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Five times in the last few seconds MBT-337 had taken hits on its turret face. As it pounded out return fire at the dozens of Selangor enemy moving across its front, the unmanned Australian tank continued to back along the low fire step that protected its right side. Forward of its position, other friendly units guarded the main wall fronting their shallow deployment.

‘Crack, crack-crack, crack’ the rapid fire staccato from both sides punched the air. Two enemy tanks lurched to a halt, no return fire, no movement. Seconds later indirect fire laced its way through the massive counterbattery exchange passing above the battlefield. Explosions crumped in amongst the enemy advance as the smart rounds defied all countermeasures and smashed another seven or eight MBTs. High overhead Australian aviation arrived in response to the division controller's call for support. Selangor anti-aircraft fire rose in swarms only to be plucked out of the sky by nearby counterfire. From Mars orbit, Selangor assault platforms peered at the Australian aircraft far below but were themselves engaged by Australian orbital forces before they could interfere. The division controller knew it would be another 15 minutes before the next enemy orbit would pass far overhead, he hoped High Command had a plan for stopping them.

Down at Tars Peliti the snapping sound of air bursting submunitions rippled across the uneven plain, and down went almost a dozen enemy reconnaissance crawlers. The air briefly filled with micromunitions that peened the surfaces of the Selangor tanks and kicked up wisps of fine red dust. The surviving crawlers kept rolling through the rock fields on the far side of the Selangor heavy armor, detouring around a damaged unit that drove in circles a few times and then stopped. It was badly holed and the outer fairings were covered with MGVs from both sides, fighting for supremacy – a miniature battle within a battle.

With a shrieking, tearing sound the Australian aviation which had finished their circuit along the horizon swept in and crossed the rear of the Selangor formations, systematically dispensing their deadly and seemingly endless payloads. Instantly the air was full of hundreds of small pen-shaped missiles, slamming past and through the Selangor armored formation with high density fury. The entire area erupted into a spray of dust and flying metal as Selangor counterfire tried to kill off or divert the attacking ammunition. Some of the Australian ordnance passed through the formation entirely and came back around from the sides. Cruising in low and slow they dispensed a deadly array of MGVs onto their enemy and a hundred battles broke out on the surfaces of the Selangor tanks. The Australian microassaults did not stand a chance, but they would force the enemy into costly miniature counterattacks. The veil of red dust thinned and drifted away to reveal a hundred enemy main battle tanks threading their way amongst dozens of motionless hulks.

The Australian tanks surrounded themselves with wrecked enemies, but the Selangor kept pouring through, irresistibly pushing back the defending right flank. Orders from 80th Division’s controller came through: Withdraw. Immediately the Australian armor began leapfrogging back, each group supporting the one in front as they maneuvered to avoid entrapment. Maintaining defense in depth and overlapping fire, the Australians continued to make the Selangor forces pay dearly for every meter they covered. Unfortunately Tars Peliti was running out of time.

Part of Operation Crowbar was to assure thorough commitment of the main Australian ground forces. Soon after, a new Selangor orbital group appeared on Australian sensors as it decelerated into position high above the battlefield. Without delay their first sortie tumbled into the thin Martian atmosphere. As the descending pods cleared the thermosphere their entry shells peeled away and the heavy attack jets previously cocooned inside clustered into formation. The supporting mother ships then released their final loadouts; massive and deadly, it had taken a lot of valuable time and energy to move them so far for so long.

Down at Tars Peliti, the Australian commander looked with mild alarm at the situation. Until now he was confident they could hold out. He had just spoken to the controller for 80th division who felt things were going their way. Thirty minutes before there had been two other assaults on remote Australian bases like Tars Peliti and those attacks were repulsed. This assault had seemed to be going the same way – until now.

The commander set aside a few precious moments to absorb this change in fortune, and then summoned his subordinate in the complex deep below; “Lieutenant Ng, be advised additional enemy forces are en route, you have 70 seconds to complete armory mobilization.” In the base below, the young lieutenant received the new order with shock. Tars Peliti was in the middle of nowhere and everyone had thought these attacks were a diversion.

With a curt “Yes sir.” the Lieutenant issued a new defense profile to the fire control system and walked into an elevator that quickly ascended to the armory level. Exiting moments later she scanned the hall with meticulous satisfaction. Already the long smooth walls had opened up and racks of ordnance were rapidly loading into vertical handlers. She paced the open floor and ordered by voice the deployment of the defenses and retraction of the access well; “Tars Peliti Base prepare to repel boarders this is no drill this is no drill.”

Confirmation of her order came instantly with the sound of the access well four stories above retracting into the solid walls. Walking casually over to the main hatch, she grabbed a vertical handrail, manually pulled the door open and leaned through, craning her head upward to see the last of open sky through the long rectangular chasm that was the only route into the tower. She paused for a moment to admire the dark Martian sky and then leaned back in as the door seal alarm sounded. Standing further back, she watched the door slide fully closed, sealing the base.

Meanwhile the loading system continued to feed ordnance into ports next to the main bulkhead. Facing outward and upward on the other side of that heavy wall pointed the business end of the launching system – the base’s entire weapon array, ranging from the orbital engagement system to racks of MGV dispensers were ready for firing. Woe to those in the way.

Suddenly the launch alarm blasted out a deafening alert, followed one second later by the sequential roar of five anti-ship missiles being automatically launched. Soon after, five more went up. Even as the first ordnance sailed spaceward the Lieutenant's ES assistant sent her an emergency notice explaining the unauthorized action. She quickly jabbed at the air in front of her as she punched through a series of data threads and briefly interrogated the system. Shocked at what she discovered, she wanted to open a channel to the Colonel. But her batur commander would already know what she knew: Selangor ground penetrators were hurtling like meteors down on Tars Peliti. Looking over at the loading racks and the sealed door, her eyebrows furrowed and she bit her lip in fury.

Several levels below, Colonel Tarka's thoughts were with Major Collins, the 80th Division controller still up on the surface. He must be having a hard time of it, and Tarka hoped he was still alive. Suddenly drawn to the orbital view by his ES assistant, the batur officer stiffened slightly. Seconds later the muffled roar of the system auto-firing made its way to him. With a hurried motion he double-checked his final uploads and made sure they were not jammed by the enemy. "The Enemy." he thought to himself, as he breezed gracefully through the last items on his mental checklist. “I wonder what will come of things now?

He noted with approval that Lieutenant Ng had acted on the alarm and was switching the system's combat profile to an emergency assault mission; this would unleash the base’s entire inventory of weapons onto every Selangor target in range. The floor suddenly vibrated as ten stories up the entire armory roared out of the ground in a spectacular display of firepower. The fire control system spent its final moments of existence sending off the last of the base’s reserve ordnance.

Once his upload confirmation arrived, Tarka ordered all system modules within the base to self-destruct immediately. He calmly sat back and looked around, thinking about his friends back in Australia and beyond. He hoped they would be okay. Within moments his ES assistant reported complete self-destruct for the entire Tars Peliti system. He opened a simple hardware line to the armory hall and started to speak.


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Far above, an Australian orbital controller was first to report the slug-shaped explosion plumes rising from Tars Peliti. Double checking the information pouring into his network, he made sure it forwarded securely to Mars command. Forced back to the matter at hand, he armed the rest of his ships to make sure the Selangor group that did this enjoyed a short career. They had come in fast and were now low in the atmosphere as they sped past beneath the Australians.

The controller peered down on the enemy formations and blurted out with a perfunctory fierceness; “Congratulations, you won't be around long enough to enjoy it.” As he watched, rising anti-ship fire from Tars Peliti followed the enemy downrange, tearing into their ranks. Not one to delay advantage, the Australian immediately released his ES operators to engage from above with everything in the division.

Down on the dark side of Mars, the head of Australia’s Mars Command took over the incoming Tars Peliti stream and opened up a line to the entire base. “MAOC, this is your commander speaking.” he said in a firm voice as he finished reviewing the last of what mattered. “Tars Peliti Base has been destroyed by a Selangor orbital strike, its command center is a total loss from enemy SCRAM penetrators. I want an immediate counter-reconnaissance of that area. There will be a meeting in five minutes, station heads be ready.”

With that the commander turned his back on the reports and wondered about Colonel Tarka and Lieutenant Ng. He could not steer his mind away from the loss, and again played the stream of Tarka's command center taken from orbit; it was spitting a wall of anti-ship fire spaceward until the cluster of black SCRAM penetrators flashed into view and shattered the underground complex in a gout of flame. Slipping out the sides of the drifting smoke and ash column appeared a dozen surface missiles, fired at nearby Selangor ground units by the young Australian armory lieutenant just before the penetrators hit.

‘Colonel Tarka.’ thought the commander. ‘Whatever will we do now?’ he asked himself, not expecting an answer. With that he swept aside the images and headed off to the meeting.

Next: 03. Java Front

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