...continued from part one here.
They came in, stopped at the regulation two metres from the desk and saluted. The captain moved around the side of the desk to take a chair behind the stolid figures encamped there.
“Sit down, please.”
Heart beating strongly in her chest, Graham took a seat in front of the desk with Lieutenant Aaron on her right.
They were looking at a genuine three-star general, the rugged old face with its pocked skin, jutting chin and broken nose recognizable anywhere. Two colonels, a brigadier and a couple of civilians flanked him on each side.
General Curtis Renaldo spoke.
“First of all, congratulations. Captain Graham, you’re now brevetted to Lieutenant-Colonel. Temporarily, for the duration. Aaron, congratulations as well. You’ll be pleased to know that you are now a Captain. That’s a proper promotion, with no going back.” If that didn’t shove a ramrod up your ass, nothing would. “Assuming you don’t screw up. Your assignment is a tough one. Read and review everything provided. Your transport leaves in about fourteen hours. We’re fairly well-stocked here. Let us know in good time if there’s anything special you need. Space is limited. We’re sending along a company of experienced troops. That takes up about half of the available space.”
“What is our mission?”
She and Aaron were already scanning the headings at least, on the files that had just been input into their com units.
Looking up from his own display, the general was nodding.
“Yes. Your mission is to maintain a political and military presence on the planet Deneb-Seven. You’ll have limited forces at your disposal. The worst part is that the Unfriendlies are reinforcing. That’s straight from Intelligence.”
Aaron nudged Graham with his elbow, holding his screen down low but in front where Dona could get a quick look.
“Their obvious goal is to secure the planet for their clients. Assuming the clients can actually pay the bill. Otherwise they own it by default, relying on the fact that possession is nine-tenths of the law in any eventual peace settlement. We’d like to prevent that. Without a clear victory, such claims are always disputed. The fact that resistance was made carries some weight in negotiations. The Mittwanis, as well as the colonists, have signed agreements in place for their defense and we must honour those commitments or our reputation suffers.”
It would also be helpful if they won.
Graham was listening and skimming data.
Holy. They had been given some of the highest security clearances she’d ever seen, including one or two she’d never heard of.
“As a student of history, Colonel Graham, you will perhaps understand the significance when I tell you that we have intelligence of an ultra nature.”
Graham’s mouth opened and closed as Captain Aaron, still marveling, listened intently although perhaps not catching the allusion.
“That’s right. We’ve cracked their codes. At least some of it.” The general leaned back, folding his hands across an ample but probably rock-hard belly. “It might very well be a trick. And even if it isn’t, logic dictates that we must be rather selective in how we use that sort of information.”
She stared into those hard, tired eyes.
“Unfortunately, you will be on the ground. There will be minimal guidance, or even contact with Fleet or Command. We’re just too far away. Our forces—especially ships, are limited. Ultimately, the decisions must be yours. Read those notes carefully, please.”
“Yes, sir.” It was right out of the book, but it was also true.
If true, intel from coded enemy transmissions might be priceless.
“There are certain resources on Deneb. The Unfriendlies have dispatched a brigade group, upwards of six thousand troops. Straight from Shiloh. All fucking farm-kids, green as grass. With the political and economic situation on the home world, they’re probably glad for the foreign exchange. Judging by the order of battle, these are mostly garrison troops. There is a regiment of Guards. Considering your own forces, they’re the ones most likely to present you with problems.”
Guards units were very much shock troops, better trained, better equipped and heavily indoctrinated with Unfriendly ideology. Run-of-the-mill troops were expected to hold the ground others had taken for them. Discipline was harsh and unimaginative, the penalties severe.
With such raw material, perhaps that was inevitable. On Shiloh, leadership was hereditary, scions of old families supplying the military schools with an endless stream of those seeking fame, fortune and glory for their houses.
It also made it very difficult for a more natural talent to rise. That wasn’t exactly her problem here today, was it—
“All right. If you have any questions, contact Captain Bannister here.”
The captain raised his hand and piped up.
“My number is on the top of your brief. If there’s anything, anything you need to know, any particular piece of equipment that you want, any person that you want, I will do what it takes to get it to you if possible.”
“Are there any questions?”
As senior officer, Graham glanced at Aaron. She wasn’t in shock, exactly. She’d already sort of known.
But she really couldn’t think of anything.
“No, sir—not yet, anyways. We’ll need a few minutes on that one.”
The general laughed and the others nodded along. She couldn’t help but smile herself.
Captain Aaron wasn’t intimidated by all the senior officers, and that was usually a pretty good sign. The enemy would be just as tough—and a lot more dangerous.
“Very well. Fair enough. Good luck to you—and look after yourselves.”
They were dismissed.
They’d been allocated a barren office cubicle for the few short hours they had before departure.
There were desks and notepads, databank units and secure phones, half-decent chairs, even a coffee-maker.
“Wow.” The newly-minted Captain Paul Aaron was a bit overwhelmed.
There was the question of time, a bad case of information overload, plus the fact that they had some tough choices to make.
“Yes. Let’s be smart here. All of those other candidates—they were in there for something. And plenty more are lining up at fifteen-minute intervals. There’s a pretty small pool of available personnel here on base. We’d better start grabbing some names.”
“Shit. Yes, Colonel.”
“Okay. We have a reconnaissance company. Captain Herzon commanding. We’ll get in touch with him first. Get him down here. Tell him that’s an order, and I want to speak to his adjutant as well.”
Aaron found the proper file.
“Yes, sir, ah, ma’am.” Aaron might have been in shock too. “They have combat experience, and they are relatively up to strength. The file says they’re still waiting for replacements, some specialists. Also including a couple of sergeants. Maybe we can help them with that. Take a look at this guy here, Colonel.”
Her display blipped and a name and a face came up.
Graham skimmed the extensive file quickly, then grinned ruefully.
“Okay. Let’s see if he wants to go—if he will have us.” This was no joke. “The other thing is that we’ll be breaking up into smaller formations. The more experience, the better. The more training, the better.”
Gunnery sergeants often had a long resume and this one was no exception. They could pick and choose where others might be a bit more desperate for employment. Uninterested or even unfit for command, for whatever reason, these guys led from the front and by example.
In a mercenary organization, any kind of service was strictly voluntary. People weren’t drafted so much as asked, and one could always refuse. Very few questions would be asked.
However, once signed on, they were committed and it was best for all concerned to remember that.
Ultimately, it all came down to blood and treasure. You had signed a contract, and you lived or died by it.
My blood, your treasure…
There was always the next of kin, or in the odd case, some unknowing charity somewhere.
She’d thought of that one herself.
“Okay. So what about materiel?”
“Make the call. Calls. Talk to the people. I’m just looking at that now.”
With only limited space on the transport, their shopping list would have to be short. The recon company had their own weapons and vehicles, but there was room for a few more.
Without knowing the exact composition of the enemy force or how they might be equipped, it was purely a guessing game. They decided on a simple mix of light and heavy weapons, all mobile. There would be a limited number of reloads for the big stuff, but plenty of ammunition for personal weapons.
Comparing it to the list of materiel on Deneb, it looked like a rational set-up. The troops would have no problems in operating the equipment. The troops on the ground had some urgent needs and they’d squeeze in whatever additional materiel they could. Considering the small numbers, two or three tonnes of real luxury goods might do a lot for morale—
Unfriendly Guards units could be either infantry or armoured, air or space-borne assault, alpine, marine troops and the like. This one was armoured, but nothing could be confirmed until they saw the whites of their eyes—the usual story with military intel.
There were friendly troops on the ground. With full information on their status, they could fill in some gaps and enhance their capabilities with some carefully-chosen weapons systems.
The planet basically fed itself, although it was as dependent as any other on imported luxuries. The troops were essentially no different. The cooks would use local suppliers for mess, while the troops would have hard rations when away from base. Some of the standard-issue rations were better appreciated than others—the spaghetti was one thing, the so-called beef stew quite another.
Anything claiming to be fish was usually an abomination and everyone knew it. One taste was usually enough.
There were only so many options, and there were other vital stores that had to go aboard ship.
The ship had an emergency overload capacity of plus ten percent, and they were using up some of that but not all. The load included about a half a tonne of freshly-printed money.
Paper and plastic, coins and a long string of pre-deposit codes. This was a big enough headache in itself.
Wars ran on money, and that was just the truth.
In the end, they had simply run out of time. They still barely knew each other.
(End of excerpt.)
Okay, so I mentioned that I’m having trouble finding the motivation. Also, fuck traditional publishing.
They can go to hell.
The image is a free download and you can get it here.
Here are a few Louis Shalako books and stories on Smashwords.
Thank you for reading.