When The Winged Hussars Arrived (pt. 1)
I heard a song with a title similar to this story's and felt inspired. This is the result. If you guys like it, I will post the second part:
“This… Can’t be. Can it? A colony world… Invaded?” By what, Governor Wójcik couldn’t bring himself to speak aloud.
The concept was laughably insane. Not even worth considering, it was so impossible. Humans had spent centuries spreading across an eighth of the galaxy with no signs of other intelligent life. He was more willing to believe these were just a bunch of pirates raiding in costume than what this report claimed.
He scrolled through the document on his tablet with a thumb, his free hand drumming on the polished oak conference-room table. He glanced around the room at his world’s various agency heads. Most played games or checked social media on their phones.
Except for the one in the back, the few who bothered to make eye contact with him just shrugged in response to his question.
His Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional services, Michael Nowak, an old artificial, spoke first. At least he seemed to be taking the idea of ‘aliens’ slightly seriously. He didn’t know if that raised or lowered the man’s esteem in his eyes.
“I don’t know…” Nowak said, “It might be completely fake, though it’s probably some kind of training exercise. We got the text portion of a this ‘scenario’ on quantum relay, but the actual training documents will be couriered with those military transports. Or… It might be real. Hmm. In any event, we should probably respond as if it were genuine.”
“Okay, maybe, but how do we even go about doing that much?” the governor asked, looking around the table again, “They’re looking to us to help provide a military intervention… Our law enforcement- even if we called on the Internal Security Agency office- wouldn’t be of much use in this situation, correct? What could they do, march up, hope they don’t get shot to pieces, and stun these things to death? There isn’t a real gun anywhere on our planet.”
“The farmers are allowed to hunt with muskets,” the secretary of agriculture, a middle-age natural woman, offered. “We could collect a few.”
The governor set his tablet down and steepled his fingers. “But if this is just a drill- and we all know it’s either that or a hoax- then does it even matter?” he asked.
Secretary Nowak cocked an eyebrow as a broad smile split his face. “Sending a bunch police and agents along with a few borrowed muzzle-loaded reaction-rifles?” he asked, “It’s almost worth it just to see the Americans’ faces.”
“I’ll get some people moving on the musket issue,” the governor’s aide said. A combination of good looks and being just at the right age meant that anyone might be forgiven for confusing the young man for an artificial, though he was as natural as any birthed human. “I’ll notify them to assemble a company’s worth-”
“Almost worth it,” the governor interrupted, “If this is a drill, then I fail to see the training benefit for law enforcement and the overtime costs will be horrendous. And God forbid we have a crime wave with most of our cops offworld. And if it’s real, well, who would want to throw anyone into a grinder like this? There are still a few real military units left in the known galaxy, both active and reserve. This is their business.”
A tablet slapped hard against table as its owner casually tossed it aside. The governor’s staff turned to the source of the noise then back to the governor just as quickly, ignoring the outburst.
It had come from an ancient looking man with obsidian and chrome eyes and a handlebar mustache, giving his best scowl from the back of the room. That would have been Major General Aleksander Kozłowski, a man old enough, and scarred enough, to have been present at no small number of battles in the last galactic war. That he still kept his synthetic eyes when he could have long since regrown his biological ones spoke to a paranoia that those around him barely tolerated. While he was still serving, he was fond to say, he would be prepared for battle.
“So what do we tell the Americans?” a woman to the governor’s right asked. She held a position in the colony’s emergency management agency. “They’re still enroute.”
“Tell them we’re sorry, but we won’t be providing any assistance,” the governor replied.
“Wait,” a booming voice demanded from the back, “there is another way.”
All eyes in the room turned back to Major General Kozłowski, commander of the Planetary Guard. If those role-players could be called such. Most people, save his own Soldiers, payed the man as little mind as possible. Despite that, he had an air about him that called one to attention whenever he spoke. The room remained silent in deference to the old Soldier’s long service history and sheer presence, rather than anything useful that might come from out of his mouth.
“Oh? Even if there is, it hardly matters,” said Nowak, “We don’t have the money to indulge the Americans in their war games.”
“We have a battalion already training this weekend,” growled the general, “It’s short notice, but I think they would very much enjoy the training provided by these wargames… Flying with the Nightstalkers, on their own dime? This is a very good opportunity for our men and women indeed.”
“It wouldn’t cost any overtime…” said the comptroller, an older woman. “The federal government pays for their training.”
“And there’s no way this wargame will take more than a few days,” added Kozłowski.
“Hmm… Alright, General, have your battalion ready,” said the governor with a chuckle, “We’ll give you access to the information they provided for this little game of theirs. They’ll be here soon. But please, pretend that whatever crazy scenario the Yankees have cooked up is legitimate. They get awfully testy when we don’t take them seriously.”
“Of course, Governor,” the general called from over his shoulder, already on his way through the door.
An earthquake in staccato shook Captain Frederick Sauer’s world for the third time in half an hour. It had been like that for the better part of a week. No sleep. No concentration. No peace. An odd sort of torture; waiting for the next burst, the anticipation so much worse than the action. It drove good men and women crazy, slowly.
They would need not worry about that after another few days. Those earth-shaking planetary defense guns would run dry long before either he, his Soldiers of the 15th Feldjäger Company, or the civilians they were charged to protect were driven anywhere close to madness.
He closed his eyes, rubbing them deeply with the back of one hand as he lowered his binoculars. Capping the lenses, he turned his attention from the enemy positions far beyond the ramparts of the city and towards his young executive officer, Lieutenant Karolina Wolff. She was a petite blonde young woman, an artificial, with blue eyes, long hair struggling to free itself of its tight bun, and typically flawless complexion. Like the rest of them, her cloth formal uniform had been stained and wrinkled from constant daily wear.
A moments consideration and he noticed something very wrong with the young woman. Something that he had never seen in person before, until recently. Something he had forgotten was even possible, until it had all started a handful of days ago. He felt his heart sink.
“Karolina, you’re hurt…”
Her right hand, which she had seemed to be in the process of using to reach out to get his attention, simply wasn’t there. In it’s place, a mass of bandages wrapped tightly around a stump, her bright red conductive oil leaking through. It had been vaporised by a blast from the enemy’s high intensity light weapons, no doubt. Even a natural like him would need days to regrow something that just wasn’t there, but her… It made him sick to his stomach to look at.
He ground his teeth at the shameful thought. His discomfort amounted to nothing next to what she must be going through. They would get her a new hand when they survived this. If they survived this. He pulled his attention from the girl’s stump, forcing himself to stare her dead in the eyes.
“The bleeding,” he said, “Is it under control?” There. Now he felt a little more like the leader he pretended to be.
“Yes, Sir, it’s… I’ll be fine.” She shuddered. “I was at the south wall when they tried to breach this morning. They got me in the only part I left exposed. I was… Shooting at them.”
“With your stun gun? Why?” He felt genuinely upset at the madness that must have possessed the imbecilic girl and lead to her wounding. “I can’t believe you… No one told me you were among the casualties.”
“I’m sorry, Sir, it’s the only thing we- the only thing I had to fight back with,” she said, cradling her remaining forearm. “It worked. And I can still fight. I’m not as good with my left hand, but since my gun ended up like my hand, I guess it doesn’t matter much anymore.”
His orders had been clear. They were in no position to directly repel any enemy offensive. They would let the wall and their limited supply of drones handle the the ground defense. Anything in air or space, the newly awakened planetary guns would handle. He and his Soldiers were only to provide reconnaissance and direction to the drones. Doing anything more- even in the face of a breach in the wall- was suicide.
He felt torn between criticising the young lieutenant for putting herself at such an awful risk and praising her for a job well done. The wall had held, and she might actually done some good.
“Did you get any?”
He should not have asked that. The range on their stun guns were pathetic. Five meters at best.
“A couple,” she said, half a smirk cracking her dour expression, “Three maybe. I think the stunner gives them a heart attack. They didn’t get back up after I shot them. Their bodies are still at the south wall, last I looked.”
He wanted to smile, to hug the girl. He simply nodded. “Good to know. Spread the word to the platoon leaders, but no heroics. Emergency use only to prevent breaches.”
“What did you want me for, Karolina?” he asked, once she had finished typing out his message, “I take it this is not an emergency?”
The automatic aerospace defense guns fired again, hammering a series of rounds deep into the sky. They saw the flashes first, then felt the ground shake, and were finally treated to the deep brrrrrrrrrrt of forty-thousand rounds a minute of magnetically accelerated ultra-velocity projectiles. They travelled so quickly that the slugs’ outer skin burned off, flashing instantly into plasma along with all the atmosphere surrounding its firing ‘arc’. It looked for all the galaxy like the energy weapons the enemy used- a brilliant flash, a line of pure light, instantly appearing between the muzzle of the guns and the obliterated target, only to vanish just as suddenly- but it wasn’t anything like what they had.
There were only a couple of dozen of the guns ringing the planet, fully automated relics of an era long gone, each pressed into service for the first time in their long history with only a few hundred thousand rounds each.
They were devastatingly effective. They had been activated just after the first wave of ‘visitors’ made landfall on their home, the German colony world of Martens, and had kept the skies and space clear of all enemy craft and satellites since. That had been almost a week ago. Even firing only in bursts of less than a second each, most of the weapons would be depleted of ammunition within a few days.
As soon as the echo of the guns quited enough to think, Lieutenant Wolff said, “No emergency. We got word from division at Fort Pershing. The one-sixtieth soar is enroute. ETA twenty hours.”
His heart skipped a beat. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, or Nightstalkers as they were known, had a centuries old lineage, a reputation for being the most skilled, daring, and ruthless aviators the Army could produce, and were one of the very few active units left in the galaxy- the Human galaxy, he corrected himself- and they were now on their way to save the day. They just might survive this after all.
“There’s just one issue, Sir.”
He did not like the sound of that. “Yes?”
“The first ones to get here will be unarmed. They’re two heavy assault companies that happened to be out getting flight time near to us, relatively speaking. They’re coming… To… Conduct an evacuation…” she finished with a sigh.
Again, his heart sank. That wasn’t good. It was a death sentence for himself and his Soldiers. They were part time military police, over century of peace forging that corps into far more the latter than the former. Still though, they would do their best. And if it meant helping a good portion of the civilian populace of Martens to safety, it would be worth it.
“How much longer until the rest of the 160th, or anyone else for that matter, arrive to evac the rest of us, or help fight these creatures?” he asked.
“Frederick, the… The bulk of the 160th is five days out. The New Nippon Aerospace Planetary Guard scrambled it’s transportation wing…” She began to choke up, stuttering. Her tone struggled to remain even. “They’ll be here in about a week with some Rangers from their light infantry battalion. And the second carrier strike group is on its way from Terra with the First Marine Expeditionary. Two weeks out, best speed.”
He clenched his teeth as he looked into her piercing blue eyes, glassed over now, almost ready to let loose a torrent of tears. He couldn’t blame her. He felt the same. She was a smart girl. She could figure their chances of making it out of this alive just as well as he could.
When the time came, he would give the order to screen the evacuation of the civilians onto the 160th’s assault craft. When they were done, or had evacuated as much as safely possible, he would give the order to retreat, to abandon the city. Artificial civilians first, escorted by the artificials among his Feldjägers, then the natural civilians, and finally his naturals, to include himself. If the people of Marten needed to survive in the wilderness beyond the city’s ramparts for any length of time, an injury could be fatal to an artificial if not repaired. To a natural, anything that didn’t kill them would be an inconvenience at worst.
He closed his eyes, breathed deeply for a moment, then let a quiet sigh ease from his chest. Opening his eyes, he looked at the world anew, with a kind of peace that only final resignation could bring.
“Let the civilian law enforcement know that we will be evacuating in twenty hours time,” he said. “No one brings a thing. Nothing. No family heirlooms, priceless whatsits, or even pets. Send one of our NCOs who knows what he’s doing to go with them to prepare an LZ. Hospital is a good choice for the wounded, but we’ll need another for everyone else.”
“Understood, Sir. There’s…” Some of the pep had come back into her voice. She bit her lip as her eyes flickered around, settling on the ground between them. “There’s one other thing.”
He could hear the snarling of those creatures in the distance. Cracks and pops sounded far away as their energy weapons superheated the air. They were shooting into the sky at nothing in particular, riling themselves up for another push against the wall. Maybe from the east this time.
“I don’t want to get your hopes up.”
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” he said wryly. He immediately wished he hadn’t said that. It was wise to always leave one’s subordinate with hope, no matter the circumstances. “Just kidding, Karolina. We might lose this city, but we’ll get through this, and be back to push these things back to wherever the came from. What’s up?”
“The Americans did pick up some reinforcements on the way. Sort of. Between their training area and Martens is an old Polish colony world; Rajskie-Twierdza. They’re sending what they can.” She seemed dismissive.
“What does that mean?” he asked. Hell, anything would help. That she did not want to say meant he was expecting animal control to come riding in on a herd of retrievers at this point. Even that wouldn’t have been terrible.
“The only military units they have on that planet are ceremonial.”
Dear God in heaven, they couldn’t have been serious. At least a pack of golden retrievers could bite. Instead they were getting some Polish equivalent of the Wachbataillon or The Old Guard.
“What… What are they sending?” he asked, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“The First Winged Hussars.”