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the eylau sequence.war

Selangor had been busy in the aftermath of their Mars offensive. Despite severe losses in orbit, their ground forces managed to secure all of their objectives. The engineers were already making progress on new underground command centers and had retrofitted captured Australian centers. New construction was delayed when orders came in from Earth: “Remove all metallics from external structure, especially underground, no exceptions.” Nobody knew what that was all about, but they obeyed. In the Selangor military you always obey. People who showed too much initiative had a way of ending up on far northern service.

On this particular day, the new Selangor command center at Tars Kelitan was finishing its first week of service. Along the shallow, rock strewn ridges nearby, revetments and secure positions for the local ground division peppered the landscape. Newly delivered armor trundled heavily up the road leading in from the nearest landing port. The new command center had an unusually large crowd of nine people – the norm was four. They were there to troubleshoot the command center systems and make sure activation and tie-in with supporting bases went smoothly.

Division controller San Li was standing outside briefly taking in the view. He had never been on Mars and was excited to be on an entirely different planet. Like many people, he considered the war secondary to his personal experiences so far, and Mars was certainly a different experience. But it was also strangely familiar. The rocks were still rocks, the dust was still dust and the scrubby small bushes growing here and there were recognizable to anyone who grew up on Earth. Mars had a skyline with distant ridges and ravines just like any section of desert on Earth. Of course here the desert was the entire surface, not just part of it; no glaciers, almost no standing water.

What struck him most was how beat-up the place was. Rocks on Earth were old by human standards, but in geologic terms Earth rocks were pretty new, and if you knew better, the difference was obvious. Rocks on Mars were all old – really, really old, and that was obvious too. They had all been lying in the open to be blasted by billions of years of wind and erosion – beaten, worn and pushed around into disheveled heaps. It sometimes seemed like none of them were new. Planet Earth was always in a hurry, Mars thought nothing of taking a million years to push a half-kilo rock a centimeter to the left. It was really quite striking and a little bit depressing. But things were slowly improving; humanity was starting to fill in some gaps – when they weren't fighting that is. “Well.” he thought, “I’m sure that's just temporary.”

The first sign that something was wrong came from orbit. The mundane hourly interplay of data suddenly came to life, two dozen ships in orbit reported they were under MGV attack. There was no warning of approaching ordnance; MGVs simply appeared on their targets. Within a minute, defensive systems on the first ships to be attacked were reporting failure and the vessels began dropping off the network. Tracking reported that several of them appeared to be losing attitude control.

Vague indications of unidentified vessels entering the atmosphere began to come in. Plasma trails appeared high in the sky as someone or something came in at high speed. Automatic warning sirens began screaming; “Incoming ordnance.” Almost everyone at Selangor ground installations around the planet pulled out of their mesmerized state and quickly sealed their uniforms. People were yelling; “Get inside inside inside check room seals get the ground units moving pull up your hood check status…” Several ground divisions were already starting to move when the first missiles struck home. “Whump, whump.” Everyone was certain the long anticipated Australian counterattack had arrived.

They were wrong.

At the Tars Kelitan base, San Li was already in an elevator headed down to the command level when the entire building heaved. Fortunately the base elevators were shock resistant. Li's mind momentarily dwelled on the word 'resistant.' The elevator stopped with a jerk at his level – maybe there was something wrong with it – and Li stepped over to the command console where Engineer Harees Kwan was already at work with the armory. The rumbling from the bombardment up on the surface was clearly audible. Li checked status on his division; vehicles were taking hits and the counterbattery fire seemed to be having no effect. He kept checking for signs of a ground attack, but there was none. Not that it mattered, his division was being effectively dismantled by enemy ordnance that could barely be seen or tracked. Vehicles were going offline at an alarming rate. Air assets suffered the same horrific beating as they attempted to deploy.

He looked over at Kwan, who was standing by. Kwan looked back helpless, as if to answer the silent question, he said; “There's nothing to hit. Fire control is on full automatic, it just doesn't see enough. Our hit rate in the last two minutes is less than one percent.”

“Yeah.” Li answered. “Well there's something out there.”

“Really?” Kwan replied sarcastically. “You think so, maybe you could go out and look, that might help.” Li didn’t pick up the glove that Kwan was throwing down; he remained silent and eyed his division’s status.

Both men stood there and helplessly watched their unit strengths drop lower and lower. They were being picked to pieces and couldn't do a thing about it. Suddenly there was a low frequency “Ping, whump, crunch, crunch, crunch.” sound along the outer walls. It repeated several more times. Li and Kwan looked at each other. An adjoining divisional controller notified them that a strange looking submunition cluster had suddenly appeared and dispensed ground penetrating units on the surface above the Tars Kelitan command center.

Li immediately pulled up the base personnel net and warned everyone inside; “Tars Kelitan Base, prepare for tower penetration.” Calling up the Engineering liaison on the next level, he quickly asked; “We have enemy units against the outer walls, can you bring some engineers from the nearest brigade. We need something to get down there.”

Before anyone could answer, the entire tower vibrated like a giant tuning fork, stopping everyone in their tracks. A loud roar outside announced the next phase of the enemy attack. The roaring continued for some moments, followed by a hissing, cracking sound along the upper structure. Everyone could feel the floor vibrating. A noise like sand cascading down the support walls announced the breaching of the bunker, the defensive system reported microbreaches in dozens of locations. Internal alarms automatically sounded the painfully obvious: “Alert, wall breaches in progress, alert, wall breaches in progress.”

Immediately the internal base defense sprang to life. Shallow wall hatches popped out and the officers could see hundreds of thousands of MGV formations moving along the walls like ants in formation. Tiny reconnaissance drones flew ahead of them in an attempt to get a handle on an enemy the two men were sure they would not spot or survive to report. Just as they expected, nearly all of the flight units disappeared as if vaporized. Reports from the MGV command groups defending the upper levels showed the base was losing 20% of its available MGV mass every 30 seconds. They had less than three minutes. The enemy’s light tactical aviation might already be on their level if any of the breaches were large enough. The two men looked at one another, they knew that the tiny enemy units flying around inside the base would spot and target them at any second, enemy MGVs were not far behind. The base’s automated defense system informed the nine occupants; “Base penetration, enemy MGVs inside tower casing, countermeasures underway.”

“Yeah right.” thought Li to himself. He was first to lie on the ground, followed by Kwan. The lack of any screaming or medical warnings on the levels above meant that the other seven crew were probably doing the same thing, or had already killed themselves. The later was unlikely.

Li lay there on his back, elbows on the smooth floor and hands folded neatly on his stomach, a position he could hold for hours. He ordered his sealed uniform to emit the all spectrum distress/surrender tone. It would be recognized by the invading enemy units and identify Li as a surrendered noncombatant. If the enemy had programmed their attack units to accept surrendering humans, Li – and now Kwan – would be left alone until larger enemy formations could arrive to police them up and take them to safety away from the combat forces. It could be a long wait, but was better than being turned inside out.

After a while he became dimly aware of several tiny blurry forms hovering in the air immediately in front of his face, his sensors could barely detect them. The blur emitted a small spark of light and suddenly his uniform sensors went out, he was blind and mostly deaf, uninjured, but totally ignorant of what was happening outside. He could only feel a slight pressure and sensation of heat at several places around the outside of his uniform. Enemy MGVs which had apparently wiped out the base defenses were obviously scouring the outside of Li’s uniform, destroying anything that related to data storage and network access. Li suddenly remembered why people serving in combat areas were not allowed to have claustrophobia.

Slowly the room fell silent. He lay there, slightly depressed but also quietly pleased that he had made the right decision to lay down when he did. After an hour or so, a voice came to life in his uniform communication’s suite. Kwan must have heard the voice too, because he jumped slightly. In an obviously Japanese accent, the voice addressed them directly; “Attention Selangor tower crew, your base has been rendered neutral. All adjoining military equipment and support systems have also been rendered permanently inoperative. You may rise and remain at this installation until your forces come to retrieve you. Base life support systems have been left intact for this purpose only, we strongly advise against any further operations at this time. Thank you for your cooperation.”

With that came silence. Li had no choice, so he carefully opened his hood and looked around. The room appeared the same as before, except all of the communications were out of commission. A slight smell of burned synthetics wafted through the air, and along the outer walls were uneven piles of microscopic debris. The Japanese left little to chance, Li was sure there would be nothing for the Selangor to analyze.

‘The Japanese.’ Li thought to himself. He looked around, and only one word came to mind: ‘Punishment.’


Next: 13. Eastern Expedition

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