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.


2. The Tipping Point

Things on Free Sirius 3 were reaching fever pitch. Protesters had taken over several government offices around the planet and the police were overwhelmed by their sheer numbers. Violent clashes had broken out where the authorities had used stun guns, then stun grenades, and even good old fashioned water cannons to control and contain the protesters. Armed forces were taking to the streets to enforce martial law; the sight of soldiers in their armour, holding their rifles was an intimidating one.

Yet the hardline elements within the ODM were using this latest gesture as further proof of the ruling USP's desire to crush freedom of speech and the rights of the average citizen. 'Force'... they said. 'Had to be met with force'.

They also appealed to the average soldier to think of their own futures. Did they want to be a part of a regime that was basically a dictatorship? Or did they want real freedom? Did they want to be involved in war crimes- or prevent them?

This message was broadcast on a near-daily basis, even as police and army personnel carried out door-to-door searches for any ODM members or sympathisers.

Then, finally, things came to a head.

In the town squares and main streets of Jamesville, Free Sirius 3's capital city, over half a million protesters defied curfews and martial law to stage a sit-in. They unfurled anti-government banners and placards, and chanted popular ODM slogans. Despite warnings to move on, they held firm.

Their numbers began to grow. They promised no movement, no willingness to leave until USP officials enacted significant changes to the local constitutions and policies. Over three days, their numbers swelled to nearly one and half million strong.

The USP was stubborn. Despite seeing that control of Free Sirius 3 was slipping away from them, they refused to even speak to the protesters. They repeated that they had to disperse or there would be consequences. A deadline of two days to leave was set up.

The next day, the protesters numbered two million.

The day after, just over 2.25 million people were believed to be present in the streets. Such was the scale of the throng that many local bus and train routes had been shut down and people hoping to go to work had to give up. By now, productivity was suffering. Tempers were fraying.

At the end of the fifth straight day of the sit-in, the police and army moved to remove them.

Stun guns and grenades were used first. Angered at the move, protesters set fire to cars and vehicles as they attempted to form barricades. They hurled rocks and bricks and bits of glass at the authorities and broke into shops to find anything that could be used to defend themselves with.

And hidden within the crowds, hardline ODM activists saw the chance to truly begin their revolution.

Several pulled out guns from their coats and opened fire at the police and soldiers. They killed several officers, and wounded several more before they could return fire.

But when they did, they responded furiously.

Scores of peaceful protesters died that day. The news feeds beamed images (via ODM activists) showing the bloody slaughter of the innocent. It wasn't long before the planet erupted. All across the entire world ordinary citizens rose up against the USP.

For the Army and Navy personnel, things were difficult. They had their orders, orders that senior officers were determined to carry out. 'We'll crush those bastards', was the typical company line.

Yet no one had signed up to the military to kill their own, regardless of why.

When the orbiting ships were ordered to deploy their forces to crush the protesters, a new struggle began. Some crews obeyed without question, too afraid of reprisals. Others, without family ties to concern them, refused to take part in what they felt were illegal orders. Mutiny became a serious problem within the small fleet.

Several ships did land and deployed troops to aid the government. A few landed to aid the growing rebellion. A couple were destroyed- blown up by captains who refused to surrender their ships to traitors.

Full-blown civil war had begun.

This had never been part of the ODM's agenda yet their movement had been co-opted by radical yet charismatic speakers who had succeeded in enraging the public to such a degree that many clamoured to join the rebellion. Police stations were ransacked for weapons and equipment as loyal army units began to close in on rebel hotspots. Rebel army units were much fewer in number and had to be careful about exposing themselves.

City streets became battlefields and the smaller towns were emptied as innocent bystanders who fled the fighting. Government tanks and gunships pounded known rebel fortifications and the rebels, despite enjoying greater numbers, soon realised that with barely any military hardware they would have to resort to a war of attrition. They booby-trapped houses and buildings, planted bombs at road-sides, and filled cars with fuel and grenades before remotely piloting them at enemy positions.

Collateral damage was high. Neither side was doing as much as it could to avoid civilian casualties, and the daily routine had ground to a halt.

A refuge situation was brewing. Hundreds of thousands of people who were in a position to buy a place on the few remaining transports, or lucky enough to own a personal transport, were fleeing the planet. Some headed for Free Sirius 1 or 2. Others fled the FWS altogether.

They headed for UWA territory, banking on the UWA's kindness. Amongst them were moderate ODM representatives hoping to get help for the beleaguered citizens of Free Sirius 3. The situation was desperate and they needed aid.


"What do you think Charlie?" Admiral of the Fleet John Cooke, the most senior figure in the UWAN, asked from behind his genuine oak wood desk. He looked up at General Charlie Walters, the chief of the UWAAF, who looked pensive sitting at the other side of the desk.

"You just know what the politicians will say. We have to help protect the poor innocent souls that are suffering and dying on Free Sirius 3. I sympathise- I really do- the fanatics within the ODM aren't taking care to limit civilian deaths and the USP isn't doing a great deal to avoid them either- but I am not thrilled at putting my people between the two of them. The ODM will expect us to help fight and the USP will resent our presence in what they feel is an internal dispute. It's ugly down there and it will get uglier if we join in."

"I think you just read my mind." Said Cooke. He leaned forward and cupped his hands, worry creasing his face.

At 52, Admiral John Cooke was the youngest man to ever hold the position of Chief Naval Officer. The stress of the job had taken its toll down the years- his hair had thinned and many sleepless nights had left permanent bags under his eyes- but those eyes, a deep brown, held a keen strategic and tactical mind. He'd won many skirmishes, including several where retreat would have surely been a better option, but he knew when to fight and when to withdraw.

The politics of the job were something he tolerated and was reasonably good at, though he didn't always toe the line. 'My first responsibility is to the safety of my people', he would say. 'and the defence of the UWA'.

Charlie Walters, at 66, was more typical of the age a man in his position usually reached before climbing to the highest rung of the ladder. Whereas Cooke had expanded somewhat over the years, Walters often looked thin and gaunt. Like Cooke, sleep often eluded him and his hair had gone completely grey. Like Cooke, he had a sharp military mind- and he hated the politics even more.

"I suppose we should make an appearance at the White House." Muttered Cooke.

"Yes, I suppose we should." Replied Walters. The pair stood, and Cooke arched a brow at Walters.

"You're not going to change?"

Walters grinned. "Not a chance." Walters took great delight in showing up at the White House in his green camouflage fatigues, rather than in dress uniform. He knew of the current administration's general disdain for the military and took every opportunity to remind them that he was, straight up, a military man.

Cooke was looking immaculate in his cream and gold dress uniform, complete with gold buttons and even white gloves. The contrast between the two men could not have been greater- yet their friendship was a strong one.

When they got outside the Pentagon, a cold November chill hit them, but thankfully the car was waiting right by the exit, and the heating was on full. They traveled the short distance in relative comfort, landing at the back of the White House, and prepared for an... interesting discussion.

A pair of Secret Service agents met their car and then escorted them into the back entrance. Before long they were walking down the corridors of the most important building in the UWA, and toward the most important room- the Oval Office.

An agent opened the doors and admitted the pair into the office. Waiting for them were three of the most powerful people in the UWA.

Defence Secretary Amy Vincent, looking tired from her hasty journey to work from Australia (where the hour of the day was very different), looked up from the sofa and stopped shuffling data pads around. She offered up warm smiles for the two men. At least she was reasonable.

Cooke often ribbed Walters about Mrs Vincent. She was certainly not unattractive, and the button shirt-blouse combo was one that always worked. Not a single brown hair on her head was ever out of place, no matter what, and she never seemed to get angry. She was always calm, and measured, and an important ally to have.

Vice-President Lemaire was a different matter. Though born and raised in Calis, France, he had moved to Washington to further his political career and now held one of the most important roles in the government. Jowly-faced, always looking haggard, he was often irritable, especially with military officials. It didn't help that Cooke and Walters were both English.

Then there was the big man himself, the Commander in Chief.

President Bazzoli was only the third Italian to hold the office of President in the history of the UWA. A tall man, a pale man, despite his heritage, and certainly a cunning man, he stood with Lemaire at his desk, only briefly looking up from his computer terminal when Cooke and Walters entered.

"Good evening gentlemen." He said, still paying more attention to the computer on his desk.

"Good evening Mr President, Mr Vice-President, Madam Defence Secretary." The two replied. Walters was sure Lemaire was sneaking dirty looks at him. Clearly, donning his fatigues was having the desired effect.

"Please, have a seat. Any tea, coffee?"

"No thank you Mr President." Replied Cooke.

"None for me Mr President." Added Walters.

"Very well. Lets get down to it." He looked up, then shot a glance at Lemaire, who joined Cooke and Walters as they too took to the couch.

Bazzoli sat down, and for a moment appeared deep in thought. When he spoke, it was clearly a well-constructed sentence.

"As you are all aware, things on our border with the Free Worlds of Sirius are becoming difficult. The situation on Free Sirius 3 is descending in a bloody civil war, and many thousands of refuges are flooding across the border and seeking safety on our words. With this, is the potential for rival factions within those fleeing to take their fight to our territory. This, clearly, is unacceptable, for it will place UWA citizens at risk." He paused for a moment, brushing away an unruly lock of black hair. "Furthermore, we cannot permit a huge humanitarian crisis to erupt on our doorstep. There are disturbing reports coming to us that both USP and ODM forces have at the very least been negligent about avoiding civilian casualties, and the planet's civil services have broken down. This, naturally, is causing chaos."

Bazzoli looked at the others. "I do not like using force. It is a last resort, a desperate measure, but in this instance we need to act. I am proposing to send in a force of peacekeepers, to patrol the cities and towns of Free Sirius 3 and ensure that civilians are not targeted by either side. Assistance in the form of food and medical supplies will be made available and no one will be permitted to prevent it from being distributed. A Naval blockade will prevent either side from gathering more arms to inflict yet more death, and we shall be applying the strongest diplomatic pressure to bring both sides to the table."

So far it all sounded reasonable to Cooke and Walters. They both expected a sting in the tale though.

"Admiral Cooke, General Walters, what I need from you are action plans. I need an idea of the numbers and nature of the forces you feel most appropriate for this mission." Bazzoli fixed beady blue eyes upon them.

The two exchanged a quick look, and Walters nodded slightly. Admiral Cooke stood.

"Mr President, Mr Vice-President, Madam Secretary, having studied this matter to a fair level of detail, my initial proposal for the Navy would be to deploy a minimum of two sector fleets. Ideally, I'd like to deploy three, perhaps even four, to ensure a successful blockade of the FWS. That way, we can not only protect our borders from smugglers trying to arm either side, but also directly blockade Free Sirius 3 as well. Both sides currently possess armed ships in orbit that, thankfully, would cause far too much damage to their own forces if used to bombard the planet. Since we cannot guarantee this situation will remain the case, I would position our forces between them to deny that temptation."

"Why not just go with two fleets?" Asked Lemaire, with something of a huff.

"Because sir, going in with the bare minimum, whilst possible, will also stretch our forces. If someone makes a serious effort to run the blockade, or decides to pull the trigger on orbital bombardment, with all the horror that will entail, it will that much more difficult to prevent it with just two fleets. A third, and even a fourth, gives us more options, and in the event either faction decides to take shots at us, we will be better equipped to defend ourselves. In fact, greater numbers would make it far less likely that either side would be so foolish." Cooke tried not to sound condescending but he didn't try too hard. Lemaire looked annoyed but there wasn't any flaw in Cooke's argument. Not that stopped Lemaire from trying.

"Do you think there's a real possibility of either side shooting at us Admiral? They would have to realise how incredibly stupid that would be."

"Oh it would most definitely be stupid Mr Vice-President..." Cooke began. "But in the heat of the moment, if passions are running high, there is every chance that someone might decide to take matters into their own hands and press the button."

Lemaire did not look pleased but Bazzoli appeared satisfied so far.

"I will need to discuss your plans with the Vice-President and Mrs Vincent, but so far your plan sounds reasonable. Do you have anything to add Admiral?"

"Not at this time Mr President." Replied Cooke politely.

"Very good. General Walters, what plans do you have to ensure peace on the ground?"

Walters stood as Cooke sat. He could feel the eyes of Lemaire burning into his back.

"Mr President, my own plans echo my colleague's. The best way to ensure the safety of civilians is to have a visible presence that also acts as a deterrent against any hasty action on the part of either side. I propose a force of ten million soldiers, backed up by tanks, gunships and, at the discretion of Admiral Cooke, a reasonable detachment of Marines."

Lemaire blanched. Bazzoli looked perplexed, and Mrs Vincent... smiled slightly.

"Ten million soldiers? That is preposterous..." Lemaire began, but Walters, in typical no-nonsense fashion, wasn't even going to hear him out.

"No, it is in fact the bare minimum. Sir. We are going to be landing forces on a planet of over 700 million people. There are many cities and towns that require a military presence. If we go in with any less we will not be able to ensure the protection of our own people and certainly not the defence of innocent bystanders. As with the naval situation, we need to be in a position of enough strength to deter would-be attackers before it ever gets that far. Unless we are in fact to risk the lives of our troops..." Walters let the thought trail off. Lemaire stewed.

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