Said England unto Pharaoh, "I must make a man of you,
That will stand upon his feet and play the game;
That will Maxim his oppressor as a Christian ought to do,"
And she sent old Pharaoh Sergeant Whatisname.
It was not a Duke nor Earl, nor yet a Viscount—
It was not a big brass General that came;
But a man in khaki kit who could handle men a bit,
With his bedding labeled Sergeant Whatisname.
—"Pharaoh and the Sergeant"
Rudyard Kipling, 1897
Atlanta, GA, United States of America, Sol III
1025 EST January 15th, 2004 ad
"My name is Sergeant Major Jake Mosovich." The lights of the hall glinted from the silver badge on his green beret.
It was, Jake had decided, a singularly inappropriate environment. But the reception hall of the First American All Episcopal United African Church was packed to overflowing with a mixture of the very old, the very young, and women. All of them were gathered at tables piled with an odd assortment of weapons, household items and general bric-a-brac. The new Special Forces team, with a few old faces, was scattered throughout the room prepared to train or intervene, whichever seemed necessary. There was a jarring note to the room; there were no young men. Virtually every male of military age in the United States was already inducted into the military and if any of the local teens had gone AWOL, they certainly were not going to turn up at a Special Forces local defense training clinic. Even if it did mean a hot meal on a cold day.
"I am a twenty-five-year veteran of the United States Army Special Forces: We're called The Green Berets. We are one of the special operations units your tax dollars have supported for years, so now you get to get some of your own back." As usual that was good for a small laugh.
"The mission of the Special Forces is to train indigenous forces in irregular tactics. What that means is that we are supposed to go into countries and teach guerillas that are friendly to the United States how to be better guerillas. Officially, we have never performed our stated mission." He smiled grimly and there was another chuckle. Some of them got it.
"But it is what we are trained to do. And guerillas, in general, do not have access to regular weapons or equipment. They have to make do with what's around. And they don't work with huge supply systems, the 'tail' as we military folks call it."
His face turned grim. Combined with the scars it made him look like something from a nightmare. "We all know what's coming," he said, gesturing at the ceiling and by extension into space. "And we all know that the Fleet won't be ready when it hits. The ships are taking a long time to build. And unless they are all ready, throwing the few that are ready at the attacks would not help us at all and would set the plans back for years.
"And the politicians have finally admitted that there won't be much of a chance of defending the coastal plains." He chuckled grimly at the simple term. "In case any of you are not aware, that includes Atlanta. And Washington and L.A. and Baltimore and Philly and just about every other major city in America." He didn't completely agree, and he wondered who thought that it wasn't political suicide. But the decision had been made.
He shook his head again. "And I know that most won't be leaving." He looked around the room at the assembled faces. Old women and men, boys and girls. A smattering of women between twenty and fifty. Two men in the same range, one with both legs missing and the other showing signs of palsy. "At least not right up until the invasion. I've seen more wars than most of you have seen movies and don't nobody leave until right up to the last minute. Then there's always a mad scramble. Something always gets left or forgotten. Somebody is always at the back of the line." He shook his head again, face gray and grim.
"So, we are here to teach you all we can about how to survive at the back of the line. How to live and fight without much in the way of support or regular weapons. We're hoping that it will give you an edge if it comes time that you are at the wall. Maybe it will, maybe it won't." He he tapped his camouflage-clad chest, looking at one little girl. "That is right in here.
"We will also be teaching you about how to spread mayhem with regular equipment in case you get access to it," he continued, returning to parade rest.
"Let me say this, I hope I don't have to but we are required to by our orders, what we are teaching you is absolutely and strictly illegal to use outside of time of war. We are going to be at the First American for five days, by the grace of Pastor Williams, and when we get done you are going to know how to make weapons that make Oklahoma City look like a firecracker. But so help me God—and I say that without taking the Lord in vain, this is an oath before Our Lord—if so much as one of you uses this against another American citizen I will hunt you down if it takes the rest of my life." He looked around the room and his scarred face was molded granite.
"You will not use my teaching against your fellow man. You must swear that now, on the Ever-loving God, before we will teach the first lesson. Do you swear?"
There was a sober muttering of general assent. He thought it would be enough. The pastor seemed to understand his flock and most of those present were his congregation.
The training actually served two purposes. It was not expected—and this lesson would be drummed in over the next few days—that these people could hold their neighborhoods. Shelters were being constructed that should be able to hold most of the displaced population. But as he had said, it was human nature to leave it until just a little too late. In addition to teaching a few techniques that might help some of these citizens against the enemy, they would, together with the pastor, designate locals to be official evacuation coordinators. Evac coordinators would hold a semiofficial position, analogous to World War II Air Raid Wardens. In the event of a Posleen landing, they would direct their neighbors towards the most efficient evacuation routes and, if necessary, organize local defenses.
Statistically some of these people they were training would be caught behind Posleen lines. In that sad event, viewed coldly, the more Posleen they could take down the better. Vietnam taught the American Army that even a baby can plant a mine if properly trained. These people would be as well trained as Mosovich could arrange in five short days.
"We are going to start today with basic weapons training. I know that many of you have had bad experiences with guns. Until the call-up sucked up all the gangs, this neighborhood was basically a write-off. I know that bullets flew around practically at random and there were some terrible acts committed. Well, we are going to teach you how to handle guns the right way and how to use them effectively. Not randomly.
"The police department is setting up a firing range for this neighborhood and it will be manned during the day. You are encouraged to go over there and shoot. The training ammunition is free and there will be standard weapons available, you just can't take any with you. When the Posleen are scheduled to start landing, weapons and ammunition will be issued as requested—we have plenty of rifles and ammunition—and if there is a local scatter landing before then you can draw your allotment from the local police station. In the meantime, it is feared that weapons would be stolen from you if they were generally distributed.
"I personally think that is a crock, but all of us occasionally have to live with city hall, or in this case the federal government. I find it easier to think of it this way; soldiers don't take their rifles home, either, they leave them in an armory. Same thing, basically. Anyway . . .
"We are going to take a look at two weapons today, the M-16 and the AK-47."
Sergeant First Class David Mueller watched the lecture bemusedly. It was almost impossible to imagine that an SF team was teaching lower-income city dwellers about urban terrorism techniques. It made sense in abstract. But later he was going to be teaching the first class in a series that would put every one of these people on an FBI register of potential urban terrorists. It was a list that every member of the SF team was on as well.
Yeah, it made sense in a cruel way, but there was one little black girl, hair in pigtails and not more than twelve, who was staring at the AK like it gave milk. This was a group of people who had not seen much in the way of power, and a lot of power was about to be put in their hands. These techniques would work even better against the government than against the Posleen.
* * *
"Okay, what's this?" Mueller asked the group of churchgoers, holding up a white plastic bottle of a name-brand cleaner. They had broken up into groups for specialized sessions and analysis. They would be looking for leaders and individuals who showed special talents. So far Mueller was pretty sure he had picked out a team leader. And he suspected the little twelve-year-old would turn out to be pretty talented at mayhem.
"Bleach," the little girl blurted, with a "what, you don't know bleach when you see it, whitey?" look in her eye.
"Really? Okay, and what's this?" he asked, holding up a translucent bottle of clear liquid.
"Right. And what do you use 'em for?"
"Cleanin' stuff," said an older gentleman in the second row.
"Well, I admit I've used them for that, but what I usually use them for is blowin' stuff up." He could see he got their attention then. "You can use these, and some other common products, to produce explosives." To their obvious amazement, he then proceeded to demonstrate the entire process of making a pipe bomb from start to finish.
"Now, you can get slow fuse for the detonator from a gun shop, they use it for hobby cannons and some muzzle loaders, or I'll show you a couple of ways to make it yourself. Also, later on I'll be showing you ways to make a nifty trip-wire booby trap with a pistol or rifle cartridge and some string. If you put more liquid in the mix you get slurry, and I'll show you some neat stuff to do with slurry later. But first, I want you all to make your own pipe bombs, being very careful to follow the steps exactly as I showed you. Afterwards, we'll go over to that old house on the corner, the one that was a crack joint, and blow that SOB sky-high."
Most of them seemed to like that idea.
* * *
"You need to brush your teeth more often, young man," said the medic, peering at the ten-year-old's molars. "How long has that tooth been aching?"
"A'out a mo'h, ah 'ess."
"Well, you need a filling, maybe a root canal." A portion of the mission that had just evolved was providing medical support to the communities they trained. It disgusted Sergeant First Class Gleason that her country—with the best health care system in the world—would permit the degree of health neglect that existed in these communities. They should have sent in the Berets long before now; some of their "hearts and minds" techniques might even have done something for the gang problem.
Not that there was one now. That problem had loomed large in the minds of early planners, but it turned out to be basically moot. All the gang members were in the Guard and generally stayed there. Local Guard commanders, when first faced with desertion problems, took a cut a la the Gordian Knot solution. The death penalty had never been removed from the books and local commanders resorted to it more often than not in situations where a soldier had deserted as opposed to taking an extended AWOL.
It was not hard to spot deserters. Police forces were exempt from call-up, being effectively an extension of the war effort when the Posleen landed, and they were on the lookout. Military personnel were, as in the old days, required to be in uniform at all times and, although the local commanders were lenient about weekend passes, if there was a male of military age not in uniform who was spotted by the police he was invariably stopped and asked for his deferment card. Since deferment was now a line on the driver's license, a false deferment card turned up with a simple call to the station or a check of the carcomp. It was a nerve-wracking stop for the cops; the deserters knew what could await them, and most reacted violently. Usually if a suspected deserter was spotted the cop would call for backup and shadow; only when enough force was in place would the stop would be made.
It occasionally made for a comic opera when some poor unsuspecting policeman from another force would find himself suddenly surrounded by fellow officers with drawn guns. But it made the cops pretty damn mad at the Guard commanders when the suspect just said "Fuck you," and pulled out a pistol, suicide being preferable to hanging.
So now the gangs were extinct and only the young, old, female and frail were left. And those people needed better health care than they were getting. The medic looked in question at the boy's mother.
"Ain't no dentist, no doctors neither. They either in the Army or they too expensive. It's a all-day wait at Grady, an' maybe they do something, maybe they don'. So, what you say, soldier-girl?"
The matronly Sergeant Gleason, a recent graduate of the all-inclusive Special Forces Medic course and mother of four, smiled pleasantly. "I say I pull the tooth and do an implant. That way he'll grow back a new, good one. While I'm in there, I'll do any fillings he needs and a general preventive work-over.
"For you, son, since I see your eyes getting round at the thought, I'll be putting you under, so you won't feel a thing. And for you, Mom, I'll tell you it won't cost you a blessed dime." A military nurse for fourteen years, Gleason jumped at the first chance to move to Combat Arms. The choice of Special Forces was difficult for her family, her children especially, to understand, but if she was going to be a combat medic it was going to be the best there was to offer.
Special Forces was designed from its very inception to be a unit that spent most of its time away from the regular force structure and logistic tail. That meant that the team must be self-reliant when it came to medical support. Since it was generally difficult to find an MD willing to go through Special Forces Q course, the SF had to grow their own. While SF medics were not and never would be MDs, they were nearly as well-trained as Physician's Assistants in the area of trauma medicine.
While on a mission they were authorized to perform minor surgery, prescribe drugs and perform minor dental procedures. What actually went on was something else. Although every medic really did know that they were not the equal of a drunk MD on his worst day, sometimes they were all that was available. In situations just like this, throughout the world, SF medics had saved lives with emergency appendectomies, tonsillectomies, tumor removal, benign and malignant, and other actions that would have them burned at the stake by the American Medical Association.
Sergeant First Class Gleason was acting in the best tradition of SF canker mechanics since the Berets had been in existence.
"Thank you, soldier-girl. He says, Okay!" said the relieved mother.
"I do not!"
"Don't you sass your mother. That tooth's just gonna hurt worse if'n you don't get it fixed."
"She's right, you know," said Gleason. "Always trust your mother."
"Okay, I guess," said the child, nervously. "You gonna put me out, right?"
"Yep, with new Galactic medicines so I don't have to worry about dosage and you don't have to worry about aftereffects. When you want to do it?"
"Can it wait 'til tomorrow?" asked the mother. "I gotta go to work an' I wanna be there."
"Sure, anytime. In the meantime, son, you brush good tonight with this toothbrush, and rinse your mouth with this rinse. I'll see you tomorrow at, say, ten?"
"Dat be fine, doctor," said the mother.
"That is one thing I am not. I am, however, licensed to perform minor procedures and I put this in that category. See you tomorrow." The two walked out, the youngster clutching his toothbrush and mouthwash like talismans.
"Last client, doc," said the team leader, Captain Thompson, stepping aside to let the pair through the door.
"Good, I'm about done for. We got any new orders?"
"Yeah, I'll detail it at the team meeting, but we're supposed to wrap up Atlanta. We're going to Richmond next."
"I wondered if they'd consider sending us overseas."
"I think, given our area of responsibility, that we'll probably stay in country."
"Meaning let Africa go hang?" asked Gleason with a grimace.
"Hell," said Master Sergeant Mark Ersin, wandering into the room and the conversation, "let Africa hang. We've got enough to do here."
"Agree," said Captain Thompson, his ebony face somber. "The cities are going to get hit hard. The more prepared our own people are, the better. The Mideast is bristling with weapons and not really attractive and Africa will never get its shit together in time. Let 'em hang."
Ersin's scarred Eurasian face creased in a grim smile. "Trust me, we do not want to be away from supports if the Posleen land early."
Along with Mueller and Mosovich, Ersin was a survivor of humanity's first contact with the oncoming threat. The three were members of a joint service special operations force sent to recon the planet Barwhon. They had survived when the mission was changed from reconnaissance to snatch, had survived when the other five members did not. And along the way they had gathered an immense fund of information about the Posleen rear areas and how they organized themselves. One piece of information all three reinforced was that fighting the Posleen was not a pleasant proposition.
"When the Posleen land," he continued, "we want to be somewhere we can go to ground behind defenses. Once they are down and deployed, I'll be happy to go mess around in their rear. Until then, I want a roof over my head and a wall around me."
"Well," continued Captain Thompson, "after Richmond we'll be finished with our outreach program. We're slated to come back here and act as command and control skeleton for the militias. Cadre."
"What?" gasped both Gleason and Ersin. It was the first time that the cadre idea had been mentioned.
"Apparently the militia training program is working well, but they want professionals in place," the captain explained with a shrug.
"I thought that was what the Guard was for!" Ersin snarled.
"Hey, Sergeant, these are the civilians you are supposed to protect!"
"Excuse me, sir, but I don't think I can do that if I'm dead! If I fight the Posleen again, I want it to be from fixed defenses!"
"Whatever your wants might be, Sergeant, those are our orders," the captain answered with an iron clang to his voice.
"Our orders friggin' stink, sir. Oh, Jesus! We have just been royally corn-cobbed. Have Jake or Mueller heard this yet?"
"No. I didn't realize you would have such an extreme reaction," said the captain with a tone of bemusement.
"Oh my word, sir, you haven't seen extreme reaction yet."
* * *
"What pissant son of a bitch came up with this fuckin' cadre bullshit?" shouted the irate sergeant major.
This is not the sort of language normally heard between sergeant majors and four-star generals; however, the Ground Forces Chief of Staff had been more or less expecting the call. When his aide allowed that Sergeant Major Mosovich was on the phone and would like to have a brief word with the General, the General acceded, after making sure no one else would hear the conversation.
"Hello, Jake. Nice to hear from you. Yes, I'm fine, overworked but aren't we all."
"Fuck that! Who? I will personally frag their ass! Is this some slimy regular-army plot to be done with SF for once and for all?!"
"Okay, Jake, that is just about enough," General Taylor said, coldly. "It was my fucking plan."
"What?!" If General Taylor thought the previous volume was extreme he now discovered a new meaning to the word.
"Okay, you've been teaching them. What chance do those people have if the Posleen land before the evacuation is complete?"
"So you're going to throw the goddamn SF away? Is that it?"
"No. I am going to use them up as carefully as possible. But they are going to be between Posleen and civilians. Where they damn well belong. Clear?"
"Clear. We are not armed, or trained for the mission. We have limited tactical mobility. We are trained to be behind-the-lines, hit-and-run fighters or cadre for that type of force but we will make our stands and be overrun to buy the civilians a few minutes that they will undoubtedly squander." The sergeant major hissed the last words.
"Jake, how do you fight Posleen?" the general asked in a reasonable tone.
"I thought the question was in English. How do you fight Posleen?" he repeated.
"My best idea is with artillery and fixed defenses," the sergeant major replied.
"How about mortars and firebases?"
"And then what, sir? We'll be in scattered firebases, cut off and without support. And where are the firebases coming from?"
"Well, in the case of Atlanta, there are several major geographic positions to choose from. The mission will be to form firebases along evacuation routes and man them with indigenous nonmilitary personnel who have some limited training: American Strikers. The teams will form and train these militias and design and construct the fixed defenses from available local materials and using local assets. Now, in what way is this not in the SF tradition, Sergeant Major?"
"Shit." There was a long pause. "We are not going to survive this, Jim. Among other things, our 'militias' will consist of old men and teenage women."
"When the Posleen are down and their deployment is clear, when all civilians are effectively evacuated or hors d'combat, when the fuckin' job is damn well done, SF personnel may make their way to secure areas using any means available."
"There won't be any means, Jim. None."
"Sure there will, dammit. 'If you ain't cheatin' you ain't tryin.' "
" 'If you get caught, you ain't SF.' Understood. I still think this is a Guard function."
"There's gonna be plenty of targets to go around."
"My point was not lack of targets, sir."
* * *
"Okay," said Mueller, "we are fucked."
"Sergeant Mueller," said Warrant Officer First Class Andrews, "attitude will not help."
Warrant Officer Andrews and Sergeant First Class Mueller did not get along well. Whether Mr. Andrews knew it or not, in this instance that was going to affect him more than Mueller. Most of the SF warrant officers were ninety-day wonders, junior SF NCOs or even non-SF NCOs who were sent through a warrant officer's course to become the second-in-command of a team. In the new Special Forces, essentially reborn since the oncoming Posleen threat, when a veteran NCO has a problem with a junior officer, the junior officer goes. That tradition had wavered in the last couple of decades. But in the face of adversity old habits die hard.
"I don't see the problem. We build a firebase and secure it. We have a massive amount of building materials to draw on. This is a basic Special Forces mission. What is your problem, Sergeant?"
"It's not his problem solely, sir," interjected Sergeant Major Mosovich, rather harshly. "I made some of the same points to High Command. They had the same attitude. Maybe you just have to see the Posleen in action to realize that this plan is pretty much pissing in the wind."
"Yeah," remarked Ersin. "I wouldn't mind if it made any sense. But it doesn't."
"Pardon me, perhaps it's being a junior officer," started Andrews, meaning "maybe it is my being a little more intelligent than you old fogies," "but we just establish a strong outpost and slow the Posleen advance with indirect fire."
"Well, then we E and E out, I suppose. If we can't escape or evade, we go down as hard as possible. It's happened before and it will happen again. Bataan, for example."
"All right, sir. Point one, the Posleen do not slow in the face of indirect or, for that matter, direct fire. They move as fast under fire as not under fire. If you kill enough they stop but only because they're dead. Point two, there will be virtually no way to E and E out. The Posleen will closely invest the strong point and then probably overrun it with mass attacks. If we could build large curtain walls, maybe it would work, but I don't think we have the time and we couldn't supply it for a multiyear siege." He paused and mentally counted.
"Point three, we don't know where they will be coming from or going to. They land more or less randomly and their objectives are more or less random. We will be a focal point for attack without any reasonable chance of killing enough to matter. Now, does the situation make a little more sense, sir?"
"I can't believe that the Posleen will be that great a threat, Sergeant Major," said the warrant officer, somewhat smugly. "While I know you have experience fighting them, that was without fixed defenses. I think we should be able to hold them for a time and then escape."
"Yeah, well, keep dreamin', Mister," Mueller finally interjected, then walked away in disgust.