Joined: 24 Aug 2006
Location: Rangstadt, Allied Europe, Earth, NEC
|Posted: Sun Sep 14, 2008 4:34 pm Post subject: BT05: Xenopsychology II
|Helios began its slow descent over Fortin Gisele, casting the Terranovan hamlet with a golden light that could've belonged to Sol. Terra Nova, with its particle-rich atmosphere, was known for some of the most dramatic sunsets in all of the planets of the gate web: broad, soft swatches of orange-framed clouds that cast the Republican township in a rich combination of green and ochre. The week had been full of postcard-perfect weather; a pure, vivid beauty that made a great impression on the visiting Utopians.
They had been brought to Fortin Gisele by the Talons a few days ago. It served as a quiet little community outside of Ashanti, isolated by light forest and peaceful glens and serviced only by a small airfield and a rarely-used dirt road. It was also a resort for Republican officers and SRID agents who had earned a comfortable retirement. This, plus the high percentage of Westphalia sympathizers and aides here made it the de-facto vacation spot for Talons coming home from missions. The township itself was remote, populated predominantly by wealthy Southern loyalists with more than a hint of paranoia. Their sharp, war-hardened eyes kept the township safe, virtually impenetrable to infiltration. It was relatively safe. The people there might have thought Caelin and Scildfreja were a little odd, but they had also learned long ago to never ask questions too deeply of guests - a vital skill for anyone navigating the web of Republican politics. Of course, that didn't keep PaxSec from thoroughly investigating the few people who did actually show up at the villa that the Utopians were staying at.
It had been difficult to find them a place to stay outside of the Talon bases, but in the end getting them out of the Badlands seemed to be the right decision. The both of them softened their tones after spending a few days in the majesty of the Republican countryside, away from the offices and bleak landscapes of Pacifica base. The sunsets seemed to fixate them the most - they sat and watched them together, every evening without fail. While they maintained their constant anxiety and battle-ready habits, they relaxed, just a little bit. They smiled and talked quietly with one another, they played a game of lawn bowling with an elderly Republican couple, and they filled the evening with music from their gorgeously crafted lute and harp. While their clothing seemed more Humanist than anything, it didn't seem too out of place - Humanists did show up from time to time, after all. They were quiet, but they fit in.
It was rare to catch Scildfreja alone, but she and Caelin were not in fact joined at the hip despite popular belief back at Pacifica HQ. She sat reading alone at times, settled into a cushioned wicker chair in the overgrown garden of the villa. The massive red-barked saguaro trees and the broad-leaved ferns found there dwarfed her, made her look like a Greek queen presiding over a court of leaves and crickets. Little red and yellow peek-a-boo flowers speckled the shaggy green carpet of grass, with bright patches of blossoms bowing to the throne. Scildfreja rarely paid attention to her subjects, however. It was always Terranovan history, or military reports, or her own notes for her superiors in Koglund. When Aaron Birkin wandered over to her, he caught a glimpse of maps gracing the screen of her slate. A battle report from the War of the Alliance; an engagement at Baja that had ended poorly for the Terranovans and nearly saw Earth break out form the beleaguered city. She had drawn her own notes overtop of the map in a tidy freehand script he couldn't understand. She glanced up at him as he stopped nearby and took the stool beside her. Only the insects talked in chittery warbles for a few minutes, until her notes were finished.
"You have a pretty country," she admitted to him once she had clipped her stylus back in place.
"Yeah, I do," He replied, "I'm very lucky to be a Republican."
She didn't reply. She didn't really seem to have the ability to carry on a conversation for more than a few sentences with anyone but Caelin. A few moments passed, and Aaron expected that he would have to come up with some other topic before it got awkward. She surprised him, however, with a topic of her own. She seemed to deliberate over it a moment before bringing it up.
"Your people fight very bravely. The War of the Alliance was very hard on you, but you won."
Aaron could hear a hint of bitterness in the last sentence. "Yeah, it was hard. We almost didn't."
"You won because you had managed to bottleneck Terra into two hubs - Port Arthur and later Baja; you kept their fleets isolated from their armies. It let you concentrate on pressing them back, you didn't have to worry as much about strategic flanking."
"That's right. That's what the brass analysts say, anyway. I think it's simpler than that. We had factories and people here. They didn't. It's why they lost, it's why they're going to lose again."
She pressed her lips together, but didn't clam up as she usually would have. "You're lucky that the Admiral of the fleet assigned to Terra Nova was such a fool. He attacked directly when he should have allied with one of your states."
"Is that what they did on Utopia?"
She paused again, looking upwards as if she could find the answer in the amber clouds. "Yes. In four seventy-four. They sent in scouts and secretly made an alliance with Steelgate." To Aaron's surprise, not only did she reveal that little glimpse of information - she kept going. "When the fleet arrived, it was in peace. They offered to host peace accords between us, Greenway and Steelgate, acting as a neutral party."
He spoke hesitantly now, afraid that any sharp question might burst the fragile bubble of her confidance. "So you were at war with those nations?"
"Ceoldwig. Not war, but not peace. It would have come to war soon. But they didn't wait. During the peace accords, Steelgate ambushed two Greenway orbiters with a small fleet of destroyers. Two days later, a pair of Greenway cruisers attacked and destroyed Goddhrymm - that was the smaller of our space docks. With the CEF on their side, Steelgate decided that they were strong enough to overtake the rest of us."
Aaron only nodded, as he didn't want to interrupt her. She paused again for a long time before continuing. "Steelgate was right. They're to the north of Greenway - they're in the mountains of northern Etrusca. Greenway is lowlands and swamp, and they've always been easily overtaken. Too disorganized. They lived as slaves to Steelgate for a time, and it's in their blood, now. The independents rolled over like bitches waiting to be mounted," she made a sour face at their mention, "though the higglers and wastrels have been stubborn. We've stood our ground alone for a long time, a very long time."
He breathed out quietly and murmured in a tone as quiet as hers, "I can see why you're here."
"The way you fight won't work on Utopia," she waved at the map still on her slate. "We're too outnumbered for it. And your tactics won't mesh with ours. Not without serious changes. The tanks are too fast and our weapons are too different. Perhaps we can compliment each other, but we're very different fighters."
"The battles of the War of the Alliance really made Terra Nova rethink its military planning. Those records aren't much to look at, compared to what we do now."
"Hm." Another pause. The sky had slid from amber to almost crimson, with purples and blues drawing night along behind them. The first stars were piercing the veil. Only after Hope's slim crescent made its appearance did the question appear in the heavens, and she asked, "You have thousands of factories, millions of people. Why do you send so many men and women to die in your battles when you could easily send autos and drones to do it?"
Birkin smiled sympathetically. He had been asked the same question before, a couple of times, from students and war protesters. He didn't expect to hear it from an acclimatized soldier, but it seemed to make sense with a moment of thought. "We're passionate people. When it's time to do something we believe in, we want to get our hands dirty. We want to do it ourselves."
"Mm." She watched the moon awhile, and the stars as they twinkled between the purpling clouds. "Family is too precious to waste. Better to have as few as possible at risk."
"So you fight with a lot of drones."
"Properly, an Armiger Captain leads an Auto-company. One, two hundred, for the largest formation. More, lately. Plus his Autoguard, another five to ten. I'm a Lead Armiger. Two autoguard, and between ten and thirty autos."
Aaron boggled at the thought. That many drones. The ground must crawl with the things, and the air must be filled with them. "Damn, that's a lot of Slecas."
She smiled briefly, barely. "This is a special-model Sleca. You'll see a lot more Draefend and Eored in battle. Bigger, tougher, a lot more firepower."
"So no stealth, more guns, more armour."
"No, no. They don't have blaecscirham, but they're still hard to detect. Blaecscirham is new."
"So everything's built for stealth?"
Scildfreja paused a moment as a pair of night daks took to the sky, pirouetting about to catch redjackets in their sharp beaks. "From what I've read, war on Terra Nova has been about pride and honour and ambition. Shining warriors in their Gears going out to fight and win for the glory of the City. It's very beautiful."
The daks dove past the crescent moon, one of them snatching up some crawling thing from the ground before the two began to fight over the kill, darting and slashing at one another as they twisted through the night air. "War on Utopia is different. It's not glory, it's murder. It's killing someone who's trying to kill you, or trying to kill someone you love. And that's all." One of the creatures had fought off the other and settled onto a saguaro tree nearby, where it noisily rended the carapace of its kill and feasted on the entrails. "We soldiers are murderers and assassins. We hide when the odds are against us, we ambush, we fight with a knife in the back - the means don't matter. War is ugly. It should be."
"It's noble to defend what you love, though." Birkin wasn't sure whether he should be offended or not. She did just imply that Terranovans took war too lightly, after all, but perhaps they did. This was too philosophical for his liking.
"That's what every soldier says. To make himself feel better. No one wants to be a murderer."
Aaron found himself without a reply. Was she right, or was she just cynical?
"But we are. Maybe three years ago, Caelin and I were rearguard for a retreating column. There was a Steelgate army in pursuit. We had lost orbital that month, so we two had our autoguard spread over ten kilometres to try and catch any harassing forces. So that the main force would have warning." Her face was lit up green and gold from beneath by the light of her data slate, which finally began to overcome Helios's waning light. "We thought they were going to send Ape-and-Auto teams at us. We weren't expecting to see a mounted Foot team. Maybe two hundred, with fifty Autos as escort."
"Caelin sent a Sleca to spy on their main column. It was getting picked up, back to their base on the coast. They left the Foot and Autos as a harassment force to stall our return to Troy. It was sloppy - stank of Terrans. So we called the Force Captain. The vanguard entrenched and spread out a screen along its flanks. Caelin and I let the slimy Magnates through, we followed behind them. The Force Captain left a few teams of Autos on his angle, to let the Magnates think that he was trying to buy time with oil. It worked - the Republicans didn't spot our main line until we were shooting."
She smiled, but it wasn't a pleased smile, not really a smile at all. Her eyes were distant with an inscrutable gaze that no one could accurately describe, but every combat veteran knew. "The foot used their Autos to buy themselves a retreat. They didn't see us at all. Caelin and I cut every one of them down."
"Ambush and encirclement." Aaron replied after Scildfreja grew quiet and the conversation grew as cold as the air was becoming. "It was the right tactic. It got rid of your enemy."
She glanced at him, the distant look gone, replaced with her sedate neutrality. "Yes. It did." The glow that lit up her face disappeared as she turned off the glowing data slate on her lap. "Let's go inside. It's gotten dark."
Aaron replied by rising and escorting his Utopian ally inside the villa, where warm light and the smell of cooking welcomed them in from the cold.