Part Six

Over by the gas station, Arp was out of uniform. They’d fitted him out with one of the suits of goblin armor. The goblins were short, but they were broad. The biggest suit of armor they’d stolen sort of fit Arp but left a big gap around his waist. The goblin armor was, according to Simons who’d played a lot of war games in high school, an even mix of lorica segmentata like the Romans used and Renaissance armor from when gunpowder was getting bigger but not yet fully in control. So, there was a breastplate, and underneath a series of articulated bands like an armadillo.

Arp was about a foot and a half taller than their unconscious captive. But the little bastard was just about as broad at the shoulders as Arp. Since the goblin armor didn’t reach all the way down Arp’s long torso, they’d taken the segmentata part from one of the incomplete sets and secured that around his waist below the rest of the armor. They’d gotten used to the look of the armor on the goblins over the last week, so it looked rather odd on Arp.

Adding to the oddness, Arp’s khaki boots and utilities were visible underneath the greaves protecting his legs, and he was wearing Oakley sunglasses under the viking-style helmet. His new sword was secured at his side, and he had a rifle slung over his shoulder.

Loitering around Arp were two more armored Marines. Simons, the other fencer, was about 5′ 8″ and fit the armor a bit better than Arp, though the shoulder armor stuck out like football pads on his slender frame. He, too, had a sword and M4.

The third armored Marine was Angelo, a squat Greek-Italian from Pittsburgh. He fit the armor just fine, though he was a bit tall for a goblin. He’d refused a sword, instead taking the hand axes. Angelo said they were franciscas, the Frankish war axe, and what he’d used fighting in the SCA. They looked a bit like tomahawks to Lewis, with a long, narrow head and a wicked spike on the back.

Angelo said he’d been a knight in the SCA and had come in third in the last tournament. If he’d won, Angelo said, he’d have been King of the East. After watching Angelo play with an axe in each hand, Lewis wasn’t sure the corporal was the blowhard he’d always seemed to be.

Angelo was painting his corporal’s stripes on the pauldron, the shoulder piece of his armor. He’d already painted a Batman symbol on his breastplate.

The last two sets of armor were embarrassing. Pethoukis had insisted that Lewis wear one, as he was the captain. Evans had backed him up, and Lewis had accepted with ill grace. Lewis wasn’t a tall man, but he was muscular, and with a little work the armor fit as well as his bulky kevlar ever did. And the stuff was miraculous. The goblin armor felt surprisingly light in the hand, but once on, the weight completely disappeared.

Like the others, he still had his official desert boots on and his utilities under the armor. His sword in its red scabbard, .45, and a new battle rifle completed the kit.

Wearing medieval armor might feel silly, Lewis thought, but at least I can get revenge for the indignity and order Pethoukis to wear the last set.

***

The two regiments of goblins hadn’t exactly merged, but they were lined up together when the war horns began to sound. The Marines were starting to recognize some of the calls, this one meant, “Get ready.” If you were a real fan of bagpipe music, this one was almost tolerable, Lewis thought.

From the way they set up, Lewis suspected that the northern regiment, the one that had been pursuing them for the last week, was going to attack up the shallow slope to the left of the road, and the new regiment, the one they’d hit last night, would come right up the road. The ground to the right of the two-lane road was too steep and rough for an easy assault.

Lewis tried to remember more about the Civil War battles he’d read about and seen in movies. Marine doctrine didn’t typically call for direct frontal attacks on fortified positions. Not that it was out of the question – the Marines had a long tradition of brutal frontal assaults from the Pacific islands in WWII back to Mexico City and Libya two hundred years ago. That was the “Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli” line in the Marine Hymn. But modern weaponry and firepower meant that forces attacked in dispersed formation, spread out to reduce the chances of getting wiped out all at once by artillery or machine gun fire. A Civil War captain would have thought of the typical Marine disposition as skirmish order – but the weight of fire from a platoon of Marines in skirmish formation would be a great deal heavier than even the close packed ranks of a typical Civil War regiment, even counting the cannons.

The goblins, these ones at least, didn’t have archers, so they didn’t have any ranged attack capability. They depended on closing fast and making a savage attack in close order, counting on their armor to protect them until they met with the enemy.

That had hurt them, some, against his Marines, as Lewis was free to fire mortars, machine guns and rifles at them the whole time they were charging in. Jackson had called it the mojo, but whatever it was it had greatly reduced the effectiveness of the Marines’ fire. Now, though, we’ll see what happens. Every Marine is a rifleman, Lewis thought. And now we can shoot back.

If the goblins stay in column, would it increase the risk of them penetrating his defenses? What was movie with Denzel Washington, Glory? Lewis seemed to recall that the 54th Massachusetts Reginment had attacked in column against that fort. He wondered if the goblins would do the same.

The few explosives they had would slow the assault up the road. The mortars would go to the other regiment attacking up the slope. If their rifle and machine gun fire was as effective as he hoped it would be, they could fight off an assault. One assault, maybe.

But he was almost done with mortar rounds. Belts of ammo for the .50s and SAWs nearly gone. He had a fair supply of ammo for his Marines’ rifles, but if they were reduced to just rifles, he’d have no edge whatsoever. And now he was really concerned that he had no way to bug out to the west. Trapped.

***

The sun was high and the heat was murderous. The goblins shimmered eerily as they baked on the desert floor. The war horns swelled louder and faster as the goblins stepped off.

The northern regiment flowed sharply into three cohorts – blocks of about 300 goblins each in close order, three ranks deep. The southern regiment maintained its column formation, as Lewis had suspected they might.

“Pethoukis, the party’s starting.”

Pethoukis picked up his radio and began giving orders to the teams spread out down the wall they’d built up along the edge of the little village. Lewis thanked a merciful God that at least the short-range radios still worked. They’d hadn’t been able to raise anyone more than a couple miles away for hours.

“Sir, they’re going to overlap the end of our line.”

Lewis looked at the advancing goblins. The three cohorts of the northern regiment stretched out far to his left. Their lines were longer than his, and the goblins were going to curl around the end of his defenses. Unsurprising seeing as there are a thousand of them and less than a hundred of us, Lewis thought.

“Let’s shift a little that way. The ones coming up the right aren’t going to be able to move off the road easily.”

Lewis strode over to the the last barricade across the road. He felt a fool wearing armor out of some nerd teenager’s dreams. But he knew it was better than anything the DoD could buy and paint khaki. He wondered if the Department of Defense still existed. Not that its disappearance would be an *entirely* bad thing, he smirked.

The road was potholed and narrow. He came up behind the Marines at the low rubble wall. Here we go again, fifth verse, same as the first. He’d had range markers, either inconspicuous flags or small flashes of paint, placed along the approaches to the village. When the banner man – banner-goblin, he supposed – hit a thousand yards, things began to happen.

Evans and his team on top of the gas station began firing. Lewis watched the goblin carrying the banner slump. The goblin behind him stepped up and caught the banner before it fell. That goblin dropped. A third goblin dropped as he reached for the red banner. The banner fluttered awkwardly to the dusty road.

The column spread a little as they stepped around the fallen banner. Lewis smiled. They do learn.

Pethoukis rendered the point moot for the next goblin caught between honor and self preservation when he detonated the first of the IEDs they’d placed under the road. The first three ranks just disappeared, goblin parts and rubble flying for dozens of yards with a concussive boom.

Lewis had lost enough Marines to those bastards, that it was deeply satisfying to see someone else on the sharp end. The goblins behind were blown back in a jumble and the whole column accordioned to a stop.

“I swear to God, sergeant, there’s nothing more wrong than watching these bastards stand back up when you kill them.” As he spoke most of the goblins stood up and shook themselves back into order. And started marching.

“Next,” Pethoukis said, and remote-detonated the next bomb.

***

Lewis marched over to the left along the wall. The ground sloped gently down to the plain, and the three blocks of goblins were pushing steadily up under a rain of fire. Every fourth step, they’d all shout, “Huuh” like they’d been punched in the gut. Simmons was raining mortar fire down on them, walking the rounds perfectly down the front rank.

Lewis watched a round hit, just behind the front rank. Black smoke with a fiery heart and a hollow crack. The goblins in front were blown twenty feet forward. When the smoke cleared, he saw a half-dozen goblins twisted and broken on the ground. A dozen more stood back up. The goblins closed their ranks and stepped over their dead.

They goblins moved fast, and the Lewis was about out of mortar rounds. His Marines started firing when the goblins hit the 600-m marker. It was a little long range for the short barreled M4 carbines they carried. Putting a round through a goblin’s visor at that range was a long shot, literally, but Lewis knew they’d need every chance they could take.

Lewis watched Haulk take aim through an iPhone. He was one of the lucky ones – he’d had the Theodolite app installed – an app that made the phone into an imitation surveyor’s instrument. It had a nice set of crosshairs and gave you GPS and inclination markers. Coleman had made it a popular download in the company, said it was like the binoculars Luke had in Star Wars. They had no internet here in the back of beyond. Those who didn’t have it were using camera apps without crosshairs.

The camera on the phone wasn’t really high res, but Evans had done a good job sighting it in. He watched Haulk’s fire fall, and he was hitting even at this range. Next to Haulk, a fire team not blessed with iPhones was using Jackson’s trick, calling their shots knowing that if they all fired at the same goblin they had at least a chance for a head shot.

The Captain moved down the line offering encouragement or a pat on the shoulder. He looked back when the mortars fell silent for lack of ammo and saw the mortar crews take up firing positions on the edge of the houses behind the wall. So much for artillery support.

***

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Continue on to Part Seven.

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