Another (Part 1)
Posted By: Mr Bill Jr V<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 18 November 2003, 4:26 AM
Furnax; the furnace. Who had heard of such a place until now? No one, it is easily assumed. Two stars, light years apart, drifting against different galaxies, and of no importance to the world of Earth and her empire. This was a constellation noted on starcharts with little indifference- once placed amongst the whole and made insignificant. But, like all those placed upon the charts and written into holo-routines, her presence amongst the galaxy had been set in stone, and recorded forever. Still, the furnace had not been spoken of for years, not a word uttered- until Eridanus.
The rebellion had sprung up without warning, the few fighting a dying war against the many. Such a battle could not be won, and all knew it. Millions chose to cast off the empire they owed their very existence to, and fight a war against Earth, and everything for which she stood. A war against humanity, and a war that must be fought to total destruction.
So, the system wrongly named for a constellation, neighboring a Greek river, became a place of importance. For, of the three planets worth human colonization in the Furnax system, one of them holds garrison to the United Nations Security Division's newly raised Four-Hundredth army. An entire planet, allocated to the realm of a single unit, some two million strong.
The generals back at sector command were quick to pick out Furnax Gamma as the planet from which to launch their counter invasion, a sweeping blow of a million soldier sent to crush the rebel incursion three light-years away in the Eridanus system. Such a plan sounded bizarre on paper, and perplexing. Therein lay the brilliance: simplicity in actions not in design. From Furnax Gamma would the army strike, leaving their home world, and land their soldiers abroad at Eridanus.
However, like all brilliant plans, everything always goes wrong, be it for better of for worse. The same can be said for the planned invasion of Eridanus Alpha, which simply never occurred. The rebels had moved quicker then the army's generals, as the army's local command was horrified to learn.
On March 29th, 2495, a mutiny of unfathomable scale occurs, spurred on by rebel aggressors planted inside the Four-Hundredth's command structure. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers turned against each other; an army tore itself apart, and divided Furnax Gamma well into the next year.
Of course, once the rebellion on Eridanus Alpha had been quelled, the struggle on Furnax died out, allowing loyal forces to put an end to the traitorous soldiers. But during those ten months of constant struggle, at the rebellion's height, some of the most ferocious battles in recent history were fought, man against fellow man. Over the course of the war thousands would die, and countless others would became prisoners to their own army, Never again, after Furnax, would mankind clash with mankind in such violent battle. A new threat had arisen, one too horrible to be faced divided.
On a faithful day, August 2nd, the two armies met for the first time in battle, blasting at each other with the gruesome implements of modern warfare. Thousands upon thousands died in that single battle, lasting hardly hours. So it would continue for a month, until the front lines had been stabilized, though in an awkward manner. After that, it became a matter of waiting for an attack, one which was surely to come...
September 12th, 2495:
Time to get up. Certain souls could rest on, late into the day, but for others it was time indeed. Ranks of military green cots rustled as soldiers woke, and threw back their blankets.
Tanya woke like all the rest, prying herself unwillingly from the relative comfort her cot, and reaching for her grey fatigues. People had been coming and going over the past week, and Tanya was having trouble keeping track of how many soldiers were actually in the barracks. She pulled her sweatshirt over her head and grabbed the heavy military boots required of all soldiers on duty. She tried to count the new faces, but quickly abandoned that task as it proved impossible- she hardly recognized anyone. All the same, they weren't her business.
Satisfied that her outfit would suffice for the rest of the day, Tanya lowered herself out the cot, careful to satisfy her commanding officer's demand for absolute silence before waking hours. And it was long before then, hardly any soldiers stirred at all. Though, in truth, more soldiers were awake now, dressed in similar fashion, the army's standard issue stark black uniforms only slightly altered from their original weavings, only a scant few lights shone. Attaching her timepiece to her wrist, Tanya smiled to her bunkmate, also just raising.
She leaned against her own cot, shadowing the restless figure below. "Better get up before the CO shows."
Blankets rustled and an arm extended from the shadows below.
"Fuck you, Tanya," came the curt reply, and appropriate finger gesture.
"Suite yourself," replied Tanya, and turned away from the cot, starting towards the mess hall.
She counted roughly a dozen soldiers seated in the hall, another entering every five minutes or so. Tanya sat alongside another two other soldiers, both dressed in fashion similar to herself. They were busy forking their way through their morning rations and downing pre-boiled caffeine. Tanya had no such appetites that morning. She blamed fate or her dreams, but whatever the cause she simply wasn't hungry.
"Conrad," one of the sweat-shirted soldiers looked up, pausing from his meal. "Have you heard the reports yet?"
The man shook his head with vigor, returning to his plate without offering Tanya a reply. She nodded to herself, and then looked away from the two. Another soldier entered the hall, weary from lack of sleep, and headed for the food bank.
It wasn't that discipline was lax, Tanya knew, it was that there was simply no need for it. She wasn't here, clothed in black and speaking to these tortured souls against her will. It had been her choice, along with the choice all the others had made. They all knew why they were here, and so felt no need to explain themselves. Briefly, against her better judgment, Tanya wondered what it was like for the other side, for the enemy. Did they know why they were fighting? She lingered on that thought for a moment, then rose from the table and left the hall. It was time to go to the surface.
After a brief stop at the armory to retrieve the more complex gear of her trade; full metal jacket, guns and the like, Tanya worked her way to the nearest surface lift. Guards, bulletproof vests and armor plates showing clearly, didn't hassle her as they had months before when she had first arrived. Rather, they looked on in understanding, accepting her actions for what they too might be called upon to do someday. As Tanya entered the lift, they nodded. She didn't bother to return the favor. More soldiers entered, quickly crowding the lift's cramped interior.
Hydraulics humming, and gears winding, the lift rose steadily. Layers of metal fell beneath her as the air grew colder. The tang of salt water drifted as she breathed deeper, pressure changing by slight degrees. Atmosphere grew thicker, and she could see sunlight raising above. Tanya shielded her eyes as the light streamed across the elevator shaft, and the lift rose above the dirt and metal. It took roughly a minute to reach the top of the cement emplacement; lift coming to a final rest.
As each man exited and Tanya stepped free, others loaded onto the elevator ready for their day of sleep. It was a simple changing of the guards, done every five hours or so. For the duration of that time, Tanya and the eight men accompanying her would be the only presence in the pillbox's upper level. Everyone else, all other personnel, were hidden safely below ground to avoid all but the highest yield nuclear strikes. The underground fortifications were dense, stretching for kilometers along pale ocean front. Every two-hundred and fifty meters another pillbox sprung up, a solid behemoth against elemental cold.
Tanya had done this task for what seemed a lifetime, standing atop the frozen exterior of a cement world, and watching as nothing ever happened. And, indeed, it was just like any other day. Waves crashed and rolled back into the chilled sea, icebergs and great frozen lakes forming far offshore. The sky was dark, with the sun breaking through Furnax's endless clouds ever so often- as it always was. Tanya wore gloves, and rubbed her hands constantly. She could see her own breath, as sheets of ice hung from the bunker's reinforced ceiling. Sunlight which had shown down on her only moments before vanished beneath a great rolling cloud of rain.
Walking past sparse supplies and stockpiled rifles, Tanya arrived at the bunker's front facing- the purpose for its construction. Two men leaned against the cement railings, casual, as the waters churned behind them, and crashed upon the brief shoreline. A row of machineguns, massive constant firing fifty-caliber cannons in reality, lined the railings, pointing ever vigilant across the beach. Tanya knew that above her head was another similar room, this one without a ceiling, on which rested a series of anti-aircraft guns. If one were to travel back from there a distance, a collection of surface-to-air missile launchers were present. It was truly a formidable arsenal, built years before the war had even broken out, as a seawall- and expanded when the army had split into two.
It had been a civilian walkway, and now was an instrument of defense. Tanya knew not what territory the rows of pillboxes were defending, but never bothered to ask. It hardly mattered in the long run. No one had ever attacked these walls, and she knew the United Nations commanders were all too willing to make an attempt in force.
They had chosen today. Of this Tanya knew nothing, but she was about to be tested all the same.
"Private," asked Tanya of the nearest soldier, the one leaning over the machinegun railing. "What have you heard?"
The man turned from his fellow soldier to face Tanya. "Nothing, sir."
"And why is that?" pressed Tanya.
"Well, they got the last of our satellites yesterday," responded the soldier.
Tanya silently cursed. Throughout the war, high command had relied on their orbital satellites to monitor enemy supply points- to see if they were moving around troops or machinery. Without them, it was next to impossible to acquire any information at all.
"Do you know what the last report was?" It wasn't likely this man the slightest clue, but anything was possible.
Tanya nodded, she hadn't expected any other response. Last she had heard, the Four-Hundredth's command staff was being juggled, officers pensioned off and new staff brought in. This news had been a clear message of defeat: why change tactics and commanders if everything is going your way? No one would. So it was well accepted that those dressed in stark black, like Tanya, were winning the war. But that had been weeks ago, and new commanders also meant new tactics, of which Tanya had seen precious little of late.
The preliminary strike was already on its way; a collections of long range cruise missiles, breaking the ocean's waves with their own thrust as they raced out across the seas, dodging high icecaps with unique guided agility. They had been launched from the heavy sea cruiser Fallen, from massive vertical bays used in war for the first time since the ship's construction. Behind the missiles came ranks of dropships, carrying infantry forces, hundreds of soldiers, suited not for the cold weather but for war. Beyond that came even larger vessels: massive sea fairing tankers conscripted from civilian shipping yards, and converted to carry tanks and other equipment. Escorting these kilometer-long barges, were numerous ships of war, weapons and missiles trained inland, including the United Nations Furnax Fleet Ship Fallen, already reloading her bays with more of the modified long-range Spearhead type missiles.
Suddenly, racing overhead the seaborne fleet, a flight of great delta-winged bombers streaked past, their massive engines powering them over the icebergs and vast ocean. As they closed in on the dropships ahead, all moving inland as the Spearhead missiles tightened their targeting arcs, closing with the seawall, the bombers opened their missile bays. Clamps fired loose, and scores of air-to-ground missiles fired free, darting inland with incredible speed. The bombers veered off their course, and turned for home, leaving the missiles to their task.
Tanya shook herself, shuddering against the cold. But that wasn't it, something else was wrong. She reached to her hip holster and produced her pistol, checking it over. It looked fine; magazine loaded and safety on. She slid it back into place, and walked over to where she had left her standard issue assault rifle. It was still there, leaning against a shelf of helmets. She picked it up, feeling the frozen metal grip in her gloved hands. Flipping the power bar on, the gun's monitor activated- blinking into life. It, too, looked fine. Then what the hell is wrong? Tanya asked herself.
"Commander!" shouted one of the soldiers standing at the machinegun railing.
Tanya came running, rifle in hand. "What is it?"
The man was pointing out over the ocean, gloved hand outstretched.
"What...?" Tanya trailed off. Her eyes widened.
The Spearhead missiles came in fast, target acquired visually. The missiles themselves were invisible; too small and moving to fast to be seen- but not so the wake they left across the ocean. They split up suddenly and rose higher into the air; locked onto each of their target pillboxes. Behind them, rapidly gaining velocity, came the bomber-launched missiles, long streaks of visible exhaust whipping through the air.
Then came the lumbering dropships, appearing over the horizon, ionic drives burning the air around their engines.
All this Tanya saw, witnessed in a moment. She turned around, ran four paces and slammed down the main alarm switch. Her helmet radio crackled instantly, men shouting for orders as the missiles grew ever closer.
"What?" Tanya shouted back into her headpiece.
The voice on the other end was accompanied by more shouting and the moving of heavy machinery. "Commander, I've been ordered to fire our missiles at the dropships..."
Tanya cut him off. "Well do it, God dammit!"
"...And I need your approval..." continued the missile gunner.
"And you've got it!" Tanya screamed, "so fire the missiles!"
"Yes, sir," came the final reply.
The bunker shook as ramjet rocket engines fired, and the anti-aircraft missiles flew free from their launchers above. Tanya ran back to the gun rail, and grabbed the two soldiers still standing there.
"You guys have a death wish?" Tanya shouted over the noise of supersonic engines and klaxon warnings.
"No, sir!" they shouted back, and followed her to bunker's rear.
Someone was babbling numbers at Tanya through her headpiece. It took her a moment to realize that the numbers were counting down... and only had five more till zero. She kept running, grabbing the jacket of another soldier who wasn't running, and practically dragged him along. She knew the exit route by heart, and kept running until she was off cement ground and onto ice. Even then, she kept running, listened as the missiles closed in, their distinctive engine whine becoming louder every second.
Through independent guidance computers, two of the Spearheads decided to smash themselves into Tanya's pillbox. The first came in fast, suddenly dropping low, engine cutting off as the proximity indicator onboard the two meter long missile hit its detonation point.
The missile hit the bunker's front wall, only slightly below the gun rail, and vanished into the concrete. Before it could detonate, the second missile dropped from the sky, and struck the bunker's top level, digging into the cement. The two exploded at the same time, with the same incomprehensible force.
The bunker's roof lifted off its foundations and rose about a meter into the air before the reinforced cement melted. Had anyone been standing next to the gun rail, they would have felt the floor beneath them ripple, then dissolve as the first missile obliterated the front of the bunker. One could hardly hear the screams of those who had remained in the bunker as it vaporized. All along the seawall pillars of flame shot into the air as the Spearheads struck home. Chunks of flaming cement and steel rained from the sky, smoke raising all around. Tanya was thrown to the icy hillside like a rag doll, explosive shockwave flattening those who had escaped. Debris was falling all across the hillside.