Tales from the Service: The Meraud Snooper
2951-07-05 – Tales from the Service: The Meraud Snooper
Operation Landsman was two years ago, but evidently this remarkable success of Confederated arms did not end the use of Meraud as a prison world by our foes.
Most of this account from a special intelligence agent who has returned from that world in recent weeks cannot be published for security reasons, but I wanted to bring you the parts of it that I could, because I do not think the horrors of the Hellship transports or the penal facilities on Meraud should be forgotten. The prisoners freed by Landsman have long since returned to their lives such as they can, but the Incarnation has many millions of our compatriots under its control.
I am seeing rumors that the poor conditions of the Meraud labor camps are not the worst fate a Confederated citizen can find under Incarnation control, but I do not have any direct accounts or official reports to bring you about this, only rumors. Evidently the Navy is taking them seriously enough to send special intelligence agents to investigate, but for everyone’s sake I hope that what I’ve heard is nothing more than fanciful exaggeration.
[N.T.B. - I've been around The Sprawl a bit more than Duncan, and I’ve talked to quite a few people, human and otherwise, who’ve had personal interactions with Nate authority. I don’t think the rumors we’ve been seeing are fanciful. You’ll hear far worse from the Cutters who reside in Sagittarius Gate; evidently their home-world has been under Nate control on and off for decades, so they have plenty of experience with how brutal our enemy can be.]
As the wind began to shriek past Hadley McGuiness’s bubble shelter, she sealed the entrance flap and shivered reflexively, though the inside of the shelter was above twenty Celsius. With night approaching fast and a storm blowing down from the Olmo Plateau, she wasn’t going to get anything else done out there until dawn.
After setting the shelter’s sensor perimeter alarm and altering the camouflage scheme used by its smart-canvas outer shroud to match fresh-fallen snow, Hadley removed her helmet and peeled off her sealed environment suit. Meraud had a breathable atmosphere, so the suit wasn’t really sealed; there was no atmo cartridge in the socket at the small of her back, only a small filter block. The suit’s excellent insulation and electric heating elements, on the other hand, were indispensable; even without a storm, night temperatures outside her little shelter could plummet to minus forty-five, and only the sunniest days climbed above minus ten.
Hadley didn’t mind the cold much, but she did wonder how the world had attracted a population of almost one million colonists before the war. Its elliptical orbit did permit brief, balmy summers, but ninety percent of any local year was some flavor of winter.
That the world had seen more than its share of action during the last few years was less surprising. Meraud had been occupied by the Incarnation several years ago, and that implacable foe had constructed large, well-defended prisoner pens on its forbidding surface. No doubt the cold climate had been calculated to reduce the risk of escapes and degrade effective resistance from anyone who did escape.
Confederated scout detachments had discovered the camps after tracking prisoner transports to the world, and a surprise raid in force had liberated the bulk of the prisoners on Meraud and whisked them away, back to friendly lines and warmer climes. That remarkable operation had been two T-years ago. With the intervening occupations of Håkøya and several other worlds, no doubt the Incarnation had re-built its prison facilities and filled those pens with a fresh draft of civilian and military prisoners.
Given the defenses Hadley had seen in orbit, Nate certainly still had something on Meraud to protect, but none of those orbital installations had detected her tiny ship as it had crept past. They were expecting another Operation Landsman, not an unarmed single-seater with radar-absorbing paint and a tiny ion-thrust engine. After all, what could one woman do to disrupt a penal system spanning a whole world?
Hadley hadn’t come to Meraud to cut shackles and start prisoner riots, however. She had come to investigate concerning reports made by the liberated prisoners of two years prior – reports that Meraud was more than a brutal storage point for Confederated prisoners kept busy with meaningless work.
With a storm blowing outside, though, Hadley’s investigatory work was thoroughly on hold. Visibility in Meraud’s chill atmosphere during the day could be several kilometers, but the cameras built into the security perimeter showed her a visibility radius quickly dwindling into the tens of meters. Even if the prison facility in a nearby valley was still doing something worth observing during the storm, she’d just about have to climb over its perimeter wall to see it.
Hadley had brought a few diversions for just such an occasion, but she was in no mood for a holo-drama or an adventure novel on her slate. Something about being so close to several hundred prisoners housed in terrible conditions and forced to labor in the cold for no purpose made escapist fiction seem hollow. Instead, she stretched out on the sleep-pad that occupied half of the shelter’s floor space and listened to the wind howl outside. Would the Navy arrange another mass rescue of all those people she’d been surveiling these last few days? Could they even if they wanted to, now that Meraud was reinforced?
The wind, of course, had no answers.
- Written by Duncan L. Chaudhri
Tales from the Service: The Prime August Fiasco
2951-06-28 – Tales from the Service: The Prime August Fiasco
As I hinted last week, the attack on Prime August was a bit of a minor disaster, despite its success. In addition to stronger than expected defenses and a large-scale comms breakdown that was at least partially caused by innovative enemy signals equipment, the attacking force encountered sophisticated enemy deception tactics that split the Marine landing force and isolated each split component of it from the others for many hours after the landing.
Fortunately, the defenders of Prime August were too few in number to exploit this success. The attack took far longer than planned, but it was concluded successfully, with the Incarnation listening post on the world destroyed.
My understanding is that the trick used by the enemy at Prime August to degrade Confederated communications technology would not work again, but the precise details were not provided to me either in this account or in any official report I have access to.
As the last Marines tromped off after their lieutenant toward the perimeter, Kanako Dunai unbuckled his restraints, grabbed the sidearm strapped below his chair, and headed aft to follow them outside. The normal diagnostic routines hadn’t been able to restore the comms system to normal operation, but that was fine; he had been a damage control tech before he’d certified as a pilot, and there was nothing on a strike-rig comms array he didn’t know how to fix.
The cool night air wafting up through the dropship brought Kanako an eye-watering smell of burnt metal and sweet spices while he rummaged around in one of the lockers for a toolkit. Prime August was a world well suited to human life, but he could tell that whatever vegetation surrounded the landing site would be unbearable as a neighbor, at least for him. Alien pollens and other airborne biomass usually didn’t cause too much trouble for human settlers for the first few generations, but clearly this was one place where first-generation colonists would suffer from hay fever.
Wiping away tears and slinging the tool-kit over one shoulder, Kanako finally disembarked. Not a single Marine remained in sight, though he couldn’t see very far owing to the near-complete darkness split only by the roving spotlight beams on three dropships. Overhead, a fourth dropship, its lower hull still glowing from re-entry, circled downward toward the field.
He was halfway up the ladder on the side of his ship when the shooting started. At first, only a few Marine railguns buzzed in the darkness, but soon, almost everyone seemed to be shooting, in almost every direction. Streams of glowing slugs sprayed across the sky, and a few volleys passed dangerously close overhead.
Cursing, Kanako hugged as close to the hull of his ship as he could. The briefing had not suggested any significant danger at the Alpha landing site. He still had no comms, no way of knowing what was going on; his earpiece was slaved to the ship’s malfunctioning system. Overhead, the circling dropship kicked its engine into overdrive and climbed back for the safety of the open sky.
After a tense few seconds, the shooting began to tail off, and orange streams no longer stitched the darkness. Kanako wondered what they’d all been shooting at. Prime August was supposed to be a milk-run, at least as far as the landing went; now that panicky voice on his comms on the way down was sounding more and more prescient. Maybe Alpha really was a trap; maybe the Marines would come running back at any moment, a horde of Nate infantry on their tails.
Kanako turned and looked behind him at a tall, wiry figure waving a hand-lamp. “Sorry Commander. My comms-”
“Yeah, mine too.” Commander Mesut pointed his lamp back toward one of the other landed dropships. “It’s not the hardware. Some sort of jamming, I think.”
“That’s impossible.” Kanako started climbing down. “The signal modulator-”
“Should cycle between frequencies too fast to be totally jammed. I know.” Mesut sighed. “But that woman on the comms-”
“You heard her too, Commander?” Kanako dropped the last few feet to the ground and adjusted the strap of his toolkit. “I thought-”
“I heard her. Jensley heard her, and you heard her.” Mesut pointed upward at the fourth dropship once again cautiously spiraling downward. “I think that means he heard her, and everyone who for some damned fool reason went to Beta or Gamma heard her.”
Kanako frowned. Had every pilot thought the comms outage was their own? That would explain the hodgepodge scattering of the formation just before they’d hit the atmosphere; everyone was either making their best guess as to what was expected of them, or following someone else in hopes that they knew what was going on. “Quite the mess, sir.”
“Indeed. And now-” Mesut was interrupted by another short volley of railgun fire, this time mostly sprayed into a copse of tree-analogues near the landing zone. “Now the Marines are landed in at least three places, they can’t talk to us, and we can’t talk to them. Which is even worse since we’re supposed to be their long-range relay.”
Kanako pointed skyward. “The Pumas can relay them. Their circuits are totally different than ours.”
“Yeah, but the moment they’re clear to come down here, they’re going to be busy blasting whoever the Marines are shooting at.” Mesut waved a hand. "No, I think we’re on our own. We can’t dust off and leave the grunts here, and we can’t just let them wander off in the direction of the objective with no comms, can we?"
Kanako shook his head. “Not sure we’ve got much of an alternative.” A handful of pilots with sidearms and no comms could hardly expect to make much of a difference in this mess, after all. Even if they dusted off and hovered over the Marines while they pushed forward dropping messages-
Kanako held up a hand. “Commander, can Michaelis see our spotlights from orbit?
“On a night like this? Sure. Does that help us?” Somewhere beyond Mesut’s dropship, the fourth ship finally touched down and began to disgorge its
“Can’t jam visible light.” Kanako shrugged. “If we get all those lamps pointing skyward, I’ll bet there’s a morse-code translator program in the standard software.”
“And Michaelis would be able to read the signal with their scopes. That only fixes things one way.”
“Sure.” Kanako hefted his toolbag. “But it’s a clear night. Once I pull my rig’s forward ‘scope and get it aligned, Michaelis or another ship can do the same trick to talk to us. It’ll work until dawn, at least. Hopefully we'll find something better by then.”
Mesut clapped his hands. “I like it, Dunai. Get started with the scope. Jensley and I will fill in number four over there and work on the lights.”
- Written by Duncan L. Chaudhri
Tales from the Service: The Prime August Glitch
2951-06-21 – Tales from the Service: The Prime August Glitch
“Damn.” Kanako Dunai kicked off a diagnostic routine and put his ship’s comms antenna on manual control. A comms breakdown during a drop wasn’t quite the worst case scenario, but it certainly wasn’t good. “Commander Mesut, do you read? Having comms trouble over here.”
Once again, there was no reply on any channel. Staying on course was no trouble without comms since their path had been pre-planned, but soon, he’d have to make the turn to start his descent toward either Alpha or Gamma, and he’d need to know which one.
Fortunately, Kanako was directly behind the squadron commander, and could go wherever the other dropship went. His other instruments and his tactical plot seemed to be functioning all right, and they still showed clear skies, with no enemy presence. Even as the IFF identifiers on most of the symbols on his display became stale and winked out to leave pale, uncertain radar contacts, he could still make out which one was Commander Mesut’s.
“Attack force, Alpha is a trap.” The mysterious female voice sounded more insistent this time. “Land at Gamma.”
Given that his comms were still apparently down, there was no reason he should be able to hear this woman and nobody else. Perhaps this was one of the pathfinders sent down to recon landing sites sending a max-power broadcast from the surface, but even then, the other members of the squadron would be easier to pick up than her signal. “Identify yourself.” Kanako sent, not really expecting to be heard.
He’d returned his attention to keeping on Mesut’s tail by the time the voice responded. “Are you with the attack force? Listen, there’s a trap down there. You’ve got to-”
Kanako muted the channel. After checking that the comms system was still not responding properly, he once again tried to triangulate the source of this sender, and once again got no useful response. He’d been a damage control tech, and knew he could fix a bad antenna, but that would have to wait until he was on the ground, and the landing area was secure; until then, he was on his own.
Being on his own, he wasn’t sure what to do about the voice. She sounded earnestly concerned, but that could mean anything. A functioning system would filter out signals from hostile sources automatically, but he already knew his comms hardware was not working properly; this could be a Nate provocation, attempting to lead the invading dropships astray.
It could just as easily be a civilian on a commercial comms device, whose signals would never get through the filters on military antennas. Furthermore, Nate knew all too well that most Confederated pilots and troops couldn’t hear transmissions sent to mislead them, and they probably wouldn’t spend much time on something they didn’t think would work.
As Kanako considered the situation, he noticed a change in the display in his console. Where all the blips around him had been traveling roughly in parallel before, now they were beginning to fan out onto at least three distinct headings. The outer wisps of Prime August’s atmosphere were already beginning to interfere with the radar-only picture, but he thought one group looked to be on course toward the Gamma landing site.
The signature of Commander Mesut’s dropship was still on a descent course toward the Alpha site, so Kanako stayed with it, though he had his misgivings; those with their comms working normally would be able to confirm plan changes with the launch coordinator back on Michaelis. Surely, they were changing course because they were ordered to, but nothing in the pre-op briefings had indicated that the landing force would be splitting up.
The view ahead began to glow orange as the dropship plummeted into thicker layers of atmosphere, its speed igniting the air. Automatically, the ship retracted its antennas and closed the heavy shutters over the cockpit, protecting sensitive equipment and crew alike from the fires of atmospheric entry, and the tactical plot went dark.
With little to do as the ship careened downward on autopilot, Kanako considered the situation. What would cause command to split the force? It seemed in defiance of every contingency in the battle plan, and yet, it was clearly what was happening.
By the time the ship slowed and the armored shutters slid back open, he still hadn’t found an answer. Kanako could see nothing but blackness ahead, but soon the radar system painted a map of the sky and terrain ahead, and once again the signature of at least one dropship – probably still Commander Mesut’s - appeared directly ahead. A single Puma escort overhead was only remnant of the escort force.
Kanako was over Landing Site Alpha barely a minute later, circling downward to land as Mesut’s dropship disgorged its company of suited Marines onto a meadow of stiff, shimmering grass-analogue. A third dropship had appeared from somewhere and, not having comms to coordinate, Kanako let it land first before coming down himself.
The landing was routine, with no sign of enemy forces or enemy fire. Kanako already knew the atmosphere of Prime August was perfectly breathable, but he ran the filters and sensors anyway on final approach. “Lieutenant, I'm seeing nothing out there but more Marines.”
“Understood.” The gruff Marine officer sounded disappointed. “Shouldn’t we be in command net range? My comms are still out.”
“I’m having some tech problems on the dropship, sir.” Kanako winced; he didn’t like telling an officer about technician-level problems, and most officers didn’t like to hear about them. “I'll get on it as soon as we’re down.”
Even as he said this, Kanako twisted the yoke to spin the ship around direct its ramp toward the other two landed dropships, then set the landing skids down on the grass. “Welcome to Prime August.” He lowered the ramp, eager to get the troops off so he could figure out what was wrong with his ship.
The attack on Prime August succeeded with few casualties on May 26, but the problems encountered in this first proper attack on an Incarnation held world in the Sagittarius Frontier was not without its problems, as next week’s continuation will explain.
Problems with communications equipment are not the only thing which hampered the mainly Marine attack force; Prime August’s small but well emplaced Incarnation garrison took nearly twice as long as originally planned to exterminate. Most likely, the issues encountered are now being worked into Seventh Fleet's plans for future operations.
- Written by Duncan L. Chaudhri
Tales from the Service: The Prime August Drop
2951-06-14 – Tales from the Service: The Prime August Drop
Evidently, our account of the last two weeks featuring some new equipment fielded by the Confederated Marines last year coincided with a Marine recruitment drive event taking place in Sol and Centauri, and some in our audience have alleged that we coordinated the delay of this account to coincide with this event. They point to the central role of the new Kodiak machines in this drive and in our reporting as evidence for this point.
Our audience has grown somewhat in the last year, so perhaps many of these people missed my discussion before that of Naval Intelligence embargo rules. I will summarize it here: even if we have a credible account of a new development on the battlefield, we cannot publish it until Intelligence says so. This is part of the terms of our military embed arrangement.
As it turns out, we were given the clearance to begin discussing the Kodiak program several months ago, but we didn’t have any compelling accounts about it to bring to this feed. You can find several images of the machine on our main datasphere hub which were posted last month after a Marine training exercise on Botched Ravi, for example.
Had the Marines asked us to publish an account to coincide with a recruitment drive, we would have done so, but this content would have borne and appropriate label to indicate this arrangement to our audience. This embed team and Cosmic Background corporate both take transparency very seriously.
When the drop-bay doors finally swung open, Kanako Dunai craned his neck up and looked “down” at the world barely five hundred kilometers below. There wasn’t much to see; John H. Michaelis was above the night side of the planet Prime August. A narrow sea that reflected the light of two large moons snaked between two dark continents, hidden here and there by luminous white tangles of cloud. No lights glowed from the surface – at least none Kanako’s eyes could pick out.
According to pre-mission briefings, Prime August had been one of the planets intended for colonization back in 2946, before the Incarnation had smashed nearly every colonial mission on the Sagittarius Frontier. The engineers sent to build a spaceport and prepare the way for colonists had left Maribel just as first reports of hostile attacks on the new frontier had reached that place. Their ship had checked in at the Sagittarius Gate waystation on schedule and, while Confederated Navy forces scrambled to investigate the attacks, it had headed off to complete its mission, never to be heard from again.
Kanako had seen that world once before, of course. As a hangar technician aboard Whitcomb Scourge, he had been present when the Lost Squadrons had visited Prime August, hoping to find those engineers and their equipment, and perhaps to take on supplies and spare parts from the stranded and still unpeopled colony. Those desperate ships and crews had found nothing except an under-construction Incarnation ground-side installation sitting roughly where the engineers had been tasked to set up a spaceport, and Kanako remembered the dejection and despair that seemed to cascade down the ranks all the way to the lowliest technician. That day, it had seemed that the Lost Squadrons were fated to perish.
They hadn’t perished, though. At least, most of them hadn’t. Many good spacers and quite a few good ships had been left behind by the time the survivors rendezvoused with Confederated forces at Sagittarius Gate.
“Two minutes to launch.” Michaelis’s hangar operations officer announced. “All landing craft report ready status.”
Kanako tore his eyes away from the darkly looming world above his head and flicked the switches that would start his final pre-mission checks. Out there with the Lost Squadrons, while cowering at a damage control station while other spacers fought for his life, he’d resolved that if there was to be war, he wasn’t going to fight it as a technician. The day he’d been pulled from the Whitcomb Scourge duty roster, he’d put in a request to be re-certified as a pilot. Now, here he was at the controls of his very own dropship, about to be hurled free of its troopship toward that same Incarnation outpost that had so dismayed him nearly three years ago. Live or die, he would have his fate in his own hands this time.
At least this time, it would probably be live, not die. The briefing had suggested that the base on Prime August was lightly defended and served primarily as a listening post, using a network of gravimetric sensory platforms scattered throughout the system to monitor star drive activity in nearby star systems. Perhaps, if Incarnation sensory technology was sophisticated enough, the installation might be able to gauge activity at Sagittarius Gate itself, barely thirty light-years away. The briefing officer hadn’t said how Seventh Fleet knew it could catch this station by surprise, but apparently that had never been in doubt; not a single Incarnation warship blocked the attack force’s path. The Marines in Kanako’s payload bay were armed for just about anything, but chances were they were up against no more than two hundred Incarnation infantrymen, perhaps with one or two of the dreaded Immortals among them.
The diagnostics completed, and Kanako wordlessly forwarded his slate of green status indicators to the hangar operations center. In front of the ops officer, a huge hologram depicting each of the twenty-four dropships and their six Puma escorts would be going from gray to green. When everything was ready-
“Launch system is armed. Godspeed to you all.”
Ahead of Kanako’s cockpit, the first five launches detached from the deck and fell away toward the world below. A moment later, the next five followed. Unlike the assault transports that most Marine units deployed from, Michaelis was not equipped with a strike-grade launch acceleration system; its hangar could deploy its entire compliment in seconds, but it deployed them at low velocity. It could recover the dropships and escorts almost as quickly, but both of these properties were only any good if space around the ship wasn’t swarming with Incarnation fighters.
The rippling launch finally reached Kanako’s rig. With a thump, the dropship detached from the hangar deck, and the big hangar doors quickly fell out of view. There was almost no need to use thrusters to get on course for the landing site; gravity would pull the assault force down toward the dark surface below of its own accord.
Even before the dropship hit the upper atmosphere, the Marine payload began to grow restless. On the video monitor, Kanako watched them restlessly check and re-check their weapons, moving the huge limbs and fingers of their Rico suits with surprising ease.
The company lieutenant, having comms access to talk to the cockpit, invariably decided to use it. “What’s it look like out there, pilot?” His voice was harsh and gravelly, and Kanako wondered if the man had once suffered some sort of throat injury to get a voice like that.
“Far as I can see it’s quiet. Ops network reports no opposition in orbit or in air.” Kanako tapped a control to wake a display in the bay to show the Marines a sky dominated by blue and green indicators, with not a single red pip in sight. “We’re too far out to know much about ground fire, but I’ll get you down all right.”
“All drop units be advised.” This was a smooth, quiet woman’s voice – another pilot, as far as Kanako could tell. “Divert to landing zone Gamma. Do not go to Alpha. Repeat, do not go to Alpha.”
Kanako frowned; the woman certainly wasn’t Allison Mesut, his squadron commander. Tiedeman, the escort commander, was a gruff man, and the comms system hadn’t provided an identity for the speaker. “Who is this? On whose authority are we diverting?”
“Alpha is a trap. Heavy ground emplacements on the ridge.” There was no indication the woman heard Kanako’s transmission. “Repeat: go to Gamma.”
Frowning, Kanako queried the comms system for the origin of the transmission on the squadron channel. After a minute of processing, it returned simply “MISMATCH.”
Kanako switched to a direct channel to the squadron lead. “Commander, who’s that on our comms?”
Though he could almost see Mesut’s dropship in formation ahead, he received no answer.
- Written by Duncan L. Chaudhri
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