nodded and then rattled off the status of everything he could
inventory from his current location. How could he do that when
someone’s brain was smeared up the windscreen? The whole thing seemed
too real. I knew I had seen worse in Marin, I had watched Reg hold a
man’s heart together! I don’t know whether it was the fatigue or
accumulated stress or being fresh back in the field, but this time I was
distraught and felt lost as to how to deal with it, to regain my

“Ok. The boys will help you and then we’ll roll her and salvage what
we can.” The CSM said, rapping the door before moving off down the

I forced myself to turn my attention on the harness clasps. Fumbling
with them.  I was trying to focus, but my brain felt like it was stuffed
with cotton wool. A draft of cold air betrayed the door cracking open
beside me. I looked up to see Pancho’s concerned face.

“Careful Jock. I’m going to give the door a tug.”

Straining Pancho and Nic wrenched open the door. The metal of the door
grated penetratingly as it was dragged through the rocky sand. Cold air
swirled round me, clearing my head a little. Irresistibly my eyes
swivelled back to the windscreen. The blood remained, but someone had
mercifully covered the body.

Pancho reached in and helped release the harness. I swung down onto the
cabin roof and crawled out onto the sand. From the noise behind me Rurik
must have also been climbing out. Men were labouring all around us.
Wrestling vehicles, crates, wounded.

I rested against a boulder. I was shaking and sweaty despite the cold
and I felt disconnected like I was swimming through molasses. Rurik
dropped down beside me, handing me a small flask.

“Here. Dreenk. Pajalsta”

The syrupy liquid burnt on the way down. Rurik sat talking to me for
what may have been hours. The recovery of the truck was a long slow
process. There must have been Kra’Vak somewhere not too far away too
as their jammers had cut out radios, making it necessary to dispatch
runners when communicating along the length of the convoy.

Initially I just sat there slumped on the roadside, out of the way
amongst the sand. I didn’t want to talk, but Rurik kept rambling away,
encouraging me to pitch in and help with re-crating the cargo. The
contact eventually coaxing me out until I too started talking, it all
came spilling out. It helped, relieving the pressure and easing the
queasy knot in my stomach. As we were loading up the last crate, Rurik
looked at me and said “Een 2141 ee vas grunt vith Souz Yevrazia
Solnychniy. At Eedaeus Massacre ee lost tree brozers. Ee zought ee vould
never be vysyliy… vhat yoo say? Cheerfool?” He went quiet and looked
out across the plain. “Ee deeg deep, got zrough. Many nyet so good.”
Shaking himself, Rurik turned and clapped me roughly on the back, a big
grin across his face. “Come, ve eat!”


It was just before nightfall when the engineers set the charges amongst
the debris of the wrecked trucks. The explosions lit up the desert
around us, playing highlights along the sides of the trucks and blending
with the orangey twilight. My nerves tightened again as the light seemed
like beacons broadcasting our presence, but we couldn’t repair or free
them enough to tow them, so it was important to make sure the enemy
wouldn’t benefit from their hulks. Intellectually the photographer in
me revelled in the light and mentally concocted shots of the scene, but
my heart wasn’t in it. I felt tired, leaden. It felt asinine to catch
myself even thinking of photographing a funeral pyre.

We rolled off into the night, the convoy continuing its circuitous route
to its next campsite. This time I sat in the back of a Wombat, tucked in
with some of the recon platoon and Rurik, who was snoring diagonally
across from me. It wasn’t as spacious as the cab of the truck had been
and I couldn’t see out, but right at that moment it felt strangely
comforting, like being hidden away.

The night stretched on, the convoy only managing to creep along as it
twisted through the Martian landscape, replete with treacherous terrain
and darkened minefields. We stopped twice to allow us to stretch our
legs and relieve ourselves. There was no light or other sign of
habitation in the desolate surrounds.

Normally I can fall asleep anywhere, amongst anything. A trick I had
picked up quickly after becoming an embed, you’re never sure when the
next good sleep is coming. Tonight however sleep eluded me and I sat
there deflated, listening to the sounds of the vehicle and troops in
her; the snores, grunts, whispered conversations and crass jokes. As the
night inched toward dawn my legs began to cramp and I had to rub my
calves and wiggle my toes to relieve the pain.

I must have finally slept as I was jerked awake when the Wombat
shuddered to a halt. Briefly disoriented it took me a moment to locate
myself, before I started gathering my gear together. It felt good to get
out and stretch my cramped limbs. Looking around there were many tousled
heads and dark eyes. Everyone was tired and most were filthy. What
struck me most was that despite the adversity people were joking as they
pitched camp, morale was high. The FST were setting up mortars in the
centre of the position, Jess McDougall scanning the horizon through
binoculars, noting marks and ranges on a pad. Chris and Jeff pulled a
gun case from the back of a transport truck and floated it past. They
took it to a set of boulders on the western edge of the camp and cracked
it, pulling out an MG. On the eastern edge of the camp Cathy and Nic set
up an AI driven sentry gun. Rurik tossed a duffel into my arms, looking
inside I found a camouflage screen.

“Nyet rayst for veeked” he chucked. I helped him put up a string of
screens over the dorm pods and vehicles.


Around midday Baxter came over to where I was playing round robin chess
with Rurik and another of the Martian pilots, Tobias Whittaker.

“Heard you found yesterday pretty rough.”

Looking up into his rugged face I replied, “I’ve had better days.”

“There’s a VTOL coming, ETA fifteen minutes. There’s room for you
if you want a ride out of here.”

My throat was suddenly tight and my gut felt like a butterfly ballet
recital had broken out. I knew I couldn’t leave though, not with the
2/34 likely heading into some of the thickest fighting of the war.

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