#RIGHTEOUSFLAMES

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FIVE: #RIGHTEOUSFLAMES

The Timmies didn’t see reason.

Or maybe they were being perfectly logical in their own way; after all, death is a promotion when you’re fighting for God and your very own Holy Land.

Kepler Colonial Administration offices and security facilities across the planet were hit with coordinated retaliatory attacks less than five hours after the K-strike on Tien Chang – drive-bys, drone-born IEDs, and massive cyber-attacks on KCA servers. A security station at New Shenzhen was even fogged with a nerve agent. An industrial insecticide molecularly rigged to be short-term and fast acting, it got into the local ventilation system and wiped out a neighboring hab section before going inert.

The TIM’s info-war hackers were on their game, seeding a self-replicating pro-TIM meme of the smoke pillar over Tien Chang through the planet’s social media networks barely an hour after the strike. Sahito translated the text as: “The fire of freedom will spring from the ashes to burn the infidels away.” #RighteousFlames.

KCA censors frantically tried to scrub it and put up images of the froth-mouthed corpses of moms and kids to gain some traction on the popular perception front, but there’s really no good spin after a government-sanctioned kinetic strike on an entire city.

So it wasn’t like I was shocked when we got a call.

Our mobile command post was across the Yang River from Tien Chang’s smoldering rubble. We had a direct link to Sahito and full access to the Fleet Marine battle space net. If we were going into battle, our god needed his god-view. Rucker was chatting up Esta Gulbahar as I walked in.

“Where do they get them?” Esta was asking.

“They’re grown in tanks. You should see them – hundreds of little baby turtles all swimming around in giant fish tanks.”

She frowned. “And they eat them?”

“Pickled. They’re a delicacy,” Rucker explained. “They serve them still in the shell and you’re supposed to slurp them like an oyster.”

Esta made a face. “You ate a baby turtle?”

“Oh hell no,” he protested. “I draw the line at faces. I don’t slurp anything with a face.”

“Glad to hear it,” I interrupted.

“Captain on deck,” Sahito said, and Zombie Six came to attention.

I went to the Command and Control console. “As you were. So…” I scanned their faces. “Anyone really surprised about the Timmies?”

“I was hoping,” Rucker muttered. “Now I’m out fifty yuan.” The rest of the squad chuckled.

Chandra spoke up. “They have to know they can’t win, boss. Allah answered their prayers and the answer is a big, fat, hairy UNE Fleet ‘No’.”

Marco Sandoval was sorting trauma packs and nanite repair patches from a big olive drab Fleet crate. “Knowing it and admitting it are two different things.” He looked up. “I take it the Admiral wants us to do some earnest convincing.”

I nodded. “Fleet S2 sent some intel and we’re going out to play in the dawn’s early light. Sahito has got the brief.”

Sahito, our tactical A.I., was named after Otomono Sahito, the legendary founder of ninjutsu in sixth-century feudal Japan. In a slice of twisted logic, he had been programmed with a very proper British accent. Some Fleet Psych study must have concluded plans of murder and mayhem sounded tidier and more intelligent when delivered by a butler. We never bothered to change it.

A 3D map of Wen Chang – Chang Two – came up on the holo-display. Sahito began.

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“Thus far, the Turkistan Independence Movement’s forces have employed standard textbook tactics for a local insurgency, utilizing limited civilian and stolen military armaments for force on force engagements, as well as repurposing local materials and equipment. Notably, construction and mining equipment have been modified with additional armor plating and weapon hard points.”

The holo-display began playing shaky footage of a firefight around a KCA Security station. The angle was skewed and the view was obscured by smoke and light flare from a burning truck, but dark figures darted from cover to cover, backed up by what was clearly a construction exosuit. Slabs of composite steel had been bolted over the operator’s cage. A roof-mounted machine gun began firing as the industrial wet saw extended and began cutting through a concrete barrier. The rig looked like a mad scientist’s robot King Kong. After a few seconds, the machine gun swiveled toward the camera and the video blinked off.

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Sahito continued. “Despite the video, the insurgents are extremely cautious and direct force-on-force engagements are rare. As you would surmise, the majority of attacks involve remotely-detonated improvised bombs. The abundance of ammonium nitrate-based explosives used for excavation make this a far more efficient and feasible tactic.”

“Which is where the drones come in handy,” Chandra interjected. “Remotely piloted, a temporary server, an encrypted link, literally anyone can use them. Anonymously. The KCA thinks the TIMs get kids to do it. Give a teen a bundle of yuan, a dose of methamp, text the time, target, and a one-time log in password, and blam, heroes of the revolution operating from the safety and comfort of their bedrooms. All the fun of jihad with none of the messy martyr afterglow.”

Sahito coughed politely. “From my analysis, the Turkistan Independence leaders are applying the principles described in Chairman Mao Zedong’s Handbook on Guerilla Warfare.”

“The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea,” Esta quoted.

“Precisely,” Sahito said.

Silas Rucker gestured at the 3D image of Wen Chang. “It’s more like they’re beating the KCA over the head with it. You’d think someone in Security would do a little research. Maybe try to understand who they’re up against and get ahead of the curve, but no…”

“There you go,” Katja said. “Thinking again. Gets you in trouble every time.”

Rucker leered at her. “Can’t help it. My tragic flaw.”

Marco Sandoval spoke up. “All this is fascinating, Captain. But are you telling us the UNE sent us all the way here to zip -cuff pimply gamers and shoot down drones?”

I laughed. “No. Someone at KCA got their head out of their ass long enough to gather intelligence for a half decent mission.”

Esta frowned. “And we trust them… why?”

“Sahito corroborated the data.”

“At least tell us Sahito worked up the operation,” she implored.

I nodded. “He did, but we have to let Fleet and KCA tag along.”

Groans.

“I know, I know, but ‘team effort’ and all that. The UNE loves Admiral Sota and China needs their colonial administration to look good for a change.”

“So?” Rucker asked.

“So…” I took a half-step to one side and swept my arm toward the holo-display. “Sahito, you may continue.”

“Thank you, Captain Dante. This mission is what on previous occasions you’ve termed a ‘Smash and Grab.'”

The display shifted, the city enlarging in an eye blink as the magnification increased. Hyperlink icons appeared over streets, power nodes, and building complexes.

“Wen Chang was constructed around the very first mine. The seam exhausted two local years prior, it is now home the central administration and logistics offices for all planetary mining operations. As a vital KCA center, there is a correspondingly heavy insurgent presence.”

The display blinked again and one building in a cluster of identical pre-fab structures glowed, outlined in electric blue.  “Informants and digital intercepts point to a meeting of Tier Two leadership in this building in the Gōngyè lìrùn district this morning.”

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“What for?” Katja asked. “After the orbital strike and landings at New Shenhen, any TIM leader that wants to keep breathing should be going to ground. Not having brunch.”

“Intercepted communications suggest while the Admiral’s orbital strike didn’t prompt immediate capitulation, and indeed provoked a coordinated response, the cumulative effect of recent Fleet operations induced a number of mid-level leaders to consider negotiations. All data points to a meeting of hardliners and moderates discuss the matter later at approximately nine o’clock local time.”

Rucker raised a hand. “So why aren’t we sending them a Smart Missile Fruit Basket?”

“Good question,” Katja agreed.

There was a brief pause. If an AI could sigh, I’d swear Sahito just did. “To minimize the chance of collateral damage.”

I heard a laugh, a couple snorts. Rucker straightened up and looked at me. “You’re joking, right? Admiral Sota just God-stomped a city and the KCA is worried about civilian casualties now?”

I stepped forward. “The UNE and PRC gave the Admiral tremendous latitude and authority to dismantle the insurgency as rapidly as possible. Apparently, they didn’t really want him to exercise it, so the word is he’s destroyed all the cities he’s allowed to on this planet. So it’s surgical ops from here on.”

Chandra Dass waved at the tiny, blue ghost building. “And we’re going to snatch these mid-level jihadists so Fleet Intelligence Services can open a productive dialogue.”

“Got it in one,” I said.

I used my cyber-link to take over control of the holo-display. “We’ve got extra moving parts, so it’s a simple plan. Once the presence of TIM assets is confirmed, KCA forces will secure these four points around the complex. All data and wireless streams will be re-routed to government servers to intercept any warnings. At approximately nine-twenty, Fleet Marines will then roll up and surround the building while we insert via Night Raven on the roof. The Marines will make noise and get everyone’s attention while we work our way down and introduce ourselves to our new friends.”

“That’s it?” Katja asked.

I spread my hands. “That’s it. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy. Right, Sahito?”

“Exactly, sir.”

At that, the squad went to leave to prep their gear. “I love it when you get all fruity,” Rucker called over his shoulder.

“Anything to keep you warm and fuzzy,” I replied. I turned toward the CnC console. “Sahito, call us a cab. We’re leaving in twenty.”

“Already done, sir.”

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NEXT: SUDDEN AND NOISY

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