Wednesday, May 2, 2085
1st Royal Armored Guards Regiment
Colonel Amadeus Prower, RAA
Offensive D’Coolette had been smashed to pieces in the northwest. The radio chatter in Colonel Prower’s command tank was going back and forth like the far-off machinegun fire being traded. The 1st Royal Armored was set up pointed towards the northwest and arranged so that the battered remains of Army Group D’Coolette could pull back to safety. Major General Michel D’Coolette himself was dead and Prower wasn’t certain as to whether he could feel pity for the man.
The whole war was under the pretense of the echidnas being fragmented tribes with little in the way of tactics and weapons. But over time, they had improvised and filled their numbers with sympathizers, whipping them into a fury. Though recently things took a terrible turn when they had somehow organized into an effective force with vehicles. At first it was thought that they had captured Acornian tanks and weapons but when D’Coolette ran into them, he found that his new Sebastian tanks were no match. Any 88mm shells fired at the enemy, or at least the enemy close enough to be in range would bounce off. Those foolish enough to fire at these monsters paid dearly like D’Coolette.
Amadeus grunted as he opened a large envelope with the seal of the Royal Military Intelligence Service. Removing the documents within, he set the stack down upon his knees and turned on a small overhead lamp. There were still a few spies within the Echidna Brotherhood as it now proclaimed itself but they too were being discovered and neutralized at an alarming rate. He thumbed through the documents until finding the photograph he was looking for. Curling the pages in front over to the back, he rotated the stack and stared before putting the round-rimmed glasses around his neck on.
It was diagrams of what he suspected D’Coolette had faced. An ugly green-gray contraption, the tank had seven tracked wheels with hull two feet longer than the Sebastian and a 20-foot-long gun with a 125mm caliber barrel from what he could make out from the cryptic words. That was another thing that was unnerving; the echidna language was one that they had understood for decades since the war started. Now they had switched to this new language that could not be deciphered and the echidnas that could be captured could not be understood, generally executed or sent to a camp.
He was broken out of his study with the radio operator patting him on the left shoulder.
“Colonel?” The corporal said, holding out a sheet of paper. “New radio message received from command. It’s from the king, new orders.”
“Thank you, Corporal.” Amadeus took the sheet and nodded, setting it down over the intelligence file. By command of King Frederick, sovereign of the Kingdom and Grand Patriarch of the House of Acorn, all Army forces are to withdraw at once. The echidna savages will soon face the might of our newest weapon. Because of its awesome power, all forces are to withdraw so that they are not harmed. The weapons will be deployed within the next few hours; those that are still in the operational area do so at their own risk. We will finally obliterate these vermin from our empire.
Vermin. Less than Acornian, Amadeus thought. More bluster from a king with a withered right arm. Posturing and rage to compensate, though the King’s patronage had benefitted him by proxy, first with his father who had been an infantry officer, then his grandfather who was an enlisted engineer. Two generations of war went from airships, trenches and wooden planes to fast, rapid action with men on trucks and tanks. All from the stab in the back that the echidnas seemed to perpetrate seventy-three years ago. His grandfather would growl and draw from his flask however, giving hint to a different tale to the young fox before he went to become an infantry officer himself. Eugen Prower had loyalty to truth as strong as the private soldier had for his comrades, his stomach, his paysack, a warm place to sleep and home. War for seventy-three years, from grandfather, to father to son.
Now with new weapons at hand too it seemed. Likely from the South Island Airstrip. Safe from a naval attack as the echidnas had no navy or privateer force to speak of, information about its projects were normally restricted. However, someone both with command authority as well as scientific expertise had forwarded the information that was resting in the envelope still. He reached in and withdrew it with a grimace, looking at the designation of Grand Slam.
Standard iron bombs were filled not with high explosives but a special holding chamber for a chemical “bullet” and electronics that would allow it to set off a chain reaction within the bullet, a process called fission. The atoms of the bullet would split and release a large force of energy, erupting in a fireball before releasing pressure waves. Memory of the first reading he made of Grand Slam started to surge to the forefront. Those lucky few would be the ones near the blast zone, they would be vaporized. Those not lucky would be burned, blind and irradiated along with bodily trauma from the pressure wave.
The effects of radiation itself were tested on both echidna prisoners and deserters in model cities and closed conditions. The photo of an echidna child’s burned face and boiled, cataracted eyes made him want to vomit and retch inside of the tank. Ironically, they also found that the radiation could not only cause cancer but also treat it. The barbarity visited upon these prisoners rankled in his heart. They were meant to win on the battlefield, with better material, better weapons and better men. Who truly was the better man with these atomic weapons at hand now? It seemed likely unless a new secret weapon was being used that Grand Slam assets would be used. The effects caused him to wonder about something, making him look at the radio operator again.
“Radio, you took down the weather station reports?” Amadeus asked.
“Right after breakfast, Colonel.” The operator shuffled through his papers and then presented a single sheet which had been typed up on his compact typewriter/crypto-unit. The operator handed it to him and Amadeus flipped back to the data on fallout. He looked at the weather report for the day and the next few.
Winds ran west to east of course, and the Kingdom’s seat was near the eastern seaboard. He unrolled the area map and set the papers down on top, drawing a pencil out. With careful attention, he made a circle with a center point at where Army Group D’Coolette broke down and withdrew, the circumference that of the largest known Grand Slam bomb’s blast zone. Then he drew lines based on predicted wind direction and speed. One bomb alone would kick up fallout that would likely poison crop lands and villages leading to Mobotropolis. Knothole would be the worst off to his lamentation. He pictured the fireball, engulfing the village, the innocents huddled in their basements or cellars.
Hours from now, no aircraft overhead today, perhaps bombing runs the night before. No warning leaflets, no radio broadcasts except for the military. Such madness. Amadeus stared down at the map grimly and then placed his face in both hands, massaging his forehead. Could he really allow such a thing to happen even to his enemy? They had a code of honor to follow, the enemy was meant to be broken in battle, broken fairly. On top of that, when captured they were meant to be treated with dignity, perhaps set to work but nothing further than that. After all, barbarism invites more barbarism in return. He lowered his hands slowly and shivered, turning in his seat.
“Radio, I want the battalion channel.” Amadeus said, reaching out for the second headset, putting it on, cups turned into his ears. The operator adjusted the radio set and could be heard both out loud and in the headset. “All battalions, First Guards. Prepare for transmission from Colonel Prower.”
“Guards, this is Colonel Prower. You may be getting radio reports indicating that we are to withdraw from the area so that the Army Air Force can deploy a new weapon. It is in the interest of the Kingdom’s survival that we not allow this to happen. I have seen what this weapon is capable of and project a catastrophic event on its use. Our intention is to withdraw but we will withdraw to South Island. If we are quick enough, we may be able to prevent deployment. For those of you that may object to my actions, you may organize yourself and evacuate, but you will be left with no radio. Battalion acknowledge.”
“Major Ogilvie reporting. 1st Battalion is with you.” A reply came a few minutes later. Others started to follow in turn.
“Infantry to their vehicles, support vehicles and tanks ready for column formation. Take on full fuel loads and supplies. We leave in 20 minutes. Regiment communications will switch to tomorrow’s cipher.” Amadeus ordered.
Acknowledgements came in, then Amadeus took the headset off and climbed up to open the outer hatch at the top of the turret, climbing out. He looked out at the woods and then the sky, taking a slow deep breath. He held it for a few seconds and then exhaled. One last sight of the world as it would be before the newest front in the Long War opened.
South Island Naval Outpost
The outpost was guarded by a combination of Royal Army and Royal Navy personnel. Amadeus’ column stopped at the gates and the fox’s tank was in the center of the tank group. He stared out from the open hatch, headset on and waved his hand out while a squad of his infantry moved up and formed a line in front of the lead tanks.
“Ogilvie, meet me at the front.” Amadeus said.
“As you say, sir.” Ogilvie replied. Amadeus lowered his headset and then dropped it down for it to hang on a rung on the ladder before dismounting. He climbed down from the right side and hit the ground feet first, placing his hands behind his back as he walked forward. A slightly shorter blue hedgehog joined up with him at a brisk pace.
“Major.” Prower returned the hedgehog’s quick salute.
“Colonel. I must admit I was surprised by your orders but you’ve never lead us astray these years. You see something that we do not.” Ogilvie said quietly.
“Something the king is utterly blind to and we cannot allow that blindness to engulf our beloved country in fire.” Amadeus replied while they approached the infantry line. He motioned for the center to move aside for them to step to. An Army sentry stood at the gate and then turned to face him, rendering a salute.
“Colonel!” The sentry had taken a quick look at his uniform. “We were unaware that you would be coming.”
“That is perfectly within plan, Private.” Prower said. “We were the nearest unit and drove hard to reach South Island in time. I take it all is quiet?”
“Well-“ The sentry swallowed. “As usual, I would say. Why?”
“There is a secret project essential to victory on the island. There is word of saboteurs trying to derail the King’s work. We are here to secure the island from echidna machinations.” Amadeus explained. “I could understand why you did not get word, strict radio silence is to be maintained. Now, we must pass through.”
“As you say, Colonel!” The sentry answered, stamping his rifle butt against the ground. “May the sun never set on the Kingdom!” He then stepped back and conversed quickly with the other gate guards, motioning for them to open the gates. Amadeus waved his hand back and the infantry started to rush back to remount, Ogilvie following in turn.
Once he was back in his tank, Amadeus put his headset on and waited for the front of the column to slowly push through. Then once they were at the gate, he called out into his radio.
The tank came to a stop and Prower looked over at the gate guard he had spoken to. “Tell the base commander that we require all available vehicle transports, as soon as possible!”
The transport ship crews had been roused and given their orders, steaming to back up against the large concrete piers. Amadeus had given mounting orders, each transport containing a ratio of 2 tanks, 2 support vehicles and 3 troop carriers. They had ended up using up every available transport, leaving a quarter of the force behind.
He stood in the bridge of his transport, Ogilvie with him along with infantry guards. The captain of the transport noticed a blinking red light on his telephone and picked up the handset.
“Transport Group 4, Lieutenant Pelz reporting.” The cat-like Acornian said. Amadeus could hear furious yelling from where he stood.
“Why we’re transporting Colonel Prower’s command group as ordered.” Pelz replied. Then his ears raised up. “I would assume the Colonel’s orders are sound.” More yelling and chatter. “What? Desertion?” Amadeus’ own ears raised as he reached out and snatched the phone from the cat while opening his holster, removing his sidearm. Pelz’ yellow eyes widened.
“Prower.” The fox rumbled. “What is this nonsense about desertion?”
“This is Captain Koray of the South Island Outpost.” A high-pitched snarl came through. “I called to confirm your orders, Colonel. Apparently, the High Command was not aware of your movement. They expected you to be pulling back towards Mobotropolis.”
“As I told you earlier, the South Island base is potentially under attack.” Amadeus snapped. “We received word from intelligence, obviously High Command was not apprised. We are going to relieve the island and secure it.”
“I am radioing new orders, you will turn back until High Command confirms the intelligence.” Koray countered.
“So, you will delay us while the echidnas potentially endanger our greatest weapons? I had no idea that we had echidna sympathizers in our own Navy!” Amadeus growled. “Perhaps you forget that part of my regiment is still with you. You can answer for your subversive actions before a general court martial.” He slammed the phone down and then looked at Pelz. “Damn that fool! These vessels are under Army command, my command. Any radio orders that come through are considered void under my authority as the commander of the King’s Armored Guards. Put me on the transport group channel.”
Pelz blinked, staring down at the fox’s gun, frozen.
“You will do as I say or I will have to have one of my men pilot. I would rather not waste the King’s chosen sailors.” Amadeus pointed the gun up at the cat’s head and waved it towards the console. “Change channels, Pelz. Now!”
Hearing the fox’s commanding tone, the cat forced himself to blink and then reached up, adjusting with a shaky hand. “-Transport Group patched in.” Amadeus nodded and put his gun away but kept the flap open. “Thank you, Lieutenant. I apologize for being forceful, but it was necessary. This must not be easy for you.” He looked at Ogilvie. “Fetch him a drink, would you? Only one.”
“Yes Colonel!” The hedgehog answered, walking off from the bridge while Amadeus picked up the phone.
“Transport Groups, this is Colonel Prower. As I have just informed my own transport captain, there appears to be a plot to disrupt our relief of South Island. All radio orders incoming with the incorrect cipher I have assigned are null. Our mission is clear, and we will continue to the island. Those that attempt to deter our lifesaving mission will be arrested or shot, at the ranking Army officer or soldier’s discretion.” The fox slammed the phone back onto its hook and stepped back, crossing his arms. Pelz didn’t dare to look back at him as he continued on their heading.
Jules returned moments later with a small glass and set it down near the ship’s wheel. The fox and the hedgehog’s eyes met while Amadeus made a gesture for the major to follow him. They left the bridge together while the Army guards kept a close eye on the cat, even as with a shaking hand, he grasped the glass and drained it slowly. Prower and Ogilvie entered a small office and the hedgehog closed the door.
“How long do you think we’ll be able to keep this going before High Command comes down upon us?” Jules asked.
“Long enough to get onto the island, I hope.” Amadeus replied, taking his hat off and collapsing into a chair. He looked upon the hedgehog with a sad smile. “Victory or defeat, I will be considered a mutineer at least, perhaps a potential dictator at most. They may spin this as a military coup.”
“Would you really depose the King?” Jules asked. Amadeus squeezed on his hat while he pondered the question.
“Ideally, no. Disabling these weapons would at the very least set things back, perhaps giving him time to realize what I did. Then again, I could be grossly underestimating him. Who is to say South Island is the only place? But perhaps this would cast enough doubt to where this crazy plan is stopped.” Prower said. “I can’t allow this to go through. This isn’t to spare the echidnas either, this is to spare the world.”
“If you are to really spare the world,” Jules countered, leaning in close to the fox’s right ear. “Then we must go all in.” Such was Ogilvie, the gambler of the two. “The fact that he was willing to go to these extremes says that he is insane. Besides, if royal rule is to continue, it can be through the Crown Prince. He is one of us after all; he chose to take the King’s Coin for service. Otherwise perhaps it is time that the people ruled.”
“Ah yes, this talk of republics. How many of their kind have we kicked doors in upon? How many freethinkers did we consign to dungeons or to hanging? Would they really accept our kind after what we have done, were they to rule? Or would it be us hanging?” Amadeus demurred.
“We might be hanging either way, but if we are, at least we would hang as men of honor.” Jules said.
“We? I would take all the responsibility; besides you have a wife, Jules. My heart is for the Acornian fields.” Amadeus shook his head. Then he felt the hedgehog’s hand on his shoulder and blinked.
“As is mine. But if they are to hang my brother, may they hang me as well.” Jules declared.
South Island Air Station
Once the 1st Armored Guards had gotten off from their transports, Amadeus had sent instructions throughout the transport group to return back to the naval outpost. This would both provide some legitimacy to his intended mission but also put time in their favor. After disembarking, he returned to his command tank and replaced his headset, finding it still on the same ladder rung that he had left it upon. He lifted his binoculars up and scanned around the landing zone. Sure enough the largest feature was the airstrip, large enough for two bombers to take off simultaneously.
As a matter of fact, bombers were assembled on the strip and with the guards that were arranged around them; there was something more than standard munitions loaded up. Most likely the atomics, such security even on an isolated island! He lowered the binoculars and grunted. Take out the bombers and the hangars for good measure and that could be it. Then again, would they set off the bombs? That would be fine, he was committing career suicide. What was the difference at this stage?
The fox blinked and then started to climb down, closing the hatch and lowering the boom on his headset. “Driver, take us forward, slow. Radio, regiment channel.”
“You have the regiment.” The radio operator advised after making the adjustment.
“Thank you, radio. 1st Guards, our first objective is the bombers. It is my hope that these planes are unoccupied or at least our attack may cause the pilots to bail. If they do, do not fire until you are reasonably certain that they are clear.” Amadeus commanded. “Move in a wedge formation on the airstrip.” He lowered the boom down afterwards. “Driver, join us on the lead wedge.”
The Sebastian tanks rumbled and kicked up dust and smoke while they got into the assigned formations. Then they started to advance on the chain-link and barbed wire fence that surrounded the airfield. The engine sounds had been first mistaken as cars and transports but once the first wedge slammed through the fence; the guards and ground crew turned their attention to the invaders.
Confusion ran rampant through them as the tanks were easily recognized as their own. From what they could see, the actual bomber crews weren’t in yet; in fact some of the bombs were laying out in the open to be placed into the bays. The airbase personnel seemed to tense as the tanks came to a stop before them.
An Acornian resembling a dingo approached with the same colonel’s rank device that Amadeus had on his uniform at his collar. Amadeus stared out at the man through a periscope and looked back at the radio operator. “Switch to loudspeaker.” He started to climb up, opening the hatch and appearing at the top.
“What’s the meaning of this?” The dingo shouted. “Who is in charge of this group?”
“Colonel Prower, of the 1st Armored Guards.” The fox replied, voice amplified. For decorum’s sake he even managed a salute, which caught the dingo by surprise. He looked for the source of the voice and then turned to face the fox’s tank, returning it.
“Colonel Argus of the 3rd Bomb Squadron.” The dingo said, staring at the formation of tanks. “What is the meaning of this..unorthodox entry?”
“I have very good reason to believe that you are about to execute unlawful orders that pose a danger to the Kingdom.” Prower stated.
“Unlawful orders?” Argus’ ears raised in confusion. “How can they be unlawful?”
“These are atomic bombs, yes? Based on your deployment stance, and analysis that we conducted, you are going to end up having radioactive material carrying back to Mobotropolis. These weapons are a clear and present danger to the Kingdom.” Amadeus declared.
“That may be fact, or it may not. But my orders were given directly by King Frederick, personally.” Argus countered. “I’m certain that the Artillery Special Science Service would have come to the same conclusion you have and informed him if that were the case. In the meantime, unless countermanded I have a mission to carry out.”
“Your mission is over here and now.” Amadeus muttered. He glanced at the bombers and pointed towards the aircraft at the front of the formation. “Gunner, target the plane on the right. Load armor-piercing.”
Argus’ ears lowered and a red tinge came upon his muzzle as he started to advance towards Amadeus’ tank. “Are you insane Prower? You can’t fire upon my aircraft! That’s tr-“
“Treason.” Prower finished for him. “I suppose it is. But do not confuse the concept of whether I should fire and whether I could fire.” He heard the gunner’s voice in his ear. “AP loaded!” The fox pounded his fist down against the body of the turret. “You have 30 seconds to get out of the way.”
“It’s treason-“ Argus sputtered.
“Twenty-nine!” Amadeus called out. “Twenty-eight-“
Argus looked over at the guards and snarled. “Shoot him! He’s gone mad.” In response, some of the other tanks started to position their guns towards the assembled group, machine-gun barrels poised. Jules Ogilvie came up from the top of his own tank and pointed towards them. With a sharp series of cracks, bullets spat out and hit the pavement near Argus harmlessly. The dingo’s ears raised and his survival instinct finally kicked in, along with the others as they scattered. Once they were away, Amadeus rapped his fist against the turret again.
“Fire!” The fox yelled, lowering himself down and closing the hatch. A few moments later there was a deafening boom while fire jetted out from the barrel. The 88-millimeter round slammed into the targeted bomber, tearing it apart and even penetrating to others in line. Ruptured fuel lines started to bleed out onto the ground and set off a series of explosions.
“Reverse!” Amadeus yelled hastily, waiting for the expected atomic explosion to come. But as they rolled back, he did not feel the sudden heat and the crew continued on their task calmly. Certainly bombs were struck but there had been no chain reaction. No reaction meant no fission. They could be rendered inert this way. “Back to regiment net.” he called out to the radio operator.
“You may fire on the bombers at will, then destroy those that may still be in their hangars.” Amadeus said. Then he thought for a moment. “Troop carriers form on me, we’ll see what they have at the research facility. Major Ogilvie comes with me too. Captain Flint will be in command of the cleanup here.”
With that, the fox finally took off his headset and waited as the tank broke away from its wedge, Ogilvie’s soon joining along with the troop transports to the nondescript, concrete block building, all filled with apprehension as to what they would encounter next.