2950-03-29 – Tales from the Inbox: The War for Minds

While the medics still haven’t cleared me, I’m well enough to work, at least, to work enough to prepare an item for this week’s entry and run it by Admiral Zahariev’s Naval Intelligence liaison. 

While I was for reasons mentioned last week not able to observe the whole engagement, I think it’s fair to describe what happened on 03 March as bloody but inconclusive. Fifth Fleet gave as good as it got, if not better; three of the eight battleships in the main line took bad hits, including our own Saint-Lô. Tours got it the worst, having had a close-range exchange with one of the Incarnation cruisers, but the cruiser that riddled that ship’s hull with beam and plasma cannon fire took at least four hits from Tours’s two-fifty millimeter rail cannons, which at that range nearly ripped it in half lengthwise. I was able to secure good video recordings of this spectacular wreck and others taken by post-battle scouts, and have sent them back to Planet at Centauri for use on the main vidcast.

We lost four cruisers, quite a few destroyers, and numerous smaller units, but at least six of the big Tyrant cruisers were drifting wrecks by the end of the battle, and probably eight or nine more were damaged badly enough to no longer be capable of fighting, though I can’t get good numbers on that. Strike squadron losses on both sides were fairly heavy as well. 

Unfortunately, the major loss here has been the fleet service platforms left in the Håkøya system to service Fifth Fleet’s fast cruisers and scouting squadrons. Capture of these slow-moving vessels delayed the Incarnation invasion of the planet until Fifth Fleet arrived in force, but most of the service platforms in the system were either captured or scuttled by their crews. 

For the last few weeks, we’ve been in a stare-down similar to the one at Berkant, though under somewhat less favorable circumstances. Both fleets have brought up a number of large, slow hauler-type ships loaded with troops and weapons for a ground-side engagement, but neither can get that force to the planet without putting it under threat of the faster combat ships of the other side. In addition to the one battle, we’ve had a few smaller skirmishes and feints over this standoff, and if I had to guess we’ll probably have at least one more large-scale battle before Nate quits the field. 

While communications outside the Håkøya system were down for weeks, I’ve been in regular contact with persons in the F.D.A. garrison on the planet’s surface, and with some of the few civilians not evacuated as a precaution when the enemy fleet arrived in-system in the last days of February. 

This week, our brief account comes from one of the civilians planetside. Yaw Johnson, a retired spacer from Tranquility and an old friend of our own Nojus Brand, has elected not to evacuate his remote cottage on the planet, and doubts the Incarnation will bother him much. He let us know that the local datasphere has been awash with Incarnation propaganda lately, probably as a result of small parties of Nate scouts sent covertly ahead of the main force still waiting in the transports. 

Yaw heard the house intercom chirp to let him know he had new messages but didn’t set down his gardening trowel right away. The freedom not to jump to the rhythms of computers and digital clocks being the best part of being retired from a spacer’s life, he fought down the vestigial urge to check the message while he finished setting a row of seedlings into the vegetable plot.  

Most Earth produce grew reasonably well on Håkøya with a little fertilizer, but in the past three years he’d learned that this did not extend to the genetically tweaked varieties common to his somewhat more harsh home-world of Tranquility. Getting seeds shipped in had been easy, but the first local year’s plantings had been an almost total failure; the plants had all gone immediately to seed or wilted for mysterious reasons. He’d done a bit of research, and hopefully the second season would bear the fruits and vegetables he remembered so fondly from his childhood. 

Only when each plant’s root ball had been carefully lowered into a hole and its stem heaped around with black earth did Yaw straighten, stretch his creaky back, and head inside. Though Håkøya’s warm spring-anologues were rarely hot enough to dehydrate or burn a human, least of all one adapted to the harsher extremes of Tranquility, he headed for the beverage unit in one corner and called for a tall glass of tart citruspine soda. While the dispenser mixed concentrated flavors, trace nutrients, and cold carbonated water, he noticed the blinking indicator on the comms unit and remembered the chirping. 

Given that only four people on the planet knew Yaw by name, and that the hypercast network allowing anyone to anyone further away to send him unwanted messages had been down for more than a week, he wondered who it could be. Most likely, it would be his old associate and one-time business partner Nojus Brand, who was apparently in-system riding along on a Navy ship. Yaw had ignored Nojus’s first two messages and replied to the third with a terse but marginally polite answer, hoping the damn fool would take a hint.  

Retired, after all, meant that Yaw no longer cared what went on outside his property; he hadn’t even read or watched a scrap of news in nearly twenty months. After a few weeks, he’d found the feeling of being disconnected from the Reach’s endless parade of near-crises, panics, and dramas liberating, and had restricted his datasphere usage to acquiring the various fiction and history material which he read to fill the time when he was cooped up inside by rain or other inclement weather. 

Retrieving his completed drink from the unit and taking a sip, Yaw sighed and commanded the house’s intercom to play back the recorded message. 

The message opened with a strain of shrill, martial music that caught the retired spacer by surprise. “Citizen of the planet Håkøya, greetings from a better world.” The breathy, feminine voice carried an odd accent Yaw had never heard before.  

“What in all hells?” In all his seventy years, Yaw had never gotten a cold-call advertisement on a private Datasphere message. The system was supposed to have safeguards in place to prevent such things. 

“Perhaps you think you live in paradise already. That no better world than this one is possible.” The woman speaker continued, her voice dropping into a low tone in an attempt to sound conspiratorial. “You would be forgiven for so thinking. But we can make a better world here, together.” 

“Sounds like utopian sewage to me.” Yaw knew he was talking back at a pre-recorded message that couldn’t answer him, but he didn’t care. He’d heard all manner of crackpot revolutionaries and religious fanatics in his travels, and none of them had ever been able to deliver on their soaring promises. 

“The Incarnation has come at last to your world, and invites you to join us in a new stage of human evolution. Together, we can boldly march into-” 

Yaw snarled and slapped the control to end message playback. To his surprise and growing alarm, the voice continued to blabber on about a brighter future and other utopian platitudes. He tried turning down the volume, and found that, too, unresponsive. Setting his drink down, Yaw picked up the comms unit and yanked its power connector free, finally interrupting the message.  

When silence finally returned to his home, the old spacer recovered his drink and decamped to the rocking-chair on the porch to think. Nursing the sour beverage, he wondered how many people had gotten the message, and tried to guess what percentage of the population of the planet was stupid enough to think anything of it. On Tranquility, someone peddling ideological cure-alls would have been shunned, mocked, and, if they persisted, probably shot, but the world of his childhood, colonized centuries earlier by misfits and fierce individualists, taught everyone from a young age about the poison dripping from demagogues’ tongues. Most of the other inhabitants of Håkøya would have less stringent anti-insanity educations, especially the youngest. 

When his drink was empty, Yaw stared into the glass forlornly. He had heard about the conflict with the so-called Incarnation in passing a few times at the tiny trade-post where he bought his supplies, but had always assumed nobody would bother to invade a world populated by retirees and beachfront resorts. Retired or no, he didn’t think he’d be able to ignore this one, not entirely. 

Creakily standing, Yaw set about reconnecting the comms unit and setting it up to record an outgoing message. Maybe it was time to have a chat with Nojus after all. The man always seemed to have a good nose for danger, even if he did use it for all the wrong purposes.