“There is evidence that they suspect we are here,” Faylon said to the Assembled Ship and Group Mothers. This caused a minor stir among some. “They are radiating new strong signals directed generally at where we Emerged. Blessed be the Forms of Galeta.” The murmured response was given. “Recon is not sure how they may have detected us. Their technology is primitive. There is no way they detected the Emergence ripples. It is clear they at least suspect we are here. In any event, this is of no consequence,” she assured them.
“Pardon, Mother Faylon. If they present a united front, it could prolong the action.”
“There will be no united front. This species is not like our Hive. In our Swarm, we are united, of one mind, but with these creatures there is no single Mother. The planet is divided into many separate allegiances. These allegiances continuously strive for dominance. There are several small wars occurring right now among them. This is not to say they are not dangerous. They are practiced at their primitive wars. As any cornered creature, they will undoubtedly resist.”
Faylon went on, “Their main technology includes air assault and armored ground vehicles. These will not be evenly deployed and are not very mobile. It would take several eights of cycles for them to move their forces on the planet significantly. They have rocket and missile warhead technology to support their vehicles, but these are all directed at their ground-based neighbors. Those areas of the planet with larger allegiances generally have deployed their forces to their borders to protect against incursions by their neighbors. The longest resistance may be in some of the more primitive sections of the planet where not only the dominant allegiances are competing with each other for the resources, but where the lesser technologically capable locals have found ways to hold them off.” Falyon paused and looked over her mothers.
“They have split the atom, however, so they have nuclear fission weapons. Atomics.” This caused a little stirring among her audience. Atomics always raised the stakes a bit. She pressed on, “And in this regard, they may inflict some significant damages if we are not careful. Their missile delivery systems for these weapons are surface to surface. We do not anticipate that these will be directed against us in orbit, but we must be prepared for the possibility that a few may be modified and fired at us. There is also the possibility, as their resistance crumbles, that some of these allegiances will attempt to use these devices against our ground forces. This will cause casualties to them and us, and it will damage their industrial base. Our Ground Assault Mothers of all Landing Clusters will be briefed appropriately. Should they resort to the fission weapons, the standard armor should be protective against any peripheral blasts and residual radiation. High priority must be placed on protecting the industrial assets as our success will require turning these to our use. The more intact, the quicker we have them back into production.”
“With fission capability, comes the possibility of spent nuclear materials being incorporated in projectiles. These may be both hyper-dense projectiles of the spent fusion materials or small scale atomics. These will penetrate Ground Assault’s armor. On the positive side, hyper-dense projectiles should not be common and are expected to be carried only by their assault vehicles. Any questions?”
A Ship-Mother stood up just behind the front rank of listeners. “How much more time do we have to prepare for the assault?”
“We are not in a hurry, Mother-Warrior. We anticipate several eights of cycles. We have assault troops to awaken from hibernation and they take time to limber up. We will ‘Hasten with all careful diligence with all eight eyes watching for the Enemy.’” There’s a quote from the Supreme Mother’s Battle-book. “This operation is in full motion. A slow careful approach allows us the luxury of listening to their great myriad of transmissions to ascertain the locations of as many of their defensive forces as possible.” And a slow careful approach will give us time to plan what to do about these new subjugates, Faylon told herself. “Once we commence, we will hit them hard, eliminate all defenses, and minimize losses among both our forces and the general population on the planet. We will then dig in and prepare to hold this target against any Enemy action.”
“Flight-Mother?” Asked a Ship-Mother she was unfamiliar with. “Is Enemy action anticipated?” Faylon felt the whole assembly hold its breath for the answer.
“Enemy action is always anticipated.”
The familiar figure of Bob Farington strode into the Oval Office. The President looked up from his breakfast, a soufflé. “You’re early today, Bob.”
“Just trying to keep pace with events, Sir.”
“I take it there are some new developments?”
“Definite proof that the Russians have started their own astronomical search. Ostensibly for our asteroid, but I would say it’s clear they also know the reason for our efforts. They have started a major spending program even though their economy is still soft from their last recession.”
“Well, it was too much to hope that they would never notice our efforts.
“And the French Ministries of Defense and Research have taken actions that appear to have accelerated the launch of their latest deep space probe. No evidence, just yet, that it is a response to our discovery, but it was done without consulting with their fellow European partners, who are soon to make the papers with their displeasure on being left out of the decision-making process. We aren’t sure yet about the Chinese. They seem to not know, but are atypically quiet, which I would say tells us they know.”
“I see we have a hot bed stirring out there. Are there any issues with our economic partners?”
“No Sir,” Bob said. “The Japanese and Mexicans have their hands full with the latest economic attempt by China to keep their currency artificially low. Our Federal Reserve is after them again on that. Seems like this has been going on for a couple of decades.”
“Hmmmph. At least. I recall there was a big brouhaha over it back in the depression right after the turn of the century. Best we keep quiet on this still. Either our business partners will notice and ask, or our little green men will be here before they notice. We can always evidence surprise.”
“Any more from the astronomers? What was that guy’s name down in Chile?”
“De Havland, sir. You remember, at the Atacama Observatory?”
The President didn’t remember, but did not bother to admit it. After all, Bob really didn’t care if he remembered or not. He said distractedly, “Summer down there in Chile, isn’t it?” He asked and Bob nodded, but didn’t bite on the bait to change subject for a bit. The President sighed, he wished it was summer here. “So, anything from De Haveland?”
“No, sir. They are spending a prodigious amount of funds for very little results,” Bob complained. “It’s our best observatory to watch the southern stars and has a good view of the area we're searching as well. I guess if we don’t spend it, we’ll kick ourselves when they arrive from that direction.”
The President looked at his watch. “If something breaks, it’ll be like the dam bursting. Wait and see.” He stood up, “Enjoy the pace while you can, Bob. I have to catch a plane, so I have to run. Keep me posted.”
“Will do, sir.”
Shalva Ben Gurion was tired of the rain. Winter in Tel Aviv was always wet and this year was no different. She sat in her high rise room at the Alexander Hotel looking out her window into the night at the Mediterranean below. She could make out one of the many breakwaters along this part of the coast. She sipped her vodka tonic. Ahhh. This Hotel was her favorite hideaway. It was old but it lay on Tel Aviv's famous beach promenade, only a stone's throw from Metzitzim Beach and the city's thriving Old-Port district. The Old-Port district was full of restaurants, cafes, tourists, and shopping.
Just north was the Yarkon estuary where the Port of Jaffa claimed to be the oldest port in the world. She raised her drink in a salute its legendary founder, Japhet, son of Noah, captain of one of the more famous arks in history. Over the centuries Pharaohs, Caesars, and Kings had all realized the military importance of this port. Each in turn had conquered it in order to gain control over the Land of Israel. That all stopped during the Crusader Period, when the port was filling with sand. From that time on it was largely abandoned except by some fishermen. Now, after years of neglect, it had been developed into one of the nouveau entertainment and shopping areas of Tel Aviv. Very chic, very “In”.
The port itself was a modern marina now, competing with the older Tel Aviv Marina to the south. She used to sail her boat out of the Tel Aviv Marina with her first husband, Ari, years ago. He had been a great sailor. She had been very sad when he was killed in the 2021 Jerusalem War. Now, however, she could no longer sail without a contingent of bodyguards. She looked behind her at the two who stood on each side of the entry to her room pretending not to be there. Shabak, the Israel Security Agency always had a few dozen well-trained men around her. Ahhh, the price of terrorism in this world, she reflected. Shin Bet was what Ari would have called the secret service. Along with Mossad they made up Aman, the Military Intelligence Directorate of Medinat Yisrael, or the State of Israel. Being Prime Minister meant getting constant surveillance, protection, and giving up most of her own life.
She wouldn’t be Prime Minister today, she knew, if she hadn’t been the youngest granddaughter of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, the very first Prime Minister of Israel. He had an instrumental role in founding the state of Israel, and he led Israel to its victory in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Everywhere she went, people still remembered that Ben-Gurion helped build the state institutions and led the country during the early turbulent years as it absorbed vast numbers of Jews from all over the world. He had always been working, too busy to have enough time for the family. When he retired from politics in 1970, he moved to a kibbutz in the Negev desert, named Sde Boker. By then her mother was busy bearing her oldest brother and starting a family. Her mother always said that after he moved there, she saw very little of him until his death. Posthumously, Ben-Gurion was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. She raised her glass to him. Salute, oh grandfather of mine. I sure wish Time Magazine was still around. It would have been nice to also make the cover herself.
There was a sharp double rap at her door, “Come,” she said loudly.
A thin nervous male figure came rushing in with a thick stack of files in one arm and a cell phone in his free hand. Pedatsour Kafni was a great assistant and a pain in her ass. “Yes, Peda? What is it this evening?”
“Ms. Ben Gurion, you have visitors…” But before he could announce who it was or even ask if she wanted to see them, in through the open door marched three men in suits.
She recognized the lead man. Josiah Chertok, an important man in the Mossad, the Israeli Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations. She set her drink down and sighed, purposefully loud enough to be heard. “Well, come in. Come in. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, Director Chertok?” This was the first time he had ever paid her a visit. She and Chertok did not get along well. Shalda assumed that, like Golda Meir, she would always have to deal with male chauvinism.
“Prime Minister,” was all Chertok said as a greeting. He was a lean man, half bald and graying with a hooked nose that made him look like a hawk. “Forgive me if I get right to the point. The Americans think they have found an alien spaceship out at the edge of our solar system.”
She stared at him blankly. “What?”
He pulled his jacket straight and stood straighter as if to make his message more believable. “Aliens. Little green men.”
“Little green men?” Shalda asked slowly and skeptically. Chertok looked pained. She was definitely amused. Whether this was real or not, she was enjoying his difficulties in delivering the message.
“Yes,” he popped his neck each way and shrugged. He seemed more like he was about to compete in a wrestling match than report on UFOs. He tried to start again. “The Americans absolutely believe that an alien ship has entered our solar system. As foolish as this sounds, they are spending great amounts of money over it, searching the skies for this space ship.”
“This isn't another SETI program is it? That was a great waste of money intended to distract their public. You know how the Americans can get carried away. Surely you don't believe this, do you? ”The last she added to bait him, and he rose to the bait.
“Madame Prime Minister,” he said stiffly. “I assure you we have checked this out thoroughly before bringing it to you. It isn't a matter of whether I believe it or not, the Americans believe it. Mossad has copies of several reports that went the American president. If they are to be believed, then we may indeed not be alone in the universe.”
Shalda sighed again. Her stomach pained her slightly. Shalda was tempted to pick her drink back up. The alcohol would numb the pain. She had enough trouble with terrorists and Hamas, let alone aliens. And she had four Arab armies poised at the border threatening another war again. There was never a time when this was more meaningless. “And so… real or unreal, what does this mean to us?”
“Our agents report that the Americans are not alone in this. The Russians have also launched their own efforts to find this ship. More to the point, all their intelligence networks are quite busy trying to find out if the others have found out about the aliens or not. This includes members of the European Union and even the Chinese have redirected their efforts in this regard.”
Maybe it was the alcohol she had consumed this evening, but Shalda laughed derisively. “Last year they were all swarming after a rumored biotoxin. One that never existed. What makes you think this does?” She could see Chertok was agitated, after all he had sent his own men after that wild goose chase as well. “We have much bigger problems. The Syrians are in their newly annexed Lebanese Golan Heights; the Egyptians are sitting on the Suez Canal where the 2021 War left the boarder; and then there are the Jordanians who are now on the West Bank with the Palestinian army. At least the Palestinians are still split between the Gaza Strip and the West bank. Be glad Iran is no longer a credible threat in these days, or they’d have troops here, too."
Defensively Chertok asserted, “I'm not proposing we chase UFOs. I'm proposing that this is a golden opportunity, while they're all distracted with astronomical observations and secret reports. Let us send our computer whizzes to hack their systems. Even if the hacks fail to get in or find new information, we will make sure that they will all blame each other for the attempts.”
He went on, “Several nations I shall not name are aiding these armies you have listed. Surely they are helping them strategize any coming attack. It is possible that in all the confusion we may be able to uncover their plans and thwart this war is about to occur.”
Shalda laughed again, but this time with pleasure. “You have proven to me once again why you are the head of Mossad. Proceed with this plan. Of course if you are discovered, I will deny it. It's better if I do not have all knowledge of your actions. Would you like a drink, Mr. Chertok?” She retrieved her own drink. As she did, her stomach gave another spasm, but it would soon be anesthetized.
Veta was glad she'd kept up a rigorous exercise program. So many of the Admin and Tech officers and crew were too soft. She'd been assigned to Group-Mother Daehir for the surface assault. It was the Group-Mother's job to train her Warriors and toughen them. She was also expected to keep her group of Surface Assault Warriors alive. Among themselves, the Warriors called themselves Grounders, because they specialized in surface landings and ground assaults. Even though Veta was higher ranking and would probably lead this group along with an eight of others in a squad in the field, she counted for nothing until she passed her training and got her Group-Mothers approval. Right now she hurt like defecation all over from the first eight-cycle of work-outs. But, she'd seen the surprise, and then grudging respect, from the Grounders. Even the Group-Mother she had been assigned to seemed suitably happy with her performance.
These troops practiced in the high Gee rooms for assault landings when they weren't in hibernation. Now, that they were approaching the target, they were all awake, working out the kinks and lactic acids that seemed to build up while hibernating. Looking at them, Veta had trouble thinking that all these young fresh versions of herself were all hatched years before she was. Many were over five times her chronological age. Hibernating was one way to stay young forever. They awoke only to fight, celebrate a success, and go back into hibernation. Every Troop-Ship would be repeating this action as all they prepped for action.
Now, after a short eight-cycle of grueling training, the Group-Mother, called a GM by her troops, had decided this cycle to advance her to a suit. She put Veta in a used heavy assault suit they had scrounged up for her. It didn’t quite fit properly. “It’s not like these things are just laying around, you know,” the GM told Veta. Then the she pushed Veta into the suit and ordered her to report immediately to the high Gee room for a live training exercise. Veta looked around. Her goal was merely to get across the room at twice normal gravity. There were, however, eight-and-two Grounders also in the room. Veta knew they were more experienced with the suits and their job was to humiliate her. That is, among other things, to keep her from crossing the room. There were three of the lighter suits that Scout Grounders wore and three intermediate Grinder suits. The last four were all heavy assault suits like she wore. Crushers. They were slower and more clumsy, but she was sure one was bound to be the Group-Mother who had tossed her in here.
As she flexed her muscles and felt the response of the suit’s gyros and servos, she tried to review everything she knew about these suits. They were body armor and strength extrapolators. The armor could deflect most projectiles and maybe a small missile hit. It should protect against lower powered lasers and weak particle beams. She'd studied the tactics of inter-suit battle and once upon a time had been fairly good at it. It was a popular game in the Fleet, when it wasn't actually occurring in a battle somewhere.
The scouts would be moving fast, with light anti-personnel weapons in battle, but they would just be trying to trip her up here. They would use grapples against her to pull her down. But they had to stay out of the crushing grip of her war-suit as their armor couldn't take her blows. The Grinders would carry light armor piercing missiles and lasers in battle. They were the Fleet's main infantry unit. Here, they'd only be carrying rams. These were solid poles meant to daze and damage the opponent in training. They'd be going for her helmet to daze her, or for weak points in her armor to cripple or disable her. The heavy suits carried the major individual armament in battle and so were big suits. Veta was over three times her normal size in the suit. The Flight limited suits to this size, because speed was critical even in a big suit. Any slow target in a battle was rapidly taken out by the attack craft. Both The Enemy and their own troops had fought in these suits for as long as anyone Veta had ever talked to could remember.
Veta surveyed the uneven practice arena. There were ramps and drops, and even stairs to higher ground. There were several ominous deep drops that, even with the suit’s protection, could kill at this gee. That was part of the game. An opponent pushed over the edge was at the very least out of play. Veta saw that they'd given her the advantage of higher ground. She had entered the arena about two-thirds of the way up a ramp. There was a wall behind her and a door through which she'd just been thrust by the Warriors who had helped her into the suit. The other side of the ramp dropped to a sunken floor and from there into a deeper hole. The ramp stopped in a floor area that made up the middle of the room. Here the Grounders stood watching for her to move. She could see her goal. On the far side above several large steps, each about her own suits height, was the exit door. Veta tried to take in everything and come up with a plan.
Apparently, however, her opponents were tired of waiting already and weren’t going to give her time to plan. The Scouts were moving in, coming up the ramp fast. Two Grinders moved to the base of the ramp and one alongside it. The Crushers held back to watch. Veta took only a fraction of a calon to decide. The physics of her decision was simple. With numbers against her, momentum counted. Taking several lumbering steps, her suit picked up speed. Then, as the Scouts threw out their grapples at her lower limbs, she leapt into a shoulder roll aiming at the two Scouts by the edge of the ramp. The grapples passed harmlessly underneath, as she felt the suit’s shoulder contact the ramp and tucked to speed her roll. “Too rough, needs practice”, she thought as the impact forced a grunt out of her.
As she came out of her roll, she leapt back to her feet and plowed into the two astonished Scouts. Veta's momentum sent one flying far out over the sunken floor to slide almost to the deep hole. When that one stopped, it lay still. The other one was sent tumbling down the ramp, sprawling at its base, under the feet of one Grinder. She didn't waste a look to see what had become of the last Scout. She had to move fast before they recovered. These weren’t just game players like her, they were veteran assault troops with a dozen or more planets under their belts. If she gave them much time at all, they were going to kill her.
The Grinder in front of her staggered trying to clear its feet of the Scout’s body. She brought her ram up defensively though. Veta saw the Grinder on the other side of the ramp start a swing with her ram. It was timed to catch Veta from behind, high, just as she would hit the Grinder in front of her. At the last instant before contact, she ducked her helmet. This meant she hit the defensive ram straight on her head-piece sending a ringing through her head. It also made the swing of the second Grinder smash her ram into the face-plate of Veta's immediate opponent.
The ram snapped her hapless opponent's head back just as Veta hit her midsection. That floored the Grounder, who dropped her ram on impact with the floor. Veta stumbled over the Grinders suit as it tried feebly to grope for her. She snatched up the ram as she passed. Her face-plate was cracked, but she took grim satisfaction in noting that the ram she held now had a slight bend. She knew both the second Grinder and the missing Scout that had been beside the ramp would be on her back as soon as she slowed.
Ahead the three Crushers were now moving in for her. Veta was fresh out of tricks. Suddenly, she was hit from behind and staggered forward several steps. She felt the weight of a suit on her back, she reached back but couldn't get a grip on the thing. It was fairly light, so it had to be the last Scout. Her rider was beating on her back, trying to damage part of the energy pack. Veta could see the Crushers closing in to finish the battle, now that she was beset by the Scout.
There seemed to be nothing she could do. But, as the first Crusher reached for her, Veta spun and rammed backwards into the Crusher. The Scout unit crunched loudly between the two big suits. This sudden move surprised the Crusher and she tripped as Veta continued to shove backwards. As she felt the big suit falling, Veta began to spin. The damaged Scout hung on determinedly, but its feet slipped loose. It was stretched out straight, like a spinning piece of string. Veta lunged at the second Crusher who was just arriving. The wildly swinging legs of the Scout crashed into the helmet of the Crusher knocking it to its knees. The shock ripped the Scout off her back and Veta turned towards her goal and straight into the fist of the last Crusher.
Veta felt her feet slip out from under her and she fell heavily onto her back, dazed. The last Crusher leaped high into the air and landed on its back, directly on her chest. Veta felt the wind rush out of her aching ribs, and a ringing started in her ears. As the Crusher climbed back to its feet, Veta tried to move, but the effort was beyond her. She fell back, unable to breathe. She couldn't lift her head more than slightly off the deck.
"It is ended," The Crusher suit in front said. Then it removed its helmet. It was her GM, Daehir. "That was good, Veta." She actually smiled while reaching down and her servos pulled Veta’s suit and Veta to her feet. Veta's ears were still ringing and the rush of blood in her head made the High Gee room seem slightly surreal. Veta looked around. The two Crushers were getting up beside her and the two Grinders she'd gotten past were walking up. The Grinder she'd taken out was sitting up, but not moving much yet. The Scout who'd ridden on her back was up with her helmet off, but it was clear the servos controlling the legs were damaged. The unit lurched drunkenly as she walked up.
"That was the best I've ever seen anyone do against us," the Scout grinned wolfishly. "I'm Gredi. Proud to have played the game with you."
Veta murmured something, at which they all laughed. She wasn’t sure what she said that was so funny.
"Her hull's still ringing," someone said and they all laughed again. Veta smiled, but couldn't seem to understand the joke. She was still trying to breathe in more than shallow gasps.
Veta looked past her group of surrounding admirers. The two gees had dropped to one and several white clothed Meds were rushing to one of the Scouts. That was the one she'd knocked completely off the ramp. She wasn't moving. Her helmet was off and she looked pale lying on the deck. The Meds were checking pulse and applying revive techniques.
"Don't worry about Jardlin. She's tough enough. You just dropped her from twice her height onto her head in two Gees. She won't know where she is for ten rotations." Veta looked to see the speaker was GM Daehir. "Let's go to the showers. You need to sit for a bit. And the Meds will need to clear you before you can get dressed. The Group will all want to bond with you now. Catch your breath while you can. Canteen’s on me tonight to celebrate.”
Well, Veta thought, I hope the drinks are worth all this pain.