Chapter 15
Rockhopper
Location:
MCB Camp Kasuga, Laputa Region, Phobos, Martian Sphere
Date: Thu 30 Oct 122
Time: UST 0718

A Combat Sparrow touched down at one of the landing pads of Marine Corps Base Camp Kasuga. Camp Kasuga was the primary training post for Marines bound for service in the Space Forces and the sole remaining military outpost on Phobos since most of the commands migrated planetside back in the 50s.
The graviton generator on the landing pad was malfunctioning, so they had to lock the Combat Sparrow's landing struts in place. The ground crew shot a tow line that stuck to the hull near the hatch. When the hatch opened, the disembarking Marines hooked onto the line and pushed off. It did not take much force to propel a person the thirty meters between the Combat Sparrow and the airlock. A couple members of the ground crew helped them into the airlock and once all thirteen Marines were inside, the airlock closed and pressurized. When the green light lit up, the Marines doffed their masks and went inside.
The Marines were met by the post CG, General Anbauer, and his entourage.
"Glad you boys could make it," the General said.
The leader of the incoming Marines walked in front of the others, who fell into four-by-three formation. They came to a stop a few paces from the General and went to attention. The leader saluted.
"Sir."
General Anbauer returned the salute.
"At ease, men," he said. To the leader, he asked, "Colonel Grozny, right?"
"Yes, sir."
"I'm in one helluva jam," the General said. "They got Seventh MEF out on the front and most of my combat units were sent planetside. All I have left are just trainees and rear echelon. I know they say every Marine's a rifleman, but we sure can use your help."
"It's why we're here, sir."
"Handy thing they give those new Americas a whole MEU. Handier still that y'all are here. But I thought the Tico was assigned to Ninth."
"You'd have to ask the Admiral about the details, sir. All I know is that we're here now and it looks like we arrived just in time."
The General readjusted his utility cap, an apparent nervous tic as it did not need to be fixed.
"You don't know the half of it, Colonel. Like we said when sent out the distress call, we got Shellies here on Phobos. Three big groups. Two in the main settlement cluster here in Laputa and another down south near Sharpless. I'm sure you saw how Shelly airpower strafed us, but I'm guessing we have your Tico to thank for clearing the air for us."
Moving the conversation right along, Colonel Grozny asked the General, "What are your losses, sir?"
"We still don't have a solid count," the General replied. "Here on post, something like 120 dead and 300 wounded. No idea what the situation's like in the civvie areas."
"Sir, I request full operational control until this situation is contained."
The request was so sudden and so bluntly stated that General Anbauer was taken aback for a moment. He did not respond right away. Rather, he crossed his arms and furrowed his brow, spending a few moments of awkward silence considering it.
Sighing, the General finally said, "My pride's telling me, 'This is my show,' but it's been ten years since I was last downrange." He sighed again and once more readjusted his utility cover. "You have my cooperation, Colonel, but I expect to be kept in the loop."
"Of course, sir," Colonel Grozny replied, "and I would like you to help coordinate with the local authorities."
"What do you plan to do?"
"First we need to clear out the enemy units in the main settlement cluster. I'll be sending Echo and Golf to one and Fox and Hotel to the other. The Two-Twelve will be providing air support while the LCE and whatever Marines you can spare will work on civilian relief."
"Yes, that all sounds good," the General said, nodding along. Once all the Colonel's words sank in, though, he stopped himself. "Wait, what? The Two-Twelve? Air support? Do you mean to say that you're going to sortie strike fighters in a civilian area?"
"If the Shellies have the numbers and the firepower to warrant it, yes, sir."
"But you can't send a strike squadron out into the main settlement cluster!" the General exclaimed. "Think of the collateral damage!"
"Those civilians will be no less dead if we continue to let the Shellies run rampant," Colonel Grozny replied tersely. "And if I should lose too many of my Marines because we're pussyfooting around, even more will die."
General Anbauer just stood there, clearly opposed to Colonel Grozny's strategy but unable to reject it outright. The Colonel did not let him stand there dithering for very long, though.
"I take full responsibility for my own men, sir," he said.
"That won't wash at a court-martial and you know it," the General replied.
"If we don't act now and act decisively, we could be facing a court-martial anyway. Instead of worrying about being court-martialed, let's worry about clearing out the Shellies and getting as many civvies out of harm's way as we can. Or are you rescinding your authorization, sir?"
The General shook his head.
"No. You're right, Colonel. Proceed with the mission at once."
"Aye-aye, sir."

* * *

Location: Ostrovsky Merchant District, Laputa Region, Phobos, Martian Sphere
Date: Thu 30 Oct 122
Time: UST 0936

The headaches were getting worse. The Shellies had to be close. Before it was just a guess, but now it was clear that Miranda could pick up Shelly transmissions. She did not have the brain implants to fully process them, so it amounted to little more than proximity sensor. That was still something she could use, especially in an urban combat situation like this.
Still, it was difficult to stay focused with dozens of needles furiously jabbing the back of her skull. One time she had to carry herself half a kilometer to the extraction point with her left arm half-severed at the shoulder. If she could handle that, she could handle a little pain in the brain.
"Are you alright, Echo One-Oh-Two?" Solano asked.
Solano was still paired with her. By now she was pretty sure that he was an undercover Special embedded in the unit, which explained why Major Knox trusted him to keep an eye on her. No wonder he seemed so average. It was all an act to lay low.
I guess that makes him the best candidate to take me out if it needs doing, she thought to herself.
No need to give him any reason to get an itchy trigger finger.
"I'll be fine," she said. "They're close."
Even without her added sensitivity, Miranda could see the contacts closing in from the motion sensor alone. Second Squad was the first to make contact.
"This is Echo One-Two-One," Sergeant Martinez said. "Contact right. Engaging."
Next was Fourth.
"Contact front!"
It did not take long for the four of the frontline squads to be engaged and soon even Fifth Squad, which was watching the platoon's rear, was fending off Shellies. They were surrounded, but it was too disorganized to properly call it an ambush. It also seemed to be a little early to be engaging them based on the intel they received.
"What the hell!?" Maliki whined. "Why are there so goddamned many a' these fuckers!?"
Any other day, Miranda would have told Maliki for the hundredth time to can the chatter, but she was too busy wondering the same thing. In all her engagements with the Shellies, they never acted this way. Their tactics varied in intelligence, but they always relied on strength in numbers as much as possible. Where there was one, there was always another closeby. Here they were all scattered, attacking one by one from all directions. It was like they split up their formation to cover more ground but were all looking to converge on a single point.
And then the realization hit her.
"It's me..." she muttered to herself. She then repeated it louder. "It's me." Opening up a private channel to Lieutenant Dixon, she said, "Echo One-Oh-One, this is Echo One-Oh-Two. I think the Shellies are being drawn to my position."
"What do you mean?" Lieutenant Dixon asked.
"I can sense them and they can sense me. The Shellies don't let themselves get taken alive and they're picking up my signal outside their formation. That's why they're swarming like this. We can use it against them, draw them into an ambush."
"It's too risky."
"Sir, the Shellies did this to me. The least we can do is use it against them."
After a moment's deliberation, the Lieutenant conceded.
"Alright. We'll give it a shot. All units, this is Echo One-Oh-One. We've got an open square about 300 meters from here. Echo One-Oh-Two is going to draw the Shellies out and we're gonna hit 'em on all sides from the rooftops. First and Fifth'll take the north, Second east, Third south and Fourth west. Do not open fire until I give the signal. I repeat, do not open fire until I give the signal."
Staff Sergeant Comanescu came on the line and said, "Echo One-Oh-One, this is Echo One-One-One. Did you just say Echo One-Oh-Two was going to draw the Shellies out? Alone?"
"Don't worry about me, Echo One-One-One," Miranda said. "It's all part of the plan."
"I hope you're right about this, Echo One-Oh-Two."
"Yeah, me too."
The platoon set out to the designated kill zone, hopping from roof to roof. Because jumping could make you an easy target, they kept their propulsion to the bare minimum needed to make each jump. It was even more dangerous to cede the high ground and risk getting ambushed en route to setting up their own ambush.
When the square came into view, Lieutenant Dixon told the platoon, "Get in position and maintain radio silence until I give the signal."
The squads fanned out to encircle the square while Miranda hopped off the roof to be down at ground level. The civilians were already gone from the area and only a few signs pointed to the haste of their departure. Sheolite bombs had breached the dome, but the secondary done deployed before too much pressure could be lost. Not all of the domes were so lucky.
Walking around near the center of the square, Miranda looked around and checked her sensors. She knew the Shellies were coming. She tried to find a place with suitable cover, but squares were not generally built with cover and concealment in mind. That left her open or exposed, or as open and exposed as a person could be in a suit state-of-the-art powered armor.
The second the Shellies saw her, they would start shooting. The standard issue nail gun was not much of a threat to a MediSuit, but the Shellies had other weapons at their disposal that were. More importantly, the sight of a MediSuit would put them on alert right away. The whole point of her acting as bait was to lure in as many as possible, so what was she going to do?
An idea came to her and she decided to put it into action before she could get any second thoughts. First, after double-checking that the air pressure and the oxygen levels were safe, she broke the seal on her helmet and took it off. She disengaged her arm canon and set it on the ground. She then opened up her MediSuit and pulled herself out. Lastly, she took off her boots and stripped out of her flightsuit.
No doubt everyone was wondering what she was up to, but they were under orders to maintain radio silence and that was what they did. Because she wore a Shelly polymer sheath instead of StatSuit, she figured it might be enough for her to still pass at one, at least long enough for most of the incoming Shellies to enter the kill zone.
She reset her MediSuit into its standby configuration and then laid it on the ground. Normally, it would take at least four men to lift a MediSuit, but Miranda's augments made it a manageable task for her alone. She positioned the suit to make it look like a downed Marine. She sprawled out on the ground beside it, hoping she could pass for a believable corpse.
At first she considered lying facedown, but thought better of it. Lying on her back, she could see more around her. Now all she had to do was wait.
She could feel them coming closer. She gritted her teeth a little as her headache got worse. It would not be long now. She was thankful that the first one appeared in her line of sight. She had a good 90-degree blind spot, but she was just going to have to trust her platoon to keep an eye on things.
The Shellies were closing in. She counted five. No doubt there were more of them.
She wondered what they made of the scene she crafted for them, if they were even capable of individual thought. An apparent dead Marine and an armorless drone. She was hoping they would not opt to just chuck a grenade her way to destroy the evidence. She hoped this gamble would not get her killed.
Well, that was a funny thought. After what happened to her on Erebus, she thought her life was as good as over. The only thing that kept her going was her sense of duty to the Corps. However, in that moment, lying there vulnerable, she realized that her life was still precious to her in spite of everything.
She had to trust her platoon. Her life was in their hands. If only a few more Shellies would come out into the open, they could do a clean sweep. She just had to play it cool until then.
The first Shelly to appear was now less than ten meters from her. It started speaking in Shelly, but Miranda had no idea what he was saying. He then said something to the others converging on his position. They had their nail guns up, ready to fire. They were not watching the roofs, which was good for the ambush, but Miranda had a feeling things were about to get bad for her really quickly once they found out she was alive.
No time to waste. Her hand shot out to pick up her arm cannon. Her Shelly strength made it as easy to wield as a P43. She blasted the Shelly closest to her square in the chest and shot two more in quick succession.
From her helmet, she could hear Lieutenant Dixon shout over the radio, "All units, open fire!"
The combined firepower of First Platoon rained down on the Shellies from all sides. For those already out in the open, only a few of them even had the chance to raise their weapons before they were cut down. Using her MediSuit as a shield, Miranda took potshots at any Shelly she could see. The firefight, like most, was brief but intense. It was over in only two or three minutes.
Once the dust settled, the Lieutenant asked the platoon, "Anyone picking up any contacts?"
"The area's clear, Echo One-Oh-One," Comanescu replied.
"Well, it looks like we've got a winning strategy," Martinez said.
"That was luck," Comanescu said, "damn luck. Let's think up somethin' a lil' less insane next time."
"Echo One-Oh-Two, can you hear me?" Lieutenant Dixon asked. "Get suited up."
Picking up her helmet, Miranda said, "Copy that, Echo One-Oh-One."
While she was getting dressed, she could overhear Corporal Wilkers ask, "Where to now, Echo-Oh-One?"
"Wherever the Shellies are," Lieutenant Dixon replied. "Speaking of which, Command's telling me we have contacts about half a klick due northeast. Once Echo One-Oh-Two's ready, we'll move out."