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Authors: Marko Kloos

Chains of Command

BOOK: Chains of Command
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BY MARKO KLOOS

Frontlines

Terms of Enlistment

Lines of Departure

Angles of Attack

Measures of Absolution
(A Frontlines Kindle novella)

“Lucky Thirteen”
(A Frontlines Kindle short story)

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2016 Marko Kloos

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by 47North, Seattle

www.apub.com

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781503950320

ISBN-10: 1503950328

Cover design by Megan Haggerty

Illustrated by Maciej Rebisz

For Robin: What lucky bastards we are.

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER 1 BOOT

CHAPTER 2 38, SIMULATED

CHAPTER 3 GRADUATION DAY

CHAPTER 4 ABOVE AND BEYOND

CHAPTER 5 FAMILY MATTERS

CHAPTER 6 RANGE IS HOT

CHAPTER 7 INCURSION

CHAPTER 8 GREENLAND

CHAPTER 9 THE FEW THAT REMAIN

CHAPTER 10 CONCESSIONS

CHAPTER 11 RANK BEGINNINGS

CHAPTER 12 TOLEDO TERMINUS

CHAPTER 13 BREAD AND CIRCUSES

CHAPTER 14 ON OUR TERMS

CHAPTER 15 TAKING COMMAND

CHAPTER 16 SPECIAL ASSETS

CHAPTER 17 LEONIDAS

CHAPTER 18 RAID ON THE RELAY STATION

CHAPTER 19 ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES

CHAPTER 20 THE WEIGHT THAT TIPS THE SCALE

CHAPTER 21 INTO THE BLACK

CHAPTER 22 VISUAL CONTACT

CHAPTER 23 SUCKER PUNCH

CHAPTER 24 KICKING OVER THE HORNET’S NEST

CHAPTER 25 FOX AND HOUNDS

CHAPTER 26 GOOD COP, BAD COP

CHAPTER 27 MORE BALLS THAN BRAINS

CHAPTER 28 THE BATTLE OF ARCADIA CITY

CHAPTER 29 AFTERMATH

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

SEMPER FI FUND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

We now call it the Exodus.

One year ago, a Lanky seed ship appeared in Earth’s orbit, humanity’s worst nightmare manifesting in the night sky above the North American continent: immovable object and irresistible force all rolled into a glistening black torpedo shape three kilometers long.

The world’s fleets were down to the dregs then. We lost half the NAC Fleet in the unsuccessful defense of Mars, which the Lankies took a few months before they showed up at Earth for the first time. Most of the rest is still scattered across the settled galaxy, unable to return home because of the Lanky blockade of our Alcubierre nodes. We had very little left on the board, but we stopped the Lanky seed ship and blew it out of space, only the second time in our half-decade war with them we ever managed to kill one of their ships.

But our victory came with a huge bill.

The last-ditch multinational screening force above Earth lost four ships in the battle. Twelve hundred soldiers and sailors, gone in a few moments of furious and mostly one-sided combat. Five of those sailors were on the NACS
Indianapolis
, which won us the battle by ramming the Lanky at fractional c velocity and damaging the seed ship enough for us to take it apart with nukes. The Lanky ship lived long enough to spew out its seedpods all over North America—each with a dozen settler-scouts in it, twenty-five meters tall and as hard to kill as a building. We followed them down to Earth, and we killed the ones that survived their descent, and we lost even more people. Hundreds of soldiers and thousands of civilians died in one night of heavy, desperate fighting, and we reduced entire city blocks to smoking rubble.

But we beat them, and we survived. Earth won a reprieve.

And now we had something new: Lanky bodies, hundreds of them, and dozens of crashed seedpods. Lots of stuff for our scientists to study and dissect. To figure out how they work, how they can be killed. How their ships can be broken.

Just before the Lankies came to Earth last year, the government of the North American Commonwealth evacuated the Solar System in secret. They took with them a dozen first-rate warships, almost twenty bulk freighters, and the Commonwealth’s political and social elite and their families. Nobody knows yet where they went. Fleet rumors say that the Exodus fleet had a secret Alcubierre node to a refuge system prepared long in advance, in anticipation of Earth falling to the Lankies sooner or later. We have electronic intelligence from a cluster of recon buoys Colonel Campbell and
Indianapolis
left when we discovered the secret Exodus staging area just before their hasty departure a year ago. I suppose we need to thank the Lankies for rushing their departure ahead of plan, because they had to leave behind two unfinished warships that are unlike anything any fleet has ever put into space: two heavy battleships, purpose-built for only one job—to close with Lanky seed ships and destroy them.

We spent the last year finishing those battleships and pressing them into service with the hull paint still wet. The Sino-Russians, pragmatic sons of bitches, came up with their own Lanky hammer—orbitally launched antiship missiles, monstrous things with ten-thousand-ton warheads made from a mixture of ice and wood pulp, driven to fractional c velocities in mere minutes via nuclear pulse propulsion. After making new friends on the other side of the fence last year, I am deeply convinced that it must have been a Russian who cooked up the idea of making a pointy block of ice the weight of a heavy cruiser, and then using nukes to propel the thing. It’s crude, dirty, and ugly, but, by God, it works. Two more Lanky ships showed up in the Earth-Luna space in one-month intervals a few months after the Battle of Earth, and the Russians blew both of them out of space with their new Orion missiles without any human losses. The Lankies stopped scouting out Earth then.

Of course, using nuke-propulsion kinetic weaponry capable of wiping out half a continent from Earth orbit was a massive Svalbard Treaty violation, but that sort of thing was really low on everyone’s priority lists when the Lankies showed up again.

The Orion missiles, as effective as they are, have one major operational drawback. They’re too big and heavy to be launched from a starship, so we can’t take them through an Alcubierre node. They share that drawback with the new battleships, which don’t have Alcubierre drives installed yet. So we finally have viable antiship weapons to use against Lanky seed ships, but they’re good only for orbital defense. Mars is still in Lanky hands, and our colonies are still cut off by the Lanky blockade. But we are working around the clock to find a way to take the fight to them for a change. To get revenge for our dead, to reclaim what’s ours, and to kick them out of the Solar System for good. And if we can chase them to whatever system they call home and wipe them out altogether, I wouldn’t lose any sleep at night.

Humanity’s survival is still on the edge of a knife. But we are finally starting to pull on the same end of the rope together, and we are finally killing Lankies in numbers. There’s much work left to do, and I know we will lose more people and ships before it’s all over, but there is finally a glimmer of hope that the world isn’t going to go to shit after all.

Well, at least not any further.

CHAPTER 1

I’m not the kind of soldier who has an office. I’m a combat grunt by occupational specialty, a combat controller, a podhead. Among the first molecules on the very tip of the spear. But for the last six months, I have also been a platoon sergeant for a basic training platoon at North American Commonwealth Recruit Depot Orem, and platoon sergeants get offices, so I have an office. It has a desk in it, and it’s about twice as big as the biggest berth I’ve ever occupied on a warship. The first few weeks after I moved in, I felt like a complete fraud every time I walked in to see my name on the door: PLATOON SGT: SFC GRAYSON.

Platoon sergeants are experienced noncoms. Older men and women. But then I remind myself that I am twenty-seven, with almost seven years of service—over five of them as a noncommissioned officer. In the new NAC Armed Forces, made up of what’s left after the Mars defeat, the Exodus, and the Battle of Earth, that makes me one of the old and experienced NCOs, and that’s a scary fucking thought.

There’s a benefit to the office, though. When I can’t sleep, which is most nights, I have a place to go and keep myself busy without having to stay in my quarters and have my brain dredge up unwanted memories from godforsaken places a few thousand kilometers or a few dozen light-years away. Not even the good pharmaceuticals can eradicate that particular program in my head.

I look up from my network terminal’s holoscreen when I hear footsteps in the hallway outside. The clock on the wall shows 04:14. It’s over forty-five minutes to reveille, and too early for someone else to be awake in this place and walking around in the building with boots on their feet.

A few moments later, Sergeant Simer pokes his head through the open doorway.

“Morning, Sergeant Grayson.”

“Good morning,” I reply. Sergeant Simer is the CQ for the night, the Charge of Quarters NCO manning the little office at the company building’s entrance. It’s a mostly superfluous tradition in the days of neural networks and computerized access, but it’s tradition, and the military has lots of those.

“Real shit sandwich this morning,” Simer says.

“Oh yeah?”

I wave him in, and he steps across the threshold and over to my desk.

“Got a call from the base MP just now.”

“Uh-oh,” I say. “Weekend leave trouble?”

“Bunch of the recruits took the bus into town and hopped a train to Salt Lake on Saturday. They got drunk or baked, one or the other. Chip-jacked a cab, disabled the safety governor, and went for a joyride.”

“Oh, no.”

“Yeah.” Simer makes a pained little grimace before continuing. “Left their travel lane and creamed a hydrobus. Offset crash, one dead, three injured.”

“Shit,” I say. “Any of ours?”

“Two. One from First Squad and one from Fourth. Privates Barden and Perret. Barden’s dead.”

I close my eyes briefly and let out a sigh.

“Dumbshit kids. A week and a half before graduation.”

I recall Private BARDEN, J. from the personnel roster and the sixty or so times the basic training platoon has stood lined up in front of the building for morning orders every weekday since the beginning of boot camp. He wasn’t a PRC kid like most of the recruit pool. I recall that he’s a middle-class ’burber from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Portland or SeaTac, maybe? I know I’ll have to learn everything about Private BARDEN, J. in the next day or two because the platoon leader will have to attend his funeral, and I’ll need to brief him for that.

“Thank you,” I tell Sergeant Simer. “Kick the boots out of bed early today. Reveille at 0445. Might as well give them a hint something’s up. I’ll be down at Orders.”

The platoon is lined up outside in a laser-straight line, sorted by height. Their uniforms are standard NAC battle camo, boots polished to a spit-shine, haircuts short and neat. My three squad leaders, the drill instructors, are standing in front of the assembled platoon at parade rest. When I step out of the building and start walking toward the line, my senior DI snaps to attention.

“Platoon, ten-hut!”

Thirty-four pairs of boot heels pop together, and the recruit platoon snaps to attention as one. I acknowledge the senior DI’s salute and step in front of the assembled platoon.

“At ease.”

There’s a brief shuffling as the recruits assume a slightly more relaxed posture. I look at them without saying anything for a few seconds, to make sure I have everyone’s undivided attention.

“On Friday afternoon, I had thirty-six recruits standing in front of me. Today, I only have thirty-four. I also have one recruit in the intensive care ward at Salt Lake, and one on a slab in the morgue. Recruit Barden was killed over the weekend in an accident. He got zoned and overestimated his driving skills with a jacked vehicle.”

There’s no noise in the ranks—after eleven weeks of Basic, they know not to make a sound at Orders unless told to sound off—but some of the recruits are trading looks, and most of them seem appropriately shocked by the news.

I pause briefly again to let the news sink in properly.

“This is the new Basic training,” I continue. “When I stood where you all are standing right now, the whole platoon slept in a big room. Thirty-six beds and lockers, two rows of eighteen. Six and a half days of training every week, and half a day of downtime. No leaves until graduation. You all know the horror stories from the old-timers.”

Some of the recruits smile or grin at this, but they quickly drop back to a neutral expression when they see that I wasn’t setting up a joke.

“Now we train you in squads and fire teams. You get to share a berth with your team, two berths per squad. Four recruits per room. We train you that way because that’s how you get to live and work in the Fleet or the Spaceborne Infantry, and we have no time to waste in getting you prepared for duty. You even get weekend leave. And most of you know not to abuse that privilege. Most of you.”

I fold my hands behind my back and start walking down the line of recruits slowly. They look so young to me, even though most are in their late teens and early twenties and only half a decade younger than I am. But the half decade between us seems like an eternity from where I am standing right now.

“I’m not pissed off because privates Barden and Perret wanted to let off some steam and have fun in town. I’m pissed off because they chose to be stupid about it. I’m pissed off because Private Barden got himself killed a week and a half before he had a chance to pay back the Commonwealth for the time and resources we spent on his training. I’m pissed off because now we will be two heads short next week when we send you all off to the Fleet or the SI, and four slots that desperately needed to be filled will now go unfilled.”

I’m talking in my drill instructor voice and cadence, which I didn’t know I possessed until I started my platoon leader rotation at NACRD Orem six months ago. I find that whenever I need that particular voice, all I have to do is channel Sergeant Burke, my own senior drill instructor, whose clipped drawl is still as fresh in my memory as if I had left boot camp last week.

“I know what most of you are thinking,” I continue. “You’ve been around the block in the PRCs, and you think you can handle your shit in the big bad world out there. You think you’re smart and tough. You think that dying is for other people. But I’m here to tell you that there are a lot of ways to die out there past those gates. And if you have to kick the bucket, I’d much rather see you go out holding a gun and manning a line against a Lanky advance than braining yourself on a hydrobus bumper while zoned. There are good ways to go and bad ways, and a dumbshit traffic accident just before graduating boot camp is a very fucking bad way.”

They all look at me, those young and earnest faces. Quite a few still have that welfare-rat attitude in their expressions, that cocky little streak of defiance that was a survival skill for them in the warrens of the inner cities. But whatever else they are, and whatever thoughts swirl around in those heads right now, they volunteered to be here, to join the thin green line that stands between us and extermination.

“Here’s the deal,” I say. “Leave is restricted from now until graduation day. You can stay on base or go into town, but you are barred from leaving Orem. And we’re having a mandatory chem scan this morning. Anyone with illegal jack in their systems is going to get a bad-conduct discharge and a maglev ride home. Are we clear, platoon?”

“Sir, yes sir!” the thirty-odd members of Basic Training Platoon 1526 bellow in unison. If nothing else, they’ve learned to stand straight and sound off at top volume.

“I can’t hear you,” I shout back, even though their combined volume rattled the polyplast windowpane five meters behind me, because that’s the sort of thing we do. Establish rituals, hammer them home, drill them to be executed until they become second nature.

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Better,” I say. Then I check the chrono on my left wrist.

“It’s field day,” I announce. “The buses will be in front of the block at 0800 sharp. You will all be geared up precisely according to the checklist. This is the last one of these you’ll get to do before graduation. If you graduate. The next time they call you out in combat gear, it may well be for real combat, so keep that in mind. The crucible is a bitch, but it’s nothing compared to what you’ll see out on a real battlefield, believe me.”

I turn to the drill instructors, who are at parade rest to my right and slightly behind me.

“Drill sergeants, take charge of your squads. Chow, then armor up. Weapons issue at 0700. Be ready for dustoff at 0750, including gear checks. Execute.”

I walk back into the building as my three drill instructors take over their charges. They’ll march the squads back up to the platoon quarters and light a fire under their asses, to simulate having to get ready for combat quickly and under stress. The platoon will spend the last week before the final graduation exercise out on the huge exercise area in the desert surrounding NACRD Orem, simulating an extended engagement against a Lanky landing. Much of our training has been focused on killing Lankies instead of other humans, and I can’t say that I dislike this shift in priorities.

I go back to the office and sit down at my desk. Then I pull up the personnel file of recruit BARDEN, J. and look at his picture. He was a cocky kid. Thought he was smarter than everyone else by half, and had a knack for tiptoeing the line with the drill sergeants. In the old NAC boot camp, he would have been sent packing after week two at the latest. But as I told the recruits just now—this is the new Basic training. We can’t afford to be ruthlessly selective anymore, at least not in the capricious manner of the old boot camp, where the drill instructors could wash you out for any trivial reason, or no reason at all. But I look at the holoshot of Private BARDEN, J. and find myself thinking that he would still be alive if we still ran Basic like we used to.

BOOK: Chains of Command
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