“Pushing Forward, Pulling Back”

Shawn H. Golley

All rights reserved by the author

 

 

"Fall back! I repeat, fall back!" The static of the command crackled in Corporal Denver Bosk's ear, competing for his attention with his helmet-mounted radar tracking display, the laser sight of his ME42 Assault Rifle, and the fact that enemy artillery was approaching. He needed cover, ,then he could take each of these urgencies one at a time.

He was part of a large resistance movement to the increased Core occupation forces. Over the twenty years since the Wasson War, the Core government had exerted greater control on its member worlds, and had begun controlling more fully those that were not outright members. This had not gone over well. Throughout the region, rebellions had sprung up on numerous planets, including Bosk's home planet of Asterion.

"Fall back, I repeat, fall back." Just one more shot. He fired and dropped the soldier in his sights. He swung his head around and checked for approaching enemies from his left flank. There were none, so he began strafing in that direction, all the while drawing another bead with his laser sights. He fired, then leapfrogged over a boulder and ducked down behind it, glancing backward once more. The area was clear. He could see the other fifteen members of his unit - the ones that were left - assembling in front of the drop ship that would return them to their base on Asterion's third moon, Dorset.

"Bosk, come on, let's go!" Sergeant Gerro's voice echoed in his ear now, He was too far from the ensuing combat to be able to ignore it now, and he turned fully and hustled to form up with what was left of his unit.

"What happened, sir?" Denver asked as the troops began filing into their compartments on he drop ship.

"The Core had another platoon of artillery. There was no way we would have been able to make it through their lines, not with the losses we've taken."

They'll do anything to win, won't they? They're not content with having better strategies? They force more manpower down our throats. "There's got to be something we can do." We don't have enough personnel to combat this. We need something to reestablish balance.

 "I'm sorry, son." Gerro placed his hand on Denver's shoulder. "Not today."

 

***

They come in here. They come in here like they think they own the whole damned planet.

Denver Bosk sat in the shadows of the crew lounge on the rebels' small Dorset base. He was out of uniform, and the black shirt and pants that he wore served to make him invisible. The only thing visible to anyone who chanced to enter the room - like the private over there, for instance, were his ominous black eyes. The rest of his long, thin face and military-cut auburn hair were concealed in shadows.

They think they can do whatever the hell they want. They­ --

 "Corporal Bosk, sir; the Colonel want to see you."

Denver stood up from where he had been sitting. He wanted to hurl himself through the fifteen centimeters of glass and down the pit. Instead, he made his way to the office of Colonel Bastian.

"You wanted to see me, sir?" Denver asked as he stood at attention in front of the colonel's utilitarian desk. In a chair in the corner, another man in uniform sat, his hands folded across his lap.

"Corporal," Bastian said, gesturing to the man in the chair. "This is Colonel Kessek. He's in charge of a special weapons development program, I'll let him explain the rest."

"Shall we take a walk?" Kessek asked, standing. His deep basso Voice reminded Denver of the claps of thunder from Sewena Province's fiercest storms.

"As Colonel Bastian said," Kessek began as they strode through the corridors of the small lunar station, "I am in charge of an advanced weapons development program on the planet. We have been developing several new strains of weapons and armor. The first units are entering prototype stages now, and we are looking for a team of highly-skilled soldiers to field test them for us."

That seemed reasonable - new technology to offset the increased compliment of Core troops. It was equitable. He could participate. That was the way things were supposed to work. One side comes up with a way to gain the advantage, then the other side developed a way to counter it. That was the way things were supposed to work. But there was always that moment - or few weeks - when one side held the advantage, and Bosk couldn't stand that. It was like knowing you were about to die, but not knowing the exact moment, and not being able to prepare for it.

"What kind of weapons?" he asked, turning his thoughts back ot the immediate situation.

"Weapons and armor based on nanotechnology. We have been in secret negotiation with a Wasson black-market merchant-"

"You've been buying from the Wasson?"

"We have no choice. The war's been over for a decade, Denver. But now, the Core has crossed the line, and we must do all we can to prevent their lust for power from destroying our homeland. Yesterday's enemy often becomes today's friend, or so the cliche goes."

"You've got my attention, Colonel. Wh(lt do you want from me?"

"I want you to join our team. I want you to test our new equipment in battle, as part of an elite squadron of soldiers. You'll be working with the best of the best, and proving how effective, or not, this new stuff is.

"All right," Denver said, turning and shaking Kessek's hand. "I'm in."

 

***

 

"You'll also be equipped with a thin layer of armor." The lecturer, Denver had already forgotten her name, stood poised at a large wall-mounted display, gesturing to it with a laser pointer. "Don't let its size fool you, though. This armor is constructed with carbon nanotubes. Dozens of tiny fibers thinner than a strand of hair are string together to form what we like to call nanodiamonds. These diamonds are incredibly resilient to breakage, and they barely weigh a thing. They can protect you in temperatures up to 900 degrees, and they'll se]f-repair if any part of them gets damaged. We've also got..."

Denver began to doze lightly as the scientist droned on. Who cared about the technology of it all, just let him get out into the field already.

"You won't be invincible, though." He perked up at this. It sounded important. "There are still plenty of ways you can die in these things, but they'll stop bullets. The nanotubes are aligned in such a way that they have a high elasticity. They 'bounce back' on the microscopic level, and at the macroscopic level, too. It should be enough to protect you."

 

 ***

 

 They sent the squad in as part of the regular unit on the premise that they didn't want the enemy to know anything was up. It made sense to Denver, but he was still first out of the drop ship. He wanted action.

He soon got it. The Core militia had set up a barricade surrounding West Cran, an isolated settlement that controlled access to the last of the planet's minable resources. The goal of this raid was to weaken the Core forces enough for the heavy weapons brigade, the last one in the resistance, to come in and retake the city. It would be a major victory for the resistance.

The three platoons of resistance soldiers were two hundred meters away from the city's perimeter when they came under fire. Troops rushed out of the guard towers. Carnage ensued.

Even after three weeks of drills, it was still hard for Denver and the other members of his squad to avoid flinching at the approach of bullets, but after the first few rounds that actually had hit him had barely made an impression on the armor, one that was soon restored, he began to ignore them. Each time a bullet struck the armor, it felt like a light punch to the stomach - the nanotubes would contract and then bounce the projectile back onto the ground. Bosk soon got used to it, building up a tolerance to the myriad of little pressures. He still tried to avoid getting caught in the crossfire of ordinary soldiers battling it out - the armor would protect him, sure, but he still felt vulnerable.

He and his team moved forward into the city. Their objective was the same as that of the larger unit, but they had discussed how to approach that objective en route and decided that they should work to soften the reserves of the enemy.

To that end, they made their way toward the cluster of barracks on the north border of the city, staying in shadow and trying to avoid being spotted by any passing enemy troops. They found the barracks, full of soldiers streaming out as they mobilized to meet the oncoming assault of rebel forces.

Three of the members of the team carried sniper rifles: Arthur Tweele, Nan Cromwell, and Keller Armstrong. They set up positions atop three nearby buildings and began to pick off troops as they entered and left the barracks. Tweele announced on their private radio channel, "This is standard crap. We could have done this ordinary. We need to test the weapons."

"I'm going in," Denver said flatly. He un-slung his assault rifle from its shoulder holster and made his way toward the ranks of infantry and began firing.

 

***

 

The mission had been a complete success thanks to the team, but Denver felt hollow somehow. It had seemed too easy. He and his team had managed to soften the Core forces in the city to such an extent that they had barely needed the heavy weapons team. He felt that panic of waiting for death once more. The only solace was that his side had the advantage, and he wasn't about to forsake it just so he felt at ease with the world. But they had accomplished the objective, and that was the important thing. Colonel Bastian had personally commended each member of the team after ushering them into his new office in one of the Core's now unused facilities.

"I'm impressed," Bastion had said. "You performed remarkably well."

"Thank you, SIr.

"Colonel Kessek tells me that you won't be staying with us for much longer, however."

"Really? How so?"

Bastian lit a cigar. "Apparently, he's got a special assignment for you."

 

 ***

 

Asterion's capitol city of Grad was immense compared to the small, cramped spaces of the resistance base on Dorset and the utilitarian outpost of Cran. Large, sprawling buildings rising fifteen or twenty stories high dotted the skyline, punctuated with an occasional shuttle. It was a formidable objective.

"We're going in quiet," Kessek said. "Rumor is that the Core have something up their sleeves for this one. They know we're coming, and we have reason to believe they might be ready for us."

"With what?" Rosinda Puchev asked.

"We don't know. Probably just a heavily reinforced battalion of soldiers, based on our latest intelligence; but that's iffy.

"All right, people, let's do this."

 

 ***

 

Denver crouched in the shadows, preparing to strike. He would go when General Paxton himself gave the word. This was to be the final assault. Here, the resistance would show the Core that they would not go quietly - that Asterion would not succumb to the overwhelming will of the Core. They would remain independent of their domination.

Denver's objective - he was operating solo - was to clear out the northeast guard turret in reparation for the imminent arrival of the main body of resistance forces.

"Execute."

The single command washed over his ears. He had been listening for it, expecting it at any second. He rolled out from his crouch and made his way up the first set of stairs toward the lowest level of the guard tower, his assault rifle clutched at the ready.

He kicked open the door and emptied half a clip into the room before stepping through the doorway.

"Son of a bitch!" one guard yelled, clutching at his right leg and snapping a switch that raised the alarm. «Get the guns!"

What guns?

 Denver subdued the remainder of the floor, then made his way up the next flight of stairs. He only had two more to go now.

Knowing that the next floor of guards would be prepared for him, he kicked open the door, fired a quarter of a clip, then ducked and rolled into the room. As he did so, he saw the surge of some kind of energy blast above his head.

Could that be the new guns they're talking about?

 He fired in the direction that the blast had come from. Another shot zoomed past him, missing his ear by centimeters.

And then it was clear to him. He had felt no danger because of the new armor. He had walked into situations that would have gotten anyone else killed and come out without a scratch, and it was all because of this armor. He was happy that the rebels had made headway, but their string of nearly casualty-less victories had begun to grate at him - it wasn't right. There was no honor - no fairness in that.

But now there was a measure of equity again - these new weapons, whatever they were, had balanced the field of combat once more, and now the side with the best strategist, now simply with the best technology, would win. It was right.

Denver wantonly let his rifle chew up rounds and spit them out. He had nothing to lose. He felt another burst of something - plasma perhaps - sear off a bit of armor on his left arm. There was no way that the nanotubes could handle the ten-thousand-degree temperatures of the plasma, if that's what it was.

The next burst of plasma energy that came his way did not miss. It hit him square in the chest and forced him back, onto the floor. He fell in slow motion, the walls taking forever to be replaced by the ceiling lights. It toolF- forever, but it had come in time. There was balance again, and if he had to die to achieve that, so be it.

Before they could roll into the back of his head, Denver Bosk closed his eyes, at peace.

 

© Copyright 2005 by the author

All rights reserved