Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tactics of Delay, Pt. 14. Online Serial. Louis Shalako.

Louis Shalako

The planet was interesting in the political sense.

There was no single planetary government, just local governments in the larger, more organized towns. Outside of that, there were company properties, where their own rules and regs held sway, and then there was private property. This was where the adage that a man’s home was his castle held sway in every practical sense. Everything else was wide open, public land and first-come, first-served, assuming some covenant with the natives. They always had to be taken into account. The original treaties, for there were many tribes, dated back hundreds of years to the era of first contact and initial exploration. One might have expected problems, but there was plenty of room for everyone. The really bad eggs didn’t last very long when virtually every adult, human or Denebi, was armed and prepared to use it…more than one real asshole, grossly over-estimating his importance in the world, had ended up in a shallow grave in the hills. Assuming enough backstory, your neighbours just accepted that so-and-so was no longer around.

Not too many questions would be asked once the best man, or woman, had clearly won.

As for the Denebians, they seemed to accept new plants and animals almost as a matter of course. The ethics of all of that sort of thing was so far out of her field as to be almost incomprehensible. With invasive species and attempts to develop products for export, there was always going to be a cost, some real hard trade-offs between the old and the new.

It was one hell of a planet, but she liked it just fine so far.

Having tapped into the closed-circuit camera system in public areas and in the larger municipal buildings in Deneb City, her command team was watching as the Unfriendlies took control of the place.

These were augmented by the views from the Confederation’s own cameras and the pickups on individual fire-team members. The satellite was always watching, but these were close-ups, street-scenes, and interior shots.

Their lightly armoured patrol vehicles were similar to Confederation vehicles, corresponding to a similar purpose. The soldiers seemed disciplined, with small deployments at major intersections.

It was a display as much as anything, as they checked papers and stickers, plates and vehicle registrations…we have the power now was the obvious message.

They were in the main public square, and they were out in front of city hall and the police station. Their actions seemed calm and unhurried, the facial expressions unreadable from long distance. They were just blobs in vaguely humanoid form, moving about in a dry and dusty urban landscape. On the edge of the desert, there were even fifteen or twenty-metre palm trees up and down the main boulevards. That must have taken some real money.

A small detachment entered each building, and there were cameras watching inside. They were able to watch the transition from one government to the next. If it could be stated in those terms.

So far, it seemed a bloodless transition. So far, no one had been crazy enough to resist.

Other detachments proceeded by vehicle to the outlying parts of Deneb City. They were setting up roadblocks on all major streets and roads, some of which petered out into tracks leading into the hills. They were blocking the two major highways and the short road leading south out of the city towards the spaceport. Highway 17 proceeded northeast about twenty kilometres before turning north, and Highway 3 originated and continued on from there. It was an obvious roadblock, a classic choke-point in anyone’s military handbook. There was an Unfriendly platoon there, with their vehicles and some heavy machine guns. The airwaves were heavy with coded traffic.

The rioting, more of a demonstration, had faded as quickly as it had broken out. A few minor injuries were being reported. Again, the reporting was surprisingly objective. A dozen people had gotten themselves arrested, and these were being held in civilian police headquarters. The Unfriendlies were being nice, for the moment. Most of the grain trucks had made it out of the city, and the first of them had already made it to the junction, all of it on paved roads, twenty-five kilometres north on Highway 17. There they were turning left and heading north, ultimate destination Ryanville, and all according to plan.

The vehicles, fully automatic, had been loaded by robotic machinery. They had the usual cameras and sensors linked by civilian satellite to an autonomous but supervised control program. They were a couple of kilometres out from Force H’s position, under Captain Herzon.

Sooner or later, the Unfriendlies must realize what had happened—they were already patrolling the industrial sectors, which included milling and storage facilities for grain, as well as meat-packers, food processing operations and a couple of small breweries. The planet had its own favourite soft drink, the sticky black fluid a clone of some old and familiar cola standby. The city had all the usual industrial plants necessary to support the planetary population. (Milo was a separate case, largely self-sufficient in that it had direct imports and its own industrial base.) The last few grain trucks had been held back at the facility, once the enemy got moving properly.

They’d shut down the control system, but all her trucks had been pre-programmed. The enemy had used bulldozers to stop the last two or three machines, which, upon hitting or being hit by such an obstruction, had promptly shut down. The Unfriendlies must shut the civilian satellite and the phone system down…sooner or later. This alone would cause great disruption, which was one reason not to do it except as a last resort.

The enemy would have their own basic plan.

They would stick to it as long as it seemed to be working for them. They must have something in mind, no matter how crude or how cynical, to win the hearts and minds of at least some of the people…they needed cooperation above all else, and you couldn’t just massacre everyone. Even the Unfriendlies knew that.

The Unfriendlies were just as prone, or prey, to guesswork as she was—something to bear in mind.

Other cameras, deployed by their fire-teams on rooftops and heights surrounding the city showed a pair of helicopters, military, circuiting the city, equipped with missiles, guns and other light weapons. It was a show of force for the local population. The helos hadn’t gone much more than a couple of kilometres out from the city perimeter. They hadn’t landed anywhere except the port and the city centre, where, presumably, senior officers would be quartered. The enemy would have a headquarters, just as she did. A juicy target—at the risk of sacrificing Team Three. The Unfriendlies might be putting out some bait, but then so had the Confederation.

It was important to shoot first and shoot accurately—bearing in mind the enemy would shoot back, perhaps just as accurately. 

With luck and a bit of help, they might get a good, solid location on the enemy HQ. So far, one big corporate building in particular had been reported, and it certainly seemed the most likely, but such juicy targets needed lots of confirmation. The heavy stone-faced walls, surrounded by other buildings, all full of civilians, office buildings and tall apartment buildings, would feel so much more secure than the thin walls of a ship out on the vast expanse of the spaceport.

Wherever the enemy was, they would employ similar trains of thought, and most likely such a building would be extremely attractive from that point of view. Dona only had so many missiles. Every single one had to count. The worst possible outcome would be for a Confederation missile to hit a civilian building full of people and no Unfriendlies in residence. It was a matter of importance not to do that.

Unfortunately, all of their sources so far were civilians, enthusiastic and almost ecstatic at the thought of a missile strike…but civilians nevertheless.

This was always going to be problematical.

Not heavily-armoured gunships, the helos could nevertheless be mounted with quite a variety of battlefield weapons systems according to their intel books.

A study of the literature on that particular model, small and easily disassembled for transport, indicated the craft would be able to reach Roussef, with a short loiter period of about forty statute minutes. With a pilot and co-pilot, they could carry six to eight troops, still with a small weapons-load of its own. Heavily-laden the range was much less. That’s not to say they wouldn’t or couldn’t be used for hit-and-run raids…that was for sure. Only two had been seen. How many they might have still crated or under assembly, was another unknown. In addition to the spaceport, there were civilian and commercial operations across the field at the airport. All sorts of big loads had been taken out of the belly of the big transports. They were crated and tarped and there was no real way to know what was actually in there. There were a couple of dozen civilian craft available to the enemy, perhaps more if they got desperate enough to grab pure sporting and recreational models. These were being guarded, staked out in the open air, but otherwise left alone.

Anything could be going on inside of those hangars.

So far, they hadn’t scouted very far to the north of the city, in the direction of their eventual attack. They were aware of, or must suspect that teams equipped with Barkers or other anti-aircraft capability were out there. It was even possible that the helos were simply trying to draw fire. Her people in the city were under strict orders not to take such bait, no matter how tempting. There would be time enough for that when the enemy actually began to move, which one would assume they must at some point. Individual units were aware of their own particular time-lines.

Still, there would always be temptation.

The whole point of the exercise was to take control of the planet—and until all Confederation forces had been eliminated or they had formally surrendered, that would always be in question.

There were already signs that an attack was being prepared.

As the day wore on, reports came in from civilians, and much shorter messages from observers with the fire-teams. These confirmed what the civvies were saying.

Having spent two and a half days in unloading and prepping their weapons and vehicles, the Unfriendlies were forming up in columns of armoured vehicles, weapons-vehicles, transports and scout vehicles.

The most impressive were the medium tanks of the Joshua type.

She had a funny feeling that those were pointed right at her.

Dawn was breaking, and there seemed to be an awful lot of activity down there.

Troops milled around, sergeants and corporals mustered their sections and officers stood in small clumps, waiting for last-minute instructions and briefing on their respective missions.

The trooper beside her spoke.

“Hmn. It won’t be long now, Colonel Graham.” She gave the Colonel a look. “Why haven’t they cut off the phone system? That’s kind of interesting.”

“Ah. But they want us to know they’re coming—what with all that overwhelming force and all.”

The enemy could monitor all kinds of conversations, listen to what the civilians were saying, what they were telling the Confederation, thereby knowing what the Confederation knew, (or might think they knew), and even have their own agents plant information that might not be strictly accurate. They would let it run and begin building a list of civilian names—names that would no doubt receive a nasty-gram from the Unfriendlies at some point, possibly even a home visit, and in some cases, an arrest and detainment. The enemy would be recording everything.

There was no such thing as the right to privacy, or civil and human rights under the Unfriendlies.

They had tried to tell more than one civilian source exactly that, unfortunately it was like they just didn’t get it.

Maybe they just didn’t care. Didn’t think it would ever apply to them—it was cold, it was hard, it was analytical.

It was also true—too true.

Now was the time—

“People are risking a lot to help us, and I want you all to understand that.”

“Yes, Colonel Graham.”

The trooper bit her lip and nodded. It made a lot of sense, and it was like a murmur going through the room.

The room was very quiet, as all eyes on shift studied the situation.

(End of part fourteen.)

Previous Episodes.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six.
Part Seven.
Part Eight.
Part Nine.
Part Ten.
Part Eleven.
Part Twelve.


Image One. Denebola-Seven Chamber of Commerce.
Image Two. Confederation Public Communications Office.
Image Three. CPCO.
Image Four. Collection of Louis Shalako.
Image Five. CPCO.

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Thank you for reading.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Real Science Behind Louis Shalako's Tactics of Delay.

Louis Shalako

The real science behind my new novel and online serial, Tactics of Delay, is interesting, and yet I can only put so much info-dump into a military science fiction novel, which is a genre already tending in that direction. Quite frankly, it happens or it’s just too vague, with nothing scientific at all on which to hang the reader’s suspension of disbelief.

(This is why they always show an engine room, even though it’s just a bunch of lights on a panel and a dull hum in the background, with people standing around talking technical mumbo-jumbo. It gives readers or viewers something to relate to which has some familiarity in their everyday life.)

There’s a great deal of information to be put across, only so much of which can be conveyed by action, or exposition in dialogue. In a novel, I can’t just show them a picture or two and move on.

Even in this little blog post, I can only scratch the surface.

Explaining things in a military briefing, or working it in, bit by bit, paragraph by paragraph, as the story goes along, has its limitations.

You can only put so much in a ‘bit’, right? It is, by definition, just a tiny little bit of information mentioned in passing.

One of the technologies involves ‘tight-beam’ communications. This involves data encoded in a very short, relatively high-powered laser pulse. You don’t want the enemy to catch that, even if they can’t decode it. It is a piece of ‘predictive’ information. It can be analyzed, compared to other such bits of data, and, extrapolated into the future, it can give you away to predictive technologies. It’s fired at a receiver which for the sake of discussion is very much like a McDonald’s drinking straw with a sensor or pickup at the bottom of the tube. The transmitter is equally directional. You don’t want that signal going anywhere else but at your target. Assuming ship-to-ship or planet-to-planet communications, the signal is sent from one moving target to another moving target at vast distances. As an example, at billions of miles, a signal sent at noon from one location would be intercepted by another moving target at six o’clock that evening. This is ‘transit time’ at high-planetary/low-stellar distances. This requires predictive mathematics of the highest order. It requires perfect synchronization of the chronometers aboard both ships or on both planets. You have to know when and where the other guy is going to be. It also requires some scheduled interval for communications, in other words such long-distance communications would be planned ahead of time.

Considering the small size of the receiver tube, the shortness of the burst and the coding of the signal, such communication would be fairly secure from outside interception. This is simply unnecessary, even undesirable for civilian ships operating in peacetime, but utterly vital for war-craft, whose movements would be confidential, perhaps even in peacetime.

That depends on the current diplomatic situation. More on ‘soft science’ below.

If two ships were in close proximity, other methods of communication would be used minute by minute, including good old fashioned low-powered radio, or even flashing lights using something very much like Morse code. It doesn’t have to be in the visible spectrum, and the systems would be electronic. If you’re close enough, you can look out the window and wave at the other guy.

One of the things that sets space opera apart from ‘proper’ science-fiction is of course Faster than Light Travel, (FTL).

The general consensus among scientists is that FTL is, and always will be impossible.

This makes life a little more interesting for writers of science-fiction and space opera.

Readers love FTL, and that’s a consideration too. However, Chinese scientists have recently ‘transported’ a particle from Earth into Low Earth Orbit, and quantum science is advancing. 

What we once thought to be an immutable truth may turn out to be mistaken after all.

So that’s all I got to say on that subject.

Okay, somewhere in the story, I mention that Denebola-Seven has an orbit that is a bit egg-shaped. This is by no means impossible if one imagines a massive planet in an outer orbit, one that is going at such a speed that the two planets are in conjunction for long periods. 

Massive Planet-B will always be pulling Deneb-Seven outwards, even as both free-fall around the star. This only takes two bodies into consideration, and there may be others, including a couple of small moons of the planet itself. As they go around the planet, they will exert a force. This alone makes an orbit wobble. In this particular case, the narrow end of the orbit lies closest to the star Deneb. I also think this sort of orbit would be periodic. This is certainly true in geologic or systemic time-scales. That other planet would be unlikely to match speeds for all of eternity, for other bodies are also acting on it. Simply put, all orbits decay over time.

This is what we call 'entropy', the tendency for disorder to accumulate.

The fact is that all orbits wobble to some extent, with every single body in the system affecting every other body in the system to some degree, however great or small, depending on mass, velocity and orbital distance. Once the outer, more massive body had caught up to and passed Deneb-Seven, the orbit would revert to what would be considered a more ‘normal’ orbit.

Not unexpectedly, the troops are using Virtual Reality headsets and goggs, the Confederation has a surveillance satellite and both sides have battlefield drone aircraft. They have armoured vehicles, but it’s not steel armour anymore—it’s a tungsten-ceramic of the author’s own invention…(snork). And of course it’s sloped at the proper 60-degrees.

There are the softer sciences. While the latest in technology would undoubtedly be used in any conflict involving the wealthy, Home Worlds, with tens of billions in population in some cases, out on the fringes of human expansion, the planet Denebola-Seven has barely a million inhabitants. That’s not much of a tax base, and so they have contracted with The Organization, a private mercenary outfit, also associated with the Confederation, (a member planet in their own right). The Confederation is a political entity. But on such a planet, robotic soldiers, tanks, large numbers of ships and aircraft, massive space-based actions are insupportable because it all has to be paid for.

(I’ve been wracking my brains for a name, for the planet or group of planets where the Organization stems from, but really haven’t come up with anything good. Call it an intra-stellar commercial entity of mysterious origin, one with offices on fifty planets, and we'll leave it at that.)

If war is always a gamble, the gambler with the biggest wallet has a distinct advantage.

This is true because they can afford to take losses, for longer than their opponent. With their ten-to-one advantage in manpower and equipment, the Unfriendlies fit into this category. This is because the stakes in any game are only so big, this is, oddly enough, by mutual agreement  between warring parties. 

There is much soft science here.

They call it gambling because there is nothing guaranteed and you can always play so badly as to lose…the real skill lies in starting off with a smaller wallet, playing very well for as long as it takes, and then going home with some of that other guy’s money.

What’s interesting about this story is that the participants only have so much information.

They don’t always know everything that’s going on, and yet they’re facing, and coping with, information overload.

There will always be the battle for the hearts and minds of the people. This is one battle the Unfriendlies probably can’t win and they know it—more soft science.

As far as genetically-engineered super troops, humanity is expanding into the stars, money is hard enough to come by at the best of times, and resources are spread thin enough that it really isn’t necessary. A book is only so long and chemical, biological and nuclear warfare are mentioned only in passing, but then, they are hardly necessary considering the small size of the forces involved.

The Organization relies on training, and Confederation troops are some of the best-educated in the Galaxy.


Oh, look, I’ve got all these books on Kobo. (Sorry. Almost forgot the plug.) Some are science-fiction, then there’s mystery, fantasy, horror, a WW I memoir, all kinds of crazy stuff.

Thanks for reading.