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the eylau sequence.war

Mikhail Keng looked briefly around the government subway lounge at Selantan, an hour north of the Selangor capital of Singapore. As usual he was on the lookout for anything interesting, which covered a broad range from beautiful women to anyone who might be following him. In this age of turnkey surveillance, there were still advantages to the observational skill of the individual.

He walked with slow deliberation past the restaurant, thinking about fresh noodles and pork, or maybe rabbit stew. This was all cut short by two arriving messages; one, an open line from his sister Aleksandra and the other a secure thread from one of his intelligence officers. He brushed aside his sister's message. Real news was mixed; the new offensive was making good headway on Java and some Australian command centers had been captured – typically a mark of success. Casualties and equipment losses had been severe though, and worst of all, Keng's intelligence team had been killed. They were visiting one of the forward command centers at the time of the Australian counterstrike, and the next officer up the chain of command had suffered a nervous breakdown. Keng looked up, mildly shocked… his men were dead. More messages arrived, including new orders: "Return immediately to Singapore and prepare for deployment."

“I’m going to Java.” Keng mumbled to himself as he looked across the lounge.

Absent-mindedly tapping his fingers on the head rest of a lounge couch, he considered his options for a few seconds and then walked over to the restaurant. “Got to have something to eat.” he thought to himself.

A crowd had formed in advance of the run to Singapore and so the restaurant was busy. As he waited in line, he tried to distract himself and eventually his eyes settled on a Chinese girl in front of him. Her graceful hands were working some kind of craft project. Using two sticks she was winding colored string together, manually creating woven material.

Keng was fascinated by this arcane display and watched as they stood in line. She continued her work, oblivious to the world, until a cockroach tumbled out of the overhead and onto her weaving. Startled, she dropped her work on the floor, not uttering a sound in the process. After a moment of hesitation she squatted down and tried to use one of her weaving sticks to gently push away the intrusive pest. “Religious.” Keng thought to himself. As if to prove his point, she persisted in pushing the erratic bug carefully away so as not to harm it. To Keng's mild surprise she finally managed to persuade the insect to wander away toward the sure protection of the wall nearest to them.

Halfway to its new objective the cockroach was intercepted by the foot of an Indian lady standing ahead of the young Chinese girl. A loud STAMP and the cockroach was flattened. The woman looked back at the hapless girl with a scowl and reproached her; “Don't you know those things are filthy?” she asked and turned back in a huff. The young girl looked back at Keng in helpless shock. He returned the visual equivalent of a shrug and looked away in mock sadness, but he wasn't thinking about the girl or her pet cockroach.


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Several hours later Keng stepped onto the subway platform at Bogor, Western Java. He looked around the old station with its musty architecture. The late afternoon sun still streamed in through the deep skylights. This station always reminded him of an old still image taken from the great evacuation. Walking toward him was one of his best officers, atypically shouldering a large packset.

Keng greeted him before he came within voice range. “Good afternoon Vasily Petrovich.” The two men smiled at the joke, Vasiliy’s middle name was not Petrovich, and neither was Keng’s for that matter.

“Good afternoon Sir.” replied the loyal Vasiliy. “I have everything needed for the front, we are ordered to leave immediately.”

“Good, I'm assuming air travel is out of the question.” he said, smiling tightly. They joined up and walked over to the elevators that led to the surface.

“That is correct sir. The civilian subway line through Bandung has been commandeered, but given the public nature of its tunnels, we have been ordered to avoid using it. They do not want to lose any more trained intelligence people.” he said, grinning widely at his commander. Keng continued looking up at the elevator ceiling and only slightly lolled his head in Vasiliy's direction.

After the briefest of pauses Vasiliy continued. “The safest way at this point will be ground travel, I estimate we can be at the front by 0400.” Keng crunched his eyes shut. He had already known that getting to the front would now be harder because penetrators had been introduced. Things were becoming like the old wars, when the very firepower one used tended to impede all movement – for both sides.

“Alright.” Keng said after a few moments pause. “If we must go overland, the sooner we leave the better.” With that the elevator doors opened into the main reception area adjoining Bandung's outdoor plaza – something unusual in the world and only present at the relatively pacific equator. The two men did not go outside however, and instead walked down the length of the hall, through a series of unmarked doors to a new set of military elevators. Riding these down to a small station, they used the local military transit system to move across town to a base where they would be issued something to get them moving.

A short while later they were standing in full uniform next to a high speed ‘Router,’ a word borrowed from the Australians for the standard ground transport used by armed forces around the world. Like a giant four-wheeled insect it rested on wide-set pylons that supported a low passenger cabin. They climbed slowly inside, secured themselves and opened a line to the vehicle. Within a few seconds it had a full map of their route and opened the blast doors of the hardened parking garage. Into the open air and down the muddy road the router rolled and bumped along the Javanese countryside.

Carefully looking around – they were now a military target and not mere civilians – both men kept an eye on their communications and network alerts. An unspoken rule among combat planners was not to shoot at unarmed military ground taxis, but that was before. The war had seemed to take on a meaner edge in the last few days.

“You know.” Keng said. “I hear the Californians have routers that you can barely detect until they are nearly on top of you.” He looked over at his subordinate, who was resting lightly in his seat. Vasiliy had been called in from a scouting mission to Kalimantan, he was exhausted. Keng went back to his own thoughts, about the Californians, the Australians, and yes, even the Japanese. What would they do now? ‘None of my business yet.’ he thought to himself. ‘I’m here to get this job done. I’ll worry about the rest later.’ With that he reviewed the latest information from the front.

By dawn they were walking cautiously through the carnage in the original rear lines of the Selangor front. It was like a giant shredder had ripped a million tons of metal into random confetti and sprayed it far and wide across the area. In a way that is exactly what had happened. The region was starting to look more and more like a junkyard – on the moon.

They slowly approached the edge of a massive depression in the ground that marked the spot where Keng's men had died. Only the barest signs of the original command center entrance were visible; however one of its massive blast doors was lying a kilometer to the west, buckled almost in half.

After a brief examination of the blast area and a quick perusal of reports relating to the strike that destroyed the base deep beneath them, Keng and Vasiliy hiked back to their router. It was parked inside a low revetment next to a trio of armored command tanks. They grabbed their gear from the router and hauled it over to the tanks – they could get no closer to the front now without much better protection. Beyond their current position they were overt targets for anything and everything the enemy could use to chase them. A series of covering fire missions had been planned precisely so they could investigate a captured Australian command center in person.

Keng and Vasiliy each climbed into a different tank. The third tank was a sapper carrier, equipped with unmanned engineering systems that would hopefully clear routes into the enemy bunker and secure them from anything still wandering inside.

As they pulled out of the revetment, their now empty router vehicle pulled out on its own and headed back to headquarters. It quickly disappeared behind them and their own path across the wrecked valley cleared the revetments and adjoining shelter entries. Along they went, listening to the rumble of heavy support fire and counterfire away to the East. This was partly arranged for them and partially a typical occurrence. The Selangor had purposefully delayed sending a team out to the enemy bunker too soon, correctly guessing that the Australians would not watch it so carefully after several days. They made sure the Australians had other things to worry about by then.

Browsing through his reports, Keng checked local fire missions and units. There was a new divisional controller in position a few kilometers to their right rear, and through a nearby combat unit the controller briefly contacted Keng: ‘Do not communicate amongst vehicles in any way, Australian reconnaissance ordnance regularly overhead.’ After a long pause, the controller continued. ‘Recommending alternate path for your sapper unit, three vehicles in one convoy is too many.’ The message tersely closed by ordering Keng not to respond. At least it was good to see high command had assigned more competent people to the front line. Or maybe it was just that wars had a way of getting rid of the less able.

Keng leaned back in silence and noted his engineering escort peel-off onto a different route – the divisional controller had not even bothered asking permission. The remaining two tanks continued on their way through the ruined countryside. Signs of pre-glacial buildings were mixed with more modern construction. The local city had been fairly thriving until the war came. Beyond, on the ridgelines to the northeast lay their destination; Ratu Boko. The Selangor offensive had secured the area of course. In fact the latest fighting had pushed all the way across the Gunung Butak highlands and into the valley 20 kilometers east of here. Yes, the Australians had plenty to think about for the moment, but the Selangor were just about out of reserves and the offensive would soon be over.

Northeast of the ruined town, Keng and Vasiliy passed ancient temple ruins standing mute over the devastated countryside. Keng knew these were the Prambanan temples built long before the Glacial. Both men took a good look, feeling some pride that the ruins had not been damaged during the fighting. Both Selangor and Australian support fire and ground fighting had maintained a one-kilometer safe zone around the ruins. Inside that zone, no military units operated. Even Keng kept his small column well clear so as not to ignorantly jeopardize the arrangement.

It was dusk by the time they arrived near the base of the ridge. Above them was the hammered ruin of the Australian command bunker, vacant and still giving off a faint trace of smoke. There was no easy access, the entire area was devastated. Keng noticed their sapper tank had already arrived and ascended part way up the wrecked slope in order to clear a route to the bunker.

By the middle of the night the way was clear and the sappers had secured the interior. Both men dismounted their tanks and hiked carefully up the route cleared for them. The ground was still uneven, and all around the slopes on either side were more signs of intense fighting. Gutted and burned out airframes lay crumpled into the sides of the hill, the ground was littered with drifts of microscopic debris – billions of combat MGVs in their final state: scrap.

Once within the enemy bunker they stayed together until they were satisfied the sappers had done their job. Then Vasiliy stalked down to the maintenance levels to see if anything worth examining remained undestroyed. It was unlikely that they would find much, but the smallest item could offer an insight to new Australian technologies. This might take days, so there was no hurry. By the time they left the bunker there would probably be a cease-fire agreement in effect.

Or not.

Keng made his way through the upper levels, carefully examining the halls and rooms. The bunker was strangely unremarkable – strange because there seemed to be no real command center. In fact most of the small complex seemed to be living quarters. It was as if this were a fortified barracks for two, with signs of only one person having been there… strange.

Walking in to one room that had all the appearance of a small, comfortable dining area, there was still a bowl and spoon on the table. It looked like it had held Australian style cold cereal with milk, but the remnants had apparently been sanitized by the Australian base maintenance before the place was overrun. ‘What a shame they couldn’t get in faster and disable the place.’ Keng thought. He looked around some more, the furniture and appliances were all well-made and had nicely survived the shock of the bombardment. Taking any of it was out of the question, there was no telling what it was infested with.

As he re-entered the hall, something further down caught his eye. He walked slowly to the other end, looking cautiously around both corners where the hallway formed a T-intersection. The flash of blue that had caught his attention was setting on a small table projecting from an alcove; he walked closer and stood in quiet amusement. Setting there were some small fruits – tiny New Zealand blueberries from their appearance. They were carefully laid out in the pattern of what the Australians would call a smiley face; two circles for eyes and a curved line for a smiling mouth. The smiley face grinned up at Keng out of the smoke damaged ruin of an Australian officer’s bunker quarters. Looking around the spartan interior, the Selangor intelligence officer saw no other signs of interest.

He stood thinking to himself and looked down again at the odd sign left by the Australian.



“Anything interesting?”

“A few, but nothing important. We need to look at something on the outside before we leave.”

“That will be fine, there is nothing else here for us to look at, let's leave the rest of salvage to the locals.”

Mikhail Keng looked down and smiled, shook his head slightly and turned away.

Next: 07. Conversation One

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