StarFront: Transit of Venus
December 10, 2117
Earth, ESS Cortez
Petty Officer Third Class Robert House wasn't sure how he felt.
Concerned…for what Jo was doing. Worried…for what X-Ray Squadron was about to be exposed to. Vindictive…against what the bastards at the receiving end were going to get.
"Eyes on the screen House, not your chrono."
And he felt frustration for still being on ESS Cortez when he should have been on his way home by now.
"X-Ray Squadron, this is Hot Wax, Operation Spearfish is a go. Codeword, Herodas."
"Affirmed Hot Wax, X-Ray is go."
Apparently the translation software didn't work on Rob's headset-a must for Federal European Union taskforces like this when languages were as varied as the problems the world faced. Or maybe "tres bien" didn't need translation.
Well, bon chance then, Rob thought, studying the topographic map being displayed on his screen. Buenea suerte, buona fortuna, viel glück…probably something else…
Wishes of fortune would have to wait, the techie reflected. From here on out, X-Ray would have to rely on its own fortune.
The operations centre of the Cortez was cramped-seats close to consoles, seats close to each other and room had to be made for Captain Nebuly to walk between both rows of said seats and consoles. He was on edge, Rob could tell. They all were. X-Ray would likely succeed, but given the circumstances of the mission, whether they'd emerge unscathed was another matter.
"Alright…" Nebuly said. "Final clarification-you're operating under UN Resolution 4393 -you're cleared to engage in free fire in the hotzone. However, make sure you stay within Moralgian airspace."
Moralgia…latest name for this part of Africa nowadays. Not many actual states left on the continent now. Not as drought, famine and war swept the landmass, a stream of refugees trying to escape the effects of a climate-ravaged land to Europe. Least here, in what was once called Tunisia or something, they were far enough away from the oil skirmishes in the Pacific and Caspian DMZ.
"Go in hot mes frères. Remember Italy."
As much as Rob resented being kept on this ship, he had to agree with that assessment.
He also remembered Jo. She'd be in Edinburgh now…protesting to make the FEU increase its refugee intake…
The tech turned to his screen. He wouldn't sign up for another tour, he promised himself. Jo would need him (even if she never admitted it), George wouldn't stay one year old forever and would need a father…and when he'd signed up as an enlisted serviceman for the FEU Navy, he hadn't expected having to do the job UAVs were meant to do. He hadn't expected what had happened in Italy…or what was about to happen now.
"Entering zone…no sign-…"
"Break break break!"
Rob winced-it was so unreal, staring at the battlefield from a console screen. If the satellite above northern Africa was his videogame console, then he would have preferred going back a generation."
"X-Ray Lead, moving in…"
"X-Ray Five-Five, got your flank…"
"X-Ray Nine-Two, tighten up," Rob heard Nebuly say, studying a readout on another console. "Rebels down you, you're on your own."
"Copy Hotwax. Tightening up…"
Rob kept his eyes on his screen. The resolution was good. Good enough to show the gunships evade the surface-to-air missiles, RPGs and even small arms fire the rebels were letting loose-or terrorists, or freedom fighters, or the North Africian Liberation Army if one wanted to use the formal term. He winced as one of the gunships performed a strafing run, eliminating a SAM trio before another opened up its gauss cannons and shredded flesh from bone. They deserved it, he told himself. After what had happened in Italy, it was only fair. But still…it was unpleasant to watch.
"Hotwax, this is X-Ray Lead…requesting permission to begin landing ground forces."
"Copy," Nebuly said, now gazing at Rob's screen. He waved his fingers and highlighted one of the grids. "Take this dropzone, codename, Lima."
"Affirmative. X-Ray out."
There wasn't much left of the hostiles (Rob decided that was the best word to use) right now. Not on the surface at least. Underground was another story, but that wouldn't be his problem. It would be the problem of the power armoured marines rappelling out the side of dropships, the small arms fire bouncing off their armour. So far, the mission had gone off without a hitch.
Least it was until the blip marked as X-62 exploded in a fireball.
Rob winced as the flaming wreckage went to the ground, as blips X-49 and X-99 eliminated a red blip that hadn't even warranted a designation in response.
"Bastards…Hotwax, you got-…"
"S-A-R en route," one of the operators said. "For what it's worth…" she added in an undertone.
Rob sighed. He'd had enough. UAVs should be used. Would have been used if not for the target in question.
The POTC continued to stare at his monitor. There wasn't much else to see. Only the gunships in the air and the dropships on the ground-it was the hostiles' anti-air capability they'd been most worried about. Relics from conflicts in the Middle-East back when there were resources worth fighting over. Underground though…
Apparently the FEUMC wanted swabbies to go through the same shit they did, because before Rob knew it, a small window had appeared at the top-right of his screen. Not much to see bar pulse rifle fire, blood and shouts, but…
"Ground teams, this is Hotwax!" Nebuly shouted. "What the hell are you-…"
"You'll want to see this," came a voice. "Even if you are Navy."
Rob didn't. He really didn't. But he watched. Watched as the jarheads moved through the underground tunnels, honing in on the target. The "Puppetmaster," as he'd been called. Italy had suffered his strings, but the FEU had traced them back up above the stage…right to the very terminal he was working at. No doubt expecting to work his magic on a UAV counterstrike, not on aircraft that operated independently from a control hub.
The door opened slightly. A stun grenade was thrown into the room. The marines went in…
And Rob saw him. Saw his face, staring blankly at the figures surrounding him.
"Puppetmaster found…" the squad leader said. "Hope you enjoyed the show swabbies."
"I did…now get to the surface," Nebuly murmured.
The show…it was over. Leaning back in his chair, Rob reflected on two things.
The first was that he was sick of this show.
The second was that he would never forget the monster's face.
"Tres bien, mes amies," Nebuly said. "Tres bien."
Rob ignored him. He could give all the congratulations he wanted, he was sick of this already. He wanted out. Right now, this second, out of this room. To get to the mess hall, grab a cold one and see what other shit was happening in the world right now. Perhaps, if BBC decided to run something different, news on the upcoming transit of Venus. First one in over a century, the next to come in eight years.
He'd miss this transit though. He'd miss it because of the news that would reach him tomorrow.
And upon hearing it, what he'd seen today, and what had happened in Italy, would be the least of his concerns.
Believe it or not, yes, this is a StarFront story, but admittedly, the presence of the Consortium is really the only thing tying it together. This actually originated as a story I worked on as part of a writing course. Most, if not all of the feedback will be based on the stuff I got from it.