Nelson

Act I, Scene 12 of 2100 CE.

Nine months ago, this campaign began from the very spot where we now stand.  Nothing less than the preservation of our Union—indeed the very existence of our entire Confederation, hung in the balance, the dreams of generations, and the vision at last realized in our own time.

            The last word echoed against the hewn red stone of the Elysian Assembly Building into the piazza onto which it faced.  The words Justice and Peace were carved into the architrave in bold, neoclassical letters which stood out in a darker red than the stone surrounding them.  Large fluted columns rose to support the portico and its roof, surmounted by elaborate Corinthian capitals in a motif representative of their local production.  Corn, soybean, and carrots sprang forth from the red marble as though cultivated from the same plant.  Each capital was a work of art unto itself, each representing in their own particular way the same motif of Martian industrial agriculture.  Teardrop-like carrots might dangle down to one side, to be met by pealed ears of corn and the concentric pattern of individual niblets on another—the very image of modern pastoral serenity.

            Standing before these columns was a line of silent Peacekeepers, each standing at parade-rest with their hands clasped at the small of their back.  Lined, wary eyes stared out toward a horizon of ash and smoke.  The cityscape which they had left behind nine months prior was largely gone, a ruined city where columns of smoke as thick as redwoods still rose where napalm had been used to flush out stalwart fighters.  Some of them had witnessed those infernos and the screaming, burning figures which emerged—and who were promptly gunned down.  Their uniforms showed the signs of fighting, worn in places and stained in others, though no other signs stood out more than the bullpup carbines pressed to their chests with gleaming fixed bayonets and the black eye patch one of them wore, the product of a piece of red hot shrapnel striking her eye.

            The speaker before them wore the same red and brown combat fatigues as the honor guard behind him, and whether in truth or by design, he likewise showed many of the same signs of combat the others presented for the cameras.  A .45-caliber pistol on his right thigh substituted the Peacekeeper’s carbine, while a heavy combat knife on the opposite thigh did the work of a bayonet.  Like those at his back, he carried the same impression of a predator about to strike, an impression not lost on the small knot of journalists invited to hear him speak, cognizant no doubt of the disdain their host held toward their number.

            “During the fighting, our forces engaged the anarchist enemy on one front after another.  In every alleyway, in every house, bedroom, and slab of clay, we confronted them—and they did not relent.  You have all been witness to the valiant sacrifices made by our heroic Peacekeepers,” he said, gesturing to his guard detail, “who against all odds managed to overcome our enemies in all places and at all times, despite the anarchists’ numbers and preparations.  This revealed not simply poise and courage in battle, but a clear understanding that only their personal stand against the greatest dangers would achieve victory for their loved ones and for all civilization.  And that if victory were not theirs, the alternative could only be annihilation.

            There was dual symbolism in his choice of venue.  It had first been the spot from which he had announced the departure of the field force under his command, and not long after it had been the scene of much protesting and rioting, and finally the spot where separatists had declared Tharsis a free and independent commonwealth.  Their leader—a revolutionary zealot if there had ever been one—had called for general rising of the Areal populace, that they might take on the cause of violent struggle against the Earth and be liberated from its hegemony.

            To meet the insurgent zealot came the very symbol of Earth’s hegemony, another zealot but of a different stripe.

            “Since the start of this war, we have not known a moment of peace.  Much has been sacrificed for its return, and much remains to be accomplished.  But at last we can truly say that the threat to our security from the separatist Zanscar has been expunged once and for all from the Areosphere.  Never again shall the flag of a false prophet fly from the high places of our social and civic centers.

            “But even now dissent continues to stoke the fires of anarchy in innumerable places, fueled by Eurusian lies of a radical utopia.  It is there where the cries of insurrection have gone, abandoning their followers in the midst of battle.  It is there that we must now turn our intentions.  To the final destruction of the Zanscar and their ilk.

            He paused then for a moment, making a deliberate motion of turning to speak directly into the camera.

            “I speak now to those who would wish us harm and the destruction of our Confederation, and in particular to the terrorist Joshua Inayota,” he said, butchering the name.  “We will find you.  Wherever you may go, whatever rock you may hide on, whatever mask you may wear—we will find you.  And justice will be served.

            Floor-to-ceiling screens lined the interior walls of the auditorium, displaying for all a live video stream fed from cameras attached to the station’s exterior.  Glowing red Mars dominated the view, occupying well over half of the composite image.  The remainder was filled by the inky vacuum of deep space, broken occasionally by the running lights of passing spacecraft and the even more infrequent flicker of distant stars.

            The screens were divided every few feet by columns of ruddy Martian stone, miniature replicas of the columns on the portico of the Assembly Buildings of Elysium and Tharsis City.  Spaced as such, they heightened the impression of being windows looking out.

            Between this framing—and matched on every fifth simulated window—the video had been changed to show a newsfeed of the speech.  On the screens, Makobé stood among the columns of the Elysian Assembly Building, addressing his audience with a practiced grace more closely aligned with that of a politician than that of a soldier.  The caption towards the bottom of the screen pronounced the moment Makobé’s New Year Proclamation, with scrolling text beneath detailing the conclusion of armed insurrection on the red planet and the re-constitution of the Martial Union.  Not a word was spared for the resistance in Elysium—nor of their fate.

            Nelson shifted uncomfortably, unusually aware of just how out of place he felt.  After so many months on the Martian surface living like a soldier again, returning to the recycled air and sterile conditions of Suffolk was…jarring.  Nowhere more so than with his present company.

            Standing to one side of the auditorium at the refreshment station, Nelson nodded to the bartender for a second scotch.  A small explosion of laughter drew his attention across the gathering of politicians and business leaders, a sea of nearly uniform gray formal wear speckled by the occasional olive green, navy blue, and black of Peacekeeping Forces top brass.  This particular knot showcased at its center one such olive-green uniform which drew the attention of all those who stood around it.  Its bearer wore the riding boots and royal blue shoulder chord of a spaceborne paratrooper, while upon his shoulders he brandished the three gleaming stars of a general in the Ground Forces, a recent promotion.  It was only the latest spotlight to illuminate a career spanning nearly two generations of irregular warfare and peacekeeping operations.


Akachi Makobé was already a veteran of the Peacekeeping Forces when fate first shone its light upon him.  First in New Guinea, where had served with distinction as a battalion commander, reputedly allowing members of the insurgency to escape just so he could track them “to his final hiding place.”  Microdrones embedded under the prisoners’ skin would transmit back to peacekeeping forces their location, permitting a follow-on aerial assault by Makobé’s Peacekeepers, taking the ostensible escapee and his accomplices by surprise.  He had become famous in media for his hands-on approach to counterinsurgency, personally leading direct-action raids on insurgent encampments, as well the precision with which his forces seemed to operate.

            It was those successes which had earned him an appointment to the first officer cadre of the 6th Spaceborne Division, accompanied with a promotion to colonel.  He was assigned to command 62 Spaceborne Brigade from its inception to its first deployment over Ganymede.  He was reputedly the first paratrooper to be fired through the moon’s atmosphere and the first to set foot on its surface.  Nelson had heard those stories firsthand—he had been among those paratroopers who had followed him down to the Ganymedean surface.  He still remembered vividly the seemingly mundane routine of gearing up, checking weapon, entering the drop pod; of strapping in and waiting as the vibrations of the ship’s reactors ordered the thrusters to sudden relative deceleration.  And then the final sensation of his intestines shooting into his throat as the pod was fired down towards the surface by the gas-compression cannon attached to the warship’s ventral side.

            The friction and plasma of the upper atmosphere gave way to the buffeting of winds, the tug of the drogue-chutes, and then the rapid deceleration seconds before impact—and then they were on the surface.  If he closed his eyes, Nelson could see the charges on the pod’s hatch detonating, launching the hatch from its housing and opening the pod to the world outside.  They had done it all so many times in training that the drop on Ganymede might otherwise have been mundane, until the moment they began taking fire.

            But where Nelson had been a mere lance corporal responsible for following order and killing the enemy, Makobé had command over his brigade of paratroopers and an attached battalion of Dragoons, some five thousand Peacekeepers in all.  The multipronged assault saw Makobé carry out an efficient campaign which first isolated and then crushed individual pockets of resistance in just twenty-eight days of fighting, succeeding in his assigned task beyond expectation.  Overnight Akachi Makobé became emblematic of Earth’s renewed hegemony over her colonial offspring.  Following his return from Ganymede, he was presented an early promotion and a prominently visible post on the staff of the Combined Chiefs of Staff in southern California, a way of propounding the Confederation’s authority through this one man’s celebrity.  His frequent press appearances taught Makobé an appreciation for the nuances and uses of news media, but he likewise came to regard them as the means by which civilian authorities might circumvent international restrictions and thereby interfere with peacekeeping operations.  It was an opinion refined from an incident at the very end of the conflict on Ganymede.

            With the death of their leader only days before, the surviving members of the regime took shelter among the buildings of Tannenberg University, the place where Julius Zanscar had first made a name for himself as Senior Lecturer of Economic Philosophy.  On this hallowed ground, his followers made a pact to make their last stand against the approaching enemy Peacekeepers.  But cracks soon began to show as Dragoon artillery began shelling the university campus in earnest.  Under flag of truce, a small number of dissenters agreed to surrender in exchange for criminal immunity and, more importantly, information on regime collaborators then still at large.  It was likewise supposed, in those tense days, that a second assault would follow on the neighboring moon of Europa, which had a government openly friendly to the Zanscar regime.  It was understood that any and all intelligence gathered on contacts between the two regimes would be instrumental in the ultimate dismemberment of the secessionist movement in the Zeosphere.  It was under these conditions that Makobé accepted the party of dissenters into his headquarters.

            Hard-won though they might have been, each prisoner was afforded every measure of respect due diplomatic prisoners-of-war and were therefore brought before Makobé unbound.  Yet whatever valuable information the prisoners might have been able to furnish, those efforts were foiled by the intervention of undercover officers from the DSSP special forces.  Before Makobé had a chance to consult with his superiors in orbit, the prisoners were taken into custody and whisked off Ganymede to imprisonment on a brig somewhere in interplanetary space.  There had been nothing Makobé could have done short of ordering his Peacekeepers to shoot the police commandos, a thought he later admitted had crossed his mind, and only afterward did he discover that all records of those prisoners and their detention by DSSP were destroyed in the scandal which toppled DESS.

            No follow-on assault was ordered on Europa.  To Makobé and his troops, it was a blow against their sacrifice to leave such a task half finished.  It would permit the very conditions which had fostered Zanscar’s ideology to persevere on Europa—and to spread.  The creation of the international security force on Ganymede to supervise the transition only underscored its underlying impotence in the face of a stable political adversary.  It was a point Makobé himself voiced in an interview a few years after his return from Ganymede, predicting a resurgence of secessionist ideology among the wider Galilean political and economic elite at the expiration of the security force’s mandate.  Despite the ire of his superiors, the Hero of Ganymede would be vindicated when on the very same day the last unit of the international security force departed Ganymede, the Eurusian congress welcomed its first openly separatist delegates, to be followed by Callisto and then Ganymede.

            By then Makobé wore the star of a major general and was commanding international Peacekeeping Operations across the islands of Oceania.  There he witnessed, or perhaps oversaw, the expansion of the nationalist conflict in the jungles of New Guinea to the common cause for insurgency across the Solomons, Indonesia, and the southern Philippines, fueled in part by a policy of indefinite detention.  Makobé made no distinction between migrant and insurgent, viewing both as part of a single continuum of instability.  Shantytowns sprang up around the detention camps, populated by the families of those detained within.  Those who were not released were charged with a variety of criminal offenses before a military tribunal, resulting in a staggering ninety percent conviction rate.  The graves of dozens such convicts were known to dot the islands, their occupants executed by firing squad before being buried in the jungle, a measure engineered by Makobé so as to allow the dense foliage to consume the bodies, denying their use as martyr shrines.

            For his service to the Confederation, Makobé was promoted to lieutenant general and placed in command of Peacekeeping Ground Forces on Mars and, by statute, general-in-chief of the Martial Union’s military.  The command allowed him the unaccustomed privilege of living in his familial home in Tharsis City, host to the headquarters of II Field Force.  It was seen, even by Makobé, as a final gesture of thanks from the Confederation for a lifetime of service, and so he would subsequently retire and devote himself to the writing of his memoirs.

            Those who had followed the man through his career must have known that when separatist sympathies flared into armed revolt in Victoria that his response would be to swiftly crush the opposition.  There would be no negotiation, no terms, and only brutality.  But even they could not have foreseen the man’s decision to mobilize not a brigade or a division, but the entire field force, some thirty thousand armed Peacekeepers in all.  The army’s entrance to the city was livestreamed across the web, thirty thousand to combat no more than a few hundred rioters and hardline separatists.  The livestream continued right through the subsequent executions of the ring leaders, personally overseen by Makobé, who famously entered the frame to stand before the bodies and declare to viewers, The Zanscar lie will not spread to Mars.

            To Nelson and other members of the intelligence service, it was apparent that Makobé’s mind was oriented towards the past.  In the man’s mind, his mission during Operation False Prophet had not been the toppling of the Zanscar regime, but the elimination of all such sympathies in the Zeosphere.  “He was denied his triumph fifteen years ago,” Wolf had put it, “and now he’s scolding us for not giving it to him.  He thinks he could have single-handedly avoided the war.”

            Although gruesome to see, the executions came mere days after separatists dropped Laika on southern California.  The summary execution of a few dozen Martians was to many more than reasonable restitution for the tens of millions of lives lost on Earth.  Although those in power warned Makobé against such public displays of raw power, it was the public nature of the executions which impressed upon the general and not their brutal or even criminal character.  In the absence of command authority from Earth, Makobé interpreted his own authority as being synonymous with that of the Confederation: Earth’s proxy on Mars.

            When the rest of the red planet subsequently erupted into all-out war, Makobé interpreted his authority to be nothing less than the restoration of Confederation suzerainty over all Mars, by any means necessary.  Under the appellation of operational security, Makobé enacted an increasingly strict media blackout over his army’s area of operations as the conflict intensified.  What precisely took place behind that vale had not been disclosed to Nelson or much of the intelligence service, but its effects, like those of the executions at Victoria, were acutely felt across the red planet as one bastion of resistance became more obdurate than the last.  Fewer and fewer fighters were reportedly throwing down their arms, choosing instead to fight to the death, prompting Makobé in turn to deepen the blackouts.

The knot of officials clustered about the general burst into laughter once more at an unheard follow-up to the earlier joke.  The reconstitution of the Martial Union would restore many of those sycophants to their places in Areal society, returning entire governments-in-exile to the surface after months in space.  In their eyes, the general’s accomplishment could not be underrated, and so it was foreseen by those exiled to Suffolk that to curry favor with Makobé would mean a strengthening of their position in the New Areal Order.

            To Makobé’s left stood another officer, perhaps the representative of that coming social order.  He wore the same gleaming three stars as the general, but by his navy-blue uniform was an admiral of the Space Forces.  Where following the decapitation strike on California Makobé had effectively found himself the most senior officer among the Peacekeeping Ground Forces, Admiral Huang was not only the most senior officer of the Space Forces, but he was also the most senior officer across all of the Peacekeeping Forces.  Following the destruction of Combined Operations Headquarters in California, the conduct of the war fell largely to Admiral Huang and the sizable command apparatus of Fleet Forces Command on Suffolk; even following the restoration of Combined Operations Headquarters in Berlin, it was readily acknowledged that the conduct of the war beyond the Terresphere would be directed by Fleet Forces Command.  Within his province of command, the admiral’s authority was absolute, one derived as much from his rank and office, as from the deep connections he and his family enjoyed as a part of the Areal elite.  His status had saved Mars from total catastrophe as much as Makobé’s might have initiated it.

            The same could be said for the war in space.  Huang and his staff had devised their Triple Thirty Plan, perhaps the only hope remaining for a speedy victory.  It demanded a rigid schedule of major operational successes every thirty days for three cycles, after which the plan devolved into a more complicated timeline—which was in part the reason for today’s assembly.  Makobé’s triumph only added to the significance of the moment, giving Huang and his admirals a tangible marker of success against the scheduled successes of their plan.  The last such “success” had come only five days prior when Vice Admiral Mudahar, commanding two cruiser squadrons, departed on a brachistochrone trajectory meant to slingshot the fleet around the leading edge of Jupiter’s orbit.  This would place the warships on a counter-orbital intercept of Saturn and its moon Titan on the far side of Jupiter.  But this “success” had been conducted in secret, screened by the mass deployment of relief convoys from Suffolk to the Transmartial stations at Ceres, Pallas, and Juno.  Their deployment was meant to draw the enemy’s gaze away from Mudahar and his fleet.

            Mudahar would then proceed on his intended to mission to the Cronosphere, but not before making his presence known.  Positioned on the far side of Jupiter relative to Mars, and thus strategically placed between the Galilean moons and their forces on and around Titan.  The operation was intended to draw the enemy’s attention once more, this time away from Mars and to Mudahar’s fleet, giving the next scheduled success the opportunity to initiate.  Proceeding on its course to Titan orbit, it would draw separatist eyes further into deep space.  As a whole it would represent an unparalleled operational success about which Huang and his subordinates would be able to boast, albeit weeks or months after-the-fact.

            Nelson felt his right eye twitch.

            In the hour before Mudahar’s closest approach to Jupiter, three cargo shuttles transmitting Callistolese commercial identities would deploy from the fleet, ostensibly fleeing the unexpected Confederal threat for the safety of the Galilean orbits and the icy surface of Callisto.  In time their crew and passengers would cross the gulfs of space between the inhabited moons, dispersing themselves among the populace—gathering intelligence on surface defenses.

            He drained his glass.

            One team in particular was tasked with seeking out the source of the enemy’s STO capabilities which had wreaked such devastation on the invasion fleet over Titan.  That team was headed by his former deputy, Alan, and constituted the other eleven members of the team he had worked with for the past three years.  Nelson’s relative seniority, combined with his ostensible subject-matter expertise in the field of human intelligence had rendered him a critical asset to the intelligence directorate, making his presence on such a mission “inappropriate.”  A promotion of sorts followed, but it might as well have been the crown of Elba for all that Nelson cared.  Joshua’s escape had earned him exile.

            “I hardly recognized you with that mop,” a voice said at his side.

            It belonged to a commissioned officer of the Peacekeeping Forces, a lieutenant colonel by the double-diamond insignia on his shoulders, and a Dragoon by cardinal cord and riding boots he wore.  But rather than the cardinal beret of most Dragoons, his was a burnt orange terracotta—a particularly unique combination Nelson at once recognized.

            “Matt,” he breathed and extended a hand.  “It’s good to see you, my friend.”

            “You, too.”

            A handshake and embrace were followed by an order of drinks and the usual chatter of pleasantries.  Nelson explained his business on Mars and the situation with Joshua.

            “Nasty business, that,” Matt said, shaking his head.  “Is there any intention to follow up?”

            “I imagine there might be some, but the she-wolf isn’t sharing any of it with me,” he said of the Service Deputy Director.

            The skin around the other’s eyes tightened in response.  “I would be careful with her.  She’s not a pushover.”

            “It doesn’t matter now,” Nelson replied, gesturing towards the knot around Makobé.  “I’m now his Senior Intelligence Advisor.”

            Matt cocked an eyebrow.  “Makobé?”

            “Huang.”

            The bartender set their drinks on the bar.  They thanked him and each took a swing from their beer.

            “Let me ask you something,” Nelson said after a pause.  “What incentive might there be to prolonging the Martian conflict?”

            “You mean on the surface?”

            Nelson shook his head.  “Suppose someone made it off the surface.”

            Matt studied him a moment, considering what he was being told.  They had served together on Ganymede and later with the Chasseurs, but where Matt had gone the route of commissioning as an officer in special operations, Nelson had opted for a recruitment proposal from Wolf’s office.  Sometimes he wondered how differently things might have turned out if he had remained a Chasseur.

            “I don’t know,” Matt said after a long while.  He gave Nelson a skeptical look.  “You think it might have been orchestrated?”

            Nelson let his silence serve as a response.

            They both looked out towards Makobé.

            “To pursue the enemy?”

            Nelson nodded.  “To his final hiding place.

            The implications lay between them a long while, and this time it was Nelson who broke its silence.  “What are you doing here?”

            “I am,” Matt said, setting down his beer, “observing and advising on behalf of the Special Operations Directorate.”

            Nelson nodded.  Having himself been one, he understood the unique implications of retaining a Special Operations advisor.

            Matt shot the bartender a surreptitious look, judging the distance between them before continuing, “A detachment of Dragoons are on their way back from Sierra Juliet Lima Four.”

            That he would call them Dragoons and not Chasseurs spoke to the vexed nature of what Nelson was being told, to say nothing of their point-of-origin.  He thought on it a moment, considering potential options before settling on one.  “An escort.”

            The other gave a single nod and took a swig from his beer.  Nelson followed suit.

            “Mobile Strike Platforms.”

            Nelson frowned at the phrase.  It was in itself a generic designation, but there was something in the way his friend spoke those words that betrayed their greater significance.

            Matt looked again out towards the newly minted general.  “During the last world war,” he said, “there was a weapon used briefly but effectively, especially in Europe, but which was disbanded at Reykjavik.”

            And then Nelson understood.  He still did not recognize the designation Mobile Strike Platforms, but he now recognized the significance of what was at stake.  “From out there?”

            “That’s right,” Matt said.  He made of show of checking his watch.  “Did you know that the treaty expires in a few weeks?  Right around the same time I am expecting the detachment’s return.”

            “Are they effective?”

            “In combat?  Hard to know.”  Matt paused, turning something over in his mind.  “I have seen prototypes in action at Delos.  They look to be extremely capable, and they are apparently fairly easy to pilot.”

            “In zero gravity.”

            “That’s right.  But that’s the nature of this war,” Matt said, “extending the envelope of what is acceptable.”  He paused before adding, “They proved their effectiveness in Europe.”

            “They lost the war,” Nelson said starkly.

            Rather than recoiling or reacting to the assertion, as Nelson had expected, the other’s gaze deepened and bore into him.

            “My wife and daughter were killed when Laika hit California.”

            The tone was emotionless, a monotone which betrayed none of the emotional turmoil that lay there beneath the surface.

            “I’m sorry.”

            Matt remained impassive but for his right thumb rubbing mindlessly at the gold wedding band he still wore.  When he again spoke, it was only to say, “The treaty will expire.”

            Another burst of laughter from the crowd saved Nelson the need to respond, drawing both of their attention.  The laughter turned to cheers and finally applause as the images of Makobé were replaced by the view of the red planet—and three dark objects hovering between them, in sharp contrast with the rust and browns of the Martian landscape.  Those dark silhouettes were dotted with the blinking red and blue of running lights which spanned their length, identifying them as spaceships.  The glow of thrusters drew the three silhouettes closer to the station, presenting their starboard sides as though passing in review.

            They were the newer version of the Griffin-class strike cruiser, the experimental prewar warships intended to replace the aging fleet of antipiracy cruisers.  Like the original Griffin, these newer warships were likewise equipped with the highly advanced and highly secret Nova primary thrusters.  This gave them an advantage in speed over the enemy, first demonstrated in the record-breaking passage of the Earth Expeditionary Force to Titan in a mere fifteen months.  The current model of thruster, the Nova V, was reputedly more powerful than the last.

            An amplified voice came over the speakers imbedded in the walls and ceiling of the auditorium.  “On behalf of Fleet Forces Command, we welcome you all.”  There was another round of applause, as enthusiastic as the last, and when it settled, all eyes had shifted to the raised dais to the right of where the live images of the warships seemingly hovering before them.  Standing on the dais was the rotund figure of Vice Admiral Drommel, Huang’s immediate deputy.  With his American drawl, he continued, “We are pleased to present to you all the Avenger-class strike cruiser.”  Another round of applause.  “These warships are the first of over one hundred planned cruisers to be employed in the ongoing conflicts in Transmartial, Jovian, and Saturnine space, taking the war to the enemy.”

            Drommel went on to describe the new weapon systems which had been specifically developed for the new cruisers, emphasizing the modularity of the design over older, more conventional warships.  The cruisers were to be deployed in squadrons numbering six to eight, comprising the escort and support elements for a division of two assault carriers.  Drommel described the carriers as being designed in conjunction with the Avenger, highly versatile warship capable of acting in both the role of spacecraft carrier and troop landing craft.  That final point peaked both of their attention, but rather than expand on the topic, Drommel returned to the specifics of the Avenger-class—and in due course to praise for the Huang Group Shipyards, which had been entrusted with the construction of this new fleet.

            Matt leaned towards Nelson and asked, “Where are the carriers?”

            Nelson sighed.  Three had been under construction on the Martian surface when the insurrection began, but those had been destroyed in the fighting.  The others…

            “Earth.”


Continues on the Oceanfront.

Part of 2100 CE.

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