"DAY ONE: EXODUS"
Pan Pacific Alliance, Outpost 9
62° West, 72° South, South of Mt. Jackson, Near the Heirtzler Ice Piedmont
Palmer Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 0747 Local Time
Jackson Base was being overrun by the Argentinean assault, but she was no mere outpost to go down quietly or without a fight. Her defenses were smashed and her people were cut up and dying in little pockets, but they'd bought just enough time for an anonymous comm-tech to press a button and signal a warning before a mix of hypervelocity shells and explosives wiped him and the transmitter out of existence.
Eighty kilometers south-southwest, Captain Thomas O'Grady, Officer Commanding Outpost 9, walked calmly through his motor pool performing an informal inspection of his new base. The outpost was small, the ferrocrete foundation for the base's howitzer was still setting and fuel laden trucks still stood parked around the underground storage tank topping it off. More construction and engineering vehicles were parked in the shelter of the half-burried motor pool they themselves had built in preparation for leaving. Their platoon of engineers for now kept company with two platoons of the base's infantry and their 'Dingo' battlesuits in the main dome. Another platoon's worth of infantry was dispersed around the base in lookout posts or manning the small communication shack.
He was wearing his command suit, 3/4-tons of walking BPC armor, electronics, and jump jets with enough firepower to level a building. He'd found it was better than his hostile environment coveralls at keeping the cold out and it had vastly better information systems and displays for keeping up to date on the activity within the base. Spending as much time as he could in the suit also, he felt, set a good example for the troops.
Inside the bay, four of the old 'PLT-1A Platypus' light tanks were parked in their maintenance berths along with a single 'Kh22-E Echidna' missile tank with a distinctive armored blister that was its commander's station. The 'Plats' were a conventional design with both driver/commander and gunner in a low-slung body with an autoloading railgun in a remote turret overhead. A pair of anti-infantry/missile defense guns mounted on the forward-right glacis and some grenade dispensers completed its arsenal of weapons. All-in-all, they were old but serviceable tanks who'd proved they could handle the climate with some minor modifications and who's fuel economy endeared them to their crews in the frozen wasteland that was Antarctica. They may not have proved able to handle the crush of combat against heavier Nihon armor back on the mainland, but here their greater numbers were a godsend. He was also glad to have the Echidna under his command, even if he couldn't believe anyone would name something like it after a cut-down, marsupial version of a porcupine. Not exactly something to strike fear into the heart of an enemy, he thought. It was plenty lethal though, and if anything, he was disapointed to have only the one of them. They were slower than the Plat's, but their long-range missiles could cover much more ground, and that was solid gold to any infantryman worth his salt.
He noticed some of the base technicians at work, they'd opened up one of the Plats and were working on its innards. With a press of a button, his command suit queried the vehicle's computer which replied with a preventive maintenance code. He took the tech-sargeant's salute, nodded his approval unseen from inside his suit, and moved on to inspect the other vehicles. Engineering vehicles of all sorts were virtually packed into the bay. From general-purpose cargo trucks to mobile cranes, digging machines, munition carriers, and one cement mixer. Miles to the south he knew a fiber-optic layer was plodding along, slowly unreeling its spool of cable and burying it under the ice. They'd help build the entire base in three days from scratch, but now, were soon to leave.
Everything seemed to be in order. Unsuspecting of events unfolding to the north, O'Grady took one more look around and left to inspect the armory.
The tightbeam burst signal uplinked to a stealthed Pan Pac communications satellite deployed in a Molniya orbit over Antarctica. From there it passed through some of the few remaining satellites in the Pan Pac's and her allied Combine's orbital constellations until it reached Pan Pac Space Command Headquarters. In the meantime, its AI focused the satellite's on-board cameras at the source of the alarm and passed the images it collected down the line. Inside the heart of Space Command, her Commanding General watched as the Argentine battalion finished off Jackson Base, regrouped, and begin moving again. He immediately sent a warning to General Simmons at Antarctic Command HQ on the western edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. He had no other information as to the scale of hostilities but he did not doubt there were more than one battalion. He quickly decided the situation was serious enough to warrant the expenditure of Space Command assets and sent instructions back through the network to the satellite still over the battlefield. Seventeen minutes after receiving the first warning, the satellite went active, broadcasting in the open, revealing its location. Now naked and vulnerable, the satellite beamed down all the information it had recorded so far and requested a tight-beam status update from all Pan Pac units in it's radio footprint. These would be encrypted and retransmitted in turn, updating every unit as to the status of all the others. The last known locations of units that failed to report in would be photographed and these too would be added to the downstream of information. The satellite continued at this furious activity for all of two and a half minutes until an Argentine laser found it and left nothing but a fused lump of metal and two solar panels spinning through space.
"Captain, we're receiving a DEFCON 2 alert from command!"
The call came suddenly through his suit's headset as he was inspecting the armory's stock of M27 Infantry Support Missiles. Captain O'Grady chinned the switch that opened a full video channel.
"Report, Lieutenant." he said.
1st Lieutenant Eric Osbourn appeared in his suit's Heads Up Display. The young man was excited and seemed to be in shock. But as O'Grady watched he got a grip on himself and in the manner of a man regaining control, he repeated himself.
"It just came in over the satellite feed, sir." he said, "It's broadcasting encrypted wide beam. It's a general warning and request for immediate SITREP by all units. There's also a data-dump of satellite imagery of what appears to be an amphibious landing and a 'standby for orders' from Command."
"Reply immediately." O'Grady ordered, "Put the base on full alert and have all officers report to the briefing room at once." He was already turning for the door. As he hit his jump-jets and flew towards the main dome every alarm klaxons in the base blared to life.
They were all there by the time he arrived. His Second-in-Command, Lt. Osbourn, 2Lt. Matt Braxton in charge of the armor, 2Lt. Ted Powers commanded the infantry. There too was Captain Grace Williams of the engineer detachment and her second.
"What are the orders from command, Eric?" he said after waving off a salute. He was out of his suit now. Wearing his black bodysuit and insignia, he stepped over to the center table where a map was laid out and surveyed his people. There was surprise and confusion in their faces from the unexpected situation but also a determination to do what they'd trained for.
"None sir," his 2IC said, "the satellite transmission was cut off before we could get word."
"So." O'Grady said wiping his brow. He'd had a bad feeling about that. Once spotted, satellites didn't live long these days. That the transmission hadn't contained orders, only a standby advisory, meant that some rear echelon type had acted without thinking. Now unless Space Command was willing to expend another satellite -- assuming they even knew of the screwup -- he and his command were on their own. He could see that Captain Williams had reached the same conclusion. He had a gut feeling that a lot of people were going to die because of that little mistake. Shit. Well, there's nothing for it now. Rule number one of command: make do with what you have.
"What did we get?" he asked.
"I gave them our sitrep as you ordered, sir." Osbourn said, "We've also been going over the imagery. It's Jackson Base sir, they're being -- have been overrun by the Argentineans. It looks like an entire hover battalion. They're already moving again and it looks like they're headed towards Outpost 6."
Jesus Christ, its an invasion. By the Argentineans. And no word from command on how to sort it all out. No orders, no coordinated defense plan... in fact, there is no defense plan. Because HQ got cut off! Which leaves me trying to guess what HQ wants from the raw data! Oh, fuck.
"Let me see."
Lt. Osbourn handed him a hardcopy glossy. He bent over and studied it in silence. Those two minutes in the air on the way over he'd spent with his mind racing through disaster scenarios. He'd guessed at a full-scale invasion, but also considered Nihon raiding parties, Pan Euro infiltrators, and even a serious accident at one of the bases. O'Grady was privately amazed at just how many things he had thought of in those two minutes. Now the glossy gave him his first hard data -- and he didn't like it. Not one damn bit.
"Yep, those look like Argies to me, those GEV's of theirs are easy to spot. Looks like whatever command was up to here just blew up in all our faces." he said more calmly than he felt. "All right Eric, lay it out for me."
So it began. Lt. Osbourn presented the material he'd gathered and had time to study. The imagery concentrated on Jackson Base but it also included pictures from around the Bismarck Straight. Black smoke obscured most of the top-down shots, but the basic meaning was clear and the time-stamps on the photos told more of the story: the enemy was present in superior strength and he'd struck simultaneously in at least two places. They also had reports from other units that had replied to the SITREP request. O'Grady didn't tarry to make a full in-depth analysis of the photographs -- Jackson base was all too close by. It was enough for him to grasp the scale of the disaster that had befallen Pan Pac forces in this part of Antarctica and to use what he knew in deciding on what to do next.
O'Grady had a sudden image of his fellow outpost commanders, scattered and isolated across the peninsula, pouring over this same information. Unlike him, they were tied into the landnet of fiber optic cables strung over the peninsula in years past. He was cut off unless he was willing to risk using the radio, which he wasn't. He knew that in the absence of orders from higher up, they'd consult amongst themselves and draw a line somewhere to make a stand behind. His job now was to survive these next few minutes and to guess where his fellow officer's would do their drawing. And, as he took note of the enemy's movements, his command just might have a chance. He only hoped that whatever infiltration teams had preceded the attack hadn't totally disrupted the landnet or this fight was going to be over before it well began.
"First things first." O'Grady told his staff after Lt. Osbourn finished. He was in command and instinct told him what had to be done. Hard bought experience and there wasn't time or need for debate. He grabbed the phone to the lookout posts. The pickup at the other end was almost immediate.
"Sergeant Dunlap? Argentina just hit Jackson Base. Keep your eyes peeled, 'cuz we may have visitors, and get your people ready to pull out in a hurry. Contact me as soon as you spot anything." he said and hung up. As the implications of that conversation swept the young Lieutenants in the room he added, "I'm not going to stand around until that battalion of theirs decides to pay us a visit. Prepare to abandon the base."
"Jesus sir, you don't mean that?!" said a startled Lt. Osbourn. The sacrifice of Outpost 6 to cover their own retreat was -- unthinkable...
He was quick on the uptake, but too young, O'Grady thought. He was too green to have seen some of the battles in Western and Northern Australia against the Japanese, or how those fights devoured men and equipment. He hadn't learned the hard way the need to be so ruthless sometimes. For his part, O'Grady had no intent of making a glorious final stand, or of trying to delay the attackers for the benefit of others. If Outpost 6 got smart and got out, fine, but his duty was to look out for his own. Captain O'Grady though barely gave this outburst pause, he plowed on.
"Braxton," he said, "get your engines warmed up and make room for the infantry. Lt. Powers', get your men into their iron. Let's see how good they are at smashing this base in their suits. Trash everything, especially the computers and the howitzer. I want you to personally wipe the databases and memory banks. No fires, no explosives and no radio transmissions of any sort. Comm-lasers and voice only. Do nothing that could give our position away." A quick time vs. distance problem flashed through his head and he mentally slashed off a nice safety margin, "You have 15 minutes. Go."
"Christ, we just finished building this place." Powers muttered, but he did it on his way out the door.
After they were gone he turned to Captain Williams, "Grace, get your people moving. Pump the fuel back into the trucks and load up on all the supplies you can. We're going to need them."
"Yes sir." Captain Williams had the same rank, but O'Grady had seniority and he commanded the base. "With your permission I'll rig up some booby traps before we leave. Be a shame to waste all those surplus explosives."
"Go ahead and try, if you think you can do it. But concentrate on supplies. Either way, you've got 14 minutes."
She signaled to her aid, and he took off.
"One more thing..." she said. It was just the two of them and Lt. Osbourn in the room now.
"Where are we going? I'm glad you asked." he quipped. He'd already formed a picture of the immediate area in his head but he moved to the map on the table. After a quick orientation his finger strayed to a spot on the map a hundred and fifty klicks away. "Here," he said, "we'll head south, towards Outpost 4. It's an older station fully tied into the communications net and it will double our forces."
Captain Williams nodded her approval. "Yes sir."
"Now the problem is the infantry. We don't have the trucks to carry them all, and they don't have the strategic speed to keep up with the rest of the vehicles. But since we have the fuel trucks with us, I'm going to have them do the whole trip at combat speed."
Battlesuits on foot weren't much faster then men on the march, if not slower over long distances. The length of stride of a suit wasn't much greater than a man's and it's pace was the same since it was the man inside that moved the suit's legs with his own. Also, the heavy suit had a wider hip displacement than the man inside to balance the extra weight and this forced him to walk slightly bow-legged. Over long distances this added up to a lot of fatigue and could inflict muscle injuries during prolonged travels. What gave a battlesuit it's amazing mobility was the turbine engines on its back -- but these required enormous amounts of power to lift the heavy armored suit. And that meant fuel. What Captain O'Grady was ordering the infantry to do was to make the whole trip to Outpost 4 using their jumpjets as much as possible. It made perfect sense. It might burn up their fuel reserves like crazy, but that's what the fuel trucks were for. It would also get them out of here double quick and right now fuel was less important than time.
So they spent five more minutes going over details of the terrain and critical supplies like medicine and food while the sounds of equipment being smashed filled the briefing room. Then they adjourned to see to their respective tasks. While Captain Williams saw to her engineers, and Lt. Osbourn saw to fitting the infantry suits with extra conformal fuel tanks, Captain O'Grady picked up the phone one more time.
"Corporal Knox, Beemer!" he said to the man on the other end. He could hear the machinery of the cable-laying truck in the background as it putt-putted is way along the ice.
"In case you didn't know, Argentina just invaded this whole damn place. Graham and Palmer are both crawling with Argie hover battalions. We're going to try and cut our way out. We can't help you. Cut the cable and if you make it, tell them we made a try for Outpost Four. Good luck and Out."
"Understood. We'll tell 'em. Good luck." O'Grady heard a muttered shit before the line cut off and that was that.
* * *
Every man and woman in Outpost 9 pushed themselves to their utmost. They all now knew of the invasion and the need for speed. But uprooting two companies of infantry and armor and getting them ready for a rapid overland movement is an enormous task. Any well-drilled unit has it's pre-planned actions and checklists, but when there's only 15 minutes notice mistakes are bound to happen. Only a quick thinking Private kept the specialized fuel nozzles for their infantry battlesuits from being wrecked and ending the whole exodus before it began. Then the equipment toolkits had been thrown into the trucks haphazard and more time was needed to sort them out. They quickly fell behind schedule. The fifteen minutes stretched into twenty, and then twenty-five. It was thirty minutes before they could see the light at the end of the tunnel loading the trucks. Food, ammo, medicine, spare parts, all the fungibles of modern warfare lay piled up on the big flatbeds before O'Grady realized he'd made another mistake.
"Sir," Lt. Osbourn said, "the troops request permission to fall out and collect their personal effects."
With a start, O'Grady realized he'd made a basic commander's screwup. He'd failed to look after the morale of his people. They'd been expecting to be posted to this base for six months or more. They'd brought their things from home to break the loneliness of garrison duty here at the bottom of the world. Well-worn books, favorite golf clubs, pictures and tapes of loved ones or the new-born children they'd yet to see...
Two minutes to get out of their suits, five to collect their stuff, another three to get back in and regroup...
It was already forty-nine minutes since the Argentineans had overrun Jackson Base eighty kilometers away...
"Get them moving Lieutenant."
O'Grady had already seen to the destruction of the howitzer but was disappointed that the constant activity of people milling about had prevent the placement of more than a few token booby-traps by Captain William's engineers. There was one last thing to do now, as Lt. Osbourn began issuing mount-up orders over the tight-beam laser net. He opened a laser link of his own to the base and placed a call.
"Sergeant Dunlap, anything?"
"No sir." came the reply from the defense perimeter.
"All right. We're done here. Pull out and catch up with the rest of us. Out."
"Yes sir. Out."
O'Grady thought briefly about giving a speech to his troops, but decided he'd already given them the best kind of speech that soldiers wanted to hear: a straight forward description of the present situation, what he knew of the enemy, and a clear explanation of what his intentions were. He'd found that did more good than all the rousing hyperbola in the world.
Men without suits boarded the trucks waiting at idle and began their journey through land now turned hostile. Lt. Braxton's tanks led the way, gun pods alternating left and right covering the horizon. The first squads of infantry took to the air in long jumps leaving clouds of smoke and snow behind. By leapfrog they would cover the distance to Outpost Four.
As he climbed into the truck that had been set aside for him and the command staff, O'Grady realized he'd made yet another mistake. With the extended strain on the battlesuits from the sustained use of their jets, there was bound to be more equipment breakdowns. Likely overstrained hip joints. Those could be fixed, but they'd need a flatbed truck and an improvised block-and-tackel to do it with. And his was the only flatbed they had to spare. Which meant his staff would have to do their work of coordinating the company on the move without the luxury of the truck as soon as they suffered their first suit failure. He explained his insight to his staff.
"Which means we have until then to work out how we're going to rotate four platoons of infantry around our fuel trucks while keeping everything in motion." he added at the end.
"Then we better see if we can scrounge up some blankets to keep the trooper warm while the tech's are working on his suit." Lt. Osbourn said.
Another problem anticipated! "Good point. See to it." O'Grady said. As he did, he wondered what else they'd overlooked in their haste.
* * *
The journey across Palmer Land to Outpost Four was something of an anticlimax, if fraught with anxious anticipation of danger. Captain O'Grady and his lieutenants had been forced to dismount from the truck after a Corporal in 2nd Platoon had come down on a patch of exposed ice at the end of a jump. Without thinking (or perhaps out of boredom) he'd landed in the same spot a fellow squad mate had just taken off from. The ice was still wet and slippery from the other suit's jumpjets and the Corporal hadn't found enough purchase to steady the landing. His feet had shot out from under him and 3/4-tons of armored powersuit crashed into the ground at just the wrong angle to snap an internal brace of structural BPC.
O'Grady had worked out a quick battle formation using the fast light tanks as recon and the infantry arrayed in a shell around the supply trucks with the lone missile tank at the center of it all. The infantry had formed up well. They'd started out a bit rough, but shaped up quickly -- aided by the thought that enemy could show themselves at any moment, no doubt. They moved by squads over an area four miles across and kept their distances well. The only problem was around the refueling trucks where he'd had to send Lt. Osbourn to keep things straightened out. Lt. Braxton's armor was deployed well and moving crisply about to the front and flanks like nervous terriers. It looked like the armor was in good hands. The engineers and supply trucks were also making good time, clustered to one side of the Echidna. A miniature convoy next to its last defender. His only real concern was the electronic spectrum. Enemy jamming had only intensified as they worked their way south. It looked as if the enemy was winning that little battle. He could only hope things would get better as they got closer to Outpost 4.
Halfway there, they'd been forced to listened to the death screams of Outpost 6. There'd been nothing they could do, as O'Grady had feared from the first. It had been over quick, and the brief bursts of radio interspersed with static had been hard to interpret, but it sounded as if they'd given a good account of themselves.
At least that's what the men chose to believe. O'Grady had his doubts.
The only other event was a pair of LGEVs sporting the heraldry of the Argentinean 15th Light Armored Cavalry Regiment, obviously a recon element. O'Grady hadn't any GEVs of his own to pursue with, and he'd had too much firepower for them to risk attacking on their own, so he'd settled for jamming their communication equipment forcing them to fall back to report. At which point O'Grady had ordered a change in course. They were now zig-zagging along a base course that led towards Outpost Four.
For his own part, O'Grady spent most of his time now in thought. His command's problems had all either been resolved or resigned to. The men and women of Outpost Nine had settled into their routines and the zest and energy of everyone at the start had degraded into silence. Now the troops just trudged along and grunted occasionally, though O'Grady made sure the scouts and flank guards stayed alert. Still, what felt like hours were mere minutes by the clock. The speed and sense of flight added a bit of excitement to the task, but it was still the numbing boredom of the poor bloody infantry humping their way over one more piece of real estate. White snow, white ice, white sky. The mountains a light shade of gray in the distance behind them. Leap and land. Leap and land. Bounding jet-assisted hops that got you no closer to the ever-receding white horizon. When your turn came you leapt to the center of the convoy and walked alongside the fuel truck while it poured new kerosene into your tanks. Then you leapt away and did it all over again.
One corporal in 3rd Platoon took it upon himself to smartassedly ask "Are we there yet?" endlessly over the tight-beam net until O'Grady told him to shut up. Moral picked up: everyone knew the corporal would start up again in a few minutes.
Almost as an afterthought, O'Grady paused before leaping again to check his own status. BPC covered him
completely in the 21st century's version of a knight's armor. At 2.1 meters, he was an impressive sight. His suit
was clad in two-tone Antarctic pattern camouflage that smoothed its otherwise hard edges. Other nations, like
the Combine, favoured electro-optical films that shifted colors as an on-board computer sensed changes in the
nearby surroundings, but O'Grady preferred the low-tech solution of simply dressing them in the right colour of
clothing. . It was simple, it was cheap, and it didn't break. Besides, the optic-films were temperature sensitive
and there was one thing that a simply piece of waterproof canvas could do that a million-dollar fancy chameleon
coating couldn't: it could keep the damn ice out of the suit's joints.
No, make that two things. O'Grady thought to himself, With the camo and a roll of duct-tape you could make yourself a pretty decent survival suit if you had your armor shot out from under you. Not a small thing when -28° Celsius outside was considered a warm summer day.
As a command suit, his armor had an enhanced sensor package -- looking for all the world like a small old-style FLIR pod -- in an armored nacelle sticking out in front of his enlarged chest plate. In a backpack mounted high behind his head was the suit's main batteries, a small powerful generator, and the suit's integral fuel tank extending down his back. Above that, in a distinctive bump, was the command suit's upgraded computers and electronics. These, as well as the high bandwidth datalink with its fractal antenna mounted on his left shoulder were mostly automated in function but could be controlled in detail from the small keyboard mounted in the space behind the FLIR.
His out-of-suit survival kit along with a sidearm, a small tool kit, and a few personal items (like duct-tape and a warm pair of boots) went into a cloth pack and over everything went the large detachable "H" assembly of his jumpjets: two main high-bypass turbofan exhausts at the hips did most of the work (and swiveled out of arms way when not needed) while smaller venturi on gimbals positioned above the shoulders provided stability and control. Two airfoils added some semblance of aerodynamics to the human form while a small reserve parachute between the shoulder blades was included for when all else failed.
The suit didn't have a easily recognizable head. Instead, the torso was one solid unit with a sort of blister on top with a retractable armored faceshield/entry-hatch that extended over and behind his head. Images from the outside were projected on the inside of his helmet while suit status and tactical data was fed to a flat-screen below his face. Key weapons and targeting data was fed into his monocle HUD. O'Grady studied these for a moment and was satisfied if not entirely pleased. He had full datalink with his command (a minor miracle the way the weather messed with delicate electronics) and his F72 5 mm ACR rifle was slung in its carry position ready to go. His fuel read at 40% and life support was at a good 90%, but he'd had to ditch his M39 missile launcher and most of his spare ammo and explosives to accommodate the conformal fuel tanks he was carrying instead. It meant he was out of a lot of his long range punch and wouldn't be fit for a real drag-out fight, but getting a man-shaped lump of 800 kgs to fly isn't easy and something had to go.
After three and a half hours they arrived at OP9 and haleluya!, the place was still intact. Looks like they'd got there first after all. He was met at the camp's perimeter by a Captain Shiromori. Australia's demographics had changed a lot, her ethnic japanese population had grown considerably in the past few decades -- and proven quite a disappointment to the modern-day Shogun's of the Nihon Empire in their loyalties during the invasion. O'Grady gave him a salute.
"Thomas O'Grady, 217th Garrison Company, Outpost Nine."
"Welcome to oh-pee four, Benjamin Shiromori. Boy am I glad to see you, mate. And your engineers!"
O'Grady thought he'd say something like that. At a time like this, engineers would be worth their weigh in gold. He gave Captain Shiromori a brief report of his situation.
"Good work. When we heard that outpost six didn't make it, we began to fear the worst for you and everyone else. Last we heard, the 10th Light Horse was trapped at O'Higgins and the whole peninsula is pear shaped. You're like a breath of fresh air. Sorry there's no beer." he said.
"Come," he motioned to a dome off in the distance, "I'll take you to see the boss, Colonel Crenshaw."
Pan Pacific Alliance, O'Higgins Base
58° West, 63° South, at the northern tip of Trinity Peninsula
Graham Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 0835 Local Time
It would be known as one of the greatest fighting retreats of all time. Nearly 1,500 kilometers down the length of both Palmer and Graham's Land, through the frozen wastes of the Antarctic continent. Wargammers would argue its merits later, claiming that the relative scarcity of forces involved mitigated against its greatness, but that would only come years after. For now, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Layton knew his 10th Light Horse Regiment was Pan Pac's only coherent unit larger than a company for a 2,000 mile radius and that it was at it's best when in motion. He also knew he had no intention of standing still to make things easier for the enemy. His command post had extensive communications and sensor equipment, the best Pan Pac money could buy from its Combine ally. From it, he could listen to the reports and knew that the Pan Pac forces in the peninsula were dying. The garrison units were good, but it wouldn't matter. They'd been hit too hard, too fast. The whole situation was chaos, so he decided to take a chance now rather than later, while the fog of war hurt both sides equally. He had great confidence in his troops, and while he didn't underestimate the Argentineans for a minute, he trusted his people would come out on top in that kind of a fight.
"Captain Foxcroft," he said over the comm-link to the officer commanding Second Troop, "I expect you'll be ready to move before the rest of us. You'll lead off and proceed south along the west coast avoiding contact. We'll be taking the route over the Larsen Ice Shelf and we'll meet up at the north tip of Fleming Glacier." First, Third, and Fourth Troops were with him at O'Higgins Base on the mainland. Second Troop was over on King George Island, 130 km to the west across the Bransfield Straight, guarding the many research facilities and non-combatants stationed there. He would have liked to have Second rejoin his own forces before they all moved together, but there wasn't time. They were going to have enough problems just crossing the waves.
"That's going to leave Second with our arses hanging out, Sir." He'd seen the scant intel reports also, and knew there was somewhere between three and six enemy battalions out there.
"I know Scott. But it will take you more than an hour to get here, and we can't wait that long."
Captain Foxcroft understood the subtext inside his orders. It wasn't a death sentence exactly, with the hidden fuel caches and some cunning on his part, some of his people might just make it...
"Understood Sir. We'll see how many of those bastards Second Troop can draw off. See ya."
Layton closed the link and turned to his command's own readiness reports. The 10th Light Horse was a fully hover equipped unit. All the essentials could be thrown into their baggage train and moved in one lift. She had a command group of two 'Wombat' GEVs and three 'Bandicoot' LGEVs. Her main fighting strength was four (now minus Second) troops of mixed units, each with six Bandicoot's, four more Wombats, and three Kangaroo GEV-PC's packed with infantry platoons in their battlesuits. Too bad three GEVs were down for repairs and maintenance and would have to be destroyed.
Loading proceeded quickly. The whole camp was filled with the bustle and controlled chaos of soldiers preparing for battle. Second Troop would be ready to move out in half an hour. His own should move 15 minutes after that. A messenger came up and requested he resolve some problem with loading priorities. He clarified his previous order -- one of the minutiae of command -- and turned to the map in front of him.
Graham Land was a thin spine of mountainous terrain covered in ice -- no more than 60 miles wide -- stretching 400 miles north-south in a bow at the very end of the Antarctic Peninsula. On its west side were many islands ranging from the 120 km long Adelaide in the south, to the smaller South Shetlands at the northern tip and mere specks on the map arrayed along the coast. On the east side was the Larsen Ice Shelf, hundreds of square kilometers of treacherous frozen ocean filling the bow. It was fed by glaciers along the length of Graham Land and from the south where the ice shelf merged into Palmer Land, the lower half of the Antarctic Peninsula that merged into the mainland.
If all went as planned, the 10th would cut east across the tip of the peninsula, squeeze through the Prince Gustav Channel this side of James Ross Island and over Cape Longing to reach the ice. From there it was another 250 km and a quick hop over the thin stretch of Jason Peninsula to break out into the wider Larsen shelf where their mobility could be used to good effect. It was better than braving the broken terrain of the mountain spine of Graham's Land with air-cushion vehicles, but it would not do to think of the Larsen Ice Shelf as some perfectly flat piece of ice the GEVs could just fly over. There was broken ice out there, Layton knew, and in no small quantity. The big disadvantage of this route was the lack of proximity to most of the fuel and supply caches the Pan Pac had prepared in the mountains. Those had been intended for the 9th Light Horse Regiment when she arrived from Australia. Once on the greater Larsen shelf, he'd head southwest towards the Bowman Coast and climb the glaciers there. That would put him in Palmer's Land next to Fleming's Glacier where he could regroup, refuel, plug into the fiber optic network and decide what to do next.
All together it was a voyage of about 800 km, give or take. About 7 hours of travel if they kept their best speed. Right. He just hoped they made it there before sundown. Better see to those extra fuel tanks. The infantry were going to be mighty uncomfortable keeping company in their personnel carriers with filled kerosene bladders...
* * *
Argentine 1st Marine Brigade, 4th Battalion HQ
63° West, 65° South, Bismarck Straight Argentine Occupation Zone
Graham Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 0840 Local Time
Four hundred kilometers to the south on the west coast of Graham Land, Colonel Luis Daniel Fernandez, CO of the 1st Marine Brigade took over command of the 4th Battalion under Major Julio Antonio Rosas. He was determined to see to the defeat of the 10th Light Horse Regiment personally. He had his own Headquarters group of three 'Palomino' GEVs and three 'Gaucho' LGEVs, along with 4th Battalion's fifteen platoons of men, their transports, eight Palominos, and four Gauchos, as well as the Brigade's Amphibious Armor Squadron of two Gauchos and four more Palominos escorting the train with a platoon of engineers, their equipment, and a pair of Iriarte Mobile Howitzers in tow.
The Colonel had never experienced conditions like this freezing wind that got into the equipment. The terrain was much rougher than he'd been led to believe. His battalion was starting to bunch up and stretch out in the wrong places and to generally get in each others way. The snow-plows they'd fitted to their GEVs were working well enough, but he suspected a track laying tank would have had an easier time of it. They were falling behind schedule and he still didn't know where the 10th Light Horse was. It was time to improvise.
Looking at a map, he took four of his Palomino GEVs, gave them a pair of infantry platoons with tactical missile packs and told them to push on ahead and scout their way up to Trinity Island, where they were to lay in ambush. Then he took his LGEVs and had them recon the ice shelf on the other side of the peninsula. If they were quick enough and stayed in radio range, he'd have plenty of time to dig in, use his remaining GEVs to cover his flanks and the 10th Light Horse could batter itself to pieces against his artillery to their heart's content.
And if they would wait just a little bit longer, Major Del Rio of 2nd Battalion would be here to reinforce him once he was finished securing the mines...
* * *
Argentine 1st Marine Brigade, 2nd Battalion HQ
67° West, 67° South, Loubet Coast, Darbel Bay
Graham Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 1050 Local Time
Major Eduardo Cristian del Rio's thoughts were also on that rendezvous. He'd rushed south grabbing ore extractors and smelting plants as he went. For the most part it was easy, most of the stations were unarmed and gave up without a shot. Already seven of them had fallen to his dispersed forces. Now all he had to do was secure this last one and head north to rejoin 4th battalion. He was making his timetable but he still didn't like it. 4th battalion by itself against the whole 10th Light Horse was too even a fight for his tastes. If anything, the Light Horses would have a slight advantage. And in war, only a fool fought fair.
His last target should be just over this next rise. His Palomino's were out in front with the infantry transports right behind. The attack GEVs had held back to keep pace with the slower troop carriers but now they spotted the enemy's lookout and charged. A blizzard of fire from their guns engulfed the small building and they were over the ridge into the ice plain below.
"Just like a drill." Del Rio cautioned his men over the comm.
Below him, the base's main dome came alive with red lights swiveling on the towers at the corners of the surrounding fence. Pan Pac Infantrymen were rushing out of their barracks in the twilight but there weren't enough of them yet to cover all the approaches. His GEV force took the fore again and punched a hole through the defense cordon which the personnel carriers then rushed through. But the base howitzer was active and waiting for them and Del Rio watched with resignation the inevitability of what was going to happen next.
The GEV-PC's disgorged their infantry and rushed the big gun. One charged straight in and seemed to blossom in fire as its infantry took to the air on their jets, drawing a bead on the cannon with their missiles. But the howitzer fired first. That group was met in mid-air by the cannon's shell and all eighteen men in battlesuits simply disintegrated under the grapeshot. Of the transport beneath them there was nothing recognizable and Major Del Rio wondered what made men do such things.
The howitzer finally went up in a pillar of fire and the GEVs took on the enemy's light tanks with their well rehearsed hit-and-run tactics. The terrain was open, lending itself such deadly games and soon all the tanks were burning, torn open and heat deformed. The lone missile tank died with them. One of his GEVs was gone, and another light one would have to be taken back to depot to be fixed.
It was over. The mines were now defenseless, and small man-figures were already emerging with their arms held high. The infantry rush forward to secure them using their jets to leap the distance to the mine heads.
Better get on the comm and calm them down, he thought as his hands moved to the radio. Some of the men might be looking for some payback after that -- and we're going to need those technicians to run this place.
His men quickly gathered the Pan Pac workers and consultants together, compared them to the personnel rosters, checked the mines for traps, secured the computer and radio and finally signaled the all clear. Del Rio wasted no more time and ordered his men to mount up and move out again.
Now to drop off a squad and head north. Hope I'm not too late.
* * *
Trinity Island, Coastal Recon Group
60° West, 64° South
Graham Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 1105 Local Time
The recon LGEVs Colonel Fernandez sent east had run into problems. They had maps but no experience on the ground. They had to slowly pick their way through the ice over mountains and down glaciers. Often they were forced to double back. As a result they were far from where Col. Fernandez expected them to be.
The western group of GEVs and battlesuits were doing much better. The terrain along the frozen rock beaches was more even and they made good time. They reached Trinity Island, one of the smaller islands which had the historical distinction of being where in 1820 Edward Bransfield had established the British claim to the discovery of Antarctica, around 10:20 AM local time and set their trap. They didn't have long to wait. Second Troop of the 10th had broken laeger two hours ago and was proceeding down the coast, wary but unknowing. The battle between the Pan Pac 10th Light Horse Regiment and the Argentinean 1st Marine Brigade would first be joined at 11:05 AM with the sun hanging red and low in the sky.
The Argentineans had shut down their vehicle's engines to mask them from the Pan Pac thermal sensors, and this proved to be their undoing. As the 10th's Second Troop came down the coast, they prepared to spring their trap, but the freezing temperature of Antarctica, even in its summer, was enough to freeze the lift fan's of two of their four attack GEVs. The ambush failed even as it began, and though the Argentineans inflicted heavy casualties on the surprised Horsemen with their first shots, their attack was a blunted affair and failed to impart the shock effect they sought to deliver. The Pan Pac forces quickly rallied to dispatch one of their attackers, destroy both of the disabled GEVs and scatter the infantry. However, the full extent of the disaster for the Argentineans wouldn't become apparent until later as the shocked surviving GEV pilot reported having engaged the enemy's main body. The officer who passed the news on to Colonel Fernandez refrained commenting on the pilot's state of mind, and the Colonel's usual trust in his men's judgment would prove ill founded on this one occasion.
* * *
Captain Foxcroft regrouped his force after the ambush and performed what quick repairs and medical attentions were practical while he decided on his next course of action. The cat was out of the bag and he sought somewhere he could emplace his own ambush for the main enemy force he suspected wasn't far behind. What he needed was a good position that also gave him a decent retreat route to the Larsen Ice Shelf for when his force was inevitably overcome by the enemy's greater numbers. A quick map check and they were on the move. Here misfortune fell on Captain Foxcroft with his unfamiliarity with Antarctica conditions. GPS systems were a thing of the past and he was soon lost in the unfamiliar terrain around the mouth of the Gerlache Straight looking for the path over the mountains the maps told him must be there.
Colonel Fernandez for his own part moved up the bulk of his forces concentrating on the contact he knew, not knowing that his eastern scouts were out of position and even now Colonel Layton and the bulk of the 10th Light Horse was slipping past him to the east. Layton and his men would reach the Jason Peninsula without incident and restock their fuel supplies from a cache hidden there for the 9th Light Horse.
It was a meeting engagement neither of the combatants wanted. Second Troop was unprepared, looking for the mountain pass that nobody could find while 4th Battalion was strung out along the coast, though now moving along. It was midday. Far to the south, Captain O'Grady and his men were nearing the outskirts of Outpost 4.
Both sides had a mixed GEV and infantry force, though Second Troop had relatively more GEVs and fewer infantry than the 4th. As the mountain restricted GEV mobility on the one side and the sea blocked infantry movement on the other, Second Troop took mostly to the waves while the 4th with her greater weight of infantry kept mostly to land. Nonetheless, her GEV's rushed to meet Second's on the water, skimming over the waves belching fire. At first, Second Troop had the best of the fight, 4th's lead elements defeated in detail as they came up the coast. But numbers soon told. The massed Argentine infantry performed yeoman's work with the few heavy weapons to their inventory and quickly defeated their Pan Pac counterparts. Finally, the bulk of 4th Battalion's hovercraft drew to the fore and even personnel carriers in numbers could make their power felt. Hovercraft blew apart, or plowed into the sea where there was no one to rescue the survivors in time. The cold water killed them in minutes. Most of the remaining Pan Pac forces couldn't even give an account of themselves so overwhealming was the firepower brought against them. They died leaving little more than burning oil stains on the water.
The end came as Captain Foxcroft pulled his few remaining survivors to some rocky outcrop without a name being surrounded on all sides. The end was not long postponed as the Argentines pressed home one final assault: their surviving GEVs covering the transports that threw a mass infantry overrun in his face. Captain Foxcroft would die at the end and never know how many or how few of his men survived to be taken captive.
But even as he ordered the final assault, Colonel Fernandez knew he'd made a mistake. The rest of the 10th had to be out there somewhere, but where?
End of Exodus