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Videogame Fan Fiction

"From Neptune to Earth"
by David Cuciz & James Krych


Chapter One
"A Call To Arms"

Troop 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 fast.
"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 accustomed to..."
"Private," I said in the lowest and most threatening tone I could produce "do I look like a college freshman to you?"
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 bunch.
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 star caves.
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 or multirole?"
"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 it.
"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 Earth.
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 the boredom.
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 was.
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 us.


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 have any."
"Then I imagine that someone will have to get it." I answered.
"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." I retorted.
"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 the ammo."
"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 Gyruss fighter.
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.

D.W.K.

I 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 service!


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 man!


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…in…walked…HELL.


"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 Squadron!


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.


Deadly right.

J.W.K.

 

CONTINUED IN

Chapter Two
"Neptune: Blood, Sweat, and Tears"






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