How to demoralize a ground force.
Step 1: Blow up their transport.
Step 2: Prove that there's nothing they can do to you.
Step 3: Ask politely for their surrender.
Works every time!
“You’re not the first person to tell me that, Kyra, and I could say the same for you. At least I’ve had training for this sort of thing. What’s your excuse?”
“They’re my people,” she said simply, working to pull on the newly-minted skinsuit. She hadn’t had one when she’d arrived aboard, but having one of the improved suits was one of Kendra’s conditions if she were to accompany the landing force. Everyone on the drop was gathered in a compartment near the shuttle bay, engaged in their own preparations.
“What kind of a leader would I be if I didn’t come to support them?”
Kendra ignored the question. “Have you heard from anyone?”
“Yes. Kassidy. The Union diplomats seem to be sitting in a building near the pad. The soldiers have taken a perimeter around the building and the pad.”
“What about their ships? They’re blocking the pad.”
“There’s another pad we can use, about a kilometer away.” Kyra finished tugging the suit into place.
“Impressive,” she said. “And you made this in minutes?”
“Yes,” answered Kendra distractedly. She’d called up a holographic representation of the ‘surface’ and was studying it. “What are these other buildings?”
Kyra tore her attention away from the suit. “Mostly offices, support for the pads and the landing area. There are some merchants and warehouses since this is the main transit point for trade.”
“Plymale! Come here for a minute!”
The OutLook agent, already geared up, stepped over. “Admiral.”
“This is where the diplomats are, and our objective.” She highlighted it.
“And this is where we’re going to land,” she added, looking at Kyra for a confirmatory nod.
“According to our intel, their troops are arrayed around the building and towards the pad their ships had landed on.”
“Away from our line of march. That’s good. We don’t have enough for a frontal assault.”
“That’s what I thought. We’re probably outnumbered by three to one.”
“Could be worse,” said Plymale. “Especially if we can distract them, draw them away from us.”
“The pads are controlled by my people,” said Smith. “I can have the one with their ships start to lower, towards their level. Think that will get their attention?”
“Since that’s their way off-planet? Definitely.”
“Timing will be tricky,” Plymale mused.
“Excuse me, Admiral?” Lieutenant Orloff joined their little group.
“What’s up, Petra? What? After the stories we swapped at Flashdance’s promotion party, you think we can’t be on first-name basis?”
“Of course, Admiral.”
Kendra sighed dramatically.
“Have we tried talking to them?”
“If I was in their shoes, with my support ship out of the picture, I think I’d be willing to listen to reason.”
“You have a point,” admitted Kendra. The three shuttles had listened to Porter, eventually, and returned to Kepler without any loss of life.
“If they could communicate with Porter, that is.”
“The less we talk to them, the more surprised they’ll be. Surprise is our friend,” explained Plymale.
“I get that,” insisted Orloff. “But nothing’s happened so far, right?”
It was true. Kyra had been in contact with her assistant, and it seemed the Union force was content to hold in position. All of Titan’s citizens had withdrawn, quietly, depriving the Union of any potential hostages.
“Right. We don’t know how long it will last, though, and if they start moving there really isn’t anything stopping them. This is our best chance to reduce the threat to innocents.”
“I see. This is how we’re saving lives.” Orloff looked at the hologram. “What if we blow up their ships?”
“What?” Kendra exclaimed. “That’s quite the change!”
Orloff continued the thought.
“After Alexander drops us, what if they flew over and destroyed their landing craft?”
Kyra was shaking her head. “That would damage the pad, and while there are other pads none are as large or centrally located.”
“Madame President, with all due respect. You’ve just switched sides in a war, are facing an invading force, and you’re worried about a little property damage?” Orloff’s tone was just this side of respectful as she pressed home her point.
“We’re outnumbered, outgunned, and probably crazy for trying it, but the Admiral says we’re going to do it, so in we go. To me, we ought to be going for every possible advantage.”
“She’s right, Kyra. We can rebuild the pad, if necessary, but if we can convince the Marines they’re overmatched? Half the battle’s over.” Kendra looked at Orloff with new respect. “That’s a different side to you, Petra.”
“I don’t want to die on that rock,” said Orloff simply.
“Lieutenant, what’s that noise?”
Nordstrom looked up from the radio that steadfastly refused to pick up anything off-planet. He didn’t have a hope in hell of making a difference, but at least he could fool himself into thinking he was doing something.
“What noise?” Titan was a living world, after all, and life continued as normal outside their perimeter.
“It sort of sounds like a shuttle,” Corporal Bourque said.
“Not one of ours,” said Wulfow definitively.
“Something the colony has?”
“Maybe, but it’s getting louder,” insisted Bourque.
“He’s right,” confirmed Wulfow. “Back to your squad, Skip. Just in case.”
Bourque trotted off as Nordstrom, Truitt, Wulfow, and Agarn tried to coordinate their hearing.
“Coming from past the buildings,” said Agarn, pointing beyond the structure the diplomats and the Marine CO were occupying.
“Sounds low,” added Wulfow.
That triggered a memory in Nordstrom.
“You think…?” he said to Wulfow.
“Maybe, sir.” Wulfow was already on the radio. “All squads, take cover! Action stations!”
From where they stood in the concrete ‘courtyard’ of the building Nordstrom could see his troops stiffen, then disappear under and behind whatever they could find. The nature of their LZ, with a multitude of crates and boxes in various states of transshipment, provided plenty of opportunity to hide and hide well.
“There, sir!” Truitt was pointing over the building.
A squat but sleek winged shape cruised over the rooftop. Easily thirty meters long, it gleamed in the artificial lights. He could see a window at the front before it passed over him.
“Definitely not one of ours!” shouted Wulfow. He took aim and triggered off a burst from his pulse rifle, hitting the underside squarely but to no apparent effect.
As if in response the ship slowed to a near-stop. Twin beams of intensely bright light burst from the nose, tracking in on the first pinnace.
“They’re shooting at our shuttle!” Truitt said.
“I see that, Oren,” Nordstrom answered as calmly as he could.
“All squads, open fire!”
Marines popped up out of cover, raised their rifles, and started shooting.
“They’re shooting back!” someone yelled as a burst exploded ten meters away from the little HQ group. Nordstrom realized with a start that he’d been the one yelling.
The firing redoubled as the troops went to rapid fire. It would drain each power pack in seconds, but nobody enjoyed being shot at. The ground fire seemed to redouble as well, and Nordstrom suddenly realized what was happening.
“Cease fire!” he bellowed, but nobody could hear him.
“Cease fire!” he ordered again, over the company frequency. A few of his troops heard and lowered their guns just a fraction, but not enough.
“Dammit, stop shooting! It’s reflecting back!”
Wulfow picked up on the order and added his voice. “Knock it off, you stupid apes! Next one who fires gets KP for a week!”
It may have been the instinctive reaction of a troop to their sergeant’s voice, or maybe it was the threat of KP, but the pulses abruptly ceased.
There was a blinding light, a deafening craaaaaack!, and a blast of overpressure as the first pinnace exploded. None of the troops needed an order as they scrambled back under cover against the metal chunks they could see arcing towards them. The mystery ship, unperturbed by anything happening on the ground, brought its weapons to bear on the second pinnace.
A hand pulled Nordstrom around.
“What’s that?” demanded the owner of the hand.
“Some sort of attack shuttle?” Nordstrom speculated.
“Why aren’t your men shooting at it?”
“Major, we tried. Our rifle shots bounce off its skin.”
“Heavy weapons!” snarled the other man.
“They’re in the shuttle, Captain Rocco. As per SOP when for a ceremonial duty,” he added with just a hint of frustration.
Another fireball erupted as the second pinnace joined the first. The attacking shuttle pivoted again and resumed fire.
“I suggest you officers take cover,” said Wulfow, suiting actions to words. Nordstrom and Truitt immediately followed him.
“Why?” said Rocco, unmoving.
“Because when the shuttle goes up, it’s going to be pretty fucking big, pardon my language, sir,” Wulfow answered from his shelter.
“Aleph Platoon, away from the pad and take cover, double time!” Nordstrom radioed. He was pleased to see everyone hustling for cover, in peeks over the edge of the crate he was using.
“Where should we go?” Major Campbell asked.
“Sir, I don’t know, but farther away is better.”
The shuttle continued to pour volley after volley into their assault craft.
“Maybe the armor’s too tough,” suggested Rocco.
“I’m not going to count on it,” countered Wulfow.
“Coward,” Rocco sneered. “Nothing’s going to happen.”
“Yes, Captain. Whatever the Captain says.”
“Come out of there immediately. You’re setting a bad example.”
“No, sir, respectfully.”
Nordstrom was eyeing Wulfow’s hide, the interior of an open plasteel box, and wondering if he’d be able to squeeze in as well.
Probably not, he reluctantly decided.
“Lieutenant! Stand up!”
“No, Captain. Stay down, Oren,” Nordstrom added, feeling Truitt start to stand next to him.
“But the Captain said to stand up.”
“And he can court martial us later. Stay down, Oren,” he repeated.
“Perhaps we should find shelter, Captain,” Campbell suggested diffidently, just as the largest explosion positively deafened them all. The sound of the mystery ship abruptly throttling up and screaming out of the vicinity was lost in the din, as was the boom as they broke the sound barrier.
Nordstrom kept his head covered as chunks rained down around them. He could feel their impacts through the ground and didn’t raise his head until he hadn’t felt one for three seconds. Adjudging himself safe, for values thereof, he looked around.
Wulfow was already up, organizing the company. Nordstrom decided he could do worse than emulate his Sergeant and joined him.
“A couple broken bones, not from debris but from diving too quick into the ground. Scrapes, bruises. Lots of people complaining about earaches. Nothing major. Oh, we got one of our heavy laser mounts back.”
“Blown clear in the explosion. No power packs, but we can get about one shot out of each pulse rifle pack, if we want to go that route.”
“Lieutenant!” Truitt’s voice was higher than usual.
“On my way, Oren!” Nordstrom called back, then double-timed over.
“What is it, oh. Major.” He peered at Campbell. “Major?”
The Major wasn’t quite coherent and it took Nordstrom a moment to figure out why. A few meters to his left a large chunk of shuttle hull had landed, still smoking from the heat of the explosion.
“Sir, I’ll find Captain Rocco to take care of you,” Nordstrom said, then turned. “Oren, where’s the Captain?”
“There, sir.” And Truitt pointed to the piece of hull.
“Marine commander, this is President Kyra Smith of Titan Colony, please reply.” The voice, pleasantly feminine, came from his radio. “Marine commander, can you hear me?”
“Ah, buh, buhg, ah, ahm,” Campbell said by way of reply.
“Shall I answer, sir?”
“Ib dah fuh.”
“I’ll just handle this,” Nordstrom said. “Oren, take care of the Major while I deal with this. This is Lieutenant Nordstrom, President Smith. I hear you.”
“Are you the commander of the Marines, Lieutenant?”
“At the moment I appear to be,” he answered, watching Truitt guide Campbell away from his flattened XO.
“You probably noticed our little demonstration,” Smith was saying.
“It was hard to miss, Ma’am.”
“I am ordering you and your troops to stand down and surrender.”
He could hear another voice in the background, and Smith replying, “Not yet!” before she returned to him.
“You and your command are ordered to surrender.”
“To whom, Ma’am?”
“To myself, as President.”
“Ma’am, Titan is part of the Union. I can’t surrender Union troops to part of the Union.”
“You’re a bit behind the times, Lieutenant,” said the background voice, strongly enough to be heard.
“Kendra, stop it! Lieutenant, as my impulsive friend suggested, there have been changes. All of which can be explained later. The point, though, is will you surrender? Or do I allow my overeager associate to send Alexander back to finish the job?”
“Ma’am, I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Then do you agree?”
Nordstrom turned the radio off and looked around at his people, who’d quietly gathered while he was talking. “Sarge?”
“We can’t stand against one of those,” Wulfow said. “I don’t know if the heavy laser could do anything, and we might get off one shot before they blew us away. We’ll do whatever you say, sir, but to be blunt, if it comes back here we’re fucked.”
“Anyone disagree?” He let the question hang for a few seconds. “I agree with Sergeant Wulfow.”
He thumbed the radio on. “What are your terms?”
“Move all your people away from the building the diplomats are in, as close to the pad where your landing craft were. We will be dealing with them as peacefully as possible.”
“The Alexander will be landing between you and the building. Do not approach the Wolf.”
“Any resistance will be met with deadly force.”
Again the voice went distant.
“Anything else, Kendra?” Apparently there wasn’t because Smith returned quickly. “Get your people moving, Lieutenant. Five minutes.”
The circuit closed.
“Round ‘em up, Sarge. You heard the woman.”
“What about the Major?” said Truitt.
“Is he any more coherent?”
“No, not that I can tell.”
“Then drag him along and forget it.”
“What’s going on, Scott?” Truitt rarely used his first name.
“Lots of change, Oren. Lots of change.”