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Mongoose - From Tulane
Posted By: CaptainRaspberry<jptaber@gmail.com>
Date: 25 March 2009, 11:50 pm

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You've seen the propaganda videos: two Marines, flying over ditches and hills and cliffs while riding on the back of a Mongoose. The driver is steely-eyed, reflexes like a panther, fearless; the gunner is gripping his buddy firmly (in a manly-but-not-homoerotic fashion) on the shoulder and hefting some heavy weapon, usually a rocket launcher. As they plow through a flowery well-mowed field a Covenant Wraith appears on the horizon and starts lobbing plasma, which the driver avoids with ease but always seems improbably close to the explosions. The gunner, dirt flying in his face, carefully takes aim and fires a rocket, which strikes the tank dead in the center and causes a massive blue and yellow explosion. The pair drive off into the sunset, leaving smoking ruins and a message inviting people to enlist before they're drafted anyway.

This isn't the only one out there. Others exist, such as the Mongoose being hot-dropped via VTOL into a raging battlefield, or the Mongoose rushing down a stream casting plumes of water rearwards, or everybody's personal favorite, the two Spartans on a Mongoose, one driving one-handed while firing a sub-machine gun, the other toting a heavy-duty laser.

It doesn't work like that. There's so much wrong with that picture I can't even stand it. First of all, in a combat situation the driver is never confident. In my experience he's always clutching the handlebars as if salvation will come out if he's squeezing hard enough. He has no cover from enemy fire, he has nothing fastening him to his seat, and no matter what they say about it not being easy to hit, any Wraith pilot worth his alien salt will slag it in an instant. Most drivers are either ordered into the position or are bat-fucking-shit crazy, but even they smarten up halfway through their ride.

Gunners are even worse. Most picked for that duty aren't qualified to operate heavy weapons, as those individuals are considered too valuable to be put on the rear-end of a 60 MPH deathtrap, so rocket launchers are right out. Perhaps some headway could be made with an MA5 or equivalent, but you need two hands to comfortably hold one of those, and one hand is always occupied with the driver. Mind you, not placed on a shoulder in a vaguely comforting manner but wrapped around the midsection and squeezing with titanic strength. That is, of course, being kind: sometimes they don't go for the midsection. I knew a guy once who was riding shotgun to a lovely lady from Seattle, and tried to use the occasion of their imminent death to cop a feel. No one's saying she fishtailed on purpose, but it was awfully convenient how he ended up ribs-first in a cloud of pink needles.

Myself, as a fully-qualified anti-armor E-2/OR-2, was usually excused from having to deal with that horrifying four-wheeled monster. Dealing with Wraiths was already hard enough without all the shaking involved with driving over rough terrain and flipping end over end after your driver was killed by shrapnel. However, on occasion, we all draw the short stick.

Tulane was one of those wonderful Earth-like planets that enticed governments into colonizing them, but was not actually robust enough to be livable on its own. Terraforming had not been a big ordeal, the settlers had never fallen under the thrall of the Insurrectionists any more than most other Inner Colonies, and it had no particular value in academia, economics, or politics; by and large, it was one of the most beautiful, well-balanced, ignorant spots in the galaxy. It didn't matter much to anyone except the people who were born there, and even then they hardly cared about it.

Until the Covenant showed up. There was no defense fleet, no real military presence besides a COM buoy and accompanying satellites. It was a planet ripe for destruction, with a population of about three billion, give or take, that was utterly helpless in the face of an attack.

Until the Covenant showed up, and didn't glass it.

Suddenly it became the UNSC's new pet campaign, a ground war where victory was possible. Fleet after fleet, army after army, was sent to defend this beacon of human civilization. The Covenant responded in kind, sending wave after wave of horrifying, ugly aliens into the cities, through the forests, across the deserts, and over the icy poles, seemingly just to exterminate every human one-by-one instead of all at once from space.

I'm sure ONI was thinking there was something special about the planet, but I don't know.

From 2549 to 2551, until the Covenant finally gave up whatever game they were playing and blasted the whole thing from space, Tulane was one of the most vicious warzones in the galaxy, and there's a shit-ton of stories to tell.

In the last year before Tulane was glassed, maybe about four or five months out, the higher-ups were already getting twitchy. The UNSC had lost count of how much of its money it poured into this razor-rimmed wormhole of a planet trying to keep it away from the Covenant. More than one, probably about three generals had pinned their careers on its survival and were desperate to see "V-T" Day.

Somewhere in one of the generals' offices, someone suggested that maybe we weren't winning because of "poor mobility." The next day, thousands of Mongoose-model Ultra-Light All-Terrain Vehicles were shipped to bases all around the planet.

I was stationed at the forward operating base in grid Bravo Orca Six Sierra, or as we affectionately referred to her, the Boss. There was approximately a five kilometer tract of no-man's land between ourselves and the nearest Covenant outpost, a tract that was mostly forest with a few open farm plains and a town two kilometers to the west. For most of the war, the town itself was occupied by one degree or another, depending on the mood of battle.

On that day, four or five months from glassing, dozens of large crates were airlifted in by Albatross. Six were addressed to November Company, Fourth Battalion, Seventh Infantry. Of those, two were delivered to the First Platoon, of which I was a part.

When we opened the crates, there was moaning, swearing, and remarks of disparagement: none of us wanted to deal with the poorly equipped and poorly designed vehicle-impersonating disaster. Included with each was a letter from the Colonel, instructing us to use these on any patrol that took us two kilometers or more from base; in short, any patrol in which there was a real and present danger of running into the enemy. It also said that any Marine who was qualified for driving was automatically to be included in all patrols that required the use of a Mongoose. There were a few from our platoon, enough to create a rotation.

I knew a few of the drivers they picked. Charlie Ford was top of the pile, from second squad. He had a knack for handling vehicles, which to us made sense: he was of the prestigious Ford family line, his very ancestry having come up with the Model-T and all that jazz. Apparently back home he was quite the motorcycle racer. He stayed a driver until the end of Tulane. Legend has it that on Reach he splattered ten Grunts and six Elites until a sniper finally put a hole in his heart.

Bettie Gibbs was another choice, also from second squad, and she proved her worth right up until the last week when Dave Damian Clarke grabbed her tit and she swerved into a swarm of exploding needles. No one said it was on purpose, but one needle stuck her in the elbow and took her out of the fight.

The only other driver I knew personally was Man Hong Hendrix, or "Man-Man," as we called him. He was a Marine of many talents: he had qualifications for sniper, Hornet pilot, rocket jockey, airborne, and yes, cook. He always said he could have gotten medic too, but his girlfriend had been visiting on the day of the last exam, so he decided not to follow through on it. As a driver he was good.

A lot of people went to Lieutenant Olivia Calhoun, the XO for First Platoon, and complained about having to use the Mongooses. At first the Lieutenant gave a big "tough luck" and "this is war" speech with such precision that a lot of people thought she maybe rehearsed it in front of the mirror every night. However, as more and more people went to her to complain, she finally backed down:

"Listen," she said to everyone who asked, "the Colonel's orders are clear: we have to use them for any patrol that goes two klicks or more from base. If it really bothers you that much, just record your patrols as going out less than two klicks and don't take the Mongooses."

That seemed to sit well with people and it worked fine for a week. But then a fireteam on patrol from Third Platoon was greased by a pair of Covenant Ghosts on a three kilometer walk, the Colonel caught wind and asked why their patrol was down for one kilometer and why they didn't have their vehicles, and from then on the rule was strictly enforced.

Fortunately for me, I was certified anti-armor and had the only rocket launcher in the squad. Like Sergeant McClure and his S2, I was deemed too valuable to be sent on "motor patrol." I was only ever called in if there was an armored unit, and then I was transported in on a 'Hog. So whenever a patrol went out, I'd kick back and wave goodbye; I made sure to time my launcher cleaning perfectly with whenever somebody from my squad went out.

I was too valuable until the day that I facetiously checked the patrol roster and found my name in Thursday's slot, attached to PFC Hendrix as the driver.

My particular dislike of the Mongoose is only amplified when I'm forced to ride on one. Man-Man was a good driver, relaxed when he took turns, and that calming force transferred to the passenger, in this case being me. But on this one patrol, holding Man-Man tight and watching Langley and Ford up ahead on their vehicle, I figured out a lot of things that I had previously kept from my opinion about the Mongoose. For one, they're really loud, especially when you're supposed to be on patrol. I figured anybody could hear us coming, which was bad.

Another thing I realized was that you couldn't be as alert on a Mongoose. The driver was too busy paying attention to the terrain, fields interspersed with forests, and the passenger was too busy worrying if the driver was paying enough attention.

At the first kilometer marker, I was still pretty terrified, but mellowing out. I couldn't hold my launcher, but I had it strapped across my back. My SMG was waiting on my hip, easily reachable if I could tear my hand away from Man-Man's midsection. The wind against my face felt pretty good.

At the second kilometer marker, I was feeling better, but still anxious. It was a patrol, after all, and if we ran into any Covenant it would ruin my day.

At the third kilometer marker, I was feeling complacent.

When we got to the three-and-a-half kilometer point and started to turn, that's when I heard the distant release of a Fuel Rod Gun and saw the streak of green as it raced towards us. The projectile was off its mark, but it dug a decent gouge in the path that sent Man-Man and I flying off the Mongoose. I had been in explosions before and had even gotten bucked from a Warthog, but it had been going slow; the 'Goose was tearing down the path at about thirty miles per hour. My armor took most of the hit, just a few tremors rattling my ribcage, but my launcher was torn and went flying into some low brush.

I heard shouting and gunfire, Ford and Langley coming back around to help us as four Grunts and an Elite with the offending Fuel Rod Gun came jumping out of a nearby grove. The air was full of tracers and ozone as the two sides exchanged fire, and for a while I just wanted to lie there and enjoy the sight. But the Fuel Rod Gun blasting holes all around me woke me up. Man-Man had taken cover as best he could behind the downed Mongoose and was blasting away with his MA5B. I was stuck in the open.

I thought it was all over when I heard someone shouting at me. Langley was waving his arms and pointing where my launcher had landed. I grabbed my M7 and started crawling, trying to stay as low as I could. Every so often I'd point my gun in the direction of the enemy and squeeze off a burst, but I was focused on my launcher. It was my lifeline, my only reason for living.

It seemed like an eternity before I reached it. Concealed by the low brush I dropped my SMG and hefted the cool ten pounds of metal. I gave it a quick shake; the rockets hadn't been dislodged. That was the number one cause of death for a rocketeer, misaligned ordnance -- that and gunshot wound.

Once I was sure I wasn't going to blow myself up, I peeked out from behind my cover. Man-Man's Mongoose was almost completely slagged from the heat of the plasma pouring against the side, and Langley and Ford had dismounted behind a low rise and were trying to lay down suppressing fire. The Covenant, four Grunts and an Elite, had steadily been advancing towards Man-Man.

I brought the launcher up, not bothering to sight, and fired. My whole body shook, an intimately familiar rattle of bone, and the Covenant blew apart. Man-Man's cover was peppered with shrapnel and gore, and I took a Grunt's arm to the chest, but the Elite and Grunts were gone. There were secondaries as the Fuel Rod ammunition exploded and a few spare plasma grenades cooked off, which made for a spectacular light show. Ford's helmet cam caught it all, and we played the scene once a night for two weeks afterwards in the barracks.

The walk home was long. Our Mongoose had been destroyed. When we finally got back to base, we were hailed as heroes for killing the dreaded monster; without a second ATV, the Captain had ordered all motor patrols suspended. It was back to normal.

Lieutenant Olivia Calhoun was especially impressed by my actions. "Not bad," she said. "Maybe we should assign a rocketeer to every motor patrol once we get the new 'Goose."

I swear to God, I almost shot her dead right fucking there.