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Rob Hodges Jr.
The Mad Scientist team executed its 2019 Science Fiction Writing Contest to glean insights about the future fight with a near-peer competitor in 2030. We received 77 submissions from both within and outside of the DoD. This story was one of our semi-finalists and features a futuristic look at warfare and its featured technologies.
March 17th may have marked the death of Saint Patrick, but in 2030 it marked the death of the Low Earth Orbit Treaty Agreement. The treaty regarded all LEO as neutral space and allowed all nations to operate their unmanned satellites and their manned stations anywhere they wanted. Of course, military planners positioned their most important assets as carefully as a Grandmaster moved his chess pieces.
Without warning, a dozen Donovian “communication” satellites simultaneously opened fire on two British and twelve American satellites turning all of them into useless floating junk. Donovia now controlled all the skies over little Otso.
Whether Donovia had any legitimate claim on Otsan land east of the great Drugnov River was now irrelevant because the political and diplomatic situation had now turned into a military situation and the immediate responsibility fell on two men: commander of the U.S. Second Army, General Everett Mcmurray; and Supreme Comrade Commander of Army Group Alpha and Hero of the Donovian Union, General Alyosha Petronov Model.
Second Army, headquartered at Fort Schwarzkopf 35 klicks south of Otso’s capital city, had quietly built up her strength over the last two years and now included most of her organic units. All air and LEO travel over Otso was suspended. Modern armies, of course, relied on directed energy beams. Missiles and gravity dependant bombs were hopelessly obsolete and metallic bullets exiting the muzzle at a measly .57 miles per second were considered ridiculously slow. An energy beam traveled at 186,000 miles per second and, in theory at least, enjoyed an unlimited range. Firing his energy carbine, a troop on earth could strike a target on the moon in 1.3 seconds. With precision guidance and at the closest distance between the two planets, a battery on earth could destroy a target on Mars in 4.5 minutes. As such, energy shields were developed for both civilian as well as military assets and were generated by great dynamos. Once underway, armies towed their dynamos with them. The shields worked like a two-way mirror allowing a friendly energy beam to pass through while stopping an enemy beam by dispersing it across the electromagnetic dome. Because of the shield’s reaction to force, a supersonic projectile would bounce off of a dome but a slow moving object could pass through which is one reason ground troops were still used. The shields had their limitations since the dynamos could only absorb a certain amount of energy before failing. Likewise, a battery would eventually suffer fatigue or simply run out of fuel cells. When that happened, the infantry would strike.
The modern infantry came in two basic varieties: human and infantrybot. The latter was sized and engineered to resemble the average man since it had to ride in the same vehicles and operate the same infantry weapons and equipment as a human soldier. The men wore body armor from head to toe which came with the latest communication and sensory gear. The sealed armor protected the soldier from bio-chemical weapons and radiation, and with a few accessories it could also serve as a temporary P-suit. A soldier might have to go to LEO on a few minute’s notice and it only took a few minutes to get to LEO. They also carried detachable powerpacks that generated a personnel EM shield which could deflect an infantry beam and also up-power their own energy carbines and rifles. While on the line, each troop had all vitals monitored by three different watch departments: Medical, for obvious reasons; Army Intelligence, because they liked to keep tabs on everything; and Command, because command needed to know whether a troop was still combat effective.
Enjoying complete LEO supremacy, General Model crossed the Otsan border. At the same time, in spite of the Donovian attack satellites, Mcmurray moved his forces out of Fort Schwarzkopf and surrounding areas to meet the threat. As a courtesy, Otso retained the privilege of guarding her own border.
Two combat brigades from the Otsan National Guard - just over ten thousand troops about half of whom were men and the other half American manufactured infantrybots (not the latest model of course) - attacked Model’s forces. With constant pressure from LEO-to-surface fire, as well as Model’s surface batteries, their light dynamos were soon overwhelmed. The two combat brigades crumbled in about twenty minutes. The infantrybots were ordered to stand and fight to cover what was left of the retreating men who fell back as fire teams or singly.
While the ground fighting continued, things were heating up in LEO. Donovian intelligence had misidentified an American heavy weapons battle station, as a science research vessel. Ft. McHenry and her two towed attack satellites, Rockets Red Glare and Bombs Bursting in Air rushed to the scene. The battle station, which was about the length and breadth of a football field and fifteen meters deep, soon deployed her attack satellites and ramped up their energy output through her own reactor.
The Americans and Donovians blasted away at each other for nearly an hour, maneuvering and using the busted junk as cover. Half of the Donovian satellites were completely destroyed and the rest had taken considerable damage. Finally, the RRG and the BBA were “silenced” in the eternal silence of space and Ft. McHenry had to fight on her own. Amidst all of the orbiting junk and the millions of sensory scrubbers the Donovians deployed, a manned vehicle approached the battle station. Still quite busy with enemy attack satellites, the Americans fired a few shots at the approaching vessel but it still managed to clink onto the station. The intruders cut through the superstructure and within minutes, Assault Force Cosmonauts poured into the station, immediately followed by Tech Cosmonauts.
The Astral-Marines onboard immediately responded to the flashing signals: REPEL BOARDERS! A brisk fight broke out in the confined space of the station. To protect the sensitive instruments from the destructive force of a raw energy blast, both sides used microwave guns - which made a man boil painfully from the inside out. Seeing that the station was lost, the technicians tried to run the self-destruct but the Tech Cosmonauts overrode the system first.
Ft McHenry was lost to the enemy and soon began firing on General Mcmurray’s shields. But more help was on the way. The battle station, Little Bighorn - loaded with Army Rangers - and her towed attack satellites shot into action with orders to retake Ft. McHenry or destroy her.
As General Mcmurray’s army lay to the west of the Drugnov firing its land batteries into the enemy shields, the general’s command center was a beehive of activity. Seismic reported that enemy tunnelers had bored under the river and tunnelled up into their energy domes. Many enemy tunnel units were destroyed while still underground, but a few had gotten through using an explosive tunneller first, followed by a tunneller filled with infantrybots. So far, all enemy tunneling infantrybots had been dispatched with minimal U.S. casualties.
Mcmurray stepped out into the hallway. He looked around slightly as uniformed men and a few uniformed women moved around him. He walked down the hallway and stopped to look at a painting on the wall. Next to the painting stood a sergeant first class dressed in black armor. His helmet hung from a clip on the right shoulder blade of his cuirass. The general turned casually toward him, as if to ask the time. The sergeant had a long scar running down the right side of his face and burn marks etched the left side of his forehead and his left jaw. He wasn’t very big. He was several inches shorter than the general but he was wiry and probably packed some dense muscles under that armor.
The general’s lips curled up slightly. “Execute: Operation Hydra.”
“God go with you, Sergeant.”
“God go with us all, General.”
With that the sergeant walked off. He didn’t salute or say “sir” and the general didn’t expect him to. The sergeant didn’t work for lieutenants and captains. He worked directly for generals and sometimes the C-in-C. He also worked closely with Army and civilian intelligence giving him access to the most up-to-date technology and information. He was almost more of a spook than a soldier.
The general watched him leave. The sergeant walked with the dignity of a four star general. Mcmurray wondered if the man had ever read Aristotle. He wouldn’t be surprised if he had or if he hadn’t. But either way, Aristotle’s great-souled man came to mind: the megalopsychia. That sergeant might not have been big but he was one dangerous individual.
Six men emerged from the water on the east bank of the Drugnov and casually crossed the rocky shore and stepped up onto the grassy slope of the Otsan woodlands. Each man switched off his Continuous Lung. They were all dressed in black with very little to distinguish one from the other. They were even more lightly armored and accoutered than regular light infantry, who at least carried an up-chargeable energy carbine. The only energy weapon they carried was a small pistol strapped to the thigh - a last resort. They carried dart guns and a modernized tomahawk which featured a special hook that could snap open the helmet bezel of an enemy troop. The other end of the head featured a punch that could penetrate a light infantryman’s helmet, and could at least substantially damage a heavy infantryman’s helmet, especially some of the sensitive hardware in the interactive face assembly.
General Model had established his headquarters in a ten-story office building overlooking the Drugnov River on the outskirts of the small town of Cresk. Model’s forces had already identified and rounded up the citizens of Cresk as well as the defeated stragglers of the Otsan National Guard and hurried them out of the battle arena. The office building lay seven clicks south of the main battle group. The only thing lying between the building and the river were the woods but the entire HQ was protected by a massive energy dome.
Although invisible, the energy dome’s perimeter was a dead giveaway: the grass shimmered feverishly, and the leaves were kicked back six feet on either side. The six men stepped through without a pause; the energy shield wouldn’t harm a human or an animal but it did make one’s hair stand on end.
A Donovian drone passed overhead and scanned the six men. They ignored the drone and kept walking.
On the fifth floor - General Model and staff occupied the tenth floor - a corporal turned in his seat to address the Officer of the Watch.
“Comrade Captain, six figures just passed inside the HQ perimeter.”
“Figures? What kind of figures?”
“Let me see.”
“Here, sir. Heart rate, body temperature, metabolism all match normal deer specifications.”
“What kind of deer?”
“Here are the visuals from the drone’s optical field.”
“Hmm. I see. Are whitetail deer found in this region of Otso?”
“Just a moment, sir. Uh, yessir. They are not only found in this region but are quite prevalent. Shall we pass this up to command, Comrade Captain?”
“Uhhh,” the captain tugged slightly at his collar and swallowed before speaking. “For some deer? I think not. I wouldn’t want to waste the general’s valuable time on such a trivial matter. We have pickets on the perimeter?”
“Of course, Comrade Captain.”
“Which troop is nearest to the deer?”
“Um, that would be, Private Slukov.”
“Send Private Slukov to check on the deer. Just in case.”
“Yes, Comrade Captain.”
“Have you ever eaten venison, Corporal?”
“Of course not, I’m a vegan . . . sir.”
The twenty-year-old Slukov grumbled to himself and stomped into the woods. He started down the hill and came to a spot where the trees thinned out and then he jumped into one of the rifle pits pre-dug by engineer bots for the infantry. A pit enhanced an infantryman’s personnel shield by a certain margin.
Stupid, lousy deer. The private was already angry. Here he was seven klicks from the main battle guarding a stupid general. What a waste of time. What was all that training for anyway? He couldn’t wait to kill an American! He wanted to be one of the first troops into the breach when those American domes fell. He almost got to kill a Muslim in that action in Turkmenistan last year, but who cares about a goat loving Muz. Now, an American, that’s a real trophy. Not an infantrybot either: but a real flesh and blood American.
He used the mind control feeds to ramp up the optics and infrared of his helmet sensors as he scanned his head side to side. Deer. What deer? Wait. There they are. Yes. Deer. And they’re looking back at me. Docile, calm deer. Should I shoot one of them? No. What were you thinking? Unauthorized discharge of a government issued energy weapon? Hell to pay. I’d probably never get to kill an American.
“Sentry One-Three-One to C.C. Three. Confirm: six deer. Out.”
The sergeant and his men weren’t actually standing as the deer appeared, but they were staring at the private twenty meters away. From the prone position, the shooter fired his barely audible dart gun. The small low velocity dart caused no reaction from the personnel shield and it quietly sank into the private’s chest armor. The dart was a highly sophisticated device. The tip melted itself into the armor without tripping any of the armor’s warning sensors. After breaching the armor, the tube center emitted an anesthesia to numb the epidermis, then the aft section pushed an agent into the victim’s bloodstream.
The private suddenly thought about the last conversation he had had with his mother. He had said some unkind words to her. Really unkind words. In fact, what kind of a son could possibly be so cruel to his own mother of all people? He couldn’t stop thinking about that conversation. He felt more and more guilty. He forgot about the deer. He forgot about the battle. His horrific guilt turned into massive depression. Anyone that cruel and horrible and guilty should just shoot himself. Kill yourself. Kill yourself. Kill yourself.
The kid couldn’t take anymore. He snapped the bezel stays, jerked his helmet off, and tossed it aside. Tears poured down his face. Through blurry eyes he thought he saw several men standing and staring at him. He didn’t know who they were and he didn’t care. He lifted the short squatty black carbine, pressed the barrel against his temple, and atomized his own head.
The six men moved on.
Warning signals blurted out all across the Command Center’s boards.
The captain leaned down. “An energy discharge? Inside the perimeter?”
“Yes, Comrade Captain.”
“The enemy fired on us?”
“No, Comrade Captain. The signature matches Private Slukov’s weapon. And he’s the one who fired it.”
“Private Slukov committed suicide, sir.”
“Suicide? Had he been to medical lately. Was he undergoing treatment?”
“I find no record of him visiting medical as of this time.”
“Well, I wonder what was wrong with him? This is most unfortunate.”
The shooter gave a slight hand gesture to the sergeant. The sergeant signaled back to use the same dart as before. Normally, they would mix things up a bit to avoid suspicion - cause an enemy troop to fall down hopelessly drunk or simply fall asleep - but this was a snatch-and-grab and he was in a hurry. The time interval on a less lethal dart was unpredictable due to body chemistry variances.
Warning signals flashed twice more as the center and inner pickets committed suicide respectively.
As the six men approached the building they switched their Sensory Override Camouflage from deer to troopers of the 873rd Special Security Battalion, People’s Drugnovian Army. They weren’t linked into any of the three troop watch departments, of course, but they planned to be long gone before anyone discovered them. The ten-story structure was built for civilian use and since the Command Center had just moved in that morning, security proved understandably lax.
They avoided the main entrance with hurrying couriers, tech- and infantrybots, as well as bored MPs, and chose a side door. The tech corporal easily overrode the civilian lock mechanism and all six slipped inside. They planned to use the emergency stairs in the back of the building. They split into two groups to snake their way to the tenth floor.
As the sergeant and his two men hurried down a side corridor toward the north stairs, a Donovian troop, laughing slightly and stuffing his mouth from a small ration container, stepped out of a room. SOC couldn’t fool human eyes. Still wearing his chest armor, but lacking a helmet and even his carbine, the Donovian soldier looked up and saw three spec-op soldiers dressed in black. He dropped his container and spoon and ran back into the room.
The Americans had no time for slow-acting darts. They grabbed their tomahawks and went after the Donovian. Five more Donovian soldiers were in the room sitting on or leaning against the office furniture. All of them wore bits and pieces of body armor as they laughed and ate and drank “captured” Ostan wine, but none of them had on helmets and with the exception of only one man who still had his carbine hanging from his side, none of their weapons were within easy reach. All five were quite startled when their companion stumbled back in the room. They were even more startled when something black flashed over his head and then punched through his cranium, causing his lifeless body to slump to the floor.
The armed troop threw his wine cup away and grabbed his carbine. The tech corporal threw his tomahawk across the room and severed the cord connecting the carbine to the armor’s power-pack. With the cord severed, the power-pack automatically shut down flow. The weapon itself could still fire from its own power supply but it required a manual override. The young soldier moaned slightly as he squeezed the trigger to no effect. It was a simple matter to flip the selector but when the young man looked down and saw the tomahawk jutting from his hip armor, he panicked. The tech corporal bounded across the room and shoved his fighting knife through the soldier’s throat. The corporal quickly recovered his knife and tomahawk and went after the next man.
Also, in a fit of panic, the Donovian soldier to the right of the door reached for his helmet instead of his carbine. He felt naked and vulnerable without his helmet and all of its information systems linking him to the group. With his active helmet he was part of an army. Without it, he was a lone twenty-year-old. That mistake cost him his life. The sergeant spun and chopped down with the tomahawk hook and smashed the helmet bezel. Then he slammed his left elbow into the helmet partly dislodging it and with a return swing, he buried the tomahawk blade into the young man’s neck severing the spinal cord.
In less than a minute, the sergeant and his two men had killed six enemy soldiers all while preventing an energy discharge which would have given them away. The sergeant motioned to the tech corporal who immediately checked all six bodies and gave the “off-line” signal meaning that the enemy soldiers’ vital signs were not currently monitored by the three watch departments. First-world armies also used an oversight watch in a rear echelon area monitored only by computers that kept track of soldiers’ vitals while they were on R&R just to make sure that nothing too calamitous happened to them in various whorehouses and such. The corporal attached a chip to each dead man’s armor that overrode the signals sent to the oversight watch. Their vitals were now reading perfectly normal and their real-life deaths would merely show up as a computer glitch.
The captain sweated noticeably on the tenth floor in spite of the pleasant ambient temperature of the office building. He glanced through the glass wall and watched the brilliant and colorful lights of energy beaming to and fro above the river as well as the colorful beams raining down from LEO. Quite beautiful really. And basically silent at this distance. It reminded him of Patriot’s Day back in his home town.
“Yes, Comrade General, sir.”
“You decided to wait until a third troop committed suicide before reporting this to me?”
“Well, I . . . I did not wish to bother the General with . . . and Private Slukov managed to give a favorable report to us before he, well, before he did what he did.”
“And all three were on perimeter picket post?”
“Yes, Comrade General!”
“One suicide is possible, I suppose, given an army of this size. But three?! All on picket duty within meters of one another?
“And just what exactly was this Private Slukov reporting on?”
“The deer, sir.”
“Deer? What deer?”
“Six deer entered the perimeter. I gave Slukov orders to investigate the deer and confirm our drone information. He reported back that he saw the six deer, sir.”
“Did he take his helmet off to look at them?”
“You people get so dependant on tech that you forget to use the very assets that Evolution gave you! Helmet sensors can be fooled. Eyes not so much.”
“Well, Comrade General, he did take his helmet off after he saw the deer. Then he atomized his own head.”
“The private saw some deer then became so depressed that he took his own life?”
“I did not mean to imply there was a causal connection between the deer and Slukov’s suicide, sir.”
“Of course there was a causal connection between the deer and the private’s death! Because those weren’t deer - they’re an American infiltration unit you idiot! This command center is under attack!”
The general looked down at the floor and narrowed his eyes. As an afterthought, he waved the captain away, who happily slunk back to his post, but at the same time, the word “attack” brought the general’s adjutant and the 873rd’s CO forward.
The general talked quietly to himself forgetting that others were watching him. “What are they after? What is the most important thing on the battle grid . . . it’s me, yes? I’m the most important thing on the battle grid. They’re after me!”
The general looked up. “This command center is under attack!”
The lieutenant colonel, who liked to carry an infantryman’s carbine as if he might actually do some fighting himself, looked in surprise at the general’s adjutant, who, in his turn, actually had the presence of mind not to look back. Instinctively, the lieutenant colonel leaned over and looked out the glass wall.
“Attack? Sir, there’s been no sign of enemy activity anywhere in this grid other than the occasional stray blast to our dome. I have an entire security battalion protecting this building plus the better part of a division in our dome held in reserve. I see no attack.”
The general glared at the man. “Get out of my sight.”
The lieutenant colonel deflated like a balloon. The carbine dropped from his grip and dangled limply at his side as he turned around and slowly walked away.
“Yuri, the Americans are after me. They are trying to get me.” The general looked past his adjutant and pointed to several of the numerous soldiers at their monitoring consoles. “This command center is compromised! Scrub all com! Burn all servers! You know the drill! I want all devices melted down!
“And you, major, get me a runner! I want a courier to hand deliver a message to General Yukov, informing him that he is now in command of Army Group Alpha. I will give the courier my personal code.”
Of the dozens of men sitting at their stations in the expansive office suite overlooking the Drugnov River, most of them stopped to look at their general, then they turned and went back to work. To an outside observer, it would appear that one man had lost his mind while all of the others were behaving in a perfectly rational manner. The exact opposite was the case.
“Yuri, why are you just standing there. You know perfectly well that we must scrub this center before the Americans take over.”
The adjutant clasped a friendly hand around the general’s shoulder. “Alyosha! How long have we known one another? Since command school, yes? A long time my old friend. Look at that gray miserable sky and that dirty brown river. It reminds me of that fall day when we first met at school. Let us drink vodka together! And celebrate! I wish to enjoy the beautiful light show provided by two great nations!” The adjutant actually went to a desk and picked up a bottle and two small glasses.
Model closed his eyes and muttered quietly. “I’m too late.”
The sergeant stepped forward. “That’s right, General. You’re too late.” The sergeant snapped the bezel clasps and took off his helmet, while his men quickly inserted chips into the general’s com hardware to override his systems using his own encryptions and passcodes. The Americans now controlled the entire tenth floor. At least until the drugs wore off.
Model looked into the scarred face of the American. The American appeared to be a Western European man but his prominent cheekbones hinted at something else as well.
“Are you going to shoot me with one of your psychotropic darts?”
“We already have, General. How do you feel?”
The general sucked in a full lung of air and patted himself on the chest. “I feel surprisingly well. Much better than I should under the circumstances, eh.”
“Yes. That’s the drugs.” Yuri stepped closer and the sergeant took one of the small glasses and handed it to Model. “Here, General, you might as well take a drink.”
“Will you drink with me, Sergeant?”
“No, I won’t have any with you. You’re out of this fight, General, but I’m not.”
“You’re, Crazy Horse. Aren’t you?”
“That’s what they call me.”
“And you are descended from the family of the famous Crazy Horse? From his people?”
“That’s what my mother says. But, yes, I am part Oglala Lakota.”
“I have always admired your American Indians. A noble people.”
The sergeant grinned wide for the first time all day and his long scar deepened in color. “And savage.”
“I’m glad it was you.”
“That’s just the drugs talking, General.”
“No. I mean, I am sure they have their effect, but I am glad it was you. Among my people you are famous. In all of those proxy wars we fought in the Muslim countries your exploits became legendary. The bounty on your head has climbed to eight million druples. A General of the Army would not see that much wealth in five lifetimes. And after this, the price will likely double.”
Seeing that his men had finished sabotaging the general’s communication hardware, the sergeant put his helmet back on. “Okay, General. You and a couple of your senior officers are coming with us.” The sergeant gestured with his arm. “Your carriage awaits.”
“I’m delighted, Sergeant Crazy Horse!”
The tech corporal muttered to himself. “Yeah, wait till the dope wears off.”
The unit had switched their SOC to imitate the general’s personal bodyguard, while the real guards slept like babies in a janitorial closet. The team had no trouble moving their prisoners past the helmeted sentries.
Their “carriage” turned out to be a SEA-SLUG (Sea Air Space Land and Ultra-low Gravity) which washed up from the river. The vehicle was a fat, squatty, ugly looking monstrosity rather resembling a slug. The SLUG, of course, ran its own SOC to fool enemy drones.
Before the ugly vehicle could submerge with its new passengers, chaos began to reign across Army Group Alpha. A technical bot received properly encrypted orders from General Model himself to open up the master hatch on Dynamo #7, and reverse the rip flow on the primary actuator. It didn’t turn off the dynamo, it reversed the polarity of the dome shield causing the dome to push into the ground instead of into the air.
General Mcmurray, looking across the river from his own command center, smiled slightly. His batteries blasted the defenseless Donovians. He knew that the sergeant had succeeded. Before long more and more mishaps caused breakdowns in the command structure. Some units began pulling back, while others sent surface-to-LEO strikes against their own satellites. Some of the intercepted messages coming from Army Group Alpha were de-encrypted and they appeared to come from Lieutenant General Yukov furiously demanding to know what “Model” was attempting to do. Before long, Yukov tried to take over command, but he had little success in rallying his confused forces.
On top of that, it appeared that the Americans had established LEO supremacy and were busy pounding Yukov’s army. Yukov ordered a “covered withdraw” of all Donovian forces in Otso.
General Model was stripped of his title, Hero of the Donovian Union, and was publicly informed that if he ever set foot on Donovian soil again he would be shot on sight. He asked for asylum in the United States. He now lives in Cleveland where he keeps busy writing his memoirs.
General Yukov was quietly executed for gross negligence and all mention of him was expunged from Donovian public records.
The price on Crazy Horse’s head didn’t double - it tripled. Every bounty hunter in the system dreamed of catching the elusive Lakota but no one knew who he was or where he was. Several American generals, including Mcmurray, claimed that the sergeant had retired but rumors of Crazy Horse activity continue to spread from the outposts on Titan to the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Whether man or ghost, Crazy Horse still strikes fear in his enemies.