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Unavoidable Casualties

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  • #16
    Sina stood outside the monorail tube, clutching her arms together. She was shivering slightly, and looking nervously towards the opening of the service station, fifty metres away. I’m in well over my head here, she thought. The UN can’t be taking me seriously, not if they send me a half-trained intelligence agent. Intelligence, hah!

    She wasn’t sure what would happen now. Whatever Maxwell had said, the UN would never send a transport into Believer territory – not only would that be an act of war, but even worse, in the UN’s eyes, that is, they’d be seen as complete hypocrites, advocating peace while practising conflict. And Maxwell couldn’t win against the half dozen or so BIS agents inside the train. Maybe the BIS would be sympathetic towards her.

    She ****ed her head to one side, trying to strain her hearing, unconsciously triangulating the source. Turning around, through the grey scratched plastic of the monorail tube, she could just make out the train silently departing. Sina touched her brother’s arm. Lalver silently looked over towards the monorail, almost reeling back in surprise.

    There was a sound of someone shouting. Seconds later, Maxwell tumbled out of the open service station door onto the bare ground outside as a blue beam stabbed past him. He responded by firing another few rounds at the agent, then pulled himself up onto his feet.

    Sina remained frozen to the spot, her shivering forgotten. Going up to the service station door, Maxwell tapped the keypad a few times, then banged it with his fist. Nothing happened. Stepping back, he fired three rounds into the electronic lock mechanism. With startling speed, the door slammed into place.

    Maxwell trotted over towards them, shouting at first.

    ‘They won’t be able to cut themselves out before our transport gets here, and there’s only two left, the rest were still on the monorail.’ He looked up to the darkening horizon, where a bright point of light was rising slowly. ‘That’s our transport.’

    Lalver looked towards where Maxwell was pointing, and squinted. ‘How long will it take for it to get here? Won’t it get shot down?’

    Maxwell smiled inscrutably. ‘I doubt it,’ he said, remarkably self-assured, thought Sina.

    The point grew into a sleek and thin disc, its searchlight creating lengthening shadows behind the three. Small rotors extruded themselves out of the top surface of the craft while a bulky undercarriage unfolded itself. Lalver frowned, and said ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen that design of craft before.’

    Sina looked closely, and a shiver ran the entire length of her body. ‘I have. In a Believer military installation.’ Maxwell said nothing when she looked at him questioning, the contours of his face lost in the shadows.

    ‘I don’t suppose there’s much we can do except to wait. They’ll probably pick us up, since they haven’t killed us already,’ stated Lalver in a flat voice.

    With a final sweep of its searchlight, the craft touched down almost gingerly onto the ground, the undercarriage compressing to absorb the impact. The rotors shut off, and the brilliant searchlight flickered out. Sina blinked her eyes, trying to adjust to the sudden darkness. A ramp banged down onto the ground in front of her, and men rushed out. Maxwell still didn’t move. One of the men detached himself from the main group, who were encircling the three, to walk up to the lieutenant. He saluted.

    ‘Sergeant Takayuki Sato, sir. Received your call.’ The sergeant stared impassively to the right of Lieutenant Maxwell.

    Maxwell nodded. ‘Very good, sergeant. We’d better get going now. You can give me a sit-rep on the way back.’

    The sergeant saluted again, and barked a series of unintelligible orders into a wire-mike. The craft rotors started up again, and the intelligence officer, scholar and defector were ushered inside. Within a minute, the craft had taken off again, heading towards UN territory. The dim light of the sun’s refracted rays coming over the horizon bathed the scene and craft with a dull red glow.


    The interior of the craft was filled with low tech polymer display panels and bulky hardware. Light from the computer displays played over the faces of their operators, who whispered commands and typed away with an unconscious ease that Sina recognised well. The head of the craft held two pilots, keeping an eye on display panels overlaying the protective canopy shielding.

    Maxwell headed over to a console with the sergeant, jerking his head at a row of small seats to them. Sina and Lalver sat themselves down, looking around. She wasn’t sure what to believe now – the whole experience of the monorail and now the rescue by this strange helicopter aircraft was so confusing that she’d given up trying to understand. She glanced over to the console Maxwell was bent over, talking in low tones to the sergeant.

    ‘Are UN troops always that formal? And what’s up with Maxwell?’ she asked.

    ‘He messed the mission up, and both he and the sergeant know it.’ Sina didn’t reply, although it was clear she didn’t understand.

    Minutes passed. Sina tried to relax and get some sleep - the motion of the craft was smooth and quiet enough to allow it – but she couldn’t manage it. Maxwell straightened up slowly, and walked over towards the two.

    ‘We’ll be landing in UN military outpost in a few minutes, then we’ll take a ground transport to Serendipity.’ He looked down for a second, his jaw muscles bunching for a second. ‘I bungled the mission. I shouldn’t have allowed you to go on the monorail, it was too unsafe. I knew we couldn’t trust the BIS informants.’

    ‘You got us out, though,’ said Sina in what she hoped was a reassuring tone.

    ‘Yes, I did. There is that, at least.’

    Sina spoke to fill in an uncomfortable silence, since Lalver didn’t seem to have anything to say, his eyes staring up at the ****pit. ‘So would you like to explain what the hell went on back then?’ The casual profanity didn’t faze her as much as it would have done back in Alatesia, but she still found she had to make an effort to swear. Maybe it’d put Maxwell at ease.

    ‘The UN end of the monorail plugged in a backup nuke powerplant and basically jump-started the monorail. Then they sent over this craft – it’s a retrofitted Believer military transport one of their defectors came over in. All this armour and low tech is because it’s been reinforced to be EMP proof.’ He snorted. ‘The damn thing’s even got a manual flight control system, for God’s sake.’

    Maxwell either didn’t notice Sina’s flinch at the blasphemy, or chose to ignore it. ‘There’s nothing better than a couple of inches of lead to stop an EMP blast, even if it means this thing can only fly for a few hours.’

    Sina pondered this. ‘Why didn’t the Believers do anything? They’ve got interceptors, they could’ve shot us down.’

    ‘The Believers didn’t have a clue of what was going on. We planned this so that their spy satellite was over the horizon at the time, and the EMP the BIS agents used also had the convenient effect of shutting down all their airborne communications.’

    ‘So how did you manage to contact the UN if the EMP knocked out all the communications?’

    ‘The comms console in the service station was shielded from the blast by all the other computer around it, and it had a ground-line to the UN communications network,’ answered Maxwell.

    Sina could feel the craft descending slowly, the undercarriage folding out underneath the floor. ‘What happens now?’ she asked herself.

    ‘I don’t know,’ said Maxwell, his eyes closed, concealed by a hand rubbing his brow.


    Author's note: Turns out that I got this done earlier than I expected. I'm probably going to finish this story, although it'll take a while because I'm starting another. Thanks for all your comments, everyone.


    • #17
      The office was one of the more prestigious in the university – it commanded a large space and a scenic view of the landscaped gardens. Lal had been given the choice, when he was appointed to his Chair at Oxford, to reside in any number of rooms within the ‘old’ campus, but he’d turned them down. Doubtless there was an undeniable charm in working in the ancient buildings around quadrangles, but the students tended to disturb him and his work required the most up to date computing and scientific resources.

      So, instead he relocated to one of the out of campus sites, in a small science park owned by the university on the outskirts of the city. Some of his colleagues regarded this as something of a Siberian assignment, being relegated away from where the ‘action’ took place. They were right. Most of the important decisions and politics were made at the old campus.

      And that turned out to be the deciding factor that made him move.

      One of the hidden advantages of working at the science park, Lal had found, was that the most cutting-edge technology was constantly being tested out. After a brief discussion with the director of the rather grandly named Next-Generation Technology Integration Institute, he’d joined the ongoing ‘test-scheme’ to evaluate all their new hardware. His room was crammed with various gadgets – microcameras, DNA samplers, EM cut-off fields, uplinks to personal nanosats. All contested for space on a long ten foot table placed at the side of the room.

      The desk at which he actually worked had none of this – Lal preferred to use the old style Scrolls. There was one device he did use, though – a pseudo 3D holoprojector that created a 2D screen that simply floated in space.

      After making a few finishing comments on a paper he was reviewing, Lal looked down at the gardens. Three small and flat solar powered robots were laboriously picking up leaves that had fallen onto the grass. Lal resisted the urge to rush down and help them out. Turning away, he said ‘Give me the SSN feed on the Brunei situation.’

      A large LCD panel attached to the wall sprung into life. Lal clicked his tongue unconsciously as he watched the SSN video feed, fingers twitching over an untidy spread of Scrolls.

      ‘…bringing the latest news from Brunei. Red Cross officials are trying to restores lines of communication to determine exactly what the scale of damage was – they’ve had access to satellite videos of the event, but the true human cost is unknown.’

      Lal exhaled air from his nose irritably. He could have told the UN that that was going to happen sooner or later.

      ‘…haven’t experienced an earthquake in this area for, well, a very long time. The EPC is claiming that they hadn’t had the relevant information from the seismographs around Brunei, but to most victims, they’re the obvious scapegoat.’

      Blaming the Earthquake Prediction Centre wouldn’t help anyone. They never should have been mandated the responsibility for global earthquake prediction – the only reason they’d been given it was based upon a few lucky guesses and a generous helping of political manoeuvring. Lal had a contact within the EPC who’d confessed several times that they simply hadn’t got a rock-solid method of linking seismograph results with location and time of earthquakes – rather ironic, really.

      Lal chastised himself for thinking this as the Solar Space News network switched to one of their roving helicopter feeds, showing the destruction and wreckage caused.

      His computer beeped an incoming call message. Lal nodded sharply, not turning to look at the computer video camera.

      ‘Ah, Lal. Hannah Redbridge here. I had a call from Bill Hau just a few minutes ago – he wanted me to check whether you were going to the UNISPACE 12 conference.’

      Lal caught a reflection of the image of her face on his computer screen on his window. She seemed happy.

      ‘Hannah. Who the hell is Bill Hau, and why on earth would I want to go to the UNISPACE conference. You know that I’m not interested in solar matters.’

      ‘Sorry. Bill’s the guy had the idea for the new UN Human Genetics taskforce. Officially, he wants you to attend one of the seminars relating to human immune system stability in sub-Earth G environments. Something to do with T-cell counts. Unofficially,’ she stressed the word, ‘unofficially, he wants to appoint you as head of the UNHG – that’s the Human –’

      ‘Genetics taskforce, yes, you just said that. Why me?’

      Hannah paused for a moment. Lal spun in his chair to face the computer screen.

      ‘He seems to think you’re a capable person. He didn’t say this, but I get the feeling he likes your ideals, and he’ll need someone to replace Alex Barclay in a few years time. You might well be the Commissioner for Health, Earth Division, before the end of the decade.’

      Lal gritted his teeth. Damned politics. How can people be talking about damn politics when thousands are dead in Brunei and ten times, a hundred times that, would be dead within the week?

      ‘Okay, I’ll come along to this UNISPACE thing. Who else do I know that’s going there?’

      ‘Apart from me? The usual bunch – Simmons, Takayuki, Hiromi, Matzdorf. By the way, I’m emailing you the travel arrangements and conference details. You should feel privileged that the UN is paying for your hop.’

      ‘I’m sure,’ he replied, sardonically. Lal had never been keen on these sub-orbital spaceplane hops. Zero-G didn’t agree with him, even if it meant he could travel a few thousand miles in less than an hour.

      ‘Oh, and Deirdre Skye coming as well,’ added Hannah.

      ‘Hmm,’ said Lal, watching as someone placed a glass of water down beside Hannah, just outside the view of her computer camera. She was just about to say something – no doubt formulating some humorously cutting remark concerning his brief acquaintance with Deirdre the last year – when he spoke suddenly.

      ‘This Brunei disaster. What do you think about it?’

      Hannah pursed her lips in the video window. She worked at the US Centre for Disease Control, based in Fort Collins, currently helping out with Asian countries curb the rash of new viral strains popping up.

      ‘It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. They were just recovering from their economic collapse when – bam! – they get a collapse of a different kind. They’re an unlucky people. It was a terrible tragedy,’ she said, shaking her head.

      A terrible tragedy, thought Lal. That’s what they all say.

      ‘I don’t know about unlucky. At the risk of sounding unkind, the economic collapse was only their own fault.’ Lal watched carefully for her reaction.

      ‘That was unkind, except it is true. Yeah, if they’d bothered to plan ahead they’d have figured out that the automobile industry would be switching to hydrogen/fuel cell energy instead of petroleum. Maybe if they’d ploughed all the cash they got from oil sales back into upgrading their tech and their education system, they wouldn’t be in this situation,’ she said. ‘Then again, none of the other Middle Eastern countries worked it out either. In a way, you can’t blame them,’ she continued, upturning her palms in a sign of resignation.

      ‘Well, whose fault was it then?’ said Lal roughly, glaring out of his window where a small robotic grass trimmer was busily navigating its way around the flowerbeds facing his office. ‘All of ours, I suppose. Their government, for not listening to us or their scientific advisors. Their citizens, because they didn’t press the issue to their government. The UN, because they left it to the individual governments to work out. Us, because we talked about it, but we never did anything about it!’

      Hannah looked at him sympathetically. ‘It’s not your fault – how could it be? Look, I’m going to be in Geneva before the conference starts. How about we get a drink together, or something? Talk it over.’ She smiled, jokingly. ‘If you do join the UN, maybe you could do something about all of this. Change the world. You always did say that we could change the world.’


      • #18
        I know it's wrong in every possible way for me to post in someone's story thread but I get the feeling it's not gonna' really matter.

        Nothing frustrates me more than an author not finishing a really good story. I always thought this story and the offical SMAC story brought the characters to life like no other story did. I just wish the author would have finished. Oh well...


        • #19
          Hey! Thanks for bumping this up! I haven't seen this one in who knows how long...

          Yeah, I don't like it when stories get left behind too. This is probably multi-part story I read when I came to Apolyton. It's a shame to let is just die.
          Banned on Black Saturday in the name of those who went before him.

          Realizes that no one probably remembers that event.