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Authors: David Sherman; Dan Cragg

Tags: #Military science fiction

Starfist: Wings of Hell

BOOK: Starfist: Wings of Hell
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To: PO3 Stuart Goldman, USN
USS
New Jersey
(BB-62)
RVN, South China Sea, 1968–69

PROLOGUE

The Grand Master sat at state on a raised dais in his hall. Idly, he watched as a diminutive female knelt before the low, lacquered table sitting at his side in convenient reach of his hand. The female poured hot liquid from a delicate pot into a small cup on the table next to a slender vase that held a lone, long-stemmed flower—the only ornament on the table. He continued to watch as she placed the pot on the table on the other side of the vase; then she picked up the small cup and delicately drank it down. Drinking complete, the diminutive female replaced the cup, sat back on her heels, folded her hands on her thighs, and waited as impassively as the four Large Ones who stood to the rear of the Grand Master, swords ready in their hands to protect their lord from attack. Only then did the Grand Master look away from her and raise a languid hand in signal.

In response, a column of diminutive females appeared from a side entrance to the hall, each bearing a pot of steaming liquid, and went in precise order around the hall, kneeling next to small, lacquered tables that sat between the pairs of Great Masters and Over Masters who knelt in ranks before the Grand Master. Each table held two small cups flanking a slender vase with a single, long-stemmed flower. The females poured steaming liquid into the cups, then placed the pots on iron trivets that lay behind the tables on the reed mats that covered the floor. The Great Masters and Over Masters were the senior staff of the Grand Master’s corps, and the commanders of his major combat elements and their seconds.

Once all the Great Masters and Over Masters had been served, the Grand Master returned his attention to the female who had served him. When he detected no sign of distress in her countenance or posture, he nodded. She poured a fresh cup of liquid for the Grand Master. The Grand Master took the cup from her hands when she offered it to him, faced the assembled Great Masters and Over Masters, and raised the cup in salute.

He waited a beat or two for the assembled upper-rank Masters to raise their cups in return, then spoke: “To our coming great victory!” He quaffed the steaming beverage then held out the cup for the female to take and refill. The Grand Master’s voice was rugged and raspy; as with nearly all Masters of the Emperor’s army who attained such high rank, he had not exercised his gills in so long that they had atrophied, allowing air from under his arms, as well as from his lungs, to exit through his larynx, and affect his voice.

When the Grand Master offered his toast, the assembled staff and major combat unit commanders replied in kind and quaffed.

“The Master, Leaders, and Fighters who attacked the Earthman Marines in their own lair did not survive their mission,” the Grand Master rasped. “But they killed or wounded many of the enemy. The survivors will have already sent a report on the encounter to their headquarters. The report will surely tell the Marine commanders that we are here, on this Earthman mud ball, and they will send more Marines for us to fight and kill.” He grinned, exposing pointed incisors. “We shall soon complete plans for the coming fight, and we will rehearse them until both our staffs and our fighting forces execute them flawlessly.

“This time, as never before, we
shall
defeat the Earthman Marines!”

Finished speaking, the Grand Master extended his hand for the female kneeling near his side to hand him his refilled cup. He raised the cup in another salute and roared, “Victory!”

The hall reverberated with cries of “Victory!” from his staff and senior commanders.

Lieutenant General Pradesh Cumberland, Confederation Army, Deputy Commander of Task Force Aguinaldo, less formally known as “the Skink Force,” stood in the doorway of General Anders Aguinaldo, late Commandant of the Confederation Marine Corps, and cleared his throat.

Without looking up from his console, Aguinaldo said, “Come on in, Pradesh.”

Cumberland did so, shaking his head, wondering not for the first time how the Marine knew he was at the door.
Or am I the only one who clears his throat instead of knocking?
He closed the door behind himself.

“I’ve been going over the most recent personnel reports,” Aguinaldo said as he finally looked up and waved his deputy to take a seat. He smiled wryly. “Ever since I sent that war warning to the commanders of Confederation forces, I’ve been inundated with requests—make that demands—from planetary presidents, prime ministers, dictators, and oligarchs, that I immediately return to their control the forces they committed to the Skink Force, to defend their home worlds.” He snorted. “I even have demands from the senators from each of those worlds insisting that the units be returned.”

“But we—you—can’t do that!” Cumberland said.

“And I won’t,” Aguinaldo agreed. “We’ll need every one of those units by the time this is over. Besides, several of them are already in transit to Haulover.” He shook his head. “So much for the distribution limits I put on that message.”

“You knew the limits would be ignored.”

“I did, indeed.” He leveled a look at his deputy. “I think my war warning woke them up as much as the President’s public announcement of the Skinks’ existence.”

“A wake-up call they likely needed.”

“So long as it doesn’t cause a panic. I’m letting the President deal with that.” Aguinaldo turned his console around so Cumberland could see it. “A fresh communication from what I’ve dubbed ‘Confederation Forces Haulover (Provisional).’”

Cumberland quickly read the message:

TO: CG, TF AGUINALDO, ARSENAULT
FROM: BHIMBETKA, ALADDIN, LTCMDR, CPT. CNSS
BROWARD COUNTY
RE: UPDATE OF ENEMY ORDER OF BATTLE, HAULOVER
SIR:
FOLLOWING DETAILED ANALYSIS OF STRING-OF-PEARLS MAPPING OF HUMAN WORLD HAULOVER, DETERMINATION HAS BEEN MADE THAT ENEMY FORCE IS PROBABLE 50,000. PERHAPS NOT ALL ARE COMBATANT. MAP WITH LOCATIONS OF SIGHTINGS OF ENEMY, INCLUDING ESTIMATED TYPES OF UNITS AND NUMBERS, IS ATTACHED.
RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED,
BHIMBETKA,
BROWARD COUNTY

“A probable force of fifty thousand,” Cumberland murmured.

“Which number probably doesn’t include support troops. So I’m staying with my earlier estimate of one hundred thousand enemy.”

“It could be more.”

“Indeed it could. That’s why I’m standing up the XXX Corps in addition to the XVIII Corps. If we need them, they’ll be ready to go on a few days’ notice.”

Cumberland tipped his head back for a moment, thinking. He nodded sharply. “Andy, there was an American general in the late twentieth century, name of Powell. He established what came to be called ‘the Powell Doctrine.’ It essentially said that you should never enter a war unless you have overwhelming force on your side.”

Aguinaldo mentally rifled through his memories and quickly found the Powell Doctrine. “And it only held for a few years before someone with more faith in machines than in men scrap-heaped it.” He thought for another moment, then added, “As I recall it, Powell won his war against a huge army in a matter of days.”

“And the man who didn’t want to use enough soldiers made a war that threw his country and a large part of the rest of the world into a turmoil that lasted far too many years.”

“Your point is taken, Pradesh. You’re a good thinker; that’s why you’re my deputy. I will issue orders for XXX Corps to deploy to Haulover as soon as shipping is available for it.”

“Overwhelming force, sir?”

“Overwhelming force.”

(The incidents referred to above are detailed in
Starfist: Force Recon: Recoil.)

BOOK: Starfist: Wings of Hell
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