Argentine 1st Marine Brigade, 4th Battalion HQ
67° West, 67° South, Loubet Coast, Darbel Bay
Graham Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085
Around the time Colonel Fernandez was reorganizing his forces after his battle, the bulk of the 10th Light Horse reached the Jason Peninsula. Fourty-five minutes later at 1350, the recon force Colonel Fernandez had sent east reached their patrol areas. It had taken them four hours to cross 60 miles of mountains to the ice shelf in the fastest vehicles Argentina had. Another hour and a half was spent in travel over the ice to reach their assigned positions and they almost missed Colonel Layton in the haze. The 10th had refueled faster than Colonel Layton had hoped and were already moving further south. It was the rear-guard of the 10th that the Argentine scouts spotted -- and were spotted by in return.
The race was on. Colonel Fernandez had spent an hour in anxious anticipation and taken the opportunity to refuel from his supply train. He suspected the 10th might be to the east, a mountain range and an ice shelf away, but he had no reports from his scouts, and he didn't want them to break radio silence. Instead, he had 2nd Battalion wait in place for further orders. They were to refuel from captured stores. Finally, Fernandez broadcast a signal to his scouts to reply, but only if they were far out of position. At that point though his scout commander had known he was indeed out of position, he could see the edge of the ice shelf just a few more miles in front of him and so hadn't answered.
Now as the shocking news that the 10th Light Horse was already behind him came through, Colonel Fernandez ordered the scouts to shadow the 10th and for the 2nd to reverse south towards the nearest way off the Larsen Ice Shelf: the Bowman Glacier. 2nd Battalion, he knew, had a much less to travel than the 10th, but it was mountainous terrain like that which had delayed his scouts. His own forces had discovered a route nearby that led over the mountains to the ice shelf itself, so he proposed to take his forces through it to the Larsen IceShelf and pursue. With his own 4th Battalion behind them, if 2nd Battalion could reach Bowman in time, the 10th would be trapped between hammer and anvil. He also ordered the Amphibious Squadron and the engineers guarding his train to merge with his forces. His own GEV casualties were high, and the slow mobile howitzers were so far behind his main force they were effectively out of the fight.
Finally, he ordered Lt. Colonel Rafael Ortiz, of the 15th Light Armored Cavalry Regiment, to break off and head north from its place around Mt. Jackson to help contain the 10th. The 15th LACR's strong GEV elements would be an even match for the Light Horses own mobile units. The 1st Battalion would have to handle the Pan Pac holdout units in Palmer Land by themselves.
Pan Pacific Alliance, Outpost 4
65° West, 72° South, Near the foot of Mt. Ward
Palmer Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 1440 Local Time
"Here they come again!"
Captain Thomas O'Grady ordered his suit to display that area of the battlefield on the inside of his armor.
The Argentine hovercrafts seemed to glide right over the ice, each at the head of a column of snow thrown up by their lift fans. Three of their attack GEVs, four of the lighter 'Gauchos' and a pair of troop carriers. The remains from previous assaults lay scattered on the ice, a burnt-out light Pan Pac tank lay dead with its tread pointing skywards. Another lay a mile away, smashed, at the center of a spider web of fractured ice. Several bodies -- both Pan Pac and Argentine -- littered the landscape in bits and pieces, while the pilots of a trio of enemy GEVs would forever keep them company.
His Platypus light tracks, supported by infantry, formed a defensive perimeter at two miles. A pair of Echidna missile platforms were a mile inside this ring, their sensors active, seeking target lock-on's for their broods of missiles. All of these screened the base's real firepower at their core: the pair of howitzer cannons positioned to the north-west and south-east of the main dome. However, O'Grady was still worried. Captain Shiromori commanded his troops well and they seemed a good outfit, but their two teams had had little time to work together. They'd agreed that each would take primary responsibility for one of the howitzers, and Captain William's engineers had set about improving their positions.
"Heads up, O'Grady, they're coming your way." said the voice of Colonel Crenshaw over the radio.
And so they were. A quick oblique turn and they were headed towards the northernmost howitzer. His howitzer. He could see the reserve platoons already bouncing on their way to reinforce him. The enemy came in fast over the flat snow, but they had a lot of dead ground to cover. The howitzers spoke and one GEV blew apart while another lost all power and skidded to a stop in a plume of snow powder. The rest hit O'Grady's defensive line full on. One GEV-PC charged a Platypus tank. It died shot through its crew cabin, but its infantry overran the Plat and took it apart. A Gaucho LGEV cartwheeled into fragments while the rest of the Argentinean infantry dismounted and charged.
"They're trying to punch a hole for their GEVs!"
O'Grady barked terse commands to his units, and more infantry and tanks rushed in to bolster the line that was starting to bulge inwards. He tried to order the fight, but in truth the battle was now in the hands of his Lieutenants and Sergeants. The Echidna salvoed its missiles and more infantry moved up to engage the enemy --
-- And disaster struck. His infantry swung around the flank to encircle the enemy, but the maneuver was uncoordinated with Captain Shiromori's infantry immediately south. They didn't extend their line to cover his and suddenly there was a hole all the Argentine firepower hadn't been able to create. The three remaining Gaucho LGEVs that had been holding back, looking for an opening, swung south, through the gap, and the howitzers were naked before them. They fired again in desperation, point-blank, calling their fire down upon themselves and their enormous power turned two Gauchos into smoking craters. But the last one pressed on, its pilot scattering the unsuited personnel at the base of the gun, and put his shots into the base holding the howitzer up. Unsupported, the big cannon collapsed on its side and exploded. Captain Williams and her engineers tried to exact revenge but their hasty fire was sporadic and ineffective. The lone LGEV shot clear through their rear fence and out of the camp spraying explosives as it went. It got away clean and would circle around wide to rejoin its comrades
The rest of the battle was winding down, but there was no sense of it being a battle well fought. Most of the enemy's attack force was destroyed or captured, but they'd taken their own casualties and lost one of the precious howitzers. Nobody would call that a fair trade.
But there was one last bit of bitter news.
"Lieutenant Braxton's dead, sir." Lt. Osbourn said as he came next to him, "That was his command tank the infantry overran." O'Grady contemplated the death of his officer for a moment. A young man with a family and a kid. A good tank commander who'd led by example.
"Thank you Lieutenant... That will be all." he said, then he opened a private channel to Captain Shiromori. When Lt. Osbourn left he spoke.
"What the FUCK was THAT?!?..."
* * *
Captains Thomas O'Grady and Benjamin Shiromori stood on a small hill of snow pack and reported to Colonel Crenshaw on the battle. We looked like a bunch of fucking amateurs out there! O'Grady thought. He wasn't one to cut anyone any slack, least of all himself. The argument had been short and terse. After his first outburst the argument became one of those where voices barely rose above the level of whispers. In tones like gunmetal forcibly striped of any emotion, it had been part objective analysis and part clarification of events. Tinged with the pain of knowing their mistakes had killed good men, the private discussion couldn't avoid recriminations from lingering in the background. But neither man created a rift by giving them voice. They both knew the chaotic nature of war, that the Argentines were good, that they didn't want to die either. And finally, they both knew that the situation was too damn dangerous to allow for personal feelings. The guncrews had been Shiromori's, after all, and as it turned out, O'Grady's infantry hadn't radioed their intent to advance to Shiro's squads. O'Grady felt they should have covered his people anyways, without a specific request, but ...
"Right you two," Colonel Crenshaw said, "I don't see the need to merge your commands. But I trust I won't see anything like that out there again." Forging a single command was easier said than done, especially when the enemy didn't feel like cooperating. Their men had never worked together and each did things slightly different. Each trusted more in its own commander so throwing them together under one or the other carried certain risks either way. Unfortunately, the Argentineans didn't have that problem. They'd been preparing for this for months, perhaps. They worked together like a well oiled machine... O'Grady and Shiromori nodded their acknowledgments.
"Good. Now, what's wrong with this picture?" Colonel Crenshaw said, and motioned towards the still burning field of battle.
"It was too small." O'Grady said, "The first attack, they threw whatever they had on hand at us, not wanting to give us a chance to get organized. Hoping they'd overwhelm us like they did with all the other outposts."
"But that didn't work." continued Shiromori, "So why did they attack us again like that when they knew we were ready. It doesn't make any sense."
"No it doesn't. But there's something else you may consider." Crenshaw said. He'd taken command of Outpost Four when the outbreak of hostilities stranded him here in the middle of an inspection tour for General Simmons, but he'd also been a part of Strategic Studies before that. "So far, we've seen the 15th Light Armored and the 1st Battalion of their 1st Marine Brigade. Now the 1st Marines has two other battalions, the 2nd and the 4th, and those are probably up north attacking Layton. They can't have much more than those four units as that pretty much maxes out Argentina's amphibious sea-lift capabilities. But there was no unit from the 15th in this attack. This was all 1st Battalion's doing. The 15th was part of the first attack, but not now, after they've had time to gather more forces. Why? Where's the 15th?"
"They might have gone north to beat up on the 10th Light Horse." Shiromori volunteered.
"Yeah, that's what I'm thinking. I think they pulled the 15th north because it closely matches the 10th in men and equipment. Their Marine battalions are all GEV mobile, but they're heavy on infantry. Good for taking and holding ground, but not so good at assault. Hmmm..." Crenshaw paused for a moment in thought. "They probably meant to trap the 10th at O'Higgins and grind them down. That would work. But if they're bringing in the 15th, it means things have gotten mobile. Something's gone wrong." he said that last with a smile.
O'Grady was just a Captain so his job wasn't heavy on strategic thinking, even if he had the wits to appreciate it. His responsibilities when he'd been fighting the Japanese had left him little in the way of time for learning the details of Argentina's navy, much less details of their amphibious capabilities. Besides, he was Army. Personally, he could think of plenty of other reasons why the 15th would pull back, if it indeed had. Logistics, an emergency somewhere else. Maybe they felt the 1st Battalion could handle them by itself. Hell, maybe they just didn't go in for joint operations. The 15th wasn't usually part of the 1st Brigade so there'd be a loss of coordination and he'd just had an object lesson on what that could do. At any rate, he thought it was dangerous to infer the whole state of the battle throughout the peninsula from nothing more than the 15th's absence from one minor attack.
But tactics, now there was something he knew. He'd fought enough battles against the Japanese to rate a burn-out posting like Antarctica. And if Argentinean Marine battalions were less mobile than the 10th Light Horse or the 15th, the garrison units they had here were even less so. Without the howitzers to back them, they wouldn't have lasted at all against the 1st. Which meant that even if the 10th Light Horse was headed for them, there wasn't much the 217th could do to help them. In practice, they'd have to get here under their own power.
"I've also received word from General Simmons." Crenshaw was saying. That got their attention. "He's moving to reinforce us. It's a scratch force using whatever he could find. A mix of 'Redback' heavies, Echidna's, more infantry, and our own GEVs." That was a relief. Finally, they'd have some of their own hovercraft. The enemy's had been eating them alive all day. Then came the bad news.
"They're going to set up a perimeter between Mt. Tuve and Mt. Rex." It was a good position, a place where the flat narrowed to a few miles wide with mountains on both sides. The problem was it was about 450 km southwest from where they were standing.
Shiromori for his part wanted to shift the discussion to what to do with the forces they had left. The remaining howitzer was now all the more precious and he had ideas about how to improve their defenses. A few more stragglers, bits and pieces from other cut off outfits, had wandered in, mostly from Outpost Six, and they needed to be integrated with the rest.
"Good," Crenshaw was saying, "but I also want you to see to two other things. First, to get on the land-net and leave emails at all stations informing Colonel Layton of our situation here, and our inferences so far. If he is on the move, he'll have to resupply somewhere, and maybe he'll check his email. Second, Captain O'Grady, I want your Captain Williams to reload the trucks and be ready to leave in case we lose the other howitzer. We'll also have to pick a good time to make a break for it. You'll also take charge of OP6's survivors and the others, seeing how you've taken the most casualties so far. Any questions?"
"No sir." they chorused.
Pan Pac 10th Light Horse Regiment HQ
65° West, 68° South, North of the Bowman Coast
Graham Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 1700 Local Time
Events weren't going much better for Colonel Layton of the 10th Light Horse. Now that they'd been spotted, his men were on borrowed time. It was 300 km to Bowman and he had an enemy group of unknown strength nipping at his heels waiting to pick off stragglers. The enemy's forces worried him. So far he'd only seen light GEVs, but it was likely that any enemy force would hide its real strength until they needed it. The question remained: were they a recon-in-force, or just a recon?
He sent a squadron of GEVs to counter-probe the enemy screen but they were too good to be drawn into a stand-up fight. They also kept his main force under surveillance while his own GEVs had failed to find their main strength, though that didn't prove it wasn't out there. Layton thought of slowing his column to draw any Argentine forces out there into a fight, but discarded the thought: His mission was to get his forces off this Peninsula so they could fight another day. He still didn't know how many enemy battalions were out there.
In the meantime, he was losing vehicles to breakdowns. He'd already lost two GEVs on the trip to the Jason Depot. One to a mechanical failure, the other when it ripped open its air-skirt on a jagged piece of ice. A light GEV had failed to restart after it was refueled as the subzero temperatures froze the lift fan in place. With the utmost need for speedy flight, even minor breakdowns could effectively kill his vehicles as dead as the best enemy fire. So far he'd lost more equipment to the weather than to enemy action.
And so the long retreat continued. The low point had been when one of the GEV-PC's had broken down under its overstrained load and there had been no place for the men. Eighteen troopers and the two drivers had been abandoned on the ice with orders to surrender themselves to the enemy. The Argentine GEVs had swept past them as if they didn't exist and continued their pursuit of the 10th. They were still out there.
Colonel Layton watched as the cliffs at the edge of the Larsen Ice Shelf rose slowly above him and his force approached Bowman's Coast. His heart sank as he saw from his scout's sensors that the enemy was there waiting for him. His watch read 1700 Hours.
* * *
Three hours before...
Major Del Rio stepped down from the rear hatch as it opened on his Command-PC and approached the battlesuited private who'd greeted him outside the mine stations perimeter. The same station they'd captured just hours ago. The wind was freezing and he wasn't in his suit. His nose and ears were already going numb. He had to settle for pulling his heavy coat about him. Godammit! Will I ever get used to this cold?
"Where's the sergeant? The dome?" he said.
The private nodded and blanched at the same time as he realized just who he'd addressed in such a manner, but Del Rio ignored it.
"Vicente," he said to the Captain still in the hatch behind him, "see to the refueling and the fuel transfers. And for God's sake keep their engines running." They'd all heard what had happened to the Trinity recon/ambush group over the radio from Colonel Fernandez.
The inside of the dome was much better. He could hear the air heaters blowing warm air throughout the structure. Though the constant humming would eventually get on his nerves, he knew it was a fair trade for not having what felt like needles being driven into his face. He pulled back his hood and stuffed his mittens into oversized pockets.
The briefing room was like so many other cheap pre-fab structures. Small, dimly lit, with flimsy walls made out of the same stuff as those work cubicles inside computer offices everywhere, a small table with a lamp hanging over it in the middle and some fold-out chairs. Metal-grill floors so the melted ice wouldn't be a slipping hazard. Lots of junk and odds-n-end everywhere with crude pictures on the walls and a bulletin board crammed with notes. Sergeant Lopez and his corporal were there waiting for him.
"Coffee?" the corporal offered.
"Yes. Black." Del Rio said and then turned to the sergeant.
"I'll keep this short." the long discussions he'd already had with Captain Vicente Raulio on the way over. "We're headed south towards Bowman's Glacier. We have reason to believe the bulk of the 10th Light Horse is headed there -- mainly because that's where 4th Battalion is going to push them. Your men will assist with the refueling, and I need you to load some of the mining explosives onto a personnel carrier. You must hurry, time is of the essence."
"Yes my Major, I'll see to things myself."
"No." Del Rio said as the corporal placed his coffee in front of him. "Send your corporal, there are things we need to discuss."
With one glance the corporal got his orders and left.
"Yes, Major?" Sergeant Lopez asked after he was gone.
Major Del Rio didn't speak for a moment as his mind wandered back over the formulation of his plan...
"There's not enough fuel at any one base to refuel the whole battalion, so we'll break it up into three groups and stage them through these three captured outposts along our route. Instead of everyone stopping three times to get a third of a tank, we'll just work it so that each group stops only once at one place for a full tank. The trick will be to coordinate things so that all three groups arrive at Bowman at more-or-less the same time..."
"...Yes I know. The only reason I'm willing to take such risks is because we were the ones who secured the area in the first place. Even so, each group have some Palomino's as escorts. Just in case..."
"...Which brings us to the next problem. The walls on the side of the glacier are steep and made of ice. We don't have time to detour around the first flow and go down the length of the shallower middle channel, so we're going to go down one of these cliffs instead..."
"Where are the captives?" he said at last.
"We put them in a side shaft down in the mine." Sergeant Lopez said, "Only need one of my men to guard them all that way."
"Good." Del Rio looked at his sergeant carefully. He was a big man from a rough background with a bull neck. Bald, tattooed, leather skin weathered and scarred with a piece missing from his left ear. A bruiser, someone who liked to go to bars to start fights with just a patina of military discipline on top of his psyche.
"You've spoken with them?"
"Yes sir. Gave them the 'you are now prisoners' speech."
"You've identified their leader?"
"You haven't been too gentle with them, I trust?"
A pause. "Sir?"
"You're a big man sergeant. You've inculcated them with the proper attitude, yes?"
"Sir, look ... it's easier that way. It's less of a hassle if you get them used to cringing and all. Makes 'em less likely to do any of that hero shit."
"I was not complaining sergeant. Right now, that's what I wanted to hear." At the sergeant's raised eyebrow, Del Rio continued.
"My plan for dealing with the enemy, Sergeant Lopez, requires the services of some demolition experts." he said. "And I don't have any with me."
Understanding dawned on the sergeant.
"I want you to persuade them to help me out, Sergeant." Del Rio finished.
* * *
Del Rio watched as the last of the worksuits were loaded into the back of a GEV-PC. They were as good as engineer battlesuits at what he needed, if not as good at shrugging off bullets while they did it. Their crews would travel with them and Sergeant Lopez would keep them company. They were big, rugged men themselves who operated heavy machinery for a living and they didn't intimidate easy. But Lopez was big, rugged, and trained. He also wore a battlesuit. Major Del Rio looked at the bruises and cuts on the faces of the miners and decided he could trust in Sergeant Lopez's personal touch to keep them in line.
Other men in thick parkas were loading auxiliary equipment: winches and cables and drill-bits. Everything they could conceivably need because there was no going back for something they'd forgotten.
"I'll go with this first group, Vicente." Del Rio said to his Captain. "The engineers will need as much time as we can give them. You bring up the rear."
"Sir, I'm not too sure about this."
"I think Sergeant Lopez can handle them. As to the other... using captured civilians for labor. Vicente, if I have to choose between putting a few enemy citizens to work or watching my men die... I won't lose much sleep over it."
Raulio nodded his agreement. When it was put that way, there was nothing further to discuss. And for all his idealism, Raulio didn't go in for bullshit.
"Now the plan is doable." Del Rio continued when he saw his XO's acceptance, "We searched twenty miles of cliff line looking for the smallest piece we could form a ramp from, and I think we've got a good choice. It's a small job really. The engineers will blow us a way down and we'll bag the whole Light Horse!"
"Yes Major. Of course. How silly of me to even think of doubting this plan." Vicente said deadpan.
"Besides Vicente," Del Rio said with a smile, "What else is there to do?"
Del Rio pictured Bowman's Glacier in his mind's eye again. Three separate glaciers flowed down from the mountains and merged together in what looked like a giant chicken's footprint from the air. From a mouth 10-15 miles wide where it fed into the southern end of the Larsen Ice Shelf to the foot of the mountains that gave it birth, the glacier was surrounded on all sides by cliffs leftover from the glacier digging its own channel. The only practical way off Larsen was to go up the glacier length and exit when the walls got shallow enough.
The great width of the glacier precluded standing on the cliff tops and blasting away at the 10th Light Horse below. Del Rio considered engaging them when they tried to get off the glacier, their slow progress amongst the ice flows would make for a gunner's dream. But he wouldn't be able to control where they did that, they might just exit from the side away from him. Besides, Bowman's glacier wasn't the only way off of Larsen, just the closest and most convenient. If they went for Wilken's Glacier further east, he'd have to circle around Bowman -- and the mountains that made it -- which meant he'd never catch them. No, he needed a way down the glacier where he'd have the advantage of cover -- and so that he could go down and pursue the enemy along Larsen to take them in the rear if they tried to climb Wilken's.
"So we're going to do a rapid overland march there, refueling along the way, three converging columns, set up a engineering project with explosives using captured engineers, build an ice road, move the entire battalion down to the glacier, and dig in for a major battle -- all in three hours time." Captain Raulio, Vicente, said.
"Yes, goddammit Vicente, that's exactly what we're going to do."
"You are fucking loco, sir. Even if we all get there on time, we'll be outnumbered two to one."
"You know that. I know that. Layton doesn't know that. Besides, two-to-one odds have been won before."
Before his captain could make the obvious reply to that Del Rio raised a hand to interrupt. Vicente was a good devil's advocate, which was why Del Rio kept him around. Right now, he's just glad he's only a Captain. But it was time to stop dodging the real issue.
"Vicente, don't you think I know we should have invaded from the east? That would have given us control of the Larsen "freeway" but they'd have spotted us crossing it and we'd have lost the element of surprise. Command was worried about their garrisons having time to group together or of them destroying the mines. They were counting on the Australians refusing to abandon their civilians and on their uncertainty of the situation to keep the 10th up at O'Higgins long enough for us and the 4th to contain them. But who'd have thought that crazy bastard Layton would abandon the civilians on the peninsula and just haul ass like that? High Command underestimated Layton's determination and intuition. Don't ask me how but he guessed the nature of the trap and didn't blink. And that's why 2nd Battalion is getting pitched into the fire like this. The real trick will be to coordinate with the 4th. 'Hammer and Anvil' envelopments are easier said than done even when they're meticulously planned in advance. On the fly, against an unpredictable enemy like Layton with the 10th's kind of mobility ... this is going to be a real bitch."
Captain Raulio had no answer to that. But Del Rio knew that for all the man's reticence, he'd do his job with energy and competence. The 10th Light Horse would run into the most densely overlapping crossfires it had ever experienced in its long, distinguished service. Colonel Layton would come to hate the name Vicente Raulio, if he ever heard of it.
* * *
The rolling explosion created by the engineer's timed charges shattered the ice and rock with their shockwaves. Dozens of individual blast traveling in a line forward to the cliff edge. The debris broke up into smaller pieces, was obscured by smoke and snow, and fell into the chasm in apparent slow motion all at once.
"We're not going to make it." Vicente said next to him.
"We'll make it. You didn't think everyone would even get here on time. Look behind you." Del Rio said without taking his eyes off the settling man-made avalanche.
The engineers were already swarming over the pile they'd made, leveling the top. Engineers got busy breaking the big pieces of ice into little pieces of ice on top of the pile. GEV-PC's already carrying tons of snow collected earlier backed their way down the crevice that had been next to the now-nonexistant overhang while men in powered battlesuits scooped it out and filled in the cracks. It was amazing how fast you could build a road with 'suits and a little intimidation. Del Rio didn't need perfect, either, hovercraft were very forgiving of roads. And, he was willing to accept some risk to them. He'd love to get them all down safe, but he'd settle for some if he had to. He just wished for the n-th time that he'd had some artillery, or even some 'Belgrano' missile tanks. They'd have done. But he didn't, so other infantry had rappelled down ahead to prepare emplacements for the what he did have.
Thirty minutes later, they were as ready as they were going to be. And he'd only lost one PC doing it. The driver had lost control making the turn from the crevice onto the snow pile. The man was only slightly injured, but the GEV was a write-off. Another cold-kill.
Incredible. Not for the first time, Del Rio was immensely proud of his people. What they've done in just a few hours ... few outfits could have done half as well. Wish I could take credit for all this, he thought with an inward smile. It wasn't always the commander's tactical brilliance that won the battles, it was the quality of the men who did the fighting that mattered. Too many officers forgot that.
Now back in his armored suit, Del Rio could see Captain Raulio on his sensors finish his inspection of the troops and come bounding his way on his suit's jumpjets. "Major," he said after he'd landed, "I'll have the engineers blow us a way up the other side, just in case the 10th heads for Wilken's. It'll give us the option of catching them on the glacier. We have the explosives."
An icon flashed inside Del Rio's suit helmet. "Never mind that. It won't be necessary." he said and pointed.
The enemy was coming right at them.
The Battle of Bowman's Glacier
65° West, 69° South
Graham Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 1730 Local Time
The glacier itself was a mass of broken icecubes the size of houses, thousand-year old layers of compacted snow, and tree sized icicles in a slow moving slurry of grinding ice along with every other form of frozen water the mind could conceive. It was all being slowly churned during its century long voyage as it flowed down the valley under the force of its own gravity. It was both obstacle and cover to the men and machines who joined battle within it.
The three surviving Troops of the 10th Light Horse came on in a line ahead formation like pile drivers. Colonel Layton had quickly rearranged his force this way to hit the smallest possible front of the enemies, and to give his forces room to maneuver in the narrow gap. This formation would also give him lots of reserves to commit if the enemy left their positions to hit the flank of his column. His intent was to roll over the Argentines and kill whatever got in his way.
Major Del Rio had his forces dug-in along the mouth of the glacier, within effective range of where the ice turned rough. He figured the 10th Light Horse would have to enter the ice, and be bogged down in it to fire at him, while he'd be undercover with prearranged fire grids. His Palomino's were in their hull-down positions, his infantry lay hidden in cracks of ice and the few specialist heavy weapon squads were dispersed to cover as much area as they could. Their personnel carriers with some scratch platoons of infantry waited behind, ready to rush forward and plug whatever gap the enemy might make in their line.
Both men were trained in the quick-strike offensive maneuvers suited to hovercraft warfare. Neither man was at his best in set piece slugging matches, so neither man truly wanted this battle. Layton sought escape from the Ice Shelf while Del Rio only wanted to delay him until the 4th Battalion, or even the 15th Armored, arrived. Both of them would blunder in their tactics.
Layton had the advantage of numbers, but Del Rio had more infantry. In the glacier's terrain he felt this would prove critical and he was pinning his hopes on them. The broken terrain was a foot soldier's dream, it slowed the fast GEVs to a crawl while giving them both cover and unhindered movement at the same time. Any enemy vehicle they caught in the rough could expect to be swarmed over and ripped apart with their arsenal of anti-tank weapons. But any single infantryman, for all the power of his suits' augmented strength and weapons and for all the technology that went into its construction, was nothing but meat to a hovertank bristling with cannons and machine-guns with its hide of nearly impenetrable armor.
Battle was joined as First Troop of the Light Horse Regiment hit the rough ice and Del Rio's forces took them under fire. Colonel Layton struck at the Argentinean left perceiving a weakness in their deployment there. Del Rio in turned hoped the Pan Pac forces would bunch up at the edge in their haste as the head of the column entered the slower terrain. Both were disappointed. Pan Pac discipline held and they concentrated on punching through the Argentinean line. In turn, hidden men popped up like polar hedgehogs letting Colonel Layton know he'd fallen for a feint.
Heavy weapon squads fired their missile packs to good effect, but the sheer firepower of the Pan Pac armor as they took the Argentines under fire was withering. Pan Pac GEVs on full military power climbed the steep glacier steps while dodging sharp outcroppings of ice and enemy fire. Argentine infantry rushed to reposition themselves as the terrain exploded about them. Their small figures could be seen jumping in jet assisted arcs between cracks and pillars, sometimes intersected by the cyan bolts of Pan Pac railguns. In suicidal overruns they managed to destroy several of the Pan Pac forces before they themselves were eliminated. The Argentineans had the advantage of concentrating their firepower on the tip of the enemy's column, but the Pan Pac forces were relentless. They knew that once they punched through, the battle would turn as they'd be able to roll up the enemy's flanks and they poured in their numbers faster than the Argentines could shoot them down. The result was mutual slaughter. The hypervelocity shards of tungsten and the saturation attack missiles filled the space between the two forces and shattered the landscape around them.
First Troop didn't so much throw Argentina's line backwards as the two mutually dissolved one another. In little time half of First Troop was gone and Third Troop moved up to take their place but the Argentine line was virtually severed. Del Rio ordered other units from the line into the impending breach but refused to order in his reserves as Fourth Troop was still out there, threatening to strike once they were committed. The fighting at the breach rose to a desperate pitch and Del Rio sent out hasty orders to his infantry on the right flank: their rear ranks were to form a parallel column behind their lines and drive west like a wedge into Third Troop's flank once they broke through the main line. In effect, they'd be doing to the Pan Pac forces what they had just done to the Argentines. Del Rio could only hope that those left in the line would be able to hold against Fourth Troop still waiting patiently out on the flat.
* * *
Sergeant Lopez triggered his jump pack and flung himself along a path that corkscrewed through a canyon formed of ice strata. Behind him his platoon moved forward in a loose formation spread across a 500 yard front. The men advanced or fired in turns, keeping up a lethal barrage with their heavy 15 mm guns.
Just then, one of the men to his right was hit. A 5 mm dart of depleted uranium hit the man's suit in the chest at a little under 3000 meters per second. It went straight through his front armor but bounced off the back and rattled around inside until it had expended all its energy and torn the man inside to bloody scraps. From the outside the suit simply dropped like a rock, suddenly demoted to the status of inanimate object.
Shit, medics won't have much to do in THIS war. Weapons designed to destroy modern tanks and battlesuits didn't leave many wounded.
The source of the new attack showed themselves soon after. Pan Pac Infantry. Australian and New Zealanders mostly with a scattering of British exiles, probably. Not many, but then, there never needed to be.
Sergeant Lopez fired at one of them - and missed. His weapons were designed mainly to take on enemy vehicles. Heavier, with greater power, at long range an Argentine soldier could pick his Pan Pac counterpart apart with concentrated sniper fire, but he lacked the high rate of fire for close in work. Lopez had to ground for cover while the Aussies and Kiwi's closed to knife range. More of his men died, but where they manage to catch one of the enemy with their heavy 15 mm guns the result was spectacular. No mere battlesuit could withstand that kind of power from point-blank range. Where the enemy's bullets would ricochet inside an Argentine suit, the 15 mm sabot armor piercers blew straight through their targets, hydrostatic shock splashing the man against the insides of their suits, rupturing fuel tanks or spare ammo and incinerating whatever was left.
He fired again at a target his HUD had briefly identified. He couldn't tell if he'd hit or missed, but he had become distracted, and meanwhile Pan Pac battlesuits were mixing in with his own. Again to his right, a Kiwi soldier finished killing his corporal and drew a bead on him. The first he knew of the attack was a burst of 5 mm rounds around his position and one loud *SPANG* that the armor mercifully turned. He spun around to find an enemy flying at him three feet off the ground with a spent magazine and a huge knife edged in diamond. Lopez fired at the elusive target and missed again, then brought his gun up and braced himself to parry the blow. The next thing he knew he was flying backwards ass-over-teakettle; where the Pan Pac soldier went he had no idea. Face down, Lopez triggered his jets to bring himself back to his feet still holding his rifle -- now in two pieces. The barrel couldn't have stopped a blade with such force behind it, but it had turned it, and that had been just enough to save him. In the hand to hand fight that followed, Sergeant Lopez used the bulk of his gun's receiver as a shield while using the barrel half as a club. The other man was fast and skilled -- damned fast -- but Sergeant Lopez had grown up in the barrios where fighting was a way of life. They punched and slashed and clubbed each other for what seemed hours but couldn't have been more than a minute. Neither man retreated to use his remaining guns or missiles because neither gave the other one the chance, but also for the simple reason that the enemy was here, now, in front of them, and both were determined to kill him that way. Lopez parried another strike and head-butted the other man, then parried an off balanced swing and shouldered his opponent to the ground. The fight ended suddenly as a 15 mm round from another of his men blew a hole through the down man's faceshield leaving the ice nearby fractured from the force of the shell's passage.
Sergeant Lopez took a brief pause to take stock of his situation and to wave a thanks at the man who'd helped him. All the Packers were dead, but one understrenght enemy squad had killed half his men at close quarters and 500 meters away an enemy GEV -- their original target -- was still climbing the iceflow, trading shots with other Argentineans. The whole horizon seemed to be filled with the explosions of dying men and equipment.
"That goddam Wombat is still alive. Let's go kill it!" he said over the squadnet while picking up the rifle of his dead opponent. After a quick search for ammo, he reloaded it and shoved a spare into his suit's pocket.
* * *
Major Del Rio watched as his counter attack failed to stop the enemy's offensive. Blunted it, they had. Stopped it, they hadn't. The Pan Pac forces in the pocket had lost the sharp precision of their original wedge formation and now more resembled a confused mass of men and equipment fighting ad hoc in hastily formed units. But the Pan Pacs were masters at improvisation under fire, and where neatly ordered ranks and precise coordinated fire amongst platoons and vehicles had failed, sheer guts and determination were seeing them through. Battered, broken and bleeding, they still moved forward mowing down the few of his fellow countrymen Del Rio could put in their way.
"Well, so much for my tactical brilliance." he said to no one.
His line was about to break and there was nothing else to do. Major Del Rio was forced to commit his GEV-PC reserves sooner than he had ever thought he might. His timing proved good though, they arrived before their infantry was overwhelmed by the sheer force of the Pan Pac attack. Those hovercraft didn't have much firepower, but now that the infantry was running out of missiles, their longer ranged guns were a great relief. Their opening salvo blasted a Pan Pac recon GEV to pieces leaving nothing but a small mushroom cloud. Several Pan Pac Wombat GEVs returned fire at the new threats but quickly found themselves on the defensive now as the Argentine infantry renewed their assaults. The fighting reached a new crescendo. The boiling mass in the pocket recoiled from the newest blows from their enemies, but they held their ground. They killed, and killed, and died, and killed while in the act of death. Most of First Troop was gone, and Third was spent, but Fourth was still out there, fresh and ready to fight. With unerring precision, Colonel Layton led them just to the left of the rest of his people, smashing through the weakened front line of Argentine infantry to take the rear flank of the men who were pressing down on the rest of his men fighting for their lives in the pocket. The sudden attack left the Argentines surrounding First and Third no choice but to pull back and disengage.
This left just the rump of the Argentine's far left flank under Captain Vicente Raulio cut off from the rest. The Pan Pac forces should have pushed on, they'd already achieved their objective of breaking through their enemy's lines and escaped the trap Colonel Fernandez had laid for them. But battles are not such rational affairs and the Lighthorsemen smelled blood. With their backs against the cliff wall, Captain Raulio and his men sold their lives killing the Pan Pac forces as they bounded over the ice towards them. Enemy GEVs exploded as the last tactical missiles found them or as the last man in an Argentine squad jammed his gun against its cockpit's window and fired. There was one last burst of gunfire as the command post was overrun and Vicente died. Then nothing.
With this done, some sense of calm returned to the Pan Pac forces. Del Rio sought to continue the battle with what he still had, but the Pan Pac forces were interested for the most in flight. In the short time it took the Pan Pac survivors to break through, they destroyed three more of the personnel carriers. Their fate, like so many others, was fire and ice. To be burned alive by the stored energy of their onboard fuel and ammo along with the spare weapons they carried for their infantry. The heat of their death pyre would melt a deep hole in the ice into which they'd sink. Then the winds would come. The coldest wind on earth and freeze them half buried like ghastly statues grown over with tendrils of ice hanging from their gun tubes.
2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Brigade Temporary Headquarters
65° West, 69° South Near the Mouth of Bowman's Glacier
Graham Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 1835 Local Time
Finally, the battle was over.
Major Christian Del Rio looked up to where Captain Emilio Sosa, now his XO, stood holding the casualty report.
"I know." he said and took the piece of printout.
"So is Sergeant Lopez, sir."
Del Rio scanned down about half way to find "Sargento Primero Lopez, Andre M." and a serial number.
"He died while assaulting an enemy GEV during the counterattack. So I'm told."
"Thank you, Captain."
"Your orders, sir?"
Half his command had been destroyed in 30 minutes of fighting. A third of his GEV-PCs were gone but that was alright because two-thirds of his infantry were dead. 2nd Battalion was a chewed-up, spat-out force that by any rights should have been pulled off the line until it could rebuild itself from replacement units. But that wasn't going to happen. Not here it ain't.
"Captain, reorganize the men as best you can. Evacuate our wounded and those prisoners we took as well, if you can." There weren't many, but there were some Pan Packers, or more precisely there were parts of some Pan Packers that had survived the holocaust to become POWs. 2nd Battalion's few doctors had a makeshift hospital in the back of two GEV-PCs treating both sides, buckets of amputated limbs outside freezing in the cold.
"And if we have any GEVs left," Major Del Rio continued, "have them shadow the enemy and report back on their movements. Don't let those bastards break contact, this isn't over yet."
Captain Sosa found he was encouraged and comforted by these orders and by the way they were delivered, without a hint of emotion. Even the last part came out without any heat, merely as a statement of future fact. For a moment he'd thought the Major had gone into shock at the news of Captain Raulio's death. For all the bloodshed of the age they lived in, it was still very few men who'd had such a proud and powerful force under their command, men that they'd tended to and secretly cherished as their own family, so savaged in such a short time. Major Del Rio, for all his determination and military professionalism, was only human and Captain Sosa watched the way his superior's willpower controlled the man's every move -- even down to his breathing, especially his breathing. Captain Sosa watched and learned, filing his observations away for the day he might make Major and have to command men like these. For his own part it was the mind numbing sensory overload, the dizzy adrenaline high, the unreality surrounding events of the battle, that kept the souls of the dead at bay from his mind.
"Major, the recon leader from 4th Battalion is here to see you." he said.
"Send him in." Del Rio said and turned towards the door of the PC.
"Teniente Francisco Torres, sir. Recon Lead for 4th Battalion."
"Lieutenant, as of now, you and your men are under my command. My own hover units have taken heavy casualties and you have experience tracking the Light Horsemen. Understood?"
"Yes, Major. What are my orders?"
"How's your fuel?"
"Low sir. We don't dare turn our engines off or idle them too low..."
"Yes. We've found that out the hard way too. Seems those 'cold weather' kits don't work as well as advertised. You'll refuel from our stocks here and then proceed up the glacier to keep tabs on the enemy's retreat. I've already sent some of my men up there so you'll run into them and you're to take command of that operation. I want you to observe the enemy and report back as to their movements, casualties and supplies. Look for details, anything that can tell me just how badly we may have hurt them."
"Yes Major!" he said, saluted, and left. Del Rio turned to his Executive Officer.
"Captain Sosa, get me Colonel Fernandez."
Fleming Glacier Supply Depot
65° West, 69° South, North of Fleming Glacier
Palmer Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 1925 Local Time
"You! To the left! You! To the right! Lager over there!"
Diminished but victorious, the 10th Light Horse Regiment had finally reached it's planned destination for the day ... after an hour and a half spent traveling up the glacier to find a way off and more time picking their way over the mountains to reach Fleming's Glacier and the Pan Pac depot hidden there. Most of that time had been spent playing cat and mouse with the enemy's hovercraft sent to shadow them. Their own recon screen had managed to draw them off on a goose chase and Colonel Layton had ordered everyone to maintain electronic silence. But this deprived their vehicles of the use of their automated navigation equiments and in the fading light it was left to a lone man standing in the snow pack waving light sticks and yelling, trying to direct the convoy vehicles to their resupply stations.
"You! To the left! To the left! No, your other left! Idiot!"
Eventually the hovertruck in question sorted itself out and went off in the indicated direction. Colonel Layton's Command Vehicle blew past him towards the small shack that housed the depot's few caretakers. Someone ran up with the end of a land line cable and plugged it into a small slot in the vehicles side.
They were back in touch with Headquarters.
"Colonel Layton, its good to see you again." Colonel Crenshaw said on the viewscreen with obvious relief.
"You too, mate. What's news?"
"I'm holed up here with all the survivors left in Palmer Land. Not much, about two garrisons' worth. We're going to have to move soon because they've taken out one of the base's howitzers and I don't want to be around when the other one goes. Right now I'm just waiting to beat off one more attack and then get the hell out with a head start while they're regrouping. General Simmons is mobilizing everything he can, but he's going to make his stand between Mt. Rex and Mt. Tuve. Strategic considerations. You and me: we're IT. I don't know what you're up against over there, but be advised: we think you've got one more regiment headed your way. The 15th Light Armored Cavalry. Nasty bastards and bloody good. Haven't seen them in several hours which is why I suspect they'll be paying you a visit soon."
"Christ Patric, it's not that I'm not glad to see you alive or anything, but couldn't you have given me better news? I've lost more than half my command. All of Second Troop is gone! My men can't fight another battle like that. If I have to shoot my way through the 15th ... besides I can't carry enough fuel to make it down to Mt. Rex. If you could just hold out until we reach you..."
"Bob, that's not going to happen. We're facing their entire 1st Battalion down here. I also suspect that's all they've got down here right now: the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Battalions of their 1st Marines along with the 15th LACR. They don't have the amphibious capacity for much more. Now I know you don't want to hear about my problems seeing as how you're going up against the other three, but there is no way we're going to hold out that long Bob. I'm sorry, but that's the truth. One more attack, and while they regroup I'm buggering off. It's going to be hard enough trying to outrun their GEVs with my infantry and light tracks. I have to save what I can."
There was a long pause from the man at the other end. "Fuck you Patric." he said.
"Bob, I've got an idea. It's a long shot, but here it is. You've just come up one glacier, now you go down another. The Fleming Glacier to the sea at Marguerite Bay. It's at the northern end of that coastal mountain range extending south for 400 km. The 10th is all hover mobile, you can make the short hop from the glacier's mouth down to George VIth's Sound in some safety. Once there, the mountains will cover your eastern flank. It's not smooth flat ice, but the 15th will be up in Palmer Land, thinking to trap you in the Dyer Plateau northwest of Mt. Jackson. With the mountains in between, you can bypass them and cut all the way down to the English Coast. It's less than 50 km from there to Mt. Tuve."
"There's two problems with that plan Patric. First, as I said, my vehicles can't carry enough fuel for a trip like that. There are no hidden depots along that route. None. Second, the enemy isn't stupid. They can read a map as well as we can. Maybe we can sucker the 15th, but once we fail to show up at Dyer, they'll know what's going on. Assuming they don't lay an ambush in the Sound just-in-case. Even a single battalion could finish us right now."
"Well," said Crenshaw, "as to the first, I have some good news. Some engineers that were building Outpost Nine when all this unpleasantness broke out wandered in here with their vehicles, including their fuel trucks. I'll send those up George Sound to meet you halfway. That should give you the extra range you need to make it to the English Coast. As to the other? Well, we can't paralyze our planning by assuming the other guy's invincible, even if they have kicked our heads in today. They made mistakes too. More to the point, I'd rather be in this thing with you than without you. I'll head south after our breakout towards the edge of George VI Sound. We'll try to block whatever they send that way while we move south. It may give away our plan, but I think I can cover more ground along the coast anyways. So there it is mate, you rush south down Georgie, and we'll keep the door open."
"You're bloody mad, and you've got yourself a deal."
"Righto. You’re buying the first tinnies though, when this is through. And Godspeed."
2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Brigade Temporary Headquarters
65° West, 69° South Near the Mouth of Bowman's Glacier
Graham Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 1930 Local Time
Colonel Luis Fernandez arrived at the head of the 1st Marine's 4th Battalion to relieve 2nd after its battle at Bowman's Glacier. He had his driver pull up along side Major Del Rio's command vehicle and stood in the warmth coming from the hatch as he surveyed the remains of the fighting. The survivors of 2nd Battalion were still picking themselves out of the wreckage, reoganizing their units and performing what salvage they could for critical parts and spare ammo. Major Del Rio emerged from his own vehicle to join him.
"Eduardo, you and your men did a great job here." Colonel Fernandez said when Del Rio came up to him, "I wanted you to know I know that."
"A tactical draw, sir," the other man replied, "but a strategic win for Layton. I'd like another chance."
"Major, by my count you've lost half your force. You destroyed half of Layton's force in return, true, but your men are dead on their feet and I think you've done more than your fair share for today. Now I have to send someone back north to secure all those civilians and port facilities Layton abandoned in his haste and our follow-on forces are going to need those docks. If you want the job, it's yours. I'd prefer you took it -- 2nd Battalion is more beat up even than 4th, but if you want another crack at Layton, I'll detatch a company from 4th and send Major Rosas instead. It's your call."
"I think the Major's 3rd Company will make a nice addition to my force, sir. There may be coordination problems between our units, but I've got all night to work them out. And can I have some of 4th's GEVs? Major Rosas won't need all of them for garrison duties."
"Major Rosas is going to cuss a blue streak, but yeah. I'll let you know. What else do you need?"
"Fuel, of course. I got here on empty tanks and my train hasn't caught up. Give me some of your supply trucks and I'll send them back to the captured mining operations we haven't already tapped out. I'll give my men some rest and should be ready to pursue by daybreak."
"Very well. 4th is already low on fuel, but I'll see what can be transfered over to you. My God, it's still Day One, and we've already outrun our supply lines ..."
"The enemy has the advantage of prepositioned supplies hidden throughout this area, my Colonel. My scouts think they've got a good lead on one of them. If we can secure some of those supplies, we'll be in much better shape."
Colonel Fernandez considered this statement and then said carefully, "Major ... you are not to go head to head with Layton unless absolutely necessary, leave that to Major Ortiz and the 15th."
"I know that, sir." Major Del Rio said to the Colonel's relief.
"Good. Now I'm going to go give Major Rosas his good news and you and Ortiz can go plan Layton's funeral together."
Major Del Rio snapped to attention with a sly grin and gave the Colonel a sharp salute. "Yes my Colonel!"
2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Brigade Temporary Headquarters
65° West, 69° South Near the Mouth of Bowman's Glacier
Graham Land, Antarctica
November 28, 2085 1940 Local Time
"Major Ortiz ... Rafa! Can you hear me?" Major Eduardo Del Rio spoke into the pickup. The picture on the screen in front of him was that of a man broken by static lines which jumped randomly up and down. A technician nearby did something to his console and the image flashed again before settling down.
"There. How's that?"
"I think we were smart to invest in Paneuro electronics. The enemy is nearby, but we can still cut through his interference. To business. Where are you?"
"The 15th is pushing north. We're nearby, working our way past the head of Wilkin's Glacier. The mountain's have slowed us up but we'll be able to hit the Horsemen in the morning, or whenever they enter the Dyer Plateau."
"Is the George VIth Straight secure?"
"Yeah, I thought of that too, but those hold-out garrison's are doing too good a job and it's no accident that base of theirs is where it is. We can get GEV units around them, but keeping them in supply is another matter. I've got a recon unit out on the ice shelf right now but most of the 15th is up in the mountains in central Palmer with me. It's my understanding that dealing with the holdouts is 1st Battalion's job."
"Rafa, I've got a hunch that Colonel Layton is going for the George Straight. You had to be here at Bowman. He could have inflicted a lot more damage than he did -- he had us. But no, instead he takes off. He wants to run and George Sound is the fastest way to do that. You need to turn around and head him off before he escapes."
"Ed, the reason the 15th isn't already in the George Straight is because I wasn't going to put my whole regiment where the enemy could cut off our supplies -- and we've got our own fuel problems down here. If I'd gone that route and Layton had gone for Dyer's I'd have to shift up and down the length of George with those hold-out sitting on my fuel lines. So for the past 6 hours I've been pushing my men as hard as I can to get up and over Dyer's. The terrain here is murder. Makes me wish I had heavy track-layers rather than blowers."
"Rafa, the logic is simple and I know that man. He crossed Graham Land on the eastern ice shelf, now he's going to cross Palmer Land on its western ice shelf."
Major Ortiz thought about Del Rio's simple assesment for a moment. "That may be Eduardo, but its too late now. The 15th will have to be commited here. We can't go back the way we came. We'd be talking ten to fourteen hours just to get into position. Travelling at night. Exhaustion would be bound to take its toll. No, if we're going to hit Layton, we're going to have to hit him now, before he reaches George. If we miss here, it'll be just 1st Battalion to overwhealm those hold-outs and deal with Layton."
Major Del Rio quietly went over the events of this day and how they had worked to Colonel Layton's benefit. The man had sidestepped Colonel Fernandez, run him over like a truck, and had now lured Major Ortiz and the 15th into a useless position. It was a long list of blunders on all their parts. The first had been caused by Layton's own boldness combined with flaws in their original invasion plans. The second had been sheer fighting prowess on the 10th Light Horse's part, and this last was the result of a hastily planned counter to Layton's actions. For a moment Del Rio thought of holding Ortiz responsible for leaving the George Straight undefended, but no. Ortiz was right. If he'd moved the 15th onto the ice shelf he'd have been sticking his force out on a limb and loss of supply in these conditions could kill an entire unit. It would also have left all the mineshafts and equipment they'd captured in Palmer defenseless before a Layton rampaging through there on his way south. What had happened was simple, Ortiz had gambled he could march his unit up north before Layton could cut around him. It seemed as if Ortiz had lost his gamble. Dammit, it really felt like someone upstairs was conspiring against him.
"Relay a warning to Major Cinches." he said at last, "Also, if he can reduce the enemy around Mt. Ward quickly, he should take up position to block the George Straight. We'll try a repeat of what Colonel Fernandez and I failed at. Except this time, Layton is already hurt badly and instead of a fight of position, this will be fight of maneuver. The kind our GEV pilots are trained for, going up against an equally equipped opponent. We'll also have a better chance at hitting him at the same time than we did before."
"Roger that. I'll start pushing down Fleming's and hope we can cut him off. But I've got to tell you, the men are tired and its getting dark. If we do meet up with Layton, it's going to get ugly."
"His men are even more tired then yours, Rafa. My scout's tell me Layton's still up somewhere in the mountains, refuelling. We've still got time. Hurry and good luck."
* * *
"... and he's got more experience fighting Colonel Layton."
"I see. What are my orders, Colonel?" Major Julio Antonio Rosas asked.
"Detach 3rd Company and transfer the supplies as we discussed. Your unit will be low-priority for resupplies but make your best speed to O'Higgins -- salvage what you can of the scientist's data and equipment."
Major Rosas obviously didn't like his orders, Colonel Fernandez saw, not in the least. He'd just had his command demoted in the pecking order and as much as told, what with the heavy losses so far, that his was the one the others could scavenge replacements from. Fernandez could sense his officers' resentment in his rigid body language and measured tone of speech. More, he could feel it in the fighting spirit, the eagerness to do their part and hit the enemy, of the men of 4th Battalion. He'd spent most of the day with those men and he hated not giving them their chance at combat. Many of them felt cheated by the days events, and several of them had rolled dice or fought brawls to decide who got a quick "transfer" to the stay-behind company. Still, what he'd said to Major Rosas was true, Major Del Rio did have a better sense of their enemy. And if his men were exhausted they were also simply better than 4th's were.
Colonel Fernandez returned Major Rosas' salute and turned to the waiting aerodyne. It was a small little craft standing in a circle hastily marked with flares. A four-man tilt-rotor with ducted fans in the wings and a big turbo-engine up its backside. Not blazingly fast but very maneuverable, it had no weapons or armor. Instead, it had a big canopy with a good view and a cockpit crammed full of Nap-Of-Earth avionics. There was no place for it on a battlefield but it was useful for shuttling people around quickly.
"Now Rosas will hold down the north, while the Del Rio and Ortiz deal with Layton." Colonel Fernandez said quietly to himself. "Now all I have to do is find Major Cinches and figure out why 1st Battalion can't take care of a few hold-out garrisons..."
End of Part Two