>> Access File I-AP-141117
This is Rehan Sharma reporting from the fortifications of the 2nd Company, 31st Home Guard Battalion, in the Worker’s District of Aasha Panch as we enter the seventh hour of the siege of what appears to be the last stronghold of the insurgents.
I have not been given exact numbers by the captain of the 2/31, but from what we have seen since this siege started, Home Guard troops have tried multiple times to storm the rebel lines but to no avail. The last assault, about thirty minutes ago, resulted not only in more casualties for the 31st HGB but also the loss of Major Arjun Singh.
We have no word as of yet from the governing body of Aasha Panch, but the nearest Empezar is a day or two away by hard boost and brake, so we cannot hope for speedy reinforcement there.
There are rumors that the Federal government has sent the Marines. But the supposed elite soldiers of the Federal military getting here before more blood is shed, i can only say, will be nothing short of a miracle.
>> End Play
We were woken up just after the first riots broke out in the Empezar called Aasha Panch. Hope Five, in Hindi, so I was told. That tells me she’s one of the “Salvation” Empezars constructed under the Final UN Actions to ensure more people, not just those selected by governments and other powers-that-be, could be saved.
We didn’t know about the trouble at Aasha Panch at the start. Many of us Marines were looking forward to the celebration of Zero Year One; given everyone’s concern right now is to make sure we make it past a year living up here in outer space, we doubted there would have been any need to call us in. People in the Streko Federation should have other concerns, things that don’t require the intervention of elite combat troops.
There was a bit of grumbling as Sergeant Barry Kane got us up and at ’em, with all that shout about rising and shining (as if you could see an actual sunrise in the Empezars) and what a wonderful day it was in the Streko Federation Marine Corps. I swear the Sarge just got that out of some old movie.
The Lieutenant wasn’t there yet; James Richards had sneaked out to be with his family, and now he was being stealthily rejoined with his unit. Pays to have a high-ranking officer for a father and a Council official for a mother. Bastard was all smug and smiling, waiting for us in the assault shuttle aboard the Aeneas, saying something about early birds getting the worm and all that. If only hitting an officer didn’t merit an automatic voiding, I think several of us would have done that.
Funny thing was, we still didn’t know why the frag our unit, on rotation as ramrods in the event the delicate hands of the Federal Marine Corps was needed, was sent all the way to the middle of God-only-knows-where, right before the biggest party in the short history of stellar humanity.
It certainly got to some of us, like Ricky Miles.
“Hey, El-tee, any word as to why we’re kitted for biz?” Ricky Miles asked. He’d been fidgeting non-stop since we left the fleet flagship.
“We’ll know soon as we’re close, Ricky,” Lt. Richards answered. “Just keep your pants on.”
Unsatisfied, Ricky badgered the sergeant across him, who was trying to get a nap despite the high burn. “Hey, Sarge, El-tee’s being useless again; got any idea what this is all about?”
“Can it, Miles,” Sgt. Kane said without even opening his eyes. “Just sit the fuck there and don’t go bothering us. We’re gonna know when we’re gonna know.”
Ricky probably thought the Sarge was being a twit, too, what with that upturned lip of his, but he kept that to himself and took the advice. Unfortunately, he really could never sit still. Or shut up. So he turned to the person beside him. Which was me.
“Hey, Migs, wachuthink, huh? What’s goin’ on?”
I gave him a simple answer: “Aliens, man. Xenomorphs, like they had in ‘Aliens’; ever watched that? We’re going on a bughunt, man.”
We all knew Ricky watched and read every single bit of media in the Aliens franchise. Orphaned during the New York Race Riots, the guy wished Ellen Ripley was his mom and Hicks or Hudson his dad. We all knew how much he feared Giger’s iconic creations.
“Dammit, Arkanghel, now you’ve gone and scared the little Jersey boy,” Sgt. Kane said. “He shits in that suit, you’re on cleaning duty.”
The rest of the Marines chuckled at the expense of Ricky Miles while he just sat there, probably reliving the movie in his mind.
The burn cut out soon and we let inertia carry us along. At T-minus fifteen to contact, and with the Zar growing on their screens, the monitor on the front end of the shuttle’s troop compartment switched to a view of a face familiar to everyone in the ship: Azele Iweala, Commandant of the Streko Federation Marine Corps.
As one, we saluted her where we sat, strapped tight as we were on the crash couches. If we weren’t, you’d be damned right we’d all have snappily stood in attention for the one woman who was instrumental in saving so many of the Empezars from the people wanting to destroy them at Launch Day.
“At ease, Marines,” Iweala said. “I’ll get straight to the point. Three days ago, several residents of the Empezar Aasha Pach engaged in violent actions against their established authorities.”
Iweala told us how the violence escalated from simple fisticuffs to melee weapons after local security personnel stepped in with more force than they should have. It got so bad that the Home Guard were brought into play. Then, somehow, the perpetrators got their hands on some of the Guard’s Gauss Rifles. That’s when things got really serious.
The Guard managed to prevail in the gun battles that followed because they had numbers and the training to use the new weapons. But now the rebels were in a system of corridors outside of the Habitat Ring and the Guard suffered heavy losses trying to flush them out.
“The government of Aasha Pach has invoked the Federal Statutes and requested assistance to end their little problem,” Iweala concluded. “That’s where you boys and girls come in.”
“While the Home Guard keeps the rebels from escaping where they’re holed up, your platoon, Lt. Richards, will make a stealth insertion through a maintenance airlock that should place you near the rebel corridors and away from their defensive lines,” Iweala continued. “You will clear those corridors and return peace and order to that Empezar.”
“The Ministry of Communications is currently blocking all… non-essential signals from leaving the Aasha Panch. The Council has requested that this be wrapped up before the Year One festivities begin. We can’t have this little misadventure slinging mud in the face of all our achievements. The survival of humanity depends on it.
“Additional information about the situation is now being sent to your local nodes. Lt. Richards, you will review this diligently with your team.
“Good hunting, Marines.”
The files came in as the Commandant finished her briefing. I tuned out the El-tee’s barking of information from the dossiers and focused on the details inside to get a better idea what the hell we were getting into.
“Remember that the reasons for this little insurrection are not important,” Lt. Richards told us while we waited for the airlock to open after the shuttle completed its docking procedures. “We are not here to negotiate or offer second chances. We are here to put an end to a threat to the future of humanity.”
There was surprisingly little background info in the briefing documents; just force estimates (unreliable, Sgt. Kane said; expect more), images of the rebels captured in various security cameras and whatever intel could be gathered about their weapons and training.
I still can’t believe how bad the Salvations were made. Your standard Empezar was built not only to last – it’s supposed to be the home of the last remnants of humanity until God knows when we can get back to Earth – but also to contain all the latest in tech Mankind had, along with whatever discoveries the eggheads came up with after Zero Day.
Take that infodump on these so-called rebels for example. The myriad sensors scattered in every Empezar should have made electronic intelligence on these guys easy, and I don’t mean the standard ELINT stuff like video captures. Biomonitors that constantly check vital signs (because every life is vital now). Pinpoint location data (because you want to know where everyone is in case of an emergency). Chemical sensors that should tell us not just what the rebels ate the last time they did via their sweat but also if they’re carrying dangerous stuff, like explosives.
Instead, we got barely anything other than vidcap and some motion sensor information that, according to our combat hacker, seemed as unreliable as the enemy force estimates.
Whoever built the Salvations made a killing. And I don’t just mean that figuratively. I hope the bastards got left on Earth in some extravagantly-built mansion right in the path of at least a Level 3 Yolanda.
The seals to the airlock hissed as the door opened. Sarge Kane barked out an order for everyone to go in with “boots off”, meaning we weren’t going to use the magnetic pads on our footwear. Nods went all around, except for Lt. Kane who I could see was looking at the Sergeant quizzically. Kane pointed out that walking around with magboots made lots of noise, and we did get ordered to do this quiet-like. At least until the shooting starts.
It would be a bit difficult fighting in null-G, but Marines trained for this. And it’s not like our Gauss Rifles had much recoil.
Two Marine riflemen entered, covering the far end of the corridor with their rifles. After making sure there were no surprises, the rest of the platoon went into the darkened service corridor. It wasn’t that big, but allowed something like three Marines in full combat armor to tightly walk side by side.
“Readings,” Richards said over our comm network. People in the operations center aboard the Aeneas would be able to listen in and talk to us over that network, too.
“Air reads normal, if a bit on the ‘stale’ side, El-tee,” Kyla Jean “KJ” Shinomori, platoon combat hacker and tech, said. “We can breathe this air if we have to.”
“Keep your suits sealed and battle helmets on, Marines. There’s no telling what those rebels have with them,” Richards said. “Jenkins, Dovakov, take point. And don’t use your lights, we don’t want to advertise our presence until we want to.”
“And don’t you dare charge off on your own, Jenkins,” Sarge Kane said to the young, straw-haired rifleman, “or I swear I’m going to shoot you myself.” Jenkins just saluted with his rifle and followed after Ivan Dovakov.
As we moved into the corridors of the Empezar, I took my customary position at the rear, moving with the last squad to act as rearguard. I saw KJ waiting on the first bend and she floated beside me as we came to her.
“I ran some checks on those images, chief, per your request,” KJ said over a personal comm net between us. “And, as usual, you’re right: there are some people in them who are not from the region this ‘Zar came from.”
“Can you determine their nationality?”
“Not with the software I have in this kit, Migs,” KJ answered. “I prepped for hacking and combat support, not forensics. I sent a file to Xiu in the Aeneas; he should have better stuff there to check on our mystery guests.”
“I wonder if this is the reason they sent us on the flagship instead of one of our own assault ships?”
“You’re not the only one asking that question, sir,” KJ said in reply. “I mean, what would make the Admiralty and the Council authorize the one built-to-spec warship in Strekan Space to go out and play? Those railguns on the Aeneas have enough firepower to easily slag this place with a few well-placed shots.”
“Think you can get the visitor’s manifest for this tub?”
“Way ahead of you, chief; sent a bot sniffing around a while ago.”
“Attagirl, KJ. We get out of here alive, I’m treating you to some special tofu.”
The hacker threw me a salute. She was half-Japanese and KJ definitely knows her tofu, but everyone knows the Filipino community have their… ways with tofu.
But if it leads to more than just munching on some processed soymeat, hey.
A couple of minutes later, thoughts of taking a bite out of tofu and a half-Japanese girl took a backseat in my mind as the platoon stopped after a succession of fists held up in the universal sign for “halt” came down the line.
The El-tee signaled me to come up front after Dovakov detected some thermal signatures at the end of the corridor. Chances are, the people in that area hadn’t noticed us yet; part of the capabilities of our battlesuits involved thermal damping, so we could move stealthily.
“Arkanghel, take your squad and check those sigs up front,” Richards ordered. “Don’t shoot until I say so. We don’t want to lose our element of surprise this early.”
“Got it, sir,” I replied, motioning my Marines forward as I took point.
The corridor bent to the left at its end. The heat signatures Dovakov detected were somewhere a bit past that. Amidst the cold of the surroundings, they stood out like bonfires.
I motioned the squad to stop just as we reached the bend. I did a quick glance and saw a couple of bodies at the T-junction. I signalled to our combat engineer to deploy a minidrone so we could get a good look at our rebels.
A small, spider-looking bot skittered out of its container. The combat engineer took the microdrone and placed it on the ceiling. Using the console on his left gauntlet, he gave it orders to move towards our targets.
The spider drone had a full suite of sensors despite its size, making it an ideal scout given how small it was and its ability to blend in with the environment (even in places like the corridors of a space station). Through the eyes of the drone, every single one of us in the platoon could see the people Dovakov detected earlier.
There were five in all where the bend met another long corridor, forming the T-junction. They were probably put there as a guard detail in case someone entered through the maintenance airlock. They should have done better. But what would you expect from civilians?
Lt. Richards’ orders appeared in our HUD’s chatbox: neutralize the guards with haste and prevent contact with their comrades.
It was too bad EMPs were forbidden inside Zars; it would have made the second part easier. Instead, we had to rely on the time-tested American way of beating an enemy: shock and awe.
And one of the best ways to shock and awe someone in the age of Streko was to hit them not with the magnetically-accelerated spikes our Gauss Rifles fired, but with our Fathers.
The little things pass for a grenade in today’s military. We can’t use an explosive device in a Zar, after all; there’s a big chance that in our attempts to blow up our enemies, we end up blowing a hole through the space station’s hull, too. I mean, yeah, that’s what Magnahooks are for: to keep you from suddenly being sucked out to space in case of decompression. But even if no one went out the hole a typical grenade made, that’s loss of air and a big breach on a Zar. The repairs would be quite bothersome, and who knows if we can afford the loss of precious oxygen.
So, the braintrust for the military made what they called the “damaging auric discharge device”, or DAD Device. Father. Sometimes also called Loud Father.
Weaponized acoustics. Which in the confined spaces of a typical Empezar corridor were quite deadly due to how sound waves worked.
The combat engineer and I had underslung grenade launchers on our Corps-issued Thunder Tavors (the former Israeli weapons company went up the gravity well along with New Zion, the Israeli Empezar; they won the contract to supply our guns) and we put in the launcher variant of Father. It was dark on our side of the corridor, and our battlesuits had tech that allowed us to better blend in with the environment. Not chameleon tech, but good enough. We took position and aimed down the corridor.
“Father to scold,” I said, giving the entire squad a heads up. “Repeat: Father to scold.”
At the pull of a trigger, two cylinders were sent downrange with that characteristic clacking sound of discharging electromagnets. Just as the sound dampers for my helmet pickups came on to minimize the screaming of the Fathers, I heard one of the rebels say, “hey, did you hear something?”
Oh, he’s about to hear something.
The two DADs hit the opposite bulkhead and rebounded a bit. The rebels looked questioningly at the two objects floating right in front of their faces, before the devices discharged their payload.
Have you ever stood near one of the big speakers in a concert? Remember how it felt when that wall of sound hit?
There was a time I attended a Blazing Beats concert in my teens Earthside. While trying to move towards some girl that caught my eye during the show, I hadn’t noticed I’d moved close to a bank of speakers. As I was about to make my move, the lead guitarist suddenly let loose with a monster riff.
And there went my eardrums.
DADs are like that, only worse. Each Father barked loud with subsonic acoustics meant to disorient, skewing the balance of your inner ear, deafen to the point of ruptured eardrums, and put your heart out of sync as the sound energy battered your chest.
And sound rebounds off surfaces. If you remember your physics lessons right, you’d recall how in a tight and enclosed space, sound energy increases because the bouncing waves reinforce each other in a phenomenon called resonance. And Empezar corridors are very tight, enclosed spaces.
Sound propagates too, but Marine battlearmor is proofed against the weapons we carry, like in the cutoff for the sound pickups in our helmets or the armoring on our suits that blocks out most of the angry bellow from the Fathers. Besides, we were a bit away from the blast.
Our five rebel friends on the other hand, had no such advantages.
The two nearest the screaming DADs took the brunt. With my hearing amps cut off, all I could see were rebels giving soundless screams as blood gushed from their upturned mouths, their hands raking the space above their hearts. Blood came out of their ears. A quick check of the rest of the rebels showed the same thing leaking out of the same orifices.
I soundlessly signaled “Go!” to the rest of my squad. It would be a few more seconds before the DADs stopped shouting and it would be safe to hear again.
The three riflemen and our combat engineer started sending spikes downrange, taking the rebel nearest us as he tried to shake off the effects of the DAD burst. He was lucky to have been behind his friend as that rebel absorbed most of the damaging sound energy, but since he was the first in range he took a couple of spikes all over his body.
The other spikes found their way to the two already getting a scolding from the Fathers. They were probably dead, but the spikes were insurance. And if they weren’t yet, this was a mercy.
Now this is where it got tricky. The length of the corridor meant that we would have been detected even before we closed in to optimum engagement range so charging them while shooting was out of the question. We were just glad they were clustered like that on the meeting point of the T’s arms that even just a single Father screaming loudly would have been enough to at least disorient them (I was making sure by using two DADs, alright?). So while they were in the midst of Father’s angry tirade, me and another of my Marines did a charge attack.
Zero G changed everything about warfare. Unless you were fighting in the Habitat Ring of an Empezar or fought with magboots on, most every battlefield would find you weightless, moving about in freefall unless you had a way to maneuver or anchor yourself. Again, there’s the magnahook and the boots, but being tethered to one place means you’re an easy target, and you really can’t move that fast with magboots given how they’re designed to not easily make you leave contact with the surface it’s magnetized to.
Surviving combat in the age of Streko involves either hard cover or movement, and an Empezar corridor, wide enough in most cases to just accommodate two and a half people walking side-by-side, is not a place with that much hard cover.
So all you have to protect yourself in zero G, aside from armor, is motion. And this maneuver we used is one of my favorites.
The corridor of the T-junction that we were in was the long part of the letter. In 1G, you could easily cover the distance in a few seconds, reeling from the effects of the scolding of the Fathers. But in Zero G, running is out of the question. You float or fly.
The other Marine – Aisha Elbert, according to her tag – and I braced our legs to the bulkhead opposite those of the rebels. And with one big push, Aisha and I went flying towards our targets.
Okay, so it wasn’t a straight flight. We knew our legs lacked the necessary energy to get us there in one bound. Instead, we angled towards the corridor walls and executed another leap that would bring us crashing towards the rebel formation.
By the time we approached our bound-off mark, three rebels were down, but the other two were starting to recover, and fast. Despite their ears bleeding and the ringing in their heads, the two grit their teeth and managed to raise their purloined Gauss Rifles – old Colt GM-11s – and started sending their own spikes our way. One even pinged off my right pauldron but didn’t do much damage given its own off angle and my motion. Through our internal comms, I told Aisha to deploy bucklers.
She didn’t nod, but I saw the small shield unfold from her right arm – a leftie? interesting – while the long arm blade on her left extended as she bounded off the corridor wall. Mine were, too, only I was right-handed. We called the long blade the pig sticker, even if it was a single-edge knife-like thing.
Their attempts to shoot us were for naught as our bucklers did their job, keeping the spikes from hitting us as Aisha and I crossed each other’s path, over and above one another.
Aisha and I crashed into the two rebels with all the force Newton gave two adult humans with armor and combat gear. My lady friend slammed onto her target’s upper torso and lower face with her buckler, pinning him with bone-crunching force to the bulkhead. He flailed with his GM-11, but Aisha used her momentum to cut the arm off with her pig sticker before stabbing the pinned rebel where the neck met the torso, all in one smooth move. Not a flashy person, I simply batted away my rebel’s gun as I hit him with the shield and did what a pig sticker was supposed to do with a stab to his chest.
In just a few seconds, it was over. Time of engagement didn’t even clock at thirty seconds as the rest of my squad arrived at the T-junction and two of the Marines covered the other end of each arm. Our combat engineer checked on the other rebels, especially the two that took the brunt of the scolding from the DADs, confirming they were dead. I signalled the all-clear to Lt. Richards and the rest of the platoon moved into position.
“Nice work, Miguel,” the El-tee said, patting my shoulder armor as he went past and conferred with Mission Control onboard the Aeneas. Sarge Kane directed some of the Marines to secure the rebel bodies using their magnahooks before approaching me, shaking his head.
“Aw, c’mon, Sarge, this was a perfectly executed scold-and-hit,” I comm-ed to him. “You’re such a hard man to please.”
“I don’t doubt your fighting or tactical skills, Arkanghel, that’s why you’re Corporal,” he replied, his tone stern. “But there’s also a reason why you’re in a leadership position. Combat leaders don’t go charging in, they direct their boys and girls to do the fighting.”
Sarge Kane probably noticed my skulking so he gently tapped my shoulder, the one the rebel dinged, “hey, you’re a damned good Marine, but the Corps needs you to lead, not to go all ape on our targets. We need that brain of yours as much as your brawn. Leave the crazy ass stunts to Jenkins over there.”
“Love you, too, sarge!” Jenkins screamed through our comms.
“Shut the fuck up, Jenkins, or I’m going to have Aisha there castrate you,” the beloved Sarge Kane answered. Jenkins covered his groin instinctively as Aisha waved her still-bloody arm blade at him.
“Alright, listen up!” Richards said. “MC tells us that the main rebel force holding up the Guard is down that way,” Richards pointed to the left-hand arm.
“ELINT tells us their command element is most likely down that way,” he said, pointing down the right hand arm. “Sarge Kane is to take two squads with him to hit the main rebel defensive position from behind as the Home Guard begins another push. Try to end it quick before more of those weekend warriors get killed, eh, Sarge?”
“Meanwhile, I’ll take Arkanghel’s squad and Shinomoto to do recon of the area towards the rebel command element. If we meet heavy opposition we will hold in a defensive posture until Sarge Kane’s force is done.”
“You got your orders, Marines! Hop to it!” Sarge said as the elements of the other two squads moved down their designated corridor. Lt. Richards began leading my squad down ours.
Before I could join them, I felt someone grab my shoulder again. I turned and saw it was Sarge Kane.
“Hey, Migs: No unnecessary heroics,” the older Marine said to me. “That’s a fucking order.”
I floated there awhile not saying anything before saluting the Sergeant. “Aye, aye, Sarge!”
“And keep that damfool officer alive. I heard this is his first real combat mission,” Sarge said as he moved to join his force.
I watched them disappear past a bend down the left-hand of the T. KJ, who hung back, chatted me to get my sexy Pinoy butt moving or the El-tee might get the squad in trouble. I nodded then moved in the direction of our targets.
“What’d you call my butt again?” I asked KJ as I got to her.
For a response, the combat hacker made her battle helmet transparent and gave me a raspberry. And then a flying kiss.
Thoughts of hot, off-the-grill tofu and kawaii half-Japanese tech girls went through my mind as I followed behind her and the rest of our squad to get this job done.
After all, we have a party to go to.