Bush Fires (a Core-verse story)

The first spin-off from The Terra Core (see http://www.movellas.com/en/book/read/201310281154034479-the-terra-core for the details), this story will take a look at the wider universe the Core stories inhabit- and take us into the world of the United Western Alliance military, as they deal with terrorists, insurgents and crumbling regimes.

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5. The Gauntlet

The fleet popped out of hyperspace just under a million kilometres from Free Sirius 3. The green and blue orb that hung in space before them looked picturesque, almost like earth, yet as Sterling looked at it on the monitor she knew there was a bitter civil war raging on the surface, with hundreds of millions of people caught in the middle of it.

One of the sector fleets was to remain here, once the transports had safely landed and over fifteen million soldiers had been deployed. Part of her wanted to detach herself to the fleet staying behind, but she needed flexibility. Hence Hercules would be part of the fleet performing border and escort duty.

She'd hoped to meet with the Army's lead officer for this mission, Lieutenant General Pilkvist, before he set to the surface, but their schedules had permitted only the briefest of video chat. He seemed confident in his people, and had been chosen by General Walters for the mission, but Sterling got the impression he wasn't thrilled at having to patrol such a tinderbox of a planet. She didn't blame him. The ground work was going to be a lot tougher than the space work.

The two hundred and forty ships of war accelerated toward the hornet's nest, and Sterling didn't want to breathe. Her crew (well, Eichel's crew) were silent, the only sound coming from computers that beeped as they relayed information to their stations. Though both USP and ODM forces knew the fleet was coming, Sterling had no idea how they'd react to the presence of an interloping navy.

Thankfully, as they approached the planet, no one seemed inclined to target them, but then, even cursory scans revealed that both potentially hostile fleets were in no position to attack anyway. What ships had remained after the initial rebellion were in various states of disrepair from those early mutinies; USP forces were however slightly greater in number.

"Comms, open a channel. I'd like an open broadcast to all ships and the planet below." Ordered Sterling.

"Aye aye Ma'am." He replied. "Channel open."

"Attention United Sirius Party and Open Doors Movement forces. This is Vice Admiral Louise Sterling of the United Western Alliance Navy. You know why we are here but let me remind you: We are here to keep the peace. We are not here to take sides. We are to ensure the safety of civilians and to make sure aid reaches those who need it. Do not let that make you think you can attack our ships and troops. We won't start a fight but I can promise you we will finish one. Shoot at us and we will defend ourselves with lethal force. That said, it is my hope that we can, in time, bring hostilities between your forces to a close and help you to reach a peaceful solution to this crisis. Rear Admiral Sterling out."

She sat back in her chair, and hoped her message would sink in.

****

"What do you think sir?" Asked Captain Nazim Shadid, formerly of the Free Worlds of Sirius Navy, now a rebel- and a traitor in the eyes of his government.

The state-room of Commodore Aadesh Kumar was opulent. Imported mahogany wood was incorporated into everything. Several bookcases were lined with books on topics as varied as warfare to gardening. The light fixtures resembled mini chandeliers- a throwback to the previous commanding officer of the battleship North Star.

Kumar himself, despite the Indian name, bore a more oriental appearance (the result of mixed parentage), having inherited his mother's face and nose. He had his father's complexion though, and his father's height- at 6,4", he towered over nearly everyone he met, which made him appear intimidating. He was also the most senior officer in the fledgling ODM Navy, but hadn't wanted to take the title of Admiral, or even Rear Admiral. Somehow that hadn't felt right to him.

"I think, that this Admiral Sterling means every word she said, and that the UWA will stick to its role too. This will create problems- but it may yet present opportunities."

"Such as?" Enquired the Captain. Kumar smiled.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend Captain."

****

The battle cruiser Pheonix' Light lingered in the vicinity of Free Sirius 3, as Rear Admiral Thiago Rocha sat alone in his quarters, looking at the monitor whilst digesting the words of Vice Admiral Sterling. His eyes flickered briefly to the picture of his wife and two children, just kids in the picture, though now they were grown men.

The UWA had certainly committed more resources to their task than expected. This would make life difficult- the rebels were gaining territory on the ground and without even the threat of an orbital strike to hold them in place, he doubted that they'd be stopped. It was vital that government forces were reinforced, yet he doubted the UWAN would permit fresh landings.

He rubbed the bridge of his nose and pondered how to turn this development to his advantage. Only one, rather desperate idea came to mind...

****

Free Sirius 3 possessed eight major continents, two large archipelagoes and several strings of smaller islands, with the total landmass covering just over a third of the planet's surface. The majority of the 700 million inhabitants lived in the northern hemisphere, spread across five of the continents, though fair-sized pockets of the population lived elsewhere. The result was a wide area to try and patrol, so the UWAAF had firstly identified the hotspots and would deploy the majority of its forces to those.

The first teams to land were the Marines. They were to patrol the most dangerous of regions, including several of the hotly contested towns and smaller cities near the border between government and rebel territories. For the most part, the towns had been desserted, but the two factions squabbled over them, with mortar fire and gun shots shattering the otherwise creepy silence.

When the Marines first entered the towns, they broadcast a message to anyone and everyone in the city- that food and medical supplies were to be delivered, unhindered, to anyone who needed them. That civilians who wished to flee the fighting were allowed to do so. That both sides abided by the laws of war.

They marched in squads of four, backed up by armed reconnianse drones (small devices not much bigger than a dinner plate, that mounted an array of sensors and twin gun ports) and a handful of tanks that hovered down the streets. Their HUDs displayed to them both information gathered by the drones, and real-time imagery provided by the orbiting ships. Powerful sensors kept watch for any boobytraps, bombs and potential troublemakers.

After the first couple of days, with a small number of civilians trickling out of the cities toward safer harbours, and with aid getting in unimpeded, the Marines began to think their mission might be straightforward. On the third day, that impression was shattered.

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