Part 11: The Second Sparta-Gaia War - part 1
It's night. The first night of the war, and I shivered in a cold wind blowing from the ventilators through the tunnels and corridors of Ironholm. Just me and one other left now, of my probe team squad. Miles from here, the invading troops would be creeping through the fungus, converging, waiting for that signal to strike. Here, we were alone with our SMGs and stolen guard uniforms and disguised faces. My first mission since that debacle with the worms, a simple scout and sabotage mission gone bad.
We heard the crack of gunfire behind us, and doubled our pace. Our destination was just in front, past a sealed door. According to our contact, within lay one of several armouries, filled with powerful yet fragile weaponry. Toss a grenade into the lot, and it would be one less garrison for the soldiers to fight.
The door opened easily to my keycard, a soft hiss accompanied by the leaking of light out from within. My companion crouched in a suitable corner, unhitching the stock of his archaic gun.
"Get in there," he said. "Send the success signal when done. It was nice knowing you."
I looked over at him, pulled open the door, walked in and locked it behind me. A probe team was tied together by strong bonds of trust, even though members never met previously, had no records on file, and knew each other only by codenames. Yet, after all that, this man would be prepared to die in some mad last stand so that I can finish the mission. How many, I wondered, did he think he could take out before being killed himself?
A muffled burst of gunfire, and then another come from behind me, moments after the door sealed shut.
Next came banging on the door. It seemed that he had realised that I had switched everyone's ammunition for blanks.
I sat on a crate, and waited for the noise to subside, and then stepped out to accept the handshake of the smartly dressed general waiting outside.
"Congratulations on a mission well done," he said. "Our favourite 'journalist'."
"Welcome to our command center," the general said. "Your trick with the spam email was brilliant - it made all this possible."
In front of me, the table top lit up with abstract symbols showing troop movements. Updated in real time, it seemed, as I saw the green dots inch their way towards the black circles, representing Spartan cities.
"We've used the information you've provided us to build up our defenses accordingly to their attack plans. In particular, we've instituted special training for our troops to cope better with psychic effects, and we've reinforced the cities of Ironholm and Bunker 118. The Gaians seem to think that they will catch us by surprise, and to help that delusion, we will let them take the first few shots."
A red circle flashed on the screen around a black dot. A rover patrol had encountered a worm group. A quick melee had occurred, and the rovers had retreated, outrunning their pursuers. In under a minute, it was over, and the war had begun.
"Now, the Gaians have shown their aggressor nature, for the sakes of posterity," he said. "At last, we are free to act."
Screens around the room showed simultaneous activity, as hydraulic actuators lifted heavy shells into position. Sitting on chassis locked down with thick pins, a row of 5 meter long barrels lifted in unison, pointing into the dark sky. Then, a sound like a soft whisper, and a sudden hum as the charged coils projected the warhead down the magnetised rail, and out from the impact battery. Seconds later, there was a shriek and flash on a different screen as the projectile found its target.
On another screen, a burst of napalm flashed red then orange. A squadron of rovers, belching smoke with wheels throwing up dirt, had cornered a lone clump of mindworms. Liberty brigade, the general explained. Fanatically loyal, trained from child 'volunteers', selected for genetic components most likely to engender aggression. Lightly armed and armoured, but deadly against worms. The Gaian mindworms would find stiffer resistance than they expected from what were ostensibly a bunch of scouts.
Back near Ironholm, the first of the Gaian survivors had made it through the artillery barrage, assembling outside the city outskirts. Without a pause to allow them breath, a withering hail of fire emerged from the walls. The Gaians fought back, carving great craters in the fortifications with their own weapons.
But the Gaians found themselves outnumbered and outgunned. Fear gripped them, and in moments, on intercepted communications, we heard the first orders to retreat. All along the frontier, on all fronts, Gaian units were withdrawing.
The general was ecstatic. "We knew it!" he said. "Whatever their crappy news columnists say, the Gaians really don't have the heart for a real fight. They have no idea what war is like or about. The moment they face real resistance, they run away. Major Joaquim's army group Muir hasn't even come into contact with us yet, and they are already fleeing."
He stabbed at a few isolated dots on the map. "Reports are coming in that we've even managed to take some prisoners. If we make good examples of them, that should sap any remaining will to fight. The advance guard of the nearby garrisons are already approaching Sparta Command - we might be able to liberate it very soon. Total victory is within our grasp!"
I gazed at the mass of points, wondering how he was able to make sense of it. Excusing myself, I went to find a place to sleep.
The general turned to look at me as I reentered the room. He shot a look at what I was pointing at - the screens full of shots of Gaian prisoners before Spartan firing squads, of beatings administered with heavy batons. He shrugged.
"It's ugly, sure, but troops have to get their aggression out somehow. Besides, it would show the Gaians how we punish unprovoked attacks here. Santiago concurs."
I grabbed him by the edges of his coat. "You don't understand at all! You don't understand how the Gaians think!"
He brushed me off. "My experts have assured me that once the costs become high enough, the Gaian leadership would..."
The image on the map table had resolved into relative order, and I jabbed at a spot roughly in the middle of that.
He looked over to where I pointed. "Our counter-offensive there is running into a little trouble, sure. The Gaians are fighting harder than we expected. Even that terraformer crew took alot of effort to pacify. There's even reports that some Gaian forces are managing to break through and pin down our attacking forces, but we should be able to rectify that..."
"Why do you expect them to surrender, if you've already shown them what would happened to those that did? Why would they stop fighting, if they know what you did to their friends?"
"Santiago believes that..." he began quietly.
"Santiago thinks of everyone else as innocent children! As pathetic farmers! She doesn't see that the Gaians aren't like that! Perhaps at the start of this war, their heart wasn't really in this fight. Perhaps a good proportion of them want to just peacefully build instead. But now, you won't be able to get a truce out of them even if you wanted!"
"Don't you see - the Gaians aren't interested in power for its own sake, like the Spartans do! They see power as the means to a purpose. And we have just provided them with the purpose!"
There was a hiss of static as a video transmission came in.
"What are you doing, Kel? I told you to maintain radio silence!"
The man on the screen pulled the camera and swung it down the ledge he was standing on. I heard a gasp from the other attendants. From there to the horizon, boiling up like a diseased sea, were mindworms.
"They ... jamming us. We need reinforcements, right now!"
"What's going on?"
"The worms, they didn't retreat. They just all swung back, all at once. Some ... my men... outside the walls... eaten.. dead, they're dead!"
"Calm down, the automated defenses should hold them."
"They are just coming on and on! ... gun barrels getting clogged... jamming... of bullets. We can't hold ..."
The video broke into a haze of static. It took a while later before we received further word. We had lost Bunker 118. It wasn't the last thing we were to lose.
Suggestions requested for new names for all of Sparta's bases - I'm not necessarily going to conquer all of them, but hey, let's be ready!
-Hawk of Chiron
-Blast Rifle Crag
Let's say one suggestion per person, and I'll use the first suggestion given for each base (unless there's a later one that gets seconded alot...)