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the eylau sequence.war

Captain James Sweeney was sitting on the roof of his command tank, taking in the rocky scenery as the column’s vehicles negotiated a series of rough switchbacks and steep ascents far to the east of the Volcanoes. He was fascinated by an old concrete highway bridge that stood near the section of ravine his engineer had spanned. The old bridge was still standing, but it was a crumbling ruin that would probably collapse under its own weight in another few centuries. Printed faintly on one of the old support columns was a stenciled code. Sweeney had seen them before; each included a maintenance number and the construction date. He was quietly impressed by the massive organization that must have existed in order to maintain these structures over such large areas. The huge population that must have existed in order to warrant so much construction was also not lost on him. Since leaving Banning the task force had passed hundreds of various structures like this one, and he knew they spanned the countryside far and wide. It was a sobering thought to meditate on.

Days before, Sweeney’s command had driven through Red Butte Pass, a narrow zone between the great canyon and the volcanoes which was free of snow during the summer. Southward, the line of volcanic peaks which gave the area its name poked their shoulders above the permanent ice. They showed little sign of recent activity, but were an impressive local landmark.

Now the column was 600 kilometers east of Needa, having skirted the southern edge of Diné territory. The Diné were an ancient people who had lived east of the great canyon since pre-glacial times. Even then it was a remote place and few outsiders lived there. Now their land was virtually a world unto itself and the Diné rarely spoke with anyone from the outside world. They even viewed Californians as foreigners even though hundreds of years previous they had belonged to the same nation.

Sweeney had no intention of intruding on their self-imposed isolation. If they wanted to be left alone he was going to do just that. Aside from any altruistic inclinations, there were cynical reasons for his actions; he correctly believed that they would keep undesirable elements at bay over a broad swath of land. Destabilizing that delicate balance would be stupidity in the extreme. Still, even though he steered well south of Diné towns and villages, Sweeney knew they were watching his column pass by. As a precaution he ordered no low flyovers near Diné territory and most especially not anywhere near their cliff-hugging towns.

For over 100 kilometers east there was nothing but desolation, desert and plentiful ruins. There was even a surprisingly tall old building surviving in the open of a pre-glacial town site. Amongst the chilly ruins of five or six largish structures, the tall building stood like a finger defying the tornadoes and ice storms that assaulted the area regularly. The expedition even stopped briefly to look at it – everyone dismounted and walked around for a short while. However, nobody went inside the old building. There was no telling when the whole flimsy looking structure would just fall over.

The column turned south, down a broad river valley. The rolling scenery was flanked far to the west by snow and ice covered mountains that glinted and shimmered in the distance. Lower lines of peaks stood to the east, marching southward toward a feeble sun. With the approach to relatively unfamiliar populated areas, reconnaissance units and light air support came into their own. The unmanned routers travelled nimbly ahead, preceded by the tiny, nearly invisible tactical aviation controlled by Lieutenant Talae. He was proficient at keeping civilians from noticing the hummingbird sized aircraft, which was good because Sweeney did not want to give locals the creeps. This far out in the middle of nowhere, people would be apprehensive enough about the expedition’s intent.

Some of the settlements they encountered were for mining, some were for general resource development and some were simply convenient black market outposts. Mining in particular seemed to become more common as ‘The California Column’ traveled southeast. That's what Sweeney discovered his task force was being called by the locals; ‘The California Column.’ Word had spread fast.

For the most part they were well received, maybe not as enthusiastically as Needa had received them, but still not bad. Outposts or settlements with economies based on black market trading were more ambivalent, not quite hostile. Sweeney could tell they were worried about what the presence of his column meant for their business, but they were also too intimidated to lift a finger against it. No major questions were asked, the captain knew that folks living in the outlying areas were not up to that sort of talk. Still, he kept his ears open just in case.

The Californians could see their next main stop long before they reached it. Flat topped Alamo Mountain stood high and imposing over the surrounding plain, clustered along with a few other volcanic remnants to the east. Their hard rock and domineering positions over the countryside made them natural strong points and ideal locations for tunneling. The mountain held one of the largest communities east of Needa and predictably had a complicated mix of commercial and black market operations living uneasily alongside each other.

Sweeney reviewed his records as the column cruised south in advance of rapidly deteriorating weather. Like many settlements, Alamo Mountain existed in the general vicinity of much larger pre-glacial cities which now lay in ruins.

Skimming over the community’s long history, some of it less than wholesome, Sweeney concentrated on the current major personalities. The local black market was run by Edward Morgan, not much happened in the region that he did not know about. Commercial development was managed by a man named Jorgensen Gustavson, who ran a substantially legal operation that held its nose – off and on – over the tawdry activities of Morgan and others like him. Morgan generally left Gustavson and his operation alone not because he was nice or liked them, but because they brought extra money into the area. Antagonizing the commercial operators was always counterproductive.

The area was also a modest tourist attraction, and there was some small amount of scientific research being overseen in the area. Most of those scientists used the mountain as their base, so all told there were thousands of people living there full time. Sweeney knew that the strength of his armored column had been calculated to overpower anything Morgan could possibly put together, just in case.

The column began its final approach to the mountain across a heavy layer of snow, backed by a cold wind blowing from the north. Several tornadoes were on the ground far to the northeast. Sweeney swept through a few contact options and decided to simultaneously notify the mountain’s general security and air traffic control system. It was a convenient set of parties to officially inform; they were both fairly powerless and would serve better than arriving unannounced.

By the time the Californians powered up the unimproved local road to the base of the mountain, there were numerous people standing on some of the walks and landings protruding from Alamo's rocky flanks. Others were walking out of a large open hangar embedded in the mountain’s base. Inside the hangar could be seen groups of late model security routers, obviously California built. Sweeney ordered most of the column to stop and park well clear of the roadway. Climbing down he joined up with Stanton, and the two men walked up the steep grade to Alamo Mountain.


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Later that evening, the storm was roaring outside and all but three of the expedition members were attending an informal gathering. Lieutenant Talae and the two mechanics stayed with the column, not that the vehicles really needed them – Talae could run his entire command from orbit. The locals were technologically savvy enough to know this, but it set a security example for those who might get strange ideas.

The gathering was high in the outer wall of the mountain, with a night time view onto the nothingness of the surrounding plains. Hail was tapping against all of the long windows that lined the combination hallway, restaurant and bar. Large passageways connecting sections of the mountain tended to widen into public meeting areas before plunging off into some other part of the deeply developed complex. And deeply developed it was; the occupation of Alamo Mountain went all the way back to the Great Evacuation. When comet Evers-Patel struck Earth and triggered The Glacial, people ended up at the mountain to escape starvation and upheaval in the major cities. The location had been designated a rallying point in case of disaster and was developed well before impact. An Alamo Mountain elevator was the first underground unit in the old United States installed as part of the pre-impact emergency preparation. As the surrounding cities died or scattered, the mountain settlement was left standing alone on the plains. The early population was small, select and technologically reliant on subsistence level living. They were forgotten by everyone but the Californians.

Eventually, as California and Brasil recovered and began to function like real countries again, Alamo Mountain became a remote hub for development. But it was always a bit too far away and a bit too close to uninhabitable areas for anyone to try claiming it. In any case, it did not want to be claimed. Like the descendants of Fletcher Christian who long ago clung to their distant island, Alamo Mountain’s population was not going anywhere. It had a reputation for toughness and an almost proud aversion to the easy life they claimed that people living in ‘countries’ craved. Sweeney was not going to lecture them that Californians also lived underground. It was easier to let the locals cherish their opinions – at least to a certain point.

So Sweeney and his officers mingled with the various residents and local leaders who had stopped by out of politeness, curiosity or pure astonishment. The fact that Cal-Army was extending itself into the area was technically historic and there was a feeling that something big was happening, although nobody was quite sure what.

Jorgesen Gustavson was one of the first to greet Sweeney. As director of commercial operations for the largest mineral extractor at the mountain, he was part mayor, part manager and part banker. He was an earnest man who had spent his life walking the fine lines between the local black market operators, the less dangerous business interests trying to exert their long distance authority and the general population preferring to mind their own business. To the black marketers he was both important and unimportant; it was important that they not be so obvious that investment was halted, but beyond that the commercial operators were powerless to stop black market activity. As Sweeney had noted earlier, it was an uneasy but functional arrangement that was probably unspoken. Sweeney reminded himself not to worry about how unspoken it was, he had larger concerns.

Gustavson arrived with a small entourage of mining managers and local well-to-do personalities, several of whom looked formidable in their own right.

“You must be Captain Sweeney.” said Gustavson as he introduced several of the more important men accompanying him. Once the introductions had died down, Gustavson continued; “We’re pleased to have you visit us out here Captain, with the wars raging overseas, it’s good to know that California is willing to put out a steadying hand.” he looked across the room at Edward Morgan, who had just entered from the other end of the hall. Looking back at Sweeney with a steady gaze he went on; “We look forward to meeting again while you are here, feel free to let my offices know if you need anything that the regular supply centers can’t offer you.” He paused and looked again at Morgan, who was now looking in their direction. Gustavson gave a vague nod in Morgan’s direction, turned back to Sweeney and clipped out a brief “Evening Captain.” before stalking back up the hallway. Most but not all of his men went with him.

‘Interesting.’ thought Sweeney to himself. He looked at Stanton who returned the glance knowingly.

Edward Morgan was exactly what Sweeney expected. Not the usual bully or thug, he was quite good looking for his 120 years and dressed in simple but stylish attire. Charismatic, intelligent and observant, he had a firm, concise way of speaking that revealed previous military service, although he had no California service record. He did not suffer fools and expected things to be done right. As a result, his ‘import-export’ operation was unlike most other related enterprises in the world. He personally knew every member loyal to him and only accepted the best and brightest. Nobody discussed what happened to the dumb ones and not surprisingly nobody seemed to care. The lingering effects of harder times continued to play themselves out in the many unsettled areas of the world.

Morgan walked up to Sweeney and introduced himself; “Captain Sweeney, Edward Morgan.”

“Mr. Morgan, I have heard about you, I’m pleased to finally meet you in person.”

“I doubt that Captain.” replied Morgan in a matter of fact way. “But each of us must deal with the other, so here we are.” Morgan eyed Sweeney directly.

Sweeney tilted a slight nod at Morgan and said; “True enough. So you will not mind me telling you that we are going to be in the area for several days, discuss a few things with the local security, let my task force doctor tour some of the local science projects and then be on our way.”

Morgan was quick to reply. “I am local security Captain, which you already know. And I would like to know why your doctor feels the need to be poking around. You don’t have to tell me of course, but the more I know up front, the less you will notice me shadowing your every move – not, that I can keep you from noticing.” he added with a broad gesture toward the outside of the mountain.

Sweeney was unphased; “Can we speak in private?”

“No.” replied Morgan, as he cracked his neck and lifted his chin ever so slightly. An awkward pause settled over the conversation.

“Alright,” replied Sweeney, “since you trust everyone around you so much; we are here because the Selangor are moving into the area, we have already spotted their reconnaissance flights and ground units ‘poking around’ as you would say, and they have more than enough ability to stake out here in the middle of nowhere.” He downed his tequila in one jolt, swiped his mouth and set the glass down. “Any questions?”

Of course Sweeney was not being entirely forthright. There was no evidence that the Selangor had long term ambitions in the vicinity, but Morgan had probably seen or heard of the Selangor aviation that passed near the area in previous weeks. He could not know what California knew, so dumping on Morgan like this would serve just fine.

Morgan’s eyes narrowed and he cracked a tight, murderous smile. “I see you are more interesting than I thought you would be Captain.”

Morgan turned his back on the Californian and walked slowly over to one of his assistants, with a slight word the room began to clear and Morgan turned back to face Sweeney. Walking over to the bar, Morgan poured another glass of tequila. Without looking up he spoke to Sweeney again, his voice sounding louder in the increasingly empty room.

“I suppose you trust your people to hear all this Captain?” he asked rhetorically, waving his freshly filled glass at the Cal-Army officers who had accompanied Sweeney.


“Well then Captain, proceed, you have my undivided attention.”

Sweeney continued. “You probably recall that during the recent Selangor offensive, Australia lost a couple of people out in the desert.”

“Californians picked them up from what I understand.” replied Morgan.

“Barely.” Sweeney countered. “The Selangor nearly intercepted them from a base out east of here.” He shot a cold, accusing look at Morgan.

Morgan remained unmoved. “Lots of people snoop around out east Captain. None of them stay, what makes you think this time is different?” he asked.

“What makes you think it isn’t?” retorted Sweeney. “If you were California, would you ignore it?”

“You don’t want to know what I would do Captain Sweeney.”

“Don’t confuse what I’m authorized to do with what I’m willing to do Mr. Morgan.” Sweeney’s mood changed, and he gave Morgan a look as if he could snap his neck and walk right out of Alamo Mountain without so much as a break in stride.

Morgan pulled up the bottle of tequila and poured some more into a glass. He sloshed it around, brought the glass up and sniffed it lightly, closing his eyes for a few seconds as he took his time replying; “You know Captain, now that I think about it, I really don’t care if the Selangor move in out east, customers are customers you know. And from what I’ve heard, they like making money just like everyone else.”

“True,” replied Sweeney, “but if they move in, it may not be you making the money, it might be some of their friends they bring with them.”

“I don’t scare easily Captain.”

“It doesn’t matter whether you are scared or not, we are out here as a signal to them, not you.”

“Is yours the only column or task force, or whatever you want to call it? Or are there others?”

“That’s classified.”

“That’s a lie.”

The two men stood looking at each other. Morgan took another drink from his glass and sloshed it around some more. “Is that all then Captain Sweeney? You came all the way out here as a sign to the Selangor, who may or may not be far to the east? Are you sure there aren’t any other reasons?” He looked at Sweeney suspiciously.

“California’s reasons for being out here are its own. If at some point you become trustworthy enough to know, you’ll find yourself better informed.”

“Ah,” Morgan replied, “so there are other reasons.”

“All in good time; remember, we are watching you just as much as you are watching us.”

With that the two men seemed to come to an unspoken term. The discussion would not go any further for now, time would have to resolve their differences, or leave them to fester. For now, each side would leave the other to its devices.

Morgan half smiled and nodded his head thoughtfully. As Sweeney noted early, he was not a stupid man.

“Good night Captain.” he said as he tapped his glass firmly onto the counter and walked out of the room.

Sweeney turned and gave a “Let’s go.” look to his subordinates. Through his network he sent another set of messages instructing them all to deploy MGV modules and sweep their rooms before turning in for the night. Nobody in Alamo Mountain had anything that could get at the Californians through their uniforms, they could sleep peacefully.


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Two days later Joseph Stanton was reclined at ease in a router that was speeding west toward the river – more ground travel between storms. He was going out to visit Yila Zimle, a Brasilian biologist who was studying riverine ecosystems down near the vague ruins of an old city. Much of it had been destroyed centuries before, there wasn’t much remaining but hummocky flatlands and the shells of a few concrete buildings.

Stanton was accustomed to travelling underground or by air, so driving long distances over flat, open terrain was an eerie experience. He was not sure he liked it, some primal instinct objected. He found himself speculating that earlier researchers may have been correct, that the reason humanity found the move underground so relatively easy was their ancient ascent from deep forests. It was being in the open that naturally gave humans the creeps. Being in a snug, enclosed space was much easier on the nerves – so long as there was room to move around and no rude surprises around the corner.

As the router came over a shallow grade, Stanton saw part of Lieutenant Talae’s reconnaissance group far ahead. The doctor may have been alone, but he was not unattended. A distant escort of recon routers and tactical aviation scouted the area. At any sign of trouble they would call in air support which was being held on station far to the west – distant enough for locals not to notice. After all, one of the reasons for all of this ground travel was to see what things were like on the surface out here, first hand.

Doctor Zimle knew the area and was at the top of Stanton’s list. He had a slight nagging sensation, a bit of regret that he had not been able to tell her when or why he was coming. His meeting with her needed to blend seamlessly with the rest of the visit and so he had only contacted her last night, along with several other researchers currently in the field. The people at Alamo Mountain could not be tipped off to the fact that getting Captain Stanton out to the region was pretty much the entire purpose for the mission. Worries about the Selangor were tangible but secondary.

The router glided smoothly along a bumpy, potholed old street and slowed, making a sharp left turn toward the river. A low modern building came into view on the right. Out on the empty roadway stood the figure of a lone Batur – that would probably be Doctor Zimle. Standing farther off to one side were two full sized humans, both carrying modern side arms. Those would not be any good against black marketers, so it must have been for wild animals.

As the router rolled gracefully to a stop, the side opened and Stanton stepped easily out onto the light snow cover. The router obediently sealed itself up and hunkered noiselessly into a parking profile.

“Doctor Stanton, welcome to Grande River.” said Doctor Zimle as she walked up with her palm held outward in greeting.

“Doctor Zimle, I am pleased to meet with you… finally.” replied Stanton. “I am currently on assignment with Cal-Army with the rank of Captain, which explains the uniform and router. However you can still call me Doctor.”

“Very well Doctor.” she replied, looking curiously at the Cal-Army military router. It was far more sophisticated than the typical ground transport seen out this way. People who travelled on the ground were usually poor or only going short distances. This was a combat vehicle and it showed. Looking back at the doctor she continued. “I understand you are on a general science mission, but I did not receive any details in advance. Some of the locals seem rather flustered at your arrival.” she added as a purely clinical aside.

“Are they also local security?” asked Stanton as he tipped his head over in the direction of Doctor Zimle’s guides.

“Oh no, they are actually Californian biologists, but being much bigger than me and very protective, they insisted on standing guard while we waited.” The doctor smiled and gave a light staccato laugh typical of the Batur; “We’ve noticed a few of your scout flights hovering around the river area though Doctor, most people probably would not know of their presence. I think they are yours anyway – small and fast, about hummingbird size with low signature?”

“Yes,” replied Stanton, “those are ours, you don’t need to worry about Alamo Mountain being able to spy on people like that – not yet at least.”

Doctor Zimle laughed again, “I hope this does not mean you are spying on us Doctor.”

Stanton felt embarrassed. “I’m sorry, no Doctor, to be honest the aviation is Captain Sweeney’s way of making sure nothing happens to me, as you noted some people may be flustered by our arrival.”

“Ahhh,” the batur doctor noted with a smile, “they are for your protection, so we are not very different from each other after all eh Doctor?” she added as she looked back at her own two escorts still standing at a distance. “Please come in, I would be happy to show you what we are doing out this way.”

The next hour was spent on a tour of the clean and modern labs and sample storage facility. Their current research was a study of sea birds and how they utilized inland food and nesting resources. Doctor Zimle was working closely with other researchers far downriver, almost to the ocean.

After a while they returned to the surface and walked out through the stoutly built arrival center. Since the weather remained a calm and dirty overcast, they strolled outside and down to the river. Leading along the high bank was an ancient walkway, its paving stones heavily overgrown with bright green mosses and weeds that sported tiny purple flowers, even in the cold. The muddy river bank was interrupted here and there with short concrete retaining walls – all that remained of the foundations for bridges that used to cross the river every kilometer or so. In one place, the old bridge span was still down in the river bed, damming nearly the entire breadth of the stream. Seabirds hunted for fish in the artificial lake and rested on the convenient platform provided by the grey concrete ruin.

“This river used to run darker than it does now.” commented Doctor Zimle. “Now is it heavy with glacial runoff and it has that cold, frosty look. The wildlife in the area changed radically over the past several hundred years. There are fewer species than before.”

“So you haven’t discovered any new species lately?” asked Stanton lightly.

“Actually we have.” replied Zimle almost matter-of-factly. “We discovered a new cold water species of piranha that somehow got in here from Brasil – I did not bring it here I assure you, but I know what regular piranha are like, these are different.”

Stanton suddenly woke up from his waterside meanderings. “Are they natural or engineered.” He asked, trying not to sound too worried.

“Natural.” she replied, “They don’t have any of the typical bioengineering signatures.”

“What has their impact been?” he asked.

“Substantial I would say, they have been displacing other species in the area since they showed up, so we have tagged it as an invasive species for more study.”

Stanton felt his heart beat faster. “How different are they?”

“Oh very, for one thing they are a different color, imagine a Pygocentrus nattereri with grey markings instead of red. They are average size, but far more aggressive than the usual piranha which as you know are more passive than most people realize. These ones are more like how people imagine them. But to be honest they have not been studied much because they were not on our original research program.”

“Hmmm.” blurted out Stanton, as he privately wondered how these fit in with the other incidents.

“Is there any possibility I could get samples of them?” he asked, “I would be curious at the very least.”

“Certainly, we will have them sent back to the mountain with the next shipment.”

“I would prefer to pick them up now. There are a lot of prying eyes back at the mountain. And to be honest Doctor, I would prefer you not discuss my interest, not yet at least.”

The batur doctor darted a quick look up at Stanton. “Is there something I should know about Doctor?”

“Maybe,” he replied, “this may fit in with some other invasive species issues we’ve noticed further west. Part of the reason I’m here is to assess the breadth of the problem.”

“Problem?” recited the batur doctor. She was smart and instantly grasped Stanton’s emotional investment, he was worried. “Do we have a problem Doctor Stanton?”

Stanton thought for a moment and gave the most honest answer he could consider; “It’s possible.”


Next: 17. Kalimantan

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