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Soldier Girl: Part 11 - Castle in the Hole
Posted By: Adam Stark<Xvash2@sbcglobal.net>
Date: 12 June 2009, 1:14 pm

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Part 11: Castle in the Hole

Commander Austin peered over the charts, maps, the miscellaneous documents spread out among his desk. He'd been in his position now for a little over five months, and already felt the grooves in his face begin to set in, a certain grit building up on his skin. He had never gotten used to it, what it was like to be in planet-side combat for such an extended period of time. Slowly, miniature canyons were forming and shaping as they saw fit, wrinkles that were so pronounced they could have been mistaken for the scars of battle. And now he was just now realizing how fruitless the patrols and raids in the city were beginning to be. After all, the leadership of the Innies lied in the mountain, not in the town. He checked out the casualty reports for the previous week. Seven dead, nineteen wounded. There had to be a better way.

He unearthed a map of the mountains from the paper piles and grabbed his highlighter. He knew the highway that went through the mountains was lined with mines and explosives, so any direct route via road would be out of the question. The mountain in question, home to the nuclear missile facility, was the known base of operations for all of the Innies. Best way to reach the top would be to take a Pelican straight to the landing pad at the peak, where the freight elevator to the facility was located. Of course, the mountainside was chocked full of grunts with missile pods, so an air drop was easily out of the question. If only he had some ODSTs, he thought, he could drop a whole platoon on top of the facility without risking a single bird. But of course, the lone UNSC frigate in orbit was not equipped with the proper manpower to execute such a maneuver.

Between the base and the hill was only an open plain, about thirty kilometers in distance. If one could get the fastest vehicles with enough men across under cover of artillery, they could make it to the base and fight up to the top. The road up wasn't heavily guarded, only a few squads with rockets and support for those troopers. If you could get a good platoon in there and up the mountain, they could clear the way for the rest of the soldiers. Not the best plan, but he had to put an end to this battle before any more soldiers got killed, before he got killed. It was time to go.

The headaches had ceased a few days ago, but the bells wouldn't stop ringing. She laid there on her bunk, cold pack on her forehead, trying to shake the remaining shock of the blast. Bombs going off a few feet away never bode well for the workings of the inner ear. The ringing was still so audible to her that she couldn't hear the sergeant approaching her bunk. Venson crouched so he was at her level. He placed a hand on her shoulder and rocked her slightly, disturbing any rest she was trying to obtain.

"Hey kid, you alright?" spoke Venson, his words soft so as not to agitate her. She made no verbal reply, only opening an eye and nodding in response. Venson continued from there. "Alright listen, we've got an op tomorrow, high priority stuff, and I need everybody to be one-hundred percent out there. So are you with us, or should I find someone who isn't so concussed?" Sanderson's hand immediately snatched the cold pack from the top of her head, tossing it aside. She sat up slightly, to the point allowed by the narrow bunks, and opened both eyes.
"I'm good to go, sergeant. Just let me know when." She knew she wasn't feeling her best, but she'd be damned if she were left out of a fight. She had already felt slightly embarrassed to be wounded already without having squeezed off a single round in battle.

"Good then, we're heading out at 0600. Briefing's in a couple of hours."

She looked back. Several Hogs rumbled idly, raring to go. Marines mounted up, most of them hopping into the M836 Transport Hogs. She took the assigned driver's seat, keying the ignition to start the vehicle. Through the windshield, nothing but open plain. She was driving the lead vehicle in the assault. Another marine entered the vehicle's passenger seat while another climbed up onto the mounted chain gun behind her. Sanderson turned and glanced at the marine manning the weapon, before looking to her right, only to find Commander Austin himself taking the lead. He slouched slightly, his boot upon the dash, his assault rifle slung across his chest plate. He thumbed his datapad, browsing through maps and the like, but Melissa couldn't make out anything precisely from the minute screen. A moment of radio static came in on her helmet's headset, just before the announcement.

"Green light to engage, fire at will. All vehicles move out." Sanderson threw the vehicle in gear and peeled out of the motor pool. Her job was simple, really. Drive like a maniac and somehow make it to the base of the mountain. The rest of the cars followed suit, forming a staggered column so as to have room to avoid any potential incoming artillery rounds. For the first five minutes, the vehicles' tires tasted nothing but open plain, a dusty, somewhat desolate patch of land that was sandwiched by war. She could easily make out the mountains in the horizon now, towering beasts ready to become infernos.

Flashes in the distance alarmed the men. No sound yet. Several more lights winked at the army. No sound yet. Screams arose from the sky. They grew louder, louder, until then. Sanderson instinctively swerved at the last moment, dust and dirt exploding in the place she just was. Unfortunately, the blast caught the Hog just behind them, throwing the vehicle end over end, slinging the occupants in all directions.

"Don't look back, keep driving!" commanded Austin, peering over his shoulder to observe the damage. He removed his foot from the dash, grasping the roll cage of the Warthog, shouldering his weapon. Sanderson did as ordered; pressing the pedal down so hard it should have gone through the base of the vehicle. She swerved, dodging another impact. The gunner began firing, lighting up the face of the mountain with the machine gun, to no real effect though. Too few bullets for far too much surface area. One by one, vehicles dropped off the scope, pre-sighted rounds dropping all around the convoy. Another squeal from the sky, this one being particularly loud. The vehicle was thrown to its side, skidding along the dust.

Sanderson woke, shaken and stirred by Commander Austin. He pulled her from the wreckage and slapped her rifle into her hands. He pulled her over to an impact crater, taking cover in the shallow defilade. Sanderson looked back to the vehicle she once drove. Two wheels were MIA, and half of the gunner remained on the weapon. All in all, a smoldering mess. Austin pulled out his datapad, using the GPS to pinpoint their location.

"Damn, we're still a couple of kilometers out from the base. Looks like we've got to hoof it from here." Austin looked at Sanderson, who was still fixated on the flames emanating from the crashed Hog. "Private, do you want to get into this war or not?!" he exclaimed, trying to draw her shaken attention. She turned to Austin.

"Yes sir."

"Good, let's go find us a fight." The pair stepped out from the defilade and made a dash for the mountain.

The morning's lunch exited through her mouth, forming a yellowish pile of muck on the dirt. Running kilos in minutes had gassed both of them to the extent that nausea was not uncommon. Her head throbbed with pain, a screaming reminder of past events. She removed a couple of painkillers from a pouch and deposited them into her gullet, downing some water from her canteen immediately after. She sat up, wiping the leftover crud from her mouth, still trying to catch her breath.

"Nobody's on the comm., we've got to get up this mountain. Let's go." Austin exited the rocky ditch at the base of the mountain, expecting Sanderson to quickly follow. She struggled to get to her feet for a moment, resting on her knees. She thought about dying right here for a moment, breathless, and now without any warm chow in her belly. She thought about those who would find her, keeled over adjacent to a pool of vomit. She thought of her sisters, at the funeral. She didn't want to be remembered like this, she didn't want to die here.

She climbed from the ditch to find Austin peering through his binoculars, looking up to the apex of the mountain. In the distance, Sanderson couldn't make out the metal superstructure of the facility's access lift, precisely what Austin was viewing. He withdrew and stowed the binoculars, shouldering his assault rifle.

"You ready? Take the point, private. Let's go find some Innies." Austin waited for Sanderson, who took the lead, shouldering her battle rifle. Her M/7 clacked at her hip, beckoning to be fired. They rounded a bend in the ascent to find a pair of loitering corpses, covered in an egregious amount of blood, both lying next to outdated weaponry. "Innies," declared the commander boisterously. "Looks like someone beat us to the kill. At least that means someone might have made it. Let's keep going, private." The two continued their ascent, the road leading up to a small plateau, filled with the stench of combat. Overturned vehicles spewed smoke, bodies piled up amongst one another.

"Sir, I don't think those soldiers are alive anymore," stated Sanderson rather succinctly.
"Start searching, hopefully someone made it." Sanderson began checking every body, taking the tags, checking basic vitals. Both sides had been rather efficient. Rarely does one stumble across a dead battlefield. Almost no wounded. Austin sauntered over to one of the upended Warthogs. Several men had been crushed under the frame. Others were shot trying to take cover behind it.

"Hey, is someone up there? Help me out, I'm dying in here!" Perplexed, Austin looked around. No animated bodies in plain sight, that was for sure. He listened closer to the repeated cries for help and discerned someone had been trapped under the vehicle. He waved over Sanderson, and with one concerted effort, both were able to move the vehicle off of the soldier. Poor guy had taken cover in a hole and the vehicle had almost toppled right onto him.

"Thank you, sir. I really appreciate it."

"What's your name and rank, trooper?"

"Corporal Helldorfer, sir. Third squad, first platoon."

"What happened here?"

The corporal sat down, looking around for a second, before speaking. "Only about four vehicles made it through that shitstorm. We came up this road and to this opening when we were ambushed. Rockets took out two of the vehicles, and when the others tried to peel off, they ran into anti-vehicle mines. It was a drawn out fight after that. We took cover; they took cover, and we exchanged fire for a bit. Eventually both sides got whittled down to nothing."

"How'd you get trapped under there, corporal?"

"I was in the back of the Hog firing an M41 and almost got ripped apart by a rocket. Hopped out and into the hole right as the car got blown on top of me. Been there since."

"Alright, get your weapon, we're moving out."

"What, we're not retreating? We have nobody left?" said the corporal, obviously scared by the whole incident.

"I'm either going to die or get to the top of this mountain, corporal, and if you do not like that, then I'll just shoot you right here and deal with it later." The corporal nodded, tightening his grip on his battle rifle. Sanderson took the point once more as they moved out up the mountain road, this time with the corporal bringing up the six. The road was mostly deserted, pockmarked with divots and impact holes. They came to another clearing, finding an abandoned Cobra parked in artillery position. Shells were scattered among it, but there were no corpses to be seen

"Approach with caution," warned the commander. "Could be booby-trapped." Sanderson slowly inspected the piece, no signs of tampering or activated self-destruct sequences. She gave the all-clear signal, before glancing to road leading away from the pass and up the mountain. A rocket streaked passed her, causing her to stumble back into the Cobra. Two insurrectionists had posted up on the road, and were locked on to blow her away with a second shot. With a twist of luck, however, the tube jammed, giving Sanderson enough time to raise and fire her rifle, dispatching the pair with two bursts of bullets.

"Nice shooting," complimented the corporal, before receiving a glare from the commander. Not phased by the miniature ambush, they continued to the top, making it to the summit without any further bothering.

"Well, this is rather anticlimactic," muttered the commander, surprised at the lack of manpower that had been stationed on the road. "I'm going to radio for the rest of the troops to come in on the Pelicans." Austin took a knee and radio base, requesting the support.

The corporal slowly approached the blast doors that guarded the access lift to the facility, shouldering his battle rifle, peering down the scope. He came within yards of the door when they peeled open, revealing to him an entire platoon of insurrectionists armed to the teeth. They were as surprised as he was, but he was trigger-happy and unloaded into the soldier in front of him. The remaining thirty-nine opened fire, cutting down the corporal with precision and speed. The fire drew the attention of Sanderson and Austin, who were next in line for Innie target practice. Sanderson reacted, tackling Austin into a trench next to the landing pad, before drawing her rifle.

"How long until the back up gets here?!" she screamed, scared shitless, and at the same time, raring to fight.

"I don't know, but we've got to hold this position. Start fighting, soldier." Austin drew his rifle and began firing back, enemy rounds pinging off the dirt in front of and behind him, casings ejecting to his side. Sanderson poured on all she had, swapping out magazines as she went. She ducked down; too much fire headed their way. Austin quickly followed, removing the magazine from his MA5B and slapping in a fresh one. Sanderson clutched her rifle, bullets flying overhead. Not like this, not in this hole. She stood and fired back, hitting two Innies, then a few more. Nearly every round found its mark, as she fired and killed all she could. Bullets seemed to curve around her, like nothing could kill her. Sanderson's finger pulsed the trigger, unloading her magazine, until click, click, click. She hit the magazine release button, and two bullets struck her in the chest. She stumbled back, smoke coming from the two holes, followed by blood. She slouched down into the trench as she started coughing up blood, clear signs that the rounds had punctured her lungs. Austin looked over at the dying soldier, just as Pelicans flew over head. He looked out from his position, the nose guns on the birds raking the ground with fire and taking out the rest of the Innies. Two birds landed, soldiers rushing out from the troops bays.

Austin signaled over a corpsman, who hopped into the trench.

"How long ago?" inquired the man, who removed a syringe of biofoam from his kit and went to work.

"Just now," was the solemn reply from the commander.

"I don't think she'll make it, let's get her onto the Pelican," was the response from the corpsman.

"Neither do I," stated James.