lördag 5 februari 2011

Lennart Svensson: Boots On The Ground (short story)


Recently I discussed how a future soldier would be equipped. And here I discussed some other future war-related topics, brought about by some movie. Now I'll take it to the next level: I'll bring you a story of a future war, replete with laserbeaming hearts, riders in the sky and nifty oneliners. It's concluded by a discussion of this and that; there's always that discussion, that school masterly lesson of How Things Are. Tell me Professor... But now, let's make room for Jason Revell and his cronies battling it out in the force fields of tomorrow!

The G-Type sun of Waldaria was beating down. The smell of phosgen, cordite, alkaline lye and ozone lay thick over the bombed-out, surreal landscape. Twisted plasteel and ferro fibre lined the foxhole. On the bottom of the pit lay splinter and fragments of concrete, empty laser batteries, used detonators from q-grenades, rations, water bottles and a periscope.

With his back to the pit wall, catching his breath, company commander Jason Revell was sitting. He was a seasoned combat veteran, a fire-eater and a lover of action. Essentially, he sought rest in action. And now he was in the midst of action in the combat zone, battling it out against man’s fiercest enemy ever: the Raptors, a species of intelligent, humanoid velociraptors.

Revell’s unit was in deep trouble, the enemy could be approaching – so by that he was satisfied, relaxing his whole being. He loved impossible situations like these.

Joining him in the cavity was Oshima, the recon squad leader plus five of his men. They were all armed with laser carbines and dressed in battle suits with purple-and-black camouflage, one of many patterns to be chosen by means of the suit’s nanotechnical properties. The helmets they wore were tight-fitting contraptions, advanced gizmoes with dark vizors functioning as IR, nightvision and whatnot. For now it was day and the vizor just acted as sunshade.

Revell and the recon squad was spearheading the company’s assault into a Raptor strongpoint. After two hours the 80-strong unit had taken a smaller outwork. Its trenches and shelters were rather free from damage, giving the company some breathing space.

But the enemy was approaching, right? Revell had seen some enemy shapes in the forefield before they dug in. So, what to do? He had to take a look.

As intimated a periscope lay on the pit floor. Revell grabbed it and took a peek over the edge – and now things got serious, now he must have really enjoyed himself as the action-lover he was. For what did he see? Verily: he saw giants approaching, ten feet tall Raptors gathering for a counterthrust – enemy soldiers in skirmish line, fierce alien warriors in helmets with protruding snouts and suits in hexagonal camouflage, particle-ray guns at the ready, coming in for the kill in line abreast over the sharply lit landscape, basking in the glory of the G-Type sun.

It all took place during the reconquest of Waldaria. This was the third planet the Raptors took in their heyday, their time of clash with man, their time of conquest and stealing man’s empire. Waldaria, however, became the first to be recaptured by man. Man’s 5th Army was sent there after some pelting from space, some celestial prep fire, and in one of the battle groups Revell’s company was serving. It was, to be precise, Delta Company, Battalion Senkrecht.

But as for now the Raptor enemy was on the way, threatening the very existence of Revell and his men. So what to do? Revell for his part had a 15 rounds MLRS salvo on call, so he simply called the battery and demanded support. This was done by means of the radio integrated in the helmet he wore, the hermetical helmet with infrared and nightvision.

The battery having confirmed, Rayon called his company:

”Company, stay in cover! Incoming!”

- - -

This all took place on Waldaria, February 15, AD 3477, an ordinary-extraodrinary day in the 35th century. Mankind’s 5th Army had landed on the planet, a planet once belonging to him and then taken by the enemy, this Saurian creature called Raptor. The ensuing conflict was called The Raptor War. Now the planet in question, Waldaria, was being regained by man. This particular day was about taking an enemy fortress, a stronghold that the Raptor for some reason chose to defend, right in the middle of nowhere.

The strongpoint for its part consisted of three main emplacements in the middle, supported by outworks.

The battalion had been brought to the fortress by quibble, unloaded, and been given support from heavy laser gunships. Then Revell’s company had converged from two directions on the first outer work, the platoons and squads giving and demanding support, angulating their lasers to be able to knock out enemy force fields. Saps were taken and parallels cleared.

And now the Raptor had gathered for a counterstrike. But Revell had called the rocket artillery, the MLRS, the Multiple Launch Rocket System unit deploying some five kilometers to their rear. Soon it whizzed in the air above them and the men ducked. There was a burst and a shaking of the ground. The splinter from the rocket grenades did no harm to the Raptors’ battle suits, Revell knew that. But the shockwave from the impact of the salvoes floored them, knocking the lizards down.

When Revell had counted to 15 impacts he ordered his closest unit, the recon squad, to go forth and clear the premises. Led by Oshima the five men rushed out of the cover, up a ladder, and on to a rampart where they deployed and rolled out a net of laser. Then Revell called for 1st Platoon who caught the Raptors from another angle.

The enemy counterstrike was quelled. The company moved on into the maze of the enemy strongpoint, a veritable fortress. Soon Alpha Company was digging in next to a rampart, a seemingy impenetrable body of steel concrete. Revell looked at the ridge from his hideout in a ditch, scrutinizing every meter. On the right end of the works he got to see a shrubbery that had remained unscathed through the prep fire; this could be used as concealement. And the works itself was damaged, showing an aperture where an inroad could be made.

He called the battalion commander. The connection was bad, nothing was heard for a while. Revell lay down on his back and looked at the clouds scudding across the sky. The smell of cordite and phosgen was ever present.

Then suddenly a voice was heard in Revell’s earpiece:

”Caesar Bravo, I read. Over.”

”This is Sigma Two,” Revell said. ”We have found a means to make an inroad to the fortress.”

He went on to tell the battalion commander his plan. They were at the centre of the enemy’s stronghold, having it surrounded by two other companies of the battalion. But these two had been halted in their advances, so the battalion commander gave these the orders to bind the defences while Revells unit broke through.

So the others bound it. And Revell’s company found a crack in the hull, an aperture through which they could sneak in and wreck havoc. Thus the whole of the fortress was cleared, but the actual piece of terrain that the battalion had to conquer wasn’t safe by that, oh no – for now the Raptors launched another counterstrike, a massive, all-out deluge of electron rays and flying rectangles, the latter being their particular form of flying vessels, drone aircraft that seemed to be everywhere.

The battalion distributed itself in a 360 degree defense north of the fortress, in rocky ground that made for good cover and concealment, and for a good overview of the stony field over which the enemy attacked. And using their utmost skill in laser marksmanship they pinpointed and took down most of the rectangles by saturating their force fields with fire from several carbines. As for the enemy in the field Revell wished that he had had some more of that MLRS support, be he had already exhausted his quota and so had the other companies.

So the enemy attacked them rushing over the open ground seemingly on their way to crush them.

However, the onrushing enemy infantry had nowhere to take cover in the field. Revell and the other company commanders told their men to aim and fire, working in pairs and angulating their targets. And the enemies became somewhat easy targets for Revell’s marksmen.

”Captain! On your right!”

Revell insinctively got his laser carbine ready and fired to his right. There a ten feet tall figure in hex camouflage was standing poiting his gun at him. At the same time as Revell’s laserbeam hit the creature the other guy, Oshima, the one who had warned Revell for this last danger, this last enemy infiltrating their position after the onrush over the open stone field; at the same time Oshima’s laser carbine got going, thus hitting the alien with two rays simultaneously. The beams from both Revell’s and Oshima’s weapon knocked out the Raptor’s force field grilling him on the spot, leaving only charred remains.

The battalion had carried the day. Next they were airlifted out, meeeting on their way back to the base photon gunships giving the beaten enemy and his knocked-out fortress a last treatement of energy beams and fragmentation bombs. The battalion returned to base for some rest and recuperation before next day’s fighting, eventually clearing the whole planet from its occupying Raptors, those thieving aliens having robbed the planet from Man in the first place. Man took back Waldaria and then the other two planets, chasing the Raptor away from what was rightfully his and restoring his stellar Republic.

- - -

There you go, the war was won in the end. That aside you might ask: all this fighting on the ground, was that indeed the war of the future? Were are all the fancy rocketmen, flying around like stinging bees, jumping from spot to spot like butterflies?

Well, therein lies the problem with these guys, their being all over the place. As any student of miltary history knows, what can be seen can be hit, and what can be hit can be killed. And that was Man’s lodestar when he had to create an army out of nothing, a fighting force to meet the Raptor threat. It was out of the question having soldiers with spiffy jetpacks flying around throwing bombs; that’s how many pictured themselves Space War Infanty back then, but sadly it wouldn’t work. These rocket boys made conspicuous targets, prone to be blown out of the sky in no time. True, there were force fields, but these could absorb just a certain amount of energy.

So man had to stop dreaming and start from scratch. He had to learn to fight on the ground, that was rule number one, the general clause behind fighting this war. Not so glamorous maybe but what can you do.

This much I proclaim, this much I state: the Raptor War had to be fought planetside, had to be won by boots on the ground. It was ”the muddy, bloody business of infantry warfare” once again and Man was learning it the hard way.

As I’ve already told you interstellar Man met the Raptor in the 35th century and war broke out pretty fast. It had nothing particular to do with them being aliens; Man had met more peaceful aliens before that, like the Musseronians and the Idallians. Anyhow: Man had been thrown into a war and he had no army. The enemy had taken three of his seven planets and he had to take them back – but how?

Item 1: he had to have an army, to simply have a spacefleet wouldn’t do. The navy could support the army by transports and spatial bombardment, but to get down on the planets and force the Alien to sign the papers of surrender, Man needed boots on the ground.

And that brings us to Item 2: as hinted he had to have soldiers that fought and traveled on the ground, they couldn’t fly around like stinging bees. They had to have cover and concealement from terrain features.

Item 3: the armament. In the 35th century laser weapons were common so a military variety, a laser personal weapon was developed in no time. The enemy had energy weapons too and against that a force field was needed, which was developed in a couple of weeks.

But the force field had, as intimated, some limits. Because of a feature called angulation, which was detected at this time, two or more energy beams, fired at the correct angle, could knock out the field. One ray hitting the field would simply get absorbed; two rays, however, saturated the field and made it to collapse. And as I said a solider with a jetpack, roaming the skies like a bird, was a conspicuous target.

Item 4: support. You can’t make war with personal laser guns only. You need weapons with effects like shock, splinter, and smoke too. So Man developed rocket artillery, heavy lasers, sound screens to protect the units from heavy enemy fire, and so on.

Item 5: movement. The soldiers couldn’t simply walk to the battle zone. As the star fleet had shipped the units to the world in question you had to get some atmospherical transport, and that was made by vessels soaring by means of crystal magnets and protected by force fields. I know the first rule (what can be seen can be hit etc) applies to these quibbles too, but they had heavier weaponry than the single soldier; they could defend themselves in aerial combat, pick out targets on the ground and silence them, and that was more than a poor, lonely soldier with a jetpack could do.

And with that you have the principles for an army; firepower, movement and protection, 35th century style.

And the gist of it all would be that fighting on the ground was what brought us victory. Or rather: we couldn’t do without it, as some people thought at the beginning of the war. They figured that a sound bombardment from space would make the enemy to yield, but they were wrong in that respect. Bombing a planet from space releases fearsome powers, true, but there’s always the possibility to take cover from the onslaughts in underground caves and hideouts. And you can’t bomb every square kilometer. There’s a mathematical limit to the distruction you can cause with bombing. It’s called the law of dimishing marginal returns. Maybe it’s an economical axiom, but it works in other areas too, like space bombing: your first, say, ten loads of megaton cubicles may raze a city to the ground, but what with the next ten? Rubble is rubble, you can’t destroy it anymore. But in the meantime sufficient parts of the enemy army might be hiding in its shelters, 50 meters under ground, just waiting for you to land your army. Unless you do that, unless you go down there and face him, the enemy is unconquered.

Thus you need boots on the ground to win a war. Primarily you need spatial forces in order to give the enemy a reasonable dose of space bombing, and then some naval vessels to protect the bomb force and the troop transport, and space rangers for local security. But to gain ultimate victory you have to get down on the hostile planet and face the enemy in hands-on combat, as I have shown in this story.

Related
Saurian Baddies
Virtual Guru