Equally quietly I heard Larkin reply "Because, like the Lieutenant says, a good soldier understands the functions of all branches of the military. So, we're cross-training as grunts today."
"No, tell me the part again about the case of whipped cream. And you better not be too tired from this frigging hike." This frigging hike was a field exercise with Lt Wzreranski's infantry platoon, dismounted. A brisk 20 klick march, with an emplacement drill somewhere in the middle. I had several purposes in mind in asking Lt Wzreranski if we could accompany his troops:
Hsiu Zhiao, of course, appeared nearly indistinguishable from the rest of Wzreranski's grunts, although I knew he had not been on an infantry field exercise since we joined the Harriers. By the set of his shoulders and his bored, blank expression, you'd have thought he did this daily. His old Schlessinger combat rifle was a bit longer and heavier than the current Harrier model, an Ambercrombie and Fitch L-70 derivative built in the Steiner interior.
I, at least, had been kitted out once before during Operation Cashbox more than a year ago. I carried the same standard load, carrying (as always) the Kuritan laser pistol I found on Proserpina so long ago in addition to the battle rifle and vibro-blade.
I had requested of Wzreranski to come along merely as an observer, or perhaps a squad leader if my unit wished to go. I assured him he would find us physically equal to the task. He agreed with more reluctance than I would have expected of an infantry officer being shown an interest by a 'Mech pilot.
Wzreranski was surprised, too, that there were five of us, and that we were kitted out properly. He detailed one of his men, Choppi by name, and told us we were the fifth squad. He stuck us in his main body.
Caph, history tells us, was once a lush place, one of Man's first homes beyond Earth. You'd be hard pressed to find that place now. Caph was destroyed during the First Succession War, forcing folks to live in more marginal territory. Caph had since been revisited by modern war, combat moving toward possession of valuable assets-unfortunately damaging those assets in the taking. They say that unless someone makes a major investment in Caph, eventually the planet will lose its oxygen and die as a place where men can walk on its surface. But not for another few centuries yet.
It is now a rather barren place. Outdoor gear included a leadlined longjohn. Filter masks aren't necessary, but advisable for any long haul. It was kind of chilly-but then, everywhere was after a year on Somerset. The sky was a light grey/brown, with sand and white clouds. The terrain was hardpack earth, rocky outcroppings, and occasional dust canyons secluded from the wind, broken by a scrubby plant here and there.
We hiked slowly through this terrain for some 12 klicks. It did remind of the desert training ground near Allison. I talked with Choppi during the march about how often the platoon engaged in this type of training. He was rather non-committal, but indicated about once every ten days.
Choppi, like some half of Wzreranski's men, comes from Sierpc. The Sierpci were members of the same infantry regiment. They had all been discharged in Skye, a long way from home and formed the nucleus of a platoon about the same time the Harriers left Kalidasa. After the Proserpina Raid, the Harriers hired them and equipped them with hover IFVs.
We took short breaks every hour, during which I discussed the deployment of the platoon with Lt. Wzreranski-shouldn't the flankers be further out; the formation of the point squad; how he was measuring the rate of march. He seemed a bit distracted and bit terse in his answers-but he did have a full platoon to command.
The end of the third hour, we marched to the base of a flinty ridge. As we arrived, I could see the point squad sliding up to the crest. "'Bout time," mumbled Rasputin, sitting down on a convenient rock. No sooner had she sat down than Wzreranski yelled, "UP!" The column began to snake its way up the ridge.
Once on top, we were anticipating a break, but heard Wzreranski yell, "Dig in!" The platoon fell out to dig rifle pits along the crest of the ridge. The squads split into predefined twos and threes, scanned the ground, and seemed to know where to dig. I asked the platoon sergeant and he vaguely waved us to the right flank. I moved the squad that way and we dumped the packs. I divided the squad in two, giving Choppi to Element two and keeping Zhiao with me.
I scanned the valley opposite the ridge. It was empty, with a dry water course snaking along its center. There were small collections of ruins every couple klicks-farms once, probably. There was a two-vehicle patrol kicking up some dust a good ways out, but this area was supposed to have been secured for weeks. Probably Steiner troops.
I glanced back at the string of rifle pits forming on the ridge. They were not placed for optimum interlocking fire nor to take optimal advantage of the ground cover. I went to ask Wzreranski about his siting.
"Lieutenant Kvinn, you asked to accompany me on this exercise as an observer, yes?"
"You asked to have your lance partake as a skvad, yes?"
"In 'mechs, you have comfortable sit and computers to aid. Perhaps promotes chit chat between skvads.
"In d'infantry, skvad leaders to not discuss battlefield theory until after they have nothing to do! The point of the exercise, skvad leader, is to march and then to dig in! So, dig, sir! Then, chat!" More than a bit rude, I thought. But he had a point. I had volunteered to play by his rules.
I returned and picked up the shovel Hsiu Zhiao had thoughtfully removed from my pack to work on the rifle pit. As I started to dig, I heard Rasputin mutter something about "tied up until the whole case is gone."