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EARTHFALL 2: Getting into the Fight

November 19, 2019 3 comments

The shiny new engineer aboard SCEV Four gets into the fight. On sale now, folks.

When the chime sounded over her headset, KC Winters knew that somehow, someway, Command Sergeant Major Mulligan had managed to flush out the enemy. The SCEV’s receivers picked up the pulse of the enemy rig’s VCARS transmission system, meaning that the captured SCEV was operating under engine power. She had no way of knowing how Mulligan or Andrews had managed to get the enemy commander to take flight, but that was immaterial. What she needed to do now was act.

SCEV Four was still parked in the warehouse. The fighting raged outside, but it wasn’t right on top of her position, but she was aware of it. The rig was also still covered by a great amount of solar panels. She had to get those off first, then figure out how she was going to move the vehicle into a firing position. She couldn’t just pop missiles through the warehouse roof. While its structure wasn’t hard enough to prevent the Hellfires from punching through, it was sufficiently dense to destroy their seeker heads, making them useless once they made it into the air. But she also didn’t have enough time to exit the rig and manually dump the panels by herself. They were big and fairly heavy, and moving them alone would be too time consuming.

What she wound up doing was releasing the rig’s parking brakes and shoving the machine forward under battery power. After it rolled forward a few feet, she toed the pedal and locked up the brakes. The machine jerked to a sudden halt, and solar panels cascaded off its armored back in an avalanche of glass and metal. Many of them shattered when they hit the concrete floor, and delicate planar photovoltaic modules were irreparably destroyed. As someone with a background in technology and engineering, KC knew these objects were now lost forever. But if Sherwood fell, then the loss really wouldn’t matter any longer.

She activated the FLIR turrets and spun them around, checking the SCEV’s upper deck. Though a few panels remained atop the vehicle, the radome and more importantly the missile pod were clear of any obstructions. Part one of her improvised firing solution was complete. Now she had to get the missiles unobstructed access to fly. She’d had time to consider that, and she knew that exposing the rig while enemy forces were attacking Sherwood would only serve to make it a ballistics magnet. One operator couldn’t drive, shoot missiles, and hose down enemy combatants at the same time, so even now the rig needed to stay hidden for as long as possible. What she needed to do was make a hole in the roof, preferably one that was between six and eight feet wide.

She powered up the miniguns and narrowed their firing positions as closely as possible. Even though the roof of the warehouse was a good fifteen feet higher than the rig, the minis couldn’t be dialed in to interlock their fire at that range—the closest she could consolidate fires was at a range of forty feet. But if she adopted a more-or-less circular firing pattern, she was confident she could blow away enough structure to give the missiles room to fly.

With a buzzing roar, the miniguns erupted a stream of bullets that tore through the wood and metal roof. Pieces of debris and insulation hailed down, bouncing and banging as they struck the rig and the floor before its slanted nose. KC moved the guns in a clockwise pattern, maintaining a constant stream of fire. It didn’t take long before she had torn a huge, ragged hole through the warehouse’s roof. Air poured in through the gap, dissipating the cloud of burned propellant that hovered around the SCEV like a veil of fog. Bullet casings littered the floor, and she heard them being crushed as she rolled the vehicle forward. It took a bit of maneuvering to get the missile pod lined up beneath the hole, but with both forward and aft FLIR turrets giving her a good visual, it wasn’t much of a problem.

Leona had already configured a firing solution that would allow the missiles to home in on the VCARS frequency until they got within range of the target, and it took no time at all for KC to load the profile into the fire control computer. Using radio homing built into the Hellfires’ seeker heads, the missiles would fly toward the signal’s anticipated point of origin. Once they were within thirty seconds of impact, the missiles would activate their millimeter wave radar sets. Their internal computers knew they were going for an armored vehicle, so they would lock onto the SCEV and, using both the VCARS signal alongside the radar returns, they would slam into the target and utterly destroy it.

In theory, anyway.

She raised the pod and elevated the missile rack so the weapons were pointing almost straight up. She selected four shots for delivery; she’d hold two in reserve. The VCARS signal was still transmitting, so there was no need to wait. She triggered the missiles, manually firing them at a staggered interval so the enemy wouldn’t be able to anticipate the impact pattern. The Hellfires blasted into the sky with a hissing roar, trailing initial bursts of smoke as their propellant ignited and launched them off the rails. One of them went ballistic, its stabilizers damaged from coming in contact with the side of the hole KC had made. That weapon bobbled as it tracked northerly, while the others made skidding turns toward the south and east.

Gotta move.

Now that she had clearly marked SCEV Four’s position, KC had no choice but to leave the warehouse. She configured the engines for auto-light as she had no time to pore over the checklists to ensure the startup procedures were verified. Andrews and Mulligan would be aghast at such a breach of procedure, but she knew the systems as well as anyone and the chances of auto-light failing and an engine entering a hot start were remote at best. As the computer engaged the full authority digital engine controls for startup, KC pushed the control column forward. The SCEV rolled through the warehouse on battery power, bearing down on the structure’s still-closed sliding doors as she maneuvered around the tractors and other equipment that had been parked in the structure. She gave the air horn a quick jab just to notify any friendlies on the other side that she was about to come out, which was the best she could do as far as advance warning went. The rig hit the door at almost thirty miles per hour, and the wood-framed metal barrier was as effective at retarding the SCEV’s progress as a strip of aluminum foil. Debris exploded outward as the rig hurtled into the bright, war-torn morning. She regretted not having her sunglasses close at hand, as the sunlight had her squinting big time; after spending days trapped inside the rig’s semidarkness, KC was dazzled by the intensity of sunlight.

She guided the SCEV down the road that led to the warehouse. The people of Sherwood were in action, and while most of them were doubtless arrayed against the attacks against the community, there were enough people about to take notice of the SCEV as it accelerated through the day. The number one engine was fully spooled up at that time, and it bumped the batteries offline as it took on the load. The second engine growled to life, adding its own power volume to the chart. As the turbines took hold, KC had to back off on the control column lest the gigantic vehicle continue accelerating. While speed was important, too much of it right now would only get her killed. Using the FLIR as her guide, she scanned the immediate vicinity. Radar would reveal much more, but she had no idea if the enemy rig had been hit—VCARS was still broadcasting. She needed to move out of the area before she could unleash the remaining two Hellfires, because as she had fired on the enemy rig, she had also broadcast SCEV Four’s exact whereabouts. The enemy rig would be able to analyze the trajectory and determine her previous firing position and respond in kind. The problem was the Hellfires were autonomous weapons, they could determine where their target was if it displaced in the span of time between launch and arrival. If they were unable to acquire their target, they would scan the immediate area until they detected the appropriate silhouette. KC needed to make some tracks and put as much distance between her and the warehouse as possible.

So she guided the rig down the winding road that led to the warehouse. She bolted through the middle of the community, ripping past the bar that served as the town hall at forty miles per hour. People were running down the road, and they looked at the speeding SCEV with expressions that were an equal mixture of hope and dread. KC ignored them as well as she was able. Her course had been loaded into the navigation system, and she was going to follow it, come hell or high water.

Until she couldn’t, and then she’d improvise.