Prubius and I were knocked to the floor, the blast pushing us as if the protective energy field wasn’t there. One of the Mitasterite Sky Claws, probably coming down to get us.
It must’ve been right above us when our boys tagged it.
I got up to a crouch, watching the shields. I didn’t think the falling craft hit the chair-shaped generators, but Shield 3 deflected much of the blast. I’d nearly been killed by friendly fire.
That was close. Are we okay?
The Mitties kept coming, trying to breach the fortress. They wouldn’t stop—we all knew it. They brought an army of troops for this assault. They wanted their damned fuel—the szellenyte. But they knew the contingency plan. They must’ve reasoned it out, at the least. Base was sitting atop the largest szellenyte cache to be found anywhere. It was a vast pit of red crystal waiting for an excuse to go off. If the Mitties just bombed us and Base into oblivion, they’d lose everything, too.
Recovering, I kept to the wall, edging up to the crease at the edge of Shield Four. Prubius got back into firing position beside me. Through my scope, I found an officer hugging the side of a tank.
“Green,” Joffe said, the oft-used signal for a sharpshooter to shoot.
I nailed my officer dead-center. Prubius and Joffe got their men, too. There were no women in the Mitasterite Armed Services.
As my scope roved for another mark, a pair of Mittie tanks bit the dust. One apparently rolled onto a mine. The next one, perhaps trying to avoid a mine, got stuck on a wedge of ice. Its front tracks were tilted off the ground when a familiar streak of white hit its soft underside. Someone else tagged it from the flanks, too, marked by a second explosion. After a sec, I heard the double-crack.
Die, you flicking bastards. Explain this to your leaders.
The Mitties had started this—no question about it.
In fact, they started this whole offensive in despicable fashion. They landed to our right, past the natural rock wall which formed the valley’s south end. (Our turrets had taken cheap shots at their big landing ships during the night.) An hour before the suns were up, the Mitasterites launched a couple rounds of meaningless artillery into the valley. It set off a couple of the mines we laid—fireworks in the dark blue—but that’s all it accomplished. Once the snow and ice settled again, the real horror show began: Infantry.
By whatever insane reasoning our Enemy found this war justifiable, they applied that logic to using its youngest members in blatant sacrifice. Wearing little more than combat helmets and boots, men charged from the cut in the wall. Some didn’t even have rifles. It seemed preposterous, a propaganda maneuver at best. None of those young men—boys, some of them—could really hope to cover the mile of rough terrain to the foot of the mountainside base. Imagine being sent out to find an enemy force waiting for you and being completely out in the open. We didn’t even need infrared, as it was getting light. They were sent anyway, and we dropped them.
“The order is ‘green’ people,” Joffe had commanded via headset. “We can’t let a single one of them through.”
So it was horrible, but we started shooting. He figured there were 1,500 troopers. A waste of 1,500 lives. About one for each of the 1,300 of us the T.U. Central Command charged with defending this place. At some point, I had to bite my lip against watering eyes. These were practically kids, and we were killing them.
Honestly, we had no choice but to fire. It wouldn’t be past Mitasterite madness to strap explosives to their backs. We couldn’t take the chance of letting any advance. Beta-six, circa-eleven, epsilon-three, epsilon-nineteen. Call your shot and drop your man. A few of them offered return fire, token shots in our direction. Some of those faces looked so youthful.
I shook off the memory when a red-orange barrage destroyed a tank. It came from one of the defense turrets sitting atop Base, a thousand legs to my left.
Those guns need to charge faster, so we can pull some of the boomers back from the front line.
I sighted a commando dodging back and forth among the tanks. He looked like trouble. With the first shot, I got his leg and brought him down. Shield Two flickered oddly while I waited for Four to open. While putting a kill-shot on the commando, I felt vibrations through my boots. My skin prickled, coming on fast as a hammer.
Bursts of tank fire erupted across the shield. I covered, protecting my face.
Something shifted in the rock before me.
Things aren’t stable here!
A hand grabbed my uniform at the left shoulder. I was moving away from the opening—pulled, wrenched, shoved.
It was Joffe, his face twisted in effort. Shouting something, he drove myself and Prubius back. His rifle banged loosely into my thigh. Things began to move. Other bodies. Darkness.
The ceiling—it’s coming down on us!
Like dark teeth, rocks dropped all around me. The noise was in my face.
I stumbled and fell back. When I landed—hard—my head hit a pillow. Instinctively, I covered my head with my arm. Small rocks bounced off. A stone clanged off my rifle. All went dark.
After a moment, everything—the noise, the commotion, the movement—it all ceased.
We were in blackness.
“Yeah,” I answered. “Prubius? You okay?”
Someone else coughed. The darkness was absolute.
“June, we are trapped!”