This story was probably written in the brief period just after 1989 when Pons' and Fleischmann's cold fusion announcement had not yet been thoroughly debunked.

The story begins with a patrol by a mounted unit/company of the U.S. Border Patrol; they were using some kind of advanced (non-helicopter) VTOL flying personnel carriers. Specifically, they were powered by Pons and Fleischmann-type cold fusion powerplants. (Pons and Fleischmann were definitely name-checked in the story.) The viewpoint character notes that the U.S.B.P. has better and more advanced equipment (heads-up infrared overlays, etc.) and vehicles than the military.

The border (the U.S. - Mexico border in this case) is heavily militarized, with a wide free-fire zone which the unit is patrolling. Naturally the unit is attacked; I believe it was described as a gigawatt X-ray laser and the viewpoint character briefly tries to imagine how they must have hauled the massive generator for it up to the border by human power. The point of the laser is to disable the U.S.B.P. vehicles so the border can be breached. (I think the goal was to get a mass of illegal migrants across the border.)

I don't recall anything of the story after that. Just the advanced airborne (Pons and Fleischmann) cold-fusion-powered fighting vehicles and advanced combat tech, ambushed by a massive laser from across the border.


Roachstompers by S. M. Stirling. Published in September 1989.

The aircraft are called Kestrels, though we don't get an exact description of them. The reference to Pons and Fleischmann is:

She swung up into the troop compartment of her Kestrel, giving a glance of automatic hatred to the black rectangles of the PFH units on either side of the ceiling. "Pons, Fleischmann, and Hagelstein," she muttered. "Our modern trinity." The bulkhead was a familiar pressure through the thick flexibility of her armor. "Status, transport."

As you say, the other side has a gamma ray laser:

Zap. Gamma-ray lasers could not be seen in clear air, but you could hear them well enough; the atmosphere absorbed enough energy for that. The Rangers threw themselves flat in a single unconscious movement; Hunter cursed the savage wave of pain from bruised muscle and then ignored it.

"Get a fix, get a fix on it!" she called. Then she saw it herself, a matte-black pillar rising out of the ground like the periscope of a buried submarine, two hundred yards away amid artful piles of rock. Shit, no way is a magmortar going to take that out, she thought. It was too well buried, and the molecular-flux mirrors inside the armored and stealthed shaft could focus the beam anywhere within line-of-sight.

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