NEW FICTION: Crossing the Trianalyte (Earth/Ryka War Series)
November 16, 2002
This week begins a series of self-contained stories of the war between Earth and Ryka. First, a brief outline of the events that resulted in the conflict...
A TIMELINE of the EARTH/RYKA WAR
November 2098: The Rykan’s arrival on Saturn is detected by the Sagan V, a deep-space relay satellite positioned in orbit around the planet.
January 2099: The first images of the Rykans on Saturn reach earth. There is a striking resemblance between humans and Rykans. Data received from the Sagan V indicate that the aliens are strip mining the natural electrical currents inherent beneath the planet’s surface.
March 2099: News of the Rykan presence on Saturn is leaked to the media when 18-year-old Chandler Fraime unintentionally obtains access to classified NASA and PFA online documents. Unwittingly, Fraime forwards the information to a news editor at USA Today. Within 24 hours, the world realizes, as was long speculated, that “we are not alone.”
August 2099: Global concern over the alien presence results in the launch of the Saturn-bound Carrion I. The ship carries a team of 12 researchers and UEN Ambassadors who will attempt first contact with the aliens.
January 2100: The Carrion I reaches Saturn; the crew establish first contact on January 7 on the island Clarissa, and are surprised to discover the physical and technological similarities both share. Through the use of a Rykan-developed translator, the two groups are able to communicate easily. The Rykans explain that they’ve no intent to colonize Saturn; rather, they seek to strip mine the planet, the subsurface of which, it was found, is replete with life-sustaining electrical currents embedded within thick layers of liquid metallic hydrogen. The UEN ambassadors explain to the Rykan commanders that Saturn is not a sovereign planet, and that the Rykan presence is considered hostile. The Rykans disagree, citing that the planet was uninhabited, and therefore sovereign, prior to their presence. The UEA insist the Rykans leave Saturn. No agreements are reached and the Carrion I crew (desperately short on life-sustaining supplies) is forced to return to Earth.
July 2100: The Earth’s leaders soon begin to ponder whether the Rykan’s might one day not seek a more obvious source of energy, such as the sun. Believing the Rykan threat is both immediate and serious, construction begins on the Warhawk series, a deep-space ion-powered transport with a 2,500 passenger capacity. Its predecessor, the much smaller Excelsior series, had been used successfully for routine transports to the Mars colonies. Unlike the Excelsior, which was largely developed by NASA and MIT, the Warhawk begins as a joint venture between NASA and the UEA, but is soon annexed by the PFA’s combat assault division.
August 2100: An unmanned ion probe is launched containing a prerecorded message to the Rykans proclaiming that their presence on Saturn will be met with resistance should they remain. The threat is ignored.
The Rykan-developed translator—one of which was given to the members of the Carrion--is dissected, replicated, and mass produced. It becomes standard issue for PFA deep-space combat divisions.
January 2101: Construction of six Warhawks is completed. The first vessel is launched January 20. Onboard are 1,200 men and women of PFA Division 01.
Between 2101 and 2105, 6,225 PFA personnel die en route to Saturn due to Warhawk flight pattern malfunction and navigational errors.
June 2106: Divisions 07 and 08 reach Saturn successfully on August 22 and 23. Shortly thereafter, on August 25, a manufacturing error in the zero-G pressure suits worn by the PFA results in the near-instantaneous deaths of both Divisions. The Warhawk program is reevaluated on Earth by the United Congress, but because the Rykans are still considered a threat, continuation of the program is wholeheartedly granted.
July 2107: Division 09 becomes the first successful PFA Division to establish a base of operations on Saturn. The PFA COO meets with a Rykan communications liaison on July 2 in a final attempt at peace. During this infamous meeting gunfire is exchanged between the two species on the island Smatra, resulting in several hundred Rykan and human casualties. The incident is akin to an intergalactic game of “he said, she said,” with the PFAs insisting the Rykans had instigated the incident and the Rykans claiming the blame lay with the PFA. Word of the incident is relayed by both parties to their respective home worlds.
On July 4, the “Declaration of Worlds War” is enacted on Earth by the UEN. On Ryka, similar measures are enacted.
Despite the Rykans’ and humans’ desires to annihilate the other, both species realize the hopelessness of launching a successful assault against the other’s planet. Thus, with the Rykan presence on Saturn being the catalyst of the aggression, conquest of the ringed planet becomes the objective of both sides.
January 2110: There are approximately 12,000 PFA and a near equal number of Rykan AAR troops stationed on Saturn’s surface. Fighting is the order of daily life, though often the fight is not between Rykan and human, but between the soldiers and the planet’s intense atmospheric conditions. Winds in excess of 1,800 km/hr are typical. Visibility on the planet’s surface is often nearly impossible; infrared ocular enhancement becomes a standard requirement for all PFA recruits. The Shepard Moons of Saturn, responsible for maintaining the gravitational interaction of the planet’s outer-most ring, have become military bases of operations, with the Earth command being stationed on the inner moon and the Rykan command occupying the outer moon. Troops arrive on Saturn’s surface on an almost daily basis to play the game of war.
March 1, 2110: Division 013 arrives on Saturn.
Crossing the Trianalyte
March 13: We approach the northern ridge of the Corena Trail at 22:50. Atop the ridge is a clearing wherein G-Division can stop to rest for a few hours, no more. There is little time for rest. We are already behind schedule, having mixed it up with a small Rykan patrol that had gotten separated from the rest of its regimen. G-Division opened with Flushing bombs and hot-spots; we then moved in swiftly with a barrage of Marshal 21 weapons fire. The Rykans never stood a chance.
As we begin to set up the makeshift camp, the COO—a gruff, cigar-smoking career soldier who’s worked his way through the ranks during the course of his 22-years of PFA service—stands over me. I busily collect my belongings, which had fallen out of my stat-pack moments earlier. The paraphernalia consists of regulation gear (a half-dozen SD-Bombs, four boxes of standard FP-007 shells, a standard issue 12” inorganic bayonet, an English to Rykan wireless translator, one bubble-pack of hydrocloral capsules, two rolls of antibacterial swath cloth, an anti-grav stabilizer, liquid K-rations, a hand-held PDA-keyboard) and personal belongings (a CDR photo cube, a Duncan “Butterfly” yo-yo that I’ve owned since childhood, one bag of cherry licorice, a half-pack of Marlboro filtered, the January 2110 issue of Playboy, a Game-Junkie 35000 and several silicone game cartridges, two virtual Superman comic books, and a string of rosary beads).
The COO, whose name is—perhaps fittingly—Lt. Commander Preston Stone, stands over me, placing his size 12 cobalt-toed standard issue lace-ups atop my rosary beads, just as I’m about to return them to my stat-pack.
“You call yourself a soldier, Baxter, you pathetic piece of shit? Semper Fi!”
Stone, who is the quintessential tough and silent COO, walks away in disgust. A stout believer in running his Division “smoothly and by the numbers,” Stone’s few and far between verbal exchanges to his soldiers typically begin with Semper and end with Fi. With regard to me he doesn’t mind extending his vocabulary to include a comment or two with elaborate upon my “uselessness” to the Division. Not that I mind. I understand the severity of what is at stake, and the importance of COO Stone’s command. It isn’t’ an island, or a continent, or even a planet that is at stake. The survival of the solar system—mankind’s very survival—is dependent upon our success.
ASCOO Phillips, Stone’s second-in-command, approaches.
“Don’t let Stone bother you. He’s just pissed off because the techs weren’t able to reconfigure his helmet so he could smoke those God-awful cigars in an oxygen-free environment.”
Phillips adjusts the O2 intake valve on his compression suit and helps me to gather the rest of my fallen items, a few of which have already blown away in the wind which is ever present on Saturn.
“He doesn’t bother me,” I reply. “Man’s got a job to do, can’t argue that.”
“Christ, I think you’re being a bit kind. You and I both know this Division practically runs itself. Stone receives orders from CO and forwards them to us. We do the work. Same as always.”
“Damn right. You think the average grunts in the PFA are sent half-way across the solar system to Saturn’s moon to kill and be killed by a race like the Rykans? We’re the best the PFA has and Stone knows it despite all his ‘Semper Fi’ bullshit. Anyway, we’ll be moving out again in a couple of hours so zip down and try and get some shuteye.”
“You too,” I offer, but Phillips is already gone.
I reflect upon Phillips’ words—not about Stone’s harassment, but about the deep-space PFA Division of which we are all a part. The reality is that our Division—013—is not the elite team of ground operatives Phillips would like to believe. The top of the crop, Division 01, has long since perished. A company of 1,200, the men and women of Division 01 were killed before even stepping foot upon Saturn’s surface. An “incalculable error” had placed the craft on a collision course with the planet’s ice rings, specifically, the Cassini division. The ship’s auto-logic onboard navigation THINK-BOX system attempted to adjust the directional error, but it was too little too late. The crew, still in hiber-sleep, died alone and together in the vastness of space.
Divisions 02 through 06 fared little better. Each of the Warhawks had malfunctioned in deep space, and the results had been disastrous. The structural integrity of Division 03’s Warhawk became disrupted upon impacting with an asteroid particle no larger than a freckle. The craft broke into thousands of pieces, and although the crew was awakened from hiber-sleep, there was little they could do but drift along in the starry darkness until their emergency O2 resources expired 20 minutes later. Between 2101 and 2105, 6,225 men and women of the PFA had perished en route to Saturn. And the Rykans were still colonizing the mostly liquid planet, unsupervised.
I slowly remove the standard-issue collapsible spade from my supply belt and dig a shallow fox hole. I unzip my overnight, which consists of a weighted compression-based sleeping bag and a motion detector, and anchor the bag to the ground. Properly securing the bag to the ground is crucial, as a half-dozen colleagues had learned on their first night on Saturn. I’d heard their screams as they were taken by the raging winds and carried up into the torrential atmosphere. I must, of course, remain in the zero-g pressure suit, though before bedding down I adjust the intake-outtake valves to facilitate REM sleep. I also replace the suit’s disposable human waste cartridge. All around me, the men and women of G-Division are busy doing likewise, preparing for a brief respite of down time. Four, perhaps five hours of sleep, and then on our feet again. The days on Saturn are shorter than on Earth, averaging 11.5 hours. The physical and psychological adjustments are difficult for many, though there is little choice but to adjust. I fasten my stat-pack and motion detector to the frozen ground next to the foxhole, pausing just a moment to look at the images in the CDR photo cube. I hold the cube through the thick, gloved hands of my zero-g and—depressing the cube’s mute function—watch as the images on each of the its six sides begin their silent playback: Age 7, Catfish Lake in Highland, New Hampshire. I sit on the edge of a weathered pier with my dad, fishing reels and tackle boxes in hand, the springtime sun warming the morning air. Age 1, I crawl across the green carpeted floor of my parent’s living room. My mom moves along beside me, her smile wide and welcoming. Age 16, I wear the cap and gown of my graduating class and lean proudly next to the candy apple red Honda Tempus, a graduation present from my parents. Age 9, I blow out the candles on a huge cake, my friends and family surround me, aglow in the excitement of the moment. Age 5, with my parents and big sister Karla, at Disney World, Ontario. I cry out gleefully as the brightly colored coaster spins me and Karla ‘round and ‘round and ‘round. Age 19, I am dressed in PFA attire, mom and dad watch proudly as I gather together a small bag of personal belongings and await the approaching shuttle that will take me to my far-away destination. Karla is not present, of course.
In the distance, Lt. Commander Stone barks out his final order of the night, the sound piercing through the internal speaker of my zero-g.
“Lights out, SFS Baxter! Semper Fi!”
I stare up at the gray-white sky; as my mind and body succumb to sleep my final thoughts are of Karla.
March 14: Five hours later the men and women of G-Division stand anxiously at the Trianalyte Shores. SFS’ Marz and Rameriz run final systems checks on the trio of APV-Skimmers. One of the Skimmers was damaged during drop-off from orbit. Upon closer inspection, it is learned the fuel pump has been ruptured. The repairs cannot be made from the planet’s surface.
“Leave it,” Stone tells Rameriz. He impatiently waves us aboard the two functional Skimmers as a low groan escapes the lips of several personnel. The ATVs were designed for crews of 10 or less, with light to medium gear. Cramming a fully loaded company of 30 aboard two ATVs will be a near-impossible task. Much of the gear that would otherwise have been placed on deck, including survival equipment such as PQ-reinflation kits, is stowed in the ATVs’ storage holds. We fall aboard, 15 to a Skimmer, and Stone orders the transports ahead. The Skimmers slowly trudge along in silence, floating several centimeters above the misty surface of the Trianalyte. Visibility would be next-to impossible were infra-red retina implants not standard issue for all PFA personnel.
“This is nothing like Jackson, Mississippi,” AGS Sawyer tells me. “Not even close.”
“I’ve never been to Jackson,” I explain mindlessly, his eyes looking ahead into the fog as the Skimmer’s speed increases ever slightly.
“Swear to God, Baxter, you haven’t lived ‘til you’ve fished the Mississippi in Jackson. Catfish as big as my AS-1 practically jump outta the water into your lap.”
“I haven’t fished in over 10 years.”
“What are we doing out here?” CMA Preston Iberman asks. “I mean, what’s the recon order?” As usual, his questions are ignored. He already knows the answers. We all do.
“Ten years? You need to get your ass back to Earth and touch base with nature. Hell, I’ll take you to a spot just outside Jackson—Carmicle. Best damn fishing hole in the south.”
“Is there a known target or is this a S&D?” Iberman asks, rephrasing his initial queries.
“I may have to take you up on that offer.”
“I mean, I dunno how we’re supposed to ambush shit with fifteen on a Skimmer. Kinda’ bio readings we’re giving off we might as well be sending out signal flares announcing our approach.”
Iberman’s agitation increases as the minutes drag along. We’re here to kill, nothing more, nothing less. He knows it. We all know it.
“Zero talk now,” Asst. Lt. Phillips commands.
“Catfish this big—swear to God,” Sawyer whispers, extending his arms wide, bumping the backs of several personnel.
“I just wanted, you know, an idea of our objective is all,” Iberman says.
“That should be obvious,” Phillips replies, finally. “We’re—”
“Sir, I’m picking up life readings,” Martinez interrupts.
“Twelve. No. Fifteen.”
“Christ. He’s reading—sir, he’s reading the other Skimmer,” Iberman calls out from the back of the transport.
“Check that,” says Phillips.
“Ain’t gonna catch a damn thing in these waters,” Sawyer notes.
“’Cept maybe a cold. Not a catfish, not a trout, not even a goddam minnow.”
Twenty-five meters ahead of us, aboard the second Skimmer, Lt. Commander Stone issues the command: “I want AS-1s ready. No unnecessary shots fired.”
The second Skimmer surges slightly forward, pulling alongside the first. The two vessels continue across the Trianalyte as one.
“Well?” Stone asks Martinez.
“Close, but split signals—twenty-two total.”
The news is bad, indicating that whatever lies ahead isn’t compressed aboard a single transport. The Rykans are not too different from us. Despite the many light years that separate our home planets, we are curiously similar species. We’ve seen their single-passenger skimmers; they are deceptively small, quiet, and maneuverable—and they are heavily fortified with weapons equivalent to our own 21s.
We stare ahead, the fog heavy like cotton.
We stare ahead, our Marshall 21 AS-1 magazines full, safetys’ off.
We stare ahead, searching for an unseen enemy we know is near. The seconds drag on into minutes. No one speaks. Eyes surgically altered with infra-red vision stare out at the alien sea.
“Lights up?” Phillips asks Stone.
“Lights down. I’m not about to make it easier for them.”
And I don’t know if Stone’s “them” is a reference to us or to the Rykans.
“Settle for a fish cake, imitation even,” Sawyer whispers.
We glide across the Trianalyte, the motors quietly propel us ahead. Martinez notes no change in the signals. They are no closer or distant now than they were two minutes ago. The answer is obvious though no one dares speak it:
We’re being followed.
We are a company of 30. We see through infra red eyes, a visibility of no less than 100 meters at any given time. Martinez notes the signals are 20 meters distant, perhaps less. Yet we see nothing. The sea is devoid of all but us. Our bodies tensed, fingers locked onto the AS-1 triggers. What happens next almost seems inevitable.
“Son of a bitch. I don’t believe it,” Sawyer exclaims, looking down into the waters above which we hover.
“Still thinking of catfish?” I ask.
“No, man. In the water. They’re in the goddam water!”
We are a company of 30. We stare in unison at the molecular sea through infra-red enhanced vision. Neither Phillips nor Stone issues a command. They don’t have to. We open fire, AS-1 titanium-laced General Dynamics 75-gauge bullets discharge from our weapons every .05 seconds. Slowly the Rykan squad begins to surface from the floor of the shallow Trianalyte. Their counter-attack is sluggish and clumsy, and our bodies are largely sheltered by hulls of the Skimmers. The gunfire rips through the bulky, standard-issue pressure suits of the Rykan army; the soldiers fall like rag dolls as if in slow motion, and the sea becomes their unexpected burial ground. No one speaks for several minutes as we continue the assault, eyes systematically searching for the next target.
“Cease fire,” Stone commands.
Thirty trigger fingers simultaneously come to rest.
“Martinez…” Phillips says, inquiringly.
“Negative readings, sir. Area is clear.”
“Semper Fi!” Stone bellows.
The once uninhabited planet is slowly becoming an off-world cemetery for Earth and Ryka. It is not the first time the Trianalyte has become a Rykan burial ground and I know it will not be the last—though likewise, the Trianalyte has taken its share of PFA personnel during the course of the war.
In the two weeks since we’ve arrived, SDS Allan Gunderson has been responsible for six of the kills. A well-liked, infantryman with 5-years in the PFA, he is known in G-Divison as “Mr. Fast & Furious,” a nickname obtained due to his quirky, often unexpected, sudden body movements. Gunderson’s “fast” condition was the result of a glyhoxidize injection used during his adolescence.1 It had alleviated Gunderson’s depressed state, but produced a permanent fast tick. As such it was not uncommon for Gunderson to bump into his fellow troops, or to knock aside supplies and gear, turning sharp and fast without anticipation. Although medically there’s nothing “wrong” with him; sometimes Gunderson’s movements are sometimes simply too fast for his own good. It is this simple characteristic which results in his death.
This is how it occurs: Upon hearing the all-clear from Martinez, there is a sense of calming relief among the squad, and we reposition ourselves aboard the Skimmers. Gunderson turns quickly, spinning around with whirlwind speed.
From within the speakers of our headsets we hear the sound. A fast rush of air—a sudden depressurization. Gunderson falls to the deck of the vessel, a fragment of his zero-g suit still affixed to one of the metal anchors grafted to the outer edges of the Skimmer. His mouth and eyes are wide with panic for several long seconds. I’m really not sure if he dies of asphyxiation or if he freezes to death. In either case, it happens in an instant. His flesh darkens to a sickening Rykan blue-gray and his life-readings flatline. There’s nothing anyone can do. We all know it. Preserving the integrity of the zero-g suit is critical. Stone knows it. We all know it.
Gunderson goddam well knew it.
And while I have no doubt that the integrity of his G-suit should have withstood the pressure he exerted on it, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s dead now.
Sawyer and I pick him off the floor and sit him upright in the Skimmer. There’s little else to do, and by placing his body in a seated position there will be room for the others aboard the overcrowded craft. Sawyer turns off Gunderson’s helmet light and, to the relief of those seated opposite him, darkens the tint on his plexi faceplate.
We continue vigilantly across the Trianalyte; I spend the next two hours-fifteen with a dead man leaning against me. Every few minutes the Skimmer drops a few degrees left or right, and Gunderson’s body threatens to topple forward; each time, I grab hold of his G-suit and reposition his corpse. Eventually I just hold onto him—hugging this huge, dead man whose body won’t stay upright. There is no further talk—not of the Rykans, or of catfish, the Earth, or Jackson, Mississippi—and certainly not of SDS Allan Gunderson. No one speaks until, finally, we reach the Cythamaly land mass and rendezvous with C-Division.
Gunderson’s body is placed on a transport and flown to the PFA moon base. In a sad, pathetic way, I envy him. At least he’s going home.
- Glyhoxidize, an experimental antidepressant developed in 2074 by Johnson-Kline-Wellcome, and administered in clinical research studies for several years, was eventually banned from use by the CFAA following reports of suicide by several users.
NEXT: Javelin, the second story of the Earth/Ryka war series.
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