Chp. 12: Insulted but Unbowed

May 11, 1995

Central Solis Ortus

De Haan drew back into the building when the crack of a sniper rifle sounded from behind. The man carrying the recoilless rifle across the street fell down, but remained okay. He grabbed his M67 and started across again as another para threw a smoke grenade. De Haan emerged again and fired several bursts into the buildings above them. A second shot rang out and an ammo bearer following the M67 fell to the ground. Seconds later, the shroud of grey covered him up and the shooting shifted elsewhere.

"Medic forward!" A squad leader nearby yelled. De Haan motioned over Kieper and looked to the Sergeant.

"Baanders, get your sharpshooters to the attic and have them look for that sniper. Your machine gunners will go one for below to provide suppressing fire." He commanded.

"Ja Captain." The taller man replied.

As the Sergeant went about barking orders, a second squad began crossing the gap, moving fast and staying low even behind the smoke. De Haan drew back after another man took over watching the door and pulled out his map. He waved Kieper over and took the radio handset. He spent a minute looking at their surroundings before he made his call.

"Bravo 6 this is Alpha 6, we've encountered a sniper and are trying to pinpoint his location. Can you assist?" He radioed.

"Copy Alpha 6, how can we assist?" Captain Markus Geelan replied quickly.

"I need sharpshooters on the upper floors in your sector to get eyes on. Right now I can think of maybe two-dozen different places he could be hiding."

"Do you have at least a general idea of his location?"

"Possibly the church about three blocks north of my position. Or the hospital to my northeast."


"Keep me updated, break, Jaeger 6 is there any fire support on hand should we find he's in a fortified position?"

"I will keep it in mind, but the most you may get is fire support from our mortar section."


De Haan gave Kieper the handset and looked at his maps again. Outside, the crack of the sniper's rifle split the air again. A few of his troops fired sporadically in response, but that petered out as it quickly became pointless. Another shot was followed by the call for a medic; De Haan looked at the first casualty as he was relieved of his equipment for redistribution. The way his lifeless face remained frozen in shock enraged the Captain. The central borough of Solis Ortus was largely secure now, with his battalion mopping up in the northeastern sector and looking for civilians who might need aid. And some verdoemd Belkan was unaware that his side had lost. Worse yet, the moving of one of the companies of Osean armor had limited their options. If they still had enough Sheridans, he'd simply ask one to come forward and blow the sniper's nest to kingdom come. He looked up a hole in the ceiling as a bullet passed through the building.

"Do you see anything?" He called, not caring if it was the sharpshooters or machine gunners who responded.

"Nothing yet, Captain!" A voice shouted back.

De Haan looked down the hall of the house and moved towards a back door. He stopped and looked back at the dead para, then hurried over and grabbed his helmet.

"Anyone see anything like a broom or a shovel or something similar around here?" He yelled.

As he walked towards the back door, One of the soldiers offered a curtain rod he'd taken from the flat's kitchen. De Haan set the helmet atop the object and eased the door open; it led to a narrow alleyway between the flats and a shoe shop. He knelt down, then slowly leaned the helmet and rod outside. Nothing happened for long enough that he pulled it back in and looked to Kieper.

"Get me Second Squad. Tell them to get to this side of the street and prepare to move out. First Squad will continue to hold this end of the block." He ordered.

The shooting slacked off as the Ustians stayed out of sight, only picking up each time someone moved through an open piece of city block. De Haan kept leaning the helmet out the door to keep himself reassured. As he further contemplated his options, he requested that a recoilless rifle team be attached to his force. When he had his men assembled, he sent the squad leader, his RTO, and one fireteam to clear the shoe shop and check the street beyond. He and Kieper stayed with the second fireteam, while the recoilless rifle team stayed behind and out of sight. The rain started to pick up again as De Haan strode down the street with his rifle in one hand and decoy in the other.

They came to the end of the alley and waited while De Haan stuck out the decoy. After a few seconds, when again nothing happened, De Haan ordered the fireteam up in pairs. He stayed at the end of the alley, FAL raised at the buildings once more. As the second pair ran across, the sniper started firing again. De Haan drew back and tried to spot movement or even the bullets as they ricocheted. He saw one man on the other side of the road had been grazed, and another had his helmet cover torn, but no one had been hit directly. Not a very good shot, but everyone gets lucky, De Haan thought. He fired the remainder of his magazine at any building he could reach, then took off with his RTO right behind him. Kieper fired a pair of bursts from his Sterling before he dove to the ground. A shot rang out and sent him scrambling up to the side of a bus.

De Haan scurried to the left until he could see down the street. The squad leader, Kristof, was curled up behind a Fiat that'd swerved into the building on the corner. The M60 gunner with him sprinted forward and took cover next to him, which gave De Haan an idea. He glanced back in the general direction of the shooting and saw a building had partially collapsed. With a few hand signals, He got two of his men to throw smoke grenades down the street. De Haan sent his fireteam forward to head for the collapsed building while the others were to move to a delivery truck that'd apparently caused the Fiat to swerve and crash. De Haan dropped behind a pile of rubble and finally swapped out his empty magazine. He could see the edge of the smoke screen, and while he was running out of smoke grenades he was getting a better and better idea where the offending sniper was. He hurried over to Kristof's position to share his thoughts.

"We have those two lodges ahead, and based on how this bastard has been firing he's in one of them. Once Third Platoon is moving forward, I'm going to have First Squad move up once we're across the street from the lodges. We'll storm each separately." He outlined. Kristoff nodded and passed along the word while De Haan hurried back to Kieper.

With the smoke screen slowly, slowly dissipating, De Haan threw one of the devices on his web gear so it'd all last a bit longer. He waited just long enough for First Squad to exit the building they were holed up in before he ordered Second forward. They hurried down the street, ducking for the first available cover as they reached the edge of the smoke screen. De Haan poked his FAL around the corner and fired multiple bursts. The M60 gunner across the street let loose a long burst until he was hit. The Captain switched out magazines so he could fire a rifle grenade and looked to the gunner on his side of the street.

"Kieper, throw a smoke grenade. Private, Hammer the windows on the fourth floor! Everyone else, follow me!" He barked.

The RTO tossed his grenade as hard as he could, and the M60 gunner popped out to lay into the top floor of the lodge. De Haan stepped out beside him and fired his rifle grenade into the top floor. He pulled a second from his bag and charged forward to the end of the block. He felt a round whizz by the side of his face and stopped behind another pile of rubble. He stuck the second grenade to the end of his rifle and fired it at the third floor. Kieper and the two other riflemen followed on with several rounds, all hoping to at least get the sniper to put his head down. He ran forward again and stopped outside the doors to the lodge. He lowered a hand to the bottom, then up to the top, searching for any signs of a booby trap. When he was certain it was clear, he pushed open the door and let the fireteam inside. He came in last so he could change back to a regular magazine. The bottom floor of the lodge had been largely gutted and much of the furniture had been piled up around the two visible staircases. The paras sprang into action without a word, pulling away the obstacles until someone could get over and start up the stairs.

De Haan ascended the second staircase with Kieper and another rifleman, while the other three men in the group went up the first. Each step seemed to cause the wood to creak louder than gunfire, and any glint he saw worried him more about traps. He turned a bend in the stairs and waited a second until he was sure the way was clear. As he approached the top of the steps, someone fired a long burst in his direction. De Haan hunched down and waited, then started forward again. One of his FALs barked back after another short burst from the enemy G3. De Haan took the chance to move up and burst onto the second floor. He spotted a man in a ghillie suit and fired repeatedly from the hip until the figure went down. He started forward to see if the man had his sniper rifle with him. Something falling down the stairs from behind provoked his instincts before he could see it.

"Grenade!" He warned, jumping towards the open doorway the Belkan had been using.

The explosion rocked the entire floor hard enough that it seemed like the building might collapse. De Haan rose as soon as he felt his body recovering from the shockwave. He stumbled out as the gunner let off a long burst up the stairs, followed by a rifleman. De Haan motioned to the other flight of stairs and two of the men charged up them, eager to put an end to the enemy shooter. De Haan looked over and saw Kieper slowly rising from another doorway. His face was covered with dust, but he was alive. The young man weakly raised a thumbs up and worked to pull himself to his feet. De Haan mouthed for him to stay put and cover the way down before he went to the stairs. He directed the other two riflemen to go up the opposite stairs and hurried on his way. As he reached the bend in the steps, He put his rifle around the corner and fired twice. He came around and went up to the third floor, where he was confronted with the man he sought. The sniper raised his MSG 90 at him, only to be cut down by the two other Ustians. The sniper fell in a fusillade of rounds until he was a crumpled, bloody heap on the ground.

The silence that followed was jarring, leaving the three to stare at the lifeless body in the hall between them. One of the men seemed to finally let out a breath, then shouted "all clear!" down the stairs. De Haan slowly stepped towards the Belkan, then looked down the hall at the window. There was a sniper's nest there, with a rucksack and a few spare magazines. He knelt down and started rummaging through the items in search of information. Maps, written orders, radio frequencies. The first thing that caught his eye was a pin inside the main pocket. The symbol of the BVAP told him all he needed to know about why they'd encountered the snipers. He doubted he'd find anything of use in the bag, so he stood up and walked back to the stairs. He stopped and looked at the two paras, then jerked his head towards the way they'd come up.

"Let's go, boys; we've still got three blocks to clear." He announced…

Gräbner looked up from his driver pouring coolant into their Leopard's coolant reservoir as the sound of jet engines echoed through the valley. He looked over to a nearby Igla team as they readied their weapons for the incoming jet. He reluctantly followed his driver down the side of the tank and into the grass, where his loader and gunner joined them. He looked over to the only other surviving tank of his company as they did the same. All along the road, the remaining troops of the 16th Panzergrenadiers leapt from the vehicles in search of shelter that wasn't a target. Gräbner and his other tank had left with them to help cover the retreat of remaining Belkan forces. On the other side of the mountains, just shy of Directus, the 8th Panzergrenadier Division was waiting to receive them. Gräbner couldn't have been happier to get out of Solis Ortus and away from the 16th.

A ZSU jolted to a stop down the road and raised its weapons to the air. The way the noise echoed, Gräbner couldn't tell if the aircraft was getting closer or farther. Either way, everyone who could was manning a weapon in anticipation. Gräbner kept himself grounded in reality; his MG3 couldn't do a thing against enemy jets. All of a sudden, a missile flashed by overhead in a dive and struck the AA vehicle. He could feel the heat as it washed over the highway, followed by the screams of injured men and the clatter of pieces of metal falling to the ground. A second missile raced overhead, audible by the sound it made as it passed through the air. Its target was around the bend, out of sight. He looked over at the Igla crew again as they nervously waited. The noise grew and grew and soon it almost felt like they were being teased.

"Come on, if you're going to bomb us then bomb us. Otherwise let me go back to napping." His gunner grumbled.

Gräbner craned his neck and finally spotted a single jet rushing towards them. He squinted and squinted until he recognized it as some variant of the F-4 Phantom. The platform had provided him with air support many times. The aircraft dropped flares as it leveled out just above the Iglas' reach and moved closer and closer. It was moving just slow enough that he could make out details, among which was a lack of bombs. He guessed it was a recon variant, and as it passed he saw the roundel of the Sapin Royal Air Force. He stood up and watched the aircraft ascend away and start to circle around. Despite that, some of the M113s opened fire, and as its altitude changed a pair of Iglas went up after it.

"It's just a reconnaissance plane." Gräbner said as he stood up.

The others did the same, then slowly started towards the tank again as the jet came back for another pass. Gräbner stared at the aircraft for a moment, then curled two of his fingers like claws and held them up, palm facing himself. There was an old legend about Lenish archers in the 15th Century, who made the sign to show their enemies they could still use their bows. Lenish troops often used it to taunt Belkan troops during the Great World Gräbner was nowhere near as jingoistic as the pompous Rheindars and his men in the 16th, he wasn't keen on admitting he'd lost. The Allies had come this far, but their luck would run out. If they were smart, they would stop in northern Ustio and declare themselves victorious.

He held up the sign until the aircraft passed. As he looked back, he saw the rest of his crew doing the same at the F-4. When it was gone, he simply nodded to the others and climbed back up the Leopard to get back to maintaining the engine. They had an hour before they were to move north out of the mountains. He stood up when he was atop the hull and looked at the scene down the road. No, not even those two missiles could break them. If anything, the men being carried to ambulances or tended to by medics would only make them more eager to get even…

Colonel Van Hoz watched the C-130 turn southwards, leaving the supplies it'd dropped to float towards the ground. There was a certain sense of pride he felt in watching it, knowing that the Belkans couldn't do a thing to stop Solis Ortus from being retaken and secured. A soft morning breeze brushed his shoulders as the first day of the operation without fighting was well underway. Saddler stood next to him, dividing his break from his command tent between watching that morning's supply drop and watching as helicopters removed the wounded who were stable enough to head for long-term care facilities.

"You know, I've always wanted to see Solis Ortus. My wife and I are avid skiers." He said, trying to find conversation. The shorter man looked at his lanky counterpart.

"Personally, I hate the snow. I associate it with foxes trying to kill my family's livestock." The Colonel commented.

"You shoot 'em when they came around?"

"Yes, but it was tiresome. Hours of sitting around, knowing if they sensed us they wouldn't come anyways. Waiting until we left for supper, so sometimes my mother would bring it to my father and my brothers."

"Count yourself lucky; I was the only boy out of four kids."

Van Hoz laughed at that. There was another pause as the two contemplated the present once more, then Saddler spoke up again.

"Well Colonel, if things go how they should today, then Directus won't be under Belkan control too much longer. Frankly, after the performance of your men, you should've been the first to enter the city instead of getting runner up."

"Does your wife get this much flattery?" Van Hoz snickered.

"Nah, she knows I'm still crazy about her even after 20 years."

"I recognize that we would either be tasked to pave the way to Directus or help take it. Whatever the task, every one of my men would've volunteered if they hadn't been ordered."

They were interrupted by one of the General's aides calling him back to the tent. Saddler turned and hurried inside, with Van Hoz just behind him. The Osean accepted a radio handset and put it to his ear.

"Go for Dragon 6." He said.

"Ah, hallo Dragon 6! This is Hedgehog 6; we are approaching your outer perimeter and wish to make sure that you will not fire on us?" A very thick accent replied. Saddler looked at the Colonel and held out the device.

"If you'd be so kind as to translate, Colonel? It appears our relief is here." He asked. Van Hoz nodded slowly and took the set.

"This is Jaeger 6." He said in his native tongue.

"Jaeger 6 this is Hedgehog 6, we're approaching the pass to get into Solis Ortus and wish to ensure that we will not be fired on. We've halted until the message is passed along."

"I understand...General, they want to ensure that our perimeter knows they're coming."

"Of course they do! The hell does he need to ask about that for?"

"Excitement, perhaps? Best double check if it will satisfy the man...Hedgehog 6 standby, we're confirming."

Saddler grumbled a bit about how they were so close, held up only by a pointless obstacle. He asked the company he had along the highway to get a visual, which he got after a minute. Saddler ensured he wouldn't fire, to which a somewhat confused Captain assured the General that yes, they had positive ID on the Ustian forces.

"Hedgehog 6 move forward and stick to the highway. Friendly forces will direct you to rendevouz with Bulldog 6's forces. Welcome to Solis Ortus."

"Thank you Jaeger 6! On our way."

Van Hoz held out the device to a soldier at the radio while Saddlet called up his fellow Generals to transmit something they'd been waiting days to say.

"Bulldog 6 and Strike 6, this is Dragon 6. Be advised that the ram is going up the mountain. Repeat, the ram is going up the mountain. Confirm, how copy?" He announced.

"Bulldog 6 copies all!" McKaffey replied with audible relief.

"Strike 6 copies all!" Leyland added, just as happy.

"Eagle 6 this is Dragon 6, the ram is going up the mountain."

"Copy Dragon 6. Bravo Zulu all elements. Bravo Zulu." Murdoch said.

Saddler set aside the handset and exited the tent with the Colonel. The two stared at the road narby until shapes appeared on the far end. ERC-90s, their cannons raised as if on parade, came speeding down the highway. More appeared on the sides of the road, heading towards it to funnel through the brigade's defensive positions and head north as fast as possible. Behind the scout vehicles was a long line of M113s. The lead one flew the Ustian flag atop it. Up the mountain, at the town hall, was another one like it next to the Osean flag. The liberation of Directus was at hand.

A/N: Thank you for reading.