Neptune to Earth"
Cuciz & James Krych
Call To Arms"
Transport 626 was overcrowded, overloaded and way overtime: by
the time it finally set down on Paradise it was over 6 hours late
and stuffed with angry soldiers eager to get out. For some unknown
reason the flight crew - which had been drafted from some civilian
spaceline company - had seen it fit to leave the internal lights
on and air conditioning at full for the whole trip, making announcements
on the PA system at least twice each hour. It was just as well
they had kept the crew compartment locked, or some of the guys
would have gone up and wasted them.
I waited until I heard the whirring of the aft ramp coming down
before unstrapping from my g-couch. I grunted, grabbed my Sturmgewehr
and the rest of my kit, then got up and fell in line with the
others. An order came from outside to reform into a single file,
and we reshuffled among a string of curses; at least I came out
of the transport and got my first impression of Paradise: boy,
it was hot. The place felt like a greenhouse and didn't look much
better. I've heard somewhere that the planet got its name from
a 20th-century SF novel, and it's either that or someone pulled
up the biggest estate scam since Erik the Red came up with Greenland.
Looking down, I saw why the queue was moving so slowly: a young
private who looked a few years short of eighteen was individually
registering each soldier as they stepped off the ramp, busily
working on an e-board and glancing hastily at the newcomers. He'd
been assigned to the job at the last minute, and it showed. When
my turn came, he shot a look at my rifle, then at my face, at
the rank insignia on my collar and at the nametag on my breast
pocket. The guy was obviously unfamiliar with Swiss Army emblems,
and he couldn't make heads or tails of my sergeant's laurelled-cross-on-a-chevron.
Finally, he stammered: "Well, uh, mister Kurtz..."
"It's sergeant Kurtz to you, private." I shot back in
a tone I was surprised to be able to muster after the less than
comfortable flight. "Can't you read ranks?"
"Read? Uh, yes mis... Sergeant." The poor lad was shrinking
"Then who the hell are you calling mister?" I bellowed.
The private looked to the e-board like it could magically bail
him out of the situation. "Well, sir, you see, we're not
"Private," I said in the lowest and most threatening
tone I could produce "do I look like a college freshman to
The rookie shook his head. "Ah, no but..."
"There ain't no buts. Don't you sir me, private. I'm an NCO:
I work for a living!" I felt a little bad taking it out on
the lad, but I knew I was bound to vent off sooner or later and
I'd rather target him than one of my buddies-to-be. Besides, the
guy needed some straightening out: he had probably been assigned
to this job without being prepared, and was probably a clerk of
some kind but this was no excuse. He should have thought to call
up some info on rank insignia and the like on that e-board. Next
time he could piss off a colonel.
I decided to soften up a little. "Get your act together,
man. I'm sergeant Kurtz, D.W., Rifle Company II/496, Swiss Army
Outer Branch. My ID is 419-69-109-537."
Glad for the reprieve, the private punched up the data on the
e-board and a small plastic card slid out of a slot in the board.
He took it out and handed it to me. "These are your orders,
sergeant. Quarters are this way." He pointed west. "Any
info you need, look up the e-panels."
"Good. Keep your cool, private." I marched off towards
the quarter area, casting a look to the queue: the private had
got some color back, and he was obviously concentrating better
on his job. I hoped to hell the rest of JMF was in better shape.
Making my way to the quarters, I noticed the mish-mash of BDUs,
equipment and individual weapons around. There were troops from
all around: Yanks, of course, were everywhere and I spotted some
Brits and Aussies too. There were some Israelis and Arabs hanging
together as always - I've heard that once upon a time they were
constantly at each other's throat but you wouldn't tell now -
and I could bet they were already running the place. No French
or German accents that I could notice, but there were some Italians
around. And Russians, for which I was grateful. Comms would be
a nightmare, as would be logistics: I was the only one carrying
a Stgw11, most sported those M-26 monsters in service with Colonial
Marines, and some had Russian- or Japanese-made weapons that I
had seen only in magazines. All in all, we were a thoroughly mixed
Heck of a way to fight a war.
To be fair, nobody had really expected a war to break out. There
were simply no reasons for it to happen anymore, since we came
up with warp drive. If mankind had been limited to the Solar System,
sooner or later we would have come up at each other's throats
but this was no longer an issue: if two parties wanted a planet,
it was a more economical solution to go and find another one than
fight over it.
By the time I was born, there had not been a major conflict for
a long, long time. Not that we weren't prepared, of course. Hell,
back in the 21st century people thought that no war would break
out in Western Europe, ever. Things worked out differently, of
course, but I digress.
If ever, people thought that if a major conflict was to break
out, it would be between the Outer Colonies and Earth. Everybody
knew that they wanted independence, and with good reason, but
the bureaucrats Earthside wouldn't have it. They had invested
good money in the Colonies and they expected them to keep their
end of the bargain - which they had never agreed to; the Colonies
were fed up with meddling from parsecs away and dreamed of their
new Republic - which they weren't exactly sure what it would be.
Good thing laws of physics prevented Earth from running the show,
and had to allow the Colonies to develop on their own and even
train their military forces (under Earthside command, of course)
or we would have been in deep trouble.
Where I was born, in Neues Zuerich, we were pretty much far away
from the Earth-Republic debate. Because, you see, Switzerland
has no "colonies" in the strict sense. We were not "colonists"
- we were "emigrants" or "settlers" and we
were a part of the Confederation, not a protectorate or outer
territory. We had our elections, our local Parliament and courts
and we had representatives in the Federal Parliament, which was
only logical since there were more Swiss in space there had ever
been on Earth. While the rest of the world was hunting around
for the greatest number of Earth-type of terraformable planets,
we secured only one barely Earth-type rock and a lot of airless
or otherwise less hospitable planets and moons with lots of mineral
resources. We lived mostly in caves but, hell, they were five
All in all, we were pretty much comfy with our lifestyle. We were
as independent as anyone in the Republic wished to be and kept
to ourselves. The Swiss Army founded its Outer Branch and so we
had our own Militia forces around if they were needed, which we
didn't think possible.
I had never thought of a military career before, and I still do
not. By the time I was 18, I had figured out that I wanted to
get into Space Exploration Corps, and maybe be a planetary scientist
or something like that. I had been flying propods (Probe space-Pods)
for the local mining company since I was 16, taking readings from
asteroids and moons' surfaces and making reports. I had even written
a couple of papers which had been well received, so when I hit
20 and the call came I was ready. Military service in the Swiss
Army is still mandatory, but if you don't really want to go you
can find a way around it. Me, I wanted to serve out of genuine
patriotism (and I had never seen Switzerland in person) and because
service is a great boost for anyone interested in getting to the
Corps. I was assigned to Infantry as a rifleman and it suited
me fine; I got selected for NCO training and at the end of the
6-month recruit school I took the 8-weeks course and then began
a second 6-months tour as a corporal. Figured my shiny new corporal's
chevron would have given me enough leverance to get into Space
Ex no sweat.
Boy, didn't the 'Clans throw one big monkey wrench into my plans.
Whenever you get assigned to a new unit or new quarters, your
priorities ought to be BBC - Bunk, Bog and Chow. You've got to
figure them out by yourself as soon as possible if you don't want
to spend the two hours immediately after arrival troddling around
under the 25-plus kilograms of military kit you carry on your
back, maybe with your bladder full and an empty stomach. Everything
else, like where is the armory or the firing range, someone will
come and make damn sure you've got it right where they are but
BBC is your own personal concern.
Following the instructions on the plastic card I had been given,
I managed to find my place in the dormitories and was pleasantly
surprised that quarters where better than the underground shelters
I was accustomed to: we had windows, for a start, and we had lockers
with fingerprint ID locks, so I wouldn't have to carry around
an e-key on my dog tags as I had to do before. I locked all the
unnecessary stuff in, kept only my rifle and web gear and went
on looking for the toilet, which was conveniently placed at the
end of the corridor, just round the corner from the door. With
the two Bs taken care of, I hunted for the C. Mess hall was a
couple of corridors down, and already crowded. The instructions
on the plastic card mentioned a briefing in about 20 minutes,
but there was a female staff officer - a 1st lieutenant - busily
taking notes on an e-board while interviewing the troops. She
seemed to know her trade far better than the PFC on the landing
pad, which was good.
"Are you expecting a ground attack in the next ten minutes,
Sergeant?" she asked me pointing at my rifle. I was the only
one in the room carrying one: the other troopers carried either
sidearms or nothing at all.
"We're required to keep our individual weapon on us all the
time, madame." I replied.
The LT sighed like someone who's being forced to talk to a particularly
thick-headed subject and went on. "Very well. It's your shoulders,
after all. So, sergeant... Kurtz, you're our resident Swiss."
She read something on her e-board. "Are there more coming?"
"I was the first to sign up." I answered. "There
were at least twenty more waiting to get the paperwork done."
She took some notes, then went: "OK. So, how many?"
I stood there like an idiot. "How many what?"
She looked at me. "Flight hours, of course. You're a fighter
pilot, aren't you? Did you qualify on fast-attack interceptors
"Er, madame, I think there has been a misunderstanding. I'm
with Rifle Company II/496, 9th Mobile Brigade." Seeing that
nobody seemed to get that, I added: "Infantry. I'm a rifleman."
The LT almost let the board drop to the ground. "What? Sergeant,
are you aware that you've been signed up into a Gyruss squadron?"
"Of course." This was beginning to feel mighty odd.
My request for service into JMF had been sent up through Headquarters
complete with service status and specializations: I was classified
as a weapons expert, anti-tank weapons instructor and information
specialist (computer geek, for short). It looked like someone
along the line had screwed up big time. And I had no clue of what
a Gyruss squadron was.
"Damn. There is no way we can assign you to an infantry unit
now." The woman officer cursed under her breath then turned
towards me. "Listen: can you handle a repod?"
I thought quickly: a repod (or Recon Pod) is the military version
of the propod, only ruggedized, outfitted with a different sensor
suite and with a different paint job. Otherwise, it's the same
old craft made by the same old company, and I knew how to handle
"I can fly one no sweat." I answered. At that moment,
I figured that I'd be getting a job with recon. Big mistake.
"Right. Then you can handle a Gyruss. Welcome to the squadron,
sergeant Kurtz. We'll see how a mudpounder fares in a F-911."
I stepped back and left my place to another NCO, feeling stupid.
Nobody had ever talked about pilots, dammit.
"Nice rifle you have there, sergeant." someone commented.
"Ever got to fire it?"
I nodded. "Plenty", I said. Actually, that was a bit
of an understatement.
First time I learned about the war, we were getting ready for
an endurance exercise with hardshells in Big Rock Heaven (a small
solar system made up totally by airless planets: it's supposed
to be Heaven, if you are a Big Rock, that is). Hardshells are
armored, fully contained environmental suits with power amplification
and integral thruster pack: they can keep an infantryman alive
and well for up to 70 hours without resupplying and - I quote
from the producer's handbook - can guarantee survival for up to
5 minutes in a Venus-class environment. Remember that next time
you plan to spend 5 minutes on a Venus-class planet.
Anyway, I was checking out my squad and was about to report an
all-clear to my lieutenant when the radio circuit in my helmet
buzzed and we heard the company commander notifying us that the
exercise was cancelled and that we could get out of the suits
and assemble in the mess hall within 15 minutes.
I must confess I was partly relieved: one week in a hardshell
is not my idea of fun: you can survive in there but it's not exactly
comfortable. You can't even scratch your nose if you get an itch
(actually, this isn't completely true: I heard from a guy in Company
IV that if you extend your arm fully to one side and lock the
shoulder and elbow joint, you can wriggle out of the suit's arm
and get it inside the suit, then worm your way through the collar
and scratch your nose; you only have to turn off power-amp or
else you can dislocate your shoulder; I never tried it so I can't
really swear that it's true but there you have it) and after a
couple of days inside one you're pretty much stewed to the gills.
But there had to be a serious reason for the exercise to be called
off: these kinds of battalion-sized jobs take weeks of planning
to get done, and you don't let them drop if something very bad
has happened. Which was the case this time.
I'm not getting into details on how the crisis started because
you already know it as well as me: suffice to say we were stunned
to say the least, but otherwise we didn't feel threatened. The
Ideoclans hadn't attacked us, after all, not directly. But they
had attacked Earth, so it looked even the Homeland was in danger.
Puzzled as we were, we had a minor headache compared to what the
upper echelons were getting: one side effect of the Ideoclan attack
was that we had a major communications blackout with Command,
because the enemy had put a very effective comms screen around
Without orders from the Armed Forces High Command, we did a very
simple, very sensible and very Swiss thing: we hunkered down,
stood to and waited.
I must say that the very first three weeks of the war had been
far more relaxing than peacetime: our exercises were curtailed
and we were mostly diverted to guard duty, which was boring but
always better than marching all day and shifting weapons and ammo
from place A to place B for no apparent reason. I missed the live-fire
exercises, though, and tried to get as much time on the range
as possible because I had just completed a course on DAT (Detection
And Tracking) tac equipment and my job was essentially staring
at a screen most of the day and teaching others the proper way
for staring at it. We were psyched up to max on the first week,
then things started going downhill: at the end of the third week,
we were insanely hoping for a chance to fight, anything to break
I'm not saying that the 'Clans were telepathic, or that we ever
thought them to be, but at the time it looked like they heard
us: they attacked a transport ship out of the Border and destroyed
it, wiping away the eight fighter spacecraft that served as escort.
The transport carried only supplies, and nothing really vital,
but there was a crew of six on board and each fighter carried
a pilot: we lost fourteen people in less than a minute and that
struck a bad blow to our morale. It also taught us an important
lessons: Ideoclans never take prisoners.
Bad as the loss of Transport 027 was to the troops, it literally
sent the civilians into panic: in the Assembly there was a big
debate, transmitted live, where otherwise sensible beings took
turns to put forward the most ludicrous proposals on the best
course of action, which ranged from attempting to negotiate with
the 'Clans (which just wasn't possible but we learned that later)
to launching a full scale attack on the enemy. One yahoo who had
never done a single day into Service all his life came up with
the idea of rigging up a demo nuke (one of those multi-megaton
jobs that Civilian Space Engineers sometimes use to bust rocks)
to a long range space probe and "shove it down the Ideoclans'
throat". Of course, and luckily, it never got done because:
one, you can't rig up a nuke like that; two, if we had aerospace
defenses that could shoot down third generation stealth MIRV warheads,
sure as hell the 'Clans could shoot down a single rocket that
gave off a radar signature the size of a quasar; and, three, we
still hadn't the foggiest idea of where the Ideoclan home world
For once, I was glad that the military took over: without orders
from Switzerland, Outer Branch selected one of our three Army
Corps Commander and promoted him to General - a bold move since
the Swiss Army, at any time, has always had only one General,
and only in wartime. With the swearing in of General Henry Carpentraz,
we had practically taken the fate of the whole Outer Territories,
and of the Homeland, in our hands.
General Carpentraz's first orders were to gather as much intelligence
as we could on the enemy, and this we did. When I had been drafted,
I already had computer science skills, and I took turns with a
hundred other hackers from all the Regiment sifting through mountains
of data we were obtaining either from recon flights or from eavesdropping
on the Republic's networks. We were shameless about it, I must
admit, but we had scarce intel resources and had to make the most
out of almost nothing; at least it made me feel useful for a while.
Fifteen days later, we finally got battle orders and headed off
to our first real fight. It was to be the first true test of the
Outer Branch Army against a real enemy and it set a few milestones
on most fronts; there are a lot of strange stories around about
the Battle of Cold Stone, and some are true. But I was there,
so I can tell you what it was like.
"Cold Stone" was the unofficial moniker that Space Ex
had given to a Mars-sized planet just outside our borders. It
had just the idea of an atmosphere which wasn't really breathable
to begin with, and a climate that would have made Antarctica look
like Florida (I got these notions from videos, of course). A combined
effort of Army Intel and Space Ex had determined a pattern in
Ideoclan movements outside the Border which they seemed to follow
without much of a change: they were sending in small probing expeditions,
then if they took a fancy to the estate they landed in, entrenched
and established a base. When Command was satisfied that the 'Clans
were about to show up, they made their move: a reinforced battalion
size force of about 350 men was embarked on deep-space transport
refitted to act as troop carriers and flown to Cold Stone, coming
out of warp just outside safe range and then skimming along the
surface so that the 'Clans couldn't see us coming from the other
side of the planet; we hovered around for the better part of the
day while Space Defense tracked the approaching 'Clans' ship trying
to pinpoint their landing zone. Intel had quietly sent scouts
to determine possible landing sites, and they had identified about
twenty of them to be really suitable; the rest of the probable
places they mined with remote detonated nukes just in case.
About fourteen hours after making landfall, we got word from Space
Defense that the 'Clan ship was coming down on LZ Hornüss,
just 300 clicks of out current position. We skimmed quickly there,
disembarked, set up the ambush and waited. I'll be remembering
my first battle as long as I live: we lay prone on the frozen
ground for what felt like hours waiting for the enemy, until at
least the ship came out of the blue (well, black to be honest),
fired its braking thrusters and landed. I had command of a rifle
squad less than a click from the LZ and watched through binoculars
as the carrier ship's ramp wound down and IFVs (Infantry Fighting
Vehicles) started coming out; a pulsed laser light from the other
side of the valley flashed two shorts and three longs and I gave
the order to fire.
My two missile crews shot hypervelocity kinetic rockets at both
the ship and the vehicles, and I saw one of the latter disintegrating
under the impact; the ship was quickly crippled by missile shots
from all the concealed positions where other squads like mine
were waiting. As soon as the missiles were expended - four shots
in all for every squad - I raised my Stgw11 and fired round after
round at the fleeing figures among the burning vehicles. We all
fired our rifles, but I can't tell how many we killed that way
because a howitzer battery opened up behind our lines and obliterated
LZ Hornüss in a shower of HE, bomblets and plasma rounds.
We got the signal to retreat, went back to the carriers and hurried
back to base, patting ourselves on the backs for the whole trip;
we had wiped out the 'Clans and suffered no casualties, except
for a single 1st Lt who sprained his ankle while leading his troops
back to the transports. It was one hell of a victory and an enormous
morale boost for the Army and the whole population. We got parades
and speeches and all that jazz, and promotions. I got moved up
to Sergeant. Best time in my life, I might say. Best for all of
Even if Operation Cold Stone had been an outright success, it
soon became clear that we couldn't afford any more "victories"
like that. We had gambled and taken the Ideoclans by surprise,
and we wouldn't be able to repeat it. Moreover, we had lost nothing
but gained nothing: we couldn't hold Cold Stone nor garrison it
nor permanently deny it to the enemy; and the losses we had inflicted
were minimal. Further, we had used a reinforced battalion strength
force to ambush and destroy an enemy which was under regimental
strength, and in doing this we had taxed our logistics beyond
maximum: you see, the Swiss Army has never been intended as an
expeditionary force. It has always been meant to be purely defensive,
and to conduct operations well inside our borders, with the set
goal to inflict as many casualties on the enemy while it fought
the way inside our space: we had no heavy space-lift capability,
no interstellar logistics line to speak of and no warships.
Operation Cold Stone had just proven that the 'Clans could be
defeated, and that our weapons and tactics were sound - but we
needed more. While the politicians were still congratulating themselves
on the big victory they'd had no part in whatsoever, Command pondered
the next move. Our Intelligence found out that the Colonies were
mobilizing and had set up a new joint service to deal with the
Ideoclans, and through a little technical tinkering with the comms
net and some people in the right places, we figured out what they
were up to. General Carpentraz could not, under Swiss constitution,
make any kind of alliance with a foreign nation, and hence could
not order Swiss military personnel to work with JMF; this our
thinking heads in the Parliament made very clear. But a brigade
commander who was a lawyer in civilian life managed to find a
loophole: technically, the Colonies were not a foreign nation
because they were still under Earth rule, but with the 'Clans'
comm shield in place they were not following any government's
policy. This grey area allowed Command to come up with a practical
solution: we'd be asking JMF to undertake a "personnel exchange"
- we'd be sending them "military advisors" and they
would send us theirs; there were precedents Earthside and the
fact that there was a war going on didn't change anything, since
we had the same enemy. JMF accepted and some names were selected:
mine wasn't on the top of the list at first, but at HQ someone
thought that sending NCOs before officers would spare them a big
embarrassment if things turned out bad, so my name was moved to
top of the list along with a couple other sergeants. In due time
we were shipped to a Republic civilian spaceport and gained our
respective destinations: them at a training center on a Republic
world, me on Paradise.
Amidst all of this mess, no one paid any attention to JMF's specific
request for space pilots.
You can say that about JMF: if they want a mouse to fly a chopper,
they find a way of doing it. On Paradise they had established
the best flight training outfit in the Galaxy, manned mostly by
Russian and American instructors; the Russians had done an admirable
job of keeping the 'Clans out of their space on space fighters
which were some 30-years old, like ours were, and suffered heavy
losses but never gave up. Americans had fared almost as well and
had came up with better spacefighting tactics, but it took all
of the Colonies' combined resources to build the final answer
to the Ideoclan space threat.
On my first day on Paradise I met most of my future buddies and
found most of them to be likable fellows: all of them had heard
about Cold Stone and some seemed to make a big deal out of it,
and I didn't do much to change their minds: soldiers are not supposed
to be a self-effacing kind. We also met out nemesis, Gunnery Sergeant
Fryberger, and this I say to any of you who may take a fancy on
joining the military: you're never going to meet a bastard any
tougher than Fryberger, and I've been considered an unforgiving
bastard myself. You must be very unlucky and very lucky to have
a DI like him: unlucky because he can put you through the most
miserable hell you can think of, and lucky because it's that kind
of mistreatment that keeps you alive when the going gets tough.
Fryberger had standards: we all have them, but his standards are
miles above anything you may be able to achieve. On the first
week of training we kept running, marching and crawling through
obstacle courses 'till we dropped dead. We did push-ups and the
like until we had muscles aching that we had never known about.
We run through flea infested marches until we could no longer
feel the stings of little bugs.
First week was the hardest, but as Fryberger's demands went up,
we also became tougher. Ironically, on the third week I got a
small respite from his incessant abuse by getting even more work
to do: despite our DI's being all Colonial Marine types, we had
a serious lack of firearms instructors who were all working on
infantry units. Fryberger took me apart from the rest, berated
me for five minutes for being a "no-good useless piece of
shapeless jelly" and then said, "I need someone on the
range. How good are you with that rifle of yours?"
I was good enough, and I got the unenviable task of getting everyone's
firearms skills to Fryberger's standards; this at least I could
do well. The JMF standard weapon, the M-26, packs impressive firepower
but it's big and unwieldy and not that accurate; I pushed my squad
to the limits of what the weapon could do, then moved the targets
to 300m and proceeded to headshot them with my Stgw11 and challenged
them to best me, which wasn't exactly feasible: the Stgw11 is
accurate to 300m with only the iron sights; if you raise the integral
scope sight it can hit bull's eye at 800m and the scope has a
built-in image intensifier if you have the battery power to spare.
And, come to think of it, all that shooting brought me to face
a logistic problem of my own.
I had come to Paradise with a sealed box of Stgw11 ammo that I
couldn't open unless under dire circumstances, but I had scrounged
for more ammunition to practice with. Since my supply was dwindling,
I approached the subject with the base quartermaster.
"I need more Stgw11 ammo." I said.
"Well," he said scratching his chin, "we don't
"Then I imagine that someone will have to get it." I
"Listen, sergeant: yours is the only weapon of its kind here.
We can't send a ship to your nearest arsenal just to supply you.
Why don't you lock it away and get an M-26? We have plenty of
ammo for it."
"You have ammo also for Russian and Japanese rifles."
"True, but there are a lot of them around. You're the only
Swiss for the moment."
"For the moment, yes. But more will come, and they will need
"We'll think of it by then. As I said, we can't open up a
supply route just for you."
I thought for a moment then asked, "All those e-books and
audio-video stuff, where do you buy them?"
"Huh? We have a transport ship that flies in every week to
deliver civilian-produced stuff. Why?"
I held up my rifle. "This thing here is a SRG-900-1 assault
rifle, made my Schweizerische Raumwerke Gesellschaft. There is
a civilian, semi-auto only version called PE which fires the same
4.1mm AP flechette round. You only have to get into a gun shop
and they'll have it."
The quartermaster scratched his head, and then talked to his superior,
who in turned called the officer in charge of the supply line.
Next week I received the first of my shiny new boxes of ammo and
the case was closed.
Between drill and shooting range we didn't have much time to ourselves
and very few occasions to relax. One day, however, we managed
to first set sight on our raison d'être itself - the F-911
The F-911 is smaller than the space fighters I had seen before,
thanks to advances in nanotechnology and materials manufacture.
It's a pure, no frills interceptor-dogfighter designed to engage
and destroy Ideoclan crafts at any range, and it has more than
meets the eye under any aspect. It's fast and agile, and is armed
with twin pulse cannons that can shred an enemy spacecraft in
milliseconds; it's fully stabilized on all axis and it can turn
on a coin and self-stabilize without the pilot having to work
too much; it switches automatically from spaceflight to atmospheric
flight and its engine can run for up to 48 hours without refueling.
In case of emergency, the whole cockpit is ejected and has limited
maneuverability so that you can thrust out of the battle area
and make landfall on your own, a smart move since other space
fighters only shoot you up into space and leave you there.
I never knew exactly how the Gyruss got its name: I thought that
if they had come up with a G-name they would have called it Gryphon
or something equally macho-sounding, but a funny tale I heard
states that when the Japanese engineer got to talk with R&D
to get it named, there was a major solar flare going on and digital
comms were so scrambled they had to rely on crackling FM radio
instead. So, when he went on to describe it as "gyro-stabilized
space fighting craft" the officer at the other end misheard
it and noted "Gyruss" on his notes: the name stuck.
Not many people believe this, but stranger things have happened.
Fryberger did his best to make our life as miserable as he could
up to the end of week 8, which marked the end of basic training.
We were all anticipating the day we finally got rid of him, but
down came the crushing news that he would be with us to the end
of training. Plus side we were done with walking on our legs.
By week 9th, we were as trained as well as we possibly could and
began spending hours in the Gyruss simulator. I have to say this
about the F-911: it rocks. It throws you all around the place
if you're not well strapped in. The side-mounted control stick
has 3-axis mobility and if you so much as think of moving, say,
towards 10 o'clock, it kind of reads your mind and sends you pivoting
in that direction before you're even aware of it. Of course, it
doesn't really read your mind, but it's so sensitive that it responds
to the smallest hand movement. Takes a bit getting used to it.
The flight instructors put us through all possible flight conditions,
from deep-space to Jupiter-like atmosphere. We simulated enemy
confrontations, multiple engine and systems failure and everything
from run-of-the-mill to downright catastrophic. The Gyruss is,
fortunately, very well built and can take a lot of abuse: it's
got a multiplexed flight and weapons-control computer that almost
flies the craft by itself. Almost. It has a sensor suite that
can track a screwdriver from 100'000 clicks away and lock on it
and 10 other screwdrivers, and tracking 30 others at the same
time, but we learned to fly it relying on the old Mark I Eyeball.
It has a "padlock" mode that lets you design a target
with the frontal HUD or the helmet display and pursue it 'til
Judgment Day but we were taught how to intercept manually. The
navigational computer can pinpoint your location within a few
centimeters but we spent hours doing dead reckoning calculations.
Later on it would have saved a lot of lives, including mine, but
at the time it seemed a waste of time. After that, we got to fly
the real thing, in and out of Paradise's atmosphere and between
the two moonbases, engaging remote-controlled target drones with
either the twin pulse cannons and the other pylon-mounted weapons.
Then we graduated to flying against our instructors - with simulated
weapons of course, and each of us got killed more times than I
care to remember.
By the end of the 18th we were almost ready for deployment and
got our assignments. I landed a place with 356th initially, but
that squadron ended up way overmanned so after a bit of reshuffling
I was assigned to 357th, which had recently suffered a double
casualty when two F-911s had collided during a formation flight
exercise. No fatalities, but the two guys were so much out of
it that they wouldn't have been in condition to fight for at least
3 weeks. Flying in formation takes a lot of practice and is more
dangerous than it looks like, and if you don't have your combat
spread drills down thoroughly you may end up clipping another
craft before you know it, and you can't rely on the Gyruss built-in
collision avoidance to keep you out of trouble.
It may seem strange for a mudpounder to say it, but I liked the
Gyruss: it was far easier to fly than a propod, which has an insane
amount of inertia, and a lot more fun to handle.
We struck 20th week and the end of training - just as the second
wave of Swiss troopers arrived at Paradise and got to feel Fryberger's
bite. I was called to give them a little pep talk to raise their
spirits but all I managed to tell them was "clench your teeth
and go ahead, guys. We've got to win this one."
With training complete, all of 357th geared up and moved from
the quarters at training center to the space fighter base, where
we would get our first real mission: to probe the outskirts of
Earth Solar System in preparation for a major attack. Sounded
easy. Turned out it wasn't.
remember the Attack very well, and I guess that is the same for
the rest of us. We'll never forget the time and place when we
heard about the Ideoclan Attack and the Declaration of War by
the Outer Colonies. I had just finished an AT (Annual Training
with B Co. 712th Ultra-Mechanized Enginners), and we had completed
the building of a major component to a moon base in the Colony
of New Columbia. I was enjoying the time being a civilian again,
back with the family, the job, and the ranch. I was pretty much
in shock when I heard about the Attack, and the few pictures that
had come out. My wife and I both held our son real tight, and
then, the telecom rang
and the Call
Well, a little about me Jon W. Kryton. Like all of us in the 357th,
I was prior-service. Actually, prior-prior-service. I had been
born on Earth and had served in the Coast Guard. That part of
my military career had not been much to be proud of, wrong rate,
not doing so well, so when the RIF came, I was actually happy.
But, when you got military blood in you, it's darn hard to leave,
and the Colony of New Texas (isn't it amazing that same groups
tended to emigrate to the stars!) was offering positions in their
New Texas National Guard, and after six years of service, generous
amounts of land to the veterans. I had been in Corpus Christi
Texas on Earth for two years, and had always considered Texas
to be my second home, so off I went, and became a colonist, and
a member, of the New Texas National Guard.
Many of the planets in the Outer Colonies match their counterparts
on Earth, and New Texas was no different, right down to the attitude!
But, I managed to keep most of my damn-Yankee ways, except for
the accent I picked up, and that laid-back, but do-the-job right,
mentality. When you have skills in the computer and electronics
field, and are always doing projects to improve your self, the
High-Tech of New Texas had plenty of good jobs. Plus, the 2000
acres of forest, lakes, and streams with a nice house, made for
a good life. And, I had been blessed with a wonderful family and
a great little son! I also had earned a multifaceted pilots license
for use in my volunteering with the O.C.M.A.F. (Outer Colonies
Mission Aviation Fellowship)
My unit in the 'Guard was in the 712th Ultra-Mechanized Engineers.
Since we were such a unit, we tended to also go to many Outer
Colonies for engineering projects. To tell you the truth, despite
some of the rough conditions we had to be in, and the usual paperwork
snafus inherent to any military in any age, I did very well in
the New Texas National Guard! So much better than my earth side
When the War came, I found out that I qualified for Pilot Duty
in the JMF, Joint Military Forces-the new forces of the Outer
Colonies. After a tearful goodbye, I left with my orders to go
to Planet Paradise, for indoctrination and fighter pilot school.
I found out that two of my buddies from the NCO school I had attended
were also going to be with me, Brooks who was the oldest and a
former Army Ranger and also a college professor at the famous
Jack S. Kilby Institute of Technology, and Shawn, a former Colonial
Marine Corps member and a construction engineer, and a damn funny
New Texas provided quite good transport for the others and us
to Paradise. But it was still a long trip, and after touching
down, we were tired and anxious. We found out the Reason for the
Name. Shawn said it best, "just like on Paradise Island on
Earth!" That meant HOT! With humidity, and those damnable
flees that started biting us. Well, with our full packs, and M-26
A3's, we hoofed it over to our reception point.
You could tell whom the raw recruits and JMFI cannon fodder were;
scared, green, doing tons of push-ups being yelled at by DI's,
all from the Colonial Marine Corps. A decision had been made within
a second of the formation of the JMF, that ALL basic, indoctrination
schools, etc. would be run with Colonial Marine Corps DI's. We
got our orders from the private, and went to our Barracks. PC-TS357
(Pilot Candidates Training Squadron 357)
Yeah, we were pretty cocky; we had seen it all before, all that
yelling didn't even phase us. We all joked as we went into our
squad bay, about which of us would be the first ace, big hero,
etc. First thing that struck me was all the different BDU's, wow,
what a motley crew! Nicholas and Andy, two Brits, Andrew, from
Down Under, Nicola from Italy, Alexandr and Alexei from Russia,
and a real character, a David Kurtz from the Swiss Army! Boy did
he give a reception private hell! Plus Steve, our Casanova, Yoshiki
from New Japan, Eric, the bodybuilder, Hector, and Higeno. Fifteen
guys, all NCO's, and different military backgrounds. Shawn quipped,
"hey yawl, this is how we're going to win the war"!
And, in such a way, that everyone cracked up at it! (Due to the
ever-present fallibilities of a bureaucracy, we were a mixed unit
with members from all over the Outer Colonies.)
At least we all could speak good English!
One by one, the JMF started to take away our differences. First,
it was the weapons as ours were locked up in a separate vault;
you should have seen poor Kurtz! But, it turned out he was one
of the lucky few and actually helped out in our small arms training.
And, he got to keep using his rifle. We were all issued the M-26
A6, what an improvement over our 'A3s! Then, we got the JMF fatigues
and our JMF issue. At least the boots were class-act-made for
running with blister-reducing technology and damn if they didn't
shine easily, gotta hand it to those Marines they really know
how to make a boot! Two hours later we stood joking in the middle
of the squad bay. We didn't look so different anymore! It was
weird how despite our vast differences, we really clicked from
the get go. All around we saw posters and articles talking about
Thomas Fryberger, a three-time Mr. Olympia, and record holder
in the endurance competitions. Shawn quipped, "Hey, he's
our DI!" We all laughed hard at that! Then
"Attention in the Squad Bay" Snapping to attention,
we saw an object pass by and a loud CRASH as a 50-gallon
drum hit the deck, AND SAND STARTED POURING OUT!!!
"I am Gunnery Sergeant Fryberger," He said, in a voice
that boomed. "Before you get to fly and fight
Pausing to let the moment sink in, every muscle in his 6' 4"
frame showing through his uniform like it was cut in stone flames
shooting out from his dark sunglasses. "You have to go through
me. And I don't think you can do that!" And he proceeded
to lift Shawn up, no small, short guy, with only one arm!
"Now get outside with your rucks for a run." And dropped
Shawn down like it was nothing.
We moved, and fast.
Yeah, it was a run all right, "only" ten miles.
It was like that for eight weeks. Yeah, eight very long weeks
as we increased our endurance, our team cohesion, and our comradery.
We needed to, we would be fighting together. We ended up running
mini-marathons, and swimming long distances. As pilots, we could
be expected to stay in our craft for more than 24 hours, and we
had to be in shape for that. We were all in pretty good shape
before, but not to Fryberger's standards. Even Brooks was hard-pressed
at times. But even on the first day, we had become a team, and
no one was able to drop out, we all helped each other. On one
particularly long run, we all ended up helping each other cross
the finish line, we were that beat.
Warrior skills, like pugil sticks, hand-to-hand, and FTX exercises.
More PT-log drills, Eighty Step Ups Make a Hill Climb, and confidence
courses. Close order drill and advanced rifle drill with the M-26.
Using and familiarizing with the M2111 pistol the "elephant
killer" and our official sidearm for pilots. Long days and
long nights. A billion pettifogging details that kept you off
your toes and enraged you, but you kept at it and didn't let them
get to you. The food was of course, typical military chow. And
those poor guys who had never had MRE's before were in for a shock.
We all thought it was funny when David was issued a Swiss Steak
meal for his first, and poor Nicola was given a spaghetti meal!
Of course, you drank a gallon of water with MRE's, they tended
to plug you up if you didn't.
Graduation! Short but sweet because the next hour we started on
training to be pilots. They first gave all the candidates a simulation
test to see what their inherent skills were. We were lucky, all
of us qualified to be fighter pilots. Other training squadrons
weren't so lucky, as people were re-assigned to different attack
craft-"air" support craft, transport pilots, etc. Twelve
weeks long, lots of simulation and even more flying. Fryberger
stayed with us, but we knew his game, and we played back hard!!!
The F-911 Gyruss Attack Craft was one sweet machine. And nothing
beats seeing the darkness of space from within the cockpit of
the F-911. We learned all the needed stuff, plus fighting against
drones and such. But, we didn't quite like the controller setups,
so we used our combined talents and "modified" them.
And, we all thought that even the simulator levels at "F",
from 0 to F, were far too easy. Nicola "adjusted" the
code and made that fifty times as tough. We had heard about some
of the Ideoclan tactics, and we made damn sure what we trained
on was even harder. Looking back, that was one of our best tactics
that we ever came up with.
This is where David had helped us out, relating his own experience
in combat with the Ideoclans. What little we knew about them was
supplemented by his own experience, in the Battle of Cold Stone.
After twenty long and often exhausting weeks, our "visit"
on Paradise Planet was over. We were all JMF pilots now, no, Gyruss
Pilots! The War was about to become very real to us. Since we
were all former NCO's, receiving salutes from privates and such,
was quite new to us. We all gave Fryberger a silver coin for our
first salute, we weren't green when he got us, but we weren't
a team, he made us into one, and more. He was tough as nails,
and a living hell, but we respected him for it.
We were no longer PC-TS357. We were now the 357th JMFAS Gyruss
We almost lost David, because he had been assigned to the 356th,
and even Fryberger tried to help out. But, a little bit of prayer
by Andrew, Shawn, and I, and the fact that two late-comers had
been added to us, and these guys really didn't know their head
from a hole in the ground. Well, a collision between their two
craft put them out of action for several weeks, and David was
returned back to the 357th! With the collision, it made for a
very weird start for a unit that would later distinguish itself
as the best of the best!
David and I were total opposites, but in the intense training,
we had became fast friends. The planets we came on were rather
unique. Unlike the rest of the Outer Colonies, New Switzerland
and New Texas were discovered at the same time, by the same team,
and were settled at the same time. Though different in many ways,
we became real close teammates and that would prove to be a lifesaver
time and time again. Funny, for an ex-infantryman, David had earned
the spot as Wing Leader for the first Wing in the 357th! Not bad
for a mudpounder!
Here were the three wings of the 357th Gyruss:
1st Wing: Wing Leader 1LT David W. Kurtz. Brooks was his wingman
and the rest; Hector, Higeno, and Nicola.
2nd Wing: Wing Leader 1LT Jon W. Kryton. Yoshiki was my wingman
and the rest; Andrew, Alexandr and Alexei.
3rd Wing: Wing Leader 1LT Shawn D. McConnel. Nicholas was his
wingman and the rest; Andy, Eric, and Steve.
The JMF was gearing up for total war there was simply no choice.
The Ideoclan had demanded immediate and total surrender of Earth,
and that would have meant mass-slaughter. There was going to be
fighter squadrons, like us, to pave the way, troops to fight on
planets/moons, fleets, enormous resources to be used and mobilized.
It would take time, and we didn't have that luxury. We were assigned
to the JMFNS Lexington, a carrier. Well, in name yes. It was a
converted freighter and fighting came first, everything else came
second. So, it was a little rough-we all were put into a single
and small squad bay for berthing. But we didn't mind it. We didn't
want to be separated; we were going to stick through this together.
We also got our first CO, a Major Rehard Chupa. He had been a
regular in the Earth Forces, and since the JMF was short on mid-level
leadership, and experienced ones, he was a shoe-in. Well, that
and family power got him there. We hated him from day one. He
insisted on a ton of petty spit and polish, even after long training
missions. And if you disagreed with him, he wrote you up. Plain
and simple, the man was an SOB. As for any flying experience-he
had graduated from the required flight school and that was it.
And, he had never flown the F-911 either! He would actually watch
us come back from an observation deck, making sure we were all
lined up right. We especially hated polishing all that damn brass,
even after long missions he made us do it!
The Offensive was going to be from planet to planet. And, we started
at Pluto. We didn't know it at the time, but we had much to learn,
the JMF did. But luckily, there wasn't any Ideoclan there. We
were assigned to the third wave and we didn't see ANY action.
Though, an errant intel satellite was shot all up by us.
Back on the Lexington, and around the fleet, there was a feeling
of invincibility, and we almost fell for it. But David said something,
then Shawn joked about that, and we snapped out of it. We got
serious, deadly serious. We went over our tactics, went over the
simulations, again and again. Ran together in the flight decks
and halls. No society that valued human life so poorly, and did
so much gratuitous carnage, would be a push over. We were right.
"Neptune: Blood, Sweat, and Tears"
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