Cautiously, the rag-tag ‘platoon' began to cross the freshly-tilled field. Fire erupted from the treeline and the Northern California Militia flattened against the rich, moist topsoil, scooping it out from beneath them and hurling it between themselves and the enemy. Young Hal wasn't fast enough, or he was just unlucky, and a UN bullet struck the top of his captured Kevlar helmet. At this range the green-tip, partial-steel-core projectile didn't penetrate - entirely; Hal collapsed face- down among the fragile sprouts, leaking. Another militiaman - woman, rather; Lizzie - couldn't get her defensive berm packed down hard enough in time and a round punched through, spraying soil into the air as it continued into her throat. Bright arterial blood spurted and no one came to her aid; she was the medic, and the rest of the patrol had its own problems.
Finally - after five or ten seconds - the patrol began to return fire, their seized M16A2 rifles snapping three-round bursts as fast as their triggers could be jerked. Another militiaman was hit, within arm's reach of the platoon leader, Lieutenant Gar Alexander of the 9th Jeffersonian Volunteer Group. The enemy fire continued unabated.
Gar's own rifle, a New Texas Arms Mark IV in the same puny caliber used here, had deflected a bullet from the Jeffersonian mercenary's own heart as the firefight began, and was now useless with a mangled receiver. That made him mad - it may have been a ‘mouse gun,' but it was a good mouse gun, mainly a scaled-down version of the Space Patrol's standard-issue 7.62mm Gonzalez. He'd paid good money for the Mark IV, and shared the Jeffersonian passion for and possessiveness of personal weapons.
But the local militia's utter lack of fire discipline made him madder. "For gods' sake," he roared in frustration, "don't any of you yokels know how to SHOOT?" Reaching, he retrieved the fallen militiaman's weapon and quickly slipped into a Hasty sling. It wasn't adjusted quite right for that, but he managed. He switched the M16A2 from burst to semi-automatic, aligned its sights on the largest and most persistent of the enemy's muzzle flashes, and squeezed - and squeezed, and squeezed.
The NCM may have lacked in marksmanship, but at least they kept their weapons properly maintained (under the watchful eye and hired-for-the-purpose instruction of Gar). The ‘16 wasn't a bad design, a part of Gar's mind reflected as he worked; aside from the overabundance of expensive, time-consuming, precision-machined parts, the ridiculously-tall sights, the space-wasting recoil buffer, the lack of positive chambering until the design was revised with that silly bump on the side, and the wholly-inadequate cartridge it used, it was actually... well....
Well, it was what he had, and it did in fact work. At least the gas system wasn't a complete disaster, though you really had to keep it clean, especially in the field. All in all, Gar missed his Gonzalez. There was a proper fighting rifle - with a healthy dose of Kalashnikov in the design, it always worked, and with the ‘obsolete' 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, when you shot a man, he stayed shot! It was too bad the ammunition was hard to come by under field conditions on Terra, these days, which was why he'd bought the Mark IV.
Still, in Gar Alexander's hands even the 5.56mm ‘mouse gun' began to take a toll. After his fourth shot the UN squad-automatic fell silent, and now that he had a fraction of a second to concentrate, thanks to superior Republic training - and eyes better than Chuck Yeager's, thanks to superior Republic medical technology - he could see the enemy soldiers as they scurried to and fro just inside the treeline. One was moving toward the SAW, intent on getting it back into action - aim, squeeze, look... for the next target.
Aim, squeeze... nothing. The dead militiaman whose rifle this had been hadn't thought to top off or replace the magazine after the last action - that kind of sloppy thinking would have got him killed sooner or later anyway. Index finger forward to pop out the empty magazine, then the shooting hand back to the harness for a replacement while the support hand stayed in the sling, a smooth, practiced motion, almost identical to the Gonzalez and the Mark IV. His own Mark IV magazines would by design fit the M16 series, and therefore several other NATO rifles, and were less likely to jam than the native flavor. Insert, slap to fully seat it; reach over, hit the bolt release on the left side of the receiver; punch the forward assist button on the right, to make sure the bolt was in battery, the round fully chambered. The Gonzales and Mark IV were designed to be fully ambidextrous, reversible for right- or left-hand use in minutes without tools; on Republic rifles, a slap on the bolt handle served the function of the '16's afterthought button, and the user could decide which side he liked it on. Amazing that what used to be the United States of America was still using such a flawed design.
Reload time, four seconds - Gar had practiced. The rest of the patrol was running dry about now, haste making waste as each fumbled to reload - well, to be fair, it wasn't as though these were experienced troops, or had received Alexander's level of training.
He'd been a babe-in-arms the day of the Escape; his mother proudly bore the scar of Federal mortar shrapnel on her beautiful face. When Gar became old enough to understand what had happened in his infancy, he hurled himself upon his Citizenship training (the military path, of course) like a cougar on a deer, devouring every available facet of the Art of War so that he could personally wreak vengeance on the enemies of Freedom. Here in the Federal States, on the other hand, any weapon training was discouraged, if not prohibited outright; even the FSA's own shrinking military wasn't up to UN standards.
But the UN wasn't up to the Republic's. Gar resumed firing, and the ten-man UN/German squad rapidly shrank until the last three turned and ran. Part of Alexander didn't want to shoot them, but he told that part to be quiet. The NCM needed every weapon, cartridge, and piece of gear they could capture or scavenge.
"Cease fire!" the local sergeant called an instant before Gar would have - then whacked a militiaman's helmet with her fist. "Quit wasting it, dumbass!" she snarled.
At least someone in this gang knows what she's doing, Alexander thought approvingly. And she's cute, too. Too bad the regs against fraternization make so much sense.
All things considered, there were worse jobs he could have. Southern California, for example, or some of the eastern states - there was a lot less material for a mercenary guerilla insurgent to work with, there. Up north, though, Oregon was on the opposite end of the spectrum - the Republic had been born there, after all, and not all that long ago. Governor Burdick and General Kroeker kept screaming for more Peacekeepers, but the Blue Helmet Thugs kept dying, or just disappearing. Rumor had it that some "missing" UN troops were being smuggled to the Republic for interrogation. Another rumor said many were defecting. Gar wouldn't have been surprised by either.
Outfits like the Oregon Territorial Militia, the Free Terran Irregulars and three different groups each calling themselves the Tyranny Response Team of Oregon couldn't survive indefinitely, of course, not without direct Republic intervention - and the Republic was neither economically nor politically situated for that kind of commitment, this generation. But in the meantime, the chaos gave the Republic time and opportunity to get more good people safely out of Sol System - and also gave guys like Gar a chance to get rich. So far today, he'd earned at least two hundred fifty Republic dollars - nearly four thousand Euro, or over nine thousand American.
Four dead, eight wounded, three seriously, he noted; that left twenty-two effective. The Blue Helmets were learning how to run an ambush - but they still paid a helluva tuition. "All right, Sergeant," he called; "let's collect what we paid for."
"Aye, sir." Helena Packworth directed the survivors, assigning a replacement medic (Lizzie hadn't lasted long, with that wound), setting the newbies to policing up the brass for the reloading operation back at the hidden base; then the platoon approached the treeline to collect the enemy weapons and check for survivors.