MAJINI (45.2)

49th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Tambwe Dominance, City of Rangda — 8th Division Barrack

There was a sense across the Rangdan base that the trainees had crossed an invisible threshold, and that the levity of the night before was behind them for good. Everyone picked themselves up, told their last stories, struggled out onto the field, and found the place transformed overnight. The 1st Motor Rifles caught a glimpse of the trials that were to come as they experienced their first “real” day of training, one of many promised to come.

Though they had yet to rectify their supply troubles, the Regiment’s officers and staff had become masters of improvisation over the preceding week. After days of accumulating sandbags, scavenging the junkyard for metal and wood, and meticulously planning, Inspector Kimani finally came up with a course that could really teach some lessons.

In the middle of the field a series of alternating sandbag walls, shoulder-high, was erected for the infantry to run. Men and women ran up to the sandbags and took positions. Using training rifles, designated shooters fired practice cartridges at dummy aggressors to cover the movement of runners, who would move to the next piece of cover. Then the roles would switch until the squadron was safe. This, they were told, was called “bounding overwatch” and formed the backbone of infantry tactical movement in a firefight. For simplicity’s sake, it was also referred to by a common name any child would know — the “buddy system.”

Hundreds of troops went through the bounding exercise course, expending thousands of rounds of practice ammunition against dummies and walls while Inspector General Kimani and other staff members shouted words of admonishment and encouragement. Counting every pair of feet involved in the exercise, thousands upon thousands of meters were ran that day. Platoons that completed the exercise stood on the sidelines, watching the next platoon take the course while drinking water and sweating it back out.

Fundamental movement was a theme across the remaining infantry courses on the field.

Some distance away from the sandbag course, a dilapidated old barracks house was reinforced with junkyard materials and turned into a makeshift stronghold, with a tin roof and crate-frame windows. “Automatic” water guns have been set on the windows and other appropriate apertures, and these fired bloody-red fluid at high pressure, roughly simulating a suppression weapon. Though the Inspector General promised that it would be blown up spectacularly in a future exercise, for now the infantry platoons trained in approaching or bypassing the house, rather than destroying or capturing the position. They shed their jackets and battle dress, running around in their white under-shirts. It was vital that they knew the danger a defensive position of any kind posed to them.

Those who came to the stronghold after learning to bound first, did much better, but a significant amount of the Regiment’s 1st Battalion went away with bloody red stains on their shirts. In a real combat situation such stains would have been terribly alarming, if not an omen of a coming death. Nobody got too close to the house, but it was judged a good first lesson, and there was certainly room to grow. Various approaches were discussed, such as the use of smoke, heavy support, and subversion, such as tunneling.

For the troops inside the house, the lesson was a little bit more fun than all of that. As the ones holding the line, all they had to do was keep an eye out, and pull a trigger.

Once more they showed everyone the defensive prowess of the Ayvartan shuuja.

Though everyone in the Regiment was compelled to attend the basic infantry exercises, not everyone was destined to storm houses and run from cover with a rifle in hand. For the signals company, Chief Warrant Officer Maharani had personally carried out the Regiment’s only functional radio on a hand-cart, and instructed them in its basic operation. For the engineers, a Goblin tank husk from the junkyard was brought out, and they were acquainted with its basic parts, as well as the fact that it shared an engine with common trucks like the Rompo. Medical personnel got perhaps the most complete training. There was no shortage of their supplies, and plenty of mildly wounded, hung-over comrades to practice on.

For the artillery crews, a far-off corner of the field was reserved for a single 76mm gun.

“Comrades, welcome!”

Corporal Rahani stood in front of the gun and waved his hand airily at a few dozen future artillery men and women. His pleasant smile and soft voice served as a sharp contrast to Inspector General Kimani and Lt. Purana’s constant scowling and yelling throughout the day. Behind him, the ubiquitous 76mm gun faced skyward, but its appearance had slightly changed since the battle of Bada Aso. This model had a curious muzzle brake on the front of its barrel, and the recuperator, buffer and cradle seemed a little lighter.

“Our old friend has received a few upgrades from Solstice; I see you’re beginning to notice! It’s lighter and easier to tow and turn, and the muzzle brake helps the gun endure its own recoil better. This is an early production model, new from a factory in Chayat.”

Adesh Gurunath, and his bosom companions Nnenia and Eshe, stood in attendance as the Corporal went over the gun, and they watched in rapt attention as he covered the various pieces of the gun and their functions. Some of them they already knew, others were given names where once they were merely rods and wheels without identification.

Adesh also noticed the gun had a lily taped to the recuperator that matched a similar flower in Corporal Rahani’s ear. The Corporal looked to be in very good spirits. He was gentle and energetic and well spoken, a natural teacher to the young artillery crews.

“Properly employed, my dears, the 76mm Model 2030 you’re looking at can sustain a rate of fire of over 20 rounds per minute, at a maximum range of 13.25 kilometers. This range handily defeats that of the close Nochtish equivalent Infanterie-Geschutz 28 gun. It can be fired from the neutral position against targets in one’s line of sight, and in such a role it can defeat over 60 millimeters of armor at 1000 meters, or 90 at 100 meters.”

Rahani rattled off the facts on the gun as if he had a sheet in front of his face.

Adesh shivered, recalling his own use of the gun, primarily against line of sight targets from defensive positions in Bada Aso. He hardly had the time to discern the kind of damage his shots must have done to the enemy. Allowing an enemy within a hundred meters of the gun sounded like suicide to him, armor penetration be damned. He was nearly killed so many times by enemies almost five-hundred meters away. He still felt the powder on his skin, and the aching of his fingers, and the taste of smoke coming into his mouth through his nose. They had fired that 76mm gun so rapidly and in such desperation.

Though Adesh thought they would spend the day with the gun in the same way that the infantry spent the day at the range, putting dozens of rounds through their rifles as they sought to master their aim, he soon found the reality of the situation was quite different.

“We have been cleared to fire exactly three rounds of training ammunition, into a desolate beach exactly thirteen kilometers away. So everyone please huddle around near the gun; I will explain how to sight it, how to read coordinates, and how to fire.”

Corporal Rahani smiled brightly and stepped aside, ushering his students close to the gun.

A dozen people formed a half-ring around the back of the gun, crouching and standing on tiptoes and looking around and under each other’s shoulders. The Corporal explained the different types of ammunition. Adesh already knew. High-Explosive rounds had the flatter, rounder heads, and they mainly served to shred people with fragments; Armor-Piercing-High Explosive rounds were the preferred Ayvartan weapon against tanks, and would penetrate armor before detonating inside the tank with often catastrophic effects.

However, none of their rounds were those familiar types, even though Rahani explained them first. Rather, they were orange shells with strange, circle-tipped conical front end.

“These are actually incendiary, and are mostly meant to start smokescreens. Hopefully you’ll be able to see our handiwork rising in the west a few minutes after we fire!”

Nonchalantly, and while still facing everyone he gathered, Rahani unlocked the breech and slammed the shell into place with the back of his hand. Still smiling directly at his students as if without a care in the world, the Corporal tugged blindly on a firing chain. A terrible and startling noise issued from the gun, accompanied by a comical bang! from Corporal Rahani as the shell hurtled away. Smoke blew from the muzzle brake, the gun barrel slid on its carriage and was pushed back into position by the recuperator and buffers, and the breech opened, releasing the hot, spent casing back out onto a catcher where it could cool safely.

Everyone turned their eyes from the sky down to the smoking case.

It was a familiar scene for Adesh, but it still held some power nonetheless.

In the distance, a long, thin trail of smoke soon rose skyward.

“Ah, looks like we were a little bit off the mark, but within the acceptable margin.”

For the second round, Rahani divided the crowd into crews, and had one crew shoot.

It turned out be his own crew from Bada Aso.

Adesh, Nnenia and Eshe stepped forward from among the rest, smiled and waved nervously as the eyes fell on them, and went through the motions of loading the gun and shooting it again. They did not have to sight it, since Rahani had already done that bit of arithmetic. In that sense, it was exactly the same as when they fired the gun in Bada Aso.

Corporal Rahani clapped his hands at them. Nobody else joined him.

Though he stood before a tough crowd, his spirit was as strong as ever.

“You might think it’s a little dull to sit far behind the lines manning a gun.” He said. “But there is no role in the army that saves more comrades’ lives than that of the artillery.”

There were whispers of skepticism among the crowd. Adesh thought it must have been an exaggeration. Certainly the most lifesaving military profession had to be that of the medic.

“Artillery has a long history in armies, and is crucial to infantry attacks.” Rahani said, looking proudly at the gun and puffing out his chest. He put his fist to his breast with a smile. “Here at the artillery arm, we fight hand in hand with the infantry even though we are several kilometers away from them. We rely on them to see the enemy and to hold them in place while we aim and unleash our attacks. Our firepower is the infantry’s firepower — never forget that! Artillery without advancing infantry is vulnerable and useless. At the same time, in modern warfare infantry advancing without artillery support are sitting ducks.”

Everyone in attendance nodded respectfully, but their attention seemed to be flagging.

“Without us, infantry can only grapple with enemy positions through sheer brute force and numbers, fighting desperately with what little their hands can carry. Well-placed artillery preserves the health of our infantry comrades. Your success is truly lifesaving!”

Adesh was largely prevented from empathizing with this speech by the fact that he mostly fought defensive battles. By his own reckoning he had never fired a shot to cover an infantryman. Always he had been behind sandbags and metal shields, defending positions. Though it made him think for a moment, the speech did not quite get his blood pumping. At his side, Eshe and Nnenia looked about the same. Nobody was too impressed.

Rahani himself seemed to realize this, but his enthusiasm did not wane.

Looking over the shoulders of his troops, he smiled ever more broadly.

“Ah ha! Looks like reinforcements have arrived just in time to save me!”

Over the din of practice rifles and trampling feet and high-pressure hoses, Adesh heard the loud, steady whining of tracks and engines, and soon after, he felt the force of armored movement transferring through the ground. Dust shook over the surface of the training field, and there were was a weak but palpable rumbling. Almost at once, the crowd around the gun shifted their attentions, and found a pair of very unfamiliar armored vehicles painted in the familiar green colors of their army, both rolling their way.

One vehicle was significantly smaller and faster than the other. Both were tracked, but the smaller vehicle had a shorter, squatter and seemingly lighter chassis. It had a gun mounted at the back of the vehicle, with a barrel that stretched just over the tank glacis and ended in a muzzle brake. There was no “neck” on the smaller tank, so Adesh thought the vehicle must not have had a real turret. There was a gun mantlet, and walls, but no roof. A figure was visible, waving over the open top of the small tank. It was Lieutenant Purana.

Meanwhile the other vehicle was absolutely monstrous in size. It dwarfed its companion, but always lagged behind it, as if laboring to move at all. A gigantic, blocky turret with a thick neck played host to its very large gun, larger than any Adesh had seen. Though he recognized the smaller tank’s weapon as a 76mm gun, easily compared to the one standing beside him, Adesh was not well acquainted with the heavy gun on the larger tank.

“Behold, comrades! No longer is armor exclusive to the tank or infantry arms.”

Corporal Rahani stood aside and gestured toward the vehicles as they came to a stop.

Lt. Purana leaped out of the gun superstructure on the smaller tank, and saluted the troops.

Everyone saluted back, half-staring still at the massive tank overshadowing the Lieutenant.

“Glad to see you’re impressed. I’ve been told these exceptional comrades have taken quite a bit of effort to produce.” Lt. Purana said, gesturing to the two tanks. “Both of them are early production self-propelled guns intended to make the job of the artillery arm a bit safer and easier. Our smaller comrade is the Chimera EP/76 or early production, 76mm gun; and this tall fellow is the Giant EP/152 or early-production, 152mm gun.”

In Bada Aso, Adesh had shot a 122 millimeter gun, and it had seemed then like quite an incredible weapon, capable of blasting apart any Nochtish tank and killing scores of men. It boggled the mind to think this was an even bigger gun than that, more powerful.

“All of you are standing here before these weapons,” Corporal Rahani began, smiling, “because you have been selected to crew them! Once more of them arrive, your crews of five from Bada Aso will begin to train as a crew of five in either a Chimera or a Giant.”

Adesh felt a force, as if a stiff wind had blown his way. His heart swelled, anxiety mixed with elation and curiosity. He turned to Eshe and Nnenia and they turned to him and to each other in blank-faced, stunned excitement. There were many similar faces around.

Lt. Purana clapped his hands, and stood aside. The Chimera moved into their midst, and everyone climbed over the front and side plates and enthusiastically examined every part of the tank, and fired questions at the crew from all sides, which were bashfully answered. Adesh managed to climb over a tool basket strapped to the back of the tank and stayed there beside Eshe, while Nnenia got a choice spot atop the tracks. They looked over the fighting compartment, and examined the driver’s position through the front hatch, and then finally left the tank’s side to watch it speed off at nearly 50 km/h.

Though the Giant’s presentation was not similarly impressive as far as its mobility was concerned, several people got to climb inside and witness the massive gun mechanism, and the very large ammunition. Inside the Giant, those lucky few who go to see the turret also helped load the tank, and sight the gun at the predetermined beach. Accompanying the shot was a great roar and a discomforting rumble that rattled the plates on the tank.

“Nothing on Aer can withstand a 152mm shot!” Lt. Purana called out.

Everyone was suddenly excited to try out the Giant, and possibly to crew it in training. But owing to the unique concerns of operating the Giant’s enormous gun, only the most physically fit people would be selected for such a task, according to the Lieutenant.

“Not us.” Nnenia said, in her typically terse way.

“Not us.” Eshe mimed. He looked daunted at the very prospect of it.

Adesh thought to himself that it was quite alright. He was fine with a Chimera.

“Starting tomorrow, we will have enough of these units to begin training with them!” Lt. Purana declared. “You will focus on maneuver, gunnery, and self-propelled gun tactics. Having a gun that moves is different than having a stationary weapon. I know you’re up to the task of using these weapons to their fullest effect! Make us proud, comrades!”

Lt. Purana held up his fist, and the artillery crews mimicked him.

Rahani clapped again and giggled.

Adesh felt his heart rising at the prospect of crewing these weapons.

He felt like he was floating, filled with pride and amazement. At first the machines had not seemed like real things that would be given to them. It was always Nocht that had the weapons, the technology. He always saw the back end of years-old artillery guns. Now he was watching a brand new tank running around the field, with a gun that he knew could kill Nochtish armor. He touched it, he looked into the fighting compartment.

It was real; Ayvarta was waking up to fight. It was mustering its forces. It was all real.

Watching the Chimera made his training, and every day at this camp, feel worthwhile.

He felt so vulnerable with a stationary gun — now he would have a tank!

And so would his comrades! Technology was ready to support them now.

Those M3 Hunters and M4 Sentinels would not scare him ever again!

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