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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.
Captain Whitakers EXO-suit was starting to slow down to conserve battery power.
He noticed the sluggish response of the exoskeleton shortly before the quiet ping arrived in his cochlear implant. It wasn’t far now to the OP. He could get a fresh power cell once he got there. He was scheduled to arrive before sunrise. The sky was beginning to lighten so he thumbed the eco mode override. The EXO lost some of its additional perceived weight and returned to the original speed. [i]
The LOG DOG 52 rolled along behind. [ii]
Sometime later, a low frequency thrum echoed quietly through his head, “Dog 52 ... Contact!”.
Dog 52’s passive sensors had detected something ahead and had already slipped into the ditch. It was deploying its spider silk like based, active cam blanket.
Whitakers Exo began a slow forward slouch until it was prone and began to deploy its own cam. “Cancel!” he sub-vocalized.
The thin cam sheet halted its deployment and withdrew into a flat container between the Exo's “shoulders“, again, he sub-vocalized, ”Mast!”
A thin flat black carbon fiber antenna flipped up and extended silently to a height of over 15 feet and vibrated slightly as a flower shaped dish unfolded from the tip, it’s edges angular and randomly interspersed. Soaked in the ambient air, it made one slow rotation. The infrared, LASER, Audio and aroma of the Exo’s sensors accepted all these signals as well as any combustible vapors, oxygen levels and carbon monoxide.
Fed in real time to the 4Qbit Quantum based Artificial Intelligence buried deep in Logistic Dog 52, the data supplemented the limited sensor package of the Log Dog.
He should know soon what was up ahead. The 4Q Quantum Artificial Intelligence had been taught thousands of combinations of sensor data and was calculating potential variations on the known ambient threats.[iii] “Come on…”, he thought to himself feeling exposed. “Dog 52 reports 4 individuals and one H3 powered bot 300 meters 11 o’clock, probability of friendly, 85 percent”
Whitaker relaxed and sub-vocalized “Carry-on “.
He triggered a mini drone, uploaded the mission log data to this point and launched it watching it headed westward. Even encrypted, enemy SIGINT could spot his position this close to the border.
Despite his military designation, 19D, Cavalry Scout, Whitaker considered himself a farmer and had graduated ISU as an Agronomist.
Shortly after getting to Iowa State, the news of the “Dread Wheat” emerged. It had begun to decimate agricultural land along the border between Otso and Denovia and was spreading fast. He entered ROTC that year as well.
He had seen all the news feeds about the dread wheat spread. He studied the Wikis and everything unclassified available on the subject. His Agronomy degree made him the perfect officer to be assigned to the US Army support mission to Otso. His scout training and rare choice to have the brain implants installed made him the perfect candidate to be assigned as front-line Cavalry liaison. The dread wheat agri-threat was considered an existential threat to the US, Whitaker was considered a critical asset in the theatre.
After six months patrolling the Otso/Denovian border area, Whitaker had had plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the ugly little grain. Sadly, for all his skills, he discovered nothing new about plant except it was extremely difficult to eradicate. No herbicide touched it and rodents found it nearly inedible. Only scorched earth killed it, making perfect compost for regrowth. The only thing about the wheat that was agreed upon, was that it was a GMO product and somehow it refused to grow in Denovian territory. The conclusion; it was a weapon of mass starvation, a tool of a modern age Holodomer. [iv] It was a matter of time before Donovia would try to take advantage militarily. “PING”.., the IFF chimed him into the present. The Otso OP was actively challenging him. The IFF responded automatically with the hourly changing code.
Each friendly unit carried a granule of radioactive Iodine 131 [v], produced at the same date and time was distributed weekly to each unit. IFF compared a number generated based upon the stage of radioactive decay of each granule.
He heard a lower ping which told him he could approach the OP without danger, from here Dog52 would lead. The path to the OP was serpentine and led through a wheat field of “dumb" defensive measures mapped into Dog 52's navigation QAI.
The field of Dread-wheat thinned to reveal the large open ramp exposing the interior of an obsolete BOXER armored command post. The interior was lit by subdued red lighting.
The front of the vehicle was embedded in the hillside, only the ramp was exposed.
“Good morning Robert “came the voice from within, a large Otso Corporal turned away from the VR periscope. “Nice moves on the approach Captain, I nearly didn't see you and I never did see the Dog. The damn QAI’s sure are learning fast, I am glad they belong to us.”
Captain Whitaker nodded, put the Exo into standby and stepped down from it. He shook hands with the big Otsocian.
“Janis, any movement out there?” “Not since Tuesday, when that old “Terminator” patrolled the fence line. It was very slow. belching black smoke, can’t believe the buggers still using hydrocarbons.
I think it was most likely some sort of troll, to see if we would stick our heads up.
Whitaker nodded and took a new Exo power cell from an open crate next to the ramp. He exchanged it with the nearly exhausted cell inside his suit.
Dog 52 has already deposited its load of rations, water and power cells near another dwindling pile. It connected to a large freestanding power cell and began topping up its own reservoir. Afterwards, it went into passive mode and crouched beside another similar but much older dog unit also in passive mode.
“Did you at least bring us hot breakfast?”, asked Janis.
“You know it“ said Whitaker, motioning to the Dogs recently deposited supplies and laughed. Janis flipped him the bird and said, “Thanks bud…”.
“CONTACT Fast movers", came the staccato of voices from the three soldiers still stuck to their VR scopes inside the CP. Both Dogs went active and sprang to defensiveness stances facing outward. Dog 52 pinged in his head, “Ready to engage.”
Janis turned to his crew, “ACTION!!!“, he shouted.
His crew began shouting, well practiced in combat drills as they brought offensive weapons online. Whitaker leapt back into his Exo and triggered active defense mode. He heard the expected audio cues “Trophy cloud ready, EMP ready, RAIL rifle pellet mag full, the rifle gun tube charged. The Exo embraced him in its warm grasp closing armoured panels.
The brain implant for controlling his suit, tickled his brains pre-Bötzinger complex zone with an ever so minute, electrical charge. He felt calmness envelope him.
“Two ground effect Attack ships,” the QAI and Janis reported simultaneously. He triggered a swarm of drones back to HQ, he knew that at least some of them would make it through. “Tunnel rats will slow them “, said Janis, they sounded far away in his head but clear. Janis and his crew nominally reported to him, “If the Donnie’s don’t turn off or slowdown and set the Rats free. Whitaker ordered, “roger, out.” Came Janis’s response.
The Tunnel Rats were a modern take on a desperate great war innovation.
Tunnels were dug under enemy positions, filled explosives and detonated at the strategic time.
Janis’s troop of robotic rats had been slowly moving underground for months, a couple of meters per day, slowly enough not to create evidence of their passing. [vi]
“DOG 52 REPORTS…6 RAT’s ready”.
Whitaker mission rules of engagement were clear; his EXO, with him in it and, Dog 52, were to evade capture at all costs. His EXO was the latest model and far ahead of the EXO’s the Denovians were deploying.
It was one of the few fields of research where western tech significantly surpassed that of the Donovan’s. Dog 52 on the other hand was a product of espionage and reverse engineering. Although the US version had significantly upgraded the design, the real advance was the US Quantum AI, also way ahead of the original design which did not utilize a quantum computer. As a result, both Dog 52 and his EXO were not expendable.
Janis understood these facts, he and Whitaker had often spoken of the options available, at length, should the Denovians finally decide to advance.
“Janis, I’ve got to bug out Brother, you might want to pull back “
“Negative my friend, you know my duty is here. We will be lay-back OP, in stealth mode. Your new provisions will keep us in breakfasts until we meet again. Now, “beat it“, we finally both have work to do, “until Valhalla!”
Janis gave a jaunty salute, ducked and disappeared behind the ramp of the OP as it clunked shut. The active camouflage engaged and, all visual signs of the OP for the most part disappeared.
“Dog 52”, withdraw to phase line golf, stealth mode “, “acknowledged”, came the response. Dog 52 started down the path they entered on. Soon they reached the main paved route and Whitaker set a rapid pace, although, his EXO could maintain a dead run at 50 kph.
Unfortunately, Dog 52’s best speed, was a tad over 30 kph. He needed to see it securely to HQ.
At this rate, the Denovians would catch him. If Janis’s unit could not slow them, briefly he thought, he would need to destroy Dog 52. Reconsidering, he opened a Sat COMM encrypted channel and sent all contact data on the Donovian assault available. Even in the off chance his signal were intercepted the enemy, the Denovians already knew where they were headed, he was some distance from the OTSO OP. Timely Intel was more urgent than stealth now. No time for the drones to get home with the message. An irritated, terse, “ACKNOWLEDGED, maintain stealth, regiment is, Saddles“.
This word indicated that the regiment was mounted and ready for combat, “well, at least they will get a hot reception”, he smiled, inwardly.
The Denovian Ground effect carriers[vii] hurtled along towards the border at 10 meters altitude and 300 kph. The first of the carriers approached the seemingly abandoned border fence. The 130 special forces, clad in well used light assault Exo’s, jostled against each other in the lightly armoured GE Craft. It flew, quiet and fast. Perfectly suited for covert insertion of troops behind enemy lines, it was stealthy but because it rode on a cushion of trapped moving air it did disturb the ground somewhat. Its last generation hydrogen battery engines were quieter than your average family car.
The insertion point was chosen along the border in a slight valley. A good choice, the Otsotion Army was reportedly spread thinly across this area of the border and consisted mostly of unmanned listening posts. The high command had decided that odds of taking them by surprise were good.
“Going to catch the Oats by surprise, Alexi?“, said the youngest member of the unit, as he nudged the grizzled veteran next to him. “Let’s hope so“, snapped the old Sargent.
Janis observed that there would be no deviation of the invaders path. He toggled the quantum entangled switch that set the Tunnel Rats, active.[viii]
At the first vibrations of the carrier’s approach, the Rats secondary payload of 1 cubic foot liquid nitrogen had its cylindrical pressure vessel ruptured by a small charge, the nitrogen instantly expanded 750 times its volume freezing the soil covering them instantaneously creating a brittle frozen block of gravel and earth rapidly expanding upward.
The primary payload, an upwardly facing shaped charge of C4 , constructed as a part of the Rat body shell, detonated. The other rats also vaporized, the six expanding shockwaves following the path of least resistance launched, the now frozen blocks solid earth gravel, skyward, shattering them into hundreds of supersonic bullets.
Six simultaneous blast waves of supersonic frozen gravel shredded the first of the big aircraft and perforated almost every soldier in the Denovian Special Forces unit, only the younger commando survived. It was not a merciful circumstance, within moments the big aircraft’s lightly armoured hydrogen fuel cells, also perforated, exploding with thunderous flash, creating another secondary, much larger blast wave which slammed the second GE Craft, also heavily damaged by the Rats. The second craft was smashed into the still burning countryside as if by a giant unseen hammer. The second craft exploded in similar fashion scattering its victims and mechanical remnants to the four winds, 500 meters to the east, four similar ground effect aircraft deployed speed brakes which slowed to a hover and began to disgorge their shocked cargo into the plains below. The confused Exo-clad Denovian troops milled about, the Sergeants and Junior Officers, screaming at their charges, trying to gain control.
By the time the section of the Denovian SF regiment that were left alive had gotten control of themselves and reformed, the Ground Effect Craft were long gone.
Tactically, the unit’s position and formation could not have been worse. They were deployed, confused and exposed on an open plain, close quarters with the sun rising at their backs, perfect range silhouette targets.
The awful situation was not lost on the senior leadership. The Colonel of the Regiment broke radio silence and shouted, “active defenses, DISPERSE!!!”. It was far past, too late, he realized, for his orders to make any difference.
One hundred kilometers west, the 2nd Battery of Osation Railgun Artillery, augmented by 1 troop of 41st Battalion of US Field Rail Artillery, waited. It had been ready for action since Sgt Whitaker’s, desperate satellite, contact report.
The massive explosions of the first wave of GE Craft, got the attention of the balloon mounted, high-altitude Weapons Control platforms loitering over central Europe. These platforms hung just below the edge of space, skirting the space-based weapons treaties. The armoured control capsules could be jettisoned instantly for re-entry if threatened. Although, the platform’s Quantum 4Qubit Artificial Intelligence had initially missed seeing the second wave of aircraft, it spotted them as they broke stealth, opened their cavernous belly, disgorging their troops.
“FIRE MISSION CHARGE ALL GUNS, STANDBY FOR COORDINATES", shouted, the young Captain, in charge of the battery.
His crews worked with practiced ease loading the 5 kg Iron and tungsten alloy slugs into the launch tubes and slipped in the heavy pig iron by sabots behind them. [x]
Nine breeches screwed closed, all nine crews reported, “Loaded “
Captain Johnson approved the impact target zone provided by the WCC Artificial Intelligence and transmitted it to the unit Fire control systems. Nine, ten-meter-long, gun tubes, made minor angular, elevation adjustments. Crew chiefs reported, “SET", nearly in unison. “Fire when charged!”, came the next command. Harmonious low frequency humming filled the area.
Suddenly, a storm of nine lightning bolts launched eastward accompanied by a wave of thunderclaps.
The captain was clad in an Exo and was already in a fast run to his next RV.
“All call-signs move to Romeo Victor Six’. All the crew chiefs responded, “Acknowledged … Out”
The big railguns had already jettisoned their disposable, now fused, one-time use, acceleration tubes and were already on the move.
The high voltage generator trucks which powered the railguns, dumped the equally damaged, charge cables and followed closely behind. Counter-battery fire was expected and likely imminent. This unit needed to be someplace else. Although they did not know it , his time they would escape any Denovian retribution.
Downrange, the Donovan Commandos, had just now started to clear from the open plain and begun to dig defensive positions, to no avail. Nine simultaneous rail-gun slugs arrived creating visible shockwave apparitions, which rolled across the plain, vaporizing anything near the point of impact.
Although the troops were inside the somewhat armored Exo’s, the shockwave liquefied the insides of anything organic it reached.
It was thus, that the 2nd Donovian Special Assault Regiment, vanished, into military history.