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Steel Gauntlet

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Steel Gauntlet

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Author: David Sherman
Dan Cragg
Publisher: Del Rey, 1999
Series: Starfist: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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"Marines ain't supposed to sit. We're supposed to kill."

After the resource-rich planet Diamunde is seized by the armed forces of industrialist Marston St. Cyr, the Confederation Marines face their most desperate battles yet against the mechanized forces of the bloody usurper. Promised a walkover by military planners, instead the Marines must run a gauntlet of steel, with weaponry three hundred years out of date.

For the Confederation's invasion army to seize the planet, the Marine FISTs first have to secure a planethead against St. Cyr's much larger forces which are equipped with superior weapons. Together with their outgunned comrades, the Marines of 34th FIST must do the impossible--or die . . .



"Tell me, Gunnery Sergeant Bong, is it true what they say about Marines?"

"What's that, Madame Proconsul?"

"Call me !Tang'h, Gunnery Sergeant. Well, is it true?"


"That they're like their swords...?" She smiled seductively, then looked quickly at the ceremonial sword fastened by its peace knot to his sword belt.

"A good Marine is always ready to stand tall for action, ma'am."

"Gunny, I think you should take a look at this," a small voice said in his right ear.

"Not now, Winterthur," he whispered into the throat mike concealed in the high stork collar of his dress scarlets.

"Gunny, it's really important."

"Excuse me for a moment," Gunnery Sergeant Bong said with some frustration. The Honorable Mistress !Tang'h looked even more ravishing than usual, Bong thought as he turned away from the Second Assistant Proconsul from Kalari'h. She'd been flirting with him for several months, and he'd finally managed to convince himself that a personal liaison on an official liaison mission might help in the successful completion of that mission. He blocked out the sounds and sights of the diplomatic reception that swirled around him.

"Take a look at what? This better be good!" he said.

"Ah, Gunny." Lance Corporal Winterthur's voice sounded nervously bemused behind the buzz of the receiver in Gunny Bong's ear. "Somebody just drove up with a bunch of tanks."

"What kind of tanks?" Bong asked. "Chemical? Storage? Hydroponic?"

"Don't know their model, Gunny, but they've got turrets with what look like projectile cannons and plasma guns. Looks to be sixty of them."

Bong blinked. "Armored vehicles?"

"That's an affirmative, Gunny."

"You sure they aren't armored personnel carriers?" Bong was already walking briskly out of the reception hall, the Honorable Mistress !Tang'h forgotten. Major Katopscu, the Confederation military liaison, watched him leave.

"They're not APCs; they look like something out of a history vid," Winterthur replied over the receiver.

"I'm on my way." As soon as Bong reached the corridor, he broke into a sprint toward the main gate, two hundred meters away. His left hand undid the peace binding that secured the hilt of his ceremonial NCO sword to the sword belt so it couldn't be drawn and shoved the binding into his trouser pocket.

Tanks? Where could anybody come up with sixty tanks? Where could they be made? Then Bong stopped wondering about the wheres and started thinking about the whys of tanks at the gate.

Throughout history, whenever someone paraded cavalry, drove up in tanks, or surrounded an embassy with infantry or artillery, it usually meant war. Three planetwide wars had already been fought on Diamunde for control of its wealth--wars big enough that the Confederation Army had to be sent in to fight along with the Marines who'd originally been dispatched to deal with the situation. The gunny hadn't fought in any of those wars himself but he'd served with plenty of Marines who had. Wars on Diamunde were tough, and just then it seemed that he and his ten Marines might be all that stood between the Confederation of Worlds and another war. He whispered a prayer to the nine Buddhas of peace that Winterthur was mistaken.

"Allah's pointed teeth," he whispered as he rounded the final corner, the Buddhas of peace forgotten and the god of a warlike people invoked. A dozen armored behemoths were arrayed under the lights outside the compound, and a lone Marine, blaster held at port arms, stood at attention in dress scarlets in front of the closed vehicle gate. One tank, probably the battalion commander's, stood five meters in front of PFC Krait. The muzzle of its main cannon pointed directly over his head. In the turret hatch the tank commander casually stood looking down at the Marine.

Bong didn't think there was a chance that none of the tankers were using night-vision devices, but he took that chance anyway and kept to the deepest shadows he could find as he rushed the last thirty meters to the gate house. "Winterthur, I've got your situation in sight," he whispered. "Be with you in about ten seconds."

"Glad to have you aboard, Gunny."

"What did they have to say?" Bong asked as he entered the cinder-block gate house through its rear door and joined the corporal. Cinder block. A nice, cheap building material. The compound's outer walls were also built of cinder block, so neither the gate house nor the walls could stand against a tank's guns or even slow down a tank if its commander decided to drive over or through them. When the embassy was built, nobody had considered the possibility of an armored assault on the embassy compound.

Winterthur shook his head. "Nothing, Gunny. Just a polite request that we open the gate for them." His mouth twisted in a wry smile. "He said," he nodded toward the tank commander looking down at Krait, "they left their invitations in their other suits."

"Right." Bong kept an eye on the lead tanker while he rummaged through the small storage areas of the gate house. "Where is it?" he asked. Winterthur pointed at a drawer. Bong pulled the drawer open, withdrew a holstered hand blaster and hastily strapped it on. A side arm wouldn't be any use against a tank, but having it would make him look more serious than the silly ceremonial sword would.

"What's he doing out there?" Bong asked, nodding toward Krait. If one of the two Marines on the gate was facing down the tanks, he thought, it should be Winterthur, the senior man.

Winterthur shook his head. "As soon as they arrived, Krait said, 'I always wanted to be Horatio at the bridge,' and ran out before I could stop him."

Bong shook his head. Typical of many young Marines, Krait had more courage than common sense. And, compared to the tanks, he wasn't any better armed than Horatio had been. He dismissed the thought. "Is the guard mounted yet?" he asked as he gave his uniform and equipment a final straightening.

"I called Corporal Kovaks right after I called you," Winterthur said. He looked down the street, deeper into the compound. "I hear them coming now."

Bong touched the mike at his throat to change the transmission frequency. "Kovaks, Bong. Hold back. Get everybody out of sight." The rest of the detachment was probably in chameleons and effectively invisible to the eye. But those tanks most likely had infravision devices and could see the Marines' heat signatures. He shook his head sharply and wondered if there was any point in being out of sight. The embassy Marines could take on an infantry battalion and win, maybe even a light armor battalion, but they didn't have any weapons that would be effective against heavy armor.

Satisfied that he was as ready as he could ever be, Bong stood at attention and faced the gate-side door of the gate house. "Wish me luck," he said softly.

"Good luck, Gunny," Winterthur replied as he opened the door for him.

Bong marched outside to a position in front of PFC Krait and pivoted to face him.

Krait sharply twisted his blaster from the diagonal of port arms to the vertical of a blaster salute. "Gunnery Sergeant, Post One reports all secure," he said in a loud, firm voice.

Bong had to admire Krait; he wasn't sure he'd be that calm himself if their positions were reversed. "Post One all secure, aye," Bong responded, and returned the salute. Krait returned his weapon to port arms as sharply as he'd brought it to salute. "Who are these people behind me and why haven't they been dispersed?"

"Gunnery Sergeant, they say they are invited guests and forgot to bring their invitations." A smile flickered across Krait's lips. "I couldn't find their names on the guest list."

"Is your weapon armed?" Bong asked in a lower voice.

"You know it is," Krait answered just as softly.

Bong nodded. "I'll deal with the situation," he said loudly enough for the tank commander to hear him, then dropped his voice again. "If anything happens, take out the man in the turret first. Understand?"

PFC Krait grinned. "Got it, Gunny. He's mine."

Bong turned around, clasped his hands behind his back, and casually looked up at the commander of the lead tank.

"I am Gunnery Sergeant Bong, commander of the Marine Security Detachment. Can I help you, sir?"

The tanker leaned a little farther forward over his folded arms so he could look directly at Bong and smiled wolfishly. "We want to go to the party," he said in a voice that crackled with suppressed laughter.

"Certainly, sir. I'll be happy to admit you to the reception. May I see your invitation, please."

The tank commander barked out a laugh. "I don't have an invitation," he said, still grinning. "I want to crash the party."

"I'm sorry, sir, but the reception is by invitation only."

"I'm quite sure the omission of my name from the guest list was inadvertent," the tank commander said. He wasn't grinning anymore. "Do you know who I am, Gunnery Sergeant?"

"Nossir, I haven't had the pleasure."

"I am Major General Marston St. Cyr, commander of the Diamundian Armed Forces."

"Sir." Bong brought his right hand up in a crisp salute, but didn't hold the salute for St. Cyr to return--a very polite insult. "I'm acquainted with your name." St. Cyr's name figured prominently in dispatches about the deteriorating situation on Diamunde, but Bong had never seen an image of him...

Copyright © 1999 by David Sherman

Copyright © 1999 by Dan Cragg


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