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the eylau sequence.war

Captain James Sweeney stood on the glacis of the main landing ports at Fort Banning, California. To his left the towering bastion of Jacinto Mountain loomed out of the clouds, the faces of its glaciers were an iridescent pale blue-grey wall above the sheer northern face. Another calm day, Sweeney wondered how long such good weather could hold. Looking around, his eyes settled on the expedition preparations. His men were quietly talking, enjoying the brief period of breezy sunshine. They were doing the final walk-arounds of the unmanned equipment. This expedition was large by modern standards, over fifty ground vehicles of different types. Half were main battle tanks – unmanned of course – and their manned command equivalents. There was also a large reconnaissance detachment of manned and unmanned routers, light aviation carriers and several engineering and maintenance vehicles. Ahead of the column travelled a separate formation of scout engineers who would clear and prepare basic routes to allow the main column to travel at maximum possible speed for the first half of the trip east.

‘East.’ thought Sweeney. He turned to his right and looked out through Banning pass and into the desert. It had been hundreds of years since the deep interior of the continent had seen anything other than settlements and local resource developments. The weather was too difficult, the food and supplies too remote, and there just weren't enough people, never enough people.

‘So.’ he thought to himself. ‘This is another step, getting back out to where we were before.’ He mentally reviewed the meetings that led to this, the decision to send a ground column east. Its tasks were many; show the flag, remind people living out there that California is real and lastly to make sure the settlements know to report unusual events. There were also some other things Sweeney was tasked with, it would remain to be seen whether those would pan out.

The column would proceed with scant air cover. Only from afar would they be watched by friendly eyes, but low level patrols were being stepped up by Northern Command in areas across the continent. From now on, even if word of Sweeney's column did not reach some remote settlement, people as far as Old Texas Coast and beyond would be hearing the distant roar of Californian aviation a lot more often now.

Sweeney walked down the long shallow slope and around toward the plaza in front of the low blast doors. General Johns was there and strode forward to talk.

“Captain Sweeney.” said the general.

“General.” replied Sweeney with a smart salute.

The general returned Sweeney's salute and looked out over the scene in front of them. Without looking back he spoke again. “We'll keep an eye out from here Captain. You know what to do.” He looked back at Sweeney, nodded slightly and turned away.

Sweeney looked back in the direction of his men. Six of them were directly under his command, only Captain Joseph Stanton – a biologist – was not directly under orders to Sweeney. But it was still Sweeney's expedition and that was fine with Stanton, who had bigger things to worry about. The biologist was along for the ride in order to help investigate rumors of illegally engineered wildlife. Nobody knew what the real problem was, they surely needed to start checking now.

Sweeney's armor commander was Lieutenant Hyli Ortega, a great ES user and brilliant tactician in her own right. Reconnaissance command devolved on Lieutenant Talae, a highly intelligent batur officer with a keen intuition and like Ortega, a master of his ES interface. Ortega and Talae shared a physical assistant (as opposed to their virtual ES assistants) in the form of Corporal Jaonar, who was also a batur; hard working, brave and highly organized. Ortega and Talae spent so much time immersed with their formations that it was often Jaonar who spoke with Captain Sweeney.

The expedition's engineering support came in the form of Sergeant Enio Covarrubias. There were also two mechanics; Sergeant Eugene Willis and Corporal Palka. Palka was a batur, and while he didn’t enjoy the stereotypic brilliance often associated with them, he wasn’t stupid either, and he was well endowed with outstanding dexterity, a genuine batur trademark.

All together Sweeney’s group formed a tight-knit team who knew how to work in difficult conditions. Several of them had deployed on short notice to rescue those two Australians a few weeks back, and most of them knew the area beyond Fort Banning at least as far as the volcanoes and great canyon.


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Two evenings later they were deep in the desert near the river, parked in clusters as they weathered the latest storm. The expedition did not really need to stop, but the mission’s goal was contact with locals and that required at least tolerable weather. ‘Anyway.’ Sweeney thought to himself. ‘I don't want the column getting strung out during the storm; it doesn't look good to the locals.’ He knew they were being watched, that was the whole idea.

It was going to be a long trip.

Sitting in his command tank, Captain Sweeney listened to the heavy battering sound of large hail and the explosions of lightning strikes around the parked vehicles. The expedition's routers were hunkered down with their armor extended, the only thing that stood between them and the junkyard. All of the vehicles were built to take combat damage, but typical heavy weather could still damage parts of the lighter units if they tried to move around in it.

Sweeney relaxed, picked through some music and browsed the latest news; fighting on Java had died down, orbital control remained at an impasse. The California State Department had lodged orbital debris complaints against Selangor. He took time to search through more settlement and territory information. Some of the settlements out here were in close touch with the rest of the world, others partially so, and others not at all. He would need the help of the former to get a handle on the latter. In his experience, most of them were friendly enough when approached the right way. Walking up and knocking on their door in the middle of the night was not the right way.

For the tenth time Sweeney compared notes with his ES assistant and reviewed what he could about Needa; the first large settlement on their itinerary. Needa was a hub – it did not really do anything itself, it was a supply center for regional development operations. Every 10 years or so the settlement completed another underground hall, expansion had been proceeding steadily for a good 60 years. ‘Pretty soon.’ Sweeney thought, ‘The California border will go all the way to the River.’ Whether that was good or bad he didn't know. After a while he leaned back and fell asleep to the rising and falling roar of the wind.


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Needa's morning guard opened the heavily armored door and stood outside for the first time in days. A deep chill was in the air, last night's storm had given way to a few precious hours of calm. The ground was heavily strewn with ball-sized hail stones that needed to be kicked and pushed out of the way. One guard – a relatively young man named Colin – stood looking out at the strange column of vehicles parked along the old highway; he had been watching them since they pulled up during the middle of the night. It was imposing, he had never seen many vehicles of any type in one place and now here were dozens of armored tanks, routers, aviation carriers and others. Standing next to them were several men talking to a batur perched on a tank. They were all military, obviously from California and doubtlessly knew exactly where they were. They were probably waiting for someone from town to come to the surface and walk out to meet them. That was a good sign, at least they didn't appear to be trouble makers – not that anyone could stop them if they were.

Colin heard the elevators inside the main entry humming, footsteps and someone coming up the short stairs into the guard room. Crunching softly on the icy ground, two more people walked out into the frigid air; a man, Jaymond Browning and a woman, Charine Warner. Browning was town manager and Warner was mining supply supervisor for the area. They were the two people that anyone from Cal-Army would probably want to meet.

Browning and Warner looked out at the long line of military vehicles, both of them sighed. Ambling slowly down the steps from the small landing, Browning started his walk out to the highway. He was a heavyset man, rather more than average and at slightly under 150 years old he was near what many people would call retirement age. He was still wearing his regular work clothes, a grimy combination of old farmer and contemporary robotics technician. Warner followed close behind. Scrawny, cheaply dressed and 110-ish looking, her bourbon voice gave away a coarse person with the temperament of a miner. However she was very knowledgeable and friendly in her own foul mouthed way.

As Browning continued out to the highway he occasionally kicked a hailstone out of his path; last night’s storm had been typical and beat down a number of shrubs and dwarf trees that managed to grow in the area. He was always a bit surprised that anything at all grew outside. He could not help but notice the pair of unmanned military routers that were stopped at the crossroads, but as he approached them, the two vehicles moved away with great agility to leave an open and unintimidating route to the main column. More soldiers who had been standing on top of a tank hopped down and joined the line of troops now arrayed next to the front of the column; one of them walked forward, he looked like an officer, 80 years old or so, stern, keen eyed with an intelligent glance. Browning felt a flash of embarrassment, these people were really sharp.

“Good morning.” said the officer, “Would you be Jaymond Browning?”

“Yes sir that is me .” said Browning. “And this is…”

“Charine Warner, Mining Supply Supervisor.” prompted the stranger, with a friendly grin. “I am Captain James Sweeney, Cal-Army as you probably guessed already.” He followed this last comment with a sweeping gesture in the direction of the vehicles and turned back to them. “I hope we are not bothering you folks, you certainly have nothing to worry about, we are just passing through on the way East.” As these last words came out of his mouth, far off beyond the northern horizon they heard the distant rumble of Californian aviation flying low and fast. Sweeney smiled at them as if the whole thing had happened on cue.

Pleased that Cal-Army found Needa worth visiting, Browning crinkled his nose and grinned a little, “Looks like you boys have been busy lately.”

“Yes, we certainly have Mister Browning.” replied Sweeney. The captain looked at the ground and smiled again, “We certainly have.” He looked back up sharply at Browning.

“This is not because of the fighting out in the Pacific is it, I mean we’re not in any danger are we?” asked Browning.

“No, certainly not.” replied Sweeney. Knowing that this would be a concern as soon as the locals saw soldiers, the captain was ready with an answer. “The fighting has concerned us however, and we thought it would be good to make sure that everyone out this way knows that – well, we do care about them.” Sweeney gave his broad smile again.

Unlike some settlements further east, people living in Needa were fond of thinking of themselves as part of California. Browning knew they would be thrilled to see these men here.

“Would you and your men like to come in for something to eat Captain?” Browning asked , it was his turn to offer an expansive smile.


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Late that evening Sweeney and Stanton sat talking with Browning in a large but simply furnished eating hall deep underground. They were joined by a man named Kai, who had arrived only an hour before at Browning's invitation. Kai ran an operation out past the river, and he knew more than anyone what was going on for several hundred miles to the east. Simply dressed and dirty, Kai presented the image of an earthy person with great technical proficiency. He knew a lot about a great many things and despite his careworn appearance, he was actually older than he looked. Because of Kai and Jaymond Browning, a wide swath of land on both sides of the river retained a calm and orderly existence.

As the intruding visitor, Sweeney voluntarily opened the conversation.

“Well gentlemen I am sure you have questions, but to help save you some time I should probably let you know exactly why we are here. I would like to request however, that the nature of our conversation remain between us at least for now, you will understand once I explain a little more.” His two hosts looked at themselves, wondering what exactly this meant.

“I will be honest with you, one reason we are here is to simply show the flag and remind people who California is. As you may or may not be aware, Selangor forces used some of the more remote areas of the world as jumping off points during their offensive against the Australians.” Sweeney paused and looked at the two men – partly to let that small piece of information sink in, and partly to gauge their reaction. They appeared thoughtful, but no more than would be usual for people in a mining settlement hearing of faraway events.

Satisfied from the moment, Sweeney glided past the opening and continued. “But that is not the only reason we are extending ourselves out a bit.”

Sweeney paused, thought for a moment and continued; “You get tourists out here occasionally don’t you?”

The two men nodded.


“Yes.” said Browning, “During good weather we occasionally get hunting teams, though as you say they are mostly tourists.” The two men looked slightly confused. This was not the line of questioning they expected. “Do you think some of them are spies Captain?” asked Browning.

Not wanting to dampen that line of thinking but not worried about it for the moment, Sweeney redirected the discussion. “Have you heard about that hunting accident out in central California – up in the Sierra foothills?”

Kai nodded his head. “I hear there was a hunting incident with a brown bear.”

“Has anything like that happened out here?”

“Close.” replied Browning. “About two months ago one of the tour groups had a run-in with a mountain lion.”

Sweeney’s eyes narrowed but that was the only outward sign of shock. “And?” he inquired.

“Well, they killed it, nearly got two of the men in the hunting party, it took on the whole group – those things can be real buzz saws when they are in a bad mood.”

“Those things? Are you sure it was a mountain lion?” asked Sweeney.

“Oh sure, they brought it back with them and we took samples before letting them leave the area.”

“Any streams on it?”

“Yes, I can show you that now.” Browning’s eyes darted downward and his index finger punched a few times in the air before him as he retrieved the threads, within a few seconds he spoke up again. “Ah, here it is, I’m sending them to you now.” Soon both Sweeney and Stanton were able to bring up the hunting party’s media streams of the attack. Within moments Sweeney was disappointed to see the startling and very exciting visual feed of a real North American mountain lion attacking three armed hunters. It actually managed to get on one of them before the others killed it. Sweeney looked over at Stanton who shook his head – oh well.

Sweeney looked back at the two miners. “I agree, that’s definitely a mountain lion.” Disappointed for a moment by the coincidence, Sweeney paused to think.

Jaymond turned to stare at the man next to him, Kai returned his glance and looked back at Sweeney; “Nothing around here, but an operation far to the northeast lost an entire prospecting team, they disappeared.”

“Do you know whether they were killed, or just quit and left?” asked Sweeney.

“No, we never did find out, we do not have the resources to investigate things like that.” Kai knew well that in the transient culture of the outer settlements, people did move around a lot; who could really know indeed.

Kai spoke up. “Captain, if you don’t mind my asking, this seems like a rather serious line of inquiry for something that would not normally be a concern for the Army.” Kai looked at him searchingly.

“Bear with me gentlemen. Do you recall any other incidents?”

The two men shook their headed erratically – they were losing interest.

“How about any other incidents with wild animals, no matter how odd, anything, even a passing second hand observation. It doesn’t even have to be life threatening.”

Kai’s eye’s darted back to Sweeney, “Yes.”

The other three men refocused on Kai.

Sweeney looked at him with the polite visual equivalent of “Go on.”

Kai continued. “I didn’t see it myself, but one of our operators was out East and in one of the small settlements he passed through, the mine owner had just lost one of his guard dogs. That is nothing unusual around here, although you gentlemen may be surprised to hear we still use real dogs out this way.” He paused, obviously neither of them was surprised. They knew local habits. Kai continued. “There are real wild animals you know, like that mountain lion. The odd thing here, was that this dog was killed by a pack of crows.”


Even Stanton straightened up in his chair ever so slightly.

Kai continued in a slow, methodical manner. “I’m serious, this guy claimed that a pack of crows descended on his dog when it was out in the field and they literally ganged up on it and executed it. It was the damnedest thing he ever saw, and my man says this guy is as no nonsense as they come. He said it was almost as if the crows knew what they were doing and they knew exactly how to kill the dog even though it was much stronger than them. He also claimed the crows called out to each other, gave signals and knew how to sweep down on the dog and attack its eyes. The dog was blinded early in the attack and they ended up herding it right off a cliff, killed it for sheer entertainment. Like he said it was the damnedest thing he ever saw. Before he got close enough to shoot at them, the crows flew away in a formation, like seagulls you know. Crows don’t normally fly like that.” Kai sat looking at the two visitors, after a few moments of silence, Stanton asked. “Why didn’t this guy shoot at the crows earlier, or use pest retardants?”

“I don’t know, but he did say that he saw most of the attack on this remote system, he wasn’t immediately on the scene until it was too late. As for pest retardants, most people out that way don’t tend to invest in such things.”

Stanton looked back at him and then over at Sweeney. Puckering out his lower lip slightly, the normally silent doctor nodded and said; “I think this qualifies.”

Next: 14. Spying 101

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