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[GZG] [GZG Fiction] Road Trip

From: <Beth.Fulton@c...>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2011 23:39:49 +1100
Subject: [GZG] [GZG Fiction] Road Trip

Road Trip

War maybe dirty, but a desert war is an exposition of stench. Bringing
the essential essence of battle to new highs, or lows depending on your
opinion and sense of smell. The field showers didn’t last more than 10
days – between direct attack, vehicle loss and cargo prioritisation.
So now we have an allocation of 800mL per day for hygiene, body and
clothes. The hardier and least modest stand naked in the sand, but the
frigid air and cloying red fines made that seem both self-defeating and
unappetising to me. Rurik has shown me the trick of standing in a box,
part modesty screen, part sand shield. Even that doesn’t keep out all
the fine powdered sand though, which quickly turns to viscous mud. When
hardened this is almost impossible to remove. Rurik carved scrapers from
parts of a surplus packing crate. They helped a little, but washing
remains a largely futile exercise.

The monotonous rolling dunes and rocky plains don’t provide much in
the way of stimulating terrain. The rising sun spreads rapidly, but
there is little heat. It is always cold. There is the odd insect or
other sign of small life, but the cold is affecting them too.

Day after day, night after night the patrol stretches on. Travel by day,
camp in fortified positions by night. It is as if I’ve joined the
modern incarnation of a Roman legion.

I try to get my notes straight in the evenings, while the others read
books, play cards, snore face down on cots or wrestle. Their lean bodies
embrace in scenes reminiscent of ancient gymnasia. Although the
multifarious, nearly ubiquitous, tattoos, guttural swearing and no holds
barred enthusiasm gives the scene a modern touch.

Even in play these soldiers are unsparing. Racing along cleared tracks
in bare foot sprints. Arm wrestling until their biceps go rigid and
their faces glow rubicund. Jockeying with one another they also spar.
Circling, with punishing slams, punches to thighs, ribs, stomach and
shoulders, gouging, headlocks. Nothing seems off the table for the
3-minute bouts and then its all laughs and on to something else. I’ve
not seen rules posted or discussed, but there is a sense of control
despite the apparently merciless nature of the contests. You see the
unmodified tussle with the highly engineered and every one seems to know
what is and isn’t allowed.

As the days coalesce one into the other even the most optimistic of us
are reconciled to celebrating yet another yuletide under these skies.
Long wars are draining, of supplies, men and morale, but this fight is
as keenly needed as when we began. Those with broad vision know we
can’t give an inch to the Krak. If we’re ever going to eradicate
them we need not only to draw down their original force, but kill off
all those whelped on planet since. I’m told there is a lot of argument
in civie pubs about whether they really are reproducing on Mars. To my
eyes there seems to be an unending stream of them, but really it’s a
moot point to most here. They don’t have a god’s eye view of the
theatre, but they just get on with it. They pursue their goals hard,
living, fighting and playing hard.


Dawn was breaking as we broke camp on the 6th. We’d been on patrol for
9 weeks now. Stop and go about every 48hours. I spent my time lately
split between reporter, driver in training under Rurik and as a medic
for recon. We had seen a fair few short fire fights, though no major
engagements, which may have been why recon had been fairly patient with

Rurik swung by to check I was all stowed away and found me securing some
stim-packs to the back of my helmet.

“Zee teech yoo vell” he grinned.

I had to agree with him. I’d learnt a lot over the last few weeks,
even more than I’d spent in the long months at Marin. They’d drummed
into me that if it was important, tie it on! Weapons, gear, prized
possessions, everything gets a maglink or lanyard back to the body. If
it doesn’t it will inevitably fall off at some point. It’ll fly off
at some inopportune time, get swallowed by sand, get dropped without you
noticing, or most likely of all get left behind when your sleep-deprived
brain loses track.

Rurik checked over the troop transport and then wandered back over to
where I was sitting, leaning up against the wheel of the transport. He
slipped his helmet down over his eyes and within a minute his chest was
slowly rising and falling in sleep. Even with all the toing-and-froing
as people packed up their kit into the other trucks arrayed around us.
That man could doze in the middle of a bombing run.

I sat cross-legged with my helmet cradled between them. The stim-packs
kept slipping just as I tried to complete the knot. I felt like I had
three thumbs on each hand. Paulie slipped down beside me, startling me.

“Easy boy” he said reaching over and plucking my helmet from me. He
slipped a loop of chord from a pocket on the side of his thigh. Flicking
open a knife he cut the chord into a shorter length, attaching it to a
clip on one end. He then pushed it through the little slots in the top
corner of each packet, using the point of the knife to carefully
encourage it through the tight spot. He slipped it round and back
through a clip. Pointing to the knots around the slots he said, “Do it
that way and even if the bridge is cracked the ends won’t completely
split. They’ll at least hang round long enough for you to find them a
new home.” Then he clipped the string of stim-packs to my helmet, one
clip attaching to an anchor midway along the left side of the helmet,
the second clip to an anchor on the right. The stim-packs sat in tight
against the back of the helmet.

“By the way two new kids dropped in last night.”

“I didn’t see anyone.”

“You weren’t supposed to. Not very clandestine if they come in with
lights flashing now” he said teasingly. “Anyway, the short one over
there, next to the drum?”


“He’s a triple A no goer for shellfish.”

“Oh. Ok. Thanks.”

When I first joined the 2/34 such exchanges would seemed nonsensical, a
jumbled non sequitur. I’d since learnt that impression couldn’t have
been further from the truth. The flash seals that were the standard
response to any gapping wound contained seafood extracts, mainly
shellfish, nothing better had been found in 200 years. Unfortunately,
allergies to those components often caused anaphylaxis. Talk about a
killer cure.

“Time to roll!” the CSM roared, weaving through the transports and
APCs and heading for one of the forward jeeps.

Paulie patted my shoulder, pushed up and jogged to the back of the
truck. Gripping the bar above the hatch he swung up, tucking his legs up
underneath him, before shooting feet first through the hatch. He made it
looks so easy. I always had to use the little foot ladder.

Without having to be roused, Rurik was instantly awake. He pushed back
his helmet, got to his feet and walked down to the hatch.

“All coomfvee?” he bellowed, pounding his fist on the side of the

There was a thudded response and an affirmative chorus from inside.

I pulled myself to my feet and climbed up in through the forward door.
Pulling the heavy door shut behind me it clanged into place, the seal
hissing shut. I clicked into my harness and then unclicked it to check
it in case of an emergency. After I’d been caught in a truck that had
hit a mine I’d developed an almost obsessive compulsion to check and
triple check all safety equipment. I’d felt quite embarrassed about it
initially, like I was being overly cautious, but Rurik had assured me it
was actually a good thing. Rather than something to be ashamed of, it
was quite prudent as vehicles in service developed their own
idiosyncratic quirks. They were dented or warped in their own peculiar
way and it paid to know how to work them in a hurry.

Rurik coaxed the transport to life, with a sputtering roar it rumbled
and jolted forward. Pulling into line in the convoy we started snaking
off into the desert plain. Again. As always we only crept along. I swear
it felt so slow that a crippled tortoise would have left us for dust.
The slow speed dragged on the nerves a little, but was necessary so that
the recovery and engineering flatbeds could be protected. They were in
the centre of the convoy. Not that it made much difference of late.
Originally it would have been sufficient, but the Kra’Vak had got
cleverer in their attacks. Their mines either had delay fuses or they
were being operated remotely. Vehicles on point no longer set them off,
rather they would go off mid stream, just where they would cause the
most damage and mayhem amongst the line of vehicles. Penned in by
haphazard minefields and treacherous terrain there was usually nothing
for it but to deploy guards (in order to see off any ambushes) while the
damaged vehicle was repaired or stripped, pushed off the road and

I finished reading an e-pub Robin had leant me, a trashy spacer
thriller. Those things were so predictable, but I’d read everything
else four times over. I tried snoozing, but wasn’t tired so I just
stared out the window. Behind my glassy gaze I contemplated whether I
could start pulling material together for a puff piece for Valentines
Day. It wasn’t pressing, months off; and not that there was any
romance going on here, but right this instant nothing much was going on
full stop and my mind had taken to entertaining itself.

There was a tapping behind my head. Turning round I pushed back the
screen to the body of the transport, where the troops sat buckled in
against the walls, all their kit stowed in the central well.

Baz had his harmonica out and the others were mangling favourite
marching tunes. Singers they were not, no matter how enthusiastic.

“Come on Rurik, give us a tune before this lot send me deaf” a
disembodied voice pleaded through the portal from just out of sight.

With a toothy grin Rurik began to sing, with a thick rumbling richness.

“Once oopon ar time zere vas ar tavern
Vhere vay oosed to raeese ar glass or twooo
Raymember how vay laughed away zay hours,
And dreamed of all zay great zings vay voold do

Zose vere zay daays my freend
Ve zought zey’d nayver end!
Ve'd seeng arnd dance forayverrrrrr
Ve'd leeve ze leefe vay choooose
Ve'd feeght arnd nayver looooose
For ve vere young arnd….”

I noticed a jeep skirting the edge of the convoy, in an obvious hurry.
It was unusual for anyone to take the risk of running the edge like
that. In past wars they would have grav hopped, but we didn’t have the
logistics trail for that. We were all ground based. It was still
strange. Typically they would have just used comms to pass on their
message, something was up. Drawing breath to comment on the incongruous
scene, I felt the thud even as I saw the truck three in front of us
burst upward. As if in slow motion arcs of metal and fire unfolded,
forming a combusting rosette. The centre of the blast left glowing
shapes even as I instinctively ducked, gripping the dash. A wave of
sound rolled over us, the accompanying shock wave buffeted the vehicle,
which rocked on its shocks. The trapped dust and metallic slivers
sounded like hail on the bonnet and roof interspersed with larger clangs
as the truck was pelted with plate-sized chunks of twisted shrapnel. The
forward port and sides reverberated with the contacts. Through the haze
the florid hues of the explosion were quickly replaced with the oranges
and red of a vehicle fire.

I grabbed my medkit, checked my mask was in place and pulled the door
handle down and round, releasing the seal. With a grunt I pushed open
the heavy door and leapt down to the road, shoving the heavy door back
into place. The heat of the burning truck warming the skin of my face
that ringed the mask and was exposed to the bitter Martian cold. The
smell of fuel and wreckage was choking, thick smoke accumulating over
the debris field. As I moved forward I could see the remains of the
truck were a jagged inconsistent morass stretching from the seat of the
blast down the embankment to the plain. As I drew even with the back of
the neighbouring truck I realised it’d been wrecked too. Its cabin
lost, the front of the truck peeled back like a grotesque cybernetic
seed pod.

It was obvious no one in the target truck had survived the bomb and the
driver and front passenger of the neighbouring truck had been
decapitated. Their mangled bodies sagging in what remained of their
harnesses. They were beyond help and my stomach churned at the sight.
Fighting down my nausea I forced my mind into reporting mode, where
everything was just an abstract scene.

“What do we do Jock?”

Turning I saw Pvt’s Cooper Halliday and Matt Shepard had followed me
from our truck. “Can you grab me a couple of bags from the
locker?….Ahhh… they didn’t make it.” I replied with a subdued
nod in the direction of the wreckage. “I’ll check the m… back.”
Since the first few days of this patrol deployment the cargo sections of
the troop carriers had been affectionately termed “meat lockers”,
but given what this one might hold the name had suddenly seemed
potentially too literal to use; especially since there hadn’t been any
movement from within, despite the carnage at the front of the vehicle.

I tried the latch and the door stayed stuck. Its clean lines had been
warped by the chassis damage, but it didn’t seem too bad. More
ominously it was hot to the touch. The impact of the explosion must have
started a fire, though the integrated extinguishers should have quenched
it rapidly. I braced against the frame and pulled again, grunting with
the effort. When it finally gave with a sudden rush I stumbled back,
wrong footed, greeted by the groaning of dying men. There was the sickly
smell of burnt flesh and fried electronics. The pungent smoke was sharp
despite my filter mask and I couldn’t see a thing. Gingerly pushing
the hatch wider, I reached in for the light, but the touch panel
wouldn’t respond. Figures. I flicked my specs to night vision and
pulled myself up on to the rim of the back hatch. There were eight
bodies inside. Three alive enough to register their distress, the other
five still. I stepped in over the body of Lt Irvine, a grocer from the
Hope settlement, north of the Ophir Gulf off the Marineris Sea. His
temple crushed and neck clearly broken. He mustn’t have been strapped
in. I reached Sgt Watanabe, sitting against the left side, his face was
a mass of cuts and his lap was slick with blood. His breath gurgling in
my ear. I eased back his harness and ran my fingers down the edge of his
chest plate. It was a warm sticky mass and I could feel the jagged end
of 3 ribs. Next was Anderson, who also had severe chest and head
injuries, the back of his skull depressed from where it had hit the side
of the truck. Beside him Sumayya had burns down his left side, and the
flesh was tattered, having taken the brunt of what had come in from the
cabin. The fifth occupant was unrecognisable. Thankfully he had no
pulse. Opposite Sumayya was Cpl Fowler, who was also dead, a cruel
laceration running through the upper half of his arm, across his
shoulder and ending with a jagged splinter that had impaled his throat
and pinned him to the upholstery. Going full circle, privates Ryan Croft
and Maxie Wiggins were sitting on the right rear side. They were both
burnt, cut and in bad shape. The lenses of Croft’s specs had blown in,
entering his eyes, which were swelling fast, the useless frames still
hung from his ears. Wiggins, was better off though the insides of her
legs were fairly badly burnt.

“Three down, we need some serious help in here” I called out the
back hatch and over the radio at one.

“DOWN! DOWN! Incoming! Rockets at 2 o’clock.”

There was pounding on the truck’s side and the CSM’s shadowed face
loomed in the rear hatch.

“You gotta get out Jock, we’re taking fire and this hulk isn’t

As if to prove his point there was a dull thud. The CSM stepped back to
look and I leaned out too, gripping the roof and twisting to look back
over the remnants of the truck. Roughly 20 metres down the road, an APC
had suffered a glancing blow.

“Report” the CSM called

“Minor scrapes only, we’re good to go”

Switching his attention back to me the CSM said “Jock we need to move
the truck…”

Reg appeared at the rear hatch “What’s the story Jock?”

“5 KIA, 3 critical – 1 with abdominal wounds, 2 with extensive
lacerations and burns. CASEVAC required pronto.”

Looking from me to Reg the CSM said “Ok we can have two VTOLs on
station in under 20 minutes. I reckon you two have half that before
we’re knee deep in Krak.”

He was wrong the Krak arrived en masse in 8 minutes. Opening up with
small arms and RPGs. We had Ryan and Maxie out and strapped to
stretchers ready for evac and were just securing Watanabe when a
transport towards the back of the convoy exploded. I caught sight of the
driver leaping from the cabin, but a ball of orange flame, which blended
with the fulvous landscape, obscured the rest. The black smoke added to
the haze already filling the air.

The small arms raking the flank switched from harassing to a level meant
to annihilate. The air was literally thick with bullets. SNAP. POP. The
air abounded with shells striking armour, hitting the thick glass of
windscreens and ricocheting off trucks, jeeps and storage bins. Reg
ducked low radioing through information to the approaching VTOLs.

In under 10 minutes we had 4 more dead and 3 more vehicles near the rear
of the convoy had been disabled. Reg and I helped run the wounded over
to the VTOLs, which dropped almost straight down to the desert floor
behind our position. Then they slid along just off the dirt, with out
setting down. It was dangerous for them hovering there, but they could
move about a little, help their survival. It was a challenge for us to
load the wounded smoothly, but better than them succumbing to an RPG. As
soon as the last of the most severely injured were on board they rose up
and peeled away.

I moved back along the string of trucks. Bent low I threaded my way back
toward the carnage, in case there were more wounded who needed tending.
Pausing by bumpers, dodging past the gaps and trying to stay out of the
way. I finally reached the three stuck vehicles. One was an APC, one a
support truck and the last a small command jeep. The jeep was all but
destroyed and with a section further along providing covering fire we
managed to push it off the road and out of the way. The other two were
salvageable, mainly just tire and plant damage, if only we could give
the mechanics a little time.

Lance corporals Burton, Vallegis and Lankowski were the best mechanics
I’ve ever met and the bravest, or craziest people I have ever known.
Even in the centre of a ferocious firefight they could get things
running using bailing twine, gum and ornery determination. The CSM had
kept the main body of the platoon deployed with their own vehicles, but
had a section arrayed around the disabled vehicles to give maximum
covering fire. This was a perilous position, as a small break had formed
in the body of the convoy, the damaged vehicles a little behind the
forward body of the convoy and a little ahead of the rear body of the
patrol and were attracting heavy fire. Tucked in behind the truck I
listened to bullets strike its chassis with little real effect. Even
when stuck by a string of RPGs it only shuddered. While not doing much
physical damage, the clamour was thunderous. Increasingly smoke and dust
obscured the view of the battle. I could see flares of muzzle flash, but
I was finding it hard to see anything else beyond the side of the truck
now. The noise made my ears ache, however.

“Jock, we need you back here, come straight back along your 6 and keep

Crawling on my elbows and knees across the open ground to the disabled
vehicles, the pebbles shifting under my weight, an amazing scene
coalesced out of the dust. Burton and Vallegis were working on the truck
and Lankowski on the APC. Each had their attention anchored to their
charge, ignoring the bullets cutting up the ground about their feet or
ringing off the armour beside them. Next thing Burton is wiggling under
the support truck as if he was in the shop, his heals sliding in the
grit as he pushed further under.

“Jock, over here by the aft tyres.”

“Aft Reg? We’re not in space now mate.”

“Sorry old habits.”

Snaking forward along the side of the truck I could see Reg bent over a
private, working to staunch the blood from her badly wounded thigh.
Beside her a squad mate was rolled on his side vomiting blood. It was
clear he would not survive until the VTOL’s return. It was my job to
make him as comfortable as possible.

Burton and Vallegis expedited the recovery of the support truck. They
had it going again in under fifteen minutes and rolled her forward to
rejoin the forward part of the patrol. Lankowski was having less luck
with the APC. Bullets snapped around him as he climbed out the top hatch
and jumped to the ground. He had sorted an electrical break inside, but
the missile strike had thrown a track. That was going to complicate
things enormously. Burton and Vallegis came back to help hook up the
lines and remount the track. Twenty minutes later they were negotiating
the final pin when a bullet hit Burton in the shoulder and he dropped
his crowbar, the fulcrum collapsing and crushing Lankowski’s arm. Five
of us raced in, trying to free his arm. His screaming was piercing. We
were soon sweating from the exertion, the sweat quickly turning into a
clammy chill in the cold Martian air.

WhoooshhhBAMMM. An RPG flew to the left, spraying us with fist-sized
chunks of rock. WhoooshhhBAMMM, another hit to the right. Instinctively
we ducked lower, taking as much cover as we could while still working to
free Lankowski. The soldiers around us opened up in response, then I
heard the distinct rattle of nearby machine guns and finally 30mm.
Lankowski’s screaming was becoming hoarse, but we just about had his
arm free. SNAP. Even with all the gunfire the sudden end to the
screaming made the place seem oddly quiet. Lankowski had been hit in the
head. Those are the toughest. When you have committed all you have and
just as you reach the line it’s erased with a single shot.

 With Burton directing through gritted teeth, Vallegis and two of the
section got the track remounted and the APC was good to go.

The fight was still going strong. I moved forward ducking in behind an
APC about a third of the way down the column. Jeff scuttled up and
distributed ammo, diving full length behind the rear of the APC at the
first hint of an incoming RPG.

WHAM!! It had hit the front of the APC, showering the ground with
shrapnel. New clouds of fine red dust sprouting up like giant rosy
mushrooms and further cutting out the light. My head was ringing so
intensely I felt like I had lost control of my depth perception and was
running on remote control. I had to fight for command of my limbs, to
shake my head and clear my stunned senses. I could hear screaming from
near the front of the vehicle; between it and the next troop transport.
I saw Reg take off towards the screams and ran after him. Bent low, my
ears still ringing I ducked around the corner of the APC and dropped to
one knee. Looking about three had been hit. One was badly maimed,
missing both an arm, and a leg and with deep gashes along most of his
body. Another had a shattered mask, her cheek smashed underneath and a
portion of her skull missing. The third, the closest was bent over
retching. He was in profile and miraculously didn’t look hurt. Leaning
in I laid my hand on his shoulder and asked if he was ok. Turning to
look at me I could see he had a spray of cuts up his chest from slivers
of shrapnel.

“They’re… they’re gone” he half sobbed, gulping and gesturing
toward the front of the APC behind me. Twisting on my heel I turned to
look back to where he indicated. There was a splatter of blood, bone,
bits of hair and other body parts and bloody, shredded gear spread over
and about the front of the vehicle. A wedge of helmet rocked against the
front right wheel.

Reg and I set about stabilising the newly wounded. The CSM and Sgt
Willis came to help. Their protective nature meaning they preferred to
save their men the trauma of cleaning up the remains of their friends.
It was clear to us all that we needed to get moving fast or the
casualties would continue to mount and we’d become hopelessly trapped.
The trick was how, with small arms still snapping at us unabated.

We were helping the soldier with head wounds on to a stretcher when the
Lt Col came over the radio. Calm as ever he called for a fighting
remount and a push beyond the plain into the low hills beyond. Push for
the higher ground.

With the casualty secured I headed back for my own truck. It took me a
while, as I had to scamper between vehicles, my chest beginning to ache
under the weight of the armour and kit I was carrying. I wasn’t sure
whether the grit pounding my boots was just from the gravel of the road
or from bullets impacting nearby, but it certainly felt as if the air
buzzed with fire. My heart was in my throat, my ears were pounding and I
could feel my temples throbbing. I finally made it back to our truck and
swung inside, panting. Rurik was checking everything was secure before
firing the engine.

The dust was still thick and Rurik was forced to drive using his thermal
imaging monitor. “Eto piz`dets! I hate zis zing.” Rurik cursed his
face creased in concentration. Reaching to the dash he punched a
selector and suddenly ghostly images of the battlefield appeared across
the windscreen. Rurik was obviously concentrating on the vehicles in
front and the dotted lines marking the edge of the road, projected by
the nav-AI onto the image. The image that drew my attention however was
the band of armed ghosts flitting between the rocky boulders at the edge
of the plain to our right. They were obviously a fair distance away,
their phantasmic silhouettes fairly small against the terrain, but they
were making up ground fast.

In the split second I spent wondering if anyone else had seen them too,
I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. The outline of the gun on
top of the vehicle in front traversed to cover the approaching
attackers. There was a series of flashes as the gun fired. The screen
filters damped the flare, but it was still enough to make you wince. The
shots were good, landing amongst the approaching figures, sending them
flying or tearing them apart. The dull thud of the shell landing
reaching my ears as the bodies arced back to earth.

Rurik, the other drivers and the many gunners still had a long tense few
hours, but the worst was over and the patrol rolled on.


Just before sunrise on the 7th, after we’d pitched camp and made
everything secure, the bulk of the patrol gathered in the mess, spilling
out onto the sand outside, to pay their respects. As always Iron
George’s compassion, intelligence, courage and determination were plan
for all to see. His pride in his troops rivalled only by his desire to
share their risks equally and to protect them from pointless harm. As
always he chose his words with consummate skill and standing in front of
the holo’s of the recently dead he recharged the numb and tired bodies
and mourning minds. Soon a new day would blur into the last and the
mission would continue despite very little sleep, but no one would want
for a reason to continue.

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