I really enjoy throwing my knowledge of the military into my writings. It’s what makes it work for me. Add my degree in military history, real world war experience, and over 2 decades of service around the world and I think I bring a fairly unique skillset to fantasy and science fiction. We’ve all seen or read those stories where the writer/director has zero concept of the military. I don’t know about you but it drives me crazy. I decided years ago that making the fighting- and results- quasi realistic was my angle. Oddly enough, I actually got a negative review because of this.
Oh well, can’t please everyone I guess. Here is this week’s chapter. Read on, my friends, read on.
The word came down right at dusk, and twenty-four howitzer crews flowed into their drills. The usual desert calm was drowned away under the hum of hydraulics as tubes elevated and traversed onto deflections and quadrants. Two hundred pound rounds slammed into breeches up and down the line, and section chiefs verified data one last time before pushing the button that cut the right charge of liquid propellant. Colonel Gladak stood well behind the firing batteries, taking it all in. An old infantryman, Gladak knew the greatest asset they had was the artillery. An impersonal method of killing, but terribly effective. He was thankful to be behind the guns rather than on the receiving end of their fury. Five rounds apiece filled the guns’ magazines, each with time delayed fuses. The rack was a designed package standard throughout the Imperium. The first two rounds of each volley would impact in the ground while the remaining three would explode five meters above. It was a proven ploy responsible for more casualties than all of the infantry companies put together.
Cannoneers moved about their jobs, eagerly awaiting the call to fire. The three battery commanders stalked from one gun pit to the next to inspect their troops and raise morale a little more. They all knew that, initially, only one gun was going to fire. Once the forward observers adjusted the howitzer onto the target, the remainder of the battalion would join in. One hundred and thirty high explosive rounds were more than enough to suppress anything the enemy had to throw at them. Besides, no one in his right mind was going to risk being caught in the open at the point of an Imperium advance.
The hydraulic hum of a tubes elevating drew Gladak’s attention. His slit eyes focused on the adjusting howitzer. It was a thing he’d witnessed countless times over the course of his career, starting as a young lieutenant observing rounds. Soldiers not directly involved with the howitzer’s operations had the opportunity to sit back and bet on who was going to shoot first. It was a hard way to make money, but the military wasn’t known for how well they paid. Once loaded, firing the howitzer was basically a three-man job. Section chiefs verified data sent down from the fire direction centers and gave the command to fire. Gunners set off the data, and the cannoneer pulled the lanyard. Everyone else shuffled ammo back and forth from the carrier to the gun and got to watch. Bragging rights belonged to whoever shot first.
A gun in the center of the position rocked back under the recoil as it fired, spitting flames into the dimming sky. Nearby windows and buildings trembled under the heavy shock waves as Black Tide learned what modern warfare was like. Acrid smoke and debris washed over the colonel. Gladak growled approval. The smell left something to be desired, but the lethality was flawless. Killing from twenty clicks away was a relatively easy thing to do compared to the brutality of the infantry and tankers, but the sickening thought stayed in the back of their minds forever.
Specialists thumbed across ranging charts to mark the position of impact and punched the data into computers to adjust closer to the target. A second adjust round popped off less than a minute later. The battalion hit the target on the third round, much to their delight, and the gun line came alive.
“Fire mission!” crackled a high-pitched voice over twenty four intercoms.
It was a well-rehearsed drill as much as it was second nature to the old timers. They pushed their earplugs in a little more, anticipating how loud the concussion was going to be. Twenty seconds after receiving data, crews were finished reporting back a ready status. A new private grew nervous. An old chief grinned at a rookie cannoneer. Others laughed and joked, oblivious to what was going on around them. A card game was going on directly behind one platoon. Men talked about women, and women talked about different men they’d been with. It was the same the army over. Troopers had to do the little things if they expected to go home sane.
Muscles tensed. Hearts beat a little faster, and the Imperium heavy artillery stood on the brink of waking the Wasteland’s dead. “Battalion…FIRE!”
The ensuing thunder was a far cry worse than the wrath of the Gods. The ground was trembling under the extreme pressure as the guns fired again and again. Each salvo went screaming off into the desert, wailing like a banshee on All Hallows Eve. Civilians poured into the streets once their initial fear subsided. No warning was given of the Imperium’s intentions, causing many to believe the end of the world was here. Sounds of impacting rounds sang back to Black Tide as its people stood in awe. Before going to bed that night, they all said a prayer for the brave men and women come to rescue them, for nothing in this world could survive that.
“At ease, gentlemen,” Gladak growled after checking his watch. His almond eyes were no more than slits expressing a dislike for this briefing. Division S-3 was responsible for this type of coordination, a task beneath his status but one Pierce had directed him to do regardless.
“As you all know by now, this is our last opportunity to work out the bugs before the operation begins. I want vehicles from the lead elements lined up and ready to advance one hour prior to dawn. You’ve all been given your chalk numbers and places in the advance. Do not mess this up. Each unit has an individual mission, and the division as a whole has no time for mistakes. Not this time.
“Recon elements have already departed for the far end of this Gorge. They should be well in place by the time the first units roll out. Artillery is in ready reserve. All you have to do is call for it should the need arise. Same thing with attack air. Don’t be afraid to call for help.” His eyes focused on a group of tank commanders. “That means you, Colonel Krylin. Tankers have a reputation for taking things on alone. I know. I am one.”
Krylin offered a false smile and nodded.
“The Gorge is twenty-five kilometers long and two hundred and fifty meters wide. We have no choice but to use this as the primary avenue of approach due to the softness of the sand on both sides. Our tanks and artillery would be caught floundering in the desert, leaving the infantry to fight for itself.”
“What’s the possibility of ambush? That’s a long way in a confined area,” asked a dark-skinned infantry officer.
“Slim at best. Preliminary reports have shown us nothing to make us believe they even know we’re coming. Based on their fighting style, there isn’t enough room for a full-blown battle in there.”
The Colonel resigned himself to a low grumble and shifted his way to the back of the crowd. He was a career man and was extremely worried for the first time since donning the uniform. There was cause for his concerns. His was the first unit in the advance, the first to get nailed if the hammer dropped. The position didn’t really bother him. He was used to it just as much as his troops. The problem came in not having enough intelligence to keep them out of trouble.
“Once the first brigade is cleared, they pull up in a loose perimeter. Second brigade takes the point, and we continue to leapfrog until we hit the objective. Division has three days to gain the enemy stronghold. Arty will pump thousands of rounds into the mount as well at about thirty tons of chemical munitions. Infantry moves in once the all-clear is given from division chemical section.”
“No one has ever gone down there and come back out. Keep that in mind, and we’ll live that much longer. There is no coming back from this, gentlemen. Smoke the barrels until they threaten to melt.”
A few offered nervous laughs, but the mood remained dark.
“Plans change, so there’s no reason to believe that this one won’t. Stay flexible, and keep your people motivated. Good hunting, gentlemen.”
From where he stood, the Berserker heard the shrill whistling of the incoming round long before he ever saw it. The sound amazed him, for there was nothing he knew of in the Wastelands that made such a call. The majority of the horde was marching underground to the place where the battle was to begin and was largely oblivious to the events above ground.
His skin was a natural camouflage, changing much like a chameleon with different backgrounds. Each genetically designed for specific tasks, the chameleon-like monster was the perfect scout capable of arriving on his prey without so much as a whisper. Scents of fleshlings drifted to him from leagues away, so he knew they were watching.
The screaming grew louder the closer the thing came. Cocking his head, the Berserkers finally caught his first glimpse of the object slicing through the thin night clouds. This was the second such creature he’d heard but the first seen. The first had come crashing to the ground minutes earlier with such horrific force that it penetrated one of their tunnels, killing three of his brothers.
The Berserker was standing on the lip of the crater made by the first one, ignoring the alarms going off in his head. He knelt down and peered past the dust and acrid smell choking the pit. Twisted bits of metal and powder burns of a malevolent force were all over, but his ignorance of the situation canceled any fear. Was this some new terror brought by the invaders? Another steel bird came screaming down on his head. The ground trembled under the sonic vibrations, and the Berserker had time to throw his hands up before he died.