2951-11-22 – Tales from the Service: The Brigands of Seven SRC 

“This is the target.” The officer in charge of the briefing whisked a metal pointer through the holographic terrain map for everyone to see. A red orb blinked sullenly on one side of the rugged mountain at the center of the display. “There are several entrances to the complex, but the VTOL landing pads here are going to be the least well defended. That’s where you’ll be dropped.” 

 Arjan Marchetti knew the score; ground defenses would be light at the landing pads because stiff anti-air defenses would theoretically prevent hostile troops from landing. Most likely, every shoulder of the mountain hid a nest of air-search sensors, guided missile batteries, and rapid-fire laser emplacements, all of which would shred any troop-transport long before it landed on the VTOL pads. 

The briefing was leaving that out because none of the men in the room could do anything about the anti-air, of course. The thirty-six men and four women of the Frontier Volunteer Defense Army’s Seventh Special Reconnaissance Company needed to rely on someone else to solve those problems. 

As the officer continued to explain what was known about the layout of the underground complex and the best routes to the command center, Arjan glanced over at Lieutenant Turati, sitting a few seats to his left. Turati was scowling, but that was nothing to be concerned about. According to bunkroom legend, the Seven SRC commander had fought his way off Adimari Valis three months after the planet had fallen to the Incarnation after having been marooned there by a wrecked dropship during the final battle. How he’d accomplished this escape, nobody knew for sure, but everyone knew that nothing since had been sufficiently dangerous to engage his interest. As long as Turati was scowling, the mission was nothing to be worried about. 

“Any questions?” The briefing officer set his pointer down and folded his hands behind his back.  

There were no questions, as usual. Since probably only half of Seven SRC had paid attention to the whole briefing, this probably dismayed the man tasked to give it, but they all knew not to take Naval Intelligence too seriously. Seven SRC had seen too many intelligence fiascos to believe that knowing what the spooks had come up with would be of any value in the field.  

Turati stood up first, gave perfunctory thanks for the intelligence update, then led the way out into the corridor. Seven SRC rose to follow him with barely a word.  

The forty members of the unit said little until they were back in the barracks compartment assigned to them aboard Olivia Maria. Few FVDA troops ever saw the inside of a Marine troopship, but the men of the Special Reserve were among the exceptions. The brass needed them for operations all along the Frontier, and so they were moved by the fast transports rather than by the FVDA’s usual bulk troopships. 

“All right, Lieutenant.” Sergeant Levitt, the unit’s second in command, raised his rough baritone as soon as the compartment had closed behind the last SRC trooper. “This seems like a damned death sentence. But you aren’t concerned, are you?” Levitt had been retired from the Confederated Marines only four months when the war had started, and had been wounded on Margaux before being transferred to the SRC program. 

“Three or four killed. Five wounded.” Lieutenant Turati shrugged. “That’s the worst case.” 

Arjan shook his head. “How do you figure that one, Sir?” He didn’t like the sound of ten percent dead in the unit, but it certainly wasn’t worse than other assignments Seven SRC had been given lately. 

Turati smiled, his cold blue eyes sweeping the room. “Intelligence is a bunch of idiots. We’re not going in the way they told us to. That’s damned suicide. We’d never reach the platform. We’ll set down in the foothills while the Navy flyboys are tangling with the triple-A and walk the rest of the way to the front door, and grab the base commander the next time he comes out. Then we just have to hide until someone comes to pick us up.” 

“That’ll take days, won’t it?” Levitt frowned. “There’s no way the Brass is going to be that patient.” 

“It’s Intelligence that wants this done wrong.” Turati sat down on a bunk at random. “But a few days won’t make any difference to the Brass. Most of this operation is going to be damned dull.” 

Arjan nodded. "Sounds like we’re going to spend a few days collecting wilderness kit.” 

“That’s right.” Turati held out his hands. “No doubt there’s plenty aboard this ship, but none of it is assigned to us. We have seven days to fix that.” 

Levitt grinned. “The usual fix, Sir?” 

“The usual fix.” Turati waved his hand. “The Navy can send us the bill later.” 

A wave of chuckles swept through the compartment. Within minutes, most of the company had congealed into groups of three or four, talking in low tones around one member’s bunk. 

Arjan felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see that it belonged to Sergeant Levitt. “Sarge?” 

“You’re with me on this one, Marchetti.” Levitt winked. “Lieutenant wants something special for this mission, and with your help I’m going to get it.” 

Arjan winced. “Yessir.” Though he’d lied creatively to get into the FVDA in the first place, he was quite free with his SRC fellows about his few years as a cartel enforcer. No doubt, this was what Levitt was referring to. 

“Ah, don’t worry.”  Levitt clapped Arjan on the back. “We won’t hurt anyone, and we’re only stealing from people who had it coming. The spooks, in this case.” 

“Oh.” Arjan brightened. “For a moment you had me worried. What’s the plan?” 

Nojus here. This is Duncan’s last week of leave. In fact, he’s due back here in three days as of the posting of this feed item. I was able to sit down for dinner with the Chaudhri family this week. They are very private people who would not want anything we discussed to appear in this space, but it was a nice evening all around. 

The FVDA’s Special Reconnaissance Companies program is perhaps the most tight-lipped portion of the normally fairly media-welcoming FVDA service, and it is a shame that we haven’t had an opportunity to mention them here before. When a story about their activities does reach us, Naval Intelligence invariably cuts it to pieces, citing operational security. If you ask me, it’s just as likely that the Intelligence boys have an unwritten rule not to permit good press for the SRC, as the SRC seem to despise Intelligence more even than they do the enemy. 

This particular account refers to preparation for an operation that was completed in mid-2950. Intelligence still scrubbed all specific details about the operation except for the name of their troopship before permitting me to bring the story to this feed. 

2951-11-08 – Tales from the Inbox: The Forgotten Casualty

Nojus here. Duncan is still spending time with his family, and I’ll be honest I would have preferred to leave this one for him, but that didn’t feel right.

We focus on this war as a conflict between adults. We have to, to stay sane, I guess. Because combatants are not the only people who are suffering and dying out there, especially on the Coreward Frontier.

This account came in a few days after Duncan went over to The Sprawl to meet his family, and I’d be lying if I said I slept well the next few nights after I read it. I have no idea what these two were doing on MacNeil's, nor how they got off, and I am not going to dig into it too much. Sometimes, we all need a reminder that many people are suffering every day. In the words of an ancient general, we should keep in mind that war is terrible, so we do not get over-fond of it.

Sophia Carrie held her breath as a trio of Incarnation cargo crawlers rumbled past on the road above. The metal-lined drainage culvert in which she had hidden carried the roar of their air-breathing turbine engines just as if they’d been passing six inches in front of her face.

She counted to thirty after the last crawler had passed before letting out her breath. In theory, breathing shouldn’t have given her away, but with as many sensors as Nate technicians had studded the hulls of those vehicles with, it didn’t hurt to be safe.

Only when she could hear the hiss of the day’s gentle rain again over the ringing in her ears and the fading sounds of engines humming and tracks squeaking against their bogeys did Sophia move, slumping back into a more comfortable position against the ridged wall of the culvert and letting her hand fall from the Ignatov cartridge-gun hanging from her web-belt.

“That’s the third convoy today.” Abe Lithgow put a hand on Sophia’s shoulder. “Our luck is going to run out eventually. We should get away from this road and go overland.”

“No.” Sophia shook her head. “We’d be wandering around out there until we starve.”

“Only if we got really lost.” Abe shook his head. “Even without sat-nav, I could-”

“You could get us there, just like you did at Point Kruger?”

“That-” Abe fell silent for a long moment, and his hand fell off Sophie’s shoulder. “That was different.”

“I don’t care.” Sophie sloshed toward the circle of gray light at the end of the culvert. “We stay near the road.”

After a few steps, Sophie heard Abe’s footfalls behind her in the ankle-deep water. She hated to shut him down like that, but this time, there was no room to take the sorts of risks he would normally accept. Their ride off MacNeil’s End wouldn’t wait too long if they were late to the rendezvous, and neither of them was particularly prepared to make an Incarnation-occupied planet their long-term home.

At the end of the culvert where it spilled out into a deep, waterlogged ditch. Sophia listened to the rain for several seconds before stooping and cupping her hands to boost Abe up. He grabbed the upper lip of the tunnel and she helped him clamber up to the roadside, then stooped to pull her up as soon as the coast was clear. The packed-dirt road, empty but for puddles, wound out of sight in both directions into the rain.

Pulling her hood over her head, Sophia checked the compass on her wristcuff and led the way along the roadside.


Sophia turned to find Abe on the other side of the road, stooping over a lump in the mud. “What is it?”

“Not sure.” Abe flicked open an extensible multitool and prodded the object. “Wasn’t here before those crawlers went by, and Nate troops never litter.”

“Given how much they seem to hate MacNeil’s, they might make an exception here.” Sophia shook her head. Rumor had it that the garrison duty on MacNeil’s End was a punishment assignment for Incarnation troops. “Come on.”

“Oh, God.” Abe dropped his tool and reached for the bundle. “It’s a kid, Soph.”

Sophia hurried to where he was stooping and saw the small, pale arm below a layer of sopping rags. A few more layers, and Abe revealed the boy’s lifeless face, his unblinking eyes staring up into the rain-clouds. He couldn’t have been more than ten T-years old.

“Oh God.” Abe repeated, letting the cloth fall back over those glazed eyes. “They just threw him out of the crawler. Like trash.”

Sophia shivered, knowing what this meant about what the crawlers were carrying. Not all of the settlers on MacNeil’s End had evacuated in the face of invasion; tens of thousands had gone to the hills in the hopes that the war would pass them by. Nate had spent a lot of effort rounding up these potentially hostile, often well-armed civilians and shipping them to their own forced-labor colonies, where it was said the conditions were hellish.

“Who would just…” Abe shook his head. “Never mind. I guess I know who. Bastards, the lot of them.”

Sophia put her hand on his shoulder. “Abe. We have to go. If we don’t make that rendezvous-”

“No.” Abe turned to Sophia. “We can’t just leave him like this. We can’t. Just a kid, Soph.”

“We can’t.” Sophia shook her head. “Those crawlers will come back, and if they see someone moved him, they’ll know we’re out here.”

“I don’t care.” Abe shook off Sophia’s hand and straightened his shoulders. “I just don’t care anymore. I’m going to bury him.”

2951-03-22 – Tales from the Service: A View from Headquarters, Part 10 

Nojus here. I’m back at Sagittarius Gate this week. There’s a lot more material from my trip to Quickley, but some of it – the best bits really – will have to go through the Naval Intelligence wringer before we can use it. 

Duncan will be taking a few weeks off his usual duties; his parents and sister arrived at The Sprawl the night before last and he’s spending time with them. Things are pretty quiet out here, and he’s left me plenty of material from the backlog to work with just in case nothing really interesting shows up. 

Before he left on leave, though, Duncan and I shuttled over to Philadelphia for another conversation with Admiral Abarca. The commander of Seventh Fleet seemed in good spirits, and our conversation mainly focused on the operation in the Lee-Hosha system. 

This interview was conducted in-person aboard the battleship Philadelphia in the Sagittarius Gate system on 29 Octobert. 

D.L.C. - Duncan Chaudhri is a junior editor and wartime head field reporter for Cosmic Background.     

N.T.B. - Nojus Brand is a long-time explorer, datasphere personality, and wartime field reporter for Cosmic Background.    

K.T.K. - Captain Kenneth Kempf is the Naval Intelligence attaché to Seventh Fleet commander Admiral Shun Abarca.  

S.R.A. - Admiral Shun R. Abarca is the commander of Seventh Fleet. 

[S.R.A.] - Gentlemen, it is good to see you in person again. Mr. Brand, how was your trip out to Lee-Hosha? 

[N.T.B.] - They didn’t let me get too close to any of the real fighting, Admiral, but it was good to have dirt under my feet for a few weeks. Quickley is pleasant, and whichever colonists end up getting it will be quite happy there. 

[S.R.A.] - Coming from you, that is not an endorsement. Too safe for one of your famous rambles? 

[N.T.B.] - Damned right it is. You can break a sweat hacking through the woods, but there’s nothing there to present a challenge. 

[K.T.K.] - Didn’t the last time you encountered some of this challenge put you in a geltank for more than a month? 

[N.T.B.] - At least it wasn’t boring. If there weren’t a war on, what would a man do down there? 

[S.R.A.] - I suppose he’d build a house and plant a garden. 

[N.T.B.] - Eh, I was never much of a gardener, Admiral. 

[D.L.C.] - You should see what happened to the terrarium Captain Mendoza gave him. Everything inside died within two weeks. 

[K.T.K.] - I will make a note in the Admiral’s records that this sort of gift is to be avoided. 

[D.L.C.] - To turn our attention to more important matters, gentlemen, I thought we’d use this time to discuss the war situation. At least as it pertains to the Sagittarius front. 

[S.R.A.] - Yes, that would be far more interesting to your audience than Mr. Brand’s black thumb. 

[N.T.B.] - Black thumb? 

[K.T.K.] - It is an archaic term for someone who cannot care for plants, from an era when such things were far more important. 

[N.T.B.] - Ah. If that is the case, I may have several black fingers. 

[K.T.K.] - That’s not really how it- 

[S.R.A.] - I suppose your audience knows very well by now how successful our operation in the Lee-Hosha system has been. The opposition there was light, and the Marines and Navy contingent were able to secure the spaceport site and surrounding area with few casualties. A few enemy soldiers remain in the hills far south of the operational area, but they are irrelevant to effective control of the planet. 

[D.L.C.] - And this wasn’t just a raid. Confederated troops are staying there. 

[K.T.K.] - That is correct, and we make no secret of it. Lee-Hosha is close enough to Sagittarius Gate that any attack there can be countered by the main body of Seventh Fleet.  

[S.R.A.] - I do not expect an attack on Lee-Hosha. If they have the forces here to overwhelm Seventh Fleet, they will attack us here directly. If they do not, they will limit themselves to fast raids, or leave the place entirely alone. 

[N.T.B.] - That makes sense. You could take out most of the listening posts and supply bases encircling Sagittarius Gate without risking a major battle. 

[S.R.A.] - Indeed. The Incarnation would have to sortie a major fleet element to stop such an attack, and I have seen no evidence that they would risk their cruiser squadrons to save a listening post or a depot world. If I were in their place, neither would I. Very little was invested in any of these places, certainly not enough to devote major fleet elements to save it. 

[D.L.C.] - They’ve been trying to take Sagittarius Gate for years. Why not build one of these depot worlds up into a forward base?  

[S.R.A.] - I prefer not to speculate. 

[K.T.K.] - Fifth Fleet command thinks their engineering elements are mainly focused on reinforcing systens on the other side of the Gap. 

[N.T.B.] - That sounds like as good an explanation as any. They took all those systems over there at great cost and don’t want to just give them away. 

[D.L.C.] - Concentrating them over there leaves Sagittarius exposed. Their home systems -  

[S.R.A.] - Their home systems were doubtless fortified against attack by the Grand Journey or the Kyaroh. The Incarnation is not well liked among its neighbors on this side of the Gap. 

[K.T.K.] - We think this is why they have been invading Kyaroh space recently; they were only content to leave this lesser hostile power alone until it was a hostile power in their rear as they attacked us. 

[N.T.B.] - Those poor Cutters. I had a chat with one before I left for Quickley, and it said they’re getting crushed. 

[S.R.A.] - There’s truth in that, though I don’t doubt the one you talked to exaggerates. They are putting up a real fight, and the more we can make the Incarnation look in this direction, the less forces will be sent to the Kyaroh front. 

[D.L.C.] - We can hope, anyway. 

[K.T.K.] - That is not the primary goal of our operations, but it is at least a positive side-effect. 

[S.R.A.] - The Kyaroh are not a very populous species; they have long lives and reproduce only very slowly. They have been spacefaring for longer than the Incarnation’s presence, but they only ever settled about a dozen worlds. It would not take long for the Incarnation to wipe them out, if that were its only focus. 

[N.T.B.] - Fortunately for our friends the Cutters, we’re the bigger threat right now. 

[S.R.A.] - And I intend to be a very noisy threat at that, but I think I am out of town today. Gentlemen, I must go, I am being summoned on priority channels. 

[D.L.C.] - Thank you for your time, Admiral Abarca. Captain Kempf. 

[S.R.A.] - Always a pleasure, gentlemen. 

2951-10-25 – Tales from the Service: The Quickley Job

“You must be joking.” Avin Matveev folded his arms and leaned against the blast-scored wall of what had probably been built as a high-rise residence tower for the first wave of architects and technicians who would turn Quickley into a first-class colony. Now, it was the frowning massif looming over a forlorn ruin made all the more desolate by the fact that it had never been properly built before it was destroyed.

“Afraid not, Boss.” Leo Goranov, Avin’s chief architect, gestured down the arrow-straight street leading back the way they’d come. “Admiral Abarca’s rep says they have two brigades of fortress troops landing in thirty hours.”

“What in all hells am I supposed to do with thirty hours?” Avin threw his hands up. “We haven’t even been groundside for a whole shift! Has he seen what the grunts did to this place? We’re doing everything almost from scratch!”

Fortunately, Leo had worked with Avin long enough to know that these were rhetorical questions. He winced and pretended to make a note on his data slate, then soldiered on after a politely long silence. “The block tower will hold almost that many, if they don’t mind having room-mates and hot-bunking.”

Avin looked up at the twelve-story ferrocrete edifice. Most of its windows were dark, hollow sockets, and chunks of material had been blown out of its sides by wayward artillery fire. He’d already verified that its foundation was solid, but he’d expected that his crew had more than a week in which to complete their work. Leo was probably right, but even with most of the team working round the clock, there was no way they’d have that building ready. A new coat of paint wouldn’t even be dry in that time.

Avin dropped his shoulders. This was the part of being a military contractor that he’d never grown to like, no matter how big the payday. “Herb’s already on his way with the crane crawlers?”

“Soon as they’re unloaded.”

“Get back over and pull Lydia off the revetments. Bring her team this way as soon as you can.” Avin pointed toward the edge of the incomplete city, where one of his teams had already been bundled off to work on fortifications.

Leo nodded. “I’ll call ahead. The Marines won’t like losing their pet diggers.”

“The Marines don’t fill our bank account, Leo.” Avin shooed his associate away. “Go on, I’ve got to get the plan markers laid before Herb gets here.”

Leo scurried off, leaving Avin standing on the cracked walkway, staring up at the structure that would, in not much more than a standard day, be housing Confederated troops. They’d never have the whole inside ready by then, of course; running plumbing to sanitary stations on every floor alone would take most of the time he’d been given. It was time to do some of the famous Matveev improvising that his father and grandfather had built the company on. It didn’t have to be pretty; it just had to keep more than three thousand souls warm, dry, and mostly clean.

Walking across the street to the corner of a low building skeleton which had probably never had a complete roof, Avin reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of planning markers. Building a schematic in his head as he went, he set the markers down every ten meters or so as he circumnavigated the huge tower. The inside didn’t really need to house so many thousands of bunks; it just needed to have water, sanitary facilities, and somewhere to put the chow line. The fact that it was an ugly, over-engineered block of ferrocrete would also come in handy.

Just as Avin returned to his start point, he heard the rumble of polymer-coated treads on cracked pavement. Looking up, he saw the first crane crawler nose around a corner, a crimson Matveev Logistics insignia freshly painted on the front of the cab. Behind the telescoping crane mount, a flat bed held a towering pile of pre-fabricated metal beams.

Avin waved the vehicle over and hopped up onto its side while it was still moving. Inside the cab, behind a strung-out looking driver, Herb Armando was standing on the vibrating deck, scowling out at the ruined streets.

“This is impossible, Boss.” Herb handed Avin a disposable cup of coffee. “Did you hear we only have-”

“I heard.” Avin pointed to the tower. “We’re going to use that.”

“The whole crew working round the clock couldn’t make that ready in time.” Herb shook his head. “Prefab’s going to be faster, but still not fast enough.”

“Yeah.” Avin tapped his wristcuff to send Herb the locations of the planning markers. “Which is why we’re going to use that.”

Herb frowned. “I don’t get it, boss.”

“Start assembling support struts.” Avin looked out over the street, imagining a net of metal girders blossoming upward from the wreckage and converging on the top of the tower. Once the girders were secure, his imagination started dividing the intervening space with crossbeams, then flooring. Synth-canvas became walls, and a double layer covered the whole thing like a monstrous tent.

Herb, of course, couldn’t see Avin’s designs. He sighed and pointed to Herb’s wristcuff. “I need support beams to go from those points, up to the top.”

Herb glanced at the screen, then out at the building. “What good’s that?”

“Just do it, Herb.” Avin popped the top off the coffee, drained it in two gulps, then handed it back. “We don’t have time for the big picture presentation this time.”

Herb looked at Avin strangely, then smiled. “That almost sounded like your father, Boss.”

“Yeah, well.” Avin opened the door and started back out. He would need to head into the tower to set markers to give the other teams their marching orders before they arrived. “If we pull this off, even that grouch will be impressed.”

Though the fighting has been over on Quickley for some time, Nojus is still on that world and still talking to the combat troops and support personnel who were part of its capture.

Quickley is an interesting case; this was no hit and run raid. Seventh Fleet is apparently fortifying the world to resist attack long enough that the main fleet can depart from Sagittarius Gate to relieve it.

Among those who arrived on that world within hours of its capture was Avin Matveev, the chief executive of Matveev Logistics, a mid-sized civilian contracting company that has been building ground-side bases and facilities for the Confederated Navy for nearly seventy years. Nojus apparently knows Mr. Matveev from way back, and seems to have had little difficulty extracting this particular story of engineering exploits from him.

It should be noted that though the account included pictures of the odd circus-tent hab structure Mateev built to house the incoming troops, the strange building has already been largely disassembled. It was only needed for a few weeks, until Mateev Logistics could build more permanent barracks facilities.