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the eylau sequence.war

Fort Banning lies in a strategic pass between two glacier-capped mountain ranges far to the northeast of California’s capital of San Diego. It is the namesake of an old city that once bustled nearby and gave its name to the area, or so it is said. The fortress and its associated military reservation serve many purposes; it directly guards the land approaches to communities scattered among the inland valleys between the pass and the capital; it serves as a jumping off point for operations in the East and it is a valuable training and development center due to its remote location. North of Banning lay cold desert wastes, the glacier covered interior and the storm-swept Pacific coast. Somewhere up there a few decades previous, an erupting volcano had spewed ash 20 miles into the sky. Nobody was there to see it.


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As Sonya Ortiz walked along the broad passages leading away from Fort Banning’s underground landing ports, she carried on several conversations with her State Department staff down in San Diego and La Paz. The later was the southernmost major city within California borders, and also one of strategic importance. News from all over indicated that a major Selangor offensive was underway, and that it was being supported by orbital operations. So far no Californian space installations had been damaged, but orbital debris around Earth had tripled in the last 30 minutes. After this briefing Ortiz was going to contact the Selangor state department with a neutrals complaint, maybe hit them with a compensation request for orbital clean-up charges. The Selangor would refuse to pay of course, but it placed California on firmer ground for extracting concessions on other issues.

She strode along, admiring the finely detailed artwork engraved on the tan granite walls of the hallway. Lighted alcoves formed graceful T-shapes, each containing a rare or unusual piece of archeological history. Turning right she passed through a set of blast doors which opened noiselessly into an even wider central passageway. Standing in the center of the hall was a smartly dressed army officer. He greeted her and introduced himself; “Good evening Miss Ortiz, I am General Edward Johns.” he said crisply but with an articulate sense of familiarity. “We have been expecting you.”

“Pleased to meet you general, I understand events already brought us some guests? Do we know how many and their condition?”

“There were two, Australians, picked up in the desert a few hours ago." he commented. "They were unhurt and fairly lucky to be alive. Their ship was badly damaged in the first attacks and the two of them had to deorbit under fire – not something you want to do every day if staying healthy is a priority.”

“Interesting.” she replied. “And the Selangor didn't get them on the way down?”

“Tried and failed,” he replied, “they had some dual-purpose aviation in ambush, but they started too far away. That and the fact that we were flying dedicated air-breathers made them easy to scare off. I presume not wanting to get into a shooting war with us also had something to do with it .” he added with a wry tone. “Had the Australians come down farther to the east it might have been an issue. The Selangor obviously saved their best units for the offensive.”

“Good, both for the result and knowing that the Selangor have not changed much." Ortiz commented. "How is their offensive going?”

“Costly Miss Ortiz, very costly.” said the general, with a scowling smirk. A scar on one cheek revealed a hit from an ice wall ricochet. The service bar on his austere uniform showed two combat awards and seven ice wall duels. Ortiz was not armed forces, but she knew that just the seven duels were impressive, far above what was necessary for his position. Looking at Johns however, revealed someone with a keen eye for tactical and operational planning; she could understand why he was head of Northern Command.

As they walked down the hallway to meet with the Australians, she mulled over her career of the last 30 years and could only recall seeing two people with scars. They weren't something normally seen, but certainly served as a reminder – of what she didn't feel like articulating.

She was pulled out of her reverie as the general striding along next to her opened several conversations with his staff. They walked briskly up a second set of hallways while he continued with several conversations, issuing orders and searching status reports. The current events in orbit seemed to dominate the conversation. Shortly, another officer joined them from an intersecting passage. “Ah.” he said “You were close weren't you?” he added as an aside with a large smile on his broad face.

“Lieutenant Payson.” said the general, returning the Lieutenant’s salute. “This is our State Department visitor, Sonya Ortiz. She came all the way from San Diego just to see us.”

‘Yes sir.” responded the young lieutenant, looking directly at Ortiz. He introduced himself in standard military syntax, “Lieutenant Bernard Payson.”

“Pleased to meet you Lieutenant Payson, although actually I came all the way from San Diego to see the Australians.” she quipped with an expansive smile.

“Excellent.” commented the General with a stony expression belying his words, he allowed a wisp of a smile to cross his face and it was gone. “The Australians are down this way. I understand they are waiting for us in one of the open rooms.”

They resumed walking as the Lieutenant brought their attention to the latest intelligence streams coming in from Mars. While Ortiz and the general browsed through them, Johns gave a brief exclamation; “Well Miss Ortiz.” he commented. “It looks like our friends the Selangor are learning some new tricks after all. This should remind us not to underestimate – anyone.”

With that the conversation faltered while they all watched the latest reports on their respective displays.

While they watched, Ortiz followed the general and his subordinate as they continued through several more sections and up twelve levels in one of the countless elevators that connected Banning's deep and shining underground halls. Upon exiting the elevator on the upper level, Ortiz chimed in again, snapping off her own viewer in the process; “By the way general.” she noted with a query in her voice. "The Selangor flight that followed our two Australians, you said they were dual-purpose. Were we able to confirm whether they came out of low orbit?”

Looking back at her cautiously, the general commented. “Yes Miss Ortiz.”

Sensing a test at hand, she persisted. “And?”

She allowed the silence to accumulate for some seconds, it was her way of letting General Johns know of her expectation. Without looking back at her, he started again with a tight smile “Excellent consideration Miss Ortiz, I do think that most people would not have considered that until well afterward. And no, they did not come from low orbit, or any orbit for that matter.”

He stopped and looked at her. “And yes,” in anticipation of her next question, “it appears that they came from somewhere to the east, so it looks like we will need to query the settlements. If other countries have begun base squatting out there, we will need to remind them whose backyard they are playing in.”

She stood looking at his upraised eyebrow, which silently asked her if she had any other questions. With a light smirk and tilt of her head, she gave half a nod and turned to resume their passage to the open room.

“Next main entry on the right will be the open room Miss Ortiz.” said Lieutenant Payson; he and the general quickly traded glances and continued on to the room.

Open rooms have one or more transparent walls, which typically look onto a large atrium or scenic area, commonly with a view of the sky. Some of them have climbing walls, swim centers or work areas, others are for meetings or have restaurants. For people who spend so much time underground, the open rooms are a pleasant way to take in some real sky and natural scenery without having to be violently exposed to the elements.

They continued for a while along the smooth, beautifully patterned floor of the upper hall until Ortiz noticed a pair of heavy bulkhead doors signifying the entry way of an open room. The gracefully designed beryllium doors were deeply set into the walls; laid into the stonework were fine rays of black crystal that stabbed outward and upward from the pinnacle of the doorway. Within the entry marched a line of columns set flawlessly into the architecture. They lit to a deep turquoise blue as the party entered and afterward faded like seawater disappearing onto a sand covered shore.

Standing in the room and looking out at the early evening sky were the two Australians. As noted in the brief, one of them was batur. Both of them were wearing full coverage service uniforms with their hoods pulled back behind their shoulders to allow for face-to-face conversation. This also allowed the base sensors to read them, a polite gesture. Smiling as he strode toward them, the general introduced himself and his companions. The senior Australian replied, introducing himself as Commander Ian Williams, and his companion as Lieutenant Mæsa Atri. Upon completion of the introductions, Ortiz looked directly at Lieutenant Atri and smiled, saying “Oiya, tuhjo belem mela Atri.” At the sound of his native Kitak, the lieutenant smiled and bowed slightly.

“Well Commander.” started the general. “If you have a little more room for something to eat, we can join in a light meal while we talk.”

“Certainly.” replied Williams. “We’re always interested in tasting something new and interesting.”

With a motion from the general, they walked over and relaxed into a set of nearby chairs arrayed around a low, pentagonal table. As they sat and allowed the chairs to conform to their postures, the table’s edges telescoped seamlessly into position. The general shot a glance at Lieutenant Payson as he briefly distracted himself with something happening in his field of view, so the lieutenant opened the conversation; “I have to congratulate you on your escape from orbit today.” he said, “I understand now – if you did not already know – that your unit was the first to be hit by a general Selangor offensive.”

To this, Ortiz added “That information comes from your consulate.”

“Yes.” responded Williams, “I understand. As you may know already, we were anticipating this offensive, which was part of the reason we were in our particular positions.”

“We noticed.” mentioned Payson. “Apparently the Selangor noticed too, which I imagine was your intent.”

To that observation, the Australian commander remained silent. He merely adjusted himself in his chair and returned a polite glance.

“We understand,” added Ortiz, kindly moving the conversation on to the next point, “that during your rescue you were in a position to note some of our newer aviation assets.” Her demeanor dropped down one or two points, but her friendly tone remained even and sincere. “We do hope that you will be kind enough to avoid observing too closely any of the particularly sensitive features you might have noticed – one way or another.”

She continued; “I only say this because you were followed by the Selangor and we were obliged to discourage them with a small show of force. The desire to avoid even the slightest appearance of carelessness in the rescue of downed personnel in our zone of influence caused us to use immediately available forces to assure your safe rescue, in case the Selangor were after you and not your unit.”

After a second more pronounced pause, she continued; “Unfortunately some of these units were not the type we would normally use in areas so easily swept for data. At least not in peacetime, when such vehicles are best left underground.”

“I understand.” replied Williams. His barely detectable point of distraction during his reply meant to the watching Californians that he was sending a brief comment to his lieutenant, confirmed by their base sensors which easily picked up the encrypted transmissions between the two Australians. After a short second of delay, the Australian commander continued. “Any information routinely collected by us has been omitted from our records, and I will personally certify that no information was forwarded to any Australian networks.”

At that last point, all three Californians looked at the batur lieutenant. Knowing that many batur do work against an occasional background of prejudice, they understood the motivation behind what was probably Lieutenant Atri’s quiet seizure of an intelligence bonanza. The lieutenant showed no sign of awkwardness or embarrassment as he finished gazing into space in front of him, virtually sorting through several items as he deleted the precious information he had collected during his dash across the rocks earlier in the day. He looked up and nodded his head slightly at his superior – a gesture conducted for the consumption of the watching Californians.

The Californian general, Edward Johns, looked long and thoughtfully at the batur lieutenant. He did not get to his position by being naive or careless, and everything indicated the Australians were telling the truth. At that, he raised his eyebrows at Commander Williams, looked back at Lieutenant Atri one more time and said “Well gentlemen, how about something to eat?”

With that, the mood lightened again and Ortiz sealed that part of the conversation with a short “Thank you.”

As she completed her thanks, a series of interesting snacks arrived in the form of a regional specialty. They looked strangely familiar to the two Australians, or at least the ingredients were familiar. “These look good, what are they?” asked the Australian commander. “They are surprisingly simple.” replied Lieutenant Payson. “Finely ground almond butter spread on a small square of freshly toasted bread and topped with olive oil and crushed garlic. It should be eaten whilst still warm, so feel free to enjoy yourselves.”

Plucking them off of their black ceramic plates, the Australians each took a curious bite of the slightly dripping bread squares. The lieutenant was the first to react, the batur love spicy food and garlic. He allowed himself a grin as he nodded his head in silent but delighted affirmation. Commander Williams gave a long “Mmmmm” and eyed another piece. He looked across the table and saw that the general had set down his utensil and picked up a square with his hands, feeding it whole into his mouth. He looked up at Williams and gave a satisfied tilt of his head as he swiped the excess olive oil from his hands. “Yes,” Ortiz said, “eating them with your hands is somewhat traditional.”

While the party sat enjoying the light meal, washing it down with generous drafts of the cold spring water supplied by the deep wells beneath Banning, Williams and Atri both began to feel both more relaxed and yet more in shock from the day’s events. The general and Ortiz – both with access to the base sensors – had a sense of their guest’s condition.

The general gave Ortiz a brief glance and then looked at Williams; “It’s quite a fall isn't it – your return to the surface.” Glancing at Johns, Williams saw a sympathetic return; “Yes.” he said.

“It goes on forever.” Johns continued with a wave of his hand as he looked at the others,

“And the sheer power and violence of it, it’s as if a blast furnace is wrapped around you like a heavy wet blanket. Either way, there isn't much else like it in the solar system. Of course your problem today was being shot at in the process – that complicated things. You know, back a hundred years they occasionally found people who had landed safely, but were dead from stress, probably heart failure. The sheer terror of the fall to Earth from orbit was just too much. Now uniforms keep an eye out and intervene if necessary.” Looking at the two Australians though, Johns was sure that neither of them had needed help from their uniforms.

Checking through a few more threads, Ortiz cleared her throat and reopened the more official portion of the debriefing. “Well Commander Williams,” she said, “and also Lieutenant Atri.” she added with a friendly nod and smile. “We have been in communication with your consulate, and in conjunction with our own people in San Diego we have put together a situation report for you, some of it using information only a few minutes old.”

Williams returned a look of pleasant surprise. He had really expected nothing from the Californians, who historically had been carefully neutral.

“As you well know.” she continued. “This is not standard policy for our government, and we will mostly be forwarding information that is already public. However, we are also including information that has come through internal channels because we believe it may be of personal concern.” Williams and Atri exchanged curious glances.

Ortiz looked at each of them carefully, giving them a slight feeling of unease. “I’m forwarding several presentations to you which supply details of the outline. As you can see, this morning the Selangor opened a massive offensive across the Solar System. It was apparently long in preparation and meticulously timed. It was supported by extensive covering operations, including a false threat of internal rebellion over the previous several months. It was only in the final seven hours – as you well know – that Australian command became suspicious.”

To this last note, both Australian officers nodded their heads. It was in response to that alert that their orbital division was deployed.

“The first strike of the offensive was actually on Mars.” She continued, ignoring the looks of mild surprise from the two Australians. “At dusk Mars time at the Australian commercial settlements of Marina Pels and Dewin Paran, Selangor ground forces were landed via orbital assault ships and made substantial ground assaults against the Australian military bases guarding those respective areas. Both assaults were held off with some degree of effort. It was noted at the time that the Selangor were only after the military bases, and took pains to avoid damage to any nearby commercial zones.”

“As you may know,” she continued on an aside. “many of the commercial operations on Mars and in the outer solar system are socially mixed. The difficult nature of operations out there even tends to make many of these civilian operators more loyal to each other than to their governments. This means that anyone geopolitically responsible for some of these regions must operate with a thought to local reaction.” This was again followed by more polite nodding.

“So, it was with predictable results that the Selangor, not wanting to upset the locals too much, were repulsed with a firm defense of the bases. About thirty minutes after the first two attacks, a third attack was launched against the Australian base guarding the more lucrative Tars Peliti development zone. This ground attack was somewhat larger, but in the same general vein as the previous two attacks. One key difference was that the Australian orbital forces available to divert this attack were slightly less than for the other two attacks, as numerous formations were rearming at the time.”

She again looked over at Williams before proceeding. “Less than 40 minutes into the Tars Peliti assault, a second wave of larger Selangor ships were spotted decelerating into orbit over Mars. They arrived on an unusual approach indicative of a very long, low delta-V route from deep in the solar system. The very rapid deceleration and arrival precluded any human controller presence on the second wave.” At this last point, Williams and Atri exchanged looks. This was unusually aggressive and risky behavior for the Selangor.

“Approximately 90 minutes into the offensive, as the Selangor ground assault reached its peak, the second wave of ships dropped several squadrons of ground attack aircraft, dedicated for Mars operations and inserted using fairly standard entry pods. It was seen at the time that these aircraft only accounted for 10% of the cargo capacity of the Selangor ships. Nevertheless, an alert was issued based on a renewed ground attack directly against the Tars Peliti base, possibly including an attempt to capture the base.”

“Soon after the aviation drop, the second Selangor task force began dropping a series of SCRAM ground penetrators, probably their new Type 57 units.” At this both Australians reacted, Williams eyes grew large and Atri stiffened. They were incredulous that the Selangor could or would have transported such large and expensive weapons so far to such a remote location.

“Once Tars Peliti base spotted the penetrators, they appraised their situation with great speed and immediately attacked the Selangor with everything in the base arsenal. They apparently did not have anything in their armory capable of deflecting the penetrators, and bravely ignored them in favor of targeting valuable orbital vessels."

“Destroyed?” asked Williams, to which Ortiz nodded her head.

He looked over at his subordinate, who was staring out the windows, his head slightly averted, "Tars Peliti." Atri said with some hesitation. “That would have been Colonel Tarka.” he said, looking over at Williams.

Williams looked down at his plate, the food that was so delicious moments before felt like dry ash in his mouth.

Looking at the two Australians with a dour expression, General Johns asked “People you knew?” to which both officers nodded.

“I’m sorry to hear that Commander.” he added, sitting as if made of stone.

“We.” started Williams, “Will need to confirm this later in more detail. After we return to station.” he added; “Please proceed with the debriefing.”

“Certainly.” she said.

“The combined fire of the Tars Peliti base and available Australian orbital forces were enough to destroy many of the Selangor ships. Their remaining orbital forces moved to a different plane and are for now remaining unengaged. The Tars Peliti region has been captured by the Selangor, and their combined ground forces and aviation assets are holding their positions.

“This,” stated Ortiz with some emphasis, “and not Java may actually have been the main target of the day’s assault, but it’s difficult to tell as the fighting on Java has not yet resolved itself.”

“Shortly after the opening of the first two Mars attacks, an offensive over Earth was initiated against the Australian orbital forces, combined with a massive indirect fire preparation against the entire Australian front on Java. The first wave of the Selangor orbital assault was extensive – as you well know – and resulted in an initial setback for the Australians. However this was followed by Australian reinforcing launches and after hours of fighting, some level of equilibrium has been restored.”

“We would like to point out,” commented Ortiz, “that as of this moment, the Java ground front appears to be under continuing indirect fire interdiction and that the Selangor have achieved complete tactical supremacy over the front, even though there is an impasse in orbit. It is likely that orbital parity is all they were trying for given their past disadvantage in that area.”

After she wrapped up her outline with that final observation – an observation that the Australians would have made anyway, she looked over at Williams and Atri: “I’m sorry again for your loss.” she said.

General Johns spoke up again. “As you well know, your people trained hard for their positions.” he said, noting that both of the Australians had combat awards and duel tabs.

"I'm sure you will know what to do.” he said with confidence to the two officers. The general then stood and looked at his state department counterpart. His termination of the debriefing being the key driver of the moment, Ortiz went along with him and thanked the two Australians for their time; “You will travel with me back to San Diego, there you will be taken to your consulate. They are already arranging your return to Australia, or to orbit I’m not sure which.”

“Thank you.” replied Williams. “Please forward our thanks to everyone who made our recovery possible, and thank you again for your kind reception.” With that he made a gentle bow to Miss Ortiz before they exited the open room and strolled back into the main passage. Back toward the underground hangars they walked, the group breaking up slightly as they went. General Johns briefly interposed on the continuing light conversation by excusing himself.

“Commander Williams, Lieutenant Atri, pleased to have met you. Our condolences again, and I hope we meet in the future.” he said as he saluted them both. With a thoughtful pause after their return salute, he turned and walked back up the wide passage into a waiting elevator and was gone.

Ortiz purposefully allowed the other officers to walk ahead toward the hangar and the return to San Diego. She finally stopped completely and lowered her voice, speaking in an aside to the Australian commander:

“Commander Williams.” she said, “I would like to mention something to you in private.”

“How may I be of service Miss Ortiz?” replied Williams with a degree of polite caution, “You understand I am not authorized for negotiations.”

“Yes Commander, we understand, and no, an exchange is not our goal.” she replied with a look of mild assertion. Williams felt his skin crawl as he thought about the contact debriefing this supposed advice was going to add to his already lengthy reports.

She continued. “It is just that the Japanese are becoming impatient with the state of affairs here on Earth, and on Mars – especially Mars. We have a good sense for these things.”

The Australian Commander eyed her with a slightly raised brow “Is this a threat?”

“No, at least not directly from them, nor at their request.”

‘Certainly not.’ Williams thought to himself. ‘The Japanese don’t threaten, they just show up and beat your head in.’

“And this is not a back channel warning from California?” asked Williams.

“Not exactly.” she replied with unnerving vagueness. “But we do have our ear to the ground on many issues, and the general agreement amongst our people here is unmistakable. I can assure you the Japanese are not going to like this, it is just a matter of how much they don’t like it and what they do about it. Our concern is that the leadership in Singapore was thinking only how Australia would react, and not what Japan would do. People here on Earth have become too ignorant of how the Japanese have been developing out there at L5. They are really quite ahead of us, and they are very sensitive about their raw material supply. They may decide to do whatever they need in order to progress with their own plans – whatever they need.” she repeated emphatically.

“It is just something that would be best for your government to remember whilst formulating their response. Call it a favor.” She looked at Williams long and hard at that last point. She was not being unfriendly, and even though she said it was not a warning, it was a warning nonetheless.

It would remain to be seen what this all meant. The Australian commander could see now that events were racing over his head, but at least he was secure enough to acknowledge it with grace and a smile. “Well Miss Ortiz,” he said. “I will certainly bring this information to those who would best benefit from its content.”

“I hope so, it is a thing that should be soberly appraised.” she replied tersely. Finally, as if reaching a point at which she was satisfied of her message’s delivery, her voice became lighter and more friendly; “Congratulations again on your own successful descent Commander, I’m sure you know that many others in the same situation have not been so fortunate.” The Australian gave a slight, tilting bow of his head in humble acknowledgement.

“Please feel free to visit us in the future Commander, maybe we will meet again.” With that, she gave a cryptic smile worthy of the Sphinx, turned and walked away.

Looking after her and slightly lost in thought as he tried to decode the last five minutes of his life, he turned back toward the hangar. He suddenly felt an urgent need to return to Australia, it now seemed that the biggest surprise of his day might not be merely having survived it.


Next: 06. Aftermath

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