Chapter 21
Fire from Above
Outskirts of Argyre Colony, Argyre Planitia, Mars, Martian Sphere
Date: Mon 10 Nov 122
Time: UST 0224

Colonel Vasquez cursed under his breath. A squad of mechanics from Delta Company was hard at work getting his Super Monitor up and running again. They could not afford to stay in place for long. They needed stay mobile. It was the only thing that was keeping their losses within tolerances.
The first few hit-and-run attacks failed to draw the Shellies from their advance on the main settlement cluster. The Colonel had to send his people out in force to get a response, even if it exposed them to greater risk.
The less disciplined Militiamen were suffering more than ten times the losses of the regular army. Only a relative handful were prior service who had actually seen combat before. Most of them did not properly appreciate the threat they faced and already one in ten of their number was dead.
"I wish those damn Militiamen were more than just bullet sponges," the Colonel said, mostly to himself.
"What more can you expect from the paramilitaries, sir?" Sergeant Major Bellamy asked.
Actually, some of the more well-funded paramilitary units were arguably superior to the average soldier, especially with their habit of hiring ex-Special Forces and kitting them out with gear well above general issue. That was not true of the Martian Militia, however. Many Militiamen were essentially draft dodgers, not unlike their counterparts in the EDC on Earth, showing more loyalty to their homeworld than the Union as a whole and getting away with a federally recognized alternative service with little real risk of combat action. Until now, that is.
Now these Militiamen with their substandard training and equipment were getting themselves killed by the hundred. Over ten percent of their numbers either dead or too incapacitated to continue the fight in a week's time. Between individual shortcomings and poor leadership, they were not going to last much longer.
"We need to square their asses away somehow," the Colonel said. "We can't afford these of losses."
Sergeant Major Bellamy could only shake his head.
"It's not like we can call a ceasefire with the Shellies and take nine weeks to get them all trained up."
Though it was meant as nothing more than a throwaway comment, it got Colonel Vasquez thinking.
"No, but perhaps we can have the next best thing."
"What do you mean?"
"We've been pussyfootin' around, keepin' everyone all dainty in their neat little boxes. It's time to mix things up. An Army squad runs a Militia platoon, an Army platoon a Militia company, and an Army company a Militia battalion."
"Sir, that's a terrible idea," the Sergeant Major replied bluntly. "They'll just get in the way and drag us down. You think those Militiamen will accept Army command? It's a disaster waiting to happen. And with all due respect, sir, if it was a good idea, you would've done it from the start."
"Times like these call for audacity, Sergeant Major, and the resolve to back it up."
"You're in command, sir, but I want to go on record as opposing this plan and you're bound to get the same response from every officer and senior NCO on both sides."
"Your opinion is duly noted, Sergeant Major."
They might have argued over the issue further, but one of the operators still inside the Super Monitor stuck his head out and shouted, "We're picking something up on radar, sir!"
Colonel Vasquez walked over to the operator and asked him, "Is it Ninth AF?"
"No, sir!" the panicked operator cried. "They're not transmitting friendly codes!"
"Warn all units in the projected flight path. Deploy whatever countermeasures we can."
"Roger that, sir!"
The operator went back inside the Super Monitor and Colonel Vasquez intended to follow.
"Come on, Sergeant Major," he said. "Take cover in the Super Monitor. It's the best we've got."
The Sergeant Major went on ahead while the Colonel went around to the mechanics from Delta and shouted, "Drop what you're doing! We got inbound! Load in! This thing's got the thickest shell of anything out here."
"Yes, sir!" the mechanics replied.
Colonel Vasquez ushered them into the Super Monitor, shouting, "Load 'em up, load 'em up, load 'em up! It's gonna be a tight fit, so get in there and make your buddy smile!"
Once the mechanics were all inside, Colonel Vasquez went in himself and closed the door behind him.
"Shut everything down," he told the operators. "Let's not go out of our way to make ourselves a target."
"Yes, sir."
The inside of the Super Monitor went dark.
"And now we wait," the Colonel said. "Brace yourselves, people."
It did not take long to feel the distant rumbling of the Shelly bombs. With nothing else to do but hunker down and pray for no direct hits, Colonel Vasquez found himself remembering the last time he was in this kind of situation.

* * *

Location: Enceladus Colony 01, Enceladus, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Sun 08 Feb 106
Time: UST 1844

He pushed the broken piece of wall plate off him. He had taken a pretty bad hit and probably had a concussion, but now was not the time to worry about that. He was still in one piece and had an obligation to stay in the fight. Though his ears were ringing, he was able to make out a voice shouting. It was Ramirez.
"Knox is down, Sergeant!"
Then there was another one, Cordeski.
"Oh, fuck, his tank's leakin'!"
Sergeant Vasquez had to pull himself into focus. His squad needed him.
Moving over to the downed Knox, he told them, "He can buddy breathe off my tank. You got the bypass?"
"Right here, Sergeant, PFC Weirz said, pulling the bypass connector from his kit."
"Take it easy there, private," Sergeant Vasquez said to Knox. To Weirz, he said, "Get him stable so we can medevac him." He looked around and asked, "Where's the LT?"
"The LT's dead, Sergeant," Corporal Chodry said as he emerged from the wreckage.
"What about Sergeant Van Allen?"
"He's dead too."
Maybe it was the possible concussion, but it took Sergeant Vasquez a moment for the realization to sink in.
"Sergeant Vasquez, you're in charge now," Corporal Chodry said. "What do we do?"
Sergeant Vasquez had been leading squads ever since he got his second stripe, but leading the platoon? Was he ready for that kind of responsibility? His head swam. Maybe it was the concussion...
"Sergeant Vasquez? Sergeant Vasquez!"

* * *

Location: Outskirts of Argyre Colony, Argyre Planitia, Mars, Martian Sphere
Date: Mon 10 Nov 122
Time: UST 0241

"Sir? Sir! General Vasquez!"
Sergeant Major Bellamy's shouting brought Colonel Vasquez back. He looked around and saw that everything appeared to be in one piece.
"The Shelly bombers are gone, sir," the Sergeant Major said.
The Colonel immediately went into action, distributing orders to everyone huddled in the Super Monitor.
"Check for damages. Get us mobile as soon as possible. Get on the horn and get me damage reports. I want to know how bad they hit us."
"Yes, sir," the relevant troops replied.
The last time the Colonel faced a Shelly attack on a colony, he was unprepared but rose to the task. Now he knew what he had to do and would not hesitate. There would be no regular Army or Martian Militia, only the defenders of Argyre and they were going to turn back the tide at any cost.