The Solar Campaign: The Spanish Game - an excerpt

Author's Note: The Solar Campaign is a Military Sci-Fi. This excerpt contains both harsh language and violence. If this offends you, I understand and respect that, but please refrain from reading further. Otherwise, please enjoy this sample of my upcoming book.

Jim wouldn’t have recommended the T-6B Whipcline to an average commuter. The assault boat howled constantly, even while cruising. Forced to operate in environments that often completely lacked atmosphere, lift was an unreliable bedfellow, so the Whipcline took the next best option: continuous, eardrum-shattering thrust from a plethora of vectored rocket engines. This solution made for some very rough passenger treatment, the kind a bouncer gives a boozed client who’s just tried to forcibly make out with his favorite go-go dancer.

Jim was tossed in confusing directions as the Whipcline jounced in its descent. There was something sharp and metallic caught between his right shoulder and his restraint harness. He thought maybe he’d missed a buckle. And his back was killing him. He was glad for his matte visor; between the intermittent agony and the fright of his first combat drop, his expression must have been a sight to see.

He looked surreptitiously at his squad. They were clamped into their seats lining the cabin. His bulky harness hid most of them from sight. Duval was across from him. The sergeant looked like he was staring raptly at some spot on the floor as he studied a tactical readout. He could see half of Alloy. The juicer was ferociously headbanging to inaudible music. He presently pointed at Jim and commenced an air guitar solo.

Alright, First Squad!” yelled Duval. You know the deal on this one already so I’ll keep it quick. Once we hit the LZ, combat disembark. Keep low, assume you’re under fire. Orient ASAP to Tether 51. Everyone should have a nav point on their heads-up. Does anyone not see the nav point? Orbital assets are digging foxholes for us as we speak, hopefully killing some spinners for us in the process. But let’s not count on either. Natural cover down there is slim to none. Look for craters to use as foxholes. Hug the ground if all else fails. We advance by bounding. Don’t give them a clean shot on you. Get up, bounce to the next piece of cover, get in, locate your next piece of cover. When you’re suppressing, lay that fire on thick. Keep an eye out for IFF tags. Second Squad will be dropping two hundred meters left. That interval will shrink the closer we get to the objective. Watch your fire.”

“Marines,” said their pilot in her trademark drawl, “sixty seconds to LZ.”

Duval banged the release and pushed his harness up. “Get up, you lazy assholes! You waiting for a speech or some shit? Lock and load!”

Jim hurled his harness off, happy to be rid of it. He grabbed his rail rifle off its rack as he stood. The shrill whine of ten weapons charging up became briefly audible over the roar of the engines. He took his place in the aisle, grabbing a ceiling loop. His boots magnetically adhered to the deck plating at his command. He looked back at Rachel, who’d been in the seat beside him and now stood behind him. He raised one fist. She pounded his knuckles.

Alloy asked, “Some music while we wait, Sergeant?”

“Why the fuck not?”

The channel filled with the screech of a dying cat. A man with a deep, toneless voice and a brogue accent came in.

Face down in the gutter, won’t admit defeat
Though his clothes are soiled and black…

The Whipcline gave a sickening lurch. Jim was thrown against the bulkhead but pushed himself standing again. He could hear the ammunition hoppers clicking and grinding above his head. The boat was firing its guns.

The pilot announced, “Got some company on our LZ. Wiping ‘em off. Thirty seconds, marines!”

The Whipcline was shimmying left, nose dipped forty-five degrees as it stitched fire across the LZ, pummeling whatever was there. The engines wailed. Marines swayed on bent knees, hauling on the ceiling loops. The light beside the drop ramp winked on, glowing solid red.

A sudden plunge. Another after that. A steady tremor—the engines rose sharply in pitch—and a final, back-crunching drop. The boat held fast. The ramp fell. The air evacuated from the cabin in an outrush that tugged hard on the marines, threatening to carry them out with it. The light blinked green.

“Go! Go! Go!”

Jim clambered down the ramp and dropped into open air. He fell slowly, as if into shallow water. In a sense, he was doing exactly that. Haumea’s gravity was barely one tenth of one G. The Whipcline hovered at ten meters on splayed station thrusters. The heat wash churned up clouds of ice crystals that liquefied and flash-froze as they swirled, glittering, around the LZ.

Jim fell into the thick of the storm. Melting ice crystals spattered his visor and stuck fast, half-blinding him. He switched to infrared just in time to see something dark on the ground right where he was about to fall. His boots touched it. It was soft, and in several pieces. 

He scrambled off as quickly as the weak gravity would allow. He moved in odd slow motion. He glanced up. He and the sergeant had been first out. He saw more figures plunging out of the open cabin and falling his way, legs kicking. Their IFF tags made them strobe grey.

In the vacuum, the engine noise had vanished. The only sound was the ice sprinkling on his helmet and First Squad’s breathing echoing over the net.

He turned and hopped to his assigned spot in the security ring. “Watch that heat wash! Watch that heat wash!” the sergeant called. Anyone who ventured too far out risked getting barbecued. Jim panned his rifle for targets. There were more fragmented dark shapes on the ground, cooling from black to grey. When Jim found his spot and knelt, one was lying just a meter away. The body wore mottled white combat armor. A globe-and-laurel was stenciled on his backpack. He had come to rest on his belly with his knees crisscrossed and one arm folded under his chest. A flurry of bullets had ripped his head off mid-stride. Jim had never seen a Concord soldier in person before.

He swallowed and forced himself to look away, still tracking for targets.

“Security check!”

“One clear!” Jim said.

“Two clear!” Rachel said.

The squad rattled off their reports. They blink-clicked their oxygen and carbon dioxide levels to Duval next. The Whipcline was lifting off before they’d finished. “Good luck, marines,” called the pilot. “Remaining on station.”

It wasn’t as if she had much choice. There’s a quirk to planetary assaults that isn’t immediately obvious: you can’t just leave whenever you want to. Packing up and returning to orbit on the same boat isn’t an option, not unless that boat is capable of achieving escape velocity. Once an assault commences, the invasion force is stuck until it secures a spaceport, at which time it can reestablish a two-way link with friendly ships in orbit—that is, via rocket launch.

First Squad carried enough supplies to last them three full days—Persephone Adjusted, thirty-five hour days, to be precise. And their boat doubled as a very mean gunship, as evidenced by the dismembered corpses scattered around their landing zone. They could expect constant artillery support from cruisers in orbit. The fleet could also fire down supplies as the need arose. But that rarely happened.

A marine will fight long and hard to avoid having to shit in his pressure suit.