Who writes combat well?

It’s something of an art form. I’m not sure I grasp it well, but I try. Some things I note about combat are that it’s difficult to parse out things and do them at the same time. For instance, it’s hard to do a contact report (SALUTE) while you’re firing to suppress the enemy. Also, while aimed fire is desired, most of the time you’re doing area fire. The enemy usually doesn’t cooperate by standing still or remaining outside of cover unless it’s WWI.

I’ve been chewing on Chapter 9, in which there’s a fight in a dark building in a hallway between four people with automatic weapons and heavy combat armor.  I wanted to show the little bits and pieces that comprise the fireteam communications between the two marines, the situation reports upstairs to the squad leader plus his orders back down, and put that all in the context of an intense firefight happening at less than 10 meters in a hallway.  It’s only 2 pages of stuff, the rest is the context before/after of the chapter.

Now, my wife insists that most combat scenes in movies are throwaway because it’s impossible to properly track what’s going on, and thus they’re a waste of time. Maybe she’s right. How does this following scene track? Are you able to follow what’s happening, or are there points where the narrative is too slim? I try to assume the reader is smarter than me and will get things from context and understand the scene, but I know that things that are clear in my mind aren’t necessarily so when I write them.

Here’s the chapter:

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Sergeant Ihejirika’s armor loomed in the doorway. His weapon was up. “Bring anyone with you? Or is the back trail safe? We’ll need to evac upstairs, grab your suit,” he pointed at a hallway, “in the cafeteria, suit up, ready to go in two millis. Father O’Hara, it’s been a pleasure staying at your orphanage and I regret that there may be consequences of our stay which we did not anticipate.”

“I know,” said O’Hara.

Yuen rushed down the hall past Anaru, Radawski, and the two navy guys, overshot the cafeteria and doubled back to find her suit positioned for access. Bendtsen stood next to the armor, and about twenty children ranging in age from infants to teens sat behind makeshift table barricades. Several nuns circulated around, and sister Mary Angela greeted Yuen as if nothing were amiss.

“I heard about the death of your officer and the woman. So sad,” said sister Mary. “Are you all right? Do you need food? Water?”

“No, thank you,” Yuen said. She listened to the squad net as Ihejirika gave the orders for Nguyen-Nguyen’s squad to occupy the storage building on twenty-five.

“I need to lose weight,” Nguyen said over the net. “This stairway is pretty tight, but you can just barely make it through. You’ll need finesse.”

Yuen stepped into her suit, this time using Bendtsen for balance, and commenced suiting up. Sweat, cleaner, and oil replaced the smell of children, food, and incense.

“Authorized user: Anasia Yuen, LCPL, ISM,” blinked the display.

“Worked this time? Stablum had to reboot three times, and he’s got a check system warning recommending he turn in his suit immediately to the nearest certified naval engineer to perform major fixes.” Said Bendtsen over a PTP network.

“Like that’s going to happen. Yeah, I’ve got residual damage from the fire last night, but mostly at 95%. I’ve got some major maintenance that needs doing, but it’s not like there’s a naval engineer for a few billion light years who can do it, or that we have parts.” Yuen said, completing all her system checks and picking up her two rifles. She slung one and held the other ready in her hands.

“Maybe we can pick up replacements.” Bendtsen said. “Isn’t this the home of Chieftain Combat Systems?”

Yuen laughed. “I forgot that. It’s not a bad idea, but how are you going to get requisition forms from Naval Logistics signed?”

“Miss?” came a voice from a boy, about eight years old.

“Yes?” Yuen said, opening her helmet.

“All squad, prep for evac in a milli, pull back from positions on my mark,” radioed Ihejirika. A countdown timer popped up on each helmet screen with 144 seconds. A milliday was 144 seconds, an easy and natural number for people to remember. It had been thus for millennia.

“Miss, did you come from here?” the boy asked. The children around him tittered.

“Hold on,” Yuen said. “One and two copy evac on timer,” she said over the net. Then, to the boy, she said, “What’s your name?”

“Anton.” The boy said.

“I’m Anasia.” She said. She held out her armored hand. “Shake, Anton.”

He enthusiastically grabbed her glove and shook.

“Yes, Anton, I’m from here. I grew up here, in the girl’s ward, down the hall. And I joined the Imperial Space Marines.”

“Are you in trouble?” Anton said.

“Who told you that?”

“Mr. Tubesteak told us that we needed to hide for a while, because there were bad people coming…because of you.”

“Private Tubesteak is right. You need to hide after we leave so no one gets hurt.” Yuen eyed Bendtsen. Mr. Tubesteak? His eyes twinkled. “Now I need to go, but maybe we’ll see each other again,” she said. “Keep your head down and protect your friends here, Anton.”

“Let’s go, P-… Yuen.” Bendtsen said. “Bye, you guys. Stay safe. Stay down after we leave.”

A few of the kids waved with abandon, and some called his name and said goodbye.

Yuen closed her helmet and moved into the hallway. It was time to earn her pay. When did I stop earning it? The problem is that the pay might accrue every moment of time, but it’s so little that it means I work for less than the guy selling Kafe’ down the street.

Mister Tubesteak, you were pretty cozy with the kids back there,” she said on the PTP net.

Bentsen said, “Uh, I like kids. They’re good kids, Yuen. I hope the ACP doesn’t mess this place up because we were here.”

“First level pull up to second level storeroom,” Ihejirika said on the radio. “Anaru, Radawski, carry the suit.”

The power in the orphanage failed at that moment. The rooms and hallways went dark.

Yuen faced the main door and brought her gun up.

“Nine to squad, power cut, prep for possible breach.”

“One copies, we’re pulling back from the main hallway lower level. Bendy, move back to the stairs.” Yuen said. She moved into a doorway midway down the hall and crouched, her rifle still aimed at the door.

“Moving.” Bendtsen said on the fireteam net. The stairs were at the opposite end of the hallway from the main entrance, through a doorway on the side of the hall.

“Weapons free, watch for civilians. One and Two, you are to fall back to the storeroom second level for evac through the passage,” Ihejirika said on the squad net.

“Copy weapons free and fallback for evac,” Yuen responded. Via her external speakers, she said, “Everyone stay down in the cafeteria.”

“We’re okay, we’re okay—” someone yelled from the cafeteria, probably Mary Angela. Her words were lost in an explosion as the front entrance burst inward. A bulky figure in powered armor peeled through the front door and to his left, followed immediately by another person in heavy armor who peeled to the right. Both their rifles were up and firing down the hall. Yuen’s rifle spat slugs into the first invader, and her suit registered bullet hits from the two invaders. The room at the entryway gave both invaders room for cover on either side of the hall, and they crouched and leaned around the corners to fire at the two marines.

“Two to Nine, Contact! Front door—” a burst of firing, “level one, two HCA, we are engaged!” Bendtsen said.

“Breaking contact, Bendtsen cover! Fall back to the stairway and move up.” Yuen said. Some systems were flashing red on her suit.

“Set, covering!” Bendtsen fired on the two corners behind which the the invaders sought cover. Neither invader seemed injured by Yuen and Bendtsen’s fire.

“Moving!” Yuen responded, moving backwards and staying to one side of the hallway. Bendtsen continued to fire down the open side of the hallway to suppress the two HCA suits.

At least they can’t hit the second level with HCA suits… unless they are marine-trained.

Yuen took cover in a hallway closer to the stairs at the end of the hall, and Bendtsen indicated reloading.

“Covering!” Yuen said. She fired on single shot, well-aimed shots clipping and going through the corners where the two enemy HCA suits were covering, presumably also reloading. “Nine, one, sitrep, we are falling back to the stairway with covering fire, at the stairway now and ready for evac from this building in less than a quarter-cent. “

“Up! Covering!” Bendtsen yelled.

“Nine copies.”

“Moving!” Yuen said, reloading as she backed up to the stairway. Bendtsen fired more shots as she passed him, then stepped back up the stairs to follow.

“Alpha one and two are on the second level, moving to storeroom.” Yuen said on the squad net. “Bendtsen cover, I’m falling back.”

“Copy.” Bendtsen finished reloading and aimed his rifle. “What was that?! None of my shots seem to have affected them.”

“Fifteen millimeter isn’t what it used to be,” Yuen said, bringing her rifle up from the storeroom door and covering the stairway. “Covering!”

“Falling back,” Bendtsen said. He hustled down the hallway to the storeroom door and moved past Yuen.

“Get in the stairwell, move, I’ll hold this as the tail,” Yuen said.

“Copy.”

Weapons fire sounded from the floor below, and screams.

“They’re killing them!” Bendtsen said.

“Fall back, private.” Yuen said. Bendtsen hesitated, then moved into the hidden stairwell. Yuen noted an unarmed civilian in her suit’s threat display, a green figure in the storeroom. Father O’Hara.

“This is goodbye, O’Hara.” Yuen said. “They’ll probably shoot you if you aren’t careful.”

“I’m ready,” Father O’Hara said. “I think they already killed my flock, my kids.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Yuen said. “That wasn’t us.”

“Top of the stairs, Yuen, waiting for you,” Sergeant Ihejirika said on the squad net.

“You brought them here. I forgive you.” O’Hara said. “Here’s the key for the truck. Better get moving so I can close this hidden door. Lock the top. If you need to come back, you know the combination. You won’t ever come back. Find your friend, find that place that cloned you, and find your sister/mother. God bless you.”

Yuen slipped up into the narrow stairway, and O’Hara closed the hidden door.

“Let’s move, people, we need to find transport and repairs, bravo pull from the second floor down the first floor.” Ihejirika ordered.

“Bravo copy, coming to first floor.”

“Hope you have a plan, Sergeant,” Yuen muttered.

“I do. We take the truck.” Ihejirika said.

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One thought on “Who writes combat well?

  1. At first glance – and this comes from a fellow writer who struggles with writing good combat scenes as well – it seems like it’s a bit cluttered with ancillary goings-on. There is some exposition that distracts the pace. I have bee told that the key to action scenes is to keep the pace and focus on the events and leave back story, exposition and even deep POV for later as they tend to distract from the sequence. I totally dig the fire team fire and maneuver, though.

    Here’s how I did it. This is an outside fight where a deliberate attack goes awry.
    https://mlawrence1966.wordpress.com/6-attack/

    Liked by 1 person

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