Some of you may have the impression the Defederated Association are the Opposing Force. They are not. Their interference in our mission is inadvertent. The OpFor is Tarse. If Basilisk completes his mission, we will fail ours by default.
Pink rain poured through a hole in the ceiling to the right and dripped lazily from the barrel of Basilisk’s rifle. He considered moving further back from the blue-rimmed window. He knew his railgun was sealed against moisture, but the life of a sniper bred paranoia. Irrational angst for his weapon as a subset of irrational angst over his own mortality. He’d spent so much time stalking his targets and killing them unawares that he always expected someone was doing it to him. A reasonable expectation. Not helpful now, however. The Tarsian sniper nestled at an alcove window canted a few degrees left from the best line of sight on the DeFed approach. This town was newer, sparing him the nightmare of a hundred ancient alleyways to consider. If he moved three windows right, he’d be able to look straight down the main avenue at their column.
A tough choice: he wanted clear shots, but that meant giving the enemy clear shots on him. Some DeFeds couldn’t shoot for shit. Some would drill him in the temple if he stayed in the window longer than two seconds after firing. That was why he hated fighting them. Spotty standards made things sloppy for everyone. This angle meant he’d only see the lead soldiers; better for picking them off, but he only had Marco to warn him of any tricks. There was a blown-out building–charred mannequins suggested a fashionista’s legacy–offering him a peak further into the avenue. That also meant an observant gunman would take a shot through the gap if the firefight lasted long enough. Basilisk knew better than to assume they’d miss it. Captain Cortez and his company manned their own positions throughout town, but Basilisk couldn’t rely on them. They had a different mission. He had the rank and authority to commandeer them, but that didn’t make it right.
I, cordite’s echo, waft by your line, into darkness. He shook his head. Not a great start, but there was a poem in this later. He brushed a brown bang from his forehead back over his ears. Haircut. Should’ve had a haircut before he left.
“Marco,” he said. He heard his spotter shifting on the other end of comms and Basilisk rolled his eyes. Marco had instinct and excellent vision, but the silly little man couldn’t stay awake for longer than five minutes today. That was unfortunate.
“Grab one of those menus, read it to me.”
“Emmerich, this isn’t-”
“I don’t get distracted, Marco, I’m German. Read the menu.” Basilisk wasn’t really bored. He’d learned to enjoy the teeniest quirks of the environment, like the tiny pink river now mixing with spilled whiskey from the table next to him. Shards of glass caught light from small fires deeper in the cafe. The beauty of war. Should it nauseate or enervate? He nudged the table to the windowsill. There. Your surroundings break your silhouette, not the other way around.
“Marco, read,” he insisted. The truth was that Marco was bored. Having him alert but distracted was better than sleeping when the shooting started. Marco didn’t snore. Basilisk wouldn’t complain about it normally, but it made it too easy for his spotter to nod off. “Also, don’t call me Emmerich. I have a codename for a reason.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t.”
“That’s for a reason too.” Any further discussion had to wait. A squad of grunts pelted into the cafe three floors below Basilisk’s nest.
“Colonel! Colonel, you in there?” their Sergeant called.
“Keep your voice down, man!” Basilisk snapped, dropping away from the window and rolling through the river. He spared a glance back to the window: only open sky from here. Barring a sudden gunship, he wouldn’t be shot while talking to this buffoon. “And for fuck’s sake, Basilisk. If I wanted you to address me by rank, I’d wear my hexes.” Tarsian insignia used geometric shapes to denote officer’s ranks, starting with a triangle for second lieutenants. Each rank added a facet. Privates and NCOs like the Sergeant got various numbers of cross-hatched lines.
“Yes, s-Basilisk,” the Sergeant said. The sniper sighed inwardly. As a codename, he maintained Basilisk was excellent. As a mode of face-to-face address, it made him feel like a four-year-old. Note to self: next op, just have everyone call me Sir unless it’s over comms.
“Sir is fine,” Basilisk said aloud. “Just don’t use my name or rank.”
“Anyway, Sir, the DeFeds have broken off their advance. They’ve taken positions in Larksford about a mile out. Command’s ordered us to advance.” Basilisk nodded. Tarsian doctrine held it was best to let the enemy attack prepared positions whenever possible. In theory that often meant they let the enemy take prepared positions of their own. In practice, it just determined whether they won with mines and sudden machine-gun bursts or cloaked infiltrators.
“Marco, get your things,” he said over comms. “Change in plans.” Basilisk reached out and tore out a couple of the balcony’s supports; he set the section to one side. He rolled off, spun in mid-air and landed feet together, back straight amid a twinkling haze of glass, plaster and whiskey water. The tiles cratered under alloy boots driven by alloy legs held ramrod straight by synthetic muscles. The mark of the true German officer is that he comes to attention as if suddenly having a spear rammed into his brain by way of his ass. Not his father’s finest work. The thought was amusing, but cliche, and it ran on too long to be punchy. A good joke needed punch. Does a good joker need punching? He shook that aside. It was better not to think of home out here. Pining for it too much was the best way never to see it again. The Sergeant was staring at him.
“Full replacement makes you uncomfortable, Sergeant?” Basilisk asked.
“Well, no, just…” So, yes.
“Calm down, soldat.” Basilisk raised an eyebrow. “My brain’s still human.” And his hair. He’d been very insistent they leave the hair.
Basilisk winked and brushed past the squad, greatcoat a-swirling. When on parades (of which Tarse had depressingly few), the greatcoat was a balanced Prussian blue. In the field it shifted to match the environment. It had true cloaking as well, but Basilisk preferred not to use that. It encouraged him to fidget, and a fidgety sniper was a bad sniper. Marco made a much more understated descent using his anti-gravity module. Basilisk didn’t have one, again because it taught bad habits. Sniper and spotter loped towards the main avenue, flitting between piles of debris.
Basilisk had his rifle out again. The rifle’s scope was linked to his brain by a chip; he adjusted it with thoughts instead of twisting digits. He set the sights to 3X, appropriate for street fighting if it came to that. For safety reasons its magnetic rails were hand-tweak only. He knew the weapon well enough to set its power low and up its fire rate without looking at it or taking his eyes off the surroundings. He’d practiced this for a reason.
“C’mon, let’s clear these buildings,” he beckoned Marco. “I’m not walking out of this town just to have some clever scout shoot me in the back.” They passed through the blown-out building. Basilisk stooped and swiped a three-foot-wide hat from the ground as they passed through an intact room. He sliced “B wuz here” (or rather, B war hier) into the brim, then placed it on an upright mannequin. He wrote, Schon gut on its plastic pectorals and moved on.
“Germans don’t get distracted,” Marco snickered.
“It is insurance, Marco. When I am killed, these mementos will be my legacy to the universe.”
“Weird jokes preserve a soldier’s sanity, mein witziges Freund. If a single man avoids suicide because of my antics, I have succeeded.” Basilisk allowed that to be the only reason. It would sound nicer that way when this life finally caught up to him. The store turned out to be some form of experimental daywear outlet.
“This one’s clear,” Basilisk said.
“How the fuck do you know that?” Marco demanded.
Basilisk pointed to an array of ridiculous outfits: an overcoat with no back, a shirt whose collar featured integrated steel pauldrons, and a chef’s outfit made entirely of blunted knives.
“Find me someone who’s seen combat and wouldn’t take these as souvenirs. I promise you, all you’ll turn up is a really good con artist.” This was not ironclad methodology, but on a more practical note they’d already been through the whole of the building. Basilisk just liked to skew his reasoning sometimes.
They found papers in various states of torching (torchiness?) in a law office on one side of the street, and the predicted empty aisles on empty aisles at the local grocery. A toy store was, by contrast, totally untouched, as was…
“The town gun store?” Basilisk canted his head. Tarse did not have gun stores. Firearms were reserved for the military, law enforcement and specific researchers. The concept wasn’t foreign, he just couldn’t believe this one was untouched. “It’s like Amerika all over again,” he said. He clamped a hand on Marcus’ shoulder. “Get behind that slab.” He pointed to a chunk of concrete. Then he pulled a smoke grenade from his belt, primed it and tossed it through the store’s window. The smoke filled in seconds, revealing a crooked field of red beams.
“Of-fucking-course,” Basilisk sighed. He opened comms. “Captain Cortez, come in.”
“This is Cortez. Anything to report?”
“Ja, the local gunstore’s rigged. The whole front’s full of lasers,” Basilisk switched his eyes to thermal, “…looks like they’re wired to something in the backroom.” Cortez dropped comms suddenly.
Basilisk heard a voice emanating from the hole in the glass. A glowing orange silhouette opened the back door. He froze, the edge of the door inches from the first beam.
“Sorry, what’s that, Cap? Lotta smoke i-” Basilisk threw himself to the ground and covered his head.
“Soldat, out of that room! Quietly! Leave the exact way you came!” he snapped. He watched the silhouette retreat slowly, carefully. The man left his sight and nothing exploded. Then Basilisk noticed the door slowly swinging further open. “Out! Now!” He heard three clomping footsteps, then the door triggered the explosives. To Basilisk’s enhanced perception, the storefront bulged for an instant and then disintegrated in dust and wisps of fire. Secondary explosions sent walls of hissing shrapnel overhead. The killzone was clearly defined by an almost solid line of holes in the buildings around them. The law office, made from flimsy wood and plaster, promptly collapsed. Then the screaming started. Basilisk motioned to Marco and they moved on. They weren’t medics. They could only prevent their own dying by the traditional method:
Kill the other guys first.
Basilisk jiggled his rifle a little, then swept the muzzle back and forth. Plenty of play. The notch between two tree branches came with good natural cover: bushes all around and a couple of stout boulders. He sat on a hill about a mile and a half out of Larksford, with a number of rolling hills and the odd hunter’s shack between him and the town. He’d already examined those; nothing. He’d finished making his recon reports to Captain Cortez and had three HV-KEB satellites on standby. Time to go to work. He set the sight to its maximum magnification: 80x. The wind was gentle right now, but there were gusts due in an hour or so. He wouldn’t need that long. He set the rifle’s power selector to max as well. It’d hurl hundred-gram slugs at Mach 10. If he had the target location and took a few seconds to calculate, he could kill a man over the horizon with that kind of power. It was overkill.
That was the point.
He glossed over the DeFed’s single sniper, an absolute fool sitting atop the town hall as if it wasn’t the most obvious spot imaginable. Didn’t the dumb bastard realize he could be seen from a million different hidey-holes across the entire landscape? Even Basilisk himself wouldn’t try that. It wasn’t humanly possible to sweep this large an area for movement. A pair of machine gun nests sat right next to each other on the outskirts of town. One of them should’ve been set further back to defend the other. Actually, they both should’ve been further back to prevent Tarsian artillery or tanks knocking them out from a safe distance. Amateurs. We are fighting complete amateurs. Basilisk sighed and swept his sights from stupid outfit to stupid outfit. Bingo. A woman dressed from head to foot in urban camo, making broad sweeps of the arm at the left-hand MG crew. The blues and greys fit neither the countryside nor the town. AMATEURS! Her jacket was open at the middle, revealing a black form-fitting tanktop. Her rifle was bedecked with gemstones and gold.
Well, if she wasn’t the unit leader he couldn’t be blamed for thinking otherwise. Basilisk put his humanity in a strongbox of the mind and examined the woman for the best approach to vivisection. An excellent sniper hit the target every time. A master hit them so as to cause terror. She wasn’t unattractive. Good figure. Well-formed breasts, those were one option. Quasi-pretty face, but headshots were expected. The slug would just take her head off. That wasn’t nearly horrific enough. His eyes fixed on the bronzed skin exposed above her chest. Nice collarbone. It swept up into her neck so cleanly. People tended to ignore how important those connecting spots were to looks. Basilisk squeezed the trigger and waited. Turn, if you would. There. The rifle hammered backwards against his shoulder. An ordinary man’s shoulder would shatter under that recoil. For him, it was a pleasant massage after holding the weapon steady for hours. A wedge of smoke and light flickered around the rifle and mud kicked up ahead of him from the shockwave. Several leaves snapped loose.
The slug flew out on a shaft of fire. It tore into the maybe-officer’s left shoulder. The sheer force of the projectile ripped the flesh off the woman’s shoulder girdle, exposing bone and strands of sinew to the air. There was, of course, a lot of blood. Basilisk was sorry to see her gasping and flailing on the ground for a few seconds before death claimed her. He’d hoped the shot would kill her instantly. She must’ve been inhumanly tough. On the bright side, her death throes held several of her command spellbound. Basilisk looked back at the sniper on the tower. The moron had his sights on the chaos down below. The slightest turn of Basilisk’s shoulders brought the smoking muzzle in line with a rifleman in the right-hand MG nest. He was the only one looking in Basilisk’s direction. As a reward for his vigilance, Basilisk shot the man dead-center in the forehead. Skull fragments opened a gash on the arm of the machine-gunner and speared his loader in the back of the neck. Bonus.
“Bas, got movement in that yellow house with the shingle roof,” Marco said. “Looks like a second sniper.” Basilisk let himself fall back from his firing position: one round, then another cracked through the space. Slain leaves fell around him. Basilisk moved behind the hill to a nest he’d prepared beforehand for this exact purpose, a hole hollowed out inside a large bush. He propped his rifle up with a solid monopod and took aim at the house.
“Marco, I see a stairwell in that room but no sniper. They relocate?”
“Negative, and that’s the only way out. I think I see a gun barrel on the right side of the third window.” Basilisk squinted: there was the tiniest hint of something moving in the room.
“Right, standby.” He noted a crowd of DeFeds charging out of the town towards him. They were soon lost behind a nearby hill. He had about a minute before they arrived, even if some of them were clearly running out of breath already. “Hmph.”
He set his sights on the yellow house and pulled the trigger. A chunk of wall exploded outwards–the strange paradox of a bullet impact–streaked red in answer to a stain inside. The sniper’s rifle spun to the floor. Basilisk shifted his sights to the man on the town-center tower. Just fodder, he realized. The idiot was fiddling madly with his rifle’s scope. He’d have been better served to just fire wildly at this point. Out of pity, Basilisk only took his right arm off. Perhaps he’d survive.
Then, as the DeFed posse spilled over the hill they’d been hiding behind, Basilisk started picking them off. A shot every half-second: an emptied gut, a leg off at the hip, a castration, and several beheadings. On mutilation ten, with just five hundred feet to go and his bush-nest now quite leafless from the rifle’s backblasts, the surviving DeFeds threw their weapons down and ran every direction but towards him.
“But… there are thirty left. They’re in range to shoot!” Marco was baffled.
“Fear is not good at tactics.” Or anything, really. Not even running; the DeFeds stumbled over everything, including each other. Two of them shocked even Basilisk by tussling on the ground and pulling knives. “Now, that’s just stupid,” he admitted. He slipped to a different firing position at the foot of a stout oak. Nothing dumber than dying to the dumb.
“They’re falling back from the town,” Marco noted. “Should I drop the hammer?” When they’d been spread out in cover throughout the town, the DeFeds were relatively safe. Now they were bunched up and at the mercy of Tarse’s angels of death. The HV-KEB Grid: High-Velocity Kinetic Energy Bombardment satellites. Railguns the size of a naval frigate, firing from orbit with no friction to limit their firepower.
“Wait a few,” Basilisk said. They watched as a column of DeFed troops–surprisingly orderly–hoofed it away from the town. Basilisk rested his head on his rifle stock and watched them for about a minute. “Call it in.”
The enemy streamed along a road through open terrain, and were about a hundred feet from a ditch outside the town. Getting further every second. Basilisk looked skyward. Something twinkled in the clouds. An instant later there were three chains of light directly over the DeFed troops, long streaks of explosions. Orbital canister rounds. At a few miles from the target, bands of explosive bomblets around the outside of the slugs exploded in a sequence, the lowest on the canister first followed in millisecond intervals by ones higher up. They arrived all at once, thousands of bomblets per slug each exploding into hundreds of semi-molten fragments. The ground all around the DeFeds rose up as if God had fired birdshot into a pond. Steam seethed from nearby puddles. The debris, the spinning metal and the mud hid any body parts, a welcome break from carnage.
“Enemy main force,” Marco paused and waited for the debris cloud to dissipate. “100% KIA,” he observed. “Well done, Bas. We’ve just taken Larksford.” Basilisk pointedly ignored the remains of the column.
The thirty kept running. Basilisk laid his sights on the “sniper” in the tower. Just a kid, really. His bloodied brown shirt was two sizes too big; he might even be emaciated under it. Pale skin, narrow jaw. Basilisk couldn’t quite see, but somehow he knew the kid had gentle eyes. Probably baby blue. He’d bled out up there. There were tears on his face, still wet, and something–a photo?–in his hand.
Congratulations, asshole. You win.