Operation Starfold 19

Hogue sat inside the command hut examining the lone communicator at Duhring’s old desk. It was a small black box about the size and shape of an old-fashioned lunchbox.

“Kind of old, aren’t we?”

The receiver did not respond. It was indeed a pre-war model, operating on a limited set of terrestrial frequencies. It could pick up voice or text from any corresponding transceiver in the world.

This model, Hogue knew, was limited to government use. Civilians in the League were not allowed much in the way of private communications.

She sighed, and said, “I don’t suppose you’re going to say anything useful, are you?”

Words appeared in floating text on a hologram above the box.

“Forces incoming from nearby Corfu. Four transports, 50 soldiers each. Will land on crash side of island then move overland to attack camp. ETA landfall in 3 hours.”

“What?”

She read the lines of text twice, committing the details to memory. Then she stared at the box suspiciously.

“How do I know this is legit?”

The text wiped away, as if an invisible hand scrubbed them from the air. In a second, another line of text appeared.

“Tell the 31st to stop watching ‘Lucky Lou’ and get to work preparing for attack.”

-+-

“This is just a police action, right Sarge?”

Rodney Epsilon-Davis looked at the private in the seat next to him and gave a sardonic smile.

Davis was older, with thick curly hair that quickly ballooned out of control if he did not keep it shaved close to his scalp. The kid’s hair was shaved, too, but that was because he was a fresh recruit. He looked to be 15 or maybe 16 years old, Davis thought.

“Sure, kid. Just a police action. I’m sure the stranded Republican Marines will toss down their weapons and surrender to us peacefully.”

The sarcastic tone caught the young man off guard. He gulped nervously, then decided to avoid further conversation.

Wise choice, Davis thought, moodily turning back to the virtual screen in his inner eye.

He hated talking before action, whether it was a training exercise or, as in this case, the real thing. And it was the real thing, no matter what the higher ups chose to call it. As far as he was concerned this was a military action. They were moving against Republican ground forces, regardless of all the minor details.

What the brass would not talk about, and what set him on edge, was MARS had failed to take the Republicans out.

Davis was no dummy. He knew about MARS. He had been there at the trial runs on Crete four years ago, and he knew what the suborbital missile system could do. Somehow those Republican bastards had figured out they needed to disperse in order to hold off destruction from above. Either that or they were holding the prisoners on Patmos hostage, using them as human shields so the system would not strike them.

And probably, just probably, he thought . . . it was the latter. Otherwise, why bring in a military strike force?

Sporades did not have much in the way of military ground forces. The planet was not as highly developed as Juventas or Epsilon with all their metro areas. Juventas had lots of military installations all around the globe. Not that any of them helped stopped the Republicans when they wiped out the League Fleet there. And when that happened, the Diego Fleet rained down its own kind of destruction.

Nobody told them anything here in the Army on Sporades, but Davis could put two and two together. The Republicans must have attacked. They landed some Marines on Patmos. The MARS system failed to get rid of them. His unit was being brought in to finish the job.

Easy peasy, crystal clear, he thought.

He was 28, and one of the older soldiers present. The Army paid a decent wage, and provided food and shelter for free. Best of all, it allowed him to play with firearms. His nickname was “Gunrod” Davis. He loved to shoot and blow things up.

In the League, civilians were not allowed to own firearms. As a Sergeant in the Army, though, he could engage in personal target practice practically every day. And he did.

Now, for the first time, war had come to Sporades. He welcomed the chance to kill some Republican scum. If only the transports would hurry up and get there, he could start shooting some real people for a change.

At long last, the pilot guided their transport down. From his seat in the back, Davis squinted and watched the front holo as island scenery slid by below. For a moment, he caught a glimpse of spaceship wreckage, then an open field with woods in the distance.

When the transport touched down Lieutenant Cifuentes stood up in front and said, “Everybody get out and form up!”

Davis followed his guys and girls out as they formed up outside the other transports.

Cifuentes consulted a personal holo. From his standpoint, Davis could see it was a live satellite feed of the island.

Cifuentes was young, too. He was about 22 or 23, if Davis’s guess was correct. And, come to think of it, the officer was relatively low ranking to be leading a terrestrial counterforce.

Suddenly, his holo blanked out.

Cifuentes bit off a curse.

Davis edged a little close to the officer and said, “Something wrong, Lieutenant?”

“Dang satellite just went on the fritz.”

“That’s odd. When’s the last time that happened?”

“Never?”

“Maybe the Republicans had something to do with it.”

“They’re not supposed to be up there, in orbit. Our side ran them off, from what I heard. Alright, doesn’t matter. Let’s move out. Bogeys are in the trees, so approach with caution.”

The formation moved toward the trees, about 100 meters away.

Davis fell into step beside Cifuentes.

“Hey, Lieutenant. Don’t you think it’s kind of odd they only sent us to handle this threat?”

“What’s odd about it, Sergeant?”

“Well, that’s a troop transport behind us, sir. They hold what? Maybe 800 or 1,000 Marines? Even if some died in the crash, we’re still going to be facing hundreds of Republicans.”

Cifuentes shrugged. He looked to be of Hispanic descent, with brown hair, skin, and eyes. Although, with all the racial mixing over the centuries, he doubtless had other ethnicities in his heritage as well.

He said, “Sergeant, all I know is we have orders to confront and subdue the survivors of that spaceship behind us. And that’s what we’re going to do. So, what’s your problem?”

“I don’t know much about anything, sir. But I know the first rule of engagement is to attack with a superior force. And 200 raw young recruits isn’t going to cut it, sir, in my opinion. We need 1,000 men and women, sir. At least.”

“We don’t have 1,000, Sergeant. We’ve got 200. Our superiors in Rostin believe that is sufficient to handle this contingency.”

His last sentence ended with a note of dismissal. The young officer did not wish to discuss the matter further.

Davis nodded and fell back with the enlisted ranks. But he could not so easily dismiss the bad feeling in his gut.

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