“The phone system is back up.”
“Send our little media package out. Now. Do it.”
Their media wunderkind and his pets, purely electronic spider-bots and yet with some kind of minds of their own, had put together a list, containing every known active telephone number and email address on the planet. They had the bandwidth capacity to snag thousands of devices at a time with a simple text message and a pair of video attachments. Labeled News Releases, Confederation Public Communications Office, people would open it, enough of them anyways.
They would tell two friends, and then they would tell two more friends. He’d done a pretty good job of it, although the music, some kind of Centaurian speed-metal, might leave a bit to be desired.
With a decent voice, he’d done the narration himself, and in some mad impulse, had done his best to imitate the rich, brown voice of a major news anchor. The short one was probably the best.
“Out-numbered ten to one, Confederation forces continue to successfully defend the planet Denebola-Seven from a dastardly and unprovoked invasion, composed of Unfriendly Forces…who are acting on behalf of the Mining Worlds and the Conglomerate.” There was a bit more, ending in a promise of more news as it developed.
Twenty-five words or less.
Upon review, it was quite funny, really—
“Sending.” His eyes engaged the camera pickup, sensing that she was involved.
Very much involved—
“It’s an honour, Colonel Graham.” He blushed, unable to help himself and of course she thought of McMurdo’s sick little video.
Enjoy your thoughts, young man.
There were an estimated half a million active devices on the planet. Not everyone had one of course, young children, old people, poor people, of which there were always going to be some; people in outlying districts didn’t have the cellular service and relied on other forms of communication. This included word of mouth, 12-volt hard-wired systems, (even some farm and ranch networks of old-fashioned barbed wire, which she had never even heard of before), and good, old short-wave and even citizen’s band radio. Antique technology it was, but soon enough, they would hear the news as well, although they might not have the benefit of video.
Her mouth opened.
He must be terribly confident, to just pop the picture up like that.
It was McMurdo, on the line again, and looking just as self-satisfied and arrogant as ever.
Backed into a corner, with nothing but blank walls behind her, she wavered.
Why am I sweating.
Damn him—why in the hell should I?
“Colonel Graham. The side that sits in its fortifications is beaten. Napoleon.” His mouth was still moving when she shut it off.
“Colonel Graham. Do you want to answer the call?”
“No. Tell him to go to hell. Tell him we will accept nothing less than their total and unconditional surrender, under the terms previously offered and then hang up on him.”
Another mad impulse—
But, no, I can’t say it.
You shall be first among my pet slugs.
“Right—” Trooper David, a tow-headed young man from Rigel Five, grinned from ear to ear. “Yeah, we can do that.”
After a double shift, eight hours in the hot-seat, Dona had found her new quarters. Another hotel room on the edge of another town. She’d called the doctor, wondering if he could do something for her persistent headache. She’d woken up in the middle of the so-called night, with the inkling that she would have a headache, and she’d been right. A few hours of fitful sleep later, it was still there, still there with a vengeance. Mild enough to begin with, it seemed to get worse as the day wore on, and three or four aspirins, with three more two hours later, didn’t even touch it.
“These will help.” A junior lieutenant, the doc was offering n-codeine and dimenhydrinate.
“It’s for nausea and motion sickness. You’ve trained with the goggs, obviously, yet in your previous work, you had little use for them except in the working-labs. You put them on, point out a few facts, let a few arrows roll across the scene of some dioramic battle somewhere, show the students what’s going on in a particular engagement. Then you take them off again. That’s nothing like wearing them for four or more hours at a time, multiple times a day.”
“Right.” Having washed down the proffered pills, a tiny white one and a larger light blue one with a glass of water, Dona just wished he’d stop talking long enough to go away. “What about…the troops.”
“Hmn. I’ve handled a few cases, but they’ve got the training. That weeds out most of the people who can’t handle it. After a while, the goggs become second nature. It’s a bit like sea-sickness in that regard. Most people do in fact get their sea-legs. When they get back to land, it takes a while, but they quickly get used to the transition. For the career sailor, the transition from sea to land only takes a few minutes and then they’re walking with their normal balance again. In only a few cases, the subject never gets used to it and then they have to find some other form of employment. It’s a good analogy. In a few cases, people have died on a long sea voyage—dehydration, sleep deprivation and even starvation if it goes on for long enough. That’s because they can’t get away from it.” The thing about VR was that the person could simply take them off, ride out the nausea and headaches, and they’d be right as rain in two or three days.
Goggs weren’t strictly necessary, not with all the boards in the typical Command Centre.
Dona let out one hell of a breath.
“Thank you, doctor.”
The young man put the pill bottles down on her bedside table.
“Other than that, for a woman of your age, you’re in excellent health. Honestly, Colonel. Don’t use the goggs any more than you have to. This four-hour shift thing is hard on people as well, although I understand you just did eight hours. My suggestion there—”
She waved him off, but doctors being what they were, he just grinned and nodded.
A woman of my age—I’m only thirty-eight.
What the fuck are you getting at?
She didn’t quite know what to think of that one, and her head was still splitting—
Her right eyeball hurt.
“…the thing there is to take eight off…more if you can do it. Also, there are the others to consider.” His thinking there was that it showed a lot of confidence in her people.
Her tone was a bit cool.
“I mean, if they’re all worried about you, they’re not going to be too focused on their jobs. Bad for morale. So it’s doctor’s orders. For the record. You’re driving yourself pretty hard. Very hard. I want you to take the next eight hours and have a sleep. A real good sleep, okay, Colonel? And on that note, I had best be going.”
As good as his word, his bag was repacked and he was at the door.
“That’s good advice, Colonel. If you can take it.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
Eight hours—eight hours, on my own and nothing to do but to sleep. And to think—
“If you would like, Dona, I could let them know in the command centre that you’re off for eight hours. I’ll tell them it is CO’s prerogative and that it’s a good idea for you to rest before things really get going.”
“Ah…very well.” Shit.
“I won’t say anything about you being sick, okay? Ah, why don’t I suggest that we’ll start rotating our people through the odd eight-hours off, starting at the top. Right?”
“Yes. Please be very careful in what you say.” But if she was going to be gone for eight hours, the crew had to be told something.
Doctor’s orders—sheer bliss, if she could only make herself do it.
The pill seemed to be working…her eyelids were very heavy all of a sudden.
What was in that other thing.
She really should have asked about that second pill. There was more to that one than just n-codeine.
On Paul’s suggestion, Vicky Chan, technically outranking him, had taken two Panthers, a half a dozen troopers and headed down to supervise the next big ambush. She was a Major, and the troops needed to see their senior officers up front once in a while. In some odd way, Vicky had sort of accepted that Paul was second in command, although in her case, nothing was ever phrased as an order. There was total respect, and that was for sure. Paul was a real gentleman.
Perhaps the fact that his name was on the plan along with Dona’s had something to do with it.
She was up on the big screen, broken off in mid-sentence.
She was reporting in, Paul was in the hot-seat and Dona just coming in from her enforced rest.
“Ah, Colonel. How are you feeling?”
“Better, thanks. The pills helped, they really did.” She was still a bit stiff in the joints, having gone into what amounted to a slight coma—it was like her hips just ached from all that sitting around.
This particular detachment was part of the original Confederation contingent, and a bit of a reunion for Vicky in some ways, as she’d served with them a few years before as company commander.
Paul nodded a greeting, waving at the designated coffee-getter, a young trooper on a low-priority board. He was already rising. Perhaps it was a kind of relief—better than just sitting there sometimes. These were, for the most part, young people, suffering through long periods of boredom punctuated by brief moments of real interest...
“So. What’s the situation?”
Vicky was there onscreen, under the scrim nets, with sandbags and a mass of dense brush in the background. Over her left shoulder, there was someone at another terminal, lips moving but unheard.
“Good morning, Colonel. We’ve been inspecting the defenses. We have a hole for every trooper, with good visibility and good protection. Everyone has at least one fall-back position and some have more than that. We have zigzag trenches running up and down. That all depends on how far up front they are. The automatic weapons are well off to the sides, a minimum of thirty metres from any manned position.”
“They’ll have to make it out through the woods. Their vehicles are hidden a minimum of five hundred metres from the base of the hill. We’re lucky. This close to Roussef, there are side-roads, connected ones, not just petering out into the bush. They’re rough but passable, and we have, ah, three civilian tow-trucks standing by just in case. Our own people are manning them. They’re sitting at likely trouble-spots. All of our own heavies have tow-chains. With all the trees, they’ll have a good chance of driving out. Of more concern is the road to Ryanville.” Essentially, Roussef was an hour or two—on foot.
There were any number of walking trails.
In an emergency.
“Roger that.” Dona looked at the board.
The enemy was about fifteen kilometres away, having paused while their artillery caught up.
As usual, there were drones in the air, and there was a trooper lining up a quick video for her to watch. This would be Sergeant Kelly and his ambush. Having blown a bridge and a culvert before and behind the second enemy assault column, they’d pretty much had their way with them. More hits, more dead people, more burning vehicles. By the time they got to Roussef, there’d be not too much left and McMurdo would have to send another.
“Very well. It’s up to you if you want to stay there, or withdraw to Benchville.” Still talking to Vicky, this was a small village on the road to Ryanville.
Twenty-six k from the main junction. Out of projected artillery range, but not enemy missile range, rather costly missiles which they appeared to be saving for their final offensive, arguably, this would be at Ryanville.
“If it’s all the same to you, Colonel, I’ll stick with the troops for the moment.”
“Roger that—and good hunting.”
“Don’t worry, Colonel. We’re going to kick some nasty butt down here, and that is about all I have to say on that subject.”
The young trooper leaned towards her.
“Sergeant Kelly says one Samson, two scout cars, one big six-by and an estimated twenty-five casualties, fatal, light and heavy. He reckons he’s clear but would like a rest for about ten hours.”
“Okay, Roger that. Tell him yes, and please thank him and the rest of the team for the good work.” Oh. “Send it out that all team commanders have full discretion as to rest and reorg. They’re on the scene and we are not. Right?”
Still teaching, always teaching—
(End of part twenty-nine.)
Image One. Denebola-Seven Chamber of Commerce.
Image Two. Confederation Public Communications Office.
Image Three. Collection of Louis Shalako.
Image Four. CPCO.
Image Five. CPCO.
Image Six. CPCO.
Image Seven. Collection of Louis Shalako.
Image Eight. Chamber of Commerce.
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