Bush Fires (a Core-verse story)

The first spin-off from The Terra Core (see http://www.movellas.com/en/book/read/201310281154034479-the-terra-core for the details), this story will take a look at the wider universe the Core stories inhabit- and take us into the world of the United Western Alliance military, as they deal with terrorists, insurgents and crumbling regimes.

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6. Caught in the Crossfire

"Well, this is fun." Remarked Lieutenant Daniel Ramos, as mortar fire rained down upon their position and blew chunks out of the walls of the shop they'd take refuge in.

"It's not boring that's for sure." Replied Captain Jacinta 'Jack' Crespo, as she took aim near the window and cracked off a few shots with her rifle.

"I'd rather have boring." Ramos saw threat indicators appear on his HUD and lined up an inciendry shot. A satisfying burst of flame forced the pair of would-be attackers across the street to back off and find cover.

"No you wouldn't. You much prefer action." Ramos just knew that underneath her helmet, Crespo would be smirking.

Another round of mortar fire came down upon the shop they were hiding in. Pieces of metal and brickwork were sent hurtling in all directions from the blasts. The clothes on their racks were being torn to shreds.

"Ted Baker. Nice shirts, assuming they're not fakes." Remarked Ramos as he once again fired off a few inciendry rounds. One caught an enemy combatant, who'd assumed he was safe tucked away behind a grounded grav-car, right in the chest. He'd clearly not counted upon Marine gear, and not only did the bullet punch in but it turned the poor SOB into a ball of flame.

"We need to take out those mortars!" Yelled Crespo as several more enemy fighters rounded the corner and started spraying the little shop with rifle rounds. Another mortar round hit, this time in front of the shop, gouging a small hole in the road.

"Yeah, any ideas how we do that Captain?" Ramos kept his head down as bullets whizzed overhead.

"First, I've had enough of shopping. Fire exit, lets go."

The pair of Marines sprinted toward the exit, but Ramos was caught by a stray bullet that pinged against his powered armour just below the back of his right knee. The actual bullet did no damage but it forced Ramos into a stumble.

That stumble actually saved his life.

A rocket, a high-tech guided rocket, was fired by one of their attackers, tracking the heartbeat of the Marines. Ramos fell at just the right time, with the rocket shooting over his head and pulverising the fire exit instead. Both he and Crespo were staggered by the explosion, that brought half the walls collapsing down around them.

"Holy shit!" Remarked Ramos. "That was close!"

"No really?" Replied Crespo sarcastically as she picked herself up, brushing off rubble. "Come on, Jones and Harper are in trouble, and these goons might have more serious hardware."

****

The situation that had suddenly exploded into life on the planet's surface had focused almost exclusively upon the disputed towns between USP and ODM controlled areas- and what worried Lieutenant General Pilkvist more than anything was just how suddenly that had happened.

In a dozen small cities enemy combatents (at this point potentially either side) had somehow gotten into those cities without detection and started shooting at the Marines. Early reports suggested around three hundred Marines had been killed, with another two hundred or so hurt, and many were still trapped in the middle of a furious war zone.

Even more worrying, was that the Marines had seemingly been the targets. Someone had decided it was a smart idea to challenge UWA armed forces, and that was a mistake that would end very badly for them.

The transport Courage, currently landed in the middle of a vast expanse of grassland, was serving as the makeshift headquarters for all UWA activities on the ground, and it offered little in the way of comfort. Pilkvist was in the Command Centre, overseeing all activities, getting live feeds from several different sources, as his men and women busied themselves to direct attention to any potential flashpoints. Pilkvist, the stereotypical Swede, stood tall, in military fatigues, with very short blond hair kept in perfect trim. In his youth he'd worn it long, almost shoulder-length, but that was, sadly, no longer an option.

Beside him stood Brigadier Jamie McCallum, the ranking Marine for this assignment. He half-a-head shorter than Pilkvist, and sounded very Scottish, despite having grown up in Canada. His moustache was an ugly thing to Pilkvist, who detested facial hair- 'a small brown rat that died' is how he had described it earlier in the trip. McCallum had, luckily, laughed it off.

Like Pilkvist, McCallum kept his hair short, as per regulation, and like Pilkvist, felt most comfortable in proper military clothes. His expression was stoic as he watched the monitors.

"I can't believe they managed to get thousands of troops into place right under our noses, then attack us like this, after only three days." McCallum muttered.

"It is... suspicious. I have ordered reinforcements to the Marines' locations. They should be there within ten minutes." Pilkvist looked on at the monitors, worried. "They either were in the area to begin with, or have had this sort of move planned for some time."

"Do we know sir, who the attackers are?" Asked McCallum.

"No. Our intel isn't cluing us in to that. What do your people on the ground see?"

"Hmm... from the looks of it, the enemy forces are rebel fighters- very little in the way of military hardware, mostly stuff scavenged from defeated government forces. They also lack co-ordination, which suggests poor or no training."

"Well, at least that's something in our favour. I take it your Marines are carrying out their job admirably?" Asked Pilkvist.

"Oh, you can count on that sir."

****

The other side of the now crumbling clothes shop Ramos and Crespo had taken refuge in led out into an alley way- a rather narrow one- and a good choke point, which made them nervous. The enemy could easily corner them, as they would know little back streets and shortcuts far better.

Still, the only other option was to charge into the teeth of who knew how many enemy combatents, and for all their weaponry and armour, they would be greatly outnumbered. Only a fool would do something like that.

"Which way?" Asked Ramos as they made their way as quietly as possible down the alley and reached a T junction.

"My scanner says left- Jones, Harper and a few others are in that general direction." Replied Crespo in a hushed tone.

"Okay then... Enemy sighted!" Ramos hissed, as two men with bolt rifles came around the corner without warning. Why hadn't their sensors picked them up?

The two men opened fire and bullets pinged off armour and shattered brickwork. The force and accuracy of their shots was better than anything they'd encountered so far- these guys were better than the average goons, a fact both Crespo and Ramos took note of as they dived to the left and out of sight.

They kept moving, which was good for them- an explosion took out half the wall and sent a small fireball up their backsides as they ran- a grenade or a rocket had followed them.

"Tell Harper and Jones to expect hot company!" Remarked Crespo as they twisted down alleys. More bullets whizzed past them, and these bullets were weakening armour pretty quickly when they struck.

"I'll tell them to expect me then." Replied Ramos. He activated his built-in radio. "Harper, Jones, we're coming to you but we appear to have commandos of some sort on our tail, be ready... oh shit!"

Crespo knew why Ramos had sworn. One minute their sensor feeds were telling them all the important info they needed (though why the two guys chasing them were going undetected was still a mystery), the next, their equipment went dead. It all just switched off.

"Fuck! What do we do?" Asked Ramos as they sprinted toward the last known position of the others.

"I don't know, but I'll think of something!" Crespo turned and fired a grenade from her gun's built-in launcher. It took out a small section of the wall of a nearby building and would hopefully slow down (if not kill) their two pursuers. Just for good measure, she fired a second round into the rubble, then took off again.

****

An insistent beeping sound alerted one of the controllers to a serious problem. She looked up from her console, eyes filled with concern.

"Sirs! Our remote feeds to the Marines have just gone down, every single one of them!" Sure enough, all the monitors were switching to static. 'Signal Lost' was the error message flashing up.

"How is that possible? Get them back!" Ordered Pilkvist. He shared a worried glance with McCallum.

"I'm trying sir, but the problem doesn't appear to be our end." The controller started to get in touch with technicians and other controllers, trying desperately to solve the problem.

"There's only one thing it can be." Said McCallum. "Someone's detonated an EMP device, perhaps more than one- or someone's blasted those towns to smitherens."

Pilkvist looked at the monitors. "Get me Rear Admiral Hood now!"

****

"Admiral Hood, we have an incoming message from the surface. It's General Pilkvist sir." Reported the conn officer on board the battleship Avenger. He turned to the Admiral, seated within his command chair on the command deck of the mighty warship.

Sixty years of age was no longer old by the standards of the UWA but wrinkles seemed to have entrenched themselves upon Rear Admiral Hood's forehead, a sight made easier to spot by his receeding hairline. What was left was a nice shade of brown but Hood had often silently cursed his family's bloodline for heriditary baldness.

Deep blue eyes narrowed at news of the incoming message.

"Put it through." He ordered. General Pilkvist's voice came over the speaker.

"Admiral Hood, we have a situation here. Our Marines, currently in forward positions within several disputed towns, have lost all their communications and sensors. We are trying to re-establish contact but frankly, we don't know if they've simply been blasted from orbit. What can you tell us?"

"We were just about to contact you General. No ships have fired on the surface but we just detected several EMP bombs detonated almost simultainously. Someone down there has access to some pretty sophisticated gear."

"Can you tell if the enemy is reinforcing their position with any other hardware?"

"Negative. So far, they have nothing else we can detect moving into position. We're attempting to contact the Marines but as the event was local to them... I'm afraid they're on their own."

"We have Army units less than seven minutes out to give them a hand. I appreciate your efforts Admiral." Said Pilkvist, sounding genuinely thankful.

"Any time General, I just wish we could be of more help, and if we can, we will. Avenger out."

****

There was no sign of the two assailants. It was possible they had indeed been killed by Crespo's grenades. It was equally possible they were laying in wait, preparing an ambush. Crespo hoped for the former but suspected the latter.

They could hear explosions in the distance and the sound of gunfire was everywhere. The rebels (or whoever they were) were attacking on all fronts, a feat made easier for them now that the Marines could no longer co-ordinate their efforts so easily.

What their attackers didn't realise was that the Marines were not so easily ruffled. Trained above and beyond expectations, they prepared for this sort of thing. Up ahead, Crespo and Ramos could see another pair of Marines, engaged in a firefight with unseen enemy troops whilst seeking cover behind a crashed air-car.

Using hand signals, Crespo gestured for Ramos to hug the wall. They'd catch the enemy forces in a crossfire, using the alley as cover...

An explosion boomed around them as the two Marines they'd seen were taken out- someone had caught them almost directly with a powerful rocket or missile, and the car then exploded too. Pieces of shrapnel and bits of their colleagues went everywhere, and the blast knocked both Crespo and Ramos off their feet. When they re-orientated themselves, five enemy soldiers- including the two that had stalked them, were standing over them guns pointed down....

 

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