Part 23: You keep your friends close
Diary of Cpl Nathan Han
I've decided to keep a scrapbook diary of my tour of duty in the Sector 3 conflict zone. Surprisingly, my commissar was very supportive, and asked me to show him every entry as I wrote them, so he could make comments.
So. I'm on dry land again, after the voyage on a ship crossing the channel. The boat was huge, yet it was packed to the brim. Not all soldiers, though. Nearly half were engineers, who were to build magtubes as we advanced to ease the flow of reinforcements.
Heavy Gaian naval forces were spotted in the nearby seas - one kidnapped a privated owned boat crew that they claimed was working for Hive intelligence. For a while, we had to hide in some sea fungus while the planes overhead swept the area. I still remember the muck when we had to clear bits that tried to grow on to the ship. It was like it was trying to eat us alive.
It was a nerve wracking moment when we arrived. Word had not gotten through that we were coming, and as we entered harbour all the guns were trained on us. We could see the sighs of relief when we told them that we had come to honour our Pact. What were they expecting, an invasion force?
They were glad for our help though. I gather a place called Otkrietia-Discovery (Otkrietia is 'discovery' in Slavic, apparently) was taken earlier, a place were a medicine was made that was very important to them. My commander agreed that retaking it would be a priority.
I miss home. They make us sleep in single 'beds' in rooms to ourselves. I tried accessing the datalinks, but the Hive sites blocked all access from external IP addresses. At night, it's very quiet and dark without the faint blue lighting and hum of ventilators. I just had a nightmare that they had shut the power off at the Hive, that things were coming in the darkness.
I miss home. Our ship left in the night, escorted by the first and only battleship of the Hive. We are alone now.
Don't put days and times in your entries. It would give away too much information if this were captured. Also, remember that negativity is harmful and must be purged! - Comm. Wang
In the night, someone threw a brick through the window of our mess hall. It's hard to understand why someone would be so bad and ungrateful to do such a thing. We are just here to help, as part of our duties as Citizens of Planet. Yet the streets were lined with rabble protesting our presence.
The transport, we hear, will not be coming back immediately. Rather, it will be picking up some marines to tackle the northern Gaian sea base.
We are assigned to join one of the depleted, inexperienced or otherwise under-strength UniSec regiments that are resting here at Nadezjda-Hope. Together, we'll be protecting the engineers as they pound through the dirt to make way for the rovers carrying the heavy guns.
My liason, a young lady called Elena, is very kind to me. She apologised for the behaviour of her compatriots, and offered to show me around. In turn she asked me lots of questions about the Hive.
In future, refer all such questions to your nearest Representative, who is more able to answer that question - Comm. Wang
I enjoyed talking to her. She listened in rapt attention as I talked of the vast array of mirrors and solar plants atop the Sunny Mesa, the only human devices, it is said, that can be seen from space...
...and of the huge spidery network of magtubes that linked up the bases and towns...
...and of the new discoveries pouring out of Hive research facilities. She was disappointed, though, to hear that much of the universities have been closed recently, or had their funding shut off.
As for the town, much of the University, she said, had adopted the Slavic culture of old Earth as its own. So people keep in mind things like the old Soviet Union, and stuff, and some people think that the Gaians had it right, and that they shouldn't be working with the 'new Stalinists'.
She picked out a small handbook from a stack of them - 'We Must Dissent':
"Will we next create false gods to rule over us? How proud we have become, and how blind."
But Godwinson is in no condition to write these tracts, I said. She agreed, but said that that others might think differently. And besides, how far away is the fanatical trust of the Hivers in Yang from the old beliefs in God? I asked why the government doesn't track down these miscreants and cart them off to re-education. She was quiet for a bit.
I've been reassigned. Didn't get a chance to say goodbye to Elena. I'll be a navigator on one of the new Winged Sliver type needlejets. Always had good scores on spatial awareness exams.
We'll be operating out of a Spartan base that we've negotiated an exchange for.
It's a shame. I had wanted to see the new 'shields' the rovers are getting on their tanks. Dragon is a good name for a tank.
Huh. I didn't end up in a Winged Sliver at all. The thing I'm flying in looks very much like a good old Skies of Everyman to me...
The Gaians had, we learned, adopted old Hive strategies - a large and versatile airforce, supported by paratroopers to take hold of what the planes had cleared out. The university had adapted by filling their cities with two types of garrisons - anti-air troops, and then troops with comms jammers to deal with mobile troops. It sounded like a strong defense, though for some reason it annoyed my commanders.
Nevertheless, the Gaian strategy had made some headway, due to sheer numbers.
Worse, there is little that we fliers could do about it. Without the equipment to track flying jets, we can only watch the radar blips pass us by, while we move on to our own targets. Like early Great War fighting, our University service crews commented. We should wave at each other.
A message from Elena arrived tonight on my room console. No idea how she tracked me down, but she said that the University networks were full of security holes that were easy to access from the inside.
She told me that my reassignment had probably saved my life. A flight of Gaian shard needlejets had followed the roads and found our combat engineers. Almost the entire lot were killed. The rovers had managed to survive by rushing into the cover of Mendelev College.
Sure makes strafing those greenie bastards more satisfying.
Today was the first step in our fightback. It was an exclusively Hive affair, as our commander explained that we could not even wait for support from Tsiolkovsky Institute, which was stranded behind the front line.
Our window of opportunity was provided, ironically, by the attack on our engineers. With the planes launched, all that guarded the base was a squad of paratroopers. When our planes came in to attack, the Gaians thought that we were their own returning jets.
They recovered sufficiently to take out a squadron with heavy flak before capitulating. From our high vantage point, we saw the rovers roll up outside the base, and disgorge their troops in a cloud of smoke screen. Black clad troopers dashed from cover to nearby buildings. There was a burst of flashbangs, and the occassional line of a tracer round, and then it was all over - a single green flare showed that we could land.
When we landed, we found crates and crates of sealed glass bottles everywhere - the Gaians were planning to ship them out. There were also stacks of paperwork, and storage mediums, and so on. Overcoat wearing intel officers arrived on the next plane in, and swore us all to secrecy.
Weren't we supposed to be returning these to the University, some of us asked. The intel guy said that we should hold on to them for now - no, send them back to the Hive for analysis. Since maybe the Gaians put something in them. Another said that our need for them is greater, since with our more efficient economy we can better get them to those who need them.
This all seemed very reasonable. Besides, the people of the University owe their lives to us. Only fair that there should be some payment.
I've decided to stop showing the commissar my diary. If he asks, I don't know what I'll do. But I'm not really sure what to do with it. I wish I could patch into the Hive datalinks, and ask Father Chairman for guidance. But we are so very far away. What little communication they can get through the sunspot activity can't be freed for us. We are so very far away, in such a strange land.
We had to pull back from Otkrietia-Discovery immediately after we packed all the bottles up. The Gaians had no infantry left to retake the base, but planes they still had aplenty. Though they seemed loathe to bombard civilian areas, they had no such compunction at attacking our own airfields. We had to spread our planes around in different University towns while they repaired. Elsewhere, Academy Park was liberated by our forces... though collateral damage was total. This, according to our commander, leaves Lab Three as the only staging point from which Skye can strike at the majority of the University.
This morning, at last, we were ready to attack their forward base.
So, we went in. A division of Uni shard footsoldiers, and a dragon-type on the ground, and a bunch of wings of Skies of Everyman, Wing Slivers, and even some retro fitted fusion tactical fighters.
The uni troops went in first. There was a series of thuds as they launched their plasma shards towards the airstrip, and a dull explosion as they caught some of the planes on the ground. The idea was to litter the runway with debris and unexploded munitions and prevent any air defense.
It seemed to work.
And then, when we came in, a fighter blasted in from behind us, and flamed an entire squadron. They had taken off before even our first troops arrived, and were circling in some staging formation obscured by cloud.
A wing of our fighters turned to intercept, and the thing turned away. By now, it was trailing smoke - the defensive turrets on one of the first planes had clipped it, and our fighters were charging their fusion lasers, thinking it was an easy kill. And then, out of nowhere came a second fighter, and a flash of a fusion laser that tore the wing off one plane and toasted the cockpit of another.
Over the radio came 'fighter has Spartan markings! Repeat, Spartan markings!' And then it all came together, why the Gaians were using our tactics - the ones we drilled with our Spartan allies.
And it was our turn. The rest of our fighter support had decided to chase ground attack planes instead, the fucking cowards. I radioed our wingman to chase the Spartan, while we took on the more advanced Gaian jet.
The two fighters twirled in the air, opening up the jaws of the scissors maneveuer. My pilot kicked our afterburner into action, and the blaze of light from my chaos gun forced the shardjet to break off. And we were chasing them.
My radar was suddenly ablaze. "Dive dive dive!" I shouted, and we barely dodged in time. Our opponent had set his launcher to low velocity, and now mined our path with with homing shards. The heat bursts as they went off felt as though they singed my hair.
He had one final gambit. One more wingtip turn brought him face to face with us. He couldn't have any real accuracy, so I brought up the zoom, just in time to watch the air explode in front of us. The guy must have had a custom launcher, or something, because it seems that he let off all of his plasma shards at once.
What saved us was the Spartan pilot. With a woosh, he happened to dive in between us, and his plane was instantly vaporised.
The Gaian had ejected by the time the smoke cleared. I strafed his parachute as it went down. The other ground attack planes did the rest.
The University is certainly boisterous in their celebrations in the aftermath of Lab Three. The anti-Hive posters were removed and trodden into the dirt by crowds of well-wishers, and hordes surrounded us, wanting autographs and so on. Free 'beer' poured out as through through hoses. Elena wanted to see me afterwards, though I could not find her in the milling crowds, and my request to query her ident-tag was met with confusion. I'm not sure what that woman wants with me.
The Gaians were far from defeated, of course, though they were now choked down to a single city in range, and our dragons were getting their second upgrade - to give them anti-air capabilities.
On wandering the city, I blundered across a command tent. It was strange how the University leave their military commanders unguarded, without even doors that shut properly. Peeking through, there was a video conference going on.
The Spartans had declared peace, it seems. The war never meant much for them from the beginning.
But the Gaians couldn't have been more angry.
According to Lady Skye, in the Hive attack on Falling Water, preceding the marine attack, a probe team had went in and used some sort of biological weapon, causing heavy civilian casualties. Due to the communication blackout, Deirdre had little evidence to go on who carried out the attack. But she had her suspicions. And she wanted inspectors, from the Gaia-controlled UN Council, to 'make sure'.
The University was firm in their denials. One of their staff replied: "The Academician's private residences shall remain off-limits to the Genetic Inspectors. We possess no retroviral capability, we are not researching retroviral engineering, and we shall not allow this Council to violate faction privileges in the name of this ridiculous witch hunt!"
Yang counterattacked, however. Would not mind worms be considered biological weapons as well? Aren't their use, evidenced by several guarded compounds found in the vacated Lab Three, in fact far more horrifying and inhumane than mere viruses which can kill, hypothetically, peacefully during sleep?
Skye was furious. Mindworms are part of the Planet environment, she said, whereas retrovirals are artificial bodies with an infinitely greater capacity for harm. Far from being localised, viruses can seep into the environs and cause vast damage to the Planet. Already we are seeing signs, she said, of abnormal fungal activity, no doubt precipitated by human action.
Yang interrupted, "So it comes to this again. Lady Skye's continuing irrational belief in a so-called Planetmind. But is it not true that all these supposed symptoms are directly due to stress being applied to the environment? Surely the scientific response is to apply further stimuli, so that more evidence can be gathered on this alleged phenomenon."
"Stop changing the subject, Yang. Zakharov, listen to me. Don't ally yourself with Yang. He is only going to turn on you. What you need to do is to check on those worms Yang's men found in Lab Three, before they are destroyed. These are trained worms. Learn from them what you can. You must listen to me! With Yang lies death! Total destruction!"
There was a click as Provost Zakharov shut off the Gaian transmission.
"Let the Gaians preach their silly religion, but one way or the other I shall see this compound burned, seared, and sterilized until every hiding place is found and until every last Mind Worm egg, every last slimy one, has been cooked to a smoking husk. That species shall be exterminated, I tell you! Exterminated!"
"I am glad you agree, Provost. Come, we must pore over your defense plans, so that we can better coordinate our counterstrike..."
I'm glad Zakharov saw through the Gaian lies.
Nominations for renamed University towns are welcome...