The Pentagon, VA, United States of America, Sol III
1024 EDT October 10th, 2004 ad
"This is Bob Argent reporting from Continental Army Command. With the unauthorized firing of artillery by units of the Twenty-Ninth Infantry Division, the Posleen have started pouring out of their positions around Fredericksburg like ants out of a kicked hive." The reporter looked like hell. It was obvious under the makeup that he had gotten as little rest as the soldiers he was reporting on. Under normal circumstances a replacement would have been sent in to cover for him while he got some sleep. But the veteran reporter would have none of it; this was the news event of the century and he was at the nerve center.
"I have with me Lieutenant Colonel Guy Tremont, aide to General Horner, the Continental Army Commander. Colonel, how do you rate the chances for the Tenth Corps forces, that is, can they hold?"
"Well, Bob," the colonel said with a somber smile, "Tenth Corps is a very heavy corps and if any five divisions can do the job they will. We have great faith in General Simosin here at CONARC and everyone feels that if any general can command a defense like that, it is General Simosin."
"What about the confusion overnight? We understand that many of the units got lost."
"Define lost," said the colonel, with a shrug. "It's central Virginia, they always knew where they were. In many cases there was great confusion about where they should be, but that happens any time that there is a sudden change of plan. Tenth Corps has recovered and is in position to handle the threat."
"Is that an implied criticism of the President, of his sudden change to defend forward of the Potomac?"
"No, definitely not. The President is the Commander in Chief; his word is law for the military. If he wants us to defend in close, we defend in close; if he wants us to defend in Pennsylvania, we defend in Pennsylvania."
"So you think that the Tenth Corps will be able to stop the Posleen?"
"There is no surety in war, and certainly no surety when the situation is as chaotic as this one, with the threat arriving before expected and by surprise. The Tenth will do the best that any unit can do. If they succeed, so much the better. If they do not, and have to retreat, there is another bullet in that gun. The Posleen still have to get through the Ninth Corps coming into position near the head of the Occoquan reservoir. One or the other should stop them.
"According to the IVIS displays, they are already starting to turn the edge of the cavalry . . ."
* * *
Jack Horner nodded his head solemnly at the accurate statement.
"So you're still in favor of broadcasting the IVIS?" asked General Taylor. The two were conferring about how many and what units should be moved into the area, but they had taken time to watch the hastily briefed interview.
"Yes, and when the ACS get here, I'm going to broadcast forty channels of raw video for the networks to monitor, edit and distribute; every platoon leader at a minimum. There is no indication that the Posleen use operational intelligence and under the circumstances I think that the American people have a full right to know what is going on."
"Well, the President agrees with you," Taylor commented with a nod.
"I wish I could have gotten him to agree with me on the locations to defend," said Horner, with a tight, humorless smile. "If we had even moved up to where the Ninth is digging in, it would have made this almost survivable. Especially with the Tenth up and the Ninth in a second defensive belt. As is, I'm afraid they're going to chew up the Tenth then go for seconds on the Ninth. The Tenth has its right flank swinging in the breeze."
"He should have extended his line with the reserve."
"No, watch how Arkady uses the reserve; I think that might save the corps. At some point the Posleen would have turned the flank. They'll turn the flank of the whole corps if he's not careful. But the Nineteenth is already moving to intercept."
"Okay, it's Arkady's battle, let's let him run it. What's the story on Richmond?"
* * *
The Posleen scout companies moved southward on the broad highway towards the distant city skyline at a tireless ground-eating lope, columns of phalanxes on either side, heads swaying from side to side searching out potential trouble. A unit of the thresh had been spotted, but they were still too far out to bother engaging, their tracked tenar that had given so much trouble over the last few hours hull-down and at maximum engagement range. The lead God Kings considered firing but decided to hold off until their companies were in good range.
There had thus far been no sign of the twin-turreted military technicians and the scout leaders breathed silent words of relief. Bad enough to fight a fast and slippery enemy that fired from ambush and disappeared into the brush taking countless oolt'os with them, but at least there were brief targets to engage, an enemy to combat. The military technicians and the explosives that coasted through the air on ballistic paths were impossible to fight. As long as neither of them made an appearance the battle was a foregone conclusion.
Finally they were getting in range of the thresh, close enough that massed fire would start to strike their hated tenar, and the western God King gave the command to fire.
* * *
As a hail of railgun rounds and missiles began to spark off the overpass, the cav platoon leader gave Mueller a quick thumbs-up and dropped into his command Bradley, the hatch quickly shutting behind him.
Mueller checked the monitor from the ambush site and decided to give the Posleen a little more rope with which to hang themselves. The lead companies, which he considered fair game for the cav, were still in the ambush zone. Let a few more Posleen pass out of the ambush zone and fill it with the heavier armed follow-on companies. Behind him the driver in the Humvee left for his use started the engine, ready to get out of harm's way as intended.
Mueller nodded as the first God King on either side passed completely through the ambush zone. Their companies were engaging the cav well, coming forward at what would be a canter in a horse, and apparently confident that they had this battle won. Wrong. He smiled ferally and engaged the firing circuit.
At the speed of light the current flashed to the far side of the half-kilometer mechanical ambush and then simple chemistry took over.
Since Amanda Hunt and the engineering platoon leader who helped set up the ambush were both pessimistic people, there were three fairly independent methods of detonation for the claymores. It was one of the reasons the ambush was so time consuming to emplace. First, the entire ambush was "daisy-chained." Each claymore had two points for detonators to be attached. The first claymore had a detonator on either side, one for wire reception and the other for radio, and was wrapped with detonation cord. One line of detcord ran from another radio detonation sequence, another line ran from a secondary wire detonation sequence, the third ran to the next claymore in line and the fourth and last ran to the third claymore in line. At each succeeding claymore the same sequence was set, with the exception that the succeeding claymores only had the wire circuit on one side and an "inbound" detcord on the other. Second, the wire backups on all the claymores were circuit-delayed to let the primary daisy-chain sequence carry the detonation.
As it turned out, the backups and redundancies were virtually unused except for one point on the east side where a stray twenty-five-millimeter round had severed the detcord daisy chain and, surprisingly enough, did not set the whole ambush off. Elsewhere the entire sequence ran like a Swiss watch, a tribute to Ms. Hunt's consummate professionalism.
When the first claymore detonated, it in turn fired the detcord that was wrapped around it. This cord, like an exploding fuse, carried the explosion the few meters to the next claymore in line which exploded and sent it to the next. With a series of trip-hammer explosions sounding like the world's largest machine gun, five hundred yards of roadway flashed white and the air filled with dust and smoke.
As the air cleared, it revealed both sides of the roadway packed with dead and dying Posleen, a monstrous abattoir of torn yellow flesh. In many cases of the outer centaurs, only the finest of forensic analysis would be able to separate one mangled centaur from another. In less than a second, over sixty-four hundred Posleen, normals and God Kings, a full B-Dec command, was wiped off the face of the earth.
The lead companies checked, shocked by the destruction behind them and fighting the conflicting stresses of justifiable fear of what they might face and the God King bondings driving them on. As they checked, the first artillery started to fall.
The Posleen in the phalanxes following the erased companies checked as well—shocked and terrified by the sight in front of them—but only for a moment. As some units began to pour around the organic roadblock, other units began gathering the dead and transporting them back to the nearest landers for processing. The Posleen firmly believed in the doctrine of waste-not-want-not.
The lead companies moved back up to a canter to try to close the distance to the enemy through the beaten zone of the artillery but the combination was just too strong. The time the Posleen had used up on Fredericksburg had been put to good use by General Keeton and his staff. Most divisional artillery and all the corps mobile artillery units had been moved forward to support the ambushes while their revetments on Libby and Mosby Hills were being prepared. Over a hundred 155mm artillery pieces—each with a thirty-meter "footprint"—were firing into a zone only one hundred meters wide and five hundred deep.
Between the accurate fire of the Bradleys and the massed artillery, the lead companies of Posleen were erased in seconds before coming within five hundred meters of the cav scouts.
The cavalry had not escaped unscathed. The plasma cannon of the western God King had accounted for two Bradleys and a lucky hit by the massed HVM for another. But the reinforced platoon, the artillery and the ambush had accounted for over seven thousand Posleen in less than five minutes. The destroyed tracks were quickly replaced on the line with vehicles from the reserve platoon while medics worked on the traumatized survivors.
It takes approximately three minutes for a Posleen to gallop a kilometer. The forward edge of the ambush zone had been placed at a kilometer and a half from the cav unit while the surviving Posleen forces were an additional half a kilometer back. The cavalry company commander called for fire to be adjusted outward as the follow-on Posleen companies charged forward.
For the first five hundred meters the centaurs slipped and slithered in the offal-moistened soil of the verge. The unholy slurry slowed their movement through that beaten zone and increased their time in the zone of fire. However, within a few minutes Posleen battle units were up on the interstate and pounding forward towards the cav unit.
Despite the long gallop and the massed artillery fire, it was obvious that the tide of Posleen would eventually break through. Even as the lead elements drove forward—melting like a sugar cube in water—more forces poured around the distant bend. It was an unending stream of centaurs.
The company commander ordered his reserve up to the line and prepared to retreat as the Bradleys and artillery began to pound the assaulting Posleen.
Meanwhile, Mueller took one look at the charging army of centaurs and decided that this was a better fight for the cav. He picked up the circuit board—also being a great believer in waste-not-want-not—and trotted to the waiting Humvee. With a sigh of relief, the driver pulled out as soon as he was on board.