The Pentagon, VA, United States of America, Sol III
1749 EDT October 9th, 2004 ad
"This is Bob Argent at the Pentagon." The familiar reporter was grim faced. He stood in a nondescript, brightly lit hallway in the background of which figures in green, blue and black uniforms could be seen hurrying in every direction. "While it would be inaccurate to say that the United States military was caught flat-footed by the upcoming Posleen landing, it is true that the Posleen are both earlier and in greater force than anticipated. As the situation progresses, we will be bringing you live feeds from Continental Army Command here in the Pentagon, where their state-of-the-art GalTech landing projector is hard at work determining probable landing areas. The word is that the final landing area will probably be determined only half an hour before the actual landing and we will be standing by live. The Continental Army Commander is expected to have a short press conference within the next hour. He will discuss defense plans and known American and other casualties from the bombardment. This is Bob Argent, live, at the Pentagon."
* * *
When the word came over the radio, Shari Reilly took off her apron, handed it to the manager and walked out of the Waffle House without looking back. If he didn't like it he could mail her the check. Most of the customers were walking out and not many were paying. She had wanted to be prepared for this, but when the daycare and the bills and the rent and the groceries were paid for, there was not much left to set by. She had thirty dollars stashed in her purse and she fully intended to write checks that were not good if she had to but first she had to get the babies.
Wherever the Posties landed, it was going to be chaos and she had to hang on to her cash as long as possible. But if she was going to have to get out of town, she needed some stuff. The baby—Susie was hardly a baby anymore, really a big girl at two, almost as big as Kelly, but she still needed diapers—and little Billy was sick and she needed some medicine. They needed some road food, stuff that would keep, and batteries. Some bottled water. After she picked up the kids she would just have to go to Wal-Mart or Target, just like everybody else in Fredericksburg.
She walked to her battered gray 1991 Grand Am, a faded beauty in faded clothes, her fine hair wisping out from under the hairnet, got in and pumped the gas. After several false starts the engine finally caught. Turning out onto VA 3 she debated going to the stores and then getting the babies, but she felt a strong need to have them by her now, when it all came to the wall.
The sitter was frantic, wanting to keep the little ones while Shari shopped, but she finally got the babies away and headed back to the malls. By the time she got out onto 3, the traffic from the malls was backed up to U.S. 1.
She turned around, got around the line of cars and pickup trucks pulling into the Guard Armory and found a gas station. When she got to a pump she filled it up with regular then walked into the 7-Eleven. As she got to the front of the line, she pulled out her checkbook and screwed up her courage. She had used this same store and dealt with Mr. Ramani for over three years and she knew the answer was no.
"Take a check?" she asked, holding up the checkbook.
Mr. Ramani looked at her with the most neutral expression she had ever seen on his coal black face, then nodded. "You postdate it."
"Postdate it. And call me to tell me if I can deposit it." He pulled out his card and pressed it into her hand.
She began to tear up then shook herself inside and wrote the check so fast her hand practically cramped.
"You take care, okay?" asked the Hindu as he took the proffered check.
"Okay," she answered, then blurted, "you too. God bless you."
"Why?" asked the startled customer, putting away the checkbook.
"You got money. Pay up."
Shari stepped outside trying not to cry and got back in traffic.
* * *
Lieutenant Colonel Frank Robertson, battalion commander of the Two Hundred Twenty-Ninth Engineering Battalion (Light, "Sappers Lead!") United States Ground Forces, stood at the head of the battalion conference table at parade rest. His first order on arriving at the Fredericksburg headquarters that afternoon was to have the chairs removed, since "nobody was going to have time to sit down anyway."
"All right, gentlemen," he said to his assembled staff and company commanders, "we've gamed this plenty of times. They're here in more force than we expected and earlier than we expected, but that doesn't really affect us much. We have our full equipment and ammunition load-out, including all necessary demolition charges in the new ammo dump, and by the time we have a probable landing zone the majority of our personnel should have made it in." That would not include the Alpha Company (Equipment) commander or his assistant division engineer. Both of them were out of town on business and would certainly not be back before the landing.
"There are effectively two possibilities. We will be in the landing zone or we will not be in the landing zone. If we are not in the landing zone we respond as ordered to act against Posleen spread and localize them until sufficient forces are available to destroy the infestation. On that highly probable basis I want all of the companies fully loaded and ready to roll on first orders to do so. You have the demolition plans for every bridge in Virginia and your primary, secondary and tertiary targets.
"On orders, if there is a landing in our area of responsibility, which is central Virginia, we will begin rigging all the bridges leading out of the infested zone for demolition. You will not, I say again, not, destroy any bridge without express order unless the Posleen are in near contact, that means one thousand meters or less."
He paused for a moment, obviously trying to find a good way to say something. "I think that if you haven't talked about this you probably have thought it. It may be, probably will be, that some of those bridges will have . . . refugees on them when the Posleen come into close contact.
"You have all seen the news and official reports from Barwhon and Diess; you know what it is like for refugees with the Posleen. You may be tempted to let the refugees over the bridges and blow the bridge up with Posleen on it. Gentlemen, I will have court-martialed anyone who does that. You have no flexibility in this. You will blow the bridge when the Posleen reach five hundred meters distance. We cannot take the risk of the Posleen capturing a bridge. Is that clear?" There was a muted rumble of ascent from a ring of serious faces. "Very well, are there any questions?"
Only one hand was raised, that of the acting assistant division engineer. A terribly young, recent graduate of the University of Virginia. He was just out of the state-sponsored OCS that was providing most of the new crop of Virginia's officers.
"Yes, Lieutenant Young?"
"And if we are in the interdiction circle, sir?"
The commander paused and looked around the circle of serious older faces. Most of them had known each other off and on for years and he wondered how much longer he would be looking at the same group. "Well, Lieutenant, in that case we die and all of those we love die with us. And all we can do is take as many Posleen with us to hell as we can."
* * *
Mueller had driven the quiet engineer around town since just after sunrise. They had done the Fan and the university district in the morning and south Richmond—with its unique intermingled odor of petrochemical plants, paper manufacture and tobacco processing—in the early afternoon. Now, as the afternoon wore on, Mueller had negotiated the tour into Schockoe Bottom. After a brief tour around the Bottom, he intended to head up to Libby Hill and the best view of Richmond around.
Instead the engineer gave his first command of the entire tour, ordering him to turn down Twelfth Street then following it around onto Byrd. After a dizzying series of turns and three stops to consult the U.S. Geological Survey map they had brought, they were stopped under the Schockoe Slip underpass, a stone arch bridge that once connected the city proper to the Kanawaha Canal. Now it connected two trendy office complexes built into and around the nineteenth-century buildings.
"You're thinking of something," stated Mueller, as the engineer again consulted the map, switching between the quadrangle and a larger street map. More detailed maps supplied by the city engineering department littered the backseat of the government sedan.
"Umm," Keene replied, noncommittally. He got out and walked up the gray stone stairs from Canal Street to Schockoe Slip. He stopped at the top and looked down from the overpass into Schockoe Bottom. Mueller looked at the same scene and could see some good positions for a small-unit firefight, but not anything to interest a nationally renowned defense engineer.
None of the major city engineers or officials had been officially available to "sight-see." The strategic plan for Richmond's defense was still up in the air, one of the reasons that Continental Army Command had sent John Keene. Keene's suggestions and use of terrain in the construction of the Tennessee River defenses had brought him to the attention of the chief engineer for Third Army. When Richmond's planning had begun to lag, the chief engineer had offered Keene's services to First Army as a useful addition.
However, despite the enthusiastic reception by the Twelfth Corps Commander, who was tasked with the defense of Richmond and southern Virginia, Keene was less enthusiastically received by the other engineers. Each of them had their own pet projects to advance and the internecine fighting was the fundamental reason that the defenses were lagging.
The Corps Engineer, Colonel Bob Braggly, commander of the Corps Engineering Brigade, preferred turning the Libby and Mosby Hills into a giant firebase and giving up the center of Richmond to the Posleen. The city engineer, given quasimilitary standing by the new "Fortress Forward" stance, absolutely refused to surrender one inch of ground, preferring the concept of a wall enclosing the entire city limits.
Various local engineering firms had been called in to break the deadlock. Instead they offered their own versions or negated each other's effects by weighing in on one side or the other. Either project was going to be the biggest engineering contract in a hundred years of Richmond's history, ten or twenty times as large as the Floodwall project.
The corps commander had flatly stated that there was no way to defend a wall that extensive with the troops at hand. But one of his subordinates, the Twenty-Ninth Infantry Division commander, had bypassed the corps commander in the chain of command and sent staff studies supporting the elongated wall to First Army. John Keene, as a disinterested third party recommended through national command, was a possible way to break the deadlock.
Keene looked at the map again and walked under the Martin Agency building into the circle at one hundred Schockoe Slip. Mueller had never been this way and had gotten slightly turned around but it only took a moment for him to reorient himself when he saw the Richbrau microbrewery. It had been a long day and he was trying to figure out a way to subtly suggest that maybe it was Miller time, when Keene finally responded, "I'm thinking of Diess."
"So am I," remarked Mueller, following his own thought process, "it sure is warm for October." In fact the weather had been unseasonably cool, but he was about to continue in the vein that a cold Ole Nick would go down a treat when he realized that Keene had gone almost catatonic in thought. He waited for him to go on. "Is this when I'm supposed to prompt you," he finally prompted, "or when I'm supposed to shut up and wait?"
Keene looked at the fountain in the middle of the circle without replying and muttered, "Captain Morgan, I am really sorry for what we are going to do to you." Then turning back to Mueller he thumbed across the street. "Time for a cold one, Sergeant."
Once they were seated in the dimness of the microbrewery, having dodged the various street people between themselves and their goal, Keene became abruptly animated.
"Okay," he said taking a sip of the tasty malt and stabbing the map, "how do you kill Posleen?"
"Well, apparently they've ruled out poison gas," Mueller joked, "so I guess that leaves artillery."
"Right, and what is the problem with killing them with artillery?"
"I don't know." Mueller waited for Keene to go on but realized that the engineer was really testing him. "Forward observers I suppose. Seeing them while staying alive yourself," he finally answered testily. He'd had more than enough personal experience with how hard they were to kill.
"In part. And that if you don't contain them, physically, they both do more damage and have the option to figure out how to get to your forces. The best thing is to keep them at arms' reach. Failing that, to have them contained where you have superior terrain advantage, man-made or natural. With me so far?"
"Okee-dokee. On Diess, once the humans got their shit together, they formed the boulevards into tremendous killing grounds. In Tennessee we were doing the same thing with walls and even some tunnels. Lead them by the nose, then corral them and pound them with machine guns, manjacks and artillery."
"Never work here," countered Mueller. He was familiar with the Diess operation where the Third Corps commander had built walls along the boulevards and slaughtered the Posleen. The differences in cities were marked. "The skyscrapers are too flimsy, the distances are shorter and the city engineer would have a cow. Then the governor, who is a buddy of the city engineer and the Twenty-Ninth ID commander and, for that matter, the President, would have a cow."
"Sure," agreed Keene, easily. "But would they give up Schockoe Bottom?"
Mueller thought about that one. "Possibly," he finally answered. "I would have to say probably." The area was half deserted, with only a few businesses and the bars that supplied the local forces with beverages surviving the economic blight.
"On every other planet the Posleen have invaded for the past hundred and fifty years, all the wealth, the production wealth, is in the megascrapers," Keene pointed out. "The Galactics have their factories built right into them. So, the Posleen are expected to go for our skyscrapers; if it's low, it's less of a target to them.
"So when they land near Richmond, from any direction, they're going to head for the city center. Now, Richmond should have been evacuated by then. The city engineer can bitch all he wants, but CONARC has designated the inner cities as the defense zones, screw the suburbs.
"So, using techniques as yet undetermined, we will lure the Posleen forward from every direction, but all the roads will lead to Schockoe Bottom and none of them will lead out. The tough part, the heavy engineering part, will be making sure that, one, they can only get to Schockoe Bottom and, two, they can't get back out."
"Posleen check in . . ." said Mueller with a growing smile.
" . . . but they don't check out. You got it. I want to go look at those heights across the way . . ."
"That's Libby Hill. It was next on the agenda."
"But first I want to get a better look at the Bottom. It would be good if we could set up some sort of direct-fire positions into the pocket. I was thinking of firing from across the river, but maybe we could build a berm."
"What's wrong with the Wall?" asked Mueller, puzzled. "Besides wracking stress. Can't we just backfill?"
"What wall?" asked the puzzled engineer.
* * *
John Keene looked up at the thirty feet of reinforced concrete that made up the mile-long Richmond floodwall and grinned like a teenager. "Oh, man," he said, gesturing at the Army Corps of Engineers heraldic device, a two-turreted castle, on the face, "are the Posties ever going to learn to hate that symbol."
For the next two hours he and Mueller walked around the floodwall, Schockoe Bottom and the surrounding area, occasionally driving when something in the distance caught their fancy. Finally they stood in Mosby Park, on Mosby Hill, where a group of children from a nearby preschool played under the careful tutelage of elderly teachers. As Keene looked down his mind was filled with visions of fire.
"We can just pack the back side of this hill with those stubby tube artillery things . . ."
"Do you mean mortars?" asked Mueller, chuckling.
"Yeah, them. Do you know they have more killing power than much larger artillery?" Keene continued animatedly.
"Um, yeah. I knew that."
"It's because they don't need as heavy a casing."
"I know, sir."
"Right. Anyway. We block off exit from the pocket on this side by rubbling those abandoned factories down there and piling the rubble from the wall to this hill."
"Got it," said Mueller, sketching a diagram on his AID.
"On the other side, it's not as good but we have plenty of time and concrete. We'll build a wall connector from the Ethyl Corporation Hill to the wall. Then continue around the terrain of the city, basically down Canal to Twelfth then over to Thirteenth then along the streets to 95."
"Good," Mueller commented.
"That leaves the Richbrau in the perimeter."
"Yeah," laughed Keene, "I hadn't thought of that."
"Well, we just would have had to change the perimeter."
"Right," laughed Keene again. Then he looked puzzled. "Hey, why are we in the Crowne Plaza instead of the Berkley Hotel? It's right next door to the Richbrau."
"Cyberpunks. They got there first. One of the laws of SpecOps: never mix Cybers and SF, it just doesn't work."
"What the hell are Cyberpunks doing in Richmond?"
" . . . and never ask Cybers what they're doing anywhere."
"Oh." Keene shook his head and returned to the business at hand. "The perimeter will be as follows: 95 to the Franklin exit. Block all entrances into the city. Use all the buildings for direct fire into the pocket. Continue up Thirteenth then cut across to Twelfth at Cary down to Byrd. The old power station is outside, the Federal Reserve and Riverfront Plaza are inside. Maintain the defenses up to around Belvedere Street where it gets carried down to the river and necked off with the only real wall we're going to have to build.
"Whatever direction the Posleen come from, all roads leading to Schockoe Bottom are open and all roads leading elsewhere are closed. Pack the back side of the wall with troops, pack the skyscrapers with troops, all of them firing into the pocket. Artillery and mortars on the heights. If they're only on the north side, we can pack artillery on the south side of the James River and pound them all day long.
"God," John paused for a moment, eyes practically glowing, "it's going to be glorious."
"Just remember," Mueller cautioned, "no plan survives contact with the enemy."
"What?" asked Keene, confused.
"They never told you that in Tennessee?"
"No. Why is that?"
"It's sort of a military axiom," explained Mueller, watching the afternoon traffic build early. "The other side wants to win too, so they try to figure out how to defeat your plan. Although that's less of a problem with Posleen than with humans. And then there are all the little things you didn't think of. There are changes in orders that don't take into account the real situation. There are bad communications that lead to actions like Pickett's Charge. Lee said 'Don't charge' and the message was received 'Charge.' There's the 'fog of war,' making decisions on the basis of what you think is reality when in fact it is not.
"Anyway, you construct your plan and really internalize it, but you also construct alternative plans in case that one goes awry. If your primary plan is internalized, but not really expected to succeed perfectly, you can devise changes on the fly. And then you construct your GOTH Plan."
"A Goth Plan?" asked Keene again, shaking his head at the pessimistic outlook of soldiers. "What? As in getting overrun by Goths?"
"Not 'Goth' as in 'Hun,' 'GOTH' as in G-O-T-H. Your Go-To-Hell plan. Your plan when all your other plans have gone to hell and the wolf is at the door. Your, 'They died with their boots on' plan."
"So what's the GOTH plan?"
"I don't know," answered Keene, musing on the landscape below. "I don't plan for failure very well."
"Then somebody fucked up saying you're a defense expert. 'Expect success, plan for failure' is right up there with 'on dangerous ground maneuver, on deadly ground fight' as a military axiom."
"The only military axioms I was aware of before the Planetary Defense Center program were 'never volunteer for anything' and 'never get involved in a land war in Asia.' "
"Well, now you know," Mueller fiddled his fingers and wrinkled his brow with a grin, "um, three more."
Keene chuckled as Mueller's AID chirped.
"Yes, AID?" Mueller said with a smile.
"Five Posleen globes have just exited hyperspace in near-Earth orbit. TERDEF analysis calls for landings in approximately three hours." The voice was so toneless that the facts took a moment to sink in.
"What?" Mueller's eyes momentarily went round and his skin flushed with a cold sweat. He involuntarily looked up, then shook himself thinking the action was futile. Even as he mentally started to berate himself there was a sudden flash of light in the cloudless sky. The detonation of an antimatter reactor was clear even in bright sunlight.
"Five Posleen globes have just exited hyperspace in near-Earth orbit. TERDEF analysis calls for landings in approximately three hours."
Mueller looked at Keene who had continued to look out over the cityscape.
Uh, oh. "AID."
"Yes, Sergeant Mueller?"
"Contact Sergeant Major Mosovich. Tell him to get the corps commander to stall on the defense plan. I think we have a winner."
"Well," said Keene turning back to the sergeant. "I see what you mean about plans now. I suppose I'd better get started on that GOTH plan."