Level 4Nur Dutchung - pt. 3

October 15, 2071
Regents' HQ
Katourach Industrial Park
Touragnul City, Tourac (3)

"No matter how you slice it sir," said Captain Yu with a voice that was filled with resignation, "we're well and truly screwed. Our only advantage was our air power, but we can't get in close with all those Specters the Ravenous unit has. Those things will eat our planes alive."

"Oh yeah," sneered Captain Spiro, "that's the big dilemma. It couldn't be that we are defending a warehouse against three other units, facing a force which outnumbers us almost three to one, and that one unit is equipped with every expensive state of the art toy known to man. Our big problem is that your fly boys are in danger!"

"Okay you two, that's enough!" Major Ghardoki rose and began to pace. "This is not getting us anywhere. Let's take five and reconvene. There has to be something we are missing." The officers left the room, some reaching for cigarettes, others moving toward the head. Rigel could hear Captains Spiro and Yu continuing their argument out in the hall, but he breathed a sigh of relief when the door to the conference room closed behind the departing officers and muffled the noise.

The last few days had been stressful to say the least. Upon opening their orders, they had discovered they would be defending a warehouse (full of ammunition, supplies, and spare parts) against not one, but three independent attacking teams. The attacking units were each separately tasked to secure the warehouse for a 30 minute period without losing control to any other unit. This implied that success would require destruction of all other units. If the warehouse was secured per the rules, that unit would be declared the victor. For the unit starting as the "defender," the victory conditions required that it successfully prevent any opposing force's securing of the warehouse in a 60 minute span of time. If even a single attacker secured the warehouse, the time clock would be reset.

On one hand, the attackers had a hard task ahead of them. They needed to figure out how to defeat the defenders and the two other attacking teams to get the objective, whereas the defenders needed only to survive. On the other hand, Major Ghardoki and his unit faced an even larger task than each of the attackers. Victory was going to be nearly impossible, as it required not only surviving, but also maintaining control of the warehouse to any of the attackers. This would basically require incapacitating the three other units. If the attackers came at the Regents in succession, there was no chance they could make it anyway, so Major Ghardoki decided not to waste his time worrying about that possible outcome. They basically had two options.

First, they could go out and hunt the attacking units down, one at a time. The result would most likely be one of the other units securing the objective and forcing the Regents to turn into an attacker (retaining their original victory conditions though) and retake the warehouse. Unit losses in this scenario would be extreme. The second option was to get the attacking units to fight amongst themselves, weakening them to the point where the Regents would be able to take them out. Or at least to a point where the three units would be unable to assault the Regents' position at the warehouse. In all scenarios, the Regents would likely suffer heavy losses, losses they did not have the cash to recoup before the next match.

"Damn," swore Rigel, "what good is winning if we aren't in any shape to fight in the next round?"

He looked at the charts and maps of terrain pinned all across the room. The three attackers would all come from the north. The placement of the warehouse was in a dead-end canyon. No place to run, no place to hide. The only good part of the placement was that the mouth of the canyon was fairly defensible, and they would not have to worry about anyone flanking them to attack from the rear. Still there was no way out of that valley should things go terribly wrong. And it just so happened that the only Terran-led unit in the tournament had been 'randomly' assigned the defensive role. Rigel wasn't buying it.

He looked back at the mission briefing papers. It read: Your mission objective is as follows. To prevent all attacking forces from securing the warehouse and its contents and holding said structure and contents for a period of 60 minutes. Should any attacker hold control of the building for 30 minutes, the exercise is over and that team will be declared the winner. Should all enemy forces be destroyed, disabled or in any other way made unable or unwilling to complete their objective of securing and holding the building, the defending forces will be declared the winner.

Rigel stopped and reread that last line, "In any other way made unable or unwilling to complete their objective." Rigel reached out and grabbed the media kit he had been given and looked up the background of the three units in question. Two were units of ragged pirates, and not very good ones by the lists of their exploits that his intelligence staff had gathered from MercNet. Still, TRI had made them sound extremely infamous, and they would be looking to live up to that hype, for no other reason than to inflate their reputations. They might be easy suckers.

The third unit simply wasn't a concern because its members had never done a hard day's work in their lives. They'd obviously be lying back waiting for the other attackers to break the defenders and shatter themselves against one another in the process, and then swoop in to finish off the pieces for an easy victory. It was then that Rigel realized that all was not lost, and that he had a basic plan. Fos Frenir's Angels would never get that opportunity if his new plan worked.

He heard the sound of his officers returning. They took their seats and quieted down, waiting for the Major to restart the meeting. He simply stared at them, a lopsided half-smile on his face.

"Ok Major," said Captain Spiro, "I'll bite. What are you smiling about?"

"Corporal Talera, would you please reread our mission objective?" Rigel sat back as the yeoman read from her notes of the meeting.

"Captain Spiro said, 'our Mission Objective is to defend this warehouse and its contents against three attacking forces," she repeated. "The warehouse is located..."

"Hold it Corporal," interrupted Rigel, "I'm sorry. Please read it from the actual file."

The corporal read the objectives from the intelligence briefing provided to the staff in their packets. "Not exactly the same thing, is it?" Major Ghardoki was grinning broader now. Continuing he said, "As you can see the wording is slightly different."

"I don't follow Major," said Tomas, "it reads the same to me; I just put it in laymen's terms."

"Not exactly," piped in Lieutenant Langford excitedly. He was the commander of the Second Infantry Platoon and the youngest member of the senior staff. "It never does say we have to defend that warehouse, just stop the others from getting it. That means we could go out and just destroy the other units and still win. Nothing says we have to sit back and wait."

"It amounts to the same thing," said Spiro, "what you are talking about is just using offense as a defensive tactic."

"Actually," cut in Major Ghardoki, "Lieutenant Langford caught on to half of my point."

Tomas stopped and turned to his right to look at the Major, tilting his head a little to the left and squinting with his left eye a bit. He had known Rigel a long time, and he knew that tone of voice. Rigel's tone said, "We've got the bastards." For the first time in two days, he felt like they might have a chance not only to survive, but to win. Staring at his CO, Tomas said to himself, "What does Rigel see?"

Rigel continued, "The objective says nothing of defending the warehouse, simply denying it to the other teams. There is nothing implied or otherwise that states we must keep the warehouse safe." Ghardoki looked around seeing the shocked realization dawning on the faces of his commanders. Captain Yu chuckled, jammed the stub of the cigar back into his mouth and rubbed his hands together. Tomas continued staring at his commanding officer, and suddenly it hit him. His eyes widened and his mouth slowly opened, and he then nodded his head in understanding and agreement.

October 21, 2071
Nur Dutchung Battlefield Gamma
Plains of Recourc, Tourac (5)

Major Ghardoki sat high in the cockpit of his Gladiator. "Lieutenant Langford," he spoke into his comm, "is everything in place?"

"Yes sir, Major. We are mounting up and heading out now. We've got the warehouse all taken care of; you just enjoy your hunt sir."

"Roger that Lieutenant." Rigel smiled, hoping one of the units may have picked up his broadcast transmission. He switched over to the encoded Regents' channel. "Command, Striker, let's go scare up our quarry. Support Section, move into position."

He heard his section leaders relaying orders to their respective commands and pushed his Gladiator into a run. Lieutenant Johnson's Puma moved out into the lead. They headed out to the center of the designated battlefield, waiting for the recon group to announce which direction to feint. "Falconer, this is Lead." Rigel said, "What have you got?"

Captain Yu's voice crackled across the comm. "Major you won't believe this, but it looks like a sprint from up here."

"What do you mean Captain?"

"Well Major," said Yu laughing, "the two pirate units both broke into a run immediately and are moving at full speed to try and get to us. They aren't even pacing to their slow units. The Black Sabres have 2 Pumas about a mile out in the lead already. We could rip them up and their buddies wouldn't even know it until they tripped over them a minute later."

"Hmm..." said Rigel. "Maybe this is going to be easier than I thought. What are the Angel's doing?"

"Nothing sir. They're just kind of hanging back, moving up at a leisurely pace. It looks like they expect the Sabres and Ravenous to kill each other off."

"A safe bet," snorted Rigel, "and one that doesn't surprise me in the least. What about air cover?"

"Nothing on radar, sir."

"Nothing?" Rigel was surprised. The Angels had a couple of really good pilots on their roster.

"Negative sir," said Yu, "Looks like they decided to sit this one out."

"Your reputation precedes you Captain." Rigel chuckled. "Ok Yu, what's my next move here?"

"Well sir, my suggestion is to pull back. No reason to engage them to get them to the trap, when they're coming right to it without bait."

"Idiots," said Rigel, closing his eyes and shaking his head. "Ok Yu, looks like we might get out of this without much of a hassle, if Langford's men did their job. If not, well, at least we get out with the unit intact."

"Roger that sir." Yu was silent for a moment. "Permission to light up those Pumas?"

Rigel thought about that for a moment. "No Yu, we'd better leave them alone. I'd hate to slow the Sabres down. Why don't you go roll out the welcome wagon for the Angels and try to occupy them while we spring the trap."

"You got it Major."

"Command, Striker, fall back to secondary positions," he said into the all hands comm. "No need to hunt, the prey is on its way."

He took his men around to the back of the canyon and waited. Langford's scouts had already taken up positions around the hills leading to the mouth of the canyon. All they had to do was wait. They didn't wait long.

"Contact," shouted an excited voice in his ear, "this is Whiskey Zulu Three, I have two Pumas incoming hot."

"Roger that," said Lieutenant Langford. "Major, we have contact."

"Ok, Lieutenant, let them come on in."

"Roger that sir."

The wait was agonizing. Rigel was monitoring the video feed from the camera relays Langford had quickly set up on the roof of the warehouse facing the mouth of the canyon. He watched as the two Black Sabres Pumas sprinted through mouth of the canyon and toward the warehouse. Only when they got close to the warehouse did they start to pivot, scanning the canyon for enemy defenders. He could tell by the way the CAV's paced back and forth that their pilots were confused to find no one defending the place.

Next a trio of APC's was seen on the video feed racing through the canyon mouth, enroute to the warehouse. Before they could reach the main gate in the outer wall that surrounded the compound containing the main warehouse and other smaller buildings, one of the APC's exploded in a fireball and crashed to the earth. Standing in the mouth of the canyon appeared a hulking Starhawk. Its body was painted in swirls of black and grey and the massive wolfish teeth on its nose shined in the sunlight. It bore the werewolf crest of the Ravenous pirate unit. It strode into the canyon and continued to fire, its gauss gatling canons shredding a second APC while its missiles struck into one of the nearby Pumas.

The next thing Rigel knew, the whole scene had dissolved into total chaos. The Starhawk was hit from the back by a pair of Black Sabres Tyrants. As the Starhawk fell beneath the combined assault of the Tyrants and the Pumas, a rain of indirect missile fire came falling into the canyon, driving one of the Tyrants to its knees and knocking both Pumas backward a few steps as their pilots fought the blast. Stepping into view Rigel saw the trio of Ravenous Specters, followed by the rest of their unit. Soon the valley was full of Pirate CAV's and armored vehicles. Infantry sparred, using their APC's as cover, but neither unit could get anyone inside the building to secure it. The close quarters made the battle fast and deadly.

"Yu," said Rigel over the comm, "how are the Angels doing?"

"Oh just fine sir," said Captain Yu, "We're making sure they have a nice trail of armor to follow home when they decide the fight is over. They've slowed down and are trying to figure out how to deal with us. I'm betting that they usually do this air to air, but probably held out their forces in fear of those Specters. They have nothing that can touch us out at this range."

"Very well Captain, keep them busy."

"Yes sir!"

Rigel looked at the display of the fierce fighting below. He thumbed the comm for a tight beam to his XO. "You think that's enough carnage to satisfy the ratings guru, Tomas?"

"I'd say so," said Tomas lazily. "Please do hurry Rigel," he said in a near perfect imitation of Gerald Fos Frenir's nasal tone, "I have a dinner engagement at 7 and I don't care to be late."

Rigel laughed evilly and switched channels. "Lieutenant Langford, let's get the home fires burning."

"Yes sir," the young lieutenant yelled back excitedly. "All hands clear! Prepare for detonation. Three... Two... One..."

And the whole world turned a brilliant white. The cameras of Rigel video feed went out as the explosives Lieutenant Langford's men had planted went off. The detonation set off secondary explosions as fuel cells and missiles stored in the warehouse cooked off and added to the power of the inferno.

"Regents," the Major said over the comm, "advance to phase three."

As he started to move his Gladiator up to the rim of the canyon, he heard the four flights of heavy missiles scream overhead and then their impacts, as the twin Sovereign III's and paired Conquerors of the Support Section laid down a barrage of indirect missile fire. Rigel crested the rim and the sight below caused his wizzo to swear in amazement.

The canyon below was a scene of carnage far beyond what he had expected. Where the warehouse used to reside, there was now only a hole in the earth. Within the crater lay the carcasses of a Black Sabres Puma, and what appeared to be a Kahn from the Ravenous pirates. Next to the crater the other Sabres' Puma was trying to regain its feet, without much success. The rest of the units hadn't faired much better. Of the thirty CAV's combined between the two units, only the three Specters closest to the canyon mouth were undamaged. The rest were all tottering, with huge smoking holes where ignited missiles had torn through their armor. He flipped open his comm channel so all the participants could hear his transmission.

"Well boys," he said, "it is now impossible for you to secure your objective, it has been destroyed. We can call this quits and all go home, or you can hang around and we can finish you off."

Two of the Specters launched missile barrages in his direction in reply. He turned the Gladiator taking the hits on the shoulder. The CAV rocked sideways a step before he wrestled it back to normal. Into his comm he spoke, "Captain Yu, if you would be so kind."

The quartet of Tsuisekis which the Regents had committed to this mission came streaking from the sky behind the Specters. Their missiles and particle bold guns tore into the rear armor of the trio of Ravenous CAVS, reducing one of them to smoking char; the remaining two were left standing yet damaged. The Specter's returning shot flew well wide of the mark as the flight streaked off at a new angle.

"As I was saying..." said Rigel. He saw pirate CAVs powering down, barrels pointing toward the earth.

Fos Frenir's nasal voice came over the private comm, "I say old boy, I'm not sure whether I should applaud or protest. Bloody deceptive move, I must say."

"Thank you Gerald, I knew you would approve." Rigel couldn't help but smile. Other than the paint he'd lost while baiting those Specters, the unit was untouched. A red light flashed on his console and a new voice penetrated the comm circuit.

"All warriors stand down, the battle is done. The Regents are the victors."

Trach stared at the blank screen in his office as Terrence, his producer, looked at him with a half grin. Things had not gone as planned, not even close. Those damned Terrans were supposed to lose and lose badly. Oh he had fully intended for them to go out with a bang, as he knew they would die gloriously to the delight of his audience, but still they were supposed to die! That had not happened, and now he would have to deal with the fallout.

"Well Trach, now what?" asked Terrance. "The Empire's media engine is already all over you, the locals think you are a joke, and even MercNet is slamming your little contest here."

Trach breathed deeply and ground his teeth in an attempt to control himself. With some effort, he maintained his serene composure and sighed, "Mere details, Terrance, mere details. We can seize upon this, turn it to our advantage, and use it to reinforce our credibility rather than damage it."

"And how exactly do we do that?"

"We praise them," said Trach smiling.

"Come again?" Terrance's usual sardonic grin was gone, replaced by a look of total confusion.

"We praise them for their tactical acumen, their quick thinking. We place them as a shining example of strategic brilliance. We show them as the second coming of Konta of Dakan and make them heroes."

Terrance snorted derisively. "Oh yeah, that's gonna play well here on Torauc. You remember where we are? Right in the center of 'I Hate Terra Central'?"

"No, that will play well in the rest of the Empire," said Trach. "For Torauc I have another plan."


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