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the eylau sequence.war

A little east of the smoldering volcanic peak of Gunung Merapi on the island of Java, stands Ratu Boko. The remains of this medieval palace are spread over the highest point of a small plateau, where ornate, roofless ruins stand guard over empty cisterns and dry meditation pools. Beyond the few remaining lichen covered walls, all is cluttered by the debris of modern war; shrapnel, abandoned equipment, destroyed crawlers and drifts of microscopic debris not yet pulled up by the salvage units – a ruinous junkyard completely unsafe for human participation.

As with many areas in the Java War Zone, the ridge beneath the old ruins encloses command bunkers belonging to the Australian mechanized corps tasked with holding this sector. Across the valley and southwest of the nearby volcano are several enemy command centers; at the front there is always a sort of chaotic ballet between the two sides. Even in the age of robotic warfare, human decision making has the last word on the battlefield and as in timeless ages past, some people are better at it than others.

On this particular evening, Major Stave Gibson’s attention was focused on a bombardment that was rolling its way through Australian positions spread across the valley floor. Parsing through millions of pieces of information, the major was already mapping out the thrust lines likely to be followed by enemy units in the coming offensive. Given the support they were getting, one thing was likely; they would attack in huge numbers.

As he continued browsing and sorting through his screens, the major got up and sauntered into the short hall. “Food, time to have some food.” he blurted out to himself. The problem with modern field command was the relative isolation. Gone were command groups of the past when a general and his hundred man staff spewed forth orders and awards to thousands of real live humans. Nowadays, a mechanized corps consisted of a mere two dozen people. A third of them were not even in the theater of operations; some were back in Australia and some were in orbit.

The Major’s command was the 34th Mechanized Division, which devolved on him; a single human. Somewhat nearby were other officers in their own command bunkers, each with several routes of escape in case of emergency. The days when a heroic commander could win a battle by leading from the front were gone – no more Alexanders, no more Rommels. Now, getting oneself instantly slaughtered or captured was the only achievement a human could manage within 20 kilometers of the front. The new great commanders of the world were masters of 3D parsing and command from the rear.

Gibson recalled a history he learned in school about the transition from human warfare to robotic warfare, and how for many years humans managed to fight unmanned units on an even basis. Back then robotic units were an adjunct to human operations, just like the early manned battle tanks had been considered nothing more than support for human infantry.

But then came the day when the latest in unmanned armor made a spectacular break through enemy lines. The news travelled like wildfire: “They've broken through, and there's nobody with them.” The fear spread like a contagion. Running like sheep before wolves, the entire line collapsed in a gigantic rout as each person ran in fear of being ground up by things that viewed them solely as targets.

That day changed the way wars unfolded, but not the way people fought them. It just meant that people stayed further away from the real fighting, at least most of the time. New curriculums were devised to inure field commanders to personal danger. It was a difficult way to train and it got a few trainees killed, but it was the only way to forge an officer corps without feet of clay.

One good thing about unmanned combat units: They never got bloody-minded and they always accepted prisoners.

Gibson retrieved some local fruits and sat down, the rumble of the nearby bombardment continued to pulse through the walls. His favorite fruit was mangosteen, which he enjoyed with a heavy dose of brown sugar and oats. “At least,” he said to himself, “I don’t have to cook all this stuff.”

The seal on the mess door showed green and his uniform reported all was well with the environment, so the major slipped off his uniform hood in order to eat something. It was not really necessary, it never was, but in times like this he avoided running down his on-board uniform reserves in case of an emergency. And that could happen at any moment given the current state of things.

He continued to munch on his cereal and asked his ES assistant to contact the division they were tied in with to the south. After a moment’s delay the tightly smiling face of 60th Division’s commander appeared in his left view. “Hullo there Gib.” blurted out Major Kenneth Nix. “Eating again eh?, What’s going in the 34th, you seeing what I’m seeing down the valley?”

“Uh yeah.” muttered Gibson between mouthfuls of cereal. “How can I not see it?”

“My impression is they’ve been moving up heavy units all day; looks like they are deploying into well staged areas behind the bombardment, so that’s a problem too.”

“I couldn’t agree more, how is General Frazier on this whole thing.”

“You know as much as me, I haven’t talked to them in over an hour. It appears that corps and army counterfire has been pretty effective though, otherwise we’d probably be hearing something closer.”

“Mmm.” mumbled Gibson in between broad gulps of his mangosteen mush.

“Well Stave, they hit Mars to Java on this one, I don’t think we’ll be going to Bali tomorrow like you planned. No beer and no fun, the bastards.”

“Speak for yourself.” blurted Gibson. “I’ve got beer right here.”

“Yeah.” countered Nix. “But not in the amounts I’m talking about.” They both grinned stupidly at each other before going on.

“Hey Stave, did you hear about the penetrators they used on Mars?”

“Yeah, and they used some up near Semarang a while ago.”

“I know about that too, make you nervous?” quipped Nix.

“At first yes.” paused Gibson. “But then it came to me; up on Mars they did the right thing, they used them all at once. Up at Semarang, they used only two of them at something like 20 minute intervals.”

“Okay.” replied Nix. “What do you think?”

“Well, I wonder if this is a bluff. I wonder if they followed up with a few here on Java in the hopes of creating panic among the controllers.”

“Well, it’s a good way to do it.”

“Yeah, but only if they have lots more, what are the odds of that? Selangor hasn’t used penetrators much for good reason. They are expensive to deploy and use exotic materials which Selangor typically doesn’t possess in quantity. How many more of these things could they have? And if they did have them, they would use them simultaneously to knock us all out at the moment their ground offensive starts.”

“I follow so far. So you think they don’t have many left, and are using their last in hopes of triggering what, a withdrawal? I don’t think so. They must know that a few dozen controllers aren’t going to be given permission to pull back from our most important positions on Java.”

“Yes, but it might. They might hope for it if that’s something that might happen to them eh?” countered Gibson with a glint in his eye.

A thoughtful pause in the conversation was interrupted by several alarms. Simultaneously the walls quivered as interception batteries five levels up unleashed volleys of ordnance and switched to emergency reloading. The men dropped everything and leaned back into their seats, flipping up their uniform hoods in the process. A few brisk hand movements revealed the latest report threads which brought Major Gibson’s hands up to the arm rests of his chair, his fingers digging deeply as he tightened his grip. Whhhooomm, came the first thunderous noise up above, the floor rattled heavily, then a louder, violent Whammm as the primary shock of giant explosions heaved the floor. Crunch, crunch, WHAM, again, the entire ridge was hit by long range fire from west of Mount Merapi, as well as orbital fire support coming in from above. The major knew this was serious, the Selangor must know where they are. “That’s okay.” he said to himself. “We know where they are too.”

With a few sweeping motions, he checked status on his division. It was under re-doubled fire throughout the front and depth of its deployment and Selangor armor was moving forward. Friendly counterfire from Australian corps and army reserve was already arriving on the other side of the valley, striking Selangor staging areas. Gibson braced himself against another series of heavy detonations – watching and listening carefully to make sure his command center’s batteries were still in action – and then switched to another series of viewers. Within moments he was talking to the ES operator for Operation Backhand, one of the Corp's theater level contingency plans. Quickly moving to the authorization protocol, he barked out: “Backhand OS execute fire mission zero-eight-two this is no drill this is no drill.” He immediately switched back to his division and issued final orders for his regimental operators. He knew they were as good as lost, but it would not be in vain.

On the valley floor below Ratu Boko, Australian units held their ground against the Selangor assault. Enemy fire support pounded down, sending rippling detonation lines across the defensive positions. There were no humans around, but Major Gibson virtually experienced much of the bombardment's violence through his interfaces within the division.

In many areas Gibson's main armor formations were protected underground, ready to deploy after the passing violence of the bombardment. But timing was tricky; if they exited too soon they risked extra losses inside the barrage. If they came out too late, vehicles could be picked off piecemeal – assuming they survived the barrage at all. Today it did not matter. Even as the Australian units deployed successfully in the aftermath of the barrage, those closest to the Selangor lanes of advance were overwhelmed by superior numbers.

Only in the depths of the Australian defenses were the seeds of delay able to influence the fighting. As front line units fell, their detailed reports were collated by the ES operators controlling the division. Selangor thrust lines were isolated, and paths around their flanks prepared. Within 30 minutes Australian formations were already operating under their own local air parity at select points around the flanks of vulnerable enemy columns. Punching into the sides of those columns in kilometer deep advances, the Australians sowed doubt in the minds of the surviving Selangor combat commanders, and in some places doubt turned into hesitation – not surprising given what had just happened deep behind the Selangor front...

Milliseconds after Major Gibson's Backhand authorization, a series of medium range fire support batteries behind Ratu Boko opened up. Their ordnance screamed into the air and pushed its way in a supersonic curtain far across the valley and down toward the enemy rear. Selangor counterfire swept up to meet it, knocking out nearly half but missing the other half. The surviving ordnance spread onto deployed enemy armor units, lacing its way through local countermeasures as it shredded several columns of advancing armor.

Another volley of Australian fire tore into the sky and split into several flights. Some headed into sub-orbit and others followed attack routes onto enemy support formations. A small handful drove through the smoke and debris, flying straight and true right into the heart of the Selangor defenses. Scattering micropods and pushing countermeasures as they went, they protected a reconnaissance missile coasting along at the core of the flight formation. Within seconds Selangor kill vehicles punched through the formation, knocking the Australian offender out of the sky.

Too late.

An entire half-second before its death the small Australian scanning unit transmitted its vital data threads to the newly launched nanosatellites overhead. A few milliseconds after that, four penetrators inbound from mainland Australia were given terminal guidance instructions. On they came, correcting their paths slightly before punching down through the sky in a diagonal streak of superheated plasma. Four deep thuds were felt for miles as small earthquakes. At each point of impact, the ground heaved up slightly and then collapsed into a crater, each marking the end of a Selangor command center.

With grim satisfaction Gibson headed out to the elevators. “It’s time to go.” he muttered inside his uniform. He paused in the doorway, suddenly realizing that he had instinctively grabbed a handful of blueberries on the way out of the mess room. Mildly amused with himself he thought for a moment and looked around. At the end of the hall was a small alcove and table; he walked over and arranged the blueberries in the shape of a smiley face on the table’s shiny black top. ‘There.’ he thought. ‘That should give them something to think about.’

He had just passed the thick elevator doors when his ES assistant squawked another warning “Priority 3, Selangor MGV units boarding exposed structure, countermeasures underway.” This not-so-reassuring note kept Gibson moving. He was satisfied now that the Ratu Boko ridgeline was not a penetrator target, but taking out a command center the old fashioned way – by air/ground assault – was still done, and not something to be laughed at. With a few final orders the major put the base on automatic and notified corps command and the adjoining divisions.

He exited the elevator a dozen levels down and strode through several decontamination portals. Once cleared, he sprinted down a short flight of stairs and through a pair of entry station doors to a waiting mover. This was not a cheap civilian people mover, but part of a high speed military transit system. The entry station was secured and booby trapped in case of penetration from the command center high above. A quick visual check up and down the length of the mover and catapult system showed no debris or damage. Gibson interrogated the station to confirm his observations, it reported back ready and armed.

The major walked back up the platform; pushed one hand against the stainless steel wall and eased himself down into the mover. The wall vibrated ever so slightly from the continuing bombardment high above. As he eased into the flight couch, it quickly conformed to his body and automatically restrained him. He relaxed and once his vital signs were launch-safe, the mover counted down and catapulted out of the station. Within a few seconds the tunnel narrowed and the mover accelerated, taking the major well clear of the combat zone. For several minutes it sped along while Gibson monitored events at corps headquarters, the g-forces made it difficult though. A short but violent deceleration brought him to another small station where the mover glided silently to a halt. Climbing out, Gibson stumbled slightly from the g-force effects and stood for a few moments to recover. He took a few deep breaths, shook his head several times, cracked his neck and then stepped into an elevator for his free ride up to the armory. Parked next to the low armory blast doors was the command tank he would take back to Corps headquarters – this was not the day to be flying around.

A short request for covering fire integrated the tank’s on-board systems with his ES assistant and fire support batteries west of his new position. As curtains of covering fire swept into the sky, Gibson drove out of the bunker and through open plantations, following low terrain and pre-plotted obstacles for most of the way. A quick pan of communication traffic showed him that the entire corps was being pushed back, but that there had been no deaths and that so far the Selangor were still within the main valley west of Ratu Boko.

Behind the departing Major, the command bunker beneath Ratu Boko continued to defend itself, but it was eventually defeated and overrun. It was not destroyed however, and true enough to Gibson’s expectations, it was soon visited by a Selangor intelligence team. The main valley east of Mount Merapi was secured by the Selangor as their big push consolidated its gains, but the price had been heavy; much equipment had been lost and several command centers wiped out. Even worse, the hoped-for rout of Australian officers and controllers never happened. The Australians had calmly held their ground until the last moment and then evacuated under a storm of covering fire. Yet again the price for the Selangor on Java had been high, but their gains were hardly worthless.

Next: 04. Desert Glaciers

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