NOTE TO READERS:
This novel is one of ten planned self-contained works regarding the Great War fought between the Mitasterite Empire and the Trieste Union, or T.U. Chronologically, the events of “Endgame” take place a half-year after the onset—the Mitasterites’ unprovoked bombing of a peace conference on Metlahva. The other planned bookend piece is “Tiny Dragon” (currently a screenplay) which involves the demise of the aggressor Mitasterites’ doomsday battleship and, after ten years of conflict, the end of the war. At this time, the other planned pieces include stories, a play and a short film.
Attached (here) is a glossary. Though this conflict doesn’t involve Earth or her neighbors, many of the elements will be familiar to us, as will the limitations and human elements of the Humans, Pashunderrans, Tchushkins and Mitasterites involved. And, like most any war we have seen, conflict stems from the thirst for power. In this book specifically, a source of power is the driving factor—the flashpoint, so to speak.
You, Commander, are going to die. Mitasterite. War-bringer. Butcher of innocents on Metlahva. Your breaths are numbered.
The man with twin red stripes on his shoulder—a tank battalion commander—was frustrated. It was almost a blizzard here. The battle raged around him and he couldn’t scream orders fast enough to turn the tide. His clan had never met such resistance. Us.
Nearby, a deep boom sounded. Another Mitasterite tank, destroyed by shoulder-fired rocket. In my yellow crosshairs, the target scowled in that direction and yelled into his radio.
That’s right. Get more frustrated, make an error. Come out where I can get you.
The commander was walking under a fan-tail shield at the rear of his battle tank. There, he was protected from debris and sniper fire as his unit haltingly moved forward. He wasn’t fully protected from me, though. There would be a mistake, a small screw-up. At some point, distracted, he’d come out. All I needed was a hip. The beam from my weapon would sever an artery in his leg or groin—the same as in us Humans—and he’d bleed out within secs. Scratch one Mitasterite big-shot.
Come on, you bastard. Give me a hip or thigh.
For a moment, in the pale-green image of my scope, an exposed boot appeared darker than the rest of his body under the shield. A foot would just hurt like hell. I needed above-the-knee, at least.
A sharp roar came from the chaos of the battle below. One of my boomers had destroyed another Mitasterite battle tank. I glimpsed the flash in my scope—this one was closer. Smoking debris dropped through the background, bits banging off the shield. Our boys were doing well down there.
A pointy rock dug into my thigh, but I had my bead. I wouldn’t move. Like all Mitties, this man had steel-gray skin and ridges on his forehead. His nose was a long slope. It would be sweet to put one right to the inside of it, holing his head. If only my rifle was strong enough to get through that fan shield. The turrets at Base could, but they were focused on the tanks themselves. The commander turned to point and shout. He wasn’t used to his headset. New product line, maybe—ready in time for the war. His numbers were being decimated. He wasn’t used to that, either. Our boys were doing really well.
Jax was down there among the trenches. Was he safe? Fire and move.
We’d all gotten photos together the morning before, just after dawn: The noble fools charged with defending a cold rock, Preciless 75. The twin suns were out then, so the iced-over valley was all oranges and yellows and blues. The lubricant for Jax’s rocket launcher (his boomer) was pungent among the fresh snowfall. They use the same oil for landing struts on shuttles. Jax looked pretty good with the boomer up on his shoulder, smirking. Come get yours, you bastards.
And they came to Preciless 75. The Mitasterites had a plan and this frozen outpost was a piece of it. They needed the szellenyte to power their Global Attack Ships. They couldn’t assault the farming world of Antahrrus 5 without it. So they arrived in droves—four G.A.S. craft, untold thousands of troopers. Seventy tanks so far, including—
There it is!
My target shifted his stance, calling out orders. He wasn’t keeping up with his tank. Still safe, no idea he was being stalked from above. In my scope, the dark area of unprotected body increased.
Fearing a quick correction, I switched to five-shot and squeezed.
The bluish beams—five in less than a sec—streaked into his exposed hip and trunk. The insectoid buzz from my Giovanni 19 rifle seemed to come afterward. A kill. Insides cooked, arteries severed. A splash of dark blood draped the snow beneath him. He fell instantly. There was no medic in that unit.
His cohorts covered and pointed up in my direction. I switched on my headset—“Great shot, June!”—and scooted back up the little crawl-space fissure I’d found. I retreated in a hurry, trying to not get my boot or bipod caught on anything. My white rifle dragged in front of me, suspended from a cord around my neck. Sure enough, the spot I left disappeared in a shower of dust and sparks—blasts from a tank below. The bright hole became a dark blur. Opening in the wall some twenty legs’ distance from the sniper nest—outside the block shields—my spider hole was probably good for only one shot. I got a commander with it.
Hands grabbed my boot and pulled me out.
“Good one, Captain! I think that was Battalion Three you got.”
It was Dhani, a tall equipment guy, part of the support team. He helped me to my feet and I nodded thanks.
The tunnel was bright and loud, filled with the din of battle. Our nest was about eighty legs above the valley of ice, where my fellow T.U. soldiers clashed with Mitties and their tanks. Supposedly, was an old lava tube, from the era when the szellenyte crystal formed. It curved in segments all the way back to Base, 1,700 legs from the nest. Opened supply crates lined the opposite wall. Above them, screens showed the battle in progress from cameras at Fortress Command and from the other sniper nest.
To the right, the tunnel opened to a wide shelf, where the rest of my team crouched and fired at Mittie targets. The opening had four flashing block shields to protect us. A pink shield would blink out for three secs, we’d shoot, and it would blink on to stop return fire. So far. Working in sync with the shields, my cohorts—and boomers and mines—were making the Mitasterites pay for flicking with us. They’d lost thousands already, but they brought a lot of firepower. The shields couldn’t hold out forever.
As I crawled up to the opening, there was a double crack of explosions. Another tank. I wondered if Jax got it, unleashing fury and then scrambling among the box caches our team had set into the frozen ground. Hopefully, he remembered the mines, too. Their triggers were set for 300 bars’ weight—to get the tanks. In a misfire, their charge was enough to send a man over the mountain.
Streaks of red and orange crisscrossed the opening above my position. Snowflakes swirled in. A high-pitched howl came from somewhere—their Sky Claws. Visibility was crap. Neither side would’ve chosen to fight this battle in a storm, but it was inevitable. The Mitties had a launch window to keep. We would close that window.
There were twenty-two snipers perched low at the rock lip of the cave opening. The other nest, on the opposite side of the valley, had eight or nine, and there were three roving the upper wall of Base. In this full-on assault, we all had the same directive: Pick off as many as possible. Since my group was providing the most fire, on the Mitties’ left flank, the mine-layers had set devices to the right side of ice formations and other obstacles. The Enemy would learn this at their own peril, just as they’d learn the tanks were not hardy enough to drive through the ice. One had tried, and it became prey for our boomers.
I knew only some of the men I was fighting with. Prubius, my Pashunderran friend. Commander Joffe, the salty boss with his graying goatee and ridiculous eyebrows. Bohlshivra, Hong, Gutierrez, Larsons, Jai, Eschelbach, Bacci—they were names and faces, really. Most of us slept on the flight out, arriving on P-75 two days ago. Since we got here, there’d been time to walk through Base and all its parts, meet Chief Karran, discuss strategy (“Thirteen hundred of us against that?!”) take some practice shots (with lower-grade cells) and get a little chow time. I understand the mine and equipment people had been working day-and-night to ensure we’d be ready. Chief Karran, too. They all had a date circled on the calendar, but no one could be sure the Mitties wouldn’t come earlier.
Shield Two opened to my left, five snipers took their shots, and they got back under cover as the shield reappeared. The humming generators would beep before the shield reappeared to block fire in both directions. A good sniper can get two targets in five secs. I hurried up to Commander Joffe’s side, nice and low, and looked for a mark.
“Show-off,” he growled at me. “Should’ve left your squawker on.”
My headset, he meant. Our chief didn’t look at me, eyeing a target. His silver goatee made him look stern, but he was really a pussycat most of the time.
“Hard to concentrate,” I returned, aiming.
“Ready—open,” he said. He’d memorized the alternating pattern of shield openings.
We fired, the two of us and some others. I got a lone soldier—a single shot to the collar. A rocket streaked past his falling form, hitting a tank on its dark nose. The explosion was a pale-green light show in my scope as the front of the tank lifted off the ice. The new rockets were stronger, Jax said.
At an opening, I shot again and missed. My Giovanni beeped three times under my cheek. Its charge was gone.
“Flick, I’m out,” I told Joffe and crawled away from the opening. Sparks and dust popped from the ceiling as I rose, hustling to the ammunition crates. A lucky shot had gotten through our shields.
Dhani was at the ammo crates with his hands over his ears, scowling. He didn’t like what he was hearing from Command, high above the battlefield.
Maybe things aren’t going so well.
The Command-view monitor showed chaos in motion, dark lumps and colored streaks and flowering explosions. War had come to Preciless 75—a frigid planet so remote it hardly seemed worthy of armed conflict. Yet, here we were, fighting it.
The rock trembled under my feet. That wasn’t good.
I reached my crate—about five of us were using Giovannis—and swapped my ammo cell. I stuck another cell in my pocket for Prubius, my blue-skinned compatriot. He might’ve forgotten to put a spare cell in his pocket. At the moment, he was firing from a spot to the right of Joffe, by Shield Four.
Preciless Prubius hated the coincidence that he was fighting on a planet named for a Pashunderran explorer of no relation. His natural, bright-red hair looked especially angry whenever he was frustrated or stressed. We’d been on three or four actions together, and he was usually pretty calm. Now he seemed worried, covering from a volley that splattered across Shield Four. I didn’t like that look.
Crawling forward, I saw an errant rocket shoot skyward at a steep angle. Someone pulling the trigger after they were hit? Releasing a final shot at a Sky Claw, or instinctively getting the unforgiving weapon away from cohorts? It could’ve been anyone, could’ve been Jax.
Is he gone?
For a sec, my body clenched up.
Death at the hands of those tanks…
The collision of voices in my headset had gotten worse—it was all part of the noise around me, now. The squawker was tight in my ear, redundantly held in place by design and by my stretchy suit, which covered everything but my face. Still, I knew right where to press through the material to switch it off.
Dhani was shouting something behind me. I ignored flakes of snow swirling into my eyes, ignored the sore spot on my right elbow from crawling around with my rife. I found a target, an unprotected turret operator sitting atop his tank, and tagged him in the ear.
We’ve been at this for only twenty or thirty mins, right? We can hold out longer.
A weird howl came from the opening, and another rocket flew up.
Mitasterite Sky Claws. They were definitely up, flying in this satok weather. The Mitties’ air support was a huge advantage. Ours was sitting lifeless on disabled frigates, 70 million miles away.
My cohorts kept shooting. A series of sharp, concussive blasts followed—something nearby. I felt the air pressure change on my face.
Big one, whatever it was.
Prubius hurried to me, keeping low. “They are really pushing hard, June,” he shouted. “We are going to have to leave.”
Back toward Base, toward the Bomb?
I reached for the spare ammo cell. Suddenly, a mass of flaming debris dropped across the opening. Four legs from my nose—the distance of two men lying down head-to-foot—part of the craft flashed.