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Previously: Chapter I
In the four weeks following my time with Captain Beck, the situation between the Sassael Union and the Apinan Stars Alliance deteriorated sharply. For three hundred years, Sassaeler Prefects had been promising a return to our home, with no actual progress made. Maybe the Allies thought that this was simply more posturing. Whatever the case, they didn’t really understand us.
The Alliance delegation came to New Sassael with promises of increased access to their markets for Sassaeler corporations. They lasted three days before the Prefect kicked them out.
The Prefect gave a public speech to the Union Council, calling for the eradication of the Apinan Stars Alliance and the planet Lutetian, in addition of a return to our home. I watched it; it was pretty red meat type stuff. Most Sassaelers loved the theory of it, but probably realized it would never actually come to pass.
In a tone-deaf, lunatic response, the Alliance Navy darted across the border in the Kallay sector and destroyed Mitterstern Station. The Alliance admiral claimed it was in retaliation for cross-border raids originating from the station. For the record, there were not any cross-border raids in the Kallay Sector in the entire decade prior, and certainly none from Mitterstern Station even if there were. The deaths of forty-five thousand Sassaelers was supposed to be a warning or something to intimidate us. It backfired.
The Union deployed First and Second Fleets to the Kallay Sector. A shooting incident followed where an Alliance cruiser was destroyed. The United Systems dispatched observers and penciled in a general session for the discussion of the Union-Alliance situation. At the time, as a field grade Marine officer, not all of the happenings were entirely clear to me.
Playing right into the Prefect’s hands, the Alliance dispatched its battle fleets to the Kalley Sector, leaving only their Apinan Core Fleet to defend the Apina System. Three hundred years of waiting were over. The Prefect threw the Union Home Defense Fleet along with transports carrying two and a half million Sassaeler Soldiers and Marines into the Apina system. Of course, this being a military operation, nothing went according to plan.
For two months, the 7th Marine Regiment had trained and prepared to take and secure the Lan-deis Geothermal Power Complex, or LGPC. The complex had a mean temperature of negative thirty centigrade year round, was covered in snow, and spread out over two hundred and fifty square kilometers. It was perfect for armored infantry; heavy vehicles could not move around in the snow as easily as we could. Our regiment could have done that mission in our sleep by the time we were ready to drop, if we had actually dropped on the LGPC.
When our fleet made ready to cross the line of departure (does outer space still have a LOD?), the ship carrying the 57th Mechanized Infantry Division suffered an engineering failure. The warp drive didn’t warp. After waiting three hundred years for this day, high command didn’t have time to wait to get the division transferred to another ship. Instead, we were retasked.
In the military, crap rolls downhill, and it all landed on my shoulders this time. I had been given exactly forty minutes to plan the invasion of Feinler City. Forty minutes isn’t enough time to plan an afternoon field exercise. For the first twenty minutes, the regimental commander and the rest of the staff had worked out the basic plan of maneuver. For the second twenty minutes, I had been left alone—well, with my staff—to finalize the details while the colonel gave the rest of the regiment’s officers a warning order.
The plan was sloppy and basic. Most of the lines in our operations order were ‘per SOP,’ which is military shorthand for Standard Operating Procedure, the thing that we do when we don’t have time to figure out the right course of action for whatever specific situation we find ourselves in. Casualty collection was per SOP. Ammunition and power resupply was per SOP. Enemy prisoner of war detention and collection was per SOP. Practically the only thing that wasn’t SOP was the release and use of tactical antimatter weapons; there wasn’t anything standard about a Marine regiment getting those.
The tight time schedule was why I was now running at a dead sprint to the officers’ mess. Warp starships were gargantuan, but even they didn’t have space for our regiment to have a dedicated briefing room. Drop was in thirty minutes, which left me exactly ten minutes to get the new plan briefed. Luckily, so close to drop, we were all in armor already, and an armored Marine moves at something close to forty kilometers an hour without jet assistance. Woe to any Navy rating that got in my way.
I slowed down just before the mess hatch. I could have kicked off the hatch frame, but that would have left it dented. This is not good for hatches that are supposed to be airtight. Colonel Stern was there waiting.
“Glad you could join us, Lieutenant Colonel Voss,” he said. “I trust you have the plan with you.”
“Yes sir,” I said and made my way front and center.
Colonel Stern could have given the briefing himself, but given that I was the regiment’s operations officer and the one that finalized the plan, it made more sense for it to be me. All of the battalion commanders were present: Lieutenant Colonel Lowe commanding our Weapons battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Lenz commanding the First battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Ebner commanding the Second battalion, and Lieutenant Colonel Tanakai commanding the Third battalion. They all had their company commanders and battalion staff with them, a smattering of captains and majors. I spotted Captain Nizumi’s black hair before she turned to look at me and the display. She commanded First battalion’s Alpha company.
I had ten minutes to give this briefing, so I kept it short and stuck to the high points. They could read the whole operations order in the dropships on the way down.
“Alright. We’re calling this Operation Starfall, under the umbrella of Operation Homecoming,” I said. “Our situation has changed. Instead of securing the LGPC, we’ve been tasked with securing Feinler City. This is going to be built-up, urban terrain with lots of civilians in your lines of fire. Weather for this time of year is expected to be overcast and a balmy seven degrees centigrade.
“Enemy forces. Opposing us is an Alliance Army mechanized infantry battalion, reinforced, stationed fifteen kilometers south of the city limits at this garrison here.” I manipulated the hologram to show the Alliance base. “Inside the city, there is expected to be a one to two battalion equivalent number of Alliance Gendarmerie. The Gendarmerie is well armed for what they do, but won’t have the heavy weapons the Alliance Army does. More to the point, we expect them to be operating at units below the platoon level. Usually, they will operate at the fireteam level. Don’t get too bogged down engaging groups of three or four Gendarmes. They’re not capable of standing up to Marines in armor. Speed and violence of action will carry the day.
“Also, there are seventeen Gendarmerie stations in the city; these are reinforced structures that will have to be assaulted and cleared.”
The holomap zoomed in on the city, with the locations of the Gendarmerie stations highlighted in a crimson red. The detailed plan had which station was in each battalion’s area of operation, but they could read that waiting to drop.
“Friendly adjacent units. There is going to be a sapper unit from 1st MAF, forty kilometers up the Frish River at the Administrator Ludorf Dam to ensure it stays intact. One hundred and sixty kilometers north, the 17th Armored Division is going to be engaging an Alliance Army brigade. These are our closest friendly units if things go sour. For all intents and purposes, we are on our own.
“Our mission: 7th Marine Regiment will drop into Feinler City as part of Operation Homecoming. We will secure the city for the Sassael Union, clear it of Apinan Stars Alliance military and Gendarmerie forces, and ensure order and safety for Sassaeler civilians.”
So far, I was a minute and thirty seconds into my ten minute briefing. I talk fast.
“Commander’s intent for Operation Starfall is to secure the city. The destruction of hostile forces is a secondary consideration.” If the Allies wanted to run away, we’d happily let them. Once they were in the open, we could lob artillery shells on them, from orbit even. “Execution. Our initial assault will be a concentrated drop in the middle of the city, right here on the Administration Complex. This controls every part of the city’s infrastructure. If we don’t take it right away, we risk the Gendarmerie using city transport to maneuver around us. The Administration Complex also takes in all the surveillance feeds from the city. We want it intact.
“As soon as we drop, first and Second battalions will secure a perimeter. Third battalion will secure and clear the complex. As soon as it’s secure, headquarters company and elements from the Weapons battalion will take over responsibility for security of the complex. From there, First battalion will advance south and hard. There are three demarcations where we can set up a defense against the Alliance Army battalion to the south. The first is Phase Line Midnight. Phase Line Midnight is the boundary between the high-rise and low-rise structures of the city. We cannot let the Alliance forces get into a vertical fight in the high-rises.”
An armored Marine can easily jump between floors of different high-rise buildings. The Alliance’s armor is almost as good as ours, so if they got into the city center, they would be able to maneuver around the high-rises with ease. We’d still outnumber them and could do the same, but it would be advantageous to the smaller force to fight us using hit and run tactics. At the end of the day, we had to secure the city. They only had to keep the city unsecure.
“Phase Line Nocturne is this thoroughfare, the Grozuezig Loop, south of Midnight. This is broad enough that it’s a danger zone. Their armor cannot get them across in one bound. If we secure Nocturne, we’ll have broad open fields of fire. However, Phase Line Onyx is the prize. The Frish River is almost two hundred meters across, and there are only three bridges suitable for crossing. If we control those bridges, we can stop the enemy’s advance dead. First battalion will get to Phase Line Onyx and ensure the enemy does not advance further. If that is impossible, Nocturne is your fall back. Midnight is the absolute last chance.”
Lieutenant Colonel Lenz nodded to me and examined the holo. His executive officer was making a few notes.
“Second battalion will advance west-northwest. The limit of your advance is the Grozuezig Loop. Third battalion will advance to the east-northeast with the same limit of advance. All line battalions will ensure they have good linkup with their flanking battalions as they expand outward from the Administration Complex. Once you reach the limit of advance, find solid defensive positions and await further orders.”
Dropping in the middle of the city and advancing outward was not exactly the best idea. No matter what, a drop—even with dropships taking us down to a low altitude—would never deliver Marines in ‘dress-right-dressed formation,’ like Marines on parade. We’d be somewhat scattered and have to regain cohesion in urban terrain, likely taking fire from Gendarmerie units. The 57th Mechanized Infantry Division’s plan was to land and deploy south of the city, ten kilometers west of the Alliance garrison, and fight the enemy in a battle on open terrain. They would then swing north and secure the city from the Alliance Gendarmerie. Of course, the 57th had tanks and attack gunships. A Marine regiment’s main task was assaulting through planetary shields and only has armored Marines. (If it’s not droppable from space, we don’t want it.) This is not a good plan for armored Marines. We picked the best of bad choices.
“Weapons battalion’s rapid railgun and plasma blaster companies will be deployed at the regimental commander’s discretion. Mortars and air defense will stay with headquarters company. Mortars will remain on call for all battalion commanders. The release of tactical antimatter weaponry remains with regimental command only.
“Administration and Logistics. Casualty collection point will be at the Administration Complex. High value EPWs will also be collected at the Administration Complex. Both of these tasks are per SOP.”
Aside from that horrible phrase, left unsaid was the implication that we not going to be taking low value enemy prisoners of war. After the unprovoked attack on Mitterstern station, kindness and mercy—already something lacking in a Marine regiment—were completely gone. A cousin of mine had been a environmental technician on Mitterstern Station; if it were up to me, we’d kill everyone in an Alliance uniform. However, it would be up to the discretion of the on site commander whether to take enemy prisoners of war. Tasking a squad or even a fire team of Marines to guard one or two low level prisoners every time one surrendered would severely hinder our advance, but a high value EPW might be worth it.
“The logistics support company will be set up at the Administration Complex. Resupply of ammunition and power will be delivered from there to locations that battalion commanders request, per SOP. Civilian assistance is per SOP. All Marines will drop with a full bladder of water and two full meals. Make sure the food stretches to at least a day and a half. For resupply of water, we will have a municipal source of purified drinking water to tap and river water we can purify if we have to. Resupply of food will either be from the fleet or local sources.
“Command and Control. Regimental headquarters will be set up at the Administration Complex. Our callsigns will remain the same. Regiment will use the callsign Winter. Succession of command is per SOP.”
That meant that if Colonel Stern was killed or incapacitated, command would fall to the regimental executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Weiz. If Lieutenant Colonel Weiz were to be killed or incapacitated, command would fall to me. After that, command would fall to battalion commanders based on seniority.
“First battalion will use the callsign Frost. Second battalion, Ice. Third battalion, Snow. Weapons, you have Blizzard. Mortar battery will be Hailstorm. Our comm-nets will remain from our previous mission. Regimental officers will maintain their authentication codes for tactical antimatter weapons; those are unchanged.
“Oh. I missed this on the runthrough. We’re still under 1st Marine Attack Force; General Beck is still our higher commander.” Beck is something like the third most common surname in the whole Union; he was no relation to the Captain Beck I was subjected to. I turned to Colonel Stern. “That’s all, sir.”
By cutting out all the intricate details, which were all on the briefing document sent to the tablets of all the regiment’s officers to read anyways, I’d managed to do the briefing in five minutes flat.
“Thank you, Lieutenant Colonel Voss,” he said, taking my place at the briefing podium and killed the holo.
I went over to Lieutenant Colonel Weiz, my almost equal. Though we were the same rank, she was a step above me in the chain of command.
“This is going to be messy, isn’t it?” she murmured to me. I nodded slowly. “Well, there are worse places to die than Sassael.”
“The Prefect has ordered that he wants the whole planet secure within twenty-four hours of drop,” Colonel Stern said in his authoritative command voice, ending the side conversation between Weiz and me. “What this means for us is that we need to have uncontested control of all the Sassaeler population centers on the planet. We can kill the Luteans from orbit if we have to, but only if they cannot retaliate. However, if we delay too long, the Alliance will be able to call in support ships, or the United Systems might get involved. This needs to be presented to the Alliance and the United Systems as a fait accompli.”
We were not using the standard Operation Homecoming operations plan—the OPLAN that had been carefully studied and updated for two hundred years with each and every change in force number and capability—the Prefect had come up with his own plan. Over the past six months, hundreds of thousands of Sassalers had gone through basic military training and augmentation to form new Army formations. There were going to be a lot of Soldiers that found themselves in a real firefight for the first time; a lot of them were not going to live through it, but to the Prefect and most Sassaelers, it was worth it. Weiz was right; there were worse places to die than Sassael.
It was a little different for us. Marines were the creme of the ground forces, under the purview of the senior service: the Sassael Union Navy. We were the best trained and the best equipped. The Marines didn’t take conscripts. So while we had some green troops, all of them had been through the School of Infantry and the Planetary Assault Course. We could carry out this mission, however taking down a whole city by ourselves was not our strong suite. It was going to be messy.
“But we’re going home,” Colonel Stern thundered. “We’re going home and we are the Spearhead! Three hundred years ago, our ancestors scattered into the night. Today is the day we come back and return it to the Sassaeler people. Your ancestors are watching you all. They’re proud. And they’re jealous. Jealous because this task has fallen to you. Years from now, you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren that you were there when we took back Sassael. I know I can depend on all of you to lead your Marines through this battle and to the glory on the other side.”
“Get to your Marines, and get to your dropships,” he continued. “Prepare for drop. Any questions or concerns can be sent to Lieutenant Colonel Voss through the comm-nets. She and her staff will handle it. God be with you all. Fall out.”
At that command, everyone scrambled out of the mess. We didn’t have time to stand about talking or kicking dirt. We had dropships to board. At twenty minutes to drop, most of the junior enlisted Marines had been sitting in their dropships for a while. The junior officers and senior enlisted would be pouring over the operations order that had been electronically sent to them while the senior officers got the direct briefing. Colonel Stern believed in getting a last face to face before going off to battle.
Mako’s dropship was close to mine in the welldeck. My staff and I had a section of 2nd Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines dropship. There were three people in the regiment that had authentication codes to order a tactical antimatter strike, and we were all on separate dropships, for obvious reasons. We were short on time, but I had a couple of minutes before we needed to seal up.
“Nizumi!” I yelled, trotting over to her, my helmet in my hand.
“Ma’am,” Nizumi said, differential to my rank.
“We really got dropped into it this time, Mako. Your battalion is going to have the hardest job, and you’re going to be at the very tip of the spear. But, out of any company in this regiment, I know yours can get it done.”
“Alpha company won’t let you down,” she said.
“Be safe,” I said heartfelt.
“You, too, Kara. But, I think you’re going to have an easier time of it than me. You get to sit back and watch while we do all the work.” Mako grinned at me. “I’ll catch up with you when this is all over.”
We shook hands, a gesture between two old friends. (It was actually impossible to hug in armor.) Then Nizumi saluted me, and I returned it, a gesture between two Marines. We trotted off to our dropships.
Second platoon’s commander, Lieutenant Kreiger—which was easy to remember thanks to it being stenciled on the armor—gave me the greeting of the day as I boarded the dropship. I nodded back to him, but was otherwise busy.
Lieutenant Colonel Lenz wanted to change his maneuver route to avoid a Gendarmerie station and hand it off to Lieutenant Colonel Tanakai’s Third battalion. Tanakai already had the most to deal with—nine, including the Commissariat building—but wasn’t as pressured with regard to the speed of his advance like Lenz was. I was a lot less concerned with the Gendarmerie than I was the Alliance Army unit to the south, so Tanakai got saddled with the additional station.
I looked at all the Marines strapped in, their armor white with light grey splotches. We hadn’t had time to change the camouflage from arctic to something more suitable to urban terrain. I wondered how many of them would make it back. For our original tasking, I would have been confident that most of them would survive, but I wasn’t so sure now.
The hatch closed and everything was bathed in red light. Five minutes to drop.