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For the first time since the Selangor offensive, several members of Stave Gibson's corps were gathered in one place. They were deep under Australian Command near the southeastern coast of Bali. Being an interservice meeting, the commander for Australian Forces Northwest, General Weldon Frazier, was there. Orbital forces and Mars Command were also represented. Their people had come in from Darwin for this, including Commander Williams who had been rescued by the Californians earlier in the week. Intelligence was also there, so Gibson was feeling like the small fish as they say in Bali. The meeting was kicked off by General Frazier:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we will skip introductions and cut straight to the matter at hand. We have called this meeting to help tie in the various highlights of the last month. As you are all aware, the Selangor launched a major offensive against our orbital forces, quickly followed by ground attacks on Mars and Java. This was a big push which achieved a great deal of success. Aside from the obvious, the following are our current prime concerns and observations:”

“One: While the ground offensive on Java represented the greatest effort in resources by Selangor, the opening of hostilities on Mars is what represents the greatest threat. It is a provocative and destabilizing move that threatens the balance of power in commodities control.”

“Two: We have been informed through a backchannel discussion that the Japanese may intervene if they feel the recent actions threaten their supply chain. I cannot emphasize enough how we do not want them getting involved, because as you all know they don’t tend to take sides.”

“Three: We suspect that the Java offensive not only helped to cover operations on Mars, but a possible infiltration of Kalimantan. If so, this would be a violation of the Cape Town agreement. Our only reason for suspecting this so far is that we lost a reconnaissance team there, conveniently just before the Selangor offensive started. As you all know, neither of our countries are allowed to send any military forces there, but we both tell little white lies by sending the occasional recon force. They don’t typically disappear without a trace, so obviously this is suspicious. “

“Now,” he said, “we are going to hear from Commander Ian Williams, Orbital Forces. He was the first hit by the Selangor and only just returned from his rescue by the Californians, Commander…”

Commander Williams stood and briefly cleared his throat. “Thank you General.” Turning to the rest of the group, he continued “The reason I am here, is because of a message that was given to me by a California State Department diplomat, who unofficially warned me that the Japanese out at L5 will object to these latest events. It is my impression that this message was meant to warn Australia that the Japanese may take matters into their own hands, up to and including military action.”  He paused, looking at his audience.

“As you look through my account of the conversation, does any other message or intent seem apparent?” He paused again, looking around the room. Nobody spoke up, there was precious little else to presume except a response in force, the question was against whom? Major Gibson spoke up “Is there any preparation we might make against a Japanese attack that would not happen anyway?”

“Good question.” replied General Frazier. “The answer is that if the Japanese are going to get involved, we need to develop a passive response to the Selangor attacks. If the Japanese are going to sit on their hands, we can go out and kick Singapore’s ass.” He looked around defiantly at his audience, as if to dare anyone to debate whether he could personally or professionally achieve the later. “The final decision will be made by the Australian government, but our recommendation will influence their decision.” He finished, and looked at the attendees sitting around the table.

“Operationally we have few options.” spoke out Gibson. “If the Japanese are going to get involved, we need to make sure they target the Selangor as much as possible.” He looked around; everyone was thinking the same thing. The normal reaction would have been counterattack, but even before this warning, people were wondering the same thing; ‘what about the Japanese?’ The California warning merely confirmed fears already lurking close beneath the surface.

“Yes,” replied General Frazier “and what should that be?” He looked over at the two officers from Mars Command. “What does Mars Command think of this? We have few options on Java without risking the entire island. Is there anything we can do on Mars that the Japanese will see as passive on our part – without risking our operations there?”

The senior Mars representative stood, showing her unusual height. Her ancestors came from Madagascar, and she had that African-Sumatran look that was rare in the world. She paced down the length of the room as she presented numerous threads to all of the attendee’s displays. “As you can see, our distribution operations there still earn a great deal from the Japanese, it is a considerable sum. Anything we back out on automatically affects them, so in that regard the answer is yes. But we must be careful not to back out of anything that might depress our longer term prospects.”

She briefly eyed the room; she had their attention. “Now the Selangor did make several attacks in addition to their successful assault on Tars Peliti; because of this, Mars Command feels that if we were to abandon those two positions – which are compromised anyway – the appearance of further Selangor gains would hopefully make them a bigger target, and by inference would make us a smaller target.”

“I could go along with that.” replied Frazier.

Gibson nodded and added to the general’s reply; “I believe this message may well have made its way to us on purpose. The Japanese are likely giving us a few seconds of valuable time to duck before their fist sails over our head into the Selangor. I recommend we duck just like they suggest.” There was the nodding of general agreement around the room.

“What about orbital assets over Mars?” inquired Commander Williams.

“If we were to de-orbit a noticeable percentage of the force, ostensibly for repairs, we could appear to weaken our orbital position more than it really is. It would certainly be a passive move, and with existing Selangor strength in Mars orbit it would likely be a safe one. Keeping them dispersed on full alert would be relatively easy at this point.”

There was general nodding of agreement. Obviously a lot of background work remained to be done, but the general outlook was pretty well set – the Australians were going to back down ever so slightly on Mars.

“Agreed then?” added the General. “Alright.” he looked at the two diplomatic liaisons who had been remotely sitting in on the meeting. “You gentlemen know our recommendations. Please forward them to the administration.”

The general looked around again with his piercing eyes, “The next half of our discussion will relate to theater level intelligence, so I would like to excuse our visitors from Darwin with thanks for making the trip up here.” Everyone stood while the various officers and liaisons quickly and quietly left the room; they all had other business – more than they cared for.

As Commander Williams cleared the conference room, one of the men from Darwin walked over and politely pulled him aside by the elbow. ‘Not again.’ Williams thought.

“Commander Williams.” said the man, “You find yourself in an interesting situation.” Williams tried to nod cryptically in imitation of the Californian diplomat he had met.

The fellow Australian looked at him searchingly for a few seconds. “How do you like orbital service Commander?” he asked bluntly.

Sensing a test, Williams replied. “You are getting at something I’m sure sir, what exactly is it?”

“Good.” replied the diplomat. “You will work splendidly. I would like to invite you to transfer to Central Command, where you will serve as military liaison. It will likely take you back to California, as implied by your kind hosts when you visited there recently.

Williams smirked at the sarcasm, “Is this really an invitation sir?”

“I’m afraid not, confirmation came through during this meeting, you are returning to Darwin with us, but don’t worry.” he said, seeing the look on William’s face, “We are not leaving for several days.” The man smiled, slapped Williams on the shoulder and congratulated him. “You’ll love it.” he said and walked away.

Looking down, Williams stared thoughtfully and softly tapped the floor with the tip of his boot.


Left behind in the meeting center was Colonel Frazier and his command staff, along with Colonel Gustav Rusman who was commander of army level intelligence. Rusman’s responsibilities were complicated. In Australian armed forces structure, theater level intelligence engaged freely in a wide variety of activities ranging from counterespionage to industrial spying. It commonly overlapped state intelligence operations, a leftover of earlier, more chaotic times.

“Well,” said General Frazier, “What do you all think of Kalimantan? Are we being double-crossed by the Selangor?” he asked, referring to the army recon team that went missing there.

“Possibly.” said Rusman as he precisely drummed his fingers on the table top. “Unfortunately the team disappeared so completely that we have nothing to go on. The offensive started soon after, which diverted any resources that might have launched a rescue mission. The trail is cold now.”

Gibson spoke up. “If the Selangor were up to something big over there, we would know that anyway, correct?”

Frazier stared at Rusman for a few seconds and tilted his head in Gibson’s direction. “They were up to something near Mars orbit and nobody caught that.” He wryly tilted his head back again and looked across the table; “Nix, any ideas?” His other divisional commander shook his head. Nix was one of the best operational planners in the theater, but he had little experience running intelligence or issues above corps level.

Frazier thought for another moment and then continued. “We should find out, maybe the one recon team is gone, but we need to lay pipe for the next round. How are you set for resources Colonel?”

“I could use another good field officer who knows the area.” Rusman replied. “Preferably someone who has been here a while, military experience is a must, but whoever it is needs to be able to operate mostly with civilians.”

Frazier tilted his head back over in Gibson’s direction. “Well Gibson?” he commented in a sly tone, “That sounds like you. Had enough of getting shot at by the Selangor?”

Gibson wasn’t surprised. He had been tinkering around the edges of intelligence work for a while, and it was now advanced enough to be the next obvious decision. The Colonel needed another man and Gibson was the best, closest fit. With so few people available in the world, that fell cleanly into the ‘good enough’ category. Inside he smiled; this was the necessary next step.

“I’m sure I’ll still have plenty of chances to get shot at sir.” replied Gibson. “And yes, that does sound like me.” He looked over at Colonel Rusman. “When do I report Colonel?”

“Five minutes ago.” replied Rusman with an evil grin. “Don’t think this will be easy.” he added.

“Bullcrap.” replied Frazier. “That’s exactly what it will be, but someone has to do it, and I feel better knowing it’s not some bonehead from Eastern Litchfield.” he said, referring to one of the trendier rich districts of the Australian capital.

Rusman looked more directly at Gibson. “Alright Major , we will meet over the coming days and you will be debriefed by officers running similar operations elsewhere. Any ideas you might have now, start fleshing them out.”

Gibson thought. If they only knew how close he was to just that. Gibson already had his first operative lined up, purely by accident – the perfect person to dig around Singapore, sniffing for any stink of Kalimantan that might be floating around the city. Yes, he knew just the person.

Next: 11. Whiteout

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