The Fast Attack Transport Audie Murphy settled into a geosynchronous orbit above Turnbull I, the largest moon of 18 Scorpii Alpha. On board, the men of B Troop, 1/7 Cav completed their preparations for the mission to come.
The Fleet frigate Congress arrived in orbit 36 hours before them. The plan had been for Congress to wait for the Army transport’s arrival while gathering as much intel as possible. A recon probe sent down to the science station — which had sent out distress calls four days earlier — detected no activity. Video showed the station reduced to rubble.
Twelve hours after arrival, Congress picked up a databurst transmission from somewhere in the Xargos Sea, a huge expanse of desert 2,000 km south of the science station. Instead of sticking to plan and waiting for the arrival of the better-equipped troops on the transport, Congress sent down its Marine detachment to investigate. Now most of the Marines were dead, Congress‘ drop ship was damaged and clinging to a precariously low orbit and it was up to Bravo 1/7 to sort out the whole mess.
As much as the Intel team could figure, it looked like another hit-and-run strike by the A.I., a malevolent machine race humanity had first encountered about a decade past. Troopers called them “Robbie.” They’d been dormant — defeated, many believed — for several years. Looked like they were back. Robbie wasn’t keen on occupying territory, but it appeared a few of them had stuck around after the raid to track down and destroy a couple of science teams stranded in the desert below.
Gamespeak: The game is set on Mission Map S0002, a desert area dotted by three cave complexes. Each cave complex includes a ‘rescue’ location the squad must reach, which represents the trapped science teams. For the purposes of the narrative, a fourth rescue location is where the survivors of Congress’ Marine detachment are holding out. Desert locations include the possibility of encounters with the desert’s native “sand worms,” while the enemy chosen for the mission is the Cybers — “Robbie” (from “Robbie the Robot”) to our valiant troopers.
Onboard Audie Murphy, things weren’t exactly running on greased rails. The ship had hastily departed High Point Station four weeks ago when the first reports of raids on the outlying systems reached Earth Forces command. Men and equipment were scattered to hell and gone, and there hadn’t been time to wait. Bravo 1/7 was seriously understrength before the first shot was fired.
The troop was nominally under the command of its XO, a newly promoted 1st Lieutenant named Farraday who had just transferred in from squadron S2 to get some operational experience. He was skilled at using the high-tech gadgetry and understood the recon end of cavalry work, but he knew dick-all about commanding men in a fight. For that expertise, Bravo 1/7 would rely on the troop’s senior NCO, 1st Sgt. Ben Reno.
A 16-year veteran, Reno fought Robbie in the last war. But he really had his hands full this time. The troop was short of everything except food, water and underwear. At full TO&E, Bravo 1/7 — an “independent” troop under the new organization — would have a little bit of everything. Four full squads of troopers, a good dose of specialists, four gunships, four dropships with APCs and an over-sized HQ section with intel, supply, maintenance and medical teams.
Reno had at his disposal maybe enough manpower to field two squads. Three gunships were aboard, but all of them were down with maintenance gripes. All four dropships shipped out, but there were only enough parts to keep two of them flying. Three APCs, all of them running, rounded things out.
Leadership was in even worse shape. As troop sergeant, Reno could ordinarily expect to supervise another six or seven sergeants. He had two. Sgt. King led one of the combat squads, while Staff Sgt. Li led the maintenance section.
Gamespeak: OK. That explains why we’re taking on half a planet with one squad and not much else.
Reno would have to wear a second hat as squad leader. They would land on the hard shelf, nearly an hour’s drive by APC from the nearest tunnel complex. The lengthy ride was unavoidable; the Marines reported that the turbofan engines on their dropship stirred up the native sand worms like angry hornets. With luck, the soft-wheeled, whisper-quiet APC would slip through the desert without attracting any attention.
Instead of the usual loadout of high explosives and extra ammo, Reno instructed the armorers to load the APC’s cargo cradles with remote recon drones. The Xargos Sea was trackless and largely uncharted; the drones would be indispensable to navigating their way to all three cave complexes before battery power, life support and time ran out.
Gamespeak: There has to be a reason the mission map has the squad driving all over Kingdom Come, instead of just plonking down at the caves in a dropship. How about big wormy things with sensitive hearing and bad attitudes? And what’s up with selecting four Intelligence resources for the mission? Well, look at the map. A minimum of 10 Pilot skill success levels is needed to reach the final cave complex. Without some automatic “2″ successes from expending Intelligence resources, the squad could easily take 15 turns or more just to drive around the map. I’m also counting on collecting additional Grenade and Intelligence resources from the on-map caches as the mission progresses.