Pandora Unleashed

Battery Firing Line of No. 3 Battery, 161st Artillery Battalion, CCAF Home Guard

Sian

Capellan Confederation

October 5th, 3057

Lance Corporal Jimmy Hu was bored, bored out of his damn mind. He hated the Home Guard, he hated being forced into it and he hated his Lance Sergeant with a passion. He smoked the Ling-Tao cigarette again, as he walked his sentry path. Fucking issue cigarettes, God I would kill for some captured Davion Chesterfields. His rifle was slung, and his eyes felt like heavy metal doors, leaded with exhaustion.

The rest of the battery was asleep, with the ammunition rationing in effect, approval for all fire missions had to come from higher authority, and the rumor was? There was one final attack coming soon. Poor bastards up front, this last attack is going to make a lot of widows and orphans. At least I am a gun bunny, we shoot our rounds, then wait for the Davions to overrun us, and pray they don't kill us out of spite.

A pair of headlights came out of the gloom, first one, then two more, and the whine of the engines were distinctly Capellan. Hu unslung his rifle, nobody was due to come to the battery now, and there hadn't been an ammo delivery in weeks. There wasn't supposed to be one coming, was there? Something made the hair on Hu's neck stand up. Something was wrong, but those were Capellan vehicles.

The lead vehicle stopped 40 meters from Hu, the vehicle was a LSP Hover Jeep, that was bog-standard in several Inner Sphere militaries, it was a closed top, with a hatch and top mounted machine gun. There was a gunner manning the machine gun, and he was in Capellan uniform, or at least Hu thought so in the murk of the night. The front doors opened, and a pair of officers got out from either side of the vehicle. Shit, just what I need. Crap. I'd better stop them. Hu chambered a round in his service rifle, and shouted "Halt, who goes there!"

"Ammunition delivery for your battery from the 23rd Service and Support Battalion."

Hu's jaw dropped. More ammo? Now we're talking. Someone at HQ's grown a brain. Now we can pay the damn Davions back in a coin they'd recognize! "Advance and be recognized!"

The two figures approached Hu, and they were officers. Every inch from their shiny mapcases, to their haughty nature, and their gleaming insignia screamed REMFs. Goody, bet they eat their rations in the "approved Capellan manner" and request the Chancellor's permission every time they must break wind? Careful Hu, what if they're Mask? Wouldn't want them reading your mind now, would you?

The lead figure came to a halt some five meters in front of Hu, with another figure trailing him. The first figure was tall, abnormally so for a Capellan, and the figure trailing him was slight, but it was hard to tell more than that in the baggy field uniforms.

A deep basso voice rang out from the lead figure. "I'm Commander Rytov. Maskirovka, here for a special weapons ammunition delivery and loyalty inspection. Hu gulped audibly. This was bad. "special weapons ammunition delivery" meant either gas, bugs, or nukes. They can't be serious! The Davions will glass us for it. Worse, a loyalty inspection meant the Mask would haul random people in for questioning and if they didn't like the answers, summarily either send them to a corrective infantry battalion, or just shoot them out of hand.

Hu's voice wavered "Identification papers, Sirs?"

"Steady, son. We are just here to deliver the devices, and then do some loyalty inspections on the battery officers and NCOs, you're too junior for us. And here's our papers." The figure, still just an outline in black, highlighted against the headlights, stepped into the light, and it was when Hu noticed…the uniform wasn't right..no it was very wrong. What the hell are- The silenced automatic coughed twice, and Hu dropped like a sack of dirty laundry dropped to the floor.

Before he could even groan in pain, the figure strode over to him, knelt, and said, "Sorry son, but this is the way it has to be." He then fired twice more into Hu's face, killing him instantly.

Adept Alice Rodgers, Light of Mankind Kappa Two turned to her team leader, Demi-Precentor Joshua Forest. "Did you have to apologize. What, were you going to put a mint under his head as he bled to death?"

Forest shook his head. "We're not sociopaths, Rodgers. We have a job to do, a distasteful one. Let's just do it and get the hell out of here."

Rodgers nodded, who waved at the two trucks behind her, and 16 men, in two groups of eight men each, disembarked from the trucks, they moved like ghosts, surrounding the sleeping battery who had no idea what was about to happen. In moments, the Blakist commandos fell on them with knives, e-tools, silenced firearms, and their bare hands, killing over 40 Capellans in as many moments, within 30 seconds, it was over, and not a single Capellan had lived long enough to scream.

Forest turned to Chambers. "Well done, that was a full 15 seconds faster than we rehearsed it, make sure you leave some Rabid Foxes uniform items. I want to muddy the issue as much as we can. Get the warhead team to work."

Chambers nodded, and blew a whistle, and a six man team scurried from the back of the jeep, making their way to the first truck, where they pulled down from the truck a large, closed black case that read "Tac Nuke (Actual), Open ONLY to shoot" emblazoned on the cases in white stenciled lettering, The cases were just the right dimensions for a Sniper round.

The team made their way to one of the Capellan guns, and stacked the case next to the gun, where 4 of the commandos guarded the case, and waited as the team made two more trips back and forth between the truck and the gun. The warhead team then laid out the cases, working in silence, as they confirmed the contents, and then ran test kits with each round, ensuring their viability. All the test kits glowed a friendly green, which was a happy surprise. These rounds hat sat on a shelf first on Terra, then on Gibson for centuries, and had initially been Star League issue.

The first round was loaded gingerly into the breech of the gun, and the lanyard was carefully connected. A warning was shouted, and the lanyard pulled. The gun fired with a loud report that all present felt in their chests, and the sound assaulted their senses, as the flash of the firing lit up the night sky. The team quickly repeated the process twice more, then took the spent shell casings, the cases the rounds had come in, and piled them together, tossing a pair of thermite grenades on them. The orders were simple: No Evidence. At least this distasteful enterprise is done successfully. Maybe we'll get a mission that doesn't make me want to puke next. Forest smiled grimly.

He turned and shouted, "Everyone back in the trucks, the Davion counterbattery is due any moment!"

The figures moved like ghosts back to the trucks, and the column slowly left the scene, leaving behind only the silence of the dead, and the licking of the funeral pyre of the only evidence of what had transpired. That evidence, plus the bodies of 41 dead Capellans would be erased from the earth when a lance of Archers from an FC artillery brigade showered the grid square with LRMs. But the damage had already been done.

The shells were base-bleed rounds, a small gas generator providing some thrust to the round to propel it a greater distance. The shells traveled a total of nine kilometers, and the targeting information was impeccable, each round fell within 400 meters of their intended target. The headquarters for the 6th Crucis Lancers RCT. Each round began to spin as it reached the terminal phase of their flight, with a simple accelerometer tracking the number of spins the round made. Once the number of spins reached a set number uploaded from the gun's firing computer, the round sent a signal to the explosive and physics package to prepare them for detonation.

Detonation of the 1.5kt tactical nuclear warhead happened seconds after that, the three rounds bracketed the headquarters, and each round became the center of a miniature sun that could be seen for kilometers. Each round exploded in a surface burst, with a fireball 90 meters in diameter, most of the headquarters area was caught within the 5 psi ring from each blast, and out of the 650 man headquarters element, only 40 or so were uninjured by the blast and fire effects and they all were immediately exposed to at least 500 rem of radiation instantly, ensuring they would all die probably within a month of exposure. Fallout drifted downwind from the blasts as far as almost as 50km, but more lethal doses were limited nine and a half kilometers away. Still the blasts didn't just kill 650 Davions, but an estimated 4600 Capellan civilians, and injured just over twice that.

But the Light of Mankind team saw none of that, they barely saw the flash and felt the detonations as they drove toward a promised rendezvous with the 2nd Division.

Forest reached for his SATCOM transmitter, and typed a simple message:

VICTORIA, THIS IS ALBERT. WE HAVE MADE DELIVERY. ALL WAS FLAWLESS.

The screen soon flashed a reply: ALBERT, WERE THERE ANY WITNESSES OR COMPROMISE?

NO, Forest typed. AWAITING EXTRACTION COORDINATES, VICTORIA.

The screen flashed again: SENDING NOW, ALBERT. SEE YOU SOON.

Forest's world went white, and in an instant, he felt nothing. All three vehicles erupted into gouts of flame, and their drivers and passengers destroyed instantly by powerful C-9 charges installed secretly in the wheelbase of each vehicle before the mission. The pre-mission brief had been clear. No compromise, no witnesses. This of course, meant the team the Blakists had sent to fire the rounds in the first place. But at least there was no one to answer any messy questions.

While the Capellans were busy trying to confirm just whom had fired those nukes, and confirm one of their commanders hadn't just gone rogue in a flurry of electronic and radio calls, the Blakist divisions withdrew, and quietly made their way to rendezvous points, quietly boosting off Sian within hours and linking up with a fleet of jumpships lying doggo in Sian's outer system asteroid belt. The jumpships drifted clear of the belt, then made a risky pirate point jump for points unknown. The Fedcom naval elements were caught flat-footed, most of their aerial assets busy hunting down Capellan nuclear capable units and bombing them into oblivion.

I'll never forget one of the burn cases we got from the 6th Crucis after the nukes hit. Poor kid, at least, that's what his dogtags said. We tried so damn hard, his skin came off in bloody and burnt strips, and the rest of him was as black as soot. His vocal cords had been destroyed by the heat, so his mouth just gaped open, making no sound, and his eyes. They were just gone, two weeping sockets where they had been. And the rest, oh god, the rest. The kid just kept trying to scream, but the doctors really didn't know where to begin. We tried to intubate, but his throat was badly burnt and his larynx crushed. All we did was probably asphyxiate him trying to save him. Please, can we stop the interview, I need a moment?

Interview of Staff Sergeant Danica Hollings for the "AFFC Medical Professionals '56 War Retrospective Project.", dated 3/18/3067

Main Briefing Room
Mount Davion
New Avalon
Crucis March
Federated Commonwealth
October 8th
, 3057

Katherine Steiner-Davion's face was a mask of stone as she read the reports from the 6th Crucis. The RCT had been effectively decapitated in the strike. To the credit of the 6th, the Mech Regiment's XO had taken over, and he was doing a fine job of stitching the 6th's rear area services and headquarters elements back together, but chaos was still the order of the day.

Strangely, the Capellans had done nothing to take advantage of the situation, and in fact, according to the tactical and operational intelligence, the Capellans were just as confused as to what happened as the FedCom was. Though, to be honest, MIIO was convinced it could have been a rogue operation by the Mask or the Death Commandos.

Victor had warned me something like this would happen, and goddamit, he was right. And now, I have to decide whether or not I glass a world. Do I let myself be spoken in the same breath as Jinjiro Kurita? It's not like the Capellans cared about their own civilians either? There's almost 5,000 of them dead or dying right now, and ComStar's begging us to let them send field hospitals in. I'd do it, but the NBC experts say it's too hot, and most of the wounded may die from the radiation within two weeks. God, I don't envy Marshal Archer. She has to preside over this mess. We knew it would be bad on Sian. But the reality…

It was then that Katherine noticed all eyes were on her. Jackson Davion cleared his throat. "Your Highness, we need to discuss retaliatory options. And, the future of operations on Sian itself."

"Jackson," Katherine stated carefully "What are my options. What can and should we realistically do?"

Jackson drew himself up and exhaled loudly, though his uniform was resplendent, and he was clean-shaven and every inch an AFFC recruiting poster, his eyes had bags under them, and the worry lines on his face had deepened. And Katherine could swear he had serious greying at the temples.

"Your Highness, we realistically have three options that come to mind. The first, would be to respond massively, and hit both counterforce and countervalue targets on Sian. We have the means in place to do so already, and I expect we could do so with few losses, but we would kill millions of Capellan nationals, most of them civilians. It would also touch off rebellions on more than a few worlds in the Capellan and Sarna Marches. We'd have to put those down, and by the time we were done, the death toll would be in the billions. We'd have made Jinjiro on Kentares look like Countess Bathory's swimming pool in comparison.

"The next option is to withdraw and blockade Sian. We have no guarantee that would work. Sian is self-sufficient agriculturally, and it's well-nigh impossible to completely blockade a world. Plus, everyday Sun Tsu lives is another day he can foment mischief. Also, there would be a steady drip of casualties trying to enforce the blockade.

"The third option? We ignore it. We execute Shattered Dao on schedule on the 15th, and end this. The Capellans cannot stop us. And if they uncork more nukes, we can use limited nuclear strikes of our own in response. I think we can use ComStar to warn them what will happen if they follow up this attack.

"And the final option? Noone in this room supports this, but you asked for options. We immediately ask the Capellans for cease-fire talks. I don't want to, no one does, and it will give the Capellans a victory they do not deserve."

Katherine looked at her brother, who had been the perfect imitation of a dime store Indian, and had said nothing the entire meeting, he had been serious. I am not taking back the reigns till the war ends. No sense in screwing with what's working, he'd said. Their eyes met and Victor gave an imperceptible nod.

Katherine looked around the room, and said softly "Ladies and gentlemen, may Victor and I have the room. I promise we won't be long."

Everyone rose as one, and filed out to a shuffle of chairs and papers as they left. Within moments, Victor and Katherine were alone.

Katherine rose, and walked to the holodisplay, her eyes boring through the icon for Sian. "Victor. I am not going down in history as Jinjiro Kurita."

Victor sighed "No, and I won't let you sis. But how do you really feel about it?"

Katherine shook her head and smiled. "I haven't heard any voices or anything. But stressed? Yes, Goddamit Victor! Why? The Capellans have to know they're whipped. I know that, you know that. It's over. But they're determined to drag us ALL down. And all I can think is: 'Mom and Dad deserve to be avenged.' But I can't use billions of Capellan lives as a funeral pyre to our parents. Even if…some of me wants to. I want Sun-Tsu to know pain, and fear, and loss. And I want it so badly. But, not like this? Am I a monster?"

Victor chuckled. "No sis, you're not. You are doing your best with half your brain tied behind your back and you're damn angry. But I noticed something. We've lost track of the Blakists. The SIGINT transcripts have no record of them after the 28th of last month. I am not saying they had a damn thing to do with it? But it does seem convenient they won't be around to answer for all of this? Might be something for Quintus to look into. But I have to be honest, it's probably little more than a rabbit hole."

Katherine nodded. "Victor, we go as planned. It's time to end this, and the best way to do this is to rip out the black heart of the Confederation. But I want the timetable moved up. We go in 48 hours. It's well past time to end this."

Victor nodded "I'll get everyone else back in here."

I know a lot of people have asked me why the hell I didn't glass Sian when I had the chance. Sometimes, all that can be said is "Just because you can do a thing, doesn't mean you should." The Capellan people, for all of their faults, were not the enemy. Sun-Tsu was. And I will be damned if I would be a party to a massacre. And as much flak as I have gotten for this? I accept it. And I'd still make the same decision now and twice on Sunday.

Taken from "Life and Times of a Cracked Princess."