The Siege of Shanxi
Chapter Two: Last Day of Rest
I don't own Bioware
WEAPONS TESTING AREA
0930 HOURS, JUNE 6TH, 2157
=This is Flogger= The heavily accented female voice came across the comm line to the observation area. =Coming in for gun run now=
"Roger that Flogger," Commander William 'Wild Bill' Corthock, the CO of the garrison's air unit, grinned with anticipation as the roar of engines rattled the windows. "You're clear and hot."
=Acknowledged. Firing now=
The Adaptive Strike Fighter (ASF), was an aircraft made obsolete by its own existence. The same technology that gave it the unprecedented ability to exceed hypersonic velocities in atmosphere, had only been developed because of the research into producing a fighter that could not only engage in atmospheric combat, but also venture into space.
The X-25 Raider was now the main fighter aircraft for the burgeoning Alliance fleet, but they were expensive. To deploy them in large numbers to protect a colony was an unthinkable expense. The ASF had been invented using the same technology that gave birth to the Raider, but it was cheaper, and far less versatile, than its older sister.
That was not to say that the ASF was not an exceptional aircraft. It was as fast as a lightning bolt, as manoeuvrable as a stunt plane and with its Ryder-Matthews engines, it could venture all the way out into the farthest reaches of a planet's atmosphere, but no further. In vacuum, it would wallow and die. There was one squadron of Raiders on Shanxi, but they were not under Corthock's command. They came under the direction of the Navy's attaché to the Office of Colonial Affairs group at Outreach City.
Limited by his planes, Corthock took comfort in the fact that any pirate venturing into Shanxi's atmosphere would be met and destroyed by one hundred and thirty six fighter jockeys, all of them eager for a fight.
Despite being restricted to atmospheric operations, the ASF was a force to be reckoned with in a straight up fight. Fully loaded, each plane carried thirty Kittyhawk air to air missiles in both in, and could be fitted with any amount of air to ground ordinance. Capable of acting as a fighter, a bomber, or a reconnaissance plane, it was the pinnacle of aerodynamic engineering. Today, Corthock had the chance to demonstrate his newest toys to General Williams.
On the range, a beat up Leopard Main Battle Tank was sitting comfortably. The Chobham Mark VII armour was only one grade below what was used on the Odyssey-MBT, the next generation tank operated by the 4th Armoured Cavalry Regiment, the heavy striking arm of the garrison. Many considered it to be impenetrable.
Major Tanya 'Flogger' Alekseyeva swooped in out of the sun, her ASF cracking through the sound barrier with ease. Her Terrain Following Radar gave her a clear picture of the target and her escape route. Locking onto her target, she jammed her thumb down on the firing switch. For two seconds she saw her bullets riddle the armoured vehicle, then she lifted her thumb, yanked the stick back and rocketed back into the sky.
"Well would you look at that?" Williams lifted his binoculars. "Your pilot has good aim, Commander."
"Thank you, sir," Corthock's voice was laced with pride. "She's my best squadron commander. Must have killed the Russki's to loan her to us."
"Haven't you heard? National barriers don't exist anymore?" Joaquim turned to his subordinate. "We're all part of one big happy family now."
"Yes sir, and I'm going to marry Claire Rudi and go live with her in that big Beverly Hills mansion, and never work a day in my life," Corthock snorted. "Sir, some of the people under my command are way outside of my comfort zone when it comes to who I put my trust in. I strongly suspect some of them to have strong links back to their original governments."
"So you don't trust Major Li?" The General's tone reminded Corthock of a reprimanding parent.
"Major Li is fine sir." The fighter commander already knew what was coming.
"But he's Chinese in ethnicity, isn't he?"
"Yes sir, but he's an American, sir."
"Right, so it's nationality and not race that concerns you? Just want to make sure I have my story straight. If you don't trust Major Zhou or Captain Wang because of their previous positions in the People's Liberation Army Air Force, then that needs to be dealt with. Can't have my officers running around sleeping with knives under their pillows." There was an art to sarcasm. Use it too subtly to a subordinate and you might not get your point across. There was no danger of that in this conversation
"Alright, alright, you've made your point, sir," Corthock held up his hands in surrender.
"I know your brother got shot down in the Taiwan Incident..."
"Incident?" Corthock raised an eyebrow. "Don't piss in my ear and tell me it's raining, sir. The Reds broke the ceasefire, attacked our patrols and shot down four ASF's. President Rayner should have let us return the favour."
"I was at the Pentagon, Bill." Joaquim reminded the younger man. "Yeah, we could have beaten the Chinese in twenty four hours, but we couldn't have done it without inflicting huge amounts of civilian casualties on Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. Rayner was smart; he used it as a bargaining tool. We got the Reds to back off and secured the trade concessions that we wanted. Without that cash, we wouldn't have had the funding to start up here on Shanxi. If you ever want that Admiral's star, you're gonna have to look at the bigger picture more often. Humanity can't afford another war with itself."
The former US Navy pilot merely grunted. "If you say so sir. Guess I can't complain about Zhou's efficiency. He does twice as much paperwork as all the others. His squadron's in fairly good shape too."
"That's the spirit!" Joaquim clapped Bill on the shoulder. "Now, tell me about what I just saw."
"It's called a Mass Accelerator Cannon," Bill cheered up immediately. "MAC for short. Essentially a miniaturised, fast firing version of the big guns the navy uses on their ships. Admiral Grissom is advocating employing them in place of regular ballistic weapons. You'd have to shrink the firing mechanism down a lot, but you'd have the best rifle in the world when you were done."
"Think it'll ever happen?"
"Maybe in ten years. We've started fitting some of the prototypes on ASF's as replacements for the old Gatling twenty mike mikes. But I don't think you could compress a mass driver system into a rifle. Not yet anyway."
GARRISON BASE 'ECHO'
TWENTY KILOMETRES FROM OUTREACH CITY
15TH AERIAL COMBAT SQUADRON
"THE RED SPARROWS"
"Good morning Major, rather nice shoot up," Flight Lieutenant Thomas Alistair, former Royal Air Force, extended a gentlemanly hand to aid his commanding officer in her descent from the cockpit.
Placing her petite, gloved fingers in his palm, Tanya dropped onto the tarmac. She patted the side of her ASF affectionately. "She handles like a dream Alistair, much better than the MIG."
"She's a beauty all right," Alistair appreciatively examined both of the sleek forms before him. "Would you care for some coffee, ma'am?"
"Just one, I'm going up again later, and I don't want to be shaky," Tanya removed her flight helmet, allowing her untidy red locks to dangle out with abandon. "We're running a stealth test with Dagger Squadron."
"Is it really worth all this training, ma'am?" Alistair had been required to leave a fiancé and a vintage Aston Martin behind when he had been seconded to the Systems Alliance from his comfortable billet in Glasgow. He naturally resented the decision, but not overly so. The twenty six year old was not particularly ambitious or skilful (probably the reason for his selection for a lonely far-colony deployment), but he was a decent pilot and a friendly man to talk to. Tanya decided not to take the same hardline with him that she might have with another officer who felt like skipping training.
Tanya chuckled. "There are many dangers still in this world, Lieutenant. Pirates, scavengers. The potential for rogue governments to destabilise the Alliance. Drill, drill, drill, Lieutenant. Bloodless battles, done over and over again until we could not possibly get it wrong. If the time ever comes for blood, would you want to hesitate because, of all things, you were slightly unsure of your skills."
"No, I suppose I wouldn't." Alistair nodded. "I still wish it didn't involve training on a Sunday."
Tanya's laughter was drowned out by another ASF taking off behind them.
MCNAMARA FIRING RANGE
GARRISON BASE ECHO
Sergeant Norman Alenko slapped another magazine into his ICWS and sighted back on the target. Gently squeezing the trigger, he sent the 9.5mm All Purpose Rounds downrange at the computer generated targets. The Individual Combat Weapons System was accurate up to seven hundred metres and Norman's targets were at the standard four hundred metre mark. A playground shot for an experienced marksman, and Norman had been shooting bottles off a fence with an air rifle before he was ten years old.
"Great shot, Canuck!" Sergeant Robert McDevitt slapped Norman on the back, the man's broad Alabama accent ringing in the crisp morning air. "It's like you can't miss!"
"Well, shooting's pretty easy when you stop breathing tobacco smoke and concentrate on the damn target," Norman flicked Bob's lit cigarette out of his teeth and stomped it out on the ground. "You're up."
McDevitt gave him a wide grin. "Oh and I will gladly level out the score, cousin."
The two of them were as different as night and day, mild mannered Canadian compared with loud mouthed redneck. Yet they gelled easily when paired together, one totally compatible with the other. Both of them experienced trackers and hunters, both of them capable small unit tacticians, both of them sprinters and both of them capable of growing a fearsome moustache whenever the battalion had a facial hair competition.
That's not to say they didn't clash. Bob took an unnatural delight in mocking nearly everything about Norman's homeland. Hockey, maple syrup, Norman's Canadian drawl, Bob thought up a new one every day. Norman's response? A near perfect mimicry of Bob's thick country accent that never failed to get the man's temper up.
Picking up his own rifle, Bob clicked the safety off, chambered a round and began shooting. He was good. Just as good as Norman. Alenko and McDevitt had been forced to share the 14th Force Reconnaissance Regiment's shooting trophy for the two years they had been stationed on Shanxi.
"Easy work," Bob observed, lowering his rifle. "You know Haycraft?"
"Over in Charlie Company?" Norman decided to work on his pistol. Removing the Lowell Armoury Heavy Combat Pistol from his holster, he adopted a two handed Weaver stance and re-activated the program. The HCP was chambered for a short version of the heavy .50 cal round. It was either the world's largest pistol or smallest rifle, no one had yet figured out which. His sidearm forced itself up with every shot. If not for the recoil dampers, he would have put bruises all over his palms.
"Yeah, you know him," Bob reloaded. "Got one of the new prototype sniper rifles. Uses a mass accelerator to propel his shots. Best muzzle velocity of any weapon ever invented."
"Worth replacing the Buzzard?" Norman referred to the standard issue Long Distance Rifle, a beast of a weapon, chambered in .55 calibre. The famed Gunnery Sergeant Carl Dugson had used it to break the world's long distance sniping record, taking out an insurgent at almost three miles in the Afghanistan Neutral Zone.
"Not really, he's gotta manually reload it after every shot. Nice toy though." Bob laconically checked his watch. "Not to through your aim off, but isn't it about nine o'clock in Vancouver right now?"
"Son of a bitch," Norman looked at his watch. "Can we pause this?"
"Nope, you leave now, you forfeit the match," Bob lit another cigarette. "Pity."
Norman hesitated, gazing up at the scoreboard. He was ahead ten points. But he'd promised...
"You know what, Bob?" Norman grinned, pulling out his credit chit. "I forfeit. Because I'm going to wish my son happy birthday."
As Norman took off up the stairs, Bob counted up his winnings. Fifty credits, standard win from a grudge match. "Hey, Norm?"
"Yeah?" Sergeant Alenko turned at the top of the stairs, looking back down to the firing range.
"Tell Kaidan that Uncle Bob said high."
"General Williams, you have a call coming in from New York." Corporal Henkshaw handed Joaquim a stack of files as he entered his office. The structure was actually better quality than most of the pre-fabs that made up the barracks for the marines. Central heating, some tasteful decorations, and a real leather armchair that someone had smuggled in on the last supply bird.
"Not Admiral Drescher again," the General chuckled. "I don't think I can survive another budget conference."
"No sir, it's from Long Island Barracks, your son is on the line."
"Well, I'll be damned," Williams took his place on the opposite side of his genuine mahogany desk, a small affectation that he had carried with him from his appointment at the Pentagon, back when he had been a Colonel with the United North American States Army. "Put him through, Corporal."
The vid screen went blank for a few seconds, then Franklin Benjamin Williams appeared on it. =Hey Dad. Got a question for you. How do you feel about being a grandfather?=
Joaquim was taken aback by the abrupt question. "Well, I don't feel old enough for it, but I take it I don't have a choice in the matter?"
=Correct= His son gave a shy shrug. =Sally confirmed it at the base hospital this morning. She's two weeks pregnant=
"Congratulations son!" Williams burst out laughing. "I thought that training would leave you too exhausted to get any real work done."
=Signals intelligence is tough, but it's not that tough= The Private First Class responded. Like his father, Frank was spending some time in the UNAS Regular Army before he joined the new Systems Alliance Marine Corps. His IQ tests had given him a very high score with which to select his specialisation. He had chosen combat communications. It was a good field to go into, offered plenty of opportunities for an eventual officer's commission.
"You thought about names yet?"
=Sally likes 'Ashley' if it's a girl, I'm in favour of 'Madeline'. If it's a boy, well, 'Joaquim' is a pretty good name for a boy, isn't it?=
"I'm flattered," Joaquim leaned forward. " But why not put the first two together? 'Ashley Madeline Williams'. Sounds like a soldier's name."
=Not a chance. Never in a thousand years would I permit any daughter of mine to hang around with a bunch of bootnecks like you and me=
"That's how your grandfather felt when I married you mother," Joaquim replied smugly. "But I married her anyway."
=To her eternal regret= Frank delivered a well placed elbow in the ribs, all the way from Earth.
"A telling hit, it seems my son has grown up."
"Your son had a good father to show him the way."
"Happy Birthday!" Norman almost shouted as soon as Kaidan poked his head into view. The face of his curly haired six year old immediately broke into a joyful, childhood smile. "How's my boy?"
=I'm fine Daddy= Kaidan jumped up and down. =Look what Auntie Rachel gave me? A real combat uniform to wear to bed!=
Norman grinned as he saw the grey and black Disruptive Pattern coloured pyjamas. "Well, you look pretty cool in that. Just like me."
Colonel Matthias Pressly regarded his grandson, Serviceman 2nd Class Thomas Pressly, with the same stony eyed intensity that he would use on a raw recruit.
"Dammit!" The Colonel exploded. "You sunk my dreadnaught."
"That's how it goes, old man," the youngest Pressly had a shit eating grin plastered all over his face. "That's sixteen to zero, right?"
"Yep," Matthias closed down the second window on his screen. "You're getting damn near telepathic with this shit. You sure you weren't eyed for extra sensory perception warfare?"
"I don't think ESP was in the list of qualifications for junior navigation aide," Thomas shrugged. "The Agincourt is a pretty good ship. Navigator Coffer's teaching me a lot of stuff. I'm the new guy, but I'm doing pretty well."
"Still time to back out and join the Marines?" Matthias half heartedly offered.
"You know I don't want that, Grandpa," Thomas shook his head. "I joined to do something worthwhile...but I'm not cut out for fighting. Navigation...it's what I want to do."
"I guess I can understand that," Colonel Pressly nodded. "Hey, you know I'm proud of you, right? You joining up with the Alliance, volunteering for a deep space assignment, all of it. After what happened to your father..."
"Hey, Dad died doing what he loved," Thomas held up his hand. "I thought you stopped blaming yourself for that?"
"I have, it's just...never mind," Matthias forced a smile. "Same time tomorrow?"
"Sure," Thomas reached for the power down switch. "I better get some sleep before Coffer busts my balls again."
"Hey, I love you kid."
"Love you too Pops."
Matthias stared at the vidscreen after it had shut down. Seeing young blood like his grandson finding their niche in the world...it made him feel his age. At sixty four, he was the oldest officer in the division. If he was still with the UNAS Army, he would have been forcibly retired by now. But the Alliance was desperate enough to recruit practically anyone with command experience to the undermanned garrison divisions.
He began thinking about his retirement house back on Earth. Maybe he'd put in a garden when he got back.
"...can't stay on for much longer," Norman glanced at the clock. He had exceeded communications privileges for the day. Once he got that Staff Sergeant's position, he'd be able to use a private terminal...but not yet. "Hey, we'll talk again tomorrow. Colonel Pressly thinks he can free up some space over in the family barracks area. Then you could come out here and live with me again, how does that sound?"
"Great," Kaidan began jumping up and down again. Norman wondered where children got enough energy for their relentless activity. His son paused for a second. "I mean, I like living with Auntie Rachel and Uncle Ben, but I want to live with you more."
Norman felt exactly the same way. Kaidan wasn't just his son, he was all Norman had left of his wife.
Lily Alenko, formerly Lily Roberts. She and Norman had been childhood sweethearts. Cheesy? Yes. Cliché? Most definitely. But they had been happy together. He went off to boot camp, she went off to college. When they met three years later, they picked up right where they left off. A few months later, they were married. A few months after that, Lily was pregnant.
The assignment to Singapore had been surprising, but not unpleasant. As a married Corporal with the UNAS Marine Corps, Norman had never had the sufficient funds to take Lily on a proper honeymoon. Singapore had been utterly exotic...the extra pay hadn't hurt their plans for the future either.
The accident had changed all of that. A broken down orbital transport that exploded halfway through it's landing cycle. Half of Singapore had been drenched in Element Zero radiation. Those that didn't die immediately were often diagnosed with cancer a few months later. Lily had been one of the unlucky ones.
Two months before the baby was due, a doctor had confirmed a malignant tumour growing around Lily's cerebral cortex. He had predicted she would die within the month. But she had been made of much sterner stuff than the doctor thought. Norman had watched his wife slowly waste away, the cancer spreading too far and too fast for any of the thousand effective treatments to work. She had lived long enough to survive a painful childbirth, and hold her son one time before she finally expired.
Norman had been left alone, faced with the prospect of raising a child without a mother, and in a foreign country. He had tackled the job with gusto, moving back to Vancouver, transferring to the Reserves, and working in his brother-in-law's construction company to pay the bills. He'd done his best for three years, and done fairly well, with the help of his sisters.
Eventually, the seductive call of the military had lured him back in again. Still a young man, he was attracted to the romanticism and promise of the new Systems Alliance Marine Corps. Leaving Kaidan with his family, Norman had joined up, and spent two years on a frigate, before transferring to Shanxi.
He had missed a Christmas, and two of Kaidan's birthdays. That was going to change. Shanxi had grown a lot in the past few years. Several of the married Marines had moved their families out to Shanxi, where the air was clear, and over-population was unheard of. Norman wanted that for his son. Vancouver was a beautiful city, but it was still a city. Norman's grandfather had taken him out to the distant countryside so many times. Norman's father had been an accountant, too busy with life to really live it. Norman wasn't going to make that mistake. He'd be like his grandfather, teaching his son to shoot and hunt, help him with his study, and be around to give him advice on girls. The greatest adventure of all...but Norman would have to catch up a little first.
A/N: I assure you, my dates are accurate. Kaidan was born six years before the First Contact War, Ashley was born the year after the FCW.
Next chapter, Colonel Pressly and General Williams have a little talk, and then we meet our first turians.
UPDATED: 16 Aug 2016