’49 – Carcaso
Lt. Carcaso scanned the mountain pass as best she could under the circumstances. The Reade Goggles she’d been issued could pierce the darkness nearly as well as a German Vampir scope, though the image was all in shades of green, but even it was hindered by the heavy, wet snow falling around them. Smoke was still curling up from at least three fortified positions where the USS Savannah had dropped a half-dozen hundred-pounders. The crew of the “Savvy Sav” had a well-deserved reputation for being among the most accurate airship bombers in the Allied Forces, and the fact that a group of slightly crazed irregulars had successfully snuck into the pass to mark the positions with flares had helped.
But the Savannah had moved on to support the Copenhagen Offensive, and the irregulars had warned in advance they were moving on to find some secret underground castle beyond the pass. That left Lt. Carcaso’s weapon platoon to claim the pass itself and hold it until larger units of the Expeditionary Forces caught up to them, or they were ordered to move on to an active front. They’d taken some casualties getting this far, and the situation might have been impossible if the Savannah hadn’t swing by to lend a hand. But her troops still had two big 9kw Tesla tripods, the Browning H2MB, and three BARs. Those would hold a pass against anything short of actual armor units, as long as juice and ammo held.
If they were dug into the pass. Not if they were sitting in the open at one end, staring at it.
Carcaso glanced over her shoulder, and sure enough Gunnery Sgt. Macklin was hovering nearby.
Carcaso had learned he would tell her what he thought whether she asked or not, and asking meant it looked less like he didn’t trust her to know how to fight a war. Sergeants classically didn’t trust lieutenants with as little field experience as she had in any case, and Carcaso had nothing but respect for anyone who had survived the ’44 disaster and won a bronze V doing so. But Macklin was also struggling to adapt to the “Rosie the Rifleman” act of ’47, and it was a struggle he lost as often as he won. She’d never been concerned she’d have to actually draw her pistol on him, unlike a few men in training, but Carcaso had to constantly consider how Macklin would react to any order she gave, and how his reaction would affect the other marines.
To be honest, it was exhausting. She was here to fight the Axis, not the men under her command.
But Macklin was experienced and competent, in purely military matters, and if keeping that experience for the benefit of her platoon meant dancing around his prejudices and limitations that was, after all, the job.
Macklin was tall, well over six-and-a-half feet, but also the thinnest human being Carcaso had ever met. Rumor claimed he’d be a carnival thin man before the war, and as ridiculous as that sounded she could believe it. His neck stuck out of the collar of his uniform like a pencil rattling around in a mug sitting on an desk, and his gnarled adam’s apple fought with the kriegshund-bite scars just below his jaw to draw your eyes into a stare. His face looked just a hint too thin to be normal, and was pockmarked with pits and thin white lines, one of which split his upper lip.
He took one long stride to be next to her, sucked on the right half of his upper lip, and scanned the pass. Carcaso had no idea what he could be looking for, at night, in snow, without optics, but she knew from experience he wasn’t wasting time. She mentally counted down from five, wondering if this would be the magic moment when his timing was different.
As she reached “0,” he spoke.
“I don’t like it, ma’am.”
Carcaso didn’t wince anymore when he forgot female officers were always to be addressed with their rank by those in their command. Lord knew she’d be called worse than ‘ma’am.’
Macklin continued. “Those pillboxes weren’t just dugouts, but they also weren’t hardened at all. Sure, there’s nothing you can do if a Brooklyn-class airship takes a dislike to you, but those didn’t just break, they’re gone. A couple of Garlands, or any heavy walker, could’ve hammered them hard enough to crack without much bother.
“That means the Heinies didn’t expect their fortitifications to be enough to hold the gap from heavy walkers or artillery. But given the state of things, they wouldn’t have hauled in the materials to build full bunkers unless they thought they could hold the pass against any reasonable threat. There’s no way they expected us to grab local air superiority, we sure as shi… shoot didn’t expect it. So they were thinking in terms of armor. And if you have the time and supply lines to haul in munitions and engineers and build actual bunkers, and you don’t expect your guns to stop heavy units…”
Carcaso nodded. “Mines.”
Macklin grimaced. “They’d have to be set up so the weight of the snow won’t trigger them. We might be able to move troops over them safely, but the Teslas… “
Carcaso shook her head firmly.
“Too great a risk. And we have other options. Send some scouts to extend our perimeter, Gunney, and get the Teslas set up. If we have contact with anything too dangerous, we’ll open up with the lightning guns along the ground toward the pass’s mouth. HQ says that should detonate any mine the Krauts have access to, but we all know HQ can be wrong. If no one rushes us, we’ll let Ford handle it. And if there’s still something nasty in the pass, the Teslas can offer him cover fire.”
Macklin nodded, turned, and started barking orders. It was, Carcaso admitted to herself, something he was very good at. As long as someone told him what to do, or there was a fight raging and no time to think, Macklin was an amazing leader. It was only when decisions had to be made in the long silence, when there was ample opportunity to second-guess himself, that Macklin became too hidebound to adapt to a situation.
One of the sergeant’s barked orders caught the attention of the only member of Carcaso’s platoon taller than Macklin himself. The figure jerked to its feet, its head turning until it was centered on the lieutenant, then it marched toward her in even, if stilted, strides.
The metal man was slightly over seven feet tall, and painted in surprisingly bright green, though in several places the dull gray of his chassis showed through the paint’s chips and scratches. A “Big Tommy” .50 cal was slung over his left shoulder, leather and canvas pouches were strapped to his chest and legs, and a transport pack was mounted on his back, though instead of a blanket roll it had a chain wrapped around the top like a horseshoe. A single red shield device on the center of his chest had “R.U.R.” written in large letters, and “4D-4RS1T” in smaller type stamped beneath that.
He marched at a constant pace to stand exactly three feet from Carcaso, then stopped with a jerk.
“Re. Por. Ting. As. Ore. Derd. Lew. Ten. Ant.”
As always, Ford’s voice was flat, emotionless, and choppy. It has taken her nearly a week to consistently be able to understand him but now it was second nature to her. As was the more crucial task of giving him orders he wouldn’t reject as violations of his core commands.
“Ford, we have reason to believe the approach to the pass, and possibly the pass itself, are mined. These areas are now your current field of operation. Examine the field with normal caution, superseding secondary and tertiary duties. Any detected mine should be eliminated with maximum combined safety and expediency. If no acceptable parameters allow for this, mark the mine or return for consultation. If a primary duty interrupts the operation, return for confirmation of this operation after fulfilling the primary duty. Analyze operational parameters and suspend for adjustment if any violation of core commands is detected.”
Ford stood, motionless, and Carcaso was convinced she could hear a faint hum coming from his chest. Then his arms bent backwards and unhooked the chain from his transport pack, coiling it in a loop in his right arm. He lifted the Big Tommy and without looking hooked it behind his head onto pegs where the chain had just been. Once that was done he marched in the same quick but stilted gait toward the pass.
As soon as he reached the last “clear” flag at the edge of their position, he stopped. His body bent down, and he jabbed his left hand into the snow. Carcaso was too far away to hear or feel it, but she knew he’d just sent a ping into the frozen earth beneath the snowpack. He remained crouched for fifteen seconds, then stood, took five swift, stilted steps, and repeated the process.
When she’d signed up for officer school, Carcaso has been repeatedly told she be in command of a mixed-gender unit. Women were needed now as pilots, mechanics, and specialists in front-line roles, and US Command wanted very much for all front-line female military personnel to be assigned in large groups and always with a woman in the command structure. Carcaso hadn’t cared, but given how often her instructors had told her that was absolutely happening, it was what she’d come to expect.
But nothing is certain in war or politics. Edvard Beneš, resigned president of the First Czechoslovak Republic and now a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, had convinced someone in the US military to smuggle Alquist Fabry out of Czechoslovakia with the only copies of the full plans for constructing Rossum’s Universal Robots. With Rossum dead, his early research in Nazi hands, and his lone factory destroyed, it had been determined at the highest levels that the US could not allow an automaton technology gap between the Axis and the Allies. Early American-manufactured R.U.R. models, Ford included, had been tested in the same facilities where Carcaso was trained.
Working with Robots in the field proved difficult, but Carcaso had a knack for it. She and Ford consistently performed in the top 5% when teamed together, and hadn’t had a single pitchfork incident. Given how few Robots were available for the Expeditionary Force, it had made sense to assign Ford to her weapon platoon.
However, fearing some kind of horrible incident that would somehow sap the will of America to fight, Congress had decided no Robot would be assigned to any unit including enlisted women. So rather than be the officer of a mixed gender unit, Carcaso was put in charge of a veteran squad of 28 men who had never served with a woman, much less been commanded by one, and one Robot.
Ford paused, nearly a hundred feet away now, and stayed in a crouch for a full minute. Then he uncoiled the chain around his right arm. Gripping the last 3 links in his hand, he lashed the chain forward at an angle, swinging the hundred pounds of metal with ease. Where the very end of the chain slammed into the ground, an explosion shot up instantly. Snow, smoke, dirt, and shrapnel were flung out in all directions. Some fell on Ford, but did nothing more than scratch his paint. He began to re-coil the somewhat shorter chain.
Carcaso allowed herself a smile. Ford was worth dozens of human fighting men or women, and she was proud of their work together. There had been some unpleasantness early in her command, and she knew there’d be more in the future. But if it meant unleashing the full power of Ford on the enemy, it was worth it.
Besides, the Robot never forgot to call her by her rank.
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