Читать онлайн "Onslaught: The War With China - The Opening Battle"

Автор David Poyer

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... of a limp dick, but one Teddy owed his life to.

That was where he’d gotten fucked up. His Achilles tendon, shredded in the fall down the mountainside. They’d had to graft in tendons from his shinbone, then fight some stubborn cipro-resistant Afghani infection. Three months in a cast, six months of physio. And limited duty since.

Until this. Probably his Last Fucking Hurrah. Then it’d be back to Salena. She’d stuck while his leg healed. He was almost forty. Too old for a top-tier operator. Time, maybe, to tackle LA again…

He was checking his watch again when the intercom came on.

“Opening,” it said.

* * *

Days before, he’d leaned against an equipment cabinet as a gray-haired buzzcut in slacks and a polo shirt introduced himself. Retired Colonel Somebody, from the Marine Corps history office, had unrolled a topo to give the team a once-over of a curved small island, its beaches and lagoon, interior and relief. Then dimmed the lights, and brought up a PowerPoint slide.

“Early 1942. The Japanese controlled the western Pacific. Their next goal was Australia. We planned to stop them by seizing the airfield they’d built on Guadalcanal. But a distraction was needed before the First Marine Division landed.

“The target was Makin Island. Well placed as a seaplane and reconnaissance base, on the eastern edge of the newly expanded empire. An attack here would divert the enemy and confuse him as to Allied intentions. Additional objectives were to collect intelligence, capture prisoners, and do all the damage possible to the installation.

“Evans Carlson’s Second Marine Raider Battalion trained on mock-ups on Oahu. Intel predicted two hundred fifty defenders and a shore battery covering the lagoon. So the marines decided to land on the ocean side of the island.”

A photo of a very old diesel submarine. Teddy had fidgeted, glancing at Knobby beside him. Whispered, “What is this, ancient history? We got rebreathers to rebuild.”

The prof said, “The raiders embarked on two subs for the trip from Hawaii. The plan envisioned disembarking into rubber rafts at 0300, hitting the beach before dawn, and withdrawing no later than 2100 that same day.

“The weather was bad when they reached Makin, but they went ahead anyway. Unfortunately, heavy swells drowned the motors on the boats. The tide set the subs toward the reef. Carlson decided to abandon a simultaneous assault and began paddling toward the beach, ordering his men to follow.

“They made it ashore, but the boats landed scattered across a mile. Also, one man fired his rifle accidentally, losing the element of surprise.”

Teddy caught Swager’s eye. His buddy inclined his head slightly. They both frowned back at the screen, which now showed movement arrows and tactical symbols.

“The marines moved inland to the coastal road. The defenders, now alerted, engaged them in a fierce firefight near the hospital. They had machine guns, flamethrowers, and snipers.

“When dawn broke things got even worse. A troop transport and a patrol boat were coming in to the wharf. Carlson managed to pass this to the submarines. Fortunately, the subs managed to sink both ships with their deck guns.

“For the rest of the morning Carlson’s men were pinned down by machine guns and snipers. That afternoon the Japanese bombed and strafed them, and landed reinforcements by seaplane. Though fighting hard, and holding against a banzai attack, Carlson had to pull back. He buried his dead and, as dark fell, withdrew to the beach to extract.

“This was when luck really turned against them. The heavy surf dumped the boats as they tried to paddle out. They lost nearly all their weapons and equipment, and finally gave up trying and established a perimeter just off the beach.

“Carlson called a meeting at midnight. His determination to fight on, even without adequate weapons or ammunition, meant most of his men might die in battle. But they accepted it.

“At dawn, some of the unwounded raiders fought through the surf and made it back to the subs, which had stayed despite Japanese air superiority. With the ocean-side surf still too high to get his wounded out, Carlson decided to try to escape via the lagoon side. After a terrific struggle, he managed to get his wounded and most of his men to the subs, using the remaining boats and a native outrigger canoe. Nine men were left behind, however. They were captured and beheaded.”

The colonel looked at the overhead. “The Raiders destroyed a radio transmitter, gasoline, and other stores. The Japanese landed a thousand reinforcements on Makin, so the diversion worked. There was a PR bonus, too. Makin was the first offensive action by American forces. But there wasn’t much gained for such heavy losses.”

The colonel turned the projector off. “To summarize the lessons of the operation: The intel’s probably going to be wrong. Surprise won’t always work. Luck can cut both ways. And leadership is all-important.”

He paused, then seemed to shrink, to lose his classroom confidence. “I’m not sure why I was asked to give you this briefing. And probably it’s best I don’t know. But I can guess. So can you, probably. Thanks for your attention.”

* * *

The light in the trunk turned green, then went out. A clunk, Teddy’s ears popped, and the hatch unsealed. “All right, let’s go,” he said into his throat mike, and unplugged. One after the other, the team uncoiled. A black circle appeared above as the hatch powered open.

The open sea pulsed and flashed with light. They were surrounded, enmeshed in a coldly glowing net. Green and blue, it shaded off into a shimmering glow, as if they hovered high in the ionosphere, among the northern lights. The gossamer illumination snaked and swirled, like snow in the White Mountains.

Levering his fins, wincing at a flash of pain from the leg, Teddy rotated slowly, hanging in ultraviolet space.

A hundred yards away, a black whale-shape was emerging from the second sub. The swimmer delivery vehicle. Battery-driven, with its own sonar. Only one sub in the Pacific could transport it. But they needed more than the six SEALs it could carry to accomplish whatever their objective was.

Whatever that was. He still didn’t know. Echo had been given a warning order, which let them gather equipment, conduct training, then do a rehearsal — this one, in fact. A Patrol Leader’s Order would follow, to detail individual responsibilities. But nothing had specified their objective, beyond the generic “hostile beach” and that it involved sabotage, demolition, and intelligence collection. Maybe Commander Laughland knew. But he wasn’t saying.

All Teddy had to go on was the briefing about Makin. That, and the fact that his investments had been wiped out.

His broker had called before they left Hawaii. An immense tide of short-selling. The markets had closed, but not before he’d lost everything his grandmother had left him. Since then, the snippets of news they got aboard the sub had made clear that things had gotten even worse. Shit, he’d never expected to have to live on his Navy retirement. In LA, that would be a grim prospect.

Snap out of it, Obie! Shaking his head, he sucked gas from the Dräger, mainlining oxygen until his bloodstream sang.

The beach gradient was shallow, and they figured the sand would be laced with listening devices and mines. The subs would have to stand off. The delivery vehicle would make two runs, dropping the first team, along with a homing sounder, at sixty feet, then going back for the second team. Once assembled, the force would power the last miles in to shore with prop-driven scooters, towing weapons and equipment. After that…

He hovered, waiting, until the hatch cycled again with a thud that echoed through the sea. When it powered up he reached in.

The Package was five feet long, black, vaguely torpedo shaped, but with an annular bump or ring around its midpoint. Definitely not the usual satchels he’d gotten all too familiar with in Afghanistan, blowing down walls and doors.

He beckoned, and Swager got the other side — there were handles on it, to make it easier to maneuver, but even in water it was heavy as a bomb — and working together, they got it up and onto the curving steel hull. He secured the lift saddle on it and inflated it with gas from a bottle that dangled on a hose. It rose from the hull and he valved a little off, until it floated weightless, massive but balanced in the sea.

Another hand signal, and he and Swager swam it out into the void. The lights swirled around them. He saw now what they were. A massive tide of coelenterates, flashing like pulsars in the dark. A spiral of argon light rotated slowly, a blue galaxy in interstellar blackness. He put out a hand; the glow passed through his fingers without resistance, intangible, like smoke. Another cloud succeeded it, passing like snowflakes in utter silence.

A touch on his arm. Swager looked puzzled behind the flat plate of the mask. What the fuck? he gestured. Clanks and thuds echoed through the water as the SEALs clambered into the vehicle, stowed gear, and switched to the onboard breathing supply.

As the motors whirred into life, Teddy glanced toward the surface. Only sixty feet up, but totally black. No moon. No stars. Only the weird shimmer of that cold luminescence surrounded them, appearing, created, sweeping past, then vanishing forever, back into the void.

* * *

An hour later, crouched behind his carbine, he rose slowly from the sea. Facemask first, the fold-down backup sight of the SOP-modd’d M4 flipped up in fr