Amazing Grace is the third book in the Grace Lord Series by S.E. Sasaki.
The first instant Damien Lamont realized his squad was in a shit storm was when the severed head of Private Manuel Kawaguchi crashed into his faceplate. The sudden impact snapped Damien’s head back and coated his visor with blood and brains.
“Get down!” he bellowed into his comset, knowing that his warning was already too late.
“Count in!” he ordered, trying to be heard above the deafening roar of enemy fire.
Six of his squad, including Kawaguchi, did not respond. In the time it took to take a deep breath, he had lost half a dozen brave men and women. If luck was with them, their battlesuits would save their lives. No such luck for Kawaguchi. Something painful started to twist inside Damien, but he suppressed it. Hard. There was no time for emotion right now.
He’d been ordered to take his squad deep into the rainforest in search of the rebels. Damien and his platoon of genetically-modified, tiger- adapted marines had been stalking through dense forest and dripping mists in full battlesuit for hours. Most of the squad had complained about the suits. They wanted to hunt à la tiger. Damien had insisted on the battle armour, because the suits would immediately convert into cryopods, if the soldiers were badly injured.
The rebels of Dais were extremely well armed. They had shielding which camouflaged their heat signatures from surveillance. This continent was almost all rainforest, but Conglomerate Intelligence had narrowed the location of the rebel headquarters down to a few possible sites. Damien had volunteered his squad to check out this area.
What had he been thinking?
Had they become complacent and careless on the long slog through this thick hot jungle? He could not dwell on that question now.
While crawling on his belly over massive, tangled tree roots, orange- green moss, and putrid-smelling mud, brilliant flashes and rocking concussions shattered the air above his head.
His second-in-command, Corporal Delia Chase, was off to his right. He could see her firing a constant barrage of ion pulses towards a region about two hundred meters ahead. The boles of enormous, shaggy trees were exploding in splinters, as she sprayed the area with pulse rifle fire. Flames were now dancing up the huge trunks, igniting the great branches overhead. The undergrowth was lighting up, as well. Soon the entire forest would be ablaze. The rest of Damien’s squad was now following Delia’s cue.
Dialling down the brightness and increasing the mag on his visor, Damien could see silhouettes racing through the flames. Aiming at them, he fired off a series of shots. A snarl of satisfaction escaped his throat as he watched a number of those bodies fall.
Laser fire, ionic pulses, and exploding projectiles were keeping most of his people pinned down. Damien unleashed his battle drones. Armed and aggressive, the drones would seek out and destroy the rebel shooters. They would also take on any enemy drones headed in their direction.
Lamont sought the positions of his soldiers. Their camouflaged battlesuits made them near invisible, but he could locate their suit beacons through his visor display. He clenched his fists and snarled. There were too many flashing red signals and too few green ones.
The remaining active members of his squad were responding to the attack with seeker rockets, ionized pulse rifle fire, smart bullets, and needle grenades. The rainforest was lighting up like fireworks. Drones were swooping and diving like crazed swallows, intercepting incoming artillery fire. Unfortunately, they were not stopping it all and Damien could hear screaming on all sides of him. Still, screaming was good. It meant the soldier was still alive and the battlesuit/cryopod had a chance to preserve the soldier.
Black shrapnel and ash were raining down, a dark contrast to the brilliant electric streaks of deadly laser fire. Damien’s eardrums had gone numb. Roots, mud, and detritus were erupting skyward all around him, pelting his visor and making it difficult to see.
“Kauffman,” he hollered into his comset, hoping the communications officer had survived, along with his subspace uplink. “Contact Command. Tell them we’ve found the rebels. Send our coordinates and tell them to rain hellfire down three hundred meters due west of our location. Tell them we need it now!”
“On it, Captain,” Kauffman responded.
Damien stared down the line. Kawaguchi had been marching three meters off to his left. His battlesuit had converted into a cryosuit, even though it was pointless without his head. Damien peered to his right.
Corporal Chase was gone. He spun around, searching for her, his heart rate quickening. He began crawling rapidly forward through the tattered undergrowth, his rifle slung back over his shoulder. Damien could not use his claws because of the battlesuit’s gloves and boots, but he could still leap and move as rapidly as a tiger.
“Corporal Chase, ” he barked into his comset. “Yes, Captain,” came the quick response. “State your position!” “Fifteen meters west of you, sir. One o’clock.” “Pull back to my position, Corporal,” he growled, his tone one of barely controlled rage. He wanted to shake Chase. If she advanced any further, she could get
hit by the friendly fire he had just called in. It was due in seconds. “I have one of the rebel personnel carriers in my sights, Captain. The ship is taking off and its just activating its chameleonware. Request permission to fire.” “ . . . Permission granted,” he grated. “Then get your butt back here, Chase!” He saw a string of ionic pulses pierce the smoke and flames. These were followed by a brilliant explosion. A large shuttle suddenly appeared in midair above them and crashed among the burning trees, a tail of black smoke wafting behind it. Loud whoops came over his comset. Then more pulse rifle fire erupted from Chase’s position and another blinding explosion ensued. A second shuttle popped into view, this one closer, flames exploding from its rear. As if in slow motion, approximately fifteen meters to his right and fifty ahead, he saw the earth erupt skywards in a gravity-defying avalanche.
“Incoming bombardment in twenty seconds!” Kauffman announced.
“Chase!” Damien screamed. “Chase, respond! Everyone else, retreat east as fast as you can. In ten seconds, hit the deck!”
Lamont bounded towards the last spot from where he had seen the pulse rifle fire.
“Delia!” he roared as loud as he could. “Delia!”
His boosted tiger musculature hurtled him forward. Air exploded out of him, as a pair of gloved hands appeared out of the haze, halting his forward momentum and throwing him sideways. For the briefest of instances, Damien saw wide, golden eyes through a smeared, muddy faceplate.
Then there was a brilliant concussion followed by nothing.