2949-06-01 – Tales from the Service: The Landsman Bulwark


Private Yudai Boyd saw the blinking indicators in his heads-up display only moments before touching down at the end of his final pre-calculated jump toward the Incarnaton fortress. Acting reflexively, without making any conscious decision, he engaged his suit rockets one more time, jetting laterally fifty meters just before a heavy pulse-beam cut into the icy vegetation of his initial landing point.

Though his short evasive rocket-jump had evaded the targeting optics of the slow-tracking fortress guns, it nearly planted all five hundred kilos of his armor-suit rig on the shoulders of a light F.D.A. fireteam trading fire with an Incarnation infantry patrol. He barely heard the chorus of cursing his suit’s microphones picked up; he was focused on the emplaced weapon which had very nearly boiled him inside his armored shell.

Leaving the infantry to their duel, he stomped forward under the cover of a dense copse of trees toward the ridgeline, hoping the fortress guns didn’t choose to simply scythe blindly across the hilltop. Most of the Marines had come down in defilade positions on the reverse slope, but he’d landed behind a cut in the ridge which gave some of the heavy guns a clear shot. The cut didn’t appear on the relied map in Yudai’s HUD, but even the greenest Marine knew better than to trust pre-battle intelligence data, and Yudai was far from green.

Crashing through the copse, Yudai deployed the pair of spotter drones attached to the back of his suit, watching their cameras as they flitted up through the frigid canopy into the open air. Even from the ridge several klicks away, the massive installation loomed large, its gleaming walls possessing an ageless, cyclopean quality that did its best to dispel the reality that the fortress hadn’t existed fourteen months earlier. Equal parts prison and garrison, the structure housed a massive population of transplanted Confederated civilians, their innumerable, pitiless guards, and a sizable military force.

The spotter automatons picked out the emplaced pulse-beam which had almost killed Yudai within seconds; its barrel of magnetic metalenses glowed fiercely for the drones’ infrared sensors. As he watched, another gun of the same type bloomed into fierce heat as it spat an invisible burst of coherent light toward another point on the ridge where another F.D.A. squad or Marine trooper tarried in the open long enough for the targeting systems to lock on.

“Boyd, Prentis, those beam turrets are yours.” Corporal Ori “Ice” Berg marked the two weapons on the tactical net, and indicators bracketed each. “Get them before the F.D.A. armor comes around the ridge.”

Yudai winced, remembering how lightly armored the “armor” assets assigned to the skirmisher force were. They were really little more than fast carryall trucks with one-centimeter armor-alloy plates bolted to their noses and sides – agile and easily capable of navigating the ad-hoc road network of Meraud’s ice-rivers, but not really prepared to withstand anything but small arms fire. He focused his spotter drones on the turret mount assigned to him, which he couldn’t help but notice was the same one which had nearly killed him. At four klicks away, the weapon was outside the range of most of his weapons, but he didn’t need to destroy his mark right away – all he needed to do was get its attention.

Yudai switched his suit’s integral rail-cannon to its highest muzzle velocity, lowest rate of fire setting. Attached to his right arm, the weapon probably didn’t have enough power to penetrate the armored gun-shield of the fortress turret, but it would make enough noise to tell the gunners where he was. Crashing through the last line of trees, he raised his arm, locked the suit joints, and opened fire, each projectile tearing through Meraud’s chill atmosphere with a thundering crack.

The targeting optics in Yudai’s helmet registered a few hits, but the turret was already swinging toward him, so he cut in his rockets to rush into the cover of a huge boulder covered in vine-like vegetation. The plants coiled and reached for the warmth of his suit, but he swatted them away idly, watching the turret come to rest pointing directly at him with his drones. The weapon couldn’t reach him behind cover, and it couldn’t turn to face a new threat without giving him a chance to move and attack once more.

“Ice, I’ve got mine tied down.” Yudai itched to destroy the weapon, but he knew better than to approach before the fortresses revealed its other weapons.

“Copy. Keep it that way.”

As Corporal Berg acknowledged Yudai’s update, he saw a group of new heat signatures rise from within the fortress’s outer wall, climbing quickly into the air. Yudai cursed; if he was pinned down by the turret, enemy close air support could pick him off only too easily.

Fortunately, the planners of Operation Landsman had accounted for this probability. With a rumbling sound, three sleek arrowheads sped overhead, cresting the ridge barely ten meters above the treetops. Marine Puma interceptors, as agile in atmosphere as in the vacuum of space, sliced through the cluster of climbing air-support craft, sending two tumbling back to the ground and scattering the rest.

Knowing he owed the pilots a drink, Yudai repositioned his spotters to keep an eye on the remaining aircraft as well as the turret. He still hoped to slag the offending pulsebeam, but to do it, he needed to get a good deal closer.


Operation Landsman resulted in the rescue of nearly two thousand civilians from the frozen hell of Meraud’s Incarnation labor camps. Confederated casualties were light – about thirty killed across all services and another fifty or so wounded. Most of the casualties were suffered by the Frontier Defense Army, but this service contributed most of the ground troops, so this should come as no surprise.

The fortress prison-camp itself was not penetrated during Operation Landsman – its static defenses are reported to be far too formidable for a light raiding force to threaten. As Private Boyd’s account indicates, the fast-moving Marines struggled to engage the defenses effectively, but the fortress in turn generally lacked the ability to threaten Marine troopers at range.

No doubt both the Confederated and Incarnation armed forces will learn much from this raid. For the thousands of civilians rescued and the many more still in bondage behind the fortress walls, Operation Landsman gives some hope that the horrors brought on by this conflict will soon be at an end.

2949-05-25 – Tales from the Service: Operation Landsman

Meraud has haunted the imaginations of many civilians here on the Frontier since Naval Intelligence discovered a brutal forced labor colony there (Tales from the Service: Atrocity on Meraud) where Incarnation troops were sending Confederated citizens out to cut timber and do other menial resource-harvesting tasks in the planet’s frigid climate without the benefit of proper tools or modern thermal insulation. No doubt, the people sent there were those who remained to see the Incarnation’s rule over such planets as Adimari Valis and Mereena but did not demonstrate sufficiently slavish devotion to the Incarnation cause.

Though Meraud remains deep behind enemy lines and beyond the power of Fifth Fleet, another half-mad scheme from the mind of Admiral Zahariev’s chief adviser seems to have born some fruit, in the liberation of nearly two thousand Confederated subjects from this world. This daring raid, which employed one company of the Confederated Marines and several F.D.A. scouting companies, was ferried to location and returned safely by the Whitcomb Scourge and its formation.

This cruiser is the last of her class operational with the Fifth Fleet, it seems. Where once almost all the Fifth’s scouting formations were centered around a Wheeljay-class light cruiser, between the formations cut off in Sagittarius and the losses in battle since then, Whitcomb Scourge and the Lost Squadrons flagship Arrowhawk are the only ones remaining active. Neither of the Lost Squadrons hulls are likely to be returned to any useful service soon. Allegedly, the replacement light cruisers being fitted out now back in the Core Worlds are more capable units by far, but they will be months or years in coming to the Frontier. Zahariev’s battle line might still contain eight big battlewagons, but the fleet’s outriders have suffered badly in this conflict so far.

The Navy is already bombarding the datasphere with accounts and records from the daring Operation Landsman, and it would be a dereliction of my position if I did not gain an exclusive account from the event. Naval Intelligence has put me into contact with Private Yudai Boyd of the Confederated Marines, who was among the raiding party, and he has proved only too happy to provide his experiences. Ashton will be featuring snippets of Private Boyd’s helmet camera footage on the main vidcast some time this week, but here on this feed, we’ve picked up some other aspects of his story to relay.

 

Yudai Boyd and his compatriots had received a detailed briefing about the inhospitable climate of Meraud en route, but from the inside of his hermetically sealed armor-suit, the frosty landscape remained comfortably picturesque. Though the midday temperature rarely achieved five degrees Celsius even during local midsummer, the air inside his suit remained comfortably mild.

Scourge to all Landsman units.” Yudai recognized the crisp, pleasant voice of the operational overwatch officer, a pretty Navy lieutenant aboard Whitcomb Scourge circling protectively overhead. He had seen her only once, during the briefing, and decided that he would waive the usual formal hostility Marine grunts had for Navy officers if he was ever to encounter her off-duty in a station bar back at Maribel. “Skies are clear. Operation is go.”

“Copy, Scourge.” Captain Nenci, the Marine commander of the ground troops for the operation, used the same all-blast channel. “By the numbers, boys, just like in the simulator.”

Yudai switched on the electric heaters built into his suit’s jump-rockets to make sure the ever-present frost hadn’t choked the system, then ran a full diagnostic just in case. In front of his face-plate and on the three-dimensional relief map projected into one corner of his vison, he could see thermal-cloaked F.D.A. scouts fanning out forward toward the ridge three klicks distant where the Incarnation’s outer picket line resided.

Despite their short terms of military service, Yudai and most of his compatriots had come to respect these volunteer skirmishers, expert woodsmen and hunters on their native worlds before the War. Even the greenest F.D.A. recruit was more respectable, as a Marine saw it, than a detached, antiseptic Navy spacer scowling down at the dust kicked up by real battle, a battle between men armed with weapons, not between distantly-separated machines in which the crew was merely a set of biological components.

The skirmishers, without powered armor-suits or jump-rockets, needed a great deal of head start, but so did the column of armored personnel carriers disgorging from the heavy dropship behind Yudai and his fireteam. Though quite speedy on a road, these vehicles needed to bull their way through rugged, crystalline forests until they reached the nearest of the ice-rivers which served Meraud as roads in almost every season. With a rising whine from their turbo-electrics, each of the eight-wheeled monstrosities lurched into motion down the gradual slope toward the distant glint of the nearest riverway.

“Sound off.” Corporal Ori Berg, known by most of the company merely as Ice, barked into the fireteam channel.

“Green, Corporal.” Yudai replied, trusting the comms network to prevent his message and those of his three other compatriots from interleaving and becoming hopelessly unintelligible.

The seconds ticked away, and the various non-Marine elements of Operation Landsman fanned out on the three-dimensional map. The Incarnation garrison probably outnumbered the raiders ten or fifteen to one, but they hadn’t come to conquer the Incarnation fortress – they’d come to cut off a few of its questing limbs before they could be retracted into that impenetrable shell. In several directions around the fortress, the Incarnation had dispatched battered secondhand crawlers and convoys carrying work-parties to their suicidal task hacking usable resources out of the frozen Meraud landscape.

Yudai considered his fireteam lucky in the duty assigned to it – they were one of the two fireteams, a mere ten Marines, assigned to support the F.D.A. skirmishers at the fortress perimeter, where fighting would be the fiercest. In addition to the heavy emplaced weapons of the Incarnation base itself, armored vehicles and hostile close air support were probable. Tying up these forces to prevent them interfering with the liberation of the work-parties would be dangerous, but Yudai preferred the certainty of danger to the possibility that he might spend the whole operation watching the skies anxiously but never firing a shot.

A timer appeared in one of Yudai’s displays, counting down from fifteen seconds to represent when Ice wanted him to jump. Each Marine in the team would jump in sequence, allowing those firmly on the ground to support the jumper in case the leap attracted enemy fire. Yudai armed his rockets just as the first pair of armor-suited Marines – one from each fireteam in the fortress group – climbed into the chill sky on pillars of steam and fire.

When Yudai’s own rockets engaged, their calculated arc took him high enough that the tops of the fortress’s inner structures peeked over the top of the ridge beyond. Imagining the wide eyes of Nate guard staring at surveillance screens as rocket-plumes lit the horizon, he grinned inside his helmet, looking forward to an operating environment with ample targets and few things anyone would complain if he demolished.

2949-05-18 – Tales from the Service: Sovereign Machinations

As I suspected last week, just as the battered Fifth Fleet returned to Maribel, the Frontier Defense Army aired the controversy taking place in higher military circles.

While we heard rumors of problems between the Fifth Fleet and Commandant of the Confederated Marines, F.D.A. Supreme Headquarters claims that Commandant Matsushita and his entire staff offered their resignation to the Admiralty Triumvirate over the alleged mishandling of the defense of Margaux, stating that it was impossible for the battle there to have become the current disaster without sheer incompetence on the part of either Navy or Marine staff work involved. The Admiralty can only reject this slate of resignations by casting blame, even by inference, on Admiral Zahariev’s headquarters, and can only absolve the Fifth Fleet commander by accepting the resignations and thus casting blame on the Marines.

The F.D.A., not technically subservient to the Navy, seems to be going public with this to earn autonomy from the Navy, and this seems to be an uncharacteristically politically savvy move for the new service. Even if the Constituent Assembly does not allocate ships and logistics assets to the F.D.A., the planetary administration on Maribel has started an initiative aimed at independently funding F.D.A. transport ships and military supplies outside the usual Confederated chains. Other systems on the Frontier and in nearby regions may follow suit.

Fortunately or unfortunately, one of the most profitable mercenary outfits in the Reach seems to have placed itself squarely astride this potential new flood of funds. The reputation of Sovereign Securities is formidable, both for their high fees and for their dedication to completing a job once a contract is struck. That they sense profit in this schism is not surprising, but they're not exactly the most diplomatic bunch - their involvement won't do anything to heal the divide between the services.

[N.T.B. – Even Duncan, ever the optimist, is struggling to spin this as good news for a reason. If the F.D.A., Marines, and Navy can’t coordinate their efforts, each will continue to be defeated individually by the Incarnation. Those bastards on the other side of the line will be watching this crisis with great interest, and probably looking for ways to make it worse.]


Cassandra Wolters paced the length of the waiting-room, too agitated to even kill time by browsing datasphere feeds on her wrist computer. The committee meeting on the other side of the sound-proofed door at one end of the room held the fate of Maribel, and perhaps the fate of the whole Reach, in precarious balance, and she hoped the men and women in there knew that underneath the bombastic, witty exteriors that any good politician on the Coreward Frontier had to have or fake.

The defense of the Frontier, with its lynchpin at Margaux, had unraveled in spectacular fashion, and now Margaux’s remaining defenders were on their own, caught in the jaws of a meat-grinder they had carefully crafted over nearly two years of preparation and combat. Cassandra had made her commander’s case for the F.D.A.’s independence as well as it could be made, but it was up to the committee to decide what to do about it, and more importantly, how much money could be siphoned from Maribel taxpayers to pay for their own defense.

Though the Navy likely didn’t approve of General Yu’s lobbying of the Maribel administration, they had not made any move to interfere, at least, not openly. The commander of the Frontier Defense Army had sent millions of his freshly-trained volunteers into the entrenched Causey Plana on Margaux, and only those few who had been badly injured and evacuated had returned.

Like Yu, Cassandra knew that there would be no more millions of volunteers as long as their deployment was beholden to the same Navy who would strand them on worlds at the mercy of the Incarnation. Already, volunteer streams had slowed to a trickle which would make it impossible to reconstitute the formations lost at Margaux, and the Army was not remotely prepared at any of the likely next steps in the Incarnation’s invasion. The Navy could throw away the Frontier’s bravest defenders, but the Frontier itself, she hoped and prayed, would not – the worlds most threatened had to do something to save the new service from the apparent abandonment which Core Worlds Navy officers had condemned it to.

The sound-proof door opened with a click, and Cassandra whirled to face the diminutive clerk stepping out. “Well?”

“Colonel Wolters, ma’am, the committee has voted in favor of a trial program to address General Yu’s petition.” The man consulted a bulky slate computer. “There are some details we would like to address. Would you come with me?”

Cassandra breathed a sigh of relief. The Maribelans, as General Yu had hoped, were quite aware of the situation they were in. “Of course.”

Following the clerk out of the waiting-room, Cassandra passed a group of three men in the hall. She couldn’t help but notice their uniforms – one was a captain, and the other two were lieutenants, and they all wore the sky-blue and indigo piping of Naval Intelligence. Their conversation stopped and each man glared at her as she passed; none bothered with the inter-service nicety of saluting a colonel of the F.D.A.

Cassandra did her best to ignore them. Naval Intelligence had very little to do with the catastrophe at Margaux, but General Yu’s headquarters earned their spite all the same, since he refused to censor his press releases as completely as their service would prefer. Intelligence, as a result, preferred to work only with field headquarters, such as that of General Bell on doomed Margaux. Why they would be skulking about the Maribel planetary capitol, she could only guess.

Following the clerk into one of the capitol building’s innumerable meeting-rooms, Cassandra stopped short when she saw it was already occupied by two more officers, a man and a woman, seated at the long conference table. Unlike the grey Navy uniforms, however, the pair wore garish blue tunics with gold trim and piping, evidence enough of their mercenary identity.

To Cassandra’s surprise, the pair stood and saluted her smartly before the man stepped forward, extending his hand for a handshake. “Colonel Wolters, I presume?”

Off-balance, Cassandra accepted the handshake. “I am.”

“Captain Carson here has agreed to be General Yu’s liaison with Sovereign Securities.” The clerk gestured to the conference table, indicating that she should sit. “Their company has agreed to be the contractor for our trial program.”

Cassandra stepped back. She knew the name, of course – Sovereign was one of the largest mercenary companies in the Reach, and the only one whose force contained a proper first-class battleship. What was it doing contracting to ferry F.D.A. troops and supplies around the Frontier? Surely they had bigger-ticket contracts to complete. Moreover, their presence mere minutes after the committee approval of such a contract suggested that the petition Cassandra had issued on behalf of General Yu had been anticipated.

The dark-haired woman standing behind Carson flopped back down in her chair, kicking her boots up on the table. “Do sit down, Colonel. Let’s talk about what the F.D.A. needs, and what Sovereign can do about it on Maribel’s dime.”

2949-05-11 – Tales from the Service: The Spaceport Drill

While Navy releases about the third battle at Margaux have still been relatively limited, it seems the Fifth Fleet experienced only limited heavy-unit casualties before withdrawing from Margaux orbit. One Confederated light cruiser is confirmed destroyed (Fearcoast Diver) and two others damaged, but most of the casualties seem to have been the fleet screen - destroyers and fast frigates – which absorbed both the pounding of the new Jericho strike bombers and the close-range gunfire of the cruisers which rushed to exploit the resulting breakup of the Fifth Fleet formation.

While more than two dozen hulls lost can hardly be regarded as a small toll, keep in mind that a Navy destroyer or frigate has a crew of a few dozen or fifty at the most, where a cruiser, even a light cruiser, tends to take at least 150 souls with it when its reactor detonates. The human toll – and the degradation of Fifth Fleet’s offensive striking power – was quite limited, and will be easily made good. None of the seven battleships committed there suffered serious damage, and other than Diver, no major fleet units were lost.

The Navy claims to have destroyed two Tyrant cruisers and disabled two or perhaps three more in the process of the confused battle, with other enemy vessels present suffering minor damage. Unfortunately, the battle, like the last two, left the Incarnation’s fleet in possession of Margaux, and the battle did not permit supporting forces the time to significantly reinforce or to evacuate the Margaux groundside defenders.

A controversy appears to be brewing between the commandant of the Confederated Marines and the admiralty Triumvirate about Admiral Zahariev’s decision not to seek further battle, but I don’t have too many details about that. If it is about Margaux (and I cannot see how it could be otherwise) Frontier Defense Army supreme headquarters on Maribel is very likely to join this war of words on the Marines’ side, and most likely their reports, notoriously more free with information than either of the other services, will be where we in the datacast media hear most of the details.

This week, with Admiral Zahariev’s command staff still out at Margaux with the fleet, we cannot bring you another View from Headquarters interview, and Naval Intelligence has embargoed several interesting accounts sent our way from those who participated in the most recent battle. Instead, I have an account of the Incarnation defector known as Yianna (not her real name). Though not the first Immortal captured and persuaded to cooperate with Naval Intelligence, Yianna is the only one prepared for terroristic warfare, and also the only one who defected willingly. Evidently, with security on Maribel at an all-time high, she has been involved in security exercises with the spaceport city’s constabulary, testing their readiness for similar agents active on the world to sow chaos in the event of an invasion of the system.

According to Farrokh West, the head of spaceport security, it seems these law enforcement agencies are learning the that they have a long way to go. We can only hope they learn quickly.


The cold blade which pressed against Farrokh’s neck might have been as blunt as a gunstock, but he raised his hands off his console slowly anyway. Knowing the intrusion was an exercise didn’t stop his blood from running cold. “Yianna, I assume?”

The woman holding the knife spun Farrokh’s chair around and stood back, flipping the blunt blade over and offering it to him handle-first. Farrokh thought her attractive, in a severe sort of way, though her features were hopelessly marred by the intrusion of a gleaming sickle-curve of metal across her right temple and extending down toward her eye. “Good guess. Out of the chair.”

Farrokh got up and stood aside, taking the knife from the woman as she took his place. He was “dead” for the purposes of the security exercise, so he didn’t try to send any comms messages or alter his status. Even if the intrusion had been real and a sharper blade had slid between his ribs to perforate his heart, the sensors built into his identity badge would take two minutes to detect his death and alert anyone.

Yianna’s fingers flew across the console as she called up every command interface available under Farrokh’s access session and tried each one to see which required authentication she could not bypass. Most resisted, but a distressing number of functions surrendered to her will, and soon alarm indicators lit up the overhead status board as various parts of the spaceport security grid either shut down or started behaving in chaotic fashion.

As the turncoat enemy agent sowed her seeds of discord in the Maribel Spaceport’s usually tidy information systems, Farrokh watched her carefully. Though her hands moved over the console far more rapidly than an unmodified human could manage, and she clearly read the displays far faster than he ever could, she otherwise seemed relatively human. He’d been informed Yianna would participate in some of the week’s exercises, but he hadn’t expected to ever come face-to-face with her.

“Well that’s something in your favor.” Yianna paused her rapid-fire commands to show Farrokh the pumping-station readouts, overlaid with a prominent error message. “I can’t blow the whole complex into orbit from here, can I?”

“I would hope not.” Farrokh rarely touched the pumping systems which moved volatile fuels around the spaceport, so he generally didn’t maintain an active session to those systems. While most larger craft used gravitic engines to reach orbit, smaller and older vessels often used liquid-fuel boosters to supplement their main drive in the scramble for orbital velocity to match the numerous stations and habitats orbiting Maribel. If Yianna had access to those systems, she could very well destroy most of the spaceport, and probably significant parts of the surrounding city.

“I’ll have to do it another way, then.” Yianna stood. “You can trigger your death indicator. Keep the souvenir.”

Farrokh looked down at the curio she’d handed him for the first time. It looked a bit like a miniature of the Marines’ combat knife, with a broad, straight-backed blade and a prominent crossguard. On a sharp example, the clipped point would probably be wickedly harp, but on this one, it came only to a rounded nub. It was a useless trinket, but given how easily it might have been the weapon that killed him under slightly different circumstances, he appreciated its harmlessness more than he might have valued a functional cutting edge.

When Farrokh looked up once more, Yianna was gone. He spun in place, but found no sign of her except the open security door leading into the corridor. She hadn’t made a sound entering, and had been equally silent in departure. He did as instructed, triggering the control on his wrist computer that would simulate an identity-badge death-alert in the security system, not doubting that if there was a way to destroy the entire spaceport – even in simulation only – Yianna would find it.