2950-05-03 – Tales from the Service: The Protest Line

There has been very little action here on the Frontier in the last few weeks. The Incarnation is consolidating at Håkøya, and the Navy is reconstituting some of its lower-level fleet organization to rebuild complete action squadrons after the losses among light ships in recent battles. Fortunately, reinforcements of this type of ship seem to be in ready supply; just this past week alone five destroyers and seven frigates have arrived here to take up duty with Fifth Fleet. True, only three of those ships were new vessels, the rest being refitted from reserve, but few of the ships in the fleet are of the still-rare newer models.  

It seems, paradoxically, that replacing losses is making the fleet newer and stronger. Of the eleven Vantchev-class frigates launched since the lead ship was shown to the public in 2945, I’m told six now serve with Fifth Fleet, and one more was crippled in action at Margaux and hasn’t returned to service yet. 

One might ask (and I have) why we can’t have the new ships without seeing so many older ones destroyed or crippled. The answers I get are varied. On the one hand, obviously the reinforcements are coming whether or not any ships are lost; on the other, the ships in Fifth Fleet have operated together for a long time, even before the war, and introducing untested ships and inexperienced crews into the squadrons without time for maneuver exercises is seen as a bad plan. Admiral Zahariev seems to be trying to mostly assign the new ships to new squadrons operating together, and he seems to be keeping them in secondary roles while they work up. 

This week, I must call to the attention of this audience the situation on the beautiful blue-green planet once again visible outside Saint-Lô’s lounge viewpanels. A little unrest here after the fall of Håkøya was only to be expected, but the situation seems to be only worsening over time. A trooper by the name of Floyd Grier has been sending regular reports of the situation on the streets around the government center, and I’ve elected to employ his account to demonstrate the situation. 

Floyd Grier stared through his transparent face-plate at the crowd on the other side of the barricade. Most of the faces in the front row were familiar to him by now, or perhaps they were only types, replaced with indistinguishable alternates each time the sun went down and the night’s clashes discouraged some, injured others, and emboldened still more. 

The traitorous orb of Maribel’s primary was about to betray Floyd and his compatriots once more, and already the crowd had gone from loud but orderly to borderline riotous while the shadows lengthened. The people screaming for the attention of the planet's civilian and military officials weren’t bad people, but they were scared, and that much unease squeezed into such dense crowds was as dangerous for Floyd and the other troopers guarding the perimeter as murderous malice. He told himself every night that the sensible majority of citizens were at home, finding more productive outlets for their unease at having a conquering enemy fleet barely five light-years away at Håkøya. 

Not for the first time, he wondered if perhaps he was wrong, and that everyone on Maribel had lost their damned minds. Too many of the people choked into the metropolis and its outskirts were refugees from worlds now fallen under the Incarnation’s shadow: Håkøya, Margaux, Adimari Valis, Mereena, and more. They had already fled one home for the promised security of the fleet base at Maribel. As far as those people were concerned, the titanic battlewagons of the fleet had proven themselves powerless to stop the enemy, and soon that fleet would depart or be chased away. 

Floyd could hardly blame the people on the other side of the cordon for believing it. Rationally, he knew the fleet could never abandon a major base like Maribel unless its fighting power was utterly smashed. Rationally, most of the people screaming and shaking their fists probably knew it too, but rationality never survived exposure to crowds for very long. 

“Attention, demonstrators.” The loudspeakers set up behind Floyd barked. “You are required by local ordinance to disperse at sundown.” 

This warning had been issued every day since the demonstrations had started. Floyd hadn’t seen the crowd obey it even once in his eleven nights on duty. Sure, some people began to look uneasy and filter back toward the fringes. Those would generally head home with clean consciences, believing that the rest of the crowd was just as reasonable as themselves and expressing outrage at the injury and property damage reports in the morning newsfeeds. Surely, they’d say, the authorities had provoked a clash; after all, they hadn’t seen the crowd do anything aggressive all day. 

Floyd and the other troopers on the line knew only too well how quickly crowd psychology shifted after the sun went down. In the twilight, all it would take was a single spark to set off the fear-consumed protestors, and unfortunately, someone always provided it. Personally, Floyd suspected enemy-sympathizing agents of most of these instigations; the authorities never managed to get their hands on the culprits. 

Floyd’s helmet comms pinged, and a reticle appeared in the heads-up display in his helmet, swooping in to bracket a face in the third row of the crowd. “Grier, that’s the instigator from two nights ago.” Janssen, one of the troopers in the reserve line behind and above Floyd, called out. “He’s in your arc. Watch that bastard. He’s going to try something.” 

“We should go in and get him before the sun goes down.” Floyd’s eyes narrowed. Two nights ago, his good friend Sharif had been mobbed by rioters and badly injured. The medics said he’d pull through all right, but Floyd had been the one to console Sharif’s wife and kid, and to get them inside the cordon in case someone marked them as targets. Ladeonist insurgents were like that on other worlds; they’d pick on the families of the injured to try to goad the authorities into a brutal crackdown. The higher-ups weren’t taking any chances now. 

“Negative.” Lieutenant Holmwood snapped. “Leave him be until he actually starts something. I’ll have one of the big guns on him in case he does.” 

“Attention, demonstrators.” The loudspeaker’s voice cut easily over the shouting mob, reciting another rote warning required by local law. “Directives will be enforced with acoustics.” 

Floyd grimaced. He could almost see the telescoping booms of the acoustic disruptor cannons rising from their mounts on the building behind him. All along the perimeter, those sinister towers would be rising. He hated the acoustics as much as any protestor, but without them, there was no way for a force of about twelve hundred troopers to hold an urban perimeter nearly a mile in circumference. 

At the sight of the acoustic booms rising, the man bracketed in Floyd’s headset sneered. His eyes seemed to flash in the slanting light, and then he ducked backwards and vanished. 

“Janssen, did you see where he went?” Floyd scanned the crowd, but the instigator did not reappear. 

“Negative. But he damned well didn’t go home.” 

Floyd looked up at the sun, partially obscured now by the top of one of the lower buildings along Bryant Causeway. He knew the night would be another bloody mess, and wished he could be anywhere else than in the thick of it.