Author Topic: Crisis (Episode III: Contact)  (Read 991 times)

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Offline Theodidactus

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Crisis (Episode III: Contact)
« on: October 28, 2014, 12:09:30 PM »
At dawn the Concordant's starfighters tore holes in the mountain. They came screaming from the upper atmosphere with a rage that was no doubt considered righteous to some. Lasers the width of a human arm drove terawatts of energy into primeval granite, and the mountainside burned and then ran like melted butter. What little survived the attack was Isaac's business for the day.

He'd fallen from the sky shortly afterward, in a valley judged to be far enough from the blast to support human life. A few primitive monasteries dotted the far edge, opposite the blistering heat and the rapidly moving dust cloud emanating from the target site. There'd be nothing living for kilometers of barren rock...but the crude brick tunnels that ran through La Rioja's foothills would still be full of robots and mercenaries, hundreds upon hundreds of them, if the briefing had been right. The paltry three dozen under his command were relying strictly on surprise. At present, it seemed to have worked.

Critical battles of the second phase of the Maidensongi mining wars; known out of the Sol System as the Maidensongi Reconquista, January-March 2151

Immediately after his men had cleared the pod he'd fired upon a knot of enemies grouped around the nearest tunnel entrance. The orders were clear: everyone encountered in or near the tunnels would be considered hostile. Patel's mercenaries wore no uniforms, and what few innocent friars and ignorant laity remained would have been driven deep underground or rounded up as hostages to be killed or deported. Patel imagined it was their world now, but that actually made things easier for Isaac. No hesitation; a neon rocket blasted his enemies apart, while preserving (and polishing) the brickwork around the tunnel entrance. Furious autolaser fire finished the rest of the guards. The tunnel was clear.

Once the team cleared the tunnel entrance, and activated night-lights, things became a bit more complicated. The briefing from Major Prescott had been short and sketchy as hell: the captured tunnels below La Rioja were largely unmappable, the work of thousands of undirected novices over decades and decades of independent rule. they'd been built to hold humans and keep fresh air in and hot weather out. That was all. Now that they'd accessed the tunnels the team was to split in three and fan out, dropping QSET-buoys every thirty feet.  One team would divide up and guard the tunnels they'd captured. The moment Patel's mercenaries fled the stronghold, these tunnels would turn into a slaughterhouse. No quarter was expected, or would be given, until the unit commander of the occupation force gave the order to surrender. The line of QSET's would map the stronghold and maintain communication with the surface.

At the first intersection Isaac's team split from the main body. His dozen took a subtly-sloping corridor running deep into the mountainside, where fresh, cool air pooled after spilling from O2 towers on the ridge above. They broke down door after door into empty cells replete with scattered books and spartan beds, before finally cracking into a chamber home to a body of Patel's finest: they hadn't had time to assemble or assume defensive positions. The firefight was over within a minute. No injury. No Quarter. The Concordant had given Patel ample time to surrender, to save face and withdraw. the most powerful man in explored space had practically begged a this ragtag group of mercenaries and mining barons on bended knee, to withdraw before more innocent lives were lost. They hadn't listened. If the operations commander aboard the Crown Imperium was correct in his preliminary estimation, The transatmospheric bombardment this morning would claim between 5,000 and 10,000 innocent lives. Isaac understood that the religion of the men he'd been sent to defend was rather leery of vengeance, but Isaac was neither religious nor merciful, and considered righteous vengeance to be a powerful motivator. This day, he would make sure Patel paid.

Isaac picked his way through the blasted remains of the common room. The walls were adorned with icons of obscure saints now marred by laser burns and bloodstains. The floor was littered with enemy bodies, perhaps twenty, there was no time to count. There were many doors leading out, each a subtle danger in its own right. Behind any of them could be a squad of well-prepared assault troops armed with enough firepower to bring half the mountain down. Patel's mercenaries would not remained surprised for much longer.

The team took what Isaac estimated to be the most important door, some ornate piece of Parquetry that had probably taken a master craftsman a year to build, smashed to pieces in seconds by the butt of a battering ram. It had been locked, and Isaac had no time. The hall beyond echoed with the sounds of battle from somewhere deeper in the stronghold, likely the other detachment of his own men who'd somehow gotten farther ahead.
he'd hardly spoken since breaching the stronghold, and considered calling out for a status report. He'd reached for his communicator only to see the flash of movement from a a nearby hallway; an enemy taking up a position behind barrel vault tress...likely one of many.
he cried out a warning but it was far too late. From somewhere down the shadowy hall a rifle flared forth invisible death, made visible only on contact with a fellow marine to Isaac's right. Fire engulfed his shoulder and face. There'd be no saving him. He screamed in pain and quickly fell silent, and another firefight followed.

Isaac's men were clustered tightly at one end of the hallway, an easy target for even an ill-trained grenadier. Half assumed cover behind a doorframe, the other half moved into an adjoining room, likely a cafeteria, in hopes of exiting another door and flanking the mercenaries down the hall.

Laser fire increased in intensity...there were many of them, perhaps a score or more. Isaac had far superior men, but if they'd made contact with the main body they were dead without backup. From his defensive position Isaac sent a distress call through the relay of QSET's running throughout the stronghold.

"Paris 1 calling Paris 2, we've made contact with hostiles, perhaps 20, one knight down. repeat one knight down. We are taking heavy fire. Request you move from your position to reinforce."

"copy" came the only reply. Position was irrelevant and impossible to relay. The operations computers attached to each marine would calculate the most efficient path as mapped out by QSET. Help was already on the way.

Isaac called for covering fire and moved from the doorframe to an alcove halfway down the hall, originally reserved for a tapestry, now an empty frame after the first wave of plunderers had come through eight months ago. His position afforded only slight advantage, but slight was everything in a situation like this. From his new station he saw another of his men burned alive by laser fire from another least two shooters beyond. The situation was becoming untenable. Isaac fired back, and burned a hole clean through an enemy. The stronghold was dark and they were wearing night-visors. It was easy to kill men without faces.

"hostile contact!" Paris 2 called out through the communication network. They had enemies of their own. "estimate we've made contact with the main body." the sergeant at the other end said, "request paris 3 move to reinforce."
"This is captain Bento Isaac, Paris 3, move to reinforce paris 2, we'll hold out on our own."
"copy," Paris 3 replied, and then "hostile contact, hostile contact, at least 3 near the front entrance, supported by..."

A terrific roar blew through the halls of the stronghold, powerful enough to shake dust from the walls. Communication fell silent. QSET had been compromised. A powerful blast in just the right place would do the trick, but Patel's forces would have had to be damn lucky. Contact between the marine company would now be difficult. Contact with the surface would be impossible.

Isaac swore in low Monticellan, a language that had never before profaned the dark corridors of Maidensong. He let fly a volley of laser fire which bit into brickwork but left his enemies largely unscathed. Neither side opted for grenades. Even in a hallway this long and this wide, that was asking for a collapse or death by overpressure. He'd have to count on his men flanking the enemy force. If things got bad, he'd order his men to retreat...of course, he'd be stranded halfway down the hallway, wedged in a tapestry mount...a fine hill to die on, Isaac supposed.

He'd briefly let his rage overwhelm is better judgement, the next few minutes called for careful conservation of ammunition. He had batteries to spare but no time to reload. If he ran out of charges, he'd be gunned down even with covering fire.

Nothing happened for a very long time, the sounds of distant battle were indistinct and omnidirectional. It was impossible to tell what was happening in other parts of the stronghold. Heavy casualties were expected and necessary in any combat drop situation, especially one into uncharted installations, but the Major's plan had called for the numerically superior but poorly trained enemy combatants to be overwhelmed by marine companies entering many sides of the mountain simultaneously. Patel had adjusted faster than they expected: from the blasts and the sudden lack of contact, Isaac estimated they were dynamiting critical hallways, separating the marines and sealing all exits...a suicidal action calculated to cause as much damage to the landing parties as possible.

Enemy fire resumed, pointless but terrifying even to a combat trained marine. superheated brickwork exploded inches from his face and sprayed across his visor. An enemy screamed as a lucky shot tore through his arm. Another blast echoed through the hallways...and then...thank whatever man/god these Maidensongi prayed to, the second half of Isaac's squad smashed through a doorway opposite the enemy.

More shots rang out, and isaac gave the order to charge. In seconds his team had moved down the hall and were firing through the doorway of another room. The room beyond was a hexagonal and high, every wall and desk was covered with books, fires had started from errant shots and smoke was beginning to blow into the faces of the enemy. They'd picked a poor place for a last stand, and the door to the hallway beyond had already been locked and blocked with furniture...some patel higher up had ordered them to block passage to the bowels of the stronghold, leaving this team of twenty (oh hell, now probably 14) to die.

These were not stupid men. They quickly discovered their situation was hopeless. The squad commander called out in what sounded like chinese (but of course, Patel recruited all sorts) and his men immediately, obediently, dropped their guns and fell to their knees in the center of the room. This took discipline, fires were spreading.

Some long dormant command-loop in Isaac's brain took hold, and he gave the order to cease fire. his men entered the room, quickly kicking guns away into corners of the cavernous room. Isaac realized they'd reached the scriptorum. Maidensongi refugees had been unable to reconstruct the stronghold to anyone's satisfaction, but they all agreed that it's entrances converged on a massive room set aside for the hand-copying of holy books...more out of tradition than necessity. Isaac's enemies were kneeling on top of copies of Ecclesiastes and Macabees and Ephesians and whatever other books these Maidensongi considered holy. There was something poignant about that, but Isaac wasn't sure exactly what. His enemies had surrendered, an event the major had considered unlikely...both sides knew that the landing parties were not capable of taking prisoners: stray survivors in an enclosed space like this presented far too much of a liability. Until the Batallion commander of this mercenary unit gave the order to lay down arms, every enemy was to be killed.

For the first time in his career, Isaac felt the paralysis of command. Very soon now, he'd have to give the order to kill these men off. The operation demanded constant movement and unrelenting destruction. These soldiers represented the last holdout of a force that had slaughtered hundreds of thousands in the mad pursuit of exotic ores. They'd voluntarily stayed in spite of every warning and entreaty. They had to die.

Before he gave the order, he resolved to make one more attempt at communication with the surface. Perhaps the order for surrender had already been given. Patel could not possibly have anticipated the spacestrikes, the speed by which ground teams followed, the throughness by which they entered every known tunnel under the mountains, the training of the concordant's finest space marines...surprise could very easily have been enough to win the day.

"Paris units this is Paris 1, come in paris units."
No response.
"Paris units this is Paris 1, come in paris units."
Something registered on the other end
"...can't....command...sealed off, between two fallen archways....has made its way with surface."
the noise overwhelmed the signal. Isaac tried again.
"Paris units, Paris units, has the battalion commander surrendered?"
"I am the battalion commander." Said one of the Patel mercenaries sharply, in perfect English.
Isaac appraised the man: Patel's rank insignia were indecipherable, but his uniform did bear a blood-red ornament on the right-hand side which looked distinguished. The man looked like hell, his face ran with blood that mingled with spilled ink on his uniform. Somehow, in the scuffle, he'd upended one of the fluted glass inkstands. He did look like a man used to command. He also looked scared as hell.
Isaac thought quickly.
"Your commission." He said.
The man appeared confused, or hesitant. Isaac couldn't be sure.
"Patel would have given you a commission. It's...I don't's a piece of paper or a stillscreen or a chip of some kind. Something that affirms they paid you to lead this unit."
"I'm afraid that got left behind in the scuffle." the man said.
Another explosion rang out from somewhere in the stronghold beyond the barred door.
"We have orders to kill..."
"I expect you do." The mercenary interrupted. His men kneeled in perfect silence. "but if I'm telling the truth, offing me will only add to the slaughter. I'm out of contact with my men, but if we can re-establish...I can save many lives."
Isaac bent until his face was level with his enemy. He'd figured it out.  "Why would the battalion commander end up on this side of the door."
"It happened quickly." The man responded. he hadn't thought at all. No time to lie. "I moved my men to safety and stayed behind. I didn't think. Call it a sense of honor...or stupidity."
Isaac was torn. He turned away from the prisoners who should not have been taken, the kill order working its way slowly through his forebrain.
Isaac shouldered his rifle.
"Fireteams one and two, Take them to the surface," he ordered his squad, and sighed heavily "have the commander transmit the surrender order."
As the mercenary was brought to his feet, he spoke again.
"You have shown mercy."
"Or stupidity." Isaac replied.
"I am troubled that we have still not learned to tell them apart." said the mercenary as he was lead away.
« Last Edit: October 28, 2014, 12:45:54 PM by Theodidactus »
My Theodidactus, now I see that you are excessively simple of mind and more gullible than most. The Crystal Sphere you seek cannot be found in nature, look about you...wander the whole cosmos, and you will find nothing but the clear sweet breezes of the great ethereal ocean enclosed not by any bound


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