Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Consulting Editor


Who By Fire
by Jeff Samson

Shit Eatin’ Dog
by Bob Sojka

Joshua Who Could See
by Elizabeth Streeter

Calliope Muse
by Rebecca L. Brown

Waver of the Image
by Joe Occhipinti

Salvation of Sam
by Ellen Denton

Three Into Two Won’t Go
by Ann Gimpel

3rd Dragoon Regiment and the Liberation of Contagor’e-Mare
by Don C. Ciers

Collector’s Item
by Doug Donnan


Journey Through the Center of the Earth
by Eric M. Jones

Mars: A New Look at the Old Hump
by J. Richard Jacobs





Comic Strips



3rd Dragoon Regiment and the

Liberation of Contagor’e-Mare

By Don C. Ciers

0010-02-03-417CE hrs

DESTROYER FLOTILLA FIVE LED the battle groups of Task Force Durham followed by Task Force Aynor through the Xeyus Cloud into the Shontor-Aipian trans-planetary region to open the second phase of Praetor Kratari’s Operation Hastings. Its mission, to kick in the side door exposing the planetary grouping, drew the Tantoran flotilla away from the front door, where two more destroyer flotilla led Task Force Draaken’s breach of the frontier from Lydia at
Shontor-Karel. TF Durham advanced directly on Aipian as Task Force Aynor and DF Five dealt with the Tantorans and screened toward the Trinovan frontier.

The Tantoran destroyer flotilla had fallen for the ruse and was drawn away from their nearest support in the Questri-Paileni group. They found themselves about to be trapped between the converging fires of three groups of superior forces and were forced to break contact. Theirs and the civilian transports only hope was to try to reach the Questri-Shontor binary system’s high speed inner wave countervailance region where the mag wave AC/DC was 9.3, to escape towards Paileni-Balesti, before they were cut off by the forces advancing from Lydia. Task Force Draaken was moving quickly to take station west of uninhabited Shontor-Karel, blocking direct access to the high speed lanes. The situation plot in the CIC of CBC Draaken clearly showed the jaws of the trap slamming shut.

“Our timing is perfect, Commodore. Balesti and Aipian are at aphelion. ESR shows 17 civilian transports in orbit of Aipian and her moons and stations, half of them are running cold. Even if they power up in time they won’t reach the
9-3 lanes before we do,” the S-3 asserted.

“The Tantorans are fighting like hell to give the civilians time to escape, but Intel says there’s mass confusion on the ground that’s slowing them down. I want to cripple that force before they can break contact,” Commodore Webster reminded his Operations Officer.

0115-02-03-417CE hrs

TF Durham’s battle groups took up positions to block all escape and reinforcement routes and jammed all retransmission buoy communications. Marines boarded and seized civilian transports and liners from several Alliance worlds, including Sacorsti-Laconia. Over the next hours on the surface of Shontor-Aipian itself, continental constabularies, on their own accord, began arresting Aipian Pyganii Fundamentalist legislatures and surrendering. Three battle cruisers, nine destroyers, twelve frigates and three bombardment ships now hove to and identified targets in the colonies on Aipian’s three inhabited moons and began broadcasting to them on all their operating frequencies. Each was given one hour to flash signal its surrender via their aerodrome landing pattern lights or the fleet guns would commence fire in preparation for assault landings. The five colonies on the large outer moon Aipian-Dytenopolis immediately capitulated. The two colonies on the inner moon Aipian-Protos also surrendered.

The Command Battle Group of Task Force Durham had the mission of securing Aipian-Contagor’e. The void force accompanying CBC Durham included three destroyers and four Essex class frigates. The surface force consisted of the entire 3rd Dragoon Regiment of Commonwealth Marines with three dragoon battalions, a mechanized fusilier battalion, a combat support cohort, one light and one medium surface bombardment battery embarked aboard the long range transports Cartagena, Cristiano, Excalibur and Manston.

Now only the two colonies on Shontor-Aipian’s second moon,
Aipian-Contagor’e, remained defiant. Once CBC Durham had assumed a diagonal orbit at 50,000 kms accompanied by CD Comstock and CF Meridian and issued its first surrender ultimatum, the lights of both settlements and their aerodromes went out. Even the safety lighting along the Trans-Colonial Highway and seacoast light beacons were turned off.

Two HG conferences between the colonies and Praetor Kratari’s representatives aboard CCC Hood on the Lydia frontier, including the Praetor himself, brought about the flash signaled surrender of Terras-Contagor’e in the north, but Contagor’e-Mare in the south still stubbornly resisted.

0245-03-03-417CE hrs

Aboard LRT Manston in the B deck main conference room, the 4th Battalion’s commanders, specialty platoon leaders and their key subordinates were ravenously absorbing every scrap of information they could get. Cohort commanders and key leaders were synching their BIIS with battalion and streaming information to their subordinate leaders on the launch decks.

“Aipian-Contagor’e is 400,000 kilometers from Shontor-Aipian, it’s a 1400 kilometer moon, gravity is 9.077 mps2; atmospheric pressure is 1.033 kg/cm2. It holds two aerodrome supported settlements and several villages and hamlets supporting large farms, cattle ranches and aquanaries, ore mines, and timber operations. Our initial objective is the aerodrome 10 kilometers southwest of the seaport settlement of Contagor’e-Mare on the southern hemisphere then the town itself. Records show a pre-war population of 60,000. The Battle Group has located and is jamming the air defense missiles tracking radars. There’s a mixed battery of guns and short-range missiles protecting Mare’s aerodrome.”

“Intel and surface recon had identified four companies of Trinovantean mechanized infantry, Tantoran air defense and surface bombardment batteries, and Jodari provost marshal and logistics troops concentrated at the two aerodromes. Their withdrawal was hasty and disorganized. Many have been left behind, exactly how many we don’t know.” Major Flavoi’s intelligence update was positive but still had lots of holes Bravo Cohort’s Centurion Geradi wanted filled.

“As it stands now, this is a Close Proximity to Civilian Populations situation, so the Hood trying to negotiate their surrender, the Praetor himself will call the shot on this one, ladies and gentlemen,” the Colonel added.

But negotiations weren’t going well; especially the last ten loud and fruitless minutes.

“Madame Tegarish, let me try one more time to assure you, this is no ruse! There are more than sufficient Commonwealth forces in your orbit to take Mare by force. Madame, please think of your colonists’ welfare!” The journalist Mikhailovich pleaded with the photonic image of Prefect of Contagor’e-Mare, Manduleya Tegarish.

“You lie, Mr. Mikhailovich, you have always lied. I know your work ...” She believed the AIM broadcasts and refused to believe the Commonwealth Fleet was anywhere near their frontier. She had an unidentified aide whispering in her ear.

“Lift your jamming and show us this alleged fleet, if you dare. Let me assure you, Mr. Mikhailovich, you and that contemptible traitor in Terras, that I, Manduleya Tegarish, my constables and our allies, will defend Contagor’e-Mare with our lives in Pygan’s name and you two will pay with your lives for rebelling against Aglifhate authority. End transmission!

Mr. Mikhailovich shrugged in resignation; he no longer had any doubts, if he ever had any at all. It was clear the Prefect, her aides and her administrators were true believers and were not under any kind of duress.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Mikhailovich, you did your best.” The Praetor briefly consoled the journalist. But there was work to do.

“Admiral Adroule, instruct Commodore Tristuaun that she may commence fire and execute Variant Blue at her discretion.”

“Yes Praetor.”

0441-03-03-417CE hrs

The Destroyers Kerak and Kingston engaged and destroyed an air defense missile battery emplacement on the southern polar cap with cruise missiles and 47.5 cm gunfire and dispatched their marine platoons to the surface via CS-12Ds to secure the area. CBC Durham commenced 68 cm gunfire on the Oliveri River crossings, separating the northern and southern hemispheres and launched an alpha strike against known and suspected missile and gun positions surrounding the Contagor’e–Mare aerodrome and seaports and the forested ridges east and southeast of the aerodrome employing both Vixen squadrons and the four Vortex squadrons rotating fighter sweeps. Commonwealth Frigates Fidelity and Warspite dropped into low orbit and deployed eight hunter-killer retro-pods; each containing two pre-assembled MAX surveillance drones and four new Ripper gun-drones to scan and search for Alliance electronic signatures. Alliance combat vehicles were identified and attacked by gun-drones, Vixens, Vortexes, but direct orbital gunfire avoided the town itself.

Centurion Lomain Geradi scowled every time he thought about his mission and the tactical plan. The thought of leading his cohort mounted off the assault landers and driving straight up that damned road was against every instinct and every principle he could think of.

“I know you don’t like it Lo’. To be honest, neither do I. But the word’s come down from the K-man himself. There are missing Recondo’s down there and Praetor wants them recovered as soon as possible.” LTC Mercer was doing his best to put a bad situation in the best possible light.

“Understood, sir, but those eight klicks of open ground could be a nightmare for us, if the enemy has AVGMs dug-in on the high ground on our left flank, the Dragoons won’t be able to clear it fast enough on foot, I could be forced to dismount and clear that ridge myself.”

“I know, I know, the zoomies are working that area over all day. Once we’re on the ground I’ll give you as much covering bombardment as I can. Regiment, too. If you run into something heavy, I’ll push Charlie up to give you support. And don’t forget you’ve got the links to the Maxes and the Rippers for direct support.”


“It’s a tough nut Lo’; that’s why I gave Bravo the job!”

“We’ll make it happen boss, or burn tryin’.”

“That’s the spirit. How are your troopers?”

“They’re ready for a brawl, sir. It’s too bad there won’t be much prize disbursement though, Aipian being formerly neutral and all.”

“The Senate will be forced into some sort of exception to policy, if we take fire on the surface. But let’s not worry about that; keep ‘em focused on the ROE.”

“Yes, sir, definitely. I’ve had all the platoon leaders reinforce Rules of Engagement and target discrimination. CP-2’s not new to Bravo, the civvies will be okay, it’s the constables I feel sorry for.”

“Yeah I know, Lo’. Serve the Aglifhate or see your family sold off. Then serve anyway. Well, Creator willing we’ll bail their asses out, but the real show is going to be in the Trinovan, Lo’. These people here are just in the way, don’t forget that!”

“Tattooed on my brain, John.”

“Now hear this; Commence vehicle loading sequence Bravo deck, and Charlie deck, that is all.”

“With your permission, sir, that’s my cue. I’ll see you on the ground.” Centurion Geradi gladial saluted his Battalion Commander.

“Good hunting Lo’; give ‘em hell.” The two soldiers shook hands and moved away from each other; the Centurion of Bravo cohort towards the elevator down to his cohort’s billets deck. Lieutenant Colonel Mercer watched his most experienced cohort commander and brother-in-law walk briskly away then turned back towards his command center.

Bravo’s motor pool was bustling as sergeants’ deck guided their vehicles from charging bays to the deck elevators. The travel lanes were filled with Geradi’s twelve squad battle carriers, six assault guns and six mortar carriers. The battle carriers’ squad walkers were packed and papoosed on each vehicle’s port side. Drivers nodded and vehicle commanders saluted as they rolled by. Their Centurion acknowledged them all; they were his troopers now, the specter of the Martinet had been purged.

“Java, sir?” Cohort Sergeant Major Baunier was always a step ahead of his Commander.

“Reading my mind again, eh Sgt. Major?” Geradi was grateful for another steaming cup.

“Easier than talking, sir. Anything new?”

“Nothing useful, loading going ok?”

“So far so good, the XO is on the L&R deck, the elevators are moving smooth; we’ll be ready to load the platoons as soon as Launch Ops gives the word.”

“Good deal, assemble the platoon leaders on the mezzanine and Sergeant Kanesh too!”

“Yessir; Ol’ Murph ain’t gonna like being lead dog again sir, you know that.”

“He loves it, Top, that’s all for show.” Geradi smiled.

“I’ll tell him you said that, sir.” The Battle Group was continuously looping objective area views and damage estimates from the capital ships to Regiment’s BIIS, where information was distributed to the battalions and their cohorts. Centurion Geradi preferred to issue his actual orders face to face, like the squad leader he once was. Lomain Geradi was in the same group of 100 mustangs Praetor Kratari was in. Murphy Kanesh was nominated as well for a direct commission but he turned it down.

0730-03-03-417CE hrs

SSG Kanesh was Bravo Cohort’s most experienced squad leader. He was often detailed by both battalion and regiment to set up and run squad and platoon live fire assault courses and boarding party drills. Centurion Geradi fought bitterly to retain him when battalion S-3 wanted to pull him upstairs as an assistant operations sergeant. He couldn’t keep Murphy forever, just through the Trinovan would be okay.

Murphy Kanesh knew he couldn’t stay a squad leader forever; moving up to battalion staff meant promotion for him and a trip to Degoa-Earth to the Advanced Course. That would make a very nice 16 week vacation. He liked working vacations. Murphy couldn’t remember ever staying home doing nothing for a full furlough; he always got bored after a half score days or so and reported back for duty. He always told his mother there was need for him back at depot, but she knew he was bored. He was not the same little boy who went off fresh-faced to the Soldati 18 years ago. Sylvester Tyree, Ria Meloni and Jon Blumoor all deserved promotion and squads of their own. Sgt Tyree handled the battle carrier with a hunter’s instincts; he had trained Troopers Clive and Brown to drive and handle the auto-cannon equally well. Both Meloni and Blu were outstanding young corporals leading two well-drilled fire teams.

“Stay alert for mines in the highway, especially here, carrier team, this intersection and here, this road construction zone right on the edge of town.” Murphy’s BIIS was in HG mode showing the aerial topographic and oblique views from the aerodrome north towards the town.

“If we don’t take any fire from these two ridges on the left here, along CR 9, that’ll be our dismount point, Sgt Tyree—the south side of the construction zone. Maneuver team, we’ll clear this farm on the left first.”

“Hooah, Sergeant!”

“Sergeant, what if we make contact before then?” Trooper Mendola asked.

“Basic battle drill trooper, dismount under fire.”

“What are the chances of that?” Cpl. Meloni asked.

“Unknown,” Murphy sighed. “Recon reported a substantial force before they started the withdrawal; no one really knows how many were left behind, or what their state of morale is either. They sure as hell know by now they’re stranded. So keep your eyes and ears open and weapons and visors synched. Be ready to disarm prisoners and take their batteries, but leave the handling to Charlie cohort and the supports. The real work starts when we get into town; so let’s go over building entry and clearance again.”

There were groans in 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, but the troopers moved quickly and efficiently through a simulated building scan, entry, room clearance, civilian identification announcement and building marking and then a forced entry. The troopers always liked the forced entry; something about hand grenades, automatic rifles and kicking in doors that gets one’s blood rushing.

Lieutenant Spann was finally satisfied with the loading of Bravo’s vehicles in the assault landers; with platoons from Bravo and Delta cohorts
cross-loaded. LRT Manston’s eight landers stood by ready to board troopers directly from their billets deck into the landers troop bays. Sections 19 and 20 of the L&R deck were sealed and slowly depressurizing before releasing the magnetic locks and rolling the great shell door halves apart. Cohorts waited on their billets deck above for the order to embark. This was the time the troopers hated; the waiting. The leaders hated it too, but there was always something else to check, something to say, some minor detail to look to. That’s probably why the troopers hated it so.

2nd Platoon’s leadership was no exception, Platoon Sergeant Jaekal ensured the troops were fed again. Hot ration bars were tolerated but the fruit biscuits were just as popular with the troopers in 4th Fusiliers as they were throughout the Fleet. They said the fruit biscuits were Istrian in origin, but the Battalion CSM said that wasn’t true. They were originally described by a Commonwealth Marine from the 2/1 to an Istrian mess sergeant when the 2/1 was stranded on Poia-Istria in the first weeks of the war, back in ’15. But that iconic shot of a biscuit-chomping Istrian grunt, moving up into the line at the Ajluniya River was real enough. What the man was alleged to have said was true: Ajluniya was as far as the bastards got. Now, the Commonwealth was hitting back, with the Poians and Maians as new states taking back their lost territory. Now, the Praetor was driving through occupied Shontor-Aipian straight into the Trinovan to tear away the Alliance’s surface combat arm and cripple their ability to continue their offensive.

1800-03-03-417CE hrs

“Now hear this. Commence fusilier boarding. Creator’s blessings on you. That is all!”

“Okay Sergeant Jaekal, let’s get ‘em aboard!” Ensign Ufrey jumped anxiously to her feet.

“Mister Ufrey, a word please.” Lieutenant Taka’s stern familiar voice stopped the young officer in her tracks.

“Yes, Ma’am.” The 2nd platoon leader took her assistant aside, had her remove her helmet and spoke softly to her.

“Let the sergeants do their job, Mister, there’s a sequence to boarding an assault lander. The sergeants wait for the troop doors to open and the loadmaster signals them to board. Stand back here with me and watch.”

PSG Jaekal appreciated his veteran platoon leader more every day; she was an excellent combat leader and turning into an excellent trainer of the young ensigns fresh from CLA or OTC. Corridor lighting from section 16 aft to the Y intersection at section 20 went to amber.

“Helmets, intranets, secure your weapons!” PSG Jaekal’s preparatory command was instantly obeyed by 2nd and Weapons platoon facing the ramp to the port side lander. The corridor lighting went to battle red, the klaxon sounded, the forward doors of Section 16 closed and sealed. The access lamp tree shifted upward from red to green.

“Column of squads from the outboard!”

Forward!” The lead outboard squad leaders supplemented the command.

March!” The rifle squads and heavy weapons crews stepped left along the Y to the troop deck seats aboard their assault lander MA-6. The access ramp to their vehicles two decks below was inside the lander, unlike the Alliance landers. Many a Commonwealth marine owed their lives to that difference.

1830-03-03-417CE hrs

The Dragoons went in first as orbital gunfire focused on the forested ridges and hilltops to the east and southeast of the aerodrome. The Vortexes swept in from seaward and banked north to south, rocketing and strafing targets on the aerodrome, in the southern approaches to Mare and along the length of the Trans-Colonial Highway south of the Oliveri River.

Launched from 80,000 kilometers, 26 CS-12Ds bearing 2nd and 3rd battalions made their braking orbit and powered over to make their final approach, slowing to m-2.3. The formation broached stratospheric above Contagor’e-Terras at 35 kilometers altitude and ejected all their dragoons and equipment in one pass above the Oliveri River; the shuttles accelerated and streaked away back into orbit.

Like an early evening meteor shower, 1,467 retro-pods burned through the atmosphere directly towards the Contagor’e-Mare aerodrome and the rolling plain to the northeast. The rolling pop of scores of retro-pod rockets firing and ejecting parachuting Dragoons across the open ground was not answered by the rattle of machineguns or auto-cannon.

1900-03-03-417CE hrs

“Dragoons are landing. Brace for launch.” Troopers heard MA-6’s Loadmaster’s disembodied voice over their intranets. They felt the vibration and heard the rising whine of the lander’s magnetos as the inner gridding of LRT Manston’s bulkheads slid past the horizontal lamalar panel that ran the length of the troop decks. The megaton lander lightened as it surged aft through the outer shell doors and into the void. The lamalar filled with Blue-green Contagor’e. MA-6 buffeted through LRT Manston’s magnetic cocoon, rolled starboard and down.

Sergeant Edward “Fast Eddie” Bryce lay prone, scanning the slope ahead of his squad; the self-propelled air defense quad auto-cannon was a smoking wreck. The log and earthbag revetment merged with the slope and dug into a copse of trees that had been knocked flat probably by a 68 cm round shot. The Tantoran gun was out of action but some of the crew was probably still alive. Sgt. Bryce had heard scattered firing around the aerodrome since the drop. The lead squad of 3rd Platoon, Alfa Cohort, 2nd Dragoons headed east from the drop zones and scaled the long finger ridges toward the south side of Hill 104. Bryce, his machine gun team and bravo team were spread on the lower slope, in deadfall and undergrowth half-refracted while alfa team, fully refracted, moved upslope the last 150 meters to close on the Tantoran position.

“I got movement, Sarge, 10 o’clock, left of the vehicle, edge of the earthbags, two, three guys.” Trooper Vickey’s voice came over Bryce’s intranet. He swung his head and binos slightly left and down. Heat sources of battle-suited figures bobbing up slowly then dropping.

“Got ‘em, Vi, stand by. Alfa, there’s movement to your front, base of the earthbags!”

Krak-pow! Krak-pow! Krak-pow!

“Toast ’em Vic! Boufar, suppressive fire 10 o’clock! Put a Komodo into that gun!”

The hillside erupted with gunfire as Vickey’s 12mm MG-42 LMG chattered off short bursts accompanied by the M-9 rifles of Bryce, Atkins, and Bravo team’s three fusiliers. Cpl. Boufar and Trooper Mia pumped out 40mm SK grenades as fast as they could load and acquire. Logs splintered and earthbags shattered. The revetment disappeared in dust and SK wobbles as each round of ammunition exploded on impact or at fail-safe range, just behind or above the target area. The armorplated gun platform sang and shimmered with impacts and ricochets of deuterium impregnated iron fragments, then rocked violently within the revetment as the 84mm Komodo rocket arced into its superstructure and detonated. Even before the battle flash cleared, Bryce could see the five green silhouettes of Alfa team assaulting the earthwork. Corporal Slovene and her team flex vaulted 100 meters under Bravo’s covering fire; Bryce lowered his weapon and watched as Alfa team fixed gladii, grenaded the earthbag position, then closed the final 50 meters war-whooping at the vault.

“Cease fire, Bravo, Vic!” Bryce heard three more krak-pows from M-9s upslope before the ridge fell silent.

“I got two still alive, there are six down up here, Sarge. Tantorans. One’s an officer. They’ve got blowpipes up here, too. I count five still on their walker,” Cpl. Slovene’s voice cracked over the intranet.

“Good job, Rita, consolidate, we’re coming up.” The shoulder-fired
anti-aircraft missiles were a major find.

“Roger that, Sarge, nice view, you sure can see a ways from up here.”

2030-03-03-417CE hrs

“The aerodrome and the heights are secured. De-orbital burn in five, four, three, two, one. Commencing de-orbital burn. Come left four-zero, down
one-six.” Manston Alpha-Six slowed; she rolled to 400 to port and 160 down. Already at 3,000 kilometers, she immediately began to flare. Flying Officer Markow kept the control yoke in her gut and worked the yoke triggers of the steering thrusters. FO Peters, the co-pilot, modulated the braking thrusters stopping the flaring. The blunt-bowed landers broached tropospheric over the coast west of Contagor’e-Mare under Vortex escort. The third of eight to touch down along the length of the main runway, MA-6 powered her engines down 60 percent, began her thrust nacelle rotation, and opened her forward shell doors. The Loadmaster checked the gangway had meshed properly and army the ramp was in full surface contact, then waved B-2-2 forward. With Second Squad aboard, Trooper Clive eased the battle carrier over the gangway apron, down the ramp and onto the surface.

With the landing of 4th Fusilier Bn, the light bombardment battery and the Regimental HQs, the control of the hunter-killer drones transferred to the ground force. 4th Battalion moved out immediately with B-2-2 in the lead followed in traveling overwatch by B-2-6, Lt. Taka’s carrier, B-2-1, with 1st squad, B-2-5 with PSG Jaekal, and B-2-3 with 3rd squad in trail. Second platoon was trailed by A-sections two assault guns, then 3rd platoon, Bravo’s command group’s two carriers, B-section’s assault guns, the mortars and the XO’s carrier and recovery vehicle, and 1st platoon in trail. C-Section’s two AGs moved to link up with 2nd Dragoons.

Keeping one dragoon cohort from 1st Bn to secure the aerodrome, Colonel Kulari sent the balance of 1st Bn and Delta Cohort, 4th Fusiliers to secure the seaports and advanced with the balance of the force on Contagor’e-Mare. CS-12Ds airlifted 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalion’s reconnaissance platoons to landing zones north and north-west of Contagor’e-Mare, establishing blocking positions north of town by securing the main power plants at the intersection of Colonial Route 9 and the Trans-Colonial Highway, 4 kms northwest of the settlement and the highway and rail bridges across the Oliveri River 10 kms further north.

The main body advanced northwest from the aerodrome on both sides of Colonial Route 9 towards the town, encountering isolated pockets of resistance along the way. 3rd Dragoons on the left, west of Route 9, crossing through rolling hills with light forests, farms and orchards into town and the forests to its west. 2nd Dragoons were on the right, east of Route 9, clearing the rail yard and industrial complexes straddling the highway and Harames Road to the east, bypassing Contagor’e-Mare.

Bravo Cohort advanced directly up Colonial Route 9 towards the settlement followed by the battalion command group, Charlie Cohort, and Battalion mortars. The scout platoon and Alpha Cohort turned northeast onto Harames Road, to bypass the town and link up with the recon platoon blocking positions.

Marooned on the surface by their transports’ hasty retreat, isolated and under heavy bombardment and air attack, leaderless and increasingly desperate squads of now mostly dismounted Trinovantean, Tantoran and Jodari troops vainly struggled to defend areas around the blasted remains of their installations and missile sites. Marine battle carriers, assault guns and mortars suppressed these positions while dismounted fusiliers and dragoons flanked and assaulted them, taking many prisoners.

“MAX-5 shows multiple groups of 10 to15 battle-suited transponder-equipped personnel and small groups of vehicles moving on converging routes towards the center of town, Ma’am.” The drone operators worked from the regimental and battalion command carriers.

“Maintain contact, expand your feedback loop to all vehicles, the BDC and find me some Ripper targets.”

“Here, Ma’am, take your pick! Ten to 15 dismounts crossing Cherryvale Street, NE bound. There’s more over ... wait ... Priority target! Assault gun moving south on Trudeau Avenue two blocks north of the Municipal Zone.

“I see him, Ripper-6!”


Priority target! Assault gun moving south on Trudeau Avenue two blocks north of the Municipal Zone, move to east to west engagement, complete.”

“Targeted, moving to engage.”



“Come left, one, nine. Identify the dismounted movement crossing Cherryvale Street. NE bound, complete.”

“Target is 13 battle-suits with Trinovan transponders, 13 active weapons.”

“Engage, complete!” The operator heard the thump and rattle of the short cannon and machinegun burst over her headset. The heat source image became clear view on her screen. The destruction of 13 human beings at her command displayed in front of her.

“Ripper-6, standing by.”

“Ripper-6, engage, complete.” The operators watched the final seconds of the AG crew’s lives as the AVGM plowed into the starboard of the vehicle before detonating. A rush of flame surged from every hatch and engine grill as it crunched to a halt.

“Mike-26, this is Kilo-6, be advised, OPFOR is defending the Municipal Zone in the center of town and the Mare Zhoung Hotel west of the traffic circle and the Municipal Zone. Streaming MAX 5.” Major Watkins’ voice broke over Bravo cohort’s command net.

The Municipal Zone included the Prefect’s residence compound flanked by the Colonial Municipal Office Building, the Customs House, the Constabulary HQs and communications center. The Prefect’s residence was inside a walled compound the main gate of which opened onto the traffic circle. Geradi saw the enemy unit symbols on the display indicating squad sized units fortifying the city block surrounding the hotel and municipal buildings for an outer defense perimeter. The outer perimeter area included the five story Mare General Infirmary, the municipal park, several large houses, plus apartment and office buildings.

2300-03-03-417CE hrs

MAX and Ripper gun-camera links continually confirmed battle-suited, transponder-equipped personnel plus four battle carriers and one assault gun parked within the perimeter. Alliance assault guns, battle carriers and cargo lorries were detected, engaged and destroyed with AVGMs, cannon fire and machine guns. Bravo and Charlie’s mortar sections, the battalion heavy mortar platoon and the regimental light bombardment battery began a series of systematic harassing bombardments of the Prefect’s residence compound, the traffic circle and the upper stories of the hotel at odd intervals and kept up the bombardment all night. The medium battery provided direct bombardment support for the reconnaissance platoons on the northern blocking positions.

“There, Tyree, that second mound right of the earth-mover.” B-2-2 rolled to stop behind cover, oriented north. Sgt. Tyree aligned the 30mm on the house and scanned the grounds.

“Maneuver team, full refracts, dismount, and follow me! Walker, refract, follow and scan ahead for mines.”

The squad crossed the 200 meter long construction zone in the highway where commercial vehicle traffic was restricted to one lane. Just beyond lay the first houses and backyard sheds on the edge of Contagor’e-Mare where Colonial Route 9 became Trudeau Avenue. They advanced to the fence over-watched by Tyree and the rest of the platoon.

“Blu, clear the sheds. Walker, advance to the house, scan for threats. Ria, cover Blu.”

Swift and silent the octopod moved across the yard scanning the veranda, the frontal wall and door, as Blumoor’s team moved left to the garage and yard shed. The walker’s sensor reading showed green in Murphy’s visor.

“Garage and shed are clear, Sarge.”

“Roger, Blu, we’re moving in. Ria, stack up, approach from the right. Cover the door, Jai.”

“Moving right!”

“Door’s lit up, Sarge. No sources on the other side.”

Bravo team reached the veranda, climbing over, hugging the wall in combat stack towards the door. Cpl. Meloni checked the handle, found it locked and moved smoothly to the left side. Oka was on the right with Barnes, Jamison and Calisto. Calisto, the biggest in the team, squared in front of the door and did the honors. They immediately heard the canines yelping with alarm. Ria went in low left and braced against the left wall. Oka went high right and crossed the front room, covering the upstairs and the hall to the kitchen, scanning green.

“Front, clear!” Barnes, Jamison and Calisto moved straight through the hall. Barnes stopped short at the kitchen door.

“Cellar door on the right.” Scanning the door and the kitchen floor.

“Heat sources, human, no IFF. One, two large, two, three small. Two animals!”

Ria and Oka joined the stack. Sgt. Kanesh came across and into the house.

“Jaimie, Cal, clear the rest of the floor. Oka, with me upstairs. Barnes, you stay with Sgt. Kanesh. All yours, Sarge.” Cpl. Meloni said, pointing to the section of kitchen floor above the civilians’ heads.

“This one’s on me, Barney, you’ve got the next one.”

“Roger that, Sarge.” Trooper Barnes never took his visor or his M-9 off the spot on the floor.

Murphy went down on one knee, laid his weapon down, and ensured his boomer was set to the Aipian dialect and extended it from his wizard box, attaching the probe to the floor. Then he gave three solid pounds on the floor.

“I am Staff Sergeant Murphy Kanesh, Commonwealth Marines. Seven body heat sources detected in this dwelling had been counted and are identified as
non-combatants. You will not be harmed, so long as you take no hostile action towards Commonwealth forces. Commonwealth time and the Commonwealth Constitution have been imposed until further notice. You will be compensated in Commonwealth credits for damage to your property and can return to your dwellings in peace, but be prepared to take shelter again if fighting erupts.”

SSG Kanesh disconnected and retracted the probe, secured his weapon and stood up. The house was cleared.

“Got your marker, Barnes?”

“Yes, Sergeant!”

“Okay, set it to Beyond Visible Light Spectrum and mark all sides of the house. Blu, mark the garage and shed. We’re clear here. Close up.”

“Carrier Six this is two, Covered and secure, over.”

“Roger two, we’re coming up.”

Joined by B-2-5, 2nd squad held the farm facing north and over-watched Lt. Taka, 1st and 3rd squads as they cleared the next two groups of buildings before moving forward again. Halting at the first intersection, 2nd platoon paused to over-watch 1st platoon as it moved west and came abreast to the left, and 3rd platoon passed through 2nd and both platoons crossed Maxmilian Street. Charlie Cohort came abreast on the right on the east side of Trudeau Avenue and began clearing houses and buildings.

Bravo and Charlie’s platoons of dismounted fusiliers continued to move north on a four city block wide front covering both sides of Trudeau Avenue, systematically clearing the buildings, searching for enemy troops, and accounting for civilians. They identified and numbered each cleared structure with BVLS markers indicating the number of civilians found there and the time. The dragoons entering the town further east and west were doing the same via side streets. As the night progressed, marines would find the entrances of dwellings unlocked and even ajar or standing open.

Thereafter followed what embedded journalists on the scene that night described as “The March of Lights.” As the leading Commonwealth marine platoons advanced northward through Contagor’e-Mare, candles and battery powered lights began to illuminate the front doors and interiors of homes behind them. Battery turret imagers aboard CF Warspite and CD Hampton both in close geo-synchronous orbit noted and recorded the phenomenal occurrence as well. The images would have a tremendous psychological and emotional impact in the Valerian Monarchy and the Patruscan League and became iconic in the Commonwealth.

Contagor’ean civilians emerged onto the streets to see and welcome their liberators. But they would be dazed, confounded and confused by what they saw. Columns of silent, ghostly human shadows filled the streets, moving towards the center of town, their forms and weapons barely discernable even just meters away, forms that dimmed and distorted even more in the passing light of a torch lamp. The weight of their presence was unmistakable as they moved around and past the civilians. The shadowy forms become armored, visored marines, officers or sergeants, with their weapons slung across their bodies, muzzles down. They lift their visors and reveal their faces and politely but firmly order the startled civilians to stay close to their homes for their own safety. Just as suddenly they disappear and brush past.

The older populace kept to their verandas and doorways. In the front gardens and sidewalks, the youths chattered and pointed enthusiastically as large, intimidating shadows, battle carriers and assault guns, clattered by, their silhouettes barely distinguishable just twenty paces or so away. The short, wide, heavy vehicles with armored skirts and angular fronts mounting long, narrow, high velocity cannons shook the ground, rattling windows and cabinet ornaments as each shadow’s distinct, low throbbing hum of engine noise and clattering track pads approached from the south and passed each house, followed by another and another, and more in a muted roar. The seemingly endless train of unmistakable yet indistinguishable power continued for almost an hour, then relative silence.

The civilians could hear small arms fire coming from distant neighborhoods and the rumble of distant bombardment to the north beyond the town limits. The Mareans were used to thunderstorms and cyclones, even tectonic quakes from time to time. Elders brought their excited youngsters back into their homes, stretched curtains across their broken thresholds and awaited the dawn. Citizens closer to downtown felt the menacing roll and creak of their shelter ceilings, walls and floor from the cracking boom of heavy mortar rounds releasing in the Municipal Zone.

0430-04-03-417CE hrs

3rd Dragoon Regiment cleared the residential and commercial areas of Contagor’e-Mare of Alliance forces and isolated the Municipal Zone. Dragoons had secured the Oliveri River crossings and key road junctions north of the town and the main power plant. 4th Fusilier Bn scouts and Alpha Cohort had linked up with the blocking positions. Both seaports were occupied and cleared. The Regimental aid station was functioning at the aerodrome; there were very few Commonwealth or civilian wounded, but several wounded Alliance prisoners were being treated. PW collection points had been established outside the Lido shipyard and the Colonial Railway marshaling yard on Harames Road near Colonial Route 9. The dragoon and fusilier cohorts in the main body had cleared the town to within two blocks of the Mare General Infirmary and the outer perimeter of Prefect Tegarish’s compound and hotel strongpoint. During the advance through the side streets, three friendly Ultra-Low Frequency IFF transponder signals had been detected by Regimental signals operators at the TOC and their coordinates relayed to the nearest advancing cohort commander. These Centurions quickly re-routed squads to link up with and extract three Recondo operators of the Spetznax Regiment; two more were as yet unaccounted for.

SSG Kanesh and 2nd squad occupied the ground floor of a café/grocery store, with two large apartments on the second floor at the southwest corner of the Trudeau Avenue and Flandia Street intersection, two blocks south of the Grand Boulevard and the Mare General Infirmary. The platoon headquarters, the weapons squad and an imbed journalist occupied the upper floor.

All along their routes north, along the avenue and neighborhood side streets, the liberators and the liberated encountered grisly evidence of the efficiency of Ripper gun-drones. Smashed lorries and utility vehicles, shattered weapons, and equipment littered the streets at odd intervals. They had been moving in different directions when they were attacked and destroyed, an indication of confusion in the small units, scrambling to coalesce first at the aerodrome then trying to reach the Municipal Zone perimeter.

Many vehicles were filled or surrounded with twisted, mangled heaps of bloody
chain-mailed Trinovanteans. Trails of body parts sheathed in mottled patterned green, brown and black stamped, flex Tantoran armor led away from burned out vehicles as Poilus dismounted and ran for their lives only to be cut down by machine guns before getting a few meters. Steaming, broken bodies, small arms and bloody rucksacks sprawled the length of side streets and alleys. Few of the bodies the marines passed through the night were completely intact.

The poor Jodari-Quintonar supply and logistics conscripts wore unarmored woven metal coveralls with constable grade nano-transponders. As they didn’t need mini-breathers or G-pads on Contagor’e, they had half visored helmets. Had the Jodari abandoned their lorries and weapons, the drones may have interpreted their signatures as non-combatants and spared them; but they burned and died horribly with their vehicles.

“You know, I haven’t fired my weapon yet, Sarge,” Trooper Oka remarked as the squad powered down their refraction to conserve batteries.

“No one has, troop, thank Heaven.”

“Yeah, Sarge, I think you owe some Ripper operator a date for taking those guys out in front of us a couple blocks back,” Cpl. Meloni chided.

“I’m gonna have to stand in line,” SSG Kanesh chuckled.

“Sarge, the people downstairs are coming up,” Cpl. Blumoor warned.

0515-04-03-417CE hrs

Colonel Kulari and LTC Mercer joined Geradi at B-6 and together they moved to the café and met Lt. Taka, Sgt. Kanesh and the civilian. The town was calm by dawn. Even the bombardments going into the Municipal Zone slackened.

“He says he’s the leader of the resistance here, Sir. This is Mr. Antonaeus. He says he owns this café and three grocery stores in town.” Geradi briefed his commanders.

“I am in contact with constables in the Prefect’s defenses. I can tell you two of your Recondo scouts are in the infirmary there down the street. There was a POV collision three days ago. One is dead; the other is recovering from surgery.” Code-named Gemini to the resistance, at 123 years old, Cleophous Antonaeus had owned the Mare Gardenia Café for 71 years. Nearly every family in Contagor’e-Mare had savored one of his famous Sabbath brunch specials at least once. Founded by his father and uncle on the site of the traders’ post that his grandfather, an original Contagor’e colonist from Aipian, had built around the artesian well on his property, the Mare Gardenia Café had grown and prospered with the settlement. The artesian well fed his cistern and was redirected when his father was a boy, across Trudeau Avenue to feed the new Founder’s Green fountain.

“Thank you, Mr. Antonaeus, you and your people are going to save a lot of lives today.” Colonel Kulari was truly relieved she could modify her plan for the final assault. More of the Regimental staff including the three Recondos now in BDE and armed were coming up. The café was going to get crowded. RSM Keeler saw the problem and recommended the Colonel remain in the back of the building. With Mercer and Geradi with her, Col Kulari synched her frag order to her other commanders.

“Praetor wants to give Prefect Tegarish one final chance to lay down their arms. If they refuse, I’m going use CD Hampton to take out the hotel. 3-3, you go in at that point and clear the left up Market Street to Founders Road. 2-3, take the right, move north and link up with the blocking positions. 4-3, you go up the middle. Bravo, Mr. Antonaeus insists on accompanying you. Take care of him. John, you have a plan for the hospital and the park?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” LTC Mercer answered as Cleophous began make telecoms on his PT-com.

Across Trudeau Avenue, Founder’s Green’s exposed southern half from East Grand Boulevard across the amphitheater to Central Avenue was a carefully manicured lawn with shade trees sloping downward towards the north to the bottom at the amphitheater and central fountain. The ground further north rose sharply to a wooded ridge topped by Central Avenue. Across Central Avenue lay the Prefect’s residence compound south wall and the Customs House, the Constabulary Headquarters and Communications Center. After Prefect Tegarish’s notorious “Kill me now, Praetor” reply, CD Hampton closed to the base of Aipian-Contagor’e’s thermosphere at 150 kms. Its lower amidships battery locked onto the target acquisition laser feed from MAX 05 holding station, 450 meters above the intersection of Trudeau Avenue and Grand Boulevard.

0644-04-03-417CE hrs

The battery launched a laser-guided round from the starboard gun, followed in quick succession by one round each from the center and port guns. Ripping through the atmosphere at m-10, the starboard gun’s 47.5 cm, delayed action projectile penetrated the northeast corner of the hotel, 0.3 meters above the base of the east exterior wall. The second round bored in true to its mark at the southeast corner. Both released inside and below the ground level at the hotel lower level’s center load-bearing wall. The third round tore into the lower center portion of the east wall just below the second floor and released. The east wall of the hotel cascaded down in a shower of brick, mortar, dust and steel. The interior load bearing walls of the structure collapsed into a 15 meter deep crater created by the combined energy released by the three 47.5 cm rounds in the lower level. The sixth through first floors, and the already wrecked roof with its antenna array and air handling units, succumbed and collapsed downward onto one another, filling the crater and collapsing into a two-story pile with only the lower portions of the southern and western exterior walls partially standing. Dust, smoke, debris and Trinovantean body parts flew across the traffic circle and rained down on the Prefecture grounds. The pressure wave broke half the windows in the settlement, the seismic shock ruptured underground piping. Fissures opened in the ground radiating outward from the ruined building in several directions, severing water mains and rupturing sewer lines along its length across Trudeau Avenue. The entire Municipal Zone disappeared in a vast, instant shroud of dust and vapor and signaled the launch of the ground assault across Founder’s Green and the outer perimeter.

Bravo Cohort’s 1st Platoon approached through the alleys and 3rd platoon moved along the sidewalk followed by Geradi and 2nd squad with Gemini and the Regimental Surgeon, the three Recondos, the medicos and two medevac walkers. Trudeau Ave was shrouded in grey dust mixing with a dense, white, hexacholroethane vapor cloud from the mortars. Ghostly apparitions sprinted through gaps broken through sections in Founder’s Green’s stone and mortar wall along East Grand Boulevard by nearly invisible battle carriers.

Illumined cannon shells from the leading battle carriers spat across the Green and the amphitheater and detonated all along Founder’s Ridge. The whump whump of detonations along the ridge merged with the echoing thud of carriers’ cannon fire and the whine of their high performance electric engines. The ground vibrated and shuddered as the apparition of the squat, armored skirted assault gun rumbled up the avenue and halted. Slightly taller than a tall man, it pivoted on its right track angling its main cannon through the haze in the direction of the Prefecture’s main gate and fired a machine gun burst. A stream of illumines streaked from the bow of the shadowy vehicle through the vapor and disappeared, to be replaced instantly by diffused sparkling explosions as their small explosive rounds shredded the thick ornately decorated wooden gate, the auto-cannon emplaced there and its crew. Tree limbs, dirt and debris briefly spun and tumbled above the settling dust and the rising vapor clouds which were breaking up and made to dance by the SK wobbles from mortar bombs releasing in the wooded Prefecture north up Trudeau across Central Avenue.

Behind the moving wall of the battle-suited 2nd Squad, directly behind his new friends Murphy Kanesh and Ria Meloni, and closely followed by the Regimental Surgeon and the Recondos, the old man was well balanced and moved purposefully at a slight crouch. Recondo Hixson noted the old man moved like a soldier but was having trouble re-plugging the ear-piece attachment that had worked loose from his S/E head cover back to his PT-com. Seeing the man’s predicament, Hixson slung his weapon behind his back, reached forward and lent a hand. Gemini made another telecom as he nodded Hixson’s way in gratitude.

The roar of crashing debris and mortar rounds subsided and was replaced by staggered bursts of automatic weapons fire, the thud-boom of grenade launchers, and auto-cannon as Charlie Cohort fusiliers broke into the Prefecture residence compound and dealt with small groups of die-hards. There then followed a low, chaotic murmur. Fusiliers of 3rd Platoon, searching the Customs House located an entrance to a shelter access tunnel and evacuated 236 Sacorsti civilians including 52 children. 1st Platoon located the entrance to the Prefect’s command bunker in which seventeen bodies were found.

As the noise and rumble of battle died away, civilian volunteers flooded into the streets to clear debris and aid the Infirmary staff. One by one Commonwealth battle carriers, assault guns and individual marines began to materialize, as the word went out over their unit intranets to power down their light refraction.

0715-04-03-417CE hrs

LTC Mercer declared the Municipal Zone and traffic circle secure.

“Delta-6, this is 4-6. I have reports of surviving Legionnaires in the hotel, we’re going to need engineers up here soonest. Be advised we have the Prefect in custody. Over.”

The old man had been right about the rain, as leaden clouds obscured by the darkness, then by the smoke and dust of battle and the hotel’s destruction, let go a cleansing morning shower beginning around 0815 hrs. infinity

Don C. Ciers retired from the US Army as an Infantry Senior Sergeant, after over 20 years as a squad leader and platoon sergeant in mechanized and airborne infantry units. The second edition of the first installment of his science fiction trilogy, “The Enlightenment Protocols—Tales From the Tribes of the Central Metropolitan Region,” was published in November 2012 by Xlibris Publishing.



deep fried