NEW FICTION: Javelin (Earth/Ryka War Series)
November 22, 2002
From the personal data files of SDS Ariel Baxter (PFA Division 10-13):
You should know that wars are not won by machines alone. Machines do not cause war. Even a SMART machine that can think or hate is doing so only in response to the programming of its human engineers. Machines and weapons can empower an army to victory—witness Hiroshima. But it is sometimes the efforts of the individual that matter most. Which leads me to Howie Drake.
In 2094 Howie Drake is born a small western Pennsylvania town. He grows up an only child, and aspires to compete in the World Olympics javelin competition. At age 16, his throwing arm is steady and sure, and he has sufficient upper body strength to throw the 2.60-meter shaft great distances. By age 17 he is ranked top in his class. It is for this very reason that, the following year, Arnie Drake does not compete in the 2110 World Olympics. It is for this very reason that Arnie is, instead, recruited into the PFA and assigned to Division 013.
Despite the technologies of the 22nd century, certain tasks still require a personal touch. SDS Howie Drake’s antiquated javelin expertise is put to use in the human/Rykan conflict on Saturn. The how and why require a brief explanation:
The Rykan army has developed and begins using SGs (self-guided gravity-free explosives). These unique, robotic killing devices are both small (an average SG is approximately equal to a regulation-size tennis ball) and lethal (although typical SG explosive capacity ranges from .02 to .05 megatons, it is the projectile shrapnel within the explosive that proves the most deadly—shrapnel that can easily puncture a zero-g pressure suit). Little is known about the Rykan-developed SGs except:
1. They are detectable through infra-red, but are extremely difficult to spot before it is too late.
2. They are programmed to hone in on body temperature and movement, leaving PFA ground forces at their mercy.
3. The exact speed and tracking limitations of the SG are unknown, though it is believed they can achieve speeds in excess of 90 mph.
4. SGs are deployed in waves of five or more; each independent of the other.
Finding a mean of neutralizing the SGs is crucial. An initial defense involves launching a regulation issue signal flare at the first signs of SG. It is believed that the SGs will key on the heat radiated from the signal flare, follow the flare’s trail as it rockets skyward, and explode high in the atmosphere—far away from PFA personnel. The theory is soon tested.
March 20, 2110
C-Division becomes the first to employ this plan of defense. C-Division, under the command of Sr. Lt. Javier Revique—a combat veteran of 33 years—is positioned in the Geiger Canyon, headed northwest for a planned rendezvous with Companies A and B. The Geiger Canyon is a steep, 5-mile crater through which the Cheshire Inlet can be reached. Passage across the Geiger Canyon, however, is treacherous. The terrain is dangerously unstable, and the Canyon offers virtually no shelter from aerial attacks. It is for this reason that the Rykans and PFA seldom travel via the Canyon. However, while en route, Revique’s squad engages a Rykan ground patrol, and the ensuing firefight significantly delays C-Division. Revique sees little choice but to cross the Canyon in order to arrive at the scheduled rendezvous on schedule.
Two hours-nineteen into the crossing, a group of six SGs approaches from the northwest. C-Division acts promptly. Field engineer M.E. Paulidada fires a signal flare directly above the squad. The flare rises several thousand meters and is quickly pursued by the automated SGs, all of which erupt in a brief, albeit dazzling, explosion of light and color. The PFA’s plan succeeds. However, its folly is soon realized as a Rykan air squad, which cannot help recognize the brightly-colored SGs as they erupt in the sky, has little difficulty spotting C-Division in the Geiger Canyon. With little warning and nowhere to hide, Revique, along with the men and women under his command, are subsequently annihilated.
Clearly, an alternative method of combating the SGs is required. Which is why Howie Drake, and others with talent similar to his, will not be competing in the World Olympics of 2110.
Drake is assigned to G-Division 013, and arrives on Saturn March 31, 2110. He is green and nervous and full of fright. He doesn’t know a thing about combat. But he has a strong throwing arm, which is exactly what is needed.
His official inauguration into 013 occurs several days after he arrives. Drake is still learning how to dig a foxhole and secure a sleeping unit to the ground when the orders are given.
The PFA has two major objectives on Saturn—to defeat the Rykan army and to destroy the planet-based mining rigs through which the Rykans have been harvesting Saturn’s subsurface of liquid metallic hydrogen. Satellite photos obtained from Shepard Moon Command reveal a massive mining excavation 2,500 kilometers south of the Trianalyte. It is believed the mining excavation is generating nearly 400,000 cubic tons of liquid metallic hydrogen during each 10.5-hour day. Joined by E-Division, our numbers total 55. We navigate across the Trianalyte aboard six Skimmers—two of which contain an arsenal of high-intensity explosives and KAK-rocket launchers. Though, in truth, our survival is dependant on a much more primitive weapon—a weapon wielded by SDS Howie Drake.
On Earth, those who propagandize the Earth/Rykan conflict on Saturn will say that PFA personnel are fearless. They will say that fear may be known in the hearts of many, but in the hearts of the PFA fear does not exist. I can tell you with absolute certainty those statements are entirely untrue. All Saturn-based PFA personnel have three fears—the same three fears. And while their hierarchy is arguable, the fears themselves indisputable.
The first and greatest fear is asphyxiation. Although the PFA standard issue zero-g uniform is capable of producing several weeks worth of breathable oxygen, an ill-fastened restraining bolt or a puncture in the zero-g suit—whether obtained in combat or—as in the case of SDS Allan Gunderson—by accident, equates to sudden death. The zero-g suits are built to withstand the intensely harsh environment of Saturn, in particular, its catastrophically powerful winds. However, even the g-suits, which were field tested and revised extensively following the deaths of men and women of PFA Divisions 07 and 08 (all of whom perished on the planet’s surface due to uniform design manufacturing flaws), cannot withstand a Rykan shell. Even the g-suits can be damaged due to atmospheric conditions. Upon being punctured, g-suit depressurization occurs in 3.5 seconds. At least it’s a fast death, though that’s little consolation to anyone here.
The second fear is ambush. We are largely dependant on scanning devices for early detection of Rykan ground patrols. However, these devices have proven less than 100% reliable (it has also been hypothesized that the Rykans have developed a means of negating our scanners). Because there is no sound on Saturn, ambushes can and often do occur.
The third fear is detection by the aerial SGs, a fear that is becoming increasingly justified.
The Rykan mining excavation is far from the combat fronts and battle lines; however, there is little doubt the area is well protected, and even less doubt that the path we must walk after reaching the southern end of the Trianalyte is not guarded either by soldier or machine. We are 55 in number, and we march in groups of two, with an advance-runner (in this case SGS Amanda Del Tores, an AR with 5 years experience) scouting approximately 20 meters ahead of us. The first 10 in the line wield Ness-73 Automatic Rapid Fire (ARF) machineguns. Each ARF magazine holds 500 FP-007 shells and can discharge four shells per second. The rest of us—with the exception of Lt. Commander Preston Stone, Asst. Lt. Ram Phillips, Martinez (who monitors for Rykan aerial assaults), and SDS Howie Drake—carry KAK-rocket shells and the components of the KAK launchers.
“You really think we’re gonna find anything?” CMA Preston Iberman asks.
It is not that Iberman is disliked; his presence is regarded with causal indifference by most. But he asks the wrong questions at the wrong time. He is the perpetual child who asks, “Are we there yet?” regardless of the destination or length of the journey. Thus, as always, Iberman’s question goes unanswered. He shakes his head briefly in annoyance as we march, guided by Del Tores who continues to scout ahead.
“So far so good,” SFS Angel Marz remarks.
“The hell’s that supposed to mean?” AGS Bobby Sawyer asks.
“What do you mean, ‘The hell’s that supposed to mean?’ It means, so far so good. Christ, you’re stupid.”
“We haven’t done anything yet, ya idiot,” Sawyer replies.
“Yea, but we haven’t run into the opposition either.”
“Do you think we will?” Iberman asks. Sawyer replies, though likely his reply is directed toward Marz.
“Give it time—and watch for SGs.”
“That’s not my job—ain’t that right Martinez?”
“Don’t worry. Anything shows up on scope I’m on it,” the six-foot seven Martinez replies.
“Everyone keep sharp. You’re all infra-red. Use it. And cut the goddam yakity-yak,” Stone’s voice barks through our headsets.
“He forgot to say ‘Semper Fi,’” Sawyer whispers. Amid our laughter Stone barks another order for silence, adding his signature ending to the command.
There is a constant surrealism on Saturn, partly due to the planet’s unusual atmosphere—which results in a never-ending fog akin to the San Francisco bay at 02:00—and made further dreamlike through vision enhanced by infra-red. My thoughts turn toward blue—the color blue. The blue of swimming pools and of sky. The blue of the Caribbean and of denim jeans. I am beginning to forget what blue looks like. The other colors I can picture in my mind—red, green, purple, brown, yellow. But blue is fading from memory; eclipsed through infra-red eyes. I know soon there will only be red.
Del Tores’ voice breaks through the momentary silence: “We’re here.”
There is a steep, albeit brief, incline. We scale the hill quickly and look down the opposite side, approximately 100 meters distant. The excavation is enormous. The Rykan mining technology is well beyond our comprehension; however, as yet there have been no orders to capture an excavation. If the PFA science division wishes to explore Rykan technology, they’ve made no effort to convey these wishes to the military command.
“Let’s do this quickly, ladies and gentlemen,” Phillips says. “In and out in two minutes.”
COO Stone walks toward SFS Marz and CMA Iberman who are experiencing more than a little difficulty with the KAK assembly. He rips the launch cylinder from Marz’s hand, knocking the SFS to the ground, and affixes it to the launch tripod before locking the arming mechanism and targeting sequencer to the base of the KAK.
“Secure the tripod—or do I have to do that for you as well?” he asks Iberman.
“No sir, I mean—yes sir. Will do.”
“Do it fast. All of you—move it. This isn’t basic.” He walks away, disgusted with the men, and heads toward Del Tores and Martinez, both of whom face the mining excavation while busily calculating distance and trajectory, and adjusting for atmospheric interference.
“Twenty seconds,” Del Tores replies, not stopping to look up.
He stares ahead at the excavation, which consists of a series of large, oval structures—like igloos only much, much larger, each approximately 75 meters high. Except for a half-dozen Rykan security patrols guarding the domes, there is little external activity at the dig.
“Gunners in position,” Phillips says, and the Ness-73 ARF sharpshooters position themselves on the ground, locking on to their Rykan targets.
“This is going too easy,” I tell Sawyer.
“Nothing’s ever easy on Saturn, or hadn’t you noticed?”
We complete the KAK assembly and lock and load.
Martinez and Del Tores upload the coordinates into the KAKs’ guidance systems.
“On my mark,” Stone says, standing atop the hillside staring ahead at the enemy’s technology.
But the mark is not given as, moments later, aerial motion trackers erupt in unison. The company of SGs descends upon us from out of the blackness; 150 meters above the horizon and descending 15 meters per second. Ness-73 ARFs and Marshall 21s are aimed skyward with battle-honed determination, though in truth we are novices at best.
“No one fire!” Stone screams loud enough to shatter the protective plexi covering his helmet. All eyes fall to one man—SDS Howie Drake. Our lives are literally in his hands…and he knows it. I cannot see Drake’s face, and for that I’m thankful; whatever fear he might portray behind the plexi are his and his alone. Drake withdraws the javelin from his shoulder pack. It is one of six specially-designed javelins he carries and is no longer than a majorette’s baton. There are two diminutive buttons on the javelin, one on either end. With the push of the first button the javelin’s length quadruples. The SGs are 40 meters distant. Drake pushes a second button, this one on the front tip of the javelin. Within the javelin’s specially designed tip, a microscopic ion sensor, heats the javelin’s apex to 125˚ Celsius. Were he in a controlled environment, on a level ground, Drake would have taken several graceful steps before hurling the javelin into the air. But the environment is uncontrollable, the terrain uneven. And the SGs are 20 meters distant with impact seconds away. Drake’s right arm extends back, tenses. The javelin is held firmly through a thick, gloved hand. He releases the lance across the across the plain, the SGs stop in mid descent, mere meters from us, and give chase. The javelin soars almost effortlessly for nearly 200 meters before landing on the terrain. The SGs descend upon the javelin like hungry cats pursuing a determined mouse, and explode successively. We watch and wait for a second wave of SGs or for any other sign of Rykan activity. There is none.
Where C-Division’s use of a signal flare to lead the SGs away from the personnel failed (by revealing the location of C-Division to the Rykans, ultimately dooming the company), use of the javelin works with simplistic, undetectable perfection. Where C-Division’s signal flare had sailed vertically into and ignited the black sky, the javelin is thrown horizontally across the bleak horizon. Drawn by the heated tip of the javelin and its swift trajectory, the SGs zero in upon it and detonate. The resulting SG explosions are low to the ground, invisible to Rykan patrols and scanners. We are, for the moment at least, safe. And Drake, though visibly shaken—Drake is an Olympic hero. There is no medal to give him; there is but a moment’s congratulations before we are ordered back to the mission at hand.
“Reset those KAKs,” Stone demands. “Quickly!”
The rest of the mission is textbook destruction. The KAK rockets detonate on target, causing the igloo-like mining structures to implode in rapid succession. The few who manage to escape from the debris are cut down by ARF machinegun fire; the FP-007 shells make short use of their enemy’s protective life suits.
“Let’s not stick around for the post-party reinforcements. Pack it in,” Phillips says, an indication that the Rykans may have sent a distress signal to their command.
“How ‘bout it?” Sawyer asks Martinez.
“Affirmative. Looks like an automated distress was transmitted on a WX frequency.”
“Sure as piss wasn’t us.”
The KAKs are hastily disassembled; we quickly depart the locale and head toward the Trianalyte. I look back momentarily. Howie Drake is standing silhouetted atop the clearing, the stars shine brilliantly behind him as a plume of orange smoke slowly rises in the air. We owe the man our lives—each of us. In that moment, atop the clearing with the star-filled sky behind him, Drake is akin to an Olympiad atop a pedestal at the World Olympic Games. I wonder if he is thinking this as well, or merely longing to be home. Drake adjusts the javelins in his shoulder pack and catches up with the company as we head toward the Skimmers and the next combat assignment.
NEXT: Radio Silence, a new chapter in the Earth/Ryka war series.
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