Back | Next


An Amphibious Attack
on Baden-Baden Island

Rail guns and X-ray lasers being what they are, military doctrine is that if you can see it, you can kill it. If they can see you, you are dead.

The art of war has become the art of not being seen.

Thus it was that I was in my tank, crawling along the bottom of the ocean, leading three squads of the Kashubian Expeditionary Forces against the invaders from Earth. They had picked the most isolated spot on the planet for their beachhead, a group of six uninhabited islands under the jurisdiction of the smallest nation on New Yugoslavia, the German Enclave.

New Yugoslavia's turbulent seas protected us from both enemy sonar and almost everything in the electromagnetic spectrum. Oh, a deep scan radar might have found us, if it was looking down from low orbit, but rail guns from both sides had taken out everything in orbit long ago.

Anyone using a high flying aircraft in wartime is simply suicidal.

We had been down here for seven of the planet's short, twenty-hour days, and we had been having a fine enough time of it. The fiber optic communication cables we trailed behind us were finer than a human hair, and needed constant patching in these seas. We had lost contact with our main forces three hours after we left, as expected, but we were in touch with each other. Keeping us connected was the job of three semisentient aquatic drones, and not my worry. Connected, we had the bandwidth we needed to live together in Dream World, a sort of virtual reality.

Since all of our tanks had the diamond semiconductor upgrade, they could keep us in Dream World at thirty times normal speed. To us, the week had seemed like almost six standard months. Having one's lifespan effectively expanded by a factor of thirty was one of the fringe benefits of the job.

A dozen of my people had been raw recruits when we started, and this gave them the time they needed to get through basic training, and then to see a good deal of simulated combat.

Of course, they weren't told that it was simulated. Dream World was convincing enough to make them think that they were really fighting, and that their friends were dying around them. It was rough on them psychologically, but it let us turn out seasoned troops without having to kill any of them.

After all, they did it to me, and I turned out okay.

I spent most of my time at the University of Oxbridge, working on my B.S. in Agriculture. I already had a Bachelors degree in engineering and a Ph.D. in Military Science, but I also had a major tract of land on New Yugoslavia, and when this war was over, I wanted to be able to manage it properly.

My wife, Kasia, was in her own tank, a hundred meters to my left. She was studying economics, and fuming about not being able to keep in touch with what her stocks were doing on the market. She'd made a fortune at it during our last leave.

One of my subordinate squad leaders, Mirko, spent his spare time in Dream World, working his small farm with two draft horses, the same thing he had just done in the flesh during his last leave. An odd fellow, but a good man to have on your side when things got complicated. He had a knack for asking the right simple question which then made everything else fall into place.

The other squad leader, Lloyd Tomlinson, was also attending the university, working on his law degree, and dating half the girls in the local town.

Maria and Conan seemed to be spending most of their spare time in the sack together. They said that they were too much in love to risk spoiling it by getting married.

Quincy and Zuzanna had been comfortably married for fifty years. He spent much of his time teaching the martial arts and The Way Of The Warrior to the recruits, and anybody else who was interested, including me. Zuzanna usually lived in a sort of pseudo-medieval world filled with castles, knights and dragons, where magic worked and she was a great warlock.

Dream World could be pretty much whatever you wanted it to be, provided you obeyed orders.

We old hands got together fairly often, socially, and when we did, the intelligent computers in our tanks were always invited. Mine was named Agnieshka. She was a beautiful woman in Dream World, and a good friend of my wife. Kasia's tank was Eva, a slender Irish girl with huge green eyes. She was equipped with a rail gun for this mission, rather than her usual X-ray laser. When their training schedules permitted, the recruits and their tanks were invited along as well.

Of course, I saw to it that we spent enough time preparing for the upcoming battle, and making sure that everyone knew what our objectives were. They all knew precisely what to do, for at least the first few seconds, at which time I privately expected the battle plan to go west.

They always do.

After that, well, you improvise a lot.

We were now five kilometers from shore, three hundred meters below the surface, nicely lined up, and at a dead stop.

The general rules also state that when you can no longer stay hidden, you should stay quick.

We were well equipped for this. Magnetically strapped to the back of each tank was a thruster unit normally used for space flight. Each unit had a gimbal-mounted hydrogen-oxygen rocket capable of accelerating the tank at forty Gs, which we humans could survive because we were each floating in a liquid bath with the same average density as our bodies.

The unit also contained a pair of Hassan-Smith receivers spatially connected through four other dimensions to some major fuel tanks somewhere on the planet. Thus, we could continue accelerating indefinitely, since we didn't have to carry our fuel along with us. This was the trick that let us get to the stars in the first place.

It was a pity that the transporters didn't conveniently lend themselves for use as a battlefield communication device.

A Mark XIX Main Battle Tank does not have a good hydrodynamic form. It's mostly an armored fusion power supply with some computers and a human being inside.

It moved itself around using a MagLev track-laying system, laying magnetic bars in front of itself, gliding over them, and picking them up as it left. When traveling over a ferro-magnetic surface, it could keep the bars inside itself, magnetize the surface and then move much faster over it. And when you put one on a real MagLev track, it could really move out, hitting three thousand kilometers an hour, in a vacuum.

Weapons and other useful things are strapped on the outside, pretty much wherever they'll fit. However, for this mission, there was a way around this unstreamlined shape.

Attached to the front of each tank was a long pole tipped with something that looked a lot like an arrowhead from an ancient crossbow bolt. When pushed hard enough through the water, and with air injected just behind the arrowhead, a cavity formed behind it that was big enough for the tank to ride inside. Once we were moving fast enough, the air was no longer needed, and we were moving in something close to a hard vacuum. This permitted us to reach supersonic speeds, under water. At least it worked fine on rocket-powered torpedoes, and we had even tested it, once, on an empty tank, which was good enough for a Kashubian veteran.

When Agnieshka told me that everybody was ready, and the moment had come when our orders said we should attack, I said, "Ladies and gentlemen! It's time to see to the Earthworms' proper education! We must teach them that it is not nice to invade somebody else's planet. I'll see you again when we're airborne! Let's move!"

But actually, it was Agnieshka who gave the firing signal. Timing on this one was very important.

Dream World vanished and I was working at combat speed, which is as fast as the human brain can operate without damage. For me, that was fifty-five times normal. Soldiers in combat often feel a natural form of this, where it seems that the world slows down around them. What we used was machine augmented, and vastly accelerated.

It is difficult, or perhaps impossible to describe fighting at combat speed in a tank. You and your tank's computers become a single entity. All of its sensors become your senses, and you can see everything from thirty cycles per second up to and including hard X-rays. Only it isn't exactly seeing. You are touching and hearing and smelling as well, all at the same time. You can taste the chemical makeup of everything around you, and feel every vibration. The tank is your body, and you know exactly what every part of it is doing. When you give your tank an order, you don't work any controls or exactly say anything. You just know what should be done, she knows what you want, and she does it.

So when I try to describe something, it's not what really happened. It's just the closest that I can come to explaining what was going on.

The thruster let loose and slammed us forward. We never hit anything like forty Gs, not with the water slowing us down, but it was still a rough ride. The hair-thin fiber optic cable parted immediately, and the drones were left far behind. With any luck, they'd show up later. For a while, Agnieshka and I were all alone, and I could see nothing but the bubble around us.

I could feel her injecting liquid air from our coolant bottle into the vents just behind the arrowhead, mixing in enough hydrogen tapped from the thruster to warm it up to a level just below what might damage our sensors, and igniting the mixture. The vibrations got worse until we were entirely inside the bubble. Then it got smoother while the acceleration got higher. Agnieshka cut the air off, because we didn't need it any more.

We broke the surface a hundred meters from the beach, long before any of our bubbles reached the surface behind us to give us away. Hitting the air actually slowed us down a bit. The long pole and arrowhead were jettisoned, no longer needed.

The Mark XIX doesn't have a good aerodynamic shape, either, but if you put enough power behind it, you can fly a lead brick.

We were traveling at fifteen hundred kilometers per hour, but because we were mentally at combat speed, it seemed to me that we were only going at a leisurely twenty-seven kilometers per hour, with plenty of time to look around and pick out our targets.

Once out of the water, I was in communication with my team again by laser, and all of my sensors were operating once more.

A quick look around told me that my seventeen subordinates were flying parallel to me a half meter above the waves, in a line two kilometers wide. Our sonic shock waves were kicking up huge rooster tails behind us.

A glance up told me that the artillery was not letting us down. Six thousand launchers, scattered up to eight thousand kilometers away, were each firing fifteen rounds in a time-on-target barrage, mostly to keep our opponents from noticing us too soon.

I was surprised to see that quite a few of the self-targeting smart shells were getting through, and not being hit by enemy counterfire. The Earthworms were definitely not on the ball. Having a stupid enemy is one of the things that every soldier dreams about, but never believes can actually happen to him.

But to make proper use of an artillery barrage, you have to be willing to risk a few casualties. You must hit the enemy while the last of your rounds are still incoming, before he has a chance to look around and notice who is really killing him. Thus, to have a fair number of our shells not be shot out of the sky was not entirely wonderful, but there was nothing for it but to press on regardless. Maybe our shells were smart enough to tell the good guys from the bad ones.

One could always hope.

I heard Lloyd yell "Tally Ho!" and open up with his rail gun before I spotted any of the enemy myself. Then I saw that they were dug into some low dunes just past the beach. The beach defenses were not shooting at our artillery shells, having apparently been ordered to keep on the lookout for somebody exactly like yours truly. But the temptation to keep your weapon pointed up, so that you could take out a shell that might be coming straight at you was just too strong for those boys. Their muzzles were all straight up, and not trained at us at all.

That was their fatal mistake.

My rail gun put a swarm of osmium needles, traveling at a quarter of light speed with only three meters between them, across two hundred meters of the dunes, a split second before Kasia on my left and Zuzanna on my right did the same. I saw a dozen Earth tanks peel open like so many flowers blooming on a television nature program. They never got a burst off at us, being too busy looking up at the incoming artillery, I suppose.

We went up and over the dunes, cutting a two-kilometer-wide swath through the length of an island that was only four kilometers wide. General Sobieski hadn't been much interested in capturing prisoners. He just wanted them gone from our planet. This made things a lot easier.

Off to my right, one of the new recruits under Mirko went down in a spray of sand and vegetation. He'd been a safecracker from Nova Split that everybody called Frenchy, and I'd rather liked the kid, but there was no stopping for him, not now. As best as I could tell, he'd been hit by one of our own artillery shells. It didn't explode, so its little brain had probably been fried out by an enemy X-ray laser.

Just damned rotten luck.

A rolling artillery barrage preceded us as we cut through the island, but now, since the dangerous period of breaking through their shore defenses was over, the exploding shells stayed ahead of us by more than three hundred meters.

Five kilometers in, we came across a fair-sized base. Intelligence hadn't mentioned anything like this! There looked to be thousands of troops running madly about. Infantry? Why in hell would anybody bring infantry into a war zone?

Hundreds of tank turrets and artillery pieces were spinning toward us, and not a few shoulder held rockets were being brought up. There wasn't anything that we could do but open up on them. We either had to take out their heavy weapons or get killed ourselves.

"Rip 'em up!" I yelled.

An unprotected human body within two hundred meters of a rail gun blast is dead. That was the main reason why our tanks were so heavily armored, to protect us from our own weapons. There wasn't any armor that could protect us from a direct hit by an enemy rail gun.

The Earthworms never had a chance. We were flying two meters above the ground at supersonic speed, in tanks with the aerodynamic qualities of a brick. The shock waves we were generating in the air alone would have killed most of those guys, and when you add the rail guns into the equation, it was a total massacre, bloody and simple.

They did get off a few rounds. I saw a tank on my left flank explode in the air as its fusion bottle blew, and bits of his armor tore into the earth.

That was a rare thing. Usually, dozens of fail-safes stopped your power supply from turning into a medium-sized thermonuclear bomb, but anything that can go wrong, sometimes does.

There was no hope for our trooper, whoever he was. Nor for anyone unprotected within two kilometers of the explosion. As it was, the blast knocked me a hundred meters off course, and damn nearly knocked my wife into the dirt, but we didn't lose anybody else. We closed up the gaps, and we were all soon back on course.

The rest of the fifteen-kilometer island went fairly smoothly, although my troops were taking out anything that looked as if it ever once might have wanted to be alive. Losing a few of your own does that to people.

In real time, we went the length of the island in thirty-six seconds. At combat speed, it felt like it was over half an hour, plenty of time to not miss anything.

Then, having taken out both ends and the center of the enemy-held island, I split what remained of my team in half. We made a U-turn over the ocean and came back at them. We worked over both edges of the island that we had skipped on the way in, taking them on the flank.

The time-on-target rolling artillery barrage was still just ahead of us. Those guys, or rather their computers, were really on the ball. We were picking our rail gun targets, and then shooting them up through the exploding artillery. It was pretty effective.

There wasn't much resistance. Most of the enemy had abandoned their positions and run for it. Just where they were planning to run to was beyond me, but as a military force, they were done.

Our second wave was already arriving, crawling out of the ocean. The two hundred tanks were equipped with antipersonnel drones, semi-intelligent, expendable robots that could round up the survivors and clean up any small pockets of resistance.

My three squads headed for the beach, not wanting to look at the carnage we had created inland.

We landed around the tank that had taken one of our own artillery shells, and formed a defensive circle. Mirko got out of his tank and walked naked over to the bent and wrecked machine that held the body of one of his men. It was the kind of thing that he had to do by himself.

Then, to the wonderment of us all, the coffin slowly emerged from the back of the wreck! Frenchy, shaken but still alive, sat up, took off his helmet, and pulled out the computer that held his tank's personality.

The rest of us gave him an enthusiastic cheer, over the comm lasers and out our external speakers, too! Most of us waved to him with our manipulator arms.

He waved back to us, but he was unable to go any farther.

Mirko shouted, "Both of his legs are broken! Somebody call for an ambulance!"

There are limits to what armor and fluid suspension can protect you from. But without it, well, in the old days, when a combat plane drilled in, the pilot was driven into his boots so hard that they exploded.

Mirko stood there next to Frenchy, and we waited for help to arrive.

The recruit who had been killed was Bogdan Miskovich. I'd liked him, too.

Actually, our losses were far lower than I had expected them to be, when I had been given this mission. They used to call the first wave on a frontal attack The Forlorn Hope.

We had been very lucky.

Back | Next