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.
particular evening, Major Stave Gibsons 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.
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.
Majors 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.
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
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.
thing about unmanned combat units: They never got bloody-minded and they always
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 dont 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.
to munch on his cereal and asked his ES assistant to contact the division they
were tied in with to the south. After a moments delay the tightly smiling
face of 60th Divisions commander appeared in his left view.
Hullo there Gib. blurted out Major Kenneth Nix. Eating again
eh?, Whats going in the 34th, you seeing what Im seeing
down the valley?
yeah. muttered Gibson between mouthfuls of cereal. How can I not
impression is theyve been moving up heavy units all day; looks like they
are deploying into well staged areas behind the bombardment, so thats a
couldnt agree more, how is General Frazier on this whole thing.
know as much as me, I havent talked to them in over an hour. It appears
that corps and army counterfire has been pretty effective though, otherwise
wed probably be hearing something closer.
Mmm. mumbled Gibson in between broad
gulps of his mangosteen mush.
Stave, they hit Mars to Java on this one, I dont think well be
going to Bali tomorrow like you planned. No beer and no fun, the
for yourself. blurted Gibson. Ive got beer right
Yeah. countered Nix. But not in
the amounts Im talking about. They both grinned stupidly at each
other before going on.
Stave, did you hear about the penetrators they used on Mars?
and they used some up near Semarang a while ago.
about that too, make you nervous? quipped Nix.
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
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.
its a good way to do it.
but only if they have lots more, what are the odds of that? Selangor
hasnt used penetrators much for good reason. They are expensive to deploy
and use exotic materials which Selangor typically doesnt 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.
follow so far. So you think they dont have many left, and are using their
last in hopes of triggering what, a withdrawal? I dont think so. They
must know that a few dozen controllers arent going to be given permission
to pull back from our most important positions on Java.
but it might. They might hope for it if thats something that might happen
to them eh? countered Gibson with a glint in his eye.
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
Gibsons 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. Thats 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 centers
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
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.
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.
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.
satisfaction Gibson headed out to the elevators. Its 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
tables 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.
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
request for covering fire integrated the tanks 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.
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 Gibsons 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.