Dirty Guns Part I by Charles James

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You had to walk on the land, otherwise all you had was data; not experience, not occupied ground, not knowing that you had done everything you could to help the poor bastards unfortunate enough to live where the Rhiorc invaded just bloody data. That was the real answer. "Shut up," was how King quietly replied.

Grier opened the scanner on the chest of his combat harness. A small flat panel popped out roughly level with his collar bone, angled towards him so he could read it with a downward glance. The sensor array mounted just behind his left shoulder went to work probing ahead of them for any signs of life human or otherwise.

"Clear," Grier said into his radio. The other sensors called in as well. Nothing. Good.

King hoped that's all they would find a deserted section of the city. Twelve blocks up. Twelve blocks back. No hits. No bumps. Sure if there were survivors he wanted to find them drag them out of there, but he'd be just as happy to go home empty handed.

"Zero Three, take point," Sergeant Randal ordered over the squad channel. "Stagger by teams. Move."

King had to hold up his arm to keep Grier back. They were the tail team. Ahead George Tallman and Wheatley White, known by the call signs Zero Three and Zero Four in Two Platoon's second squad, got to their feet and began their dash down the street under cover of the rest of the squad.

King was pretty used to the drills now. In hostile territory you couldn't just run down the street. You had to move quickly, quietly, and most of all carefully. The platoon's second squad quickly spread out as it took the easternmost route. Each squad moved up its own street, running in three parallel paths. Lieutenant Zettler moved with the third squad down the middle. The first squad took the west. They all travelled north, led by the K203's.

Dashing with a viper gun was tough. It was longer and heavier than the standard ranger assault rifle, or the light machine guns that the others had, but King was getting used to it. The viper was a sniper's weapon, very valuable, very deadly. The one in his hands was Dusty's. He'd been carrying it ever since Dusty lost his argument with a Rhiorc bullet. It was a rail gun that had to be manually loaded. Dusty liked the old design. "Less automatic parts to knock around and throw you off when you shoot," he said. The rounds were RPBs rocket propelled bullets. They had a core filled with micro-propellant that got them up to ten times the impact velocity of conventional rounds and without the kickback. Not every squad in the IAF was fortunate enough to have one.

Two and three story buildings lined the sides of the street a mix of residential and business. The soldiers didn't have to go through every building. There wasn't time. They had to go to each door, scan, and walk through the ones where there was a chance of finding someone.

King and Grier moved as a team. Ahead of them the other rangers would jump up, dash along the street, and take shelter in doorways, or allies, or just about wherever they could find cover.

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