This story about a Mitasterite Executive Officer (Marecik, second in command of a Global Assault Ship) occurs during the assault of Preciless 75, the setting for “Endgame.”
Early on in a war the Mitasterites started with the Trieste Union, the Mitasterites have brought a fleet of cruisers for a surface assault. The target, held within a T.U. fortress, is a vast pile of a rare crystalline fuel. Due to the fuel’s explosive nature, the Mitasterites can’t simply bomb the T.U. forces out of the way.
The mission, under the command of an Admiral (we don’t meet), ends in utter failure when T.U. forces set off the bomb rather than let the enemy have it. (Those who read the novel will see how the mission becomes even more disastrous for the aggressor Mitasterites, thanks to planetary defense rockets.)
This is a mistake, this is a mistake, this is a mistake.
Marecik doesn’t dare say it, not even in the privacy of this tiny bridge privy. An overheard whisper could spell instant death for a lowly executive officer. Utter effort and absolute loyalty for the war. Mitasteros will know no defeat. Captain Hargarah says so. That slimy Political Officer, Grooms, says so.
He washes up and checks his trembling hands before raising the door.
The bridge of the Global Assault Ship is a tidy room whose adherence to order seems incorrect, at the moment. Normally, Marecik enjoys the strict, regimented calm of a vessel’s bridge—men seated at their stations, levtenants delivering reports to himself or the captain, heels clicking the warship way. On three display screens that cover the front wall, however, chaos unfolds.
Below, the planet called Preciless 75 has become a death zone, as Marecik predicted. The satellite and on-site images show thirty tanks crawling the ice toward the enemy’s mountain fortress. Some have to go around destroyed tanks and rock obstacles while sniper and cannon fire cross the screen. The enemy has rocket-men on foot, mines, strategy.
It’s enough to make him wonder what Admiral Jonbahks was thinking. What was his strategy—to keep sending men and machines until they got through?
Marecik clasps his hands behind his back, partly to keep them from shaking. All they can do is watch. Their Landers delivered the men and tanks and supplies (during the night, taking long-range enemy fire). They cannot fire the big Chgura rockets from orbit. Captain Hargarah doesn’t even want to risk pinpoint cannon fire on the two sniper positions. The risk of failure overrides all.
The Trieste Union’s fortress sits above a pit of szellenyte. Fuel—the goal of this three-month adventure. One errant shot that penetrates the fortress hide or starts a chain-reaction fire could spell doom. The crystal will detonate with horrific efficiency.
The only air support their men have are a few Sky Claws, which are inadequate. On two screens, another Sky Claw disappears in a flowery burst by the west wall.
They are winning. By the course they are.
Marecik calmly goes to his captain’s side. “Orders, Sir?”
Captain Hargarah is a tall man whose mountainous stature has intimidated countless soldiers of equal station. It is his controlled calm, Marecik believes, that best qualifies him for this job. The Global Assault Ship is a piece of the process. It isn’t for the adventurers who scout the way. Nor is it a command for the warlords of old, who would wade into the fray with guns blazing (with messy, short-lived results). Hargarah knows his job inside and out. He sticks to it because of the cause—not because he’s afraid of Admiral Jonbahks. He’s the one person on this boat who doesn’t fear the Admiral’s sword.
“We wait,” Captain Hargarah returns quietly.
In this quiet response, it would seem, Marecik has an ally for his thoughts. Earlier, he detected lags of enthusiasm for the Admiral’s grand plan. This would seem to lend credence.
Down in Hangar Two, by the course, is another Lander ship waiting with crew at the controls. They could have six tanks and another Sky Claw on the surface in seventeen mins. Stationed three miles off the bow, the Red Arm could also dispatch another Lander full of tanks and men. But these are all reinforcements. The Admiral doesn’t need reinforcements. He has played it out a hundred times on his holographic strategy table. His plan must work.
Marecik’s eyes flit to the left screen, where another name in red appears at the bottom under ‘Deceased.’ P.J. Maralah, a Battalion Commander.
Pudgy, from primary school, he thinks. He always did like playing War.
Memories pass through—boys shooting each other with sticks from atop the coal piles, boys daring one another to see who was willing to leap across the slag streams. ‘Rusty cuffs earns you a caning!’
They’d lost touch, he and Maralah. Thirty years out from schoolboy days and one was a battalion commander on the ground, the other an X-O above it all. Had they both given their whole lives to the service? To these ridiculous dreams of empire?
Marecik swallows, unsure of what to feel. A waste of time, for sure…
Urgency in the announcer’s voice brings him right back to the present. His thoughts wheel. He steps toward the alarmed crewman.
A flash fills two of the big screens. The third one’s image is lost in static. All eyes are staring up—he can feel it.
The brilliance is replaced by incorrect juxtapositions, moving things. Some travel slow, others tumbling or rocketing.
Marecik blinks rapidly, but the images don’t un-confuse.
No. They did it.
The image on the left screen, he knows, is lost because the camera was placed closest to the fortress. On the ground, about a mile away. It is gone.
Roving eyes tell Marecik that nobody else is moving. No one can. The polished-metal room is full of stone shards and splintered tank parts. Any words, any deep breath, and they will fall and shatter. Legs will be removed at the shins, the hips. Skulls will burst open. All to be strangely flattened, compressed by a wall of howling, electrified air so strong it would carry through the bridge privy, through the radar station and on out the hull of the ship. Nothing left.
Now it’s as if that wave has occurred—a merciless hole has been opened—as Marecik is freezing. It’s a chill from the inside. Shouldn’t he be exhilarated by the view of the scene below? Actions to take, orders to give and follow?
The slide of someone’s shifting boot nearby. Behind the silence, only the thrumming of fancy new machinery.
It is Captain Hargarah who brings them all back to the present of a hard reality. “Location of Zone Major Zeers?”
A crewman exhales, then the reply. “Tracking him now, Sir.”
Marecik watches red crosshairs slide across the screen, adjust, and slide to a stop over a pile of white and dark.
Zeers’ monitor. Marecik thinks of his own monitor, installed in his chest only ten months before. His promotion demanded it. Anyone who could be in command of such a ship needs their health and location known at all times. New directive for the war.
“Negative, Sir,” comes the timid reply.
There it is—as unsurprising and solid as a mountain peak.
Marecik could approach the tracking station and see for himself: Zeers’ flat signs, the ‘Void’ blinking in place of his blood pressure. The monitors are installed against the heart. Even if the wearer has been shot or beheaded or drowned, the data would come back as ‘0’. ‘Void’ means the fingertip-sized device itself has been destroyed—burned or obliterated.
He glances at the Political Officer. What do you think of that? he wants to shout. The man who was to take supreme control of this miserable ice-ball planet is dead. Like everyone else.
What would Grooms’ response be? Some snappy return about the good of the State, a sneer that barely conceals a smirk?
Is a Political Officer safe, he wonders, from the shrieking, bony fingers which will surely reach out from a report of failure?
The captain has asked about another soldier, with a negative reply.
Marecik glances about the room, wondering what should happen next and if some of these men are, at the moment, calculating their own mortality. Heads will likely roll for this.
“Number Two?” Captain asks, meaning the Second Executive Officer.
The man, Joomla, snaps to.
“You have the bridge,” Hargarah says.
Well-versed on procedure and protocol, Marecik follows his captain into his private office.
Hargarah waits until they are both inside and the sound-proof door has closed. Like a flash, his desk-top saber is in his hand. With an expert’s skill, he stabs a section of the low ceiling and wrenches it open. His hand finds the listening monitor there and dashes it on the floor. Soon, he’s found the second one installed behind the digital painting of Admiral Jonbahks. This one he smashes against a cabinet and tosses his weapon across the desk. It clatters off.
Marecik finds himself staring at this act of revolution, at his commanding officer, who is breathing hard.
“Never in my life have I dealt with such stupidity!” It comes out as little more than a hiss, as if the political officer is listening on the other side of the closed door.
“Yes, Sir,” Marecik says.
“We have underestimated them. We,” Hargarah begins, gesturing, “have underestimated their willpower.”
Marecik almost asks for clarification. Among the cyclone of possibilities swirling through his head, one stands out in alarming colors, screaming. The one whose logical path is clearest. The T.U. Base Commander, a woman named Karran, had the nerve to exchange her life (and others) for the so-called greater good. She set off the szellenyte cache bomb.
Mitasteros needed the fuel. Operation Dread depended almost entirely on securing that fuel—to get their frigates within striking distance of the farming planet. This enemy, Commander Karran, knew it as well.
Perhaps Zeers men got through, Marecik wonders. There certainly would’ve been breach protocol.
Images come to mind. Commandoes in white progressing through a firefight within a mountain fortress. The flash of weapons exchanging fire, the small bursts of rock bits and uniform and body parts. Men advancing into the teeth of enemy fire, moving on a set of blast doors with a control room in view. A terrified but determined woman watching, her finger pressing a button.
Marecik takes a deep breath, watching his captain pace about the small office. “What do we do now, Sir?”
“Wait for orders, by the course.” Hargarah stops pacing and comes to whisper to Marecik. “Move the ship…above the Red Arm. Slowly, while we wait. I want the Red Arm between us and the surface.”
Marecik swallows. “The planetary defense?”
Rockets—large ones. Each with enough destructive power to annihilate a ship this big.
Admiral Jonbahks’ cyber team disabled the system. Or, everyone believes they did.
“I have lost seven thousand men on this fool’s errand,” Hargarah whispers. “The Blade of Failure may find my neck, but I am not going to lose this ship, too. Understood?”
Marecik snaps to attention, as best he can. “Yes, Sir. As you say.”
When Marecik re-enters the calm bridge, he pauses to hear the door to shut behind him. Grooms waits nearby, hands clasped behind his back. “Pleasant chat?”
If Captain could rip your head off, I’d pay to watch it.
“Yes, Sir,” he replies. He glances at the Second. “Status report, Number Two.”
The Second Executive Officer marches over to deliver. “All functions normal, Sir. Ship is tight. Little change in surface activity. You have the bridge,” he adds, saluting.
Marecik returns the salute, smiling inside. Casually, he makes for the helm, a small act of revolution on his mind.