Democrats & Liberals Archives

Fast Mover

With the time and focus on politics I spend here, people may not know that my main passion is not politics. It’s storytelling. It’s movies and books.

Well, I thought it might be an interesting experiment to do a story on a political subject. See if I can get the sense of my political points across in a way more subtle than a statement of principles. The subject will be a familiar one for my readers. The setting won’t be…

Through the hull, Private Martel felt the locks disengage. He gripped the safety harness. His heel jackhammered against the deck. Even through his own shaking, he felt the motors through the steel in the floor. The order had gone out. They were in motion. The wait was over.

He looked around. Weapons were locked to the bulkheads, rigged for quick release. The men were strapped to their seats with no less an object in mind. He could tell who his fellow rookies were. They were shaking in their boots, too. The rest of the men just looked bored. Except for the old Sergeant next to him, that is.

"First time, Private?" The gruff old guy asked.

"Sir, no sir." Martel denied, his voice betraying him.

Somebody fumbled a clip or an ammo box. whatever it was, bullets rolled across the floor.

"Oh damn." Martel heard the Sergeant moan with humor in his voice, "trip down's about to get much more interesting."

Martel eyed the ammunition as it rolled to and fro. Then, suddenly it stopped rolling...

...and started rising.

Martel would have heard the rattle of the bullets bouncing in the racks above if he weren't so busy being slammed into his harness.

-----------------------------

Miles already separated General Emmett Roland and the grunts dropping to Nagarsura. The invasion forces were legion, spread like a dark cloud of dropships over the azure oceans. He saw their transit to the atmosphere from the bridge of the Dropship Carrier Overlord.

The wreckage of the few picket ships they had faced spun out of the orbital path of the fleet, smashed away with crusher charges when the few survivors had been cleared out. The sky lit up with the heavy laser and rail gun repeater fire as the planet's defenses sprung to life against the capital ships. That lasted only a few seconds before the Eclipse Aerospace fighters, which were already planetside, yanked their plugs once and for all.

The junior officers, who had never been through a major war, breathed a sigh of relief. Not the General. General Roland would make a special point of briefing them on the subject of the small, better concealed AASC weaponry.

The dropship warrant officers and troops would need no such lesson. They were about to get it.

-----------------------------

From the planet's surface, it would look like a woven tapestry of light and smoke. It might look leisurely from the ground, but the entry speeds were hellacious. And that wasn't the only concern. The Anti-Aerospace guns would be tracking their heat signatures the moment they entered Nagarsura's atmosphere.

The aesthetically pleasing weaving paths served two purposes- To slow the craft, and to confuse and elude the tracking systems. Generally, it worked.

There was a limit to how smart they could make the tracking systems before they risked making the computers smart enough to make stupid mistakes. When the computers gained enough intelligence to target small crafts on their own, they unfortunately tended to make lethally eccentric choices, identifying cargo ships, passenger carriers, and friendly military targets as enemies. In the end, it was cheaper to have a human assisted by a relatively dumb computer.

There was no avoiding it, on one side or another. The defenders could not direct the lasers and metal projectiles with absolute precision, and the attackers would have to lose a certain percentage of landing craft. It was a bargain, naturally, that neither side was happy with.

---------------------------

The answer on the dropships switched on as soon as they cleared the ionosphere, with a transformer hum and an ozone stench. The tension lessened in the craft, because every soldier knew what that meant- an energy field would stand between them and the ordinance likely heading their way.

Martel winced, though, as the crack of the megawatt lasers and the snap of the slowed rail gun ammunition bounced off the hull. If any of that made its way through, they would have the choice of two sorts of death- plasma and overpressure in the higher atmosphere, or explosive decompression and freezing death below in the stratosphere. Even in the lower atmosphere, the aerodynamic force could tear the craft apart if they came in too fast or with the wrong kind of damage.

What happened next would not have comforted Private Martel in his thoughts, had he known.

-------------------------

The defender's answer to the problem floated in a network around the planet. Until the Protocon Alliance ships showed up, the Nagarsurans had kept them switched off. It would be a very abrupt greeting to the onrushing invaders, and not one they would feel much remorse for.

In the cockpit of the dropship, an indicator light flared up. Pilot Lieutenant Jim McCarthy, in the middle of a braking turn, almost didn't notice it.

"K-1D4, uplink to FDC." he requested through his headset.

A second passed.

"Fleet Dropship Command, we're reading you, K-1D4." The voice came back.

"Likewise FDC. Please advise, we have multiple ASC fighters in pursuit, multiple lockons."

"Clear skies, K-1D4, we're not picking up any ion trails besides yours. All ASC fighters are accounted for."

That was no comfort to Lt. McCarthy, as his radar had at least three contacts heading his way at high speed.

"FDC, I know a Falchion fighter lockon when I see one. I have three bogies chasing after me, what is going on?" McCarthy impatiently demanded.

"Hold on K-1D4- good God- We're getting chatter like this from everybody- what the hell. We've lost vessels- No, that- " The dispatcher stuttered

There's an uncomfortable pause.

"We're reading mine pulse signatures, they must have rigged the things with surplus guidance systems. Power up your shields to max and make a run for it." The dispatcher helplessly told him.

His co-pilot, Lt. Paul Markos. looked McCarthy's way.

"Can't they target those things, blow them out of the sky?" he asked.

The signatures were fast approaching.

"They'd hit us before they hit the mines. We jam their tracking and haul ass." Lt. McCarthy delicately explained.

--------------------------

The soldiers felt it as the the shaking lessened in the craft.

Martel breathed a sigh of relief, but when he turned to the Sergeant beside him, he saw fear in the veteran's eyes.

"What is it, sir?"

The sergeant put a hand on his brace as he tried to push it up.

"We haven't dropped far enough. We're too high." he breathed.

To everybody else: "Get those restraints back on on the double, grunts! We're not down yet!"

Most of them resecured their harnesses.

One poor fool didn't get the chance. The floor of the vessel rose to meet his face and smashed him into the racks above them.

--------------------------

The chaff dispersed behind them as McCarthy took a hard right on the craft. The mine tracking them saw a large, reflective radar target closer to it. It arced towards it, then detonated. In the thin air, only the heat pulse of the mine could be detected by the dropship. The mine dropped from radar.

McCarthy took this as a good sign. Two more closed in, though. Countermeasures again. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Outside, the mine swerved towards the the cloud, then swerved back their way.

"Damn." McCarthy breathed, as the dot kept pursuit. He breathed heavily as it drew closer. Through the glass, he could see the Coast of Nagarsura's main continent approach.

The mine closed in on him. It was maybe a hundred yards from his craft when he hit the thrusters and stood the craft on its wing.

Back in the troop carrier, those who weren't flying free in the cabin felt their blood pool in their feet and saw the peripheries of their vision dim. Their bodies felt like they weighed a ton.

Which in fact they did, at ten G's. Of course, the men and women in those seats weren't in any condition to discuss Einstein's ideas on the equivalence of inertial and gravitational accelerations. The soldier not in his seat was in no condition to discuss anything anymore. The force had snapped his neck and back against a bulkhead.

The next force they felt was the shockwave of the mine detonating, exploding prematurely where the ship was seconds before. The shrapnel sizzled off the shield, but the shockwave pummelled the hull with a hammerblow of compressed air.

McCarthy relented on the manuever. The only gravity pulling on the crew now was that of the planet.

The Sergeant unharnessed himself.

"What are you doing, sir?" Martel screamed.

"Securing his dumbass so he doesn't kill anybody else!" The Sergeant screamed back. The Sergeant grabbed him and dragged him towards the harness. Bullets rolled down the aisle towards the front.

Back in the cockpit, McCarthy saw the third mine close in on them.

The Sergeant shoved the body back into place. The corpse lolled in the seat, refused to stay put.

McCarthy tightened his grip on the control yoke.

"This had better work." he said.

He yanked hard left.

The chaff burst to the right, glittering in the sunlight. The mine could care less about the beautiful display. In fact, it completely ignored it.

McCarthy looking at the display.

Still coming.

"Damn it, you're not getting us!" he yelled.

Hard right.

---------------------

The Sergeant breathed heavily, the corpse locked in its former seat. the forces lessened on them, and they all let their breath out.

The mine hit them broadside and detonated.

---------------------

It was quiet on the bridge of the Carrier Overlord. The losses were far and beyond what they had expected. A full quarter of their dropships had been shot down. They were expecting only five percent losses. At first General Roland had thought it was merely mine hits, but then the reports came in. Almost half of the ships had been struck by the reconfigured mines. only half of those struck were destroyed.

The troops that survived the descent won the planet with almost ridiculous ease, an irony considering the predictions of the Protocon League's pundits and Armchair generals. There were nagging questions about the invasion though. Since General Roland was in charge of the initial drop into the territory, it was the casualties the mines inflicted that concerned him the most. He had his staff grind the numbers and the casualty estimates until their eyeballs hurt. He didn't want to lose a quarter of his strength on the next drop for want of an answer.

The answer came with one of his staffers, A short, chubby fellow who was always adjusting his glasses. When the man left, the General locked the door and sat in the darkness for an hour.

-------------------

Martel walked by the dropship, and ran his hand over the scorched surface. They had landed, but just barely. The shield projector still smelt of melted plastic and circuits. They'd never use this vehicle again.

Damned if it didn't deserve better.

They landed sixty-eight miles off target, but that was a landing in one piece, which was better than some poor bastards got. Dropship fatalities weren't that conducive to open coffin funerals, any way you went. He remembered stumbling out into the very blue daylight, and marvelling at the streaks of light above, especially as they forked out into new streaks.

Then he realized what he was looking at. It would be years before he would forgive himself.

But he would have those years. The Sergeant called out, and Martel ran to join the patrol detail.

--------------------

It was a month before the investigation finally tracked down the amendment that had killed thousands in the skies over Nagarsura. It was something real simple, actually. Somebody had added a rider to the bill funding the military forces to fund some inane items. The people keeping the books had to take the money to fund these last minute porkbarrel items out of somewhere, and the glamorous corporate contracts with the planetary shipyards wasn't going to get touched. So instead, it ended up being the maintenance and the upgrades on the vehicles. That included a small little upgrade to the shields, which made the circuitry hardier to feedback from it's field, absorbing much more punishment. that was the difference between life and death, being crippled and being whole for thousands of soldiers.

General Roland read the report, a drink in the other, a gun on the edge of the desk close by.

Already the politicians were spinning. Cowards.

One of them said you fight wars with the army you got.

Never mind, minister, the General thought, that you were responsible for how we ended up with that particular army.

Another minister's response was to tell folks that war was risky and that They'd always have to live with some risk.

Easy for you pile it on, the General thought, when you're not the one already neck-deep in it already.

The anger burned in his gut. The people who did this didn't have their kids risking the Dropship Valhalla treatment, with only charred bone fragments to bury. He took a sip of his drink and picked up the gun, feeling it's weight in his hand.

For a moment, he thought it might be a fine idea to go down to their offices, and teach them the meaning of risk.

For a moment alone, fortunately.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at January 3, 2005 8:35 PM