Neptune to Earth"
Cuciz & James Krych
The God of War - The Tide Turns"
news travel fast. Very bad news put warp speed to shame. No sooner
had the details of the Battle for Jupiter (as the media had taken
to naming it) reached home that all sort of doomsayers had come
out of the woodwork to brand the whole enterprise as 'a costly
failure' and 'a terrible mistake' and to call for 'a peaceful
solution to be negotiated' before it could 'cost any more lives'.
The fact that the enemy had shown zero attitude for negotiating
anything was, of course, politely omitted.
Not that the opinion of the people directly involved was ever
questioned, either, and with good reason: no e-news editor has
ever been promoted by running clips of soldiers proudly proclaiming
"hell, no, we won't go back!" which would be
exactly what they would have gotten if any self-styled reporter
had bothered to show up at any JMF ship and asked any soldier.
The upper echelons, of course, staged their own mediatic campaign
which consisted in a series of 'Why we fight' pieces which
aired on all the Colonies channels, hourly. One of the latest
was running on my e-board as I waited for my shuttle to dock at
"Bloodied but victorious, Joint Military Forces have liberated
the Jupiter space and are now pushing through the perilous Asteroid
Belt to carry the battle to the Ideoclan's doorstep."
The voice announced while shots of the Jovian moon changing colour
from red to blue.
Yeah. The 'perilous Asteroid Belt'. Never mind that you could
zoom through it back and forth 'till Kingdom Come without ever
seeing a rock. One reason it's called 'Space' is there's a whole
lot of it. I switched the board off. Maybe I'd watch the rest
My first impression of Suvorov as I descended the shuttle
ramp was What a mess. The flight deck was cluttered
with anything from power loaders to assault shuttles, and mech
crews working on spacecraft of all kinds. A young officer, another
1st Lieutenant judging from the insignia he wore, was waiting
"I ask permission to come aboard." I asked saluting
"Granted." He answered while saluting. "Welcome
aboard, lieutenant Kurtz. I am starshiy leytenant Andrej
Korolev. You will excuse us but we're busy around here."
"You're not alone." We shook hands. "Since we're
both low on the food chain, let's dispense with the formalities,
"Da, it will be better. So, you are our liaison officer?"
"Yeah, let's call it reduced TDY. Looks like I was the only
one who could speak English, German and French among the pilots'
ranks. They're full of bilingual officers, but it takes a Swiss
to go above that."
"You speak Italiano too, I heard? Always wanted to
"Lo parlo, si. Want to learn it for the literature?"
"Nyet. It's for girls. They like to hear Italian speaking
Them lucky Russians I thought. These tricks don't work
in plurilingual Switzerland.
We walked through the hangar bay. Korolev seemed to have a little
limp but he set a brisk pace nonetheless.
"You've got some other fighters than the Gyruss here."
I noticed looking around. Among the familiar F-911 frames there
were some bigger space fighters, with longer bodies and larger
wings, and big, big engines.
"Da. Those are our TyR-79 Zvezda fighters. Best Russian kosmoperekhvatchik
ever built. Strong. Fast. Agile too. Sensors not so good, Gyruss
radar is far better but Zvezda can take worse hits unshielded
and still come back. Easier to repair, with Gyruss we always have
to get parts, always take them apart after few missions because
spacecraft is so complicated."
I looked at the bell nozzle of a missile that hung under a wing,
which looked like it could swallow a Spearhead and still have
space left for dessert. "Is it vectored?" I asked.
"The missile engine. Is it gimbaled?"
Korolev took hold of the nozzle and shook it from side to side
and up and down. My heart skipped a beat. "Da. You
see? They have rocket rings near warhead too, they make for better
terminal guidance." He looked at me with a strange expression.
"Are you well?"
Yeah. I'm all right. That missile, I suppose it's
a dummy, isn't it?"
"Dummy? What's dummy? Mannequin missile?" He asked,
I mean it is a practice round? No warhead or engine,
He laughed out loud. "Practice? Why practice?" He slapped
the missile hard. "We're at war! Why waste space with fake
stay on Martin Luther King Jr had come to an end just the
day before, as soon as we were deemed fit enough to walk on our
own. Well, not walk, more like limp on our own.
Half-limping, half-trying to march, we had met our new Commanding
Officer in a most dramatic way. I had come to the hangar just
in time after a reunion with the "Special Effects Crew"
as the Swiss Expeditionary Force was known.
Back home, the Assembly had still been struggling with the concept
of Swiss soldiers serving alongside a military force that wasn't
even recognized by the Federal Government on Earth, when another
problem had surfaced: how would the Swiss personnel with JMF be
addressed as? The Assembly wanted the unit to be easily distinguishable
from the rest of the Joint Military Forces and also easily recognizable
as Swiss. They had toyed with different names, and since troops
were already being deployed, they had made damn sure everybody
would receive a unit patch to sew on their uniforms. First it
had been Swiss Mobile Force (SMF) then Swiss Extraterritorial
Unit (SEU) and then again Swiss Outer Regiment (SOR). Each time
a new name had been decided, new patches had been issued with
the written recommendation to send the former ones back to the
arsenal. Nobody complied, of course, and the patches had become
a hot item among collectors in the JMF ranks.
In the end, they settled for Swiss Force, eXpeditionary (evidently
"Swiss Expeditionary Force" or SEF didn't sound right)
or SFX for short. Nobody had noticed that it was also the acronym
for "Special Effects". Thus the Swiss personnel with
JMF was known as the "Special Effects Crew": you could
tell them by the white cross on a red shield surrounded by a field
of stars with the Milky Way in the background.
For this reason, the Swiss troopers were also known as "The
Anyway, the reunion had gone a little longer than programmed:
it just happened that JMF used a radically different command style
than the Swiss Army and someone High Up had objected to officers,
NCOs and soldiers referring to each other by name, and not "sir"'ing
each other all day long. Madness, of course, but that's High Up
for you. Didn't matter that Swiss soldiers were far more by-the-book
than many others in JMF when it came to attitude. The matter was
resolved with the help of an Israeli colonel who took the rear-echelon
guy who had complained in a corner and kindly explained him all
about life, the universe, and why he should have stuck his nose
on his forms and let the troops alone.
Later, I talked this out with 1st Lt Cometta who, referring to
the guy from High Up, shrugged and said "Chel lì,
al ma mettü pagüra cunt un s'ciöpp vöt".
Which, translated from Swiss-Italian patois, meant: "That
guy scared me like an unloaded rifle."
With this out of the way, I went to meet our new CO.
how is he like?" Korolev asked me.
"Well, he's a character and no mistake."
"I've heard he's rather good pilot."
"That's an understatement: colonel Barts is a great pilot."
It hurt to admit it, but he was better than us, and his standards
were consequentially quite high.
"That's both good and bad for you. Good because he's a pilot,
and can understand you better."
"And bad because he'll be expecting a lot." I concluded.
"Well, easy is not listed as a job spec under 'Gyruss pilot'."
Korolev laughed again. Russians seemed to laugh a lot, which contradicted
a good lot of stereotypes. "There's no easy until we've done
or we're done for!"
We turned the umpteenth corner: Suvorov was a maze. On Lex we
had boards that could tell you the direction wherever you were,
and in any case you could sync up your compad to navigate you
around. The Russian carrier was built like it could crash into
an asteroid and leave the rock off for worse, and there were no
such commodities in sight.
"Here," Korolev pointed, "you walk down this corridor,
you get to escape pods' area number three. Shortest route there
is. You won't come nearer any other, so you've got to remember.
And look here." He banged his fist against a sealed box encased
in the bulkhead. "Emergency compartment. Fire extinguisher,
for all it's good for. Medical kit, first aid, only good if you're
surgeon but there it is. Emergency spacesuit, this is useful.
Good model, a little complicated and bulky, compared to JMF standard,
but sturdier and gives you six hours instead of two in hard vacuum.
Cold gas jet pistol in there, too. Not good as rocket pack, but
better than floating around if hull breaches."
No argument here. Hull breaches mean decompression, decompression
means death very, very quickly unless you can get to a pressurized
area fast. Emergency pressure garments (EPGs) are disposable spacesuits
that can be donned in less than ten seconds if you've trained
hard enough and can keep you alive until rescue. Unlike with NBC
drills, where you have to don nuclear-biological-chemical protection
gear as fast as you can, EPG training is followed religiously
by all hands. A breach on a spaceship is far more serious threat
than a gas or germ shell coming through the hull.
I almost tripped. "Watch your step, corridor is sealed, like
airlock." Andrej warned me. "Lots of people get hurt
on their first days."
Regaining my feet, I looked hard at the protruding metal: I could
see now that all sections of Suvorov were sealed by old-fashioned
pressure doors. JMF's newer ships had automatic doors flush with
the floor. "That's what got you then?" I asked.
"I saw you're limping. Did you trip too?"
Andrej Korolev looked lost for a moment then laughed out real
loud. "Hah! No, I didn't trip. Look!" He raised his
left trouser leg: under the overhead lights I saw silver and white
metal instead of skin.
"Bionic implant. Hydraulic-powered limb, see? Top of line,
short of a cloned leg. Have to wait for one."
I felt both sick and stupid. "I-I'm sorry." I stammered.
Should have known better than
He cut me short. "Don't be sorry. Not your fault. Courtesy
of Ideoclans, missile shrapnel, cut into my cockpit and into my
leg. Lucky me, could have been my head. They don't make bionic
heads. Shame, lots of people could use one."
Including me I thought. "Volga Expanse?"
"Da. Pretty intense battle. A bit like Saturn, maybe, different
scale. Ideoclans were probing our defense, then went in with fleet-size
force. General Zhukov was only one who saw through their strategy.
That's why we won."
A heavy victory I thought, glad that the topic had shifted
from my blunder. "Before Neptune, I only saw the 'Clans at
Cold Stone. That was a sideshow compared to Volga Expanse."
"Small battle, yes, but do not underestimate your effort.
We learnt a lot about their ground attack tactics."
"You learnt a lot?" I asked, surprised.
"Da. You don't think you're only ones to spy around?"
Intel's gonna throw a fit I mused. "So, would you
like to tell me about Volga Expanse? I could only read reports."
Korolev sighed. "Well, we went to intercept them at the edge
of our space. Six battlecruisers, old ships but sturdy. A good
lot of destroyers, more than twenty. Biggest force we could muster,
hundreds of fighters.
"We met enemy forces early on, they threw thousands of bombers,
with no escort, right at fleet's core. They lost so many ships
we couldn't believe our eyes. Then we started taking losses as
well, I had just been launched with my squadron, saw Volgograd
go out with a flash. Five hundred men, just like this. I hoped
some had managed to save themselves, but no survivors. Akula
was next, suicide pilots, hit her amidships and it caught fire.
Fire in space, worst thing ever. Kinder to just blow up, I saw
her hull glowing red and I thought of her crew, most terrible
thing I ever saw.
"Their fighters began to show up shortly after, we lost four
squadrons in less than a minute, our Zvezda had better range but
as soon as they came near enough, we couldn't match them in agility.
And there were so many of them! I couldn't count them. I shot
all my strela missiles, then went in with guns. They overheated,
I had to evade, wait for them to cool down then go into the fight
again. I lost my wing leader, then I saw there were only other
two TyR-79s remaining.
"We regrouped and tried to defend our mothership, Kirov,
as best as we could. We couldn't land and rearm, there were too
many bogeys around. Then something crashed into Kirov,
I think it was Ideoclan bomber or maybe bigger. Took the whole
conning tower out and started a fire in the core deck. I though
she would blow up but she didn't."
Korolev took a deep breath. "The other ships weren't so fortunate.
We lost our fleet commander when Kirov was hit - at that
moment Zhukov assumed command and started issuing orders."
Zhukov's Gambit. The man had turned around Volga Expanse, maybe
out of desperation, but he had done it.
"We were ordered to close in with bigger Ideoclan ships and
pummel them, ignore fighters." Andrej continued. "We
gunned and gunned and gunned them, and finally took out a big
one, maybe heavy frigate or cruiser, can't tell with Ideoclan
ships. All of a sudden the bombers changed course, seemed uncertain.
Kirov fired what remained of her missiles and took them
"I thought Kirov had lost control, with the conning
" I interjected.
"Da, tower gone, but auxiliary bridge still working.
There was a young officer, a young woman named Ekaterina Malysheva,
she was inexperienced but good. Took command, turned ship around,
put her between enemy and fleet. Used sensors to guide fleet weapons
towards Ideoclan capital ships.
"Kirov had a ruptured core, they had turned it off
but it was leaking radiation. Half of survivors were already dying
because of it, other half fatally irradiated. The people on the
auxiliary bridge were hit, too.
"Another wave of bombers came towards the fleet, no way to
stop them in time. With most senior pilots gone, no one was left
to coordinate the fighters. Best pilot we had, young hotshot by
name of Vassily Krykalev, he'd have made a great Gyrusskaj
pilot, he cried 'Follow me!' and we went after him. He disappeared
into the battle, never to be seen again. He was good friend. He
was Malysheva's fiancé, last words we heard were 'Proschai,
Rodina. Doh'Zvedanya, Katyusha.' And then my fighter was hit.
I could barely make it to a hangar bay."
I was at a loss for words. "Those were good people."
That was the best I could do.
"Yes, they were. But tell me, how comes pilot like you gets
sent to do liaison?"
"Well, it's a long story." Actually, not that long.
training and getting used to our new rides, the F-911D, we still
managed to have time off, a rare commodity. Unfortunately, this
also got us into trouble.
We were still adjusting to our new home, the Super Battle Carrier
Victory: if Lex had redefined big on my personal
scale, Victory threw it definitely out of whack. Forget the specs.
Forget the books. In fact, forget anything you may think
about a Super Battle Carrier: unless you've seen one in person,
you don't know what you're talking about. The first time I saw
her out of the shuttle's viewport, I thought we were about to
crash into the hull - and we were many clicks away. The ship was
so big that it had its own railway system, and maglevs that shuttled
back and forth. Parts of Victory were still unmanned and
unpowered - personnel were being shuttled in from the Colonies
- and were dark and empty, but the rest was wide-awake. In time,
we would learn that sometimes the fastest route from one point
to another was actually to take a shuttlecraft and fly to it,
rather than walk or take the train.
Her cats were longer, which coupled with the faster acceleration
that our new Gyruss birds generated made for quite interesting
launches. A pity our recent flight performances didn't exactly
match up: technically there was nothing wrong but something intangible
The spirit was gone. We were flying like human autopilots.
Jon was quick to diagnose the condition: Jupiter was still affecting
us. Not the rads or the still-healing wounds, but the loss. 357th
had lost 3rd Wing. We had lost Lex. You can replace fighters,
ships and even body parts but souls need more than quickfix glue.
We talked it out with Pastor McCreary, who was always there to
listen and to give us the right words. Darn better than any shrink-counselor-psych,
he made us feel there was truly something out there beside
hard vacuum. And besides, he knew that we needed to spend our
times in something other than F-911 training.
had just recovered and gone through debriefing when we decided
to spend the time off we had to unwind a little. After shower,
I had changed into dress uniform in preparation for a formal meeting
with some big shots from the Marines' ranks who had just been
attributed a Swiss SpecOps detachment. We could have handled it
less formally but you don't play around with Staff high-and-mighty
types. Not the best way to go around unnoticed, especially with
that big sword clanging away at my side, but couldn't be helped.
I was early, so I decided to go along with Jon and the rest of
the squadron to a place they called 'the gedunk' which, as I found
out, is what Swiss soldiers know as the Soldatenstübe,
i.e. the place you go to for a pint or two. The rest of the guys
were in jumpsuits, I was the only conspicuous type and trying
hard to make myself invisible.
Brooks and Andrew went indoors, while we stayed outside.
"Spero ci sia qualche cameriera carina." (I hope
there's some pretty waitress) joked Nicola.
"Don't get your hopes high, man." Higeno said. "Chances
are they're all robowaiters there."
"One can hope."
CRASH! Suddenly there was loud yelling from inside the Stübe
- er, gedunk. Screams and curses, and sounds of stuff being
thrown around and broken.
A voice from inside: "Get this, you hotshot nothing!"
Another voice: "Hell, no!"
Jon looked at me.
I looked at Jon.
"Hell, yes!" We both said and ran inside.
major brawl had broken out between Andrew, Brooks and some mech
crew guys for reasons unknown. They were at least ten to two,
not a fair fight by any means. Time to redress it.
"Two, three, follow me." Jon ordered his guys.
"Four and five, flank and cover."
"1st Wing, combat spread and engage left-to-right."
I ordered mine.
"Two." I heard from my left.
"Three." "Four." "Five". The rest
of the wing answered.
We chose our targets. Mine was a burly mechanic who was advancing
on my XO. Range was about five meters, so I did what they told
me in Basic Training: throw something first, then work it out.
I scooped a tankard from a table and hurled it at the guy's head.
It flew straight and bounced against his skull - light plaspex,
not glass. It confused him just enough so that I could grab a
chair and bring it down behind his knees: he went to the ground
Another one came at me from my left - but tripped and fell.
"Oops, scusa." Said Nicola innocently, then brought
a chair down on the man's back and sat on it. "Stai comodo?"
(Are you comfortable?).
Splash two bogeys I thought.
"Everybody move along!" Yelled someone. "Security!
I dodged a punch from another mech and kicked him hard in the
stomach. Dress uniform boots have reinforced points - it hit hard
and caused the man to double over.
Then I felt a painful shock at my side, like a wasp's sting. Shockrod.
A Security Officer had actually hit me with a shockrod!
I saw red, all of a sudden.
Blind, white-hot fury filled me.
The bastard has dared to shock-rod me. I'm defending myself!
And, without even realizing it, I drew my sword.
More than one meter in length, double-edged and razor sharp, my
ceremonial sword had been machined from a solid block of steel.
Its maker had not meant it to just look pretty: as any piece of
Swiss military equipment, it was meant to be practical.
It was meant to be deadly.
I saw the shock on the Sec Officer's face as I turned around and
blocked his second shockrod thrust with the sword, then shock
gave in to fear as the blade slashed downwards at him. This time
he parried it but he started to step backwards as we dueled like
a couple of swordsmen out of a bygone age.
Anger blinded me as I lost any sense of measure. To me, the Sec
Officer was the enemy now. He was just another foe to be slain.
Another Ideoclan, even though a part of me knew he was not.
It didn't matter.
I brought the sword down with a heavy blow. He tried to parry
it by raising the shockrod with two hands, but the blade broke
it in two with a sharp crack. He stumbled back and fell.
I raised the sword with both hands. A hideous voice hissed "Ich
will dich TÖTE!"
I will kill you.
Then sharp pain flared from my back. Another shockrod.
By rights, two shockrod strikes should be enough to paralyze an
adult, but I was too charged to notice. I swung around and my
sword hit a rod and flung it away.
More pain, from behind my knee. Just how many of them are there?
I thought distractly as I fell down on my back. I parried another
shockrod lunge then slashed around at a movement at the corner
of my eye.
I felt my sword snag briefly into something, with an odd sound
like ripping fabric. There was a yelp of pain. Something heavy
Someone cried "MEDIC!"
A shockrod touched my wrist as I tried to scramble to my feet.
My hand went numb and the sword clattered to the ground. Then
they were all on me like in those old movies about American Football.
are in trouble." Colonel Barts said almost matter-of-fact.
The whole squadron stood silent. No arguing with that. The paramedics
had just ushered away the last of the wounded. Nothing serious,
compared to what I had done.
"Now, Lt. Kurtz, do you have any justification?" The
colonel asked me, while I massaged my wrist. The shockrod paralysis
had left. "Because I'm here to hear it before the JAG does.
Do you realize what you have done?"
I now realized it fully well. The most serious wounded was my
work. The yelp of pain I had heard in my rage had been a loud
scream, really, as my sword had cut through the leg muscles of
a Security Officer struggling to immobilize me. It had taken three
of them, who had jumped me as soon as I saw me about to kill a
I still couldn't believe it. I've never thought of myself as a
violent man. To the contrary, I've never picked up a fight all
my life. I was at a complete loss for words, and the thought that
I had been about to kill a man with a sword - and wounded another
- was too much to take.
"I - I don't know what happened to me, sir." I simply
"Well, you better wise up and think of what happened
"Just what are you doing with my patient, gentlemen?"
asked a woman's voice. I turned around. Doctor Harireh Sadri,
the surgeon who had patched me up after Jupiter, was making her
way through the SF people.
"Doctor Sadri, 1Lt Kurtz here has
" Someone began.
"I know. I was here to check out on some pilots when
I heard about the accident." She cut short. "What is
1Lt Kurtz doing here? He's meant to rest and get himself to sickbay
for periodical checkups. He's been missing four checkups
so far. What do you think you're doing, lieutenant?"
I had all but forgotten about the checkups! I'd been feeling fine
for days, so
She brought up a small medical scanner. "Eyes wide open."
She ordered, then did a quick check. "As I suspected."
"Would you please, doctor, share your suspects with us?"
Colonel Barts asked.
"Of course. You see, lieutenant Kurtz here is one of many
pilots who have been suffering from sleep problems since Neptune."
"Yes." Harireh continued. "But he is one of those
who made use of dreamsleep meds - artificial endorphine compounds.
They're new-generation sleep pills, they help the organism into
a REM sleep state, as opposed to general sedation. JMF has been
liberally issuing them to troops from the beginning of the campaign,
something I have been opposed to.
"You see, artificial endorphins have a very long life
once they get to the bloodstream, the compound has been proven
to reduce the body's ability to produce its own. So far, it's
not a great hazard because once off meds, it only takes a couple
of days for the natural endorphins count to go up.
"But 1Lt Kurtz here and many pilots have gone through complete
blood replacement following rad exposure during the Jupiter campaign.
Artificial blood is a poor medium for natural endocrine functions
- diminished enzyme count and immunitary system weakening are
part of the symptoms - and hence his body has limited capabilities
to produce endorphins that counteract adrenalin production. Adrenalin
storms are another side effect of blood replacement, some individual
react abnormally to synthaemoglobine."
She drew a breath. "Under intense stress or if subjected
to pain, lieutenant Kurtz - and some other soldiers, I'm warning
you - will react very violently."
"That doesn't excuse him from trying to cutting up
my men!" Officer Basse - who was watching me closely holding
a Class-2 shocklance - counteracted.
"He's trained as an Infantry NCO, what do you expect?"
Colonel Barts answered. "He did hand-to-hand combat. Well,
what do we do with this man, Doctor?"
"First of all, you take him off flight status, immediately.
Next time he could gun someone out. Then you make sure he checks
in at sickbay, periodically, until I personally clear him.
Lieutenant, sewing you back together was hard work, God be praised,
make it worth something."
"Yes ma'am - doctor." I answered.
The Secs released me. Colonel Barts walked up and said: "So,
you heard the good doctor and you'll comply, lieutenant.
Make no mistake, I'm not cutting you any slack but I can't afford
to lose any more pilots: see to it that you're cleared to return
to flight ASAP - only when the doctor says so. Understood?"
"In the meantime, you can not fly but this doesn't mean we're
leaving you idle. By your file, you can speak French, can you?"
"Oui, mon colonel."
"Don't go multilingual on me, mister. I don't need it but
JMF's Chiefs of Staff apparently do. Get your ass suited up 'cause
I'm loaning you to the Russians, they seem to need a liaison guy
aboard Suvorov and you're it. So, pack your stuff and I
hope to hell you like borsch. Dismissed!"
that's it." I concluded.
"You cut up somebody and end up working for big brass? You
should have dismembered him, you'd be an General now!" Andrej
I felt lighter - literally. "Something up with the gravs?"
"No. This area is lower gravity. Some are at zero-g, easier
to load things."
"Yes, but this is a C&C area." I objected.
"I know, good reason anyway. You'll see now."
The door in front of us opened up into a large room, occupied
by a long table and a massive overhead screen. There were half
a dozen officers sitting there, and someone further down the hall
was working at a commboard. We half-leaped in, stood to attention
and saluted - not a small task in a low-gee area.
"Starshiy leytenant Korolev reporting as ordered."
"1st Lieutenant Kurtz, reporting as ordered."
"At ease, gentlemen." Said a female voice, clear as
a bell, from down the hall. The figure at the commboard turned
around and advanced. She was a woman, thin and tall, moving through
the half-darkened room with the grace of a ballet dancer in the
low gravity field. The moment she stepped into light, I could
see her clearly.
She was not thin, but gaunt. And completely bald. Her skin had
a pallor that was unlike the 'space tan' common to longtime travelers,
and almost translucid. At her waist she wore an odd-looking belt,
certainly no standard equipment. As she came closer, I could see
small tubes running from two cylinder-shaped objects on the belt
to the rear of her uniform jacket. I had seen something like that
in my days aboard Martin Luther King, Jr.
Portable life-med support I thought. Blood purificator
and dialysis equipment.
"I'm Captain Ekaterina Malysheva." She introduced herself.
"I command Suvorov. Now that we have our liaison officer,
we can begin. We will dispense with formalities later."
I was too dumbstruck to answer with more than a nod and I simply
"I thought she had
" I whispered to Andrej.
"Died? Yes, she has, so to speak. She was only one alive
of Kirov crew three days after Volga Expanse, fatal radiation
dose. We're short of experienced officers, so they did their best
to keep her alive. We need her."
"But radiation sickness
"Incurable, da. She will still die, nothing can avoid
that. That belt, and periodical treatments, will stave off a little
but she will die all the same. She knows, but she will fight.
When war is over, she can join Vassily."
"Must be painful."
"Life is. Low grav helps some. Her bones have become frail,
and she has very little muscle left."
I tried to imagine what it must have been like for her. Living
on borrowed time, connected to a life-support machine all the
time, going through the pain of heavy rad treatment day after
day so that she could still fight. I couldn't take it I
I took another look at her. She had no eyebrows left, either,
and her hands were covered by gloves. She must have lost her
fingernails, too. Yet I could see that she had been beautiful,
once, the same way you can look at an old lady and know that she
must have been a head-turner in her youth. Some things may pass,
but have a way of lingering on.
Someone barked a short sentence in Russian. Andrej poked me in
the ribs. "Stand to attention." He said. I snapped up
The doors on the other side of the room opened, and a man entered
flanked by two aides.
General Zhukov I thought. They didn't tell me
"Now we'll see just how good you are at diplomacy."
* * *
that's a present from Admiral Abergottie, himself." I showed
my buddies the datadisk and the handwritten note. I believe
in you, that was it. He wasn't a man of many words. "Tactical
data for Valles Marineris."
"Mars' Grand Canyon." Jon filled in.
"Yeah. Something big coming along, I can tell you. Those
Russians don't play around, they mean business. Whatever they're
cooking up, the 'Clans are going to eat it and there ain't enough
antacid tablets in the Galaxy to relieve them."
not going into details about the Martian Holocaust because one,
you'll have read about it and I can't do better than historians
did, and two, it makes me sick only to think of it so spare me
the task, pretty-please. I've seen grown men cry about it and
the only reason I wasn't among them is that I was busy being very,
very sick. Just when mankind thinks everything has been said and
done in the atrocities field, along comes something - someone
- to upper the scale. The Ideoclans, cloning and genetics notwithstanding,
were definitely human in origin: nobody else around has that knack
When the shocked silence had passed after seeing the video docs
from Mars, the comments for the squadron could be resumed in one
"Those bastards gonna pay big time!"
Which neatly brought us to the task at hand.
thing I always liked about being a soldier is that you get very
simple answers to questions that would normally leave you dumbfounded:
it's "attack this", "cover that", "shoot
this" and "strafe that". After a taste of the horrors
of the Martian Holocaust, we got our particular brand of medicine
with Operation 617.
"So, this is what we call the 'Wallis Bomb'." Colonel
Harlow explained. "The whole idea for the mission comes from
the Dam Busters' mission that RAF Squadron 617 brilliantly executing
during World War Two, so we decided to borrow some of their luck."
We took a look at the sleek device. It didn't look like a conventional
bomb, there were no steering rockets, no target-seeking "eye".
Instead, is was round and massive, designed to lay flat against
the bellies of our F-911Ds. It had lateral fins and canards to
guide through the atmosphere. The underside was slightly flattened
to give it a sort of lifting-body configuration.
"It's strictly an air-delivered weapon, highly specialized.
Notice that there aren't any sensor windows apart from the camera,
and that is only for taking pictures on the way down. The datalink
after release is up-only, it has no remote guidance." Harlow
He pointed to the midsection of the bomb. "The only guidance
mechanism is a gyro platform here and accelerometers here.
There's a data interface in the dorsal section, designed to mate
with the standard Gyruss bus. It doesn't take targeting data from
the navcomputer, though."
Harlow uncovered a device on a table. It looked something like
out of a history book, ungainly and full of gears and wheels,
with a tracker screen mounted on a jointed arm.
"This little gizmo here is the Norden bomb-targeting computer.
It's a self-contained hybrid electromechanical device, with its
own inertial navigation and guidance system. It's mated through
the standard MilBus to the Gyruss nose camera, so
He flipped a switch and the tracker screen came alive. "
What you see through this screen here is the terrain ahead superimposed
with targeting data from the Norden."
"Why not use a standard bombsight?" Brooks asked.
"There will be heavy EM interference around the target. At
Jupiter, we have had several bombsight failures because the mag
field played a number on the sensors. This baby here is jam-proof."
"The why don't we equip all bombers with it?"
"Because it lacks flexibility." Harlow turned the screen
around. "It's a purely inertial device, it needs to know
where the target is. What you have to do once you reach
the IP is look through the tracker screen and follow the nav cues.
When the bomb run starts, the clock inside syncs up with the Gyruss
computer and calculates a firing solution continuously. You hit
the commit button, then you can manually release if you want but
the Norden will drop as soon as the solution is correct. The bomb's
flight profile is precalculated, it will fly the rest of the trajectory,
skip over the water and adjust for wind currents if necessary,
dropping through the shaft and exploding at a preprogrammed time
"You've all been issued boosters - yes, I know how you feel
about them but the new model is way safer than anything you've
seen and you'll need them to get to safety. Those babies are nukes,
lest you forget, and underground detonation or not, we're talking
about one massive event. You'll want to put as much distance between
the target and yourselves after release."
"So we'll be using a gyro-stabilized bombsight to drop gyro-stabilized
bombs from a gyro-stabilized spacecraft?" Nicola asked.
"Well, I think I'm in need of some gyro-stabilization myself!"
Nukes. Nuclear weapons. That was a novelty, nobody used
them anymore. Why waste time on nukes when a battlecruiser cannon
battery could turn a large surface into lava? No nukes had been
used in combat since World War Five, and that had been about 70
years before. And then there were fusion-plasma devices, directed
jet stream warheads, you name it. Nukes were only used in space
demolitions and mining - and Operation 617 was a combination of
both, really. We were going to bring down a massive underground
No clones, no troops. It was as simple as that. Taking out the
main enemy clone supply we'd be cutting down their numbers.
"Of course," Harlow continued "there will be little
fallout, since the bombs will explode way below the surface and
those who may hit the surface
Well, we have engineered those
babies to produce precious little in the rad contamination field.
The devices are locked during the flight and will be armed through
PAL protocols, but the final safety will be taken off only during
He took a deep breath. "Now, gentlemen, you have been personally
selected by General Zhukov and Admiral Abergottie to do this but
I have to repeat it, it's still a volunteer thing. Nobody
would think ill of anyone walking away, because it's going to
be hard and it's been a long, long time since nukes have ever
been used in combat. I'll be leaving you alone and think of it.
Think it through and think it well because we don't want anyone
going who is not one hundred and ten percent convinced. There
isn't going to be any room for mistakes. See you later!"
And he walked away.
Alone in the room, we looked at the bombs and the Norden bombsight.
"So, this is the first time we get a say in what we do or
not." Jon said. "I'm not putting any pressure on you
"Me too." Yoshiki said.
"Behind you, leader."
"Let's do it."
I didn't count my wing's comments. I had turned around to face
the Norden bombsight, and I could see my face reflected on the
Wallis Bomb's surface. The durasteel case acted like a distorting
mirror. I wasn't thinking about the missions.
I thought about the Martian population.
About the Ideoclan bio-toxin attack.
About death camps.
About mass graves.
About misery, starvation, the grief beyond imagination that survivors
And something deep inside me, something ancient, thought long
buried, something dark and old as Cain, unimaginably evil, stirred.
I saw my face contracting into a rictus grin. I heard myself uttering
something sotto voce.
"Say again, David?" Jon asked.
I paused, my face turned to normal, though I didn't turn for fear
my buddies would see through me.
"I said we go and nuke them." I whispered, finally.
"I say we burn the bastards."
* * *
train and train. Our whole existence ever since we had given our
go to the mission consisted of this. The F-911D Gyruss fighter
was fully capable of atmospheric flight - we had gone through
it back at Paradise - but low-altitude bombing was another matter.
The THDAR equipment allowed us to fly fast and low, but as long
as there was a man in the loop, there went the weakest link.
We worked as hard as possible to strengthen that link. By the
second week we had become so accustomed to the Norden bombsight
that it was hard to imagine we had never seen one before. Once
I found myself reaching for the tracker controls while eating
breakfast. When I told Jon, he said "Well, I've been trying
to input the PAL arming codes into my ice cream, go figure."
With H-Hour barely two days away, we could have flown the whole
mission in our sleep, which would have come in handy because we
had been getting precious little. Thanks to the accurate topographical
data that Swiss Intel had "gathered" from the Terran
Engineering Corps, we had the best targeting info we could ever
have. No excuses at all.
The last day we stood well clear of any mission-related stuff
and had a little party. It could have easily been our last.
to shoot a man, I thought, sitting at my desk. I was staring
at a blank screen trying to write what may have proven to be the
last letter in my life. No training in existence could have prepared
me for this.
As far as I had gone, it went like:
Mom and Dad, dear Rudi,
Well, that's it. If you're reading this it means I've bitten the
the Big One I thought. What in Hell am I thinking?
I deleted the sentence and started again.
this letter gets to you, it means I'm gone.
I should have written. Dead, not gone. But something
prevented me from changing the word. I tried again.
you're reading this, it means
means what? That you should be grieving? Of course you will. Why
was I trying to be cocky? I pressed DELETE once again.
Mom, dear Dad, dear Brother,
Thanks for the wonderful years you have given me. I know I've
never been the easiest child to rise, but you've all been great.
There has never been a moment in my childhood that I can call
sad because of any of you. It's not me who should judge, but I've
turned out as good as I could and anything bad about me is my
own doing, really.
I know how you must be feeling
know? I know? Oh, yes. This I could say. I know how it feels
to lose loved ones. Brytta. 3rd Wing. All those people I had come
to respect on the Lex. Yes, this I could say, I knew.
And I'm truly sorry but believe me, if it has come to
this it's because it was unavoidable. Please remember that it's
a good cause, one I believe in. If you've been watching the news,
I've been fortunate enough to fly and fight side by side with
the finest people ever to live, and if I had the choice and still
know the outcome, I'd go again.
Yes, that was better.
This mission was worth any sacrifice
Any sacrifice. Was it correct? It was one thing to think about
my life, but would I have sacrificed my brother's life for the
mission? I was grateful I'd never have to make the decision.
This mission was worth it. The tide had to be turned. I have
done what I wanted the most
No, I hadn't written this. But I had thought it. I shook
my head and continued writing.
Doing my duty.
Killing, burning, maiming Ideoclans by their hundreds, their thousands.
Nuke them. Burn them. Burn them all.
Again the thought. I closed my eyes and saw the face of the 'Clan
soldier I had killer on Titan. His blank face stared at me from
Doing my duty, and
What I wanted the most. Kill, kill, kill.
I stood up and the chair fell back. I turned it up. What's
up with me?
Kill them. Kill them all. I hate them. Hate them. Hate, hate,
hate. Damn them. Damn them all to Hell.
My heart was pounding hard. I stepped back and fell onto the bunk.
My hands were trembling. Another adrenalin rush I thought.
But no, this wasn't possible. Doctor Sadri had cleared me. I didn't
dare going back to sickbay because she could take me off flight
status again. I wanted to fly this mission. But I still
knew it had nothing to do with my body. That was my mind speaking.
I want to kill them. Make them suffer. Die, die, die. Burn,
"No, no. This is not me. This is not ME!" I shouted
standing up suddenly. My voice sounded hollow and broken.
"This is not me." I repeated like a mantra. Oh God,
please, no. Do not let it be. I haven't prayed since I was a little
kid and I was afraid of the dark, but now the dark is me. Please,
do not let this happen. Don't let me become the thing I hate the
I sat on the floor, trembling with fear and hatred. I didn't touch
the letter again.
* * *
were two wings of people on our way to the cats, cheering us on.
I felt like one of those first astronauts I had read about, the
stories that had made me think of a career in Space Exploration.
Those people had ventured first into space, riding spaceships
barely tested out, sitting on rockets that were far bigger than
our boosters and far more volatile. We were going into uncharted
territory ourselves, but instead of out into the unknown we were
going in, into the heart of the enemy.
Our F-911D had been fully fitted out. The Wallis bombs - the nukes
- were attached to the spacecrafts' bellies, bearing some "dedications"
to the 'Clans from JMF. Mine read Tick Tock, read and weep.
"Here we go." Jon said looking at the spaceplanes.
"Yeah. All for one?"
"One for all!" 1st and 2nd Wing - what was left
of 357th - bellowed together.
We climbed to our cockpits and strapped in. We checked each and
every system, repeating the startup checklist manually to be absolutely
sure everything was fine. My rifle, once again, got into the cockpit
and into the specially designed rack behind the seat. A small
measure of security.
APU online. Computer online. Weapons powered and ready. Bus continuity
positive. Comms check OK. Hydraulics check OK. Life support OK.
Engine start, engine check OK. Now for the new stuff, EXT CTRL
panel powered and on green, boosters check safe and OK, Permissive
Action Link check, Special load (the bomb) continuity OK, safed
and ready, guidance reading fine, Norden bombsight powered up
Everything go for the mission. I thought about the sandstorm,
the Storm of the Century, down on the Red Planet. That had been
a grave enough concern, so much that we had been asked if we wanted
to abort the mission. We decided to go ahead.
My fighter was loaded into the catapult. Just the time for a deep
breath, to clear the mind, to concentrate on the business ahead.
Then the push, gentle but firm.
And then, freefall.
was close!" came Brooks' voice over the commnet. Debris
were coming down, trails of flame through the upper Martian atmosphere.
There goes one reconsat too many I thought. Entering atmosphere
at a shallow angle to prevent overheating, we leveled out at 15000
meters and throttled up to get to cruise speed. I could see the
"1st, this is Leader. Check out your gizmos, there's trouble
ahead. Let's not fox-four if we can help it."
We were flying in a downward trajectory, on an interception course
with another "friendly", a drone bomber that we were
to down as soon as in range. This, and the fake 'Clan IFF codes
we were broadcasting for all to see should have confused the enemy
- or so it was thought.
Jon's wing took out the robot bomber before we could. He'd been
in a better position and spotted it first. Gun-only kill, something
impressive in an atmosphere. The DEW (directed energy weapon)
lines from the pulse guns seemed to linger like smoke trails.
"Waypoint in 30 seconds, engage inertial navigation."
I ordered while turning mine to ON. The message TRACKING appeared
on the screen. I was on the loop.
Passing the waypoint on our route to the Trench. I could barely
"Check THDAR, ten seconds
" I counted down and
at zero we entered the Grand Canyon, slightly under supersonic
and into the thick of the storm.
"Jeez, boss, let's get a shovel and bucket next time!"
minute of flying blind is unnerving. Four hours plays sick little
jokes on your sanity. Of course, we had the forward-scanning radar
(lidar was useless in the sandstorm, and IR was the same) but
it was no substitute for the real thing. The THDAR would keep
us from crashing into each other or flying into the ground or
against the trench walls, but there was no escaping the feeling
that we weren't in full control of our lives. Four hours. Too
much time. I didn't want time. I didn't want to think.
I hate them. Hate them. Hate them.
There was it again, the Beast biting at the edge of my conscience.
Whenever I felt it, I tried to concentrate on the mission, go
through the system checklist, fine-tune the Norden sight, whatever.
Occasionally, we'd enter a pocket of calm air and we'd see each
other and the walls of the trench again, and we'd salute, glad
to see company. Then we'd go back into darkness and loneliness.
At 200 clicks from the target, we went through the final checklist
and entered the PAL codes into the panel. Seconds of whirrs and
clicks later, the message CODE ACCEPTED - DEVICES ARMED blinked
on the screen.
"Seventy clicks to target
Damn!" All of
a sudden the darkness dissipated giving way to a clear sky. Lake
Tsiolkovsky was before and beneath us, blue and sparkling. And
The cloning facility.
I could see the harsh face of the underground monstrosity even
at that distance: the cliff by the lakeside had been excavated
through, and there were exhaust ducts pushing hot gas through
the atmosphere like pits from Hell. The entrance looked pitifully
small and low.
"Drop down. Staggered formation." I ordered my wing.
2nd followed fast. We flew straight and true towards the target.
Pulses of light flashed from the lakeside.
"Small arms fire, Swiss." Said Jon.
"Roger, Texas. Let'er rip a bit." I touched the trigger
and my pulse guns came to life. Other fighters opened fire, raking
the area. Some flashes disappeared, others remained. I positioned
the Norden tracker screen to my face: targeting cues appeared
superimposed to my view. The entrance was marked with a circle,
a series of lines indicated the predicted bomb path, a pipper
the point of impact. Slowly, the lines began to converge.
Something zinged against the canopy. I ignored it. The
lines were almost straight
"Ten seconds." I called out. The entrance loomed closer,
like the jaws of a titanic beast. Nine. Eight
"Leader, you're on target." Brooks called out.
All my life has been
Aimed towards this moment.
I pushed the commit button.
A beeper went off in my helmet.
I pulled the trigger.
The Gyruss fighter leaped up as it became lighter.
Then I pulled the stick hard.
Damn, I missed. I thought I had it and I missed. No way I can
have hit it, no way I can
"Leader, you've got two good bombs. They've gone through,
straight to the core! BULL'S EYE!"
I straightened out and unsafed the boosters. I made it, I made
it, I can't believe I
More calls came from 1st Wing, and then 2nd, as they released
their bombs. Most got through, one didn't, but there were enough
hits to matter. We engaged boosters to get the hell out of Dodge,
seconds and distance passed, before
Sunrise. No, it wasn't the sun. The sun was above us. What
was rising behind our backs was the fireball from the nuclear
detonations. When the Ideoclans had excavated the facility, the
terrain had been weakened and the first explosion had caused the
structure to collapse, blasting the ground wide open. The bombs
were now chain-exploding, their fireballs merging into one.
I squeezed my eyes shut as the canopy automatically darkened to
shield me from the flash. The visor turned dark, too. But still
the light came.
The boosters fired away, carrying me away from the nuclear fire,
g-forces tearing at me. The shock was nothing like I had imagined.
I screamed out loud, and yet I was silent.
I didn't dare turning around to see the apocalypse. The shockwave
was riding behind, a hammer of superheated air. But a F-911 could
run faster. We leveled out, I checked on my wing. I was surprised
we were still alive, 2nd too.
"Mamma mia. That was fun, can we do it again?"
asked Nicola, shaken but still in a quipping mood.
"Be good and I'll buy you another ride." I shot back.
Then I looked behind me. A fist-shaped cloud was punching through
the upper Martian atmosphere.
"Scratch one cloning facility." Jon said, shaken
The boosters spluttered out and separated, falling away. The quiet
of space felt odd. Then I heard something on the radio.
"This is Tango Delta One-Oh-Six, we require air support.
I say again, this is Tango Delta One-Oh-Six
Ground troops! They were under fire.
"This is Echo Charlie Three-One-Niner, we require air
support. Grid coordinates X-Ray Kilo six oh eight
"This is Yankee Five-Oh, support requested on
there were too many calls.
"1st, we've got some groundpounding to do. If you're still
in the game, let's get down and do some work." I said.
"2nd, follow me!" Jon called out, simply. His
wing went one way, we went another.
* * *
sector we had vectored to was a vast rocky valley, with precious
little in the way of cover. From the distance, I could see the
JMF Marine units slugging it out with what looked three Ideoclan
tank platoons. As soon as we locked them, we released a volley
of Spearhead missiles toward the enemy armor.
The Spearheads had been designed as antitank weapons: this was
the first time they'd be used for the purpose. I saw the trails
from their engines go straight up and thought the atmosphere firing
had thrown them out of whack, then they arced down and exploded,
each one sending an AP slug into a tank. Each one of them burst
Closing in, we fired the pulse guns into the enemy ranks. Each
shot kicked up sand and dust, leaving an ionized trail behind.
I felt small arms fire against the fuselage, but the armor shrugged
it off. We had no shields, of course, because of the atmosphere,
but the Gyruss is well protected all the same.
I zoomed down on a 'Clan infantry unit, firing my guns. I saw
them crumble and fall. Regaining altitude, I came down for a second
pass. No one of them would leave the battlefield alive, I decided.
1st Wing had lost any semblance of a formation, buzzing like angry
bees over the valley, taking out enemy units one by one. No missiles
left, we had only our pulse guns. More than enough.
One of the fighters - Higeno, I thought - pumped shot after shot
at a surviving tank until it went off in a spectacular secondary
explosion. An artillery nest was my next target, it had been well
camouflaged but my FLIR had it down cold. A burst of pulse gun
fire turned the nest into flaming ruin.
"Warning, guns overheat safety on. Thirty seconds to normal
operation." My guns shut down to cool off. I spotted
an Ideoclan missile squad and turned around. No time to wait for
the guns to come online again: I flew straight at them and engaged
the hover thrusters. Flames shot down, burning them.
"Twenty seconds to normal operation." The computer
warned again, but I still had no time: there were more 'Clans
scrambling up a hill carrying a mortar-like device. Turning around,
I zoomed down on them.
"Ten seconds to normal operation."
Just before overlying them, I pushed the shield activation switch:
manual override bypassed the safety protocols. The shield came
up with a blinding flash, lightning crowning my fighter's hull.
There was no damage, but it felt like I was sitting at the heart
of a mighty thunderstorm, the arcing discharge raking the ground.
It didn't last long, the automatic safety disengaged the shield
coil within seconds but the work was done: I saw the charred bodies
as I climbed back up
Before long, we had run out of targets. And not just them.
"Ah, Leader, check your cooling level." Brooks
suggested. I looked at the panel and saw it well into the red.
We had pushed our birds hard, and the reactors were overheating.
We had to turn them off within five minutes or lose them.
I briefly thought of trying and make it to orbit, but we would
have been sitting ducks. And there was a sandstorm coming, I could
see it over the horizon. Setting down was the only solution, but
not in the middle of a battlefield
"Guys, there's a weather station fifty clicks northwest of
here." I looked at the map. "Let's land and wait it
weather station's landing pad was wide enough for all our fighters
to hover down, and the main hanger was open and empty. We taxied
in, then safed the systems to hibernation and erased the IFF codes
and dumped the PAL memory. We assembled near the hangar entrance.
"Well, we can't stay here." Brooks said. "We
can close the hangar's door, but the storm could go on for days."
"Amen that." I looked at my e-pad. "According to
the map, there's a small town built around the station and we're
not in the red zone." 'Red' meant Ideoclan-controlled. There
wasn't any 'blue' yet. I punched in some commands and a series
of pictures came up. "I managed to snap a few shots while
flying by, structures look good. There is a main building housing
the weather station and power generator, then we have a little
residential area all around."
"Threat scanner was in the green." Hector said. "No
CBW stuff around."
"Yeah, no rad either." Celina confirmed. "Looks
like we're in no-man's land."
I slung my rifle around and held it in the 'patrol' carry. "Well,
let's see how the local hotels are."
town was smaller than I thought: just the main building shaped
like a truncated pyramid, surrounded by utility sheds and about
two dozens of housing structures with the out looking sides lying
diagonally. All a protection against the strong winds and sandstorms,
obviously. We were standing on a hill overlooking the place, while
I scanned the area through my binoculars.
There wasn't much to see: obviously the power had been cut, not
even the anti-collision strobes on the sensor tower above the
station were working, and the place had an abandoned look to it.
A couple of land carts lay in the streets, one of them overturned.
Maybe the wind I thought, but I also saw burn marks and
holes in some of the buildings. Directed-energy weapons, maybe
pulse guns, or explosive slugs. Shifting about to look from another
side, I noticed a gash in the weather station's side, previously
hidden by a smaller building. Now that I could see it, it was
obvious that combat had taken place here at a time: not enough
to cause massive damage but something had happened.
Then there was the area about half a click from the east side
of the town: it looked like it had been excavated recently. I
was reminded of Titan, and the trench in the methane snow dug
by the crashing Ideoclan craft, but this was something else entirely.
Whatever action had been there, it was since long over. No sense
worrying too much. I rose up and signaled my squad - my wing
- to follow, and we walked down the hillside in a staggered line:
Nicola and Hector ahead, myself in the middle, Brooks and Higeno
at the rear. Much as I would have preferred to stay at the front,
my Stgw11 was the best firepower we had so it made sense to have
it where it could provide cover. I wished for a MG02, a Maschinengewehr
(machine gun). The Null Zwei could fire 1500 7.7mm caseless rounds
per minute, mixed AP and HE. You can't have everything. I fought
back the urge to check the rifle chamber - I had done it just
before starting down the hill - and reminded myself that everything
was fine, the rifle was locked and loaded, no problem.
We finally reached the town, just as the wind was getting stronger.
We filed down what looked like main street, even as though probably
streets weren't even named here.
Hector froze and pointed. Behind what looked like a small condominium
building lay two figures. Bodies. Ideoclan soldiers.
They must have been dead for quite some time. They were bloated
and misshapen, and there were several gashes in their armor. Light
infantry, maybe, not heavy stormtroopers gear. The damage was
not from firearms, either.
"Look here." Brooks whispered. He was pointing at a
small object, a round box roughly the size of a teacup saucer,
attached to a building's face. Looking closely, I could see a
spiderweb-thin wire running from it to a nail in the opposite
"Antipersonnel mine." I said, recognizing it. "Stay
clear of the wire, it fires razor-sharp metal discs when it blows
We put some distance between the device and us. "It's no
'Clan stuff." I remembered the training guides. "Terran
weapon, old type too. They've been out of fashion for forty years
"So, this is what killed those two 'Clans?" Nicola asked.
"Yeah, wounds are telltale. Pretty bad armor they get issued,
too, if it gets sliced through by an old landmine like this."
And we don't have any armor at all I thought.
"Guerrilla? Some survivors? Maybe they picked some old depot."
"Probably. Maybe they booby-trapped the place and left. Those
two could have been part of a scout patrol, sent to recon the
"In that case, why did they leave them there? And why didn't
they come in force?" Higeno asked.
"Don't know. 'Clans don't care much for each other, I doubt
they'd do something as inefficient as carrying their dead or wounded
back to base, or giving them proper burial." It was not exactly
as if they had people back home who cared.
"Maybe those were the only two. Which begs the question,
why didn't send someone to see what happened to them?"
"They didn't care." Offered Brooks.
"Probably." I looked around. "They don't think
twice about sending thousands of troops to certain death, they're
not about to lose sleep about two lost soldiers. Maybe their unit
was locked in combat somewhere near by and they were simply scratched
off as casualties."
Still, I didn't like the uncertainty of it all. We scouted around
and found a clear way to the station.
"OK, file down as before. Keep your backs to
A puff of dust erupted a scarce meter from me. A sharp CRACK resonated.
"CONTACT! CONTACT! Everybody DOWN!" I bellowed.
Another shot rang out, another puff of dust. We were under fire!
"Where are they?" Higeno looked around.
"Look there!" Hector pointed. I saw a flash at a window
in the uppermost floor of the weather station centre. Rising up
the rifle, I snapped out the scope and looked through.
There it was: a rifle barrel, just poking through a window. Turning
the fire selector to semiauto, I pulled the trigger fast. The
Stgw11 produced a sharp report, like a loud coughing, as it fired
its 4.1mm flechette rounds. The barrel moved, my shots hitting
the concrete above the window. Shouldn't have snapped I
Loud bangs erupted all around as my men opened up with
their sidearms. The Elephant Killer may have been not accurate
at long range, but the explosive rounds made for some nice fireworks.
We advanced to the door, then paused.
"Window." I said. We shot the plaspex out and leaped
in, in case the door was booby-trapped, then ran up the stairs.
The centre was only four floors tall, we reached it in no time.
I changed magazines and turned to full automatic as I turned the
corner, sending a burst down the corridor. We advanced and finally
came to the entrance of a room. A shot rang out from the inside
and ricocheted against a wall. Wild shooting, this was no sniper.
No 'Clan, either, this seemed sure enough. I grabbed a cylinder
from my belt, pulled out the rings and threw it inside. Throw
something first, then work it out. No grenade, of course.
Smoke cannister. Good enough. We stormed the room.
The figure inside was hunched above a weapon, fiddling with the
magazines. Instead of shooting, we jumped and brought the would-be
sniper down hard. There was hardly any struggle. When we finally
took a good look at him, we could see we had been right. He was
man must have been in his early thirties but looked older, and
frail. He was disheveled and dirty, and his camouflage suit was
torn in many pieces; his weapon, a light carbine, was well maintained
though. From his unit and rank insignia, we determined he was
a reserve Lance Corporal with the Colonial Australian and New
Zealand Army Corps. He had been living at Windbreak Gorge - so
the town was named - for five years with his wife and kids when
the Ideoclan invasion came. The town had decided not to obey the
'Clan orders and barricaded themselves, and reservists had organized
the resistance. Lance Corporal Alex R. Crowne had taken upon himself
to go out and set up the passive sensor net that would have alerted
the town of the invaders' coming.
Unfortunately, the Ideoclan had attacked the small city before
the colonists had time to prepare, and although the resistance
had been fierce, they were overrun.
Crowne had returned just in time to see the Ideoclans bury the
bodies in the trench we had seen from the hill.
I tried to imagine what LCpl Crowne had gone through and gave
up. It was just too much to think about. From that moment he had
stood watch, getting ready for his last stand when the enemy would
come back to occupy the town.
But the enemy never came: the weather station was not an important
military target and the 'Clans had attacked it only to destroy
the residents. Apparently, they hadn't even thought of bombing
it. Maybe they thought ground troops were less expensive than
bombs. Only some scouts had come along, to probe their perimeter,
and had been killed by landmines or by Crowne's carbine. The only
serious confrontation had come weeks before when a platoon had
come about to set up an antiaircraft battery, and Crowne had managed
to put it out of commission with the only one antitank round left.
A brief firefight had resulted and he had been wounded twice,
but the attackers had run into a booby-trapped fuel tank and had
been wiped out. No-one was sent to investigate, because the same
day a strong sandstorm had broken out and a couple of Ideoclan
shuttles had crashed into the surrounding mountains. He had seen
them, swatted against the rocky cliffs by powerful winds. Anyway,
the 'Clans commanders didn't care. They had plenty of soldiers
and shuttles. The losses at Windbreak Gorge were obviously other
casualties to Mars' freaky weather. Nothing to worry about.
The Ideoclan commanders didn't care about Windbreak Gorge.
Only LCpl Alex R. Crowne, ANZAC, cared. He was the only one left,
and not for long. He had treated his wounds as best as he could
at the station's med facility but there's only so much than a
man and automated surgeons can do. He had been living on scarce
rations for too long, and lost much of his body's ability to fight
back. And he was suffering from denutrition.
We tried to care for him as best as we could, using our medipacks'
antibiotic and stimulants to lift him up, but he was too far gone.
He could just sip the spare liquid rations we carried around on
If he had been just a little sharper I would have been dead. The
man must have been a good shot in his time, judging from the sharpshooter
medal on his dress uniform, which we found at his home.
'Clans." He muttered while we ran a medscan
on him. Hector had managed to start up the power generator using
a spare suit's battery to boot it up.
"We're not Ideoclan, Corporal." I said. "We're
JMF. 1st Wing, 357th Gyruss Squadron, from JMFNS Victory. We're
on your side."
The man seemed to snap out a little. "You're Terran Navy?
"We're from the Colonies." I explained. "We're
invading the Solar System. Been taking them down planet by planet."
"Good." He muttered. "They told us not to fight,
wait for orders, they wanted us to give up our weapons
leave it to the pros. Like we couldn't fight."
Typical, I thought. Earth's military was completely a professional
service. Most colonists, even on Mars, were militia types. It's
funny how some people view as 'progress' the taking down of the
people's ability to fend for themselves. Another fine irony was
that Earth forces had been defeated and it was up to us, mostly
citizen soldiers, to reclaim our space.
"I couldn't save them. They killed them all. My sweetheart.
My boys." He cried. "Couldn't stop them."
"You've done good, corporal." Far better than I could
have. "You held your position and denied use of this
facility by the enemy."
The man's forces were fading. "I
for a long time."
"I'm relieving you, corporal. Get some rest, that's an order.
We'll continue debriefing later.
He fell asleep. I took a look at the medscanner's readout, which
were not good. His lifesigns were fading. It was a miracle he'd
been still alive.
And maybe not. He had been kept alive by his sense of duty. The
war had taken his life away from him, the Ideoclans had taken
his family and his friends.
Now we had taken his mission and he could die.
Outside, the storm raged on.
midnight we had fallen into a comfortable routine. One of us would
rest, one would man the sensor suite, one would stand by, two
would watch over our guest. No, not guest, host. This was his
place. When I went to see him, he was still emaciated and looking
ill, but not dirty and disheveled anymore: we had taken it to
wash and shave him and provide a clean set of BDUs. The man was
dying, he deserved to go in battle dress.
Towards three o'clock in the morning, he woke up. "Lieutenant?
Sir?" he called in a voice suddenly clear and strong.
"I'm here, corporal." I said.
"Sorry for trying to shoot you."
I shrugged. Thanks heaven you didn't hit me. "You've
done well. I should have identified myself."
"Please do a thing for me." He asked.
"When I go, bury me with the others. Call someone to bless
the place. It's not hallowed ground."
"I'll have our Chaplain come along as soon as the storm is
over and we have clear comms. Stay with us."
He made a croaking laugh. "Naw, sir. Don't think so. Will
ya do this for me?"
"I will. Spare your energies now, soldier."
"Haven't much left." He stared at the ceiling. "Didn't
like this place when we came here. Windy and lonely and the sight's
not much. But you know, after a while, I got used to it. It was
a good home."
He fell asleep.
Corporal Alex R. Crowne didn't wake up again until early dawn.
Light had just broken above the horizon when he opened his eyes
and stared straight ahead and up, at something we couldn't see,
and he spoke clearly one last time.
" he said, smiling broadly,
and then he was gone. We stood to attention and saluted.
Here goes a good man I thought. As far as I have been
able to determine, he has done nothing serious wrong in his life
and he has suffered like no one should so please, God, take him
with you and get him back to his family and friends. He did try
to kill me but the intentions were good, so to speak, thus I'm
not going to hold a grudge and, by the way, I'm still around so
no harm done.
With the storm over, and by the dawn's early light, we carried
LCpl Crowne to his final resting place. We had dressed him in
his dress uniform, his carbine upon his chest, his coffin made
out from a 2-meters long metal container that had once housed
I read out the Spacefarer's Prayer, the only one I knew
by heart, while we buried him on the small hill overlooking the
trench that held the remains of Windbreak Gorge's residents. Guide
your servants, O Lord, by the ways of the Heavens you have made.
We are humbled and awed before the beauty of your House
A single plaque, etched out by laser welder, read:
in the line of duty.
And should our devices fail, shape our final orbit to your Home.
Higeno fired up his audio player, which he always carried around.
There was a clip he had found on the station's data banks, which
was just perfect.
a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled
"Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?"
rendered our final salute to the fallen soldier. The sun was rising
fast on the horizon, which looked so near.
Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me
And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled,
"Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?"
thought about Shawn, and 3rd Wing again, and Ahmed, and Brytta,
and myself. There's peace somewhere, but not for us. That
was the harsh truth. There will never be peace for us living.
jumped the swagman, leapt into the billabong,
"You'll never catch me alive," said he,
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by the billabong,
"Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me".
song faded into silence. I ordered at ease, then we filed
down the hill.
"We ought to call Chaplain McCreary." Nicola said. "Bless
this place. Make it hallowed ground."
"Yeah, we'll do that." I looked out at the ground. "But
you know, maybe wherever good people are buried, that's already
"Si, probably. But say, how many good people do you need?
Ten? Twenty? A hundred?"
"Don't really know, Nico. I don't think that High Up they
go for big numbers. Maybe one will do."
"Yes. One should do the trick. Plenty of good ones down there,
though. Big holy place, then."
"Right." I sighed. "Big holy place, for sure."
* * *
remains of the Ideoclan forces on Mars were destroyed just as
2nd Wing came down on Windbreak Gorge following our Becky signals.
With our Gyruss fighters cooled down, we took off and followed
back to Victory. After extensive debriefing, and McCreary's promise
that he would go back to Windbreak to bless the place, we finally
had time to rest. Jon's loss - his mother's passing - hit me like
I had lost a member of my own family. Then I realized we were
family, a band of brothers like they say in books. Me, Jon, our
wingmen, and Alex R. Crowne back on Mars. There was something
between us all that went beyond genetics.
The black fury didn't hit me again after the battle. That evening
at the Observation Deck, Colonel Barts toyed around with the telescope
until it finally locked onto something far away. On the screen,
we finally saw it.
Blue and white, and grey, suspended in a sea of darkness.
The Blue Marble.
Cradle of Mankind.
Shining like a jewel, our final goal and destination.
all the partying, I went back to my room to get some rest. Check
mail first I reminded myself and of course there they were,
letters from my parents, my brother, friends I had back home and
in the service. No bad news for me, this day. No losses for me.
I grabbed a stylus, and began to compose some replies.
Then I remembered Jon's grief.
Alex Crowne's grief.
My own grief, for Brytta.
The Martian Holocaust.
Kill. Kill. Kill them all.
The mass grave at Windbreak Gorge.
Damn them all, damn them all to Hell.
No, please, not again. But the rage, cold as ice, crept up on
me. It had nothing of the pure, berserker rage I had experienced
at Jupiter, or at the gedunk while fighting it out with the sec
officers. This thing that came at me was dark and tainted, coming
up from the recesses of the human mind we try our best to forget
about and cover up with pretenses of civilization.
Don't do this to me. Go away.
I breathed deeply, trying to chase away the feeling. My heart
wasn't pounding. I felt calm, and that terrified me. Then I finally
I finally understood it with absolute clarity: I hated the Ideoclans.
Each and every one of them. Not because of what they had done
or what they were, but because of that they were not and could
not do. They felt no fear, no regret, no pain. They didn't care
for life. They had no families, no friends, no loving wives or
girlfriends, no children. No loved ones waited for them at home,
no one would miss them. Nobody would grieve over the thousands
of Ideoclan soldiers I had killed. It was as if they had never
existed. Their existence was devoid of joy, of sorrow, of anything
that makes life precious and worth living.
I wanted them to be like me. I wanted them to be scared.
I wished they could feel fear when they went to battle, terror
when they sighted a Gyruss fighter, desperation and pain when
our pulse guns tore them apart.
I wanted them to have loved ones to mourn them. Spouses waiting
in dread for the next letter from the front. Families worried
Best of all, I wanted them to have those things so that I could
take them away. My hands fastened around imaginary controls as
I recalled the switch sequence that armed the Wallis Bombs, only
this time there was no underground base in my Norden sight seeker
but an Ideoclan city, defenseless and full of life. I almost felt
the bomb dropping away, the flesh-searing light, the nuclear fire
burning houses and people, leaving nothing but glowing ash. I
hated them. I hated them.
SNAP! The stylus broke in my hands. My jaws hurt, so hard I had
clenched them. I looked at myself in the mirror and felt sick.
The thing that looked back at me wasn't even remotely human. A
rictuslike grin in a hideously distorted face, showing teeth,
eyes deep cold and dead-looking, yet ablaze with something I wouldn't
have thought I'd see in a million years. There was nothing natural,
nothing healthy in the hatred I felt.
I tried to look away but couldn't. This was a face my mother wouldn't
have recognized. My father and my brother would have turned away
This was a face Brytta Schwetter could have never loved.
I now understood how people could come to commit hideous crimes
I could see the abyss a human soul can fall into.
What can happen to us all if we step away from the path and choose
to be any lesser than we're meant to be.
CRACK! I head butted the mirror and fell to the floor. Please,
please, help me wherever You are, because I'm failing. I'm failing.
I'm trying hard but it's not enough. I'm looking at myself and
what I fear the most is coming true. Because I've seen what I
am and, help me, I'm not a good man.
I hugged my knees and sat trembling. Think of Earth I told
Think of Earth.
We met our new CO a few days later.
often, you can figure out just what kind of officer your CO is
by noticing his first few moments with you. As for us, we were
clueless since we hadn't been told anything at all about him either.
We were all lined up on the main flight bay of the 'King waiting
for his arrival.
shuttle landed first. Okay, that was probably him landing in a
shuttle. Some people came out, mostly non-comms. A single warrant
officer met us. A puzzled look came over us all; I looked at David.
His face showed confusion. None of this was making any sense then
suddenly the flight bay intercom sounded off with two bell rings.
I hadn't heard that for a long time! A bossuns pipe sounded off.
"Now, 13th Fighter Group arriving!"
A single F-911 came though the magnetic shield. At least it looked
like an F-911. Nothing like ours, or David's. We had just heard
about the "D" model the day before.
The F-911 glided slowly and came to a halt, hovering above the
shuttle. It then moved a few feet to the left and started to land.
There was another craft right next to the shuttle. Didn't this
guy realize he had no space?
The F-911 moved smoothly down, deliberately and with a purpose.
It landed with a gentle "whoosh"; mere centimeters from
either the shuttle or the other craft!
"Now, 13th Fighter Group aboard."
all looked at each other with genuine surprise.
Our new CO was a pilot! An F-911 pilot at that!
And a real damn good one.
got out of his craft, handed his helmet to a flight crew member,
and started to walk towards us.
was older than us, tall, probably late 40's. Space combat is not
the sole domain of the young. He walked with a confidence.
were all at attention, rendering a salute. He saluted back.
looked at the Chief.
"Colonel, you know my boys and I hate it when you land on
manual! Said Chief Fongheiser.
got all of our attention. He had landed that close on manual.
really damn good.
Colonel chuckled at his maintenance chief's comments, and at our
own astonishment. He then spoke up.
of the 357th, I am you new CO. I'm Lt. Colonel W.L. Barts."
spoke with a southern accent.
entire 13th Fighter Group has been assigned to one of the Super
Battle Carriers, the JMFNS Victory. We have two more additional
squadrons, the 512 and the 513, to our group as well. And, you
guys from the 357th; you were requested-by name!"
looked at him, question marks written all over our faces.
must have impressed him too, that person is none other than Admiral
Albergottie himself. He specifically asked for you all. He also
sends his regards to your recent loss. He said he wanted the best
of the best on his flagship. Now, you have quarters and new equipment,
including the new F-911's back on the 13th's flight bay, on your
new home. Board the shuttle and I'll meet you there. Chief, inform
them with what they need to know." Said the Colonel.
before I forget, that's an F-911D. You'll all be getting one of
those back on the Victory." He said.
rendered another salute, the Colonel saluted us back, and then
he walked towards his F-911. He got his helmet from a waiting
flight crew member and he boarded his craft. His F-911 was lead
to the cat assembly. We then boarded the shuttle and once everyone
was on board, the shuttle door was closed and all of us prepared
for the flight to our new home. We saw Colonel Bart's F-911 get
loaded into the cat assembly; the flashing red lights told us
he had been launched. Then it was our turn. The shuttle pilot
lifted off, moved slowly towards the magnetic shield of the flight
bay, and off we were.
weird being a fighter pilot being shuttled to your new home, not
flying there on your own. Our new maintenance Chief told us some
background history on our new CO.
was most impressive. He had been a prior service Master Chief;
in the Coast Guard. Everyone looked at me and chuckled. The Chief
continued on telling us about the Colonel. He had retired, but
had volunteered for pilot duty. His master spacecraft handling
had served him well during flight school. He was a real natural.
His leadership and abilities had landed him one promotion after
another. War tends to promote the most capable most quickly. He
had also earned numerous awards and medals. But, as the Chief
told us, was loath to brag about it all. We were also told that
he was gruff, but had a sense of humor and really loved looking
out for "His flyboys". This all took some time to get
new CO who was a pilot, a professional, a war hero and genuinely
concerned for his men. This was all new to us.
we were able to see our new home come into view; while it was
still a way off!
that's your new home; the Victory." Said the Chief.
didn't describe it. The Super Battle Carrier was everything Torrence
had described and more. When we finally got a lot closer we were
able to see the multiple gun batteries and flight decks. We then
entered the 13th's own flight bay. A ship that had separate flight
bays for entire fighter groups and their support personnel! We
saw the rest of the F-911's parked in the flight bay. And, we
saw ten F-911's similar to our new CO's. We landed with a gentle
bump. The shuttle door opened and out walked the Chief and the
others. We walked up to the Colonel, who had a member of the ship's
crew next to him; with Royal Navy designations. The flight bay
was cavernous. People and machines were busy everywhere.
aboard 357th! Commander Alexander Beg will escort you to your
new quarters. You will find them most adequate. And, you'll also
find an attached spare room filled with portable flight-simulators;
based on the new F-911D's. He will also show you parts of the
ship. This and the other 25 are part of an entire new way of attacking
You will enjoy the facilities. Now, I will see you at 0730 tomorrow
in the 13th's briefing room. After the briefing, you will start
your education on the new F-911D's. Dismissed."
Beg then motioned for us to follow him. As we walked away we couldn't
help but be impressed with the size and newness of the Super Battle
Carrier. We were shown the other flight bays, the CIC, the Fighter
CIC, the bridge, the numerous battle bridges, the medical centers,
chow halls, engine rooms, one of the many gun batteries and their
crew (the battery had a separate reactor for it and several others!),
and finally the workout areas and our new squad bay; with the
that was the Victory, hull number SBC23002. This ship has proud
ancestry lads, we're glad to have you aboard."
With that he left us. The Squad bay had quite a few more amenities
than what the 'Lex had. There were uniforms and clothes laid out
on each rack. We then went into the training room. A flight simulator
for each pilot! David and I looked at each other and nodded.
we are here. Our new home. I noticed there are manuals on the
F-911D's. Let's read them together." Said David.
"I agree, let's get some info on these new birds before they
start our training. Let's also burn some time on those sims too!"
first hour looking over the manuals was a completed shock to us.
The cockpit was almost entirely changed. This would take some
time. The firepower was increased too! The twin pulse cannons
had 15% more range with about a 25% increase in power!
this is one sweet machine." Said Andrew.
"Well, what are we waiting for? No better time than the present
to learn how to fly these birds." Said an excited Brooks!
"Let's do it! Everyone into wings and let's try these babies!"
"Hell yes!" Said Swiss. Surprising us all with his words!
all got into the sims and started at the hardest level.
was that a mistake. The training room was soon filled with the
curses of our guys trying to get used to the new F-911D control
systems. But, we hung with it. We even skipped lunch. Sometimes
a laugh would erupt from one of the sims as a pilot finally leaned
a certain section of the control system. It was all coming, slowly,
to us. This also took our minds off of what had recently happened
to us. It was good to keep busy and not dwell too much on the
unbeknownst to us, and later told by Colonel Barts to us, was
that he had entered the squad bay; quietly. He had watched us
for twenty minutes and then he left; smiling.
the next couple of weeks, though, he'd be doing little of that
was early in the morning when we received our first briefing on
the F-911D. The captain explained to us all the major differences.
He also made it clear that it would take some time to get used
to the new fire-control system of the F-911D, in addition to the
all new cockpit layout. Our course of training was for two weeks
to get up to speed with the new F-911D.
now get this straight as well. The F-911D has three times the
computer power of the first generation. The neural network incorporates
everything we have learned in combat with the 'Clans. Your so-called
"Death Spiral" is already built-into the flight control
system. You can also modify how tight the maneuver can be. One
more thing, multi-move is also something that we recently added.
Test it further to your liking. Now, assemble in the flight bay
for your first mission op-order."
walk to the flight bay was swift. Entering in, Chief Fongheiser
explained that our F-911D's were all ready for the mission. A
major read us the op-order; a simple recon flight. We each took
to our new crafts. No one said anything to each other except David
and I. One thing for certain, we had lost that edge as a squadron.
spoke the command words to my new F-911D. Words that sounded so
heavy to my soul.
online. Kryton, Jon W." I said.
"System functions are online. Diagnostics are a go."
said the flight control computer.
"Texas, see you out there." said Swiss.
"Roger Swiss, meet you in a few." I radioed back.
3-5-7, you are cleared for launch. Wing One, load." said
wing was loaded at once.
"Magnetic catapult system energized. Wing One prepare for
more individual F-911 launches, the new SBC's had wing-launchers.
was our turn next.
"Wing Two, load." said Flight Control.
Our crafts were loaded into the launch tunnels at once. The F-911D
cockpit came alive with catapult statistics and such! That was
"Magnetic catapult system energized. Wing Two prepare for
a matter of second we joined the coldness of space with Wing One.
The multi-cat launcher had each F-911 launch at a slightly different
angle as to avoid any possible collisions.
this is Texas. Wing Two is online." I said.
"Roger Texas, follow my lead." responded Swiss. "I
have the mission point coordinates."
flight to our mission point took about 15 minutes. Most of us
didn't speak much, the new systems and constant reports had us
paying attention to that. This was really a simple flight; nothing
else was planned. Arriving at our mission point, we then headed
off to a clear point. That took about thirty minutes. Finally,
we headed back to the Victory. Each of us landed on automatic;
with a few bumps to mark the occasion. For me, the new cockpit
layout ended up being intuitive in actual flight. The controls
had started to become natural to me, as I had moved my F-911D
a little here and there during the flight. I noticed that David
had done the same. But, no one else had. It had been a very cold
and lifeless flight.
back 357th! Now, prepare for another mission. Your op-order has
been uploaded into your flight control computer. See you again
in about four hours." The major said.
flight did last four hours. We traveled to different points. We
even engaged a few targets at a live-fire range that Training
Command had setup for us. The improved weapons system really impressed
us. David and I again took the opportunity to test the sensitivity
of the control system. He flashed some simple commands to me,
and I confirmed with him. We lacked an edge as a squadron!
Barts was waiting for us when we returned the second time. After
the AAR, After Action Report, we stayed back with him in the briefing
how do you like the new F-911D's?" he asked.
"Very nice sir." said David. "The flight systems
are much improved."
"The controls respond very nicely, and the cockpit layout
is intuitive once you have flown in it for a while." I added.
"And, the extra range and firepower of the twin pulse cannons
is a real plus." said David.
"I knew you would like them." The Colonel said with
a chuckle. "I am known for being gruff but I enjoy a good
laugh. I know your last CO was a real piece of work. All I can
say is that I'll show you I'm different. Now, there seems to be
"There is, Colonel. Something isn't quite right." I
"We're not gelling as a squadron. There's none of the usual
chatter on the 'net as we fly. It's not the new F-911D's. We've
picked up on the new systems in no time at all." said David.
need to resolve this guys, you have about two weeks to get totally
familiar with the new F-911D's. And, that also means you need
to be a tight and focused squadron again. Work out together, run,
and swim whatever it takes. Now, Lt. Kurtz, have each of your
men come into my office one at a time. I need to talk to everyone.
You two I'll do last. Dismissed."
saluted and left. David and I said a little before we entered
our squad bay.
"I think we really got messed up after Almathea, David."
"It's been affecting me ever since. We need to talk to a
Chaplain during our off time." He said.
"If we don't gel, we'll never make it back home alive."
nodded as we entered the squad bay. The guys hadn't taken off
their flight suits yet and were basically hanging around.
the Colonel wants to see us, one at a time. My wing is first to
go so Brooks you're first." said David.
"Gotcha boss." said Brooks.
the rest of the guys were having their initial interviews by Colonel
Barts, I took time to change into a jump suit. I got my boots
polished while my guys started their interviews. Once the last
guy was done, I headed off to Col. Barts office. Whacking his
door with my palm three times I waited for his response.
Lt. Kryton." The Colonel said.
I entered his office. He had pictures of his family, and his service
medals lying on the bulkhead, wall, behind him. He also had a
large Coast Guard flag on another bulkhead. A hot cop of coffee
was on his desk and he had an e-book next to it.
"Lt. Kryton reporting as ordered." I said and saluted
at the same time.
"At ease, J.W., I may call you that?" he asked.
sir." I responded.
"Okay then, J.W., have a seat. Let's talk."
I sat down and started to talk about myself, my New Texas National
Guard duty and my prior service in the Coast Guard. It turned
out that we had both been in the Aids to Navigation branch. He
had worked both earth, lunar and Mars shipping lines. I had worked
on earth entry and lunar orbit. My ranch on New Texas was discussed,
as was Lori and my son; Troyton. I explained to him how my wife
and I had been trying for a child of our own together before the
War. Finally, the JMF and F-911 Gyruss flying came up as subjects.
"They have some theories they'd like to prove with the F-911's.
Especially massed fighter attacks with close-in ship support.
We'll probably be training that for the Mars campaign. The JMF
has its usual REMF's who think they know everything. However,
some combat veterans were recently promoted to flag positions
so they have the pull to test it all."
"Let's hope so, being on single patrols can be a real pain."
"Agreed, J.W." he said. Then reaching to his intercom
he said "Okay Lt. Kurtz, enter."
David entered, saluted, and then sat down on the seat next to
"Thanks for waiting, Lt. Kurtz. The reason I interviewed
your guys first is to know just how your wings respect you. No
problem there. Now, how do we propose to fix the squadron's "problem."
the Colonel asked?
"Well, Colonel Sir, we need first to be talking to Chaplain
McCreary. Secondly, a few days break will help us all. We know
the schedule is tight but even a day off will help. Finally, we
can be doing joint workouts and such." David answered.
"I agree, also Sir." I said.
"Then gentlemen, the problem is clear. The 357th is coming
along nicely in learning the new F-911D systems. You must become
a squadron again. What I think is the problem is an overwhelming
sense of survivor guilt. Talk as much as you need with Chaplain
McCreary. He's a good man; we've already spoken to each other.
Oh, and before I forget, you two are to do all your landings on
manual from now on."
David and I exchanged a quick glance.
"That's not a suggestion, that's a direct order gentlemen."
Besides, he added "I know you two can do it."
We both stood up and saluted.
"Request permission to leave, Sir?" we asked.
He saluted back.
"Permission granted, dismissed. And gentlemen, keep on flying;
the books are open."
David and I didn't say much on the way back to the squad bay.
But first, we stopped at the gedunk and got a beer. Drinking it
slowly we discussed what had to be done.
The knowledge was there.
The spirit wasn't.
of us sat in a semi-circle. Chaplain McCreary sat at the middle
of the circle. This was our third visit with him.
"It's like, I see him dying so close to us, again and again.
Then I think of Steve, Eric, Nick and Andy and I ask myself why."
We all agreed.
"Go on." Rev. McCreary said.
"I mean, we could have been landing instead of them. If we
hadn't been delayed
" I said, choking back the emotions.
"Jon, you can't blame yourself for the delay." Andrew
"Please, don't Jon. Andrew is right. That was entirely out
of your hands." Rev. McCreary added.
"We seem to be flying away. We've all gotten real good at
understanding the new F-911D's. I just don't know
"Guys, we all came so close that day. Every one of us had
to be placed into those surgical tanks. I don't know about you,
but I really don't want to do that ever again." Yoshiki said.
"All of you, it's natural to feel survivor's guilt. No one
this side of eternity knows why you were spared when so many had
to die that day. I can't offer any answers to that question. But,
I can tell you this that God is still there for all of you. The
very one who is the Good Shepherd, is also with you when you walk
through the valley of the shadow of death. The very heavens proclaim
His Righteousness. He knows every star by name, and if he does
even that, then you are even closer because he created you and
loves you all. His promises still stand during the hell of war.
I have known all of you for quite some time now. We've been through
talks about Chupa, about family problems and quite a few bible
studies. I am really proud of you all. Everyday you're at the
top of my prayers. Now, go do something together-not related to
F-911 flying either." He said.
We nodded and let his words sink in. Brooks spoke up first.
"Thanks Rev. Guys, I know we haven't been gelling as a squadron.
I'll be the first to admit that. Let's go to the gym for zero-gee
wallyball. Andrew and I'll pick teams."
"Good, see, do something as a team. Mix everyone up as well.
Have fun!" said Rev. McCreary.
"Sounds good! Hey, keep Jon and David off the same team!"
there, David." I said.
"Yes, almost there. This mission went real well, especially
the covering your guys provided during the attack runs."
"We're about 75%. We needed this." I responded back.
"Alright everyone, change into your jump suits when we're
back in the squad bay." David said. Then he added "The
Colonel doesn't need us immediately."
"Okay, hey Andrew and I want to go for a pint after we're
done changing." Said Brooks.
We all looked at Andrew. That wasn't a normal thing for him, but
he was known for having a pint once and a while.
squadron walked to the gedunk and the rest of us stayed outside
as Brooks and Andrew went inside for a pint. Andrew had been boasting
about a certain kind of beer only found in New Australia and Brooks
had talked about a certain beer found on New Texas. The gedunk
was loud during this time of the day. I was leaning up against
the bulkhead. Yoshiki said a joke and all of us laughed at it.
We were feeling like a squadron again.
the sounds in the gedunk got real loud. Shouts, cursing, sounds
of objects being thrown. Suddenly, someone came running out saying
"They're beating up those two pilots!"
A couple of guys said "Oh Hell no
David and I looked at each other and simply said:
With that, we all ran in
13th Fighter Group Briefing Room
were in trouble
Barts went on and on, while we were all still restrained by members
of the Security Forces. One officer in particular, Officer Falfas,
had had a grand time restraining me during the fight. I think
the words "you have two options" and "what can
I do to make you cooperate" were the last ones I heard before
I was put into some kind of arm hold.
hurt like hell, and that was the end of my fight.
had been pushed face down hard by Officer Basse and that had been
the end of his fighting. The rest of our guys had been just as
quickly subdued. Poor Andrew, he was beet red as the Colonel kept
on yelling at us. Things like "you ought to know better",
"I can't believe you did this", and, of course, "what
the #$%^ were you all thinking?" came from the Colonel's
mouth. Yeah, we were all screwed. Who knows what they'd do to
us. If we had any conciliation in this whole mess it was this:
we had fought as a squadron and even called each other by our
call signs. If we were hurting, at least the mechanics that had
picked on Brooks and Andrew were in the clinic. Small conciliation,
though, the Courts Martial wouldn't worry about such small details.
what the hell should I do now, 357th?"
"Sir, no excuses sir. But Colonel, we fought together-everyman
looked out for each other."
I'm well aware of that. The video will make for a fine piece of
evidence at your Courts Martial. Everything on video, real good
one guys." And with that, he then stepped back from us.
was an awkward silence. A groan from one of us would be the only
sound made. But, was I seeing things? The Colonel, he had a smile
on his face? Suddenly,
on Deck." The Colonel said.
our SF's tormentors releasing their grips, we all came to attention.
In walked Admiral Albergottie!
you are released back to your duty station." And with that,
the SF's left.
Admiral looked at us. We were all beat, but we had fought a good
hard fight. He then turned to the Colonel and said the words we
never, ever expected to hear.
"Are they a squadron again?"
"Hell yes, Admiral! Hell yes!" said the Colonel most
those words, we all knew what was coming. Admiral Albergottie
wanted his favorite squadron for a special mission. However, he
walked to the front desk and left us a memory disc and a piece
the 357th is confined to their quarters for two weeks, in that
time they are to read and study this material."
Admiral. Attention on deck!"
Admiral walked out. Col. Barts then grabbed the disc and the paper
and handed both to David. A familiar face then walked in, except
this time she was a major. It was Steve's widow, Carolyn Bascay!
With her were several nurses.
you've heard the Admiral. David here has the info and a personal
note from the Admiral. You are all confined to quarters for two
weeks. Now, MAJOR (The Col. Emphasized that) Bascay will escort
you to your quarters. She and her nurses will tend to your bruises.
Just because she was married to one of your own doesn't mean a
thing. She outranks you all and all I need is just one peep from
her and you guys are ALL going into the brig. Read and study this
material. Now, squadron
the Colonel walked off.
all gathered around David before we left. The disc was labeled
"TACTICAL/GEOGRAPHIC DATA - MARS. TOP SECERET" It was
the note that took us away. We expected something long and such.
It wasn't, all it said was "I believe in you." With
some verbal hints from Major Bascay, we all left and headed for
our quarters. It would be a long two weeks being confined to quarters.
But one thing kept on being mentioned, the Valles Marineris; aka
Grand Canyon of Mars. We studied everything-no detail was too
small to be memorized.
13th Fighter Group Briefing Room
were all tired as we stood waiting for the Admiral to enter the
briefing room. We hadn't gotten to sleep until 0200. During our
absence, someone had been very busy in the briefing room; displays,
extra computers, etc. We were just as curious about what this
was to do with us. Only that we knew it had to be big. We'd find
out soon enough just how big it would be.
on deck." Someone yelled out.
walked Admiral Albergottie. Behind him was Professor Hunt, several
lower-ranking officers, and finally Chaplain McCreary! The Chaplain
stood next to us.
ease everyone." The Admiral said. And with that, everyone
content of this meeting is classified TOP SECRET. First of all,
I'll introduce Professor Hunt. He and his team have had a major
breakthrough in deciphering 'Clan technology. Professor Hunt
Said the Admiral.
Hunt and his assistants stood up.
you Admiral. Let me first tell you guys why the good Chaplain
came in with us."
Prof. Hunt rolled back the sleeve of his shirt and proceeded to
show us one nasty burn.
bring up video 99-08-24. Okay, as you can see, this is a 'Clan
fighter that we managed to get. The radiation around Jupiter ended
up killing the pilot. We actually think that a small breach was
caused by an F-911 pulse cannon. It also seems that several systems
were disabled when the damage occurred."
the video showed a small explosion. Several figures were seen
running, one of whom was the Prof.
not enough to prevent this. We were all lucky that day. I had
just had a chat with the Chaplain when this happened. In my line
of work, you need all the prayer you can get!"
all laughed at that.
our major breakthrough is that we have deciphered their IFF. It
seems that the IFF code is based on the radiation count of each
planet, taken at the time of the invasion. What we have also managed
to do is replicate this device! The 'Clans may be clones, but
their physics are the same as ours. It turns out that the craft
didn't exploded because a bug in their software, hidden very deep,
actually put the craft into what we call 'Maintenance Mode' and
from what we can tell, the craft can be worked on and not be exploded.
We also think that some repair work was done because some code
seems to be data indicating repair comments."
that is not why we are here. Though this is a great breakthrough.
Let my chief assistant, Lt. Pefferly, fill you in."
Lieutenant spoke up.
you know from the disc provided to you. The pre-invasion population
of Mars was estimated to be around 20 million or so. Mars is the
oldest of the tera-formed colonies so it has had the longest time
to grow population wise. Most of this was based around the Valles
Marineris canyon system."
large display started showing the Valles Marineris.
canyon system makes the Grand Canyon on Earth look small. It was
the Martian parallel to the river Nile for the development of
human colonization. Nearly 95 percent of the entire Martian population
was located along this trench."
Albergottie then spoke up.
Mars Campaign has already started. It has been the JMF's MO to
scout, commence light attacks, and then bring on the big guns.
We are letting the 'Clans think we are still doing that. For the
past three weeks, three highly-trained Special Forces teams have
been on Mars! They are Americans, Brits, and Russians. It seems
that the 'Clans did a number on the population of Mars. The SF's
have found evidence of vast unmarked grave sites. It seems to
be a slaughter three and a half times worse than the Jewish Holocaust
of the mid-Twentieth Century."
all gasped at the thought of that.
said the Admiral. "The SF's have also found pockets of survivors!"
that news, everyone in the room cheered.
are only a couple hundred right now. They have been providing
our teams with extraordinary information on our enemy. They have
also informed our teams that once Mars is ours, they will show
major groups of survivors." said the Admiral.
this is indeed great news, but how was this possible?" asked
true that over the centuries, maps of nearly all sewer systems
and drainage outlets were made. However, there are always exceptions
to the rule. And, many private and industrial entities made their
own un-mapped systems. One thing that seems to have helped them
too is the fact that Mars has extremely nasty sandstorms. The
earliest colonists had to dig in to protect themselves. And many
of these first shelters were forgotten about. Allot of these hidden
sanctuaries also contain enough food and water supplies. Many
of these survivors are also non-military people, which mean that
they didn't try hit-and-run tactics on the 'Clans. Better to hide
and wait." explained the Admiral.
Admiral then motioned to a nearby aid, who began entering information
into a computer.
you are all about to see is actual video taken right after the
initial invasion. The 'Clans hit the major cities first, but they
left the smaller suburbs alone. However, those who survived the
initial attack were in for a fate worse than death it seems."
He said. Then adding "Now, watch..."
video was remarkably clear. However, it was quickly apparent that
it had been taken at a distance and from a well-hidden area. The
zoom function was constantly being used. We saw survivors being
led by armed 'Clan troopers. The troopers wore their usual armor
so we couldn't see their faces, but what we did see were also
un-masked leaders! From what we could tell, they were female!
also heard speeches and translations being offered to the survivors.
Telling them to go to this point and such. The untranslated speech
was puzzling until Prof. Hunt spoke up.
have determined that language to be a simple version of Esperanto."
all nodded at that.
video continued on. Every once and a while you would hear 'Clan
aircraft fly overhead. The people were being led to a local collection
point. Up until now, nothing pointed to the horror we would soon
'Clan leaders then informed the survivors that they were prisoners
of the Ideoclan Empire. The people seemed to be in shock and in
a 'Clan craft flew close by and deposited a weird and colored
cloud onto the crowd. Almost immediately the people seemed to
have their flesh dissolve from their bodies. The screams of the
children were the worst. We watched in horror as the crowd simple
died a terrible and horrific death. You could hear the person
taking the video try to prevent from yelling out loud. Once the
crowd was reduced to bones, large vehicles came by and scooped
up the bones.
video turned to the left and showed a crowd a fair distance away
being led to the same area. The camera then panned to the sky
to show a vast armada of aircraft fly by. The video then turned
back to the crowd, the same instructions were heard from the 'Clan
leaders, and the video suddenly went fuzzy and finally black.
believe that the survivor who shot this video had to leave rather
quickly. He passed this video onto others who then passed a copy
onto the American SF team. The video was then sent via quad-encrypted
signals to the JMF fleet outside Mars." said the Admiral.
And, continuing, he added. "What we think happened to those
poor souls was a combined biological-chemical warfare agent. It's
pretty well localized and not one to spread outside the infection
zone. We have reports from the survivors that this scene happened
in all of the remaining cities and suburbs. Fortunately, word
spread quickly amongst certain groups who ignored the local Mars'
leaders calling for a peaceful surrender."
all just shook our heads. The immense tragedy of this was too
much to take in.
back to you, Professor Hunt." said the Admiral.
you, Admiral. Remember what we said about the pre-invasion population
of Mars. It would seem that scans of the CO2 levels would indicate
a far lower amount. In fact, it's not. All three of the teams
have access to special instruments that can read local CO2 levels.
It was a puzzle to them until the test results were sent to us.
And even then, it was a mystery for a while. It simply didn't
make sense. The levels were off the scale. Even taking in consideration
the estimated 'Clan forces on Mars; we shouldn't have had such
then displayed a picture on the screen.
is a picture taken of the H.G. Wells Underground Facilities Entrance
Shaft. It was the first such facility ever built on Mars and has
been considerably expanded over the centuries. Our SF teams managed
to get this picture from a location about two and a half kilometers
away. They were lead to this position by several survivors. Anyway,
what really made them curious was the fact that their compasses
had become really screwy. In fact, after taking this picture and
several others, they started to re-trace their steps to see the
extent of the magnetic distortion. It was after 100 kilometers
that it was finally gone! The SF team then returned for several
days of surveillance. They noticed that craft did enter the Facilities
Entrance with no problems. They sent us the results of their surveillance
as well as local CO2 readings." The Prof. said.
magnetic field does extend for 100 kilometers in every direction.
That is except up. It extends to nearly low Mars orbit! Our weapons
have made shots at it and the field deflects every energy shot.
Missiles launched at it are destroyed by laser batteries. Our
SF's have also indicated large 'Clan forces on the plains near
this entrance. This and the CO2 levels we have recorded can only
mean one thing." He said.
paused and waited for us to figure things out. The thought slowly
protecting a very large cloning facility!" He said.
thought of this made everyone uncomfortable. Having to deal with
millions of 'Clan fighters already were bad business. The prospect
of having to deal with even more of them made for a real bad dream-a
nightmare come true.
our mission is to destroy that facility, Admiral?" Said David.
correct Lieutenant Kurtz. Of all the missions accomplished so
far during this war, this will be the most difficult. But, that
is why I chose you after being certain you and your fellow pilots
were a squadron again. You see, this is going to be the linchpin
to the entire Mars Campaign. If you succeed, and I know that you
will, then conventional invasion plans will be thrown out for
something we call ultra-rapid expeditionary forces. General Zhukov's
army has been tasked with liberating Mars. With that facility
and magnetic shield in place, the chance for success is limited
and all of you know that we cannot fail here."
paused, and then continued.
we have been doing so far has been designed to fool the 'Clans
into thinking we are doing business as usual. We know they have
large cruisers, as experienced by you at Almathea. But, from what
we have seen and preliminary information from the Mars skirmishes,
they have nothing at all like our Super Battle Carriers. I plan
on using then in an unconventional method, just as we plan for
unconventional tactics with General Zhukov. But, in order to really
surprise them we need to destroy their future. The destruction
of the cloning facility will be the start of the liberation of
Mars, and, the eventual liberation of the Earth. You have all
seen what the 'Clans did to the colonists on Mars. And, I want
to inflict on them a taste of their own medicine. This is personal."
And with that, he motioned to an aid.
I am Commander Andrew Harlow, from the colony of New England.
I am now going to brief you on your mission." He said.
main display became alive.
you can see, the cloning facility is on the very end of the Mariner
Trench. All information points to major 'Clan forces on the three
sides of the facility entrance. However, the weakness is from
the East. However, we have determined that normal missiles are
deflected by the magnetic shield or shot down before reaching
view of Lake Tsiolkovsky came into view.
lake is at the very entrance to the facility. It extends for about
80 kilometers west and at its widest point it's as wide as the
Mariner Trench. The mean depth is 30 meters."
then had the display split into two. An animation then started.
of you will be carrying three high-level nuclear bombs. They have
been shaped specifically for this mission alone. They won't go
live until they enter the facility and they won't explode until
they have reached the inner chamber, some eight kilometers down.
Several of these bombs are also equipped with a rapid photo system.
We should hopefully get one picture of what's down there before
hell erupts for them."
will enter at a predetermined point some 4000 kilometers away.
You will fly at 1000km/hour until the final 80 kilometers. You
will then skim above Lake Tsiolkovsky at an altitude of 29 meters
exactly, flying 800 km/hour. This is critical, gentlemen, for
what you will be delivering are gyro-stabilized bombs that when
released will skip over the water until they come into the facility
entrance. They have some control over reaching their target but
because of the massive magnetic field they must be delivered manually.
The facility is wide enough that all of you can have your bomb
loads delivered. But, that also means flying close-10 meter distance.
And, I stress that you cannot go supersonic during your trip."
how are we to maintain such close proximity?" I asked.
are all being equipped with a THDAR system. The Tera-Hertz Detection
and Ranging offers great collision avoidance and altitude ranging
while being extremely limited in its leakage. Also, it's darn
near impossible to detect unless you're in its path to begin with."
once the bombs have been released, how much time are we looking
at for minimum safe distance?" Asked David.
anticipate no more than 40 seconds. And, we know you normally
don't have enough speed for that. You will also be equipped with
a special booster pack that will get you where you need to be
very fast. Understand this; you'll be experiencing g-forces far
more than you have ever been used to. But once those bombs go
off, we're looking at an explosion of close to 200 megatons!"
have these bombs been called sir? I asked.
have called them 'Wallis Bombs' after a mid-twentieth century
British scientist. By the way, the codename for this mission is
'617'." He said.
seemed puzzled until Hector spoke up and answered why the mission
was called "617".
think I know why it's called "617", Commander Harlow."
on..." Said the Commander.
was the name of the squadron that became famous as the damn-busters
of the Second World War. I had to do a research assignment at
college about risky military missions. They were the one I did
the most research about." He said, with an excitement in
done Lad! Someone here does know their military history!"
Exclaimed the Commander.
Albergottie then spoke up.
using Professor Hunts' breakthrough, we'll deliver hell right
into their nursery! For the next four weeks you'll do nothing
but train, train, and train. Every possible problem and scenario
in a limited timeframe. I and my staff have nothing but the utmost
confidence that you will accomplish this mission." He said.
that he motioned to his staff. With an "Attention on deck"
sounded, we stood at attention as he and his staff left, including
Professor Hunt and his associates.
looked at each other for what seemed an eternity. Finally, Col.
Barts spoke to us.
weeks! Four weeks..." He said.
with that, we left the room and headed to our squadbay. Hardly
a word was spoken during the walk, but we all though the same
would be our greatest mission and our finest hour-ever."
weren't about to let anyone down.
getting there would require patience and attention to detail.
And, like the Admiral said, lots and lots of training. We'd get
23 Days Left:
a "whoosh" our individual F-911D simulators opened up.
This last mission had been a real pain. We were hit with the worst
possible sandstorms and massive small-arms fire and half of us
had system malfunctions of one sort or another. That we managed
to complete the mission and sent about a third of the bombs really
made a nasty mission end well. Sort of. We wanted an eighty-percent
drop rate for those bombs.
was also our thirtieth mission in five days. How could we have
so many? The first two days had alot of terminated simulations.
And of course, we'd start all over again, and again, and again...
week was to be basically the same, except that the first had us
get used to the bomb drop methodology. You see, they were gyro-stabilized
and that meant alot could go wrong. And it did.
the bomb drops actually required a very long shallow pool of water
with equipment simulating the speed and visuals we'd have. For
the first several days we could lay claim to the longest training
pool in the Fleet! Not that anyone could swim much in a half-meter
were getting tired. We were getting maybe four-five hours of sleep
then got a very pleasant surprise; a ten-hour break from all things
"617" related! To blow off steam we all hit the pool
and did laps and then had a most filling breakfast. Fully sated
we slept for nearly eight hours straight.
then, it was back to training. And it was harder and more stressful
than the prior days had been...
hit a deadly snag...
was an extremely rare possibility, but one that required an immediate
re-assessment of the mission operations.
was found that during our final run, with all of us lined up and
at the right altitude above the Lake and if one of our outer craft
was hit, the possibility of a domino effect could rapidly end
the mission-one craft would crash into each other in a matter
the techs and engineers left us to play around with some potential
fixes to this problem, we talked amongst each other.
let me get this straight. It's the Swiss we have to thank for
saving civilization?" asked Andrew.
I second that. What goes with this idea, David?" I asked.
is how I understand the whole thing." David answered. And
continuing on, he explained. "The Terran Corps of Engineers
had conducted a hyper-accurate survey of this whole Mariner Trench
system. We're talking down to millimeter accuracy. They would
use from four to six un-manned vehicles to laser scan each section
at a time. Now, because of the Martian weather system, they sometimes
were able to get a month of work done, or sometimes just a few
days. The whole job took over 400 days to complete. The raw data
was sent back to Corps Headquarters back on Earth. Well, they
took that raw data and added in all the grid coordinates. The
files were then sent back to Mars. This happened to be about a
week before the 'Clan invasion. None of the Outer Colonies were
privy to this info. However, one of our remote Swiss bases intercepted
a transmission from Mars to a Terran outpost in the Pluto system.
Actually, I should say that a Swiss Freighter intercepted that
signal! The encryption was quite easy to break for us but no one
really gave it much thought. Well, that turned out to be about
three days before the 'Clan invasion and the freighter was already
far away and had reached a Swiss colony. After the invasion, and
the declaration of war, we passed this info onto the JMF High
Command. I was told that they literally dropped their mouths to
the deck when they realized what we had gotten."
basically, we plug this info into our main computers, and with
our inertial nav system, we can fly around the trench without
fear of running into things." I said.
Except for the last 100 kilometers. Then we fly by sight and by
dead-reckoning to the target. Fortunately for us, no building
in the Mariner Trench is over two-hundred feet in height. The
sandstorms tended to influence their architecture more than anything
else." responded David.
looks like we owe the Swiss alot." quipped Yoshiki.
all laughed at that. Then reality struck us again...
still need a fix for this problem of ours. Or everything we've
done is moot." said Alexei.
nodded at that. Someone then entered our training room with some
hot Russian Tea. I was the first to get a cup.
to go Jon! All those years on Coast Guard cutters and not a single
drop of coffee. But you sure love your tea!" joked David.
time! Cheers!" I said with a smile.
was looking over the video from our last mission when someone
suddenly yelled out. Hector had spilt his tea and it was running
lift up these other cups." said David. "Someone get
a towel to dry the table."
the cups were lifted up and moved away, I suddenly had an idea.
A crazy one.
put those cups back on the table and don't wipe away the tea."
asked David." Are you nuts?"
put my cup down on the table. The tea had run over everywhere
and had made a fine mess. I started playing with the cups. I first
lined up ten of them, in a row. I stood back for a moment. I then
placed my cup forward about four cup lengths ahead. I then stepped
back to look again.
came up to me. While I was still looking at the table, he then
placed a cup two lengths in front, but behind mine.
then staggered some other cups. Now everyone started in on it!
When we were finished, where a single line of cups had previously
been placed, we now had several staggered groups.
say such things as this are "Eureka" moments. We all
stood there with the biggest grins on our faces. Before anyone
said anything, Hector quickly ran for the door.
going to get those engineers in here now..." he said. And
with that he was gone, sprinting down the passageways.
after mission. Honing our skills to a fine edge. Sharper than
any knife blade. At one point, during our sleep time, everyone
suddenly woke up at the same time! The words out of all
of our mouths had been...
away, pull up!"
on the Victory we could see never-ending preparations. During
our rare brake periods, we could see massive fleet movements.
The flight bays were just as busy. There was a feeling of electricity
in the air. Everyone knew in their bones that this was it. That
at Mars, we would really hurt the 'Clans.
saw quite a bit of Col. Barts and his squadron leaders during
meal times. He was doing his own preparations for the coming campaign.
He would often come over to our table and just grin at us. Not
much else was said. But we'd all say "thanks Colonel"
then we are confirmed for a 'go' for 617 Mission." asked
Col. Barts. In with him were Admiral Albergottie, General Zhukov,
and Chaplain McCreary. I was puzzled about the Chaplain being
in with us.
sir!" answered David.
"Yes sir!" I also answered.
despite the weather reports saying this is the worst sandstorm
in over 100 years?" asked the Admiral.
we asked all of our guys and no one backed down." answered
David. "Thank goodness the F-911 has no need for engine intakes!"
knew you were the squadron to pull this off. Now the reason why
the good General Zhukov is also here with us is that he'd like
to borrow you." said the Admiral.
and I looked at each other-it was just us, the wing leaders of
your mission, you are fly to a pre-determined location. Initially
it will be away from the intended invasion zone. Believe me, you
won't want to be in that area for the first ten minutes. You will
then be providing air support for General Zhukov's troops. We'll
have a forward support group to replenish your missiles and bombs,
and any field maintenance required. Your codeword for this will
be "Plan One Acknowledge."
be a great asset to the General," said Col. Barts. "It'll
be crazy enough out here."
and I nodded. We then stood at attention and saluted.
Admiral saluted back, and then he said...
Kurtz, please remain with us."
but knowing I wasn't invited to this party, I left.
down the passageway I had a most unexpected surprise-I ran into
members of my old New Texas National Guard unit! They had been
called up and were to provide engineering support to General Zhukov.
Jason was there, as was Ted, Brian, even Matt! They told me how
Brian had been dragged kicking and screaming to accept the First
Sergeant position. Ted had received a battlefield commission and
Jason had been moved to the platoon sergeant level. Matt was being
Matt of course! They also told me how their initial contact with
the 'Clans had proven deadly. The headquarters platoon had been
wiped out-a brand new second lieutenant had insisted on taking
prisoners. Needless to say, that didn't turn out so well. They
also told me how they favored the "shoot and bury" method.
They would shoot the 'Clans and then bury them under tons of debris!
Different from our double-tagging, but whatever works! After some
good-lucks, I then went on to my squadbay.
had just completed our last training mission and we were all ready
to start the mission for real. Col. Barts had then invited us
to a separate room and as we entered it we saw a huge spread of
was food representative of our home colonies, including food from
New Columbia, New England, and New Scotland. (In memory of Wing
the best surprise of all was actual sparkling white-grape juice
from Mars itself! It was several years old actually and had a
little bite. But, no alcohol for us!
enjoyed the food and the company it represented. Finally, after
several toasts we were told to get "some good sleep, 'cause
you'll not get much after the mission" and we did. We all
had to take some sleep aids first though, but once we had we all
fell into a deep and restful sleep.
far as I could remember, I had no bad dreams.
Flight Mission Preparation Room was quiet. Each of us had our
own thoughts to contemplate. Hector was hitting his fists together
like a boxer getting ready for the fight of his life. I myself
was tightening each flight glove again and again, while I just
looked straight ahead.
hundreds of simulated missions, and hundreds of hours of training
had come down to this day, this most important day.
McCreary came in and we had a quick prayer with him. He even had
communion for us to take. I was thoughtful as I took the wafer
and drank the grape juice. I had a peace that transcended all
Barts then walked in, fully decked out in his dress uniform. We
all came to attention.
time..." He said.
that we grabbed our helmets and walked out, down to the flight
one said a word. The passageway was empty of people. The ships'
normal life-noises were the only things we heard as we walked.
thought about Lori, and about Troyton. We had all written a "If
you're reading this letter then..." letter to our families.
Which would be followed by a JMF message saying that "The
JMF regrets to inform you that...". But we didn't dwell on
that at all. We were of one purpose, one goal, and one mission
we walked into our Flight Bay, we were greeted by hundreds of
cheering and clapping people! A huge banner had been hung and
them hell, 357th!"
smiled at that. People were slapping our backs and giving us high-fives.
We came up to our F-911's. Boy were they decked out! Booster packs,
THDAR attachments, and of course, the Wallis bombs. Some of them
had a special camera to possibly take a very quick picture of
what was down there at the target. And, each one had some writing-words
of love from the JMF to the 'Clans.
Albergottie was there to send us off. General Zhukov was already
suited up and ready for battle, but had wanted to see us off.
We stood at attention as the Admiral read us our mission orders.
saluted him once he was finished. Then General Zhukov came to
each of us and shook our hands. When he came to me I said something
I had been practicing for quite some time-with alot of help from
Alexei and Alexandr.
Ka Vomm E Vashing Rhabring Voicecam, Generalo Zhukov."
<< "Godspeed to you and your brave troops, General
grinned at that and gave me a big Russian bear hug. Finally, after
he was done, Chief Fongheiser came up to us and said...
your F-911's are all ready for action."
that we all boarded our crafts. I said my commands and the system
came alive. Everything was if we were still running simulations-except
this was for real!
wing was launched first. Then it was our turn. A quick prayer
and away we were launched.
"617": Flight Log
Red Planet came up quickly.
us was the massive JMF fleet and Mars invasion force.
were actually following a remotely controlled bomber. Once inside
the Martian atmosphere, we were instructed to blow it out of the
sky! Our fake 'Clan IFF signals would make them believe that it
was their forces that blew up the bomber.
came soon enough. Our 'Clan IFF instruments had only red and green
lights. Green meant that they were accepting our false IFF signals.
Red meant, well, you know what I mean. So far, the lights had
flight!!! Once we were in I remembered what it was like! Even
simulation couldn't prepare us for the jolt!
bomber flew a little further in front of us. With our IFF lights
still green we flew up and blew the bomber out of the sky! Lower
and lower we flew until we were 2,000 meters above the Martian
at this distance we could see the huge sandstorm that would soon
greet us and then swallow us up.
checks, everyone." Said Swiss.
all responded back. All systems were a go.
Inertial Nav systems, waypoint in thirty seconds." he said.
was go, IFF was still green. Finally...
seconds to trench entrance...sixty seconds...Check THDAR positioning."
checked my positioning to my left and right. All was correct.
The huge sandstorm grew even bigger with each passing second.
the Battle Bridge of the Victory, Admiral Albergottie was told
3-5-7 has entered the Trench." said an aid.
for the longest four hours of their lives." He said back.
Mission: Hour One
initial shock of entering the Trench, combined with the massive
sandstorm, made for some rough going. It was also freaky. Although
we had been trained for it, that you couldn't see the pilot to
the left or right of you. You had to rely on the inertial nav
and the THDAR, and the other pilots skills.
kept communications to a bare minimum. I joked to myself that
with all this sand we were flying through we'd need a whole new
paint job once we were done!
was like flying in a brown, swirling mess. The buffeting I was
getting was incredible. And, I knew everyone else was experiencing
the same thing.
had a very lonely feeling. But I kept concentrating on my instruments.
I stayed focused.
Mission: Hour Two
couple of times there was a break in the sandstorm. David and
I would look at each other and give a salute. But within seconds,
the sandstorm would again swallow us up.
it was back to my thoughts, and my prayers...
Mission: Hour Three
just asked us how we were all doing.
think the consensus was "Lonely...Let's do this!"
dragged on...minutes were becoming an eternity...
anxious we were all getting. Nothing could have prepared us for
this. Back at simulation, we knew we were onboard the ship. Here,
this was for real.
the Battle Bridge of the Victory, an aid handed Admiral Albergottie
says here that there is a break in the sandstorm about 150 kilometers
from the target?"
Admiral, should we inform the 357th?"
they know what to do." He answered. He then went to another
357th is in stage three. Prepare your invasion force!" He
"Ponea Pobeda Ka Vomm Evashemo Forteme, Admiralo."
"Total victory to you and your fleet, Admiral."
which Admiral Albergottie replied with:
<< "E Ka Razreshenye Kwano Vasheme Sewam, Generalom."
"And to the destruction of the 'Clans by your forces, General."
Mission: Hour Four - 250 km's to target
250 km's to go. System checks." Said Swiss.
boys are ready, Swiss." I said.
Texas. Once we hit that lake area, fly down to attack level."
Swiss." I answered.
storm was intense, as was our nerves now. Every second meant that
much closer to the target. We flew on until...
we entered a huge break in the storm! And we still had 70 km's
to get to the lake!
this wasn't planned. Alright, everyone, fly low. I mean really
low. There are no tall buildings over 10 meters here." ordered
we flew low. We were no more than 100 meters above the surface.
It was quick thinking on David's part.
scenery started to change, from dry land to swampy areas then
had hardly noticed that the magnetic disturbances had played havoc
with some of our instruments.
were now at the edge of the lake! It was calm...peaceful...the
calm before hell was to be released.
attack level, assigned staggered positions, bombing run speed!"
flew to attack level and to our assigned staggered positions.
A quick encrypted signal was sent to the Victory.
Bridge: JMFNS Victory
"Admiral, the 357th has started the bomb run." said
a comms specialist.
the Fleet for Operation Hammer Fist.." said the Admiral.
space above us, the massive JMF fleet started to split up. The
immense Mars invasion force also was launched. Three thousand
landing craft started their final entrance procedures.
run was going smooth...70...60...50 kilometers...then suddenly...
shot flew across my F-911, then another...
suddenly the entire area seemed to light up with small arms fire!
arms fire...from the left and right..." I said.
see it, Texas...send a message..." said Swiss.
sent a real quick one.
Bridge: JMFNS Victory
"Admiral, 357th reports very heavy small arms fire."
Send some blasts down there to help them." he said.
we saw some pulses hit the areas where the small arms fire had
come. Then it seemed like we walked into a hornets nest! Several
blasts grazed my craft!
was close! We can walk on this stuff" I quipped.
close for me, Texas." said Swiss.
kilometers to go...engage gyro-stabilization..." ordered
Swiss, all crafts, engage gyro-stabilization." I said.
Bridge: JMFNS Victory
"Admiral, twenty kilometers to go."
Operation Hammer Fist...All units."
that order, the units that had split off from the main JMF fleet
suddenly warped out of Mars space.
units...prepare to engage the enemy." The Admiral said. Others
would say that during this time the Admiral had a look of pure
confidence, his features as steady as a rock.
kilometers...prepare for bomb drop..." said Swiss.
heart rate must have been going off scale by now. The IFF had
worked to only a certain point. The small arms fire became just
intense. I could see the target entrance in the distance.
it is boys...get ready..." I said.
seconds to bomb drop...on my mark..." said Swiss.
quickest prayer in history...
THE BOMBS" shouted Swiss.
F-911 suddenly lurched up as the three Wallis bombs were dropped.
And, like clockwork, we all pulled up and made a hard left.
Bridge: JMFNS Victory
"Bombs are away..."
bridge suddenly became quiet.
my F-911 was pulling left, I was able to see the bombs skip over
the water. One skip...second skip...third skip...final skip...I
held my breath...
bombs dropped right into the Facility Entrance! All but one, which
had gotten stuck in the corner.
booster packs...NOW!" shouted Swiss.
Bridge: JMFNS Victory
"The packages have been delivered! All but one!"
bridge suddenly erupted into cheers.
Albergottie simply pounded his fist on a console and said "Yes!"
sudden acceleration of the booster pack sent me right back into
my seat. The G-Forces were intense...2 G's...3 G's...4 G's...
on baby...get us some distance." someone shouted.
and down fell the Wallis bombs...every second we were pushing
for even more speed...and more distance...
were pushing the limits of our crafts. Every second without an
explosion was a greater distance for us. The edge of the lake
started to come into view!
bombs kept on falling...
Bridge: JMFNS Victory
"Admiral, bomb telemetry indicates opening to cloning facility
two more kilometers away."
we could have, every one of us would have constantly looked behind
us, but the G-forces were too strong. Confined to our seats, pushed
back by the acceleration, we could only look forward.
fifty seconds, the first bomb fell into a vast underground expanse.
At fifty-two seconds the other 28 bombs broke into a free fall.
at the edge of the lake!" I exclaimed.
going to get hot real soon." Said Swiss.
54 seconds, Wallis Bomb number Mike-Alpha-Mike-Echo Decimal Niner-Six
took a single picture that was transmitted and received in 100
milliseconds. At the Combat Information Center, the picture literally
took peoples' breaths away. It showed an expanse some thirty statute
miles wide, in a huge circle. A total of 706.5 square miles.
250 milliseconds after that, an Ideoclan cloning administrator
looked up and saw 29 objects fall closer to the surface. At 260
milliseconds, a female 'Clan member looked up and started to scream.
But nothing came out...
voice became one with an artificial sun that suddenly erupted
at the end of the facility. Quickly, the nuclear fireball spread
its wings across the massive arena. Fusion power plants, providing
power to the cloning facility and to the magnetic shield, were
incorporated into the growing fireball. The shock wave went up
and out the tunnel causing a massive quake. The fireball also
started out into the tunnel.
quake caused Wallis Bomb number Mike-Alpha-Mike-Echo Decimal Seven-One
to fall break free and fall into the entrance. It immediately
went active as it fell down.
a point half-way down, the bomb met the oncoming fireball and
exploded. The massive blast blew the tunnel and caused huge cave-ins.
about twenty seconds, the entire underground facility had been
turned into a radioactive graveyard.
Bridge" JMFNS Victory
"Admiral, long-range scan shows massive underground activity
at the target zone. Large release of radioactivity. And, the magnetic
shield is gone!" said the scan officer.
did it! Send them the message. All units engage the enemy but
stay on this side of Mars." ordered the Admiral.
everyone, we got the Bravo-Zulu message! We did it!" exclaimed
all erupted into cheers. As much as we could. Finally our booster
packs lost power and the G's got less and less. I could lean forward
report!" said Swiss.
little squished, but everything else is a-okay!" said Rev.
"I hear that! Yeah" said another.
everyone, I am sending you the following coordinates. Texas, inform
boss our intents." said Swiss.
Swiss, sending message. 'Plan One Acknowledge'" I spoke to
the encrypted channel.
Landing Strip: Echo-One
F-911's finally landed at the makeshift landing strip. We didn't
have much time to relax as Chief Fongheiser and his crews removed
our booster packs and attached missiles and bombs. We held a quick
mission brief. Attack all targets of opportunity!
also learned that some three-thousand landing craft had been used
as a decoy. The 'Clan had expected them to land but instead each
craft contained neutron bombs. Some ninety percent of the 'Clan
forces were simple melted away before the main force even hit.
Zhukov and his Ultra-Rapid-Expeditionary-Force (UREF) had landed
nearby. Some one thousand landing craft carried 150,000 troops,
1000 massive hover-tanks, and nearly 500 mechanized artillery
to the invasion zone in a matter of ten minutes! It was a gamble
of new and exotic technology. Even the landing craft were equipped
however, were to provide quick air-support and to give any surviving
'Clan fighters a reception that they would never forget.
those first hours of the invasion, General Zhukov placed his men
in a position that caused the 'Clans to be forced into the largest
kill-zone in history. Nearly one million 'Clan troopers were annihilated.
that week, we all provided air-support. Sometimes flying together,
but often times flying separately. During one sortie I heard calls
for help. I was the closest and I quickly came to their aid. I
rapidly lit the area up with laser blasts and missiles. I tipped
my wings as I left the area.
later found out that it my old unit, B Co. 712th Ultra-Mechanized
Engineers, which I had come to the aid of.
let David tell you what his squadron went through during this
our proudest moment came when we had an opportunity to talk to
some survivors. It was weird, seeing people who had been through
a hell we could never imagine, and yet having them shake our hands
and want to listen to us. The most touching part of all that was
when one very dirty child came up and gave David a hug. There
wasn't a dry eye in the place after that.
we were released back to the Victory. Upon landing, we finally
were able to see how sand-blasted our F-911's had become! I sat
in my cockpit as my craft was tended to by the service crews.
I slowly took off my helmet and breathed a sigh of relief. I looked
at David and just nodded my head. He gave me the thumbs up.
we were walking away, David tapped me on the shoulder and motioned
for me to go to where Chaplain McCreary was; next to Col. Barts.
I got there, David whispered to me "I'm so sorry Jon..."
confusion led to immense sorrow as Chaplain McCreary told me the
news. I fell to the deck in tears as years of memories flooded
Days Later: Forward Base Zhukov
mom had always wanted to visit Mars. As a matter of fact, after
she had arrived on New Texas compliments of my two other brothers
and I, we had started slowly saving for a Mars trip for her. She
had a close friend in the city of Mares. We had actually planned
for the visit to begin about a month before the 'Clan invasion
happened. Her first heart attack negated that trip.
turned out that that actually was a blessing. Her friend wasn't
one of the 9,640 survivors of the Mars Holocaust. I reminded myself
of that while I kneeled in front of a makeshift cross. I had taken
a copy of one of her rare emails to me, and a picture of her,
and buried them on Mars.
buddies were silent as I did this. As was Col. Barts. Even General
Zhukov took time away from his busy schedule to visit.
some more tears, and a prayer, I got up. David was the first to
come up to me.
know, it turned out for the best that she never arrived here."
nodded. "Yes, I know. It was for the better."
had been told that she had held a picture of me, in my flight
suit, in her left hand while my youngest brother Wally held her
cheek on the right, and Chuck was at the foot of the bed as she
passed. She went peacefully.
Zhukov gave me a bear hug and said he was sorry for my loss. He
then had to leave. The "Liberator of Mars" had alot
of work to do.
Barts then spoke up.
it has been a tough nine weeks. The good General here just left
us with two cases of the finest New Russian Vodka from the Kirov
Distilleries. I know of a place on the Victory where we can celebrate."
and Alexandr gave a whoop. The Vodka evidently met with their
approval. And, it was time to celebrate. One more final look and
I joined them in the shuttle.
Hours Later: JMFNS Victory, Navigational Observation Deck
were all a little drunk. The Vodka hit us hard. But boy were we
don't know how he had achieved it, but Col. Barts had managed
to have the NavObsDeck emptied except for us. We were hooting
and hollering, having a great time.
also had managed to get some real food up here. Much better than
those field rations we had had to live with.
Albergottie had gambled with splitting up the JMF Fleet. A gamble
that had paid off handsomely. The 'Clans were caught between two
major forces, and nothing they had could compare to the firepower
of the Super Battle Carriers. Read his book for a better detail
of just how massive our victory at Mars was. The tide had indeed
turned. The god of war had been turned into a bleeding wreck.
It was the JMF's finest victory of the entire War.
Barts was fiddling with the navigational telescope while Alexei
read us the message that General Zhukov had left with the Vodka.
my brave comrades of 3-5-7 squadron. Please accept this token
of my enormous appreciation of your bravery and skill. And, may
you have years of prosperity and many children to enjoy them with
you." (A traditional New Russian blessing.)
J.W., read that message the Red Cross got for you." said
Col. Barts as he went back to fiddling with the telescope.
Jon, go ahead and read it." said David.
pulled out the copy and started to read it-it was a short message
from my wife.
Dearest husband, Jon,
" I know that you feel great loss,
"But know this, I love you
all of us here love you.
"We are praying for you and know
"That God will one day
"Bring you back home."
The word seemed to have a life of its own.
Col. Barts started jumping up and down and shouting.
found it, I found it!" he exclaimed. He then punched a button
to show all of us what he had found.
main view screen came into focus, and I swear you could have heard
a pin drop once the picture came into view. All movement stopped
and radiant. Beautiful.
was the Earth...
chapter is dedicated to the loving memory of
Wynnette D. Wright
11 Oct 1943 - 02 May 2005
We love you, mom!"
Jim, Chuck, and Wally
thanks to "Franca" and "Michael" for the validation
of the Russian phrases.)
"Earth: Three Campaigns To Earth"
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Copyright © 2005, GOOD DEAL GAMES