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The Weapon: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Tuesday, June 7, 2005 19:32 EDT





    The civil war on Mtali was the first real shooting war the FMF was involved in. I was lucky or unlucky enough to be along for it, with most of my friends. Some people rave about how well it went. Others claim it was a screwup from the word go. The truth, in my opinion, lies somewhere between the two. Certainly it was a balls-up nightmare, but I can't honestly say it was any worse or better than any other conflict. And even if it was worse, you have to consider the environment:

    Mtali was named after a scientist from the old Central African Union about three hundred years ago. That makes it older than many other colonies. It's in sad shape because there were richer claims closer to Earth, so it was put in trust by the UN. This made it useful to several groups bent on escaping Earth (a valid thing to do, granted), who each staked out a small territory where they could have religious freedom, meaning to most of them the right to oppress anyone wrong-thinking, which was anyone not of their particular delusion. A couple of centuries of expansion brought them into contact, and the fighting started, or, for several groups, continued its millennia long tradition.

    Just so we're all on the same page of the script, let's cover the major groups on Mtali. First in my mind, are the Baha'i pilgrims. They are peaceful, decent people, with a practical and inoffensive religion that prohibits alcohol and initiation of force. They do consider self-defense valid and reasonable. They are technical and educated and very decent people to know. I like them. I can't think of anything they could have done to deserve the fate of being among the rabble, but here they were, and they were paying for it.

    Want an example? The week we landed, a 14-standard-year-old Baha'i girl named Tahirah Rabbani was caught and "tried" by a Shiite (although I spell it without the "e") Mullah and his brave flock. The twelve of them gang-raped her, hung her up by her hair then lacerated her feet, leaving her to bleed to death. Her crime? Teaching the Baha'i faith in their claimed territory. How can you argue with logic like that? The Baha'i were the only people I felt sorry for on the whole worthless ball of mud.

    So, onto the Shiits, or Shia. They were unchanged for five hundred years, and bore little resemblance to their 12th-century namesakes, who were not any relation I could discern. Regardless of their books, their "clergy" held that being non-Shia was a crime worthy of death and dismemberment. Being close wasn't enough—the closer you were, the more obvious it was that one should know the "real" truth, and were obviously that much greater a sinner. To that end, they killed a few of their own periodically. That's the only good thing I could say about them. Their hygiene was minimal. If something wasn't useful for killing, they didn't care to study it. In fact, most of them were barely literate, but had memorized the Holy Quran (or at least the parts about killing unbelievers and raping their women. I seem to have missed those verses in theology class). My opinion was that they were suffering a mineral deficiency in their diets—not enough elemental lead and tungsten. What do you call a Shiit armed with only a rifle and three grenades? A moderate.

    The Sunni. They were better educated than the Shia, but still bent on eliminating "unbelievers" from the galaxy. As with the Shiit, odd that their "true faith" didn't resemble the original schismatic beliefs the sect originally had. The only good thing I can say about them is that they generally limited their attacks to either Shia, or real military targets of anyone else, thus minimizing civilian casualties. The running joke was that you could pick up their weapons as cheap surplus—never fired, dropped once.

    The Sufi. Decent people, almost as nice as the Baha'i. They and the Baha'i had come here first as a partnership, both being poor, smaller sects. They were willing to engage in force, and did so to protect their borders and often their Baha'i neighbors. The only bad thing one could say about them is that they were sometimes a bit too eager to prevent incidents by stomping potential threats. As those potential threats were Shiits and Sunnis, I couldn't hold too much against them. The Sufis ran a good military, had decent tech and capabilities, and held half the air and space facilities. What should be done about the problem of the Sufis killing Shia and Sunni out of hand? I don't see what your problem is.

    The Amala. A newer, more recent offshoot of Islam, the Amala were trying to breed themselves into the majority. They were poor and starving and wretched, and would probably be better off dead. They were likely to achieve that, as the Shia hated them for breeding. Of course, the Shia hated everybody. The Amala were the least educated of the mostly dirt-stupid bunch, and paid for it. What do you call an Amala who can read at the level of a five year old? An intellectual.

    The Believers. Technically, "The Faithful of the One True God," a Baptist offshoot, but don't tell that to either group. I don't blame the Baptists for wanting nothing to do with them. The Believers had come here to despise science and technology (using stardrive to do so), and were "creation science" nuts. Their take on the Biblical Deluge was that the Earth had been surrounded by a huge sphere of atmospheric ice. God had moved the Earth from a 360-day year to a 365-day year, thereby melting the ice and flooding the world. Where the water had gone afterwards they never explain. The lack of the ice after that had increased radiation levels, thus aging the bones of the dinosaurs, who'd all drowned in the Deluge, so as to make those bones appear millions of years old to delude non-believers. This had been simultaneously done on millions of planets to make them all look old. I don't even want to begin to psychoanalyze that. They used imported technology and weapons, while denying that the basic science behind that equipment existed. Harmless, except for a desire to shoot anything not Christian, and convert anything Christian to their one, true faith. Notice a trend here? Oh, and they had a thing about homosexuality. They could claim with a straight face that a gay-oriented bar in a city was the cause of floods, earthquakes and Signs and Portents in the heavens. Ironically, their founder, Frederick Felts, had eventually been raped and beaten to death while incarcerated for the crime of attacking a "baby killer" (a doctor who performs abortions). An acceptance and agreement with his illogic seemed to be a requirement of membership in the cult. The Colonial British wore red tunics so that blood wouldn't show and ruin the morale of the troops. The Believers wear uniforms with brown pants. Enough said.

    Various legitimate but naïve sects of Christianity who'd moved here simply to live, then gotten stuck with the nutcases. I wasn't all that sorry for them—they bickered amongst themselves constantly in their "Christian Coalition," and spent more time debating the nature of God and the laws they should all live by than they did taking out the trash. If I'd ever wondered about the human race before, now was the time. How many Coalition troops does it take to change a light tube? Fifty. One to do it, and forty-nine to argue over the doctrine.

    The Mowahhidoon, often called "Druze," which they don't like. They're a very old offshoot of Islam, but no longer Islamic. They keep the details of their religion secret. They don't marry outside the faith and don't accept converts. The only thing they were doing wrong was existing, as far as most of the other sects were concerned. Gods, what a world. How many Mowahhidoon are there? Enough.

    The Zoroastrians. Another decent group. They were too few to be a real threat, even had they chosen to be, and too few to survive. They were taking the better part of valor and leaving the planet as they could, for UN owned orbitals and deep space habitats, or for safer homes. That wasn't good enough for their Shia and Believer neighbors, who shot at the remainder whenever the urge took them. The joke was unfair, but had an element of truth to it: have you heard about the Mtali Zoroastrian battle flag? A white circle on a white background.

    That was it for major faiths. However, each faith had up to fifty different factions within, of various political leanings, moral opinions on cooperation with others and within the group, etc. I won't bore you with that. Frankly, I'm not sure I understand it. It dealt with all those subtle and mystical things that might require you to kill your brother-in-law and rape your sister in order to save their souls. Important but complicated stuff. It's top secret. I wouldn't want to give you wrong info and have you kill someone who only deserved a beating.

    Thank God and Goddess the Jews had been smart enough to stay away. I understand that it had briefly been considered by a joint Israeli-American Jewish group, who had seen the inevitable future and shied away, to settle relatively peacefully and reasonably on New Jerusalem. A practical people, the Jews. And of course, tiny Kuwait had sponsored the Ramadan colony and limited immigration to Muslims who didn't measure diplomacy in kilograms of explosive. I wonder why they had seen the pending strife that the system would fall into, while the UN political scientists hadn't?

    Maybe it wasn't sheer poli-sci stupidity, although military science types like myself have always detested the self-imposed ignorance of our civilian counterparts in the field of human relations. It may have been bribery and lack of concern on the part of the Colonial Commission. I still bet the poli-scis had a hand in it, as they had in most of the failed "Republics" in Africa in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, leading up to the Expansion off Earth.

    So, into this ball of snakes had come the experts from the UN, decreeing that a solution must be found, and that solution must be peaceful in nature. As peaceful solutions are only possible with people inclined to be peaceful and reasonable, and as the groups in question were neither, that was a failure from the beginning. Being stubborn and conservative in its stupidity, the UN not only beat the dead horse, but tried to motivate it with speeches, then offered education and infrastructure to it. Financial aid was poured in, to promptly be used to smuggle in weapons and advisors to escalate the struggle. Then the benevolent protectors of the human future (sorry, I'll lay off the sarcasm) had brought in peacekeeping forces, oxymoron that that term is. As there was no peace, attempts to keep it were futile. That brought us up to our involvement.

    We didn't tell anyone then, but a lot of people figured out afterwards, why we bothered. After all, we're a neutral star nation, and plan to stay that way. People come to us with money for our services, so what need have we to go elsewhere on imperialistic junkets? The happy, comfortable rich rarely have a need to squabble over leavings.

    Well, think about what I mentioned earlier: we had wealth, independence, freedom, and were a huge drain on the UN for that reason. We were a threat to the accepted wisdom and status quo, by doing what they said was impossible and dehumanizing—to whit, being what we were. We were less than one percent their population. We had a military with first class training, and no realtime encounters to test ourselves or train us that extra crucial bit. So we sent a small contingent along to get that training and do live-fire tests of our prospective enemy. We needed a low intensity shooting war; we went to Mtali.

    We were fortunate in a couple of regards. The mission commander was brigadier Charles Richard ("Ree Shard"), Third Mob was commanded by Naumann, who not only knew how to use Operatives, but was one himself. Frequently, the mission and skills of elite forces are unknown to the very officers expected to use them. Sad, but it's the norm. Even worse, those officers often aren't interested, as their goal is to generate good reports so as to get promoted. Naumann and I thought alike; we didn't care about reports, we just wanted to kill things. He defined our area of operations, we defined our own OPLANS, and he gave us the space and the support we needed to kill the factions' terrorists in huge numbers. Richard wanted the best results with the lowest friendly casualties, and listened to the advice of his subordinates about their particular fields of expertise.

    The UNPF had been screwing up, as usual. Not because it was incompetent, although it was mostly trained to suppress urban insurrection, but because the politicians insisted on defining operations from up to twenty days away and without visiting the planet. They decreed that no hunt could be made for the upper ranks and organizers of the factions. Probably, that was because targeting foreign tics and dips would leave those gutless fucks open to retaliation.

    They said no hunting. Our Citizens Council is made of sterner stuff. We hunted. We succeeded. What the UN took twelve Earth years to screw up militarily, or more accurately, masturbate up, we resolved in six Earth months. Cut off the heads of the hydra, it grows new heads. Cut out the heart, grill it and eat it, the heads die.

    3rd Mobile Legion was tasked with holding the central district. That's ten thousand troops for two million residents. 3rd Mobile Assault Regiment, plus extra aviation support, held the capital, Attaturk. They did it by taking the city sector by sector and being ruthless. Anyone who faced them, died. They killed close to 15,000 Mtalis. Since the Mtalis and the UN had accounted for 300,000 over twelve Earth years, our count was far more humane, far more economical, and allowed the system to recover faster. They took each sector in turn, and exterminated the vermin.

    While Mob pacified the city, Special Warfare Blazer Regiment probed, patrolled and secured the rural areas. While they did that, Black Ops ran reconnaissance and baited the factions. We'd go out in squads or even fireteams, dare them to attack us, then mash them to paste. If we felt it necessary (we usually did), we called in gunships, artillery and orbital strikes. We managed to keep collateral casualties to a minimum, too. But I'm ahead of myself.

    The Citizens' Council and the Strategic Staff decided we needed the experience. They decided this would be the place to get it, despite the putrid taste of kissing the UN to accomplish it. They drew up a budget, a plan and the orders, then handed them down for us to do with as best we could.

    I had advance notice of this little jaunt. Officially, I mean. I was told to get my squad ready and be prepared to operate in support of 3rd Mob by ourselves while the rest of the deployed force—about a third of the regiment—would support the Legion. An independent command, even if as an attached unit. I felt drunk for a couple of days. Then I sobered up, realizing people's lives depended on my every word as never before. Still, it was powerful.

    There were plenty of hints that we were going. The Council discussed it. UN reps were invited to give us assessments and input on the war, excuse me, "engagement," and what was needed. That should have been enough for anyone. Then, everyone got told to check their gear top to bottom. Would you believe half or more of the Forces were surprised? Would you believe half or more of the people in elite combat units (Mobile Assault) were upset at the idea of leaving home? They even complained about how it would affect their sports, schools, etc. It made me wonder why they joined the military.

    I made one very good decision. I hit Logistics early and ordered everything we might need, in triple quantities. Naumann signed from his end, Erson from his and I faced off with the bean counters.

    I was told, "I don't care if you do have authorization for all this stuff, I am not letting this quantity of material go." That from a captain at Legion Logistics. Matt "Yankee" Blackman. An idiot controlled by his anger, who drank too much and was in crappy shape despite his burly physique. His office had the accoutrements of an officer from the First US Civil War, hence his affected nickname. "I have to maintain inventory, in case we get an order in."

    "You have an order," I told him. "Right here. I need the stuff."

    "And what if I get an inspection team in here? I won't have sufficient quantities on hand," he said.

    "So you tell them it was drawn and show them the restock orders," I said. How stupid was this clown going to be?

    "No," he said, shaking his head and screwing up his face. "I'm the word on logistics and I say 'no.'"

    I did the only thing I could. I said, "Yes, sir," and left.

    Then I went to Erson, who called up the chain. Then I went back over to Logistics. Blackman looked at me as I opened the door and said, "What the fuck do you want?" Then his phone beeped.

    He stared at it, then at me, then at it. I said, "I think it's for you."

    He snarled and turned the screen away from me. I heard him say, "Legion Logistics, Captain Bla— Yes, sir . . . Yes, sir . . ." Then he activated the hush field, but I'd seen what I needed to. He was "Yes, sir"ing and nodding. As soon as he disconnected, he muttered to one of his NCOs, who nodded. Blackman disappeared while the senior sergeant, Briggs was his name, took care of me. He winked and smiled as I left.

    Sure enough, a week later when the word came down to prepare, everyone hit logistics. All the savvy commanders had already cleaned out every depot on the surface or in the Halo. What was left over was dregs. The latecomers cleaned out what they could get, threw tantrums when told the drain was so far back that the manufacturers were backlogged and an emergency order couldn't get them what they needed. Some few took advances against budget, and in the case of one commander, a highly illegal but effective loan against unit assets, to buy from civilian sources and hope the budget would catch up. The rest paid out of pocket or their troops did, or went without.

    It was a bit shocking to me. Even with all our constant stressing of the essentials, of never being short of critical materials, here in the best military in space, people could get lazy and screw up royally. Even here, I would have to fight my own system as an enemy to get what I need. I thought about what would have happened if I hadn't had gold collars like Naumann and Erson willing to back me up. After we started fighting on Mtali, I thought about it again and shivered. Even with all that prep, I was short of what I needed. I would have been screwed if I hadn't had good officers above me. And if it was that bad for us, what was it like in the bad militaries?

    The mess was repeated as we processed and deployed. It seems as if everyone's family had an emergency come up around that time, and that does happen. Murphy's Law. Also, minor issues become emergencies when put under stress. Then there were troops missing critical skills, or materials, or documents. Delay after delay. My troops got through quickly, but we had to wait for our support.

    Eventually, we boarded our boats. It was a circus. Families, friends, lovers, the media . . . we went in early, faces painted and netted, tac helmets on. It made us look "gung ho." It also hid our faces from prying eyes. We clattered up the ramps early, our gear already stowed except for our personal luggage. We lifted while everyone else was waving bye-bye, and spent our first div aboard ship swapping out crappy bunks in our billet for good ones from elsewhere. Also working fire extinguishers, better vid gear and anything that could be used as privacy screens. The poor bastards who came aboard last would have to use baling wire and strapping tape to hold their bunks together.



    We started fighting the factions aboard the transports, by plotting. It's never too early to start winning a war. Brigadier Richard consulted with unit commanders, and we all gave input. The rest of them (except Erson and Naumann) tried to shut me out. Politics again. Certainly, I was an officer. I was a unit commander. I also was the youngest, newest one with the smallest unit, and an attached one, not a line unit. Never mind that I'd had more training than any six of the others. That wasn't a factor in their thinking.

    So, they kept talking over me, and I let them. I'd played this before. The suggestions were good, no doubt. They lacked imagination, though. Get maps of the area, each from different groups so as to maintain objectivity. Study maps in detail. Review terrain. Get a political profile of the planet. Research background info of the friendly and enemy commanders. Teach history of the dispute (that was a very good idea, actually, and one that's often overlooked by junior officers). The problem was, all that would bore the troops.

    After they wound down, and were looking at each other in smug satisfaction, Naumann addressed me. "You've been quiet so far, Warrant Chinran. Anything you think we may have overlooked?"

    I could play politics, too. "I asked Captain Rutledge and Major Maron for advice, and put together a list with their help." I flipped up a screen on my comm and read, "Post rank charts of the various factions for the troops to study. Make sure the info is distributed to every hatch and bunkroom, all over the mess, and the latrine doors. We want to take the intelligence to the troops, not make them dig for it. That way it will seep in whether they want it to or not. Have the mess start serving local style meals to get everyone acclimated. Adjust the ship's gravity and environment for exercises, and have anyone who'll be doing local contact work on basic vocabulary. It'll make it easier to deal with the locals, and can be a good source of intel if they listen for key words. Do advanced language studies for the Blazers—my people already have primers on the four main languages—and offer it for any of the regular troops who want it. Use children's vids; they're easy to follow and impart basic vocabulary fast. Especially, use kid's books with myths and legends. It's the best way to gain insight into a people quickly. As far as equipment, have Documents print up some playing cards with pictures of the basic infantry, arty, armor and special purpose troop gear. Designate the royal cards after ranking officers, and list specs and numbers on the number cards. And if they're going to gamble anyway, create trivia cards so they can bet on who knows the answers."

    There was a stunned silence for several seconds. Several officers looked sheepish, a few embarrassed. One or two grinned in appreciation and nodded, and a couple shot murderous glares at me, that I returned with bored but appraising locks to their eyes. They knew who'd be getting the points, the pips and the medals from this op.

    The mission was entitled "Operation Restore Liberty" by the UN. Our part was dubbed "Operation Galactic Support." I swear that the first time I get to decide, I'll be honest with the troops and call the mission "Operation Goat Rope." Or maybe just "Operation Dogfuck." Yes, nothing ever goes as planned, but this hadn't really been planned. More precisely, every unit and political need had its own plan, which it assumed was The Plan. Everyone assumed they could pull enough strings to get what they wanted. Everyone got half. It was always the wrong half.



    After twenty-one days and two hops, we arrived in the Mtali system. GRN 86 in Eridanus is a K0 with about 40% the luminosity of Sol. Our factory ship, FMS Force, and its destroyer escort peeled off for the meager planetoid belt. It would be hidden to everyone but its support crew and send us regular supplies that it created from raw materials and stellar output from 86. It didn't eliminate our logistics train, but it did reduce it immensely. I have to wonder why no one else has come up with a similar concept? Maybe because we lack capital ships and need such support? I think I prefer logistics insystem to dragging supplies for dreary parsecs, with the delay involved.

    We cleaned out our bunkroom and headed for our assault boat. I did it as a ritual. Rituals comfort people and give them stability. From the rear of the compartment, each troop moved out into the companionway, flipping his (or her) mattress as he went. All locker doors were left open. All gear hatches open. When the compartment was empty, bare white and gray polymer panels and doors with dull mattresses, I went in and closed each opening personally, doing a final check. There wouldn't be a dust mote left in there unless it showed me authorization. We had everything we brought, there were no mistakes so far, and we were ready to land.

    Then all we had to do was sit aboard our shuttle for a div while UN Space Control, Mtali got its thumbs out of its collective anus and gave us clearance. There were nervous conversations and card games in the stifling bay. At least it seemed stifling. There was adequate air flow and the temperature was 16 degrees, to allow for our clothing and armor. The dull background noise turned to cheers and battlecries as the clamps released us and we shoved off.

    Down from orbit, bucking through the atmosphere. It read like a script. Officers maintained our calm, professional, "nothing to worry about" expressions to reassure the troops, while being terrified inside. Experienced troops cracked jokes to scare the newer ones so they could pretend not to be scared. The somewhat experienced ones nodded and agreed and grinned hugely to hide their fear. The new kids sassed back and boasted so as not to appear ready to wet their pants. It's a traditional illusion.

    We were lucky. We were neither shot at, directed into a collision by bad control nor suffered any equipment malfunctions. Down we went, and when we hit the cloud level, sighs could be heard all around, the acts of earlier forgotten.

    We all felt nervous again as we thudded down. Now we were in hostile territory, and not yet with weapons loaded. I planned to fix that ASAP. We rolled out quickly, our pilots understanding our concerns, and since they relied upon us as we did them, they gave us no hassle. We slowed, I rose, and as the ramp dropped I went out. It was sunny, warm and clear, with industrial and chemical odors in the air.

    "Hot!" the pilot yelled. "Attack warning!"

    We unassed in a hurry, skittering across the apron and diving into the green nearest us. It was thick and tangled and great concealment from whatever the hell was about to hit us.

    It was a drainage sluice. The weeds were thick because it was boggy and wet. Slimy mud smeared across me, and warm, oily water splashed straight through the fabric of my uniform. I only noticed it after I felt my heart pounding enough to oscillate me on the ground.

    There was nothing immediately in sight, so I pulled up my comm while transmitting, "Form in immediate teams with nearest troops, minimize movement, prepare for incoming threats."

    A glance showed nothing nearby. What was the threat? Incoming kinetics to blow us to vapor? A terrorist somewhere getting off a shot? A real military assault with combined arms?

    Nothing. Nothing on my comm, either. I sent out an inquiry, as water capillaried up to my neck. Nothing.

    I don't know if it was the spaceport control having a wiseass joke at our expense, or if it was an attempt at pilot humor. He insisted he'd heard a warning, but he couldn't place the source. I intended to find out. A joke like that called for a retort.

    "False alarm," I said in disgust. "Let's go get dry."

    They followed me, Frank in the rear, and we sought some shade; the south temperate zone of Mtali gets quite bright. I found a convenient location near a maintenance building off the flight line, and we took a look at our gear. It was filthy, but only on the outside. Everything was wet, of course.

    We were already armed with our basic weapons, but the extra squad equipment needed to be checked and prepped. While we did that, I had the teams take turns cleaning and inspecting their personal kits.

    We had one brief, pleasant encounter with some of the departing Unos, as we took to calling them. A unit of US Marines came by, trudging on foot to their shuttle. Why they were slogging it and not on a vehicle I'm not sure, but I'd blame UN Logistics. They never were very reliable.

    The Master Sergeant First Class in charge of eight troops was following their Field Officer (yes, they really do have fifteen enlisted ranks, and yes, they really do need an officer to authorize every operation), turned to face us, and grinned what he probably thought was a scary smile. He said, "So, you're here to fight the factions, hey?"

    I matched his style and grinned a warface that would scare the dead. "No. We're here to kill the factions," I replied, slapping a clip home as I said so. He walked off shivering. We laughed.

    Despite that, I made sure everything my troops and I had was inspected and solid. Weapon. Basic ammo load. Harness. Canteens. First aid kit. Tools. Tactical helmet and all vision choices—sonic, IR, visual, enhanced, magnification. Body armor. Blades . . . you can never have enough blades. I had my wakizashi, a short bolo, a dagger in my left boot, a heavy locking folder in my pocket and another on my gear, not to mention a folding multitool and a tiny one in another pocket. The knife is was one of our first tools, and will always be one of the most important. I made sure everyone's blades were secure. We adjusted our optical sights for the .79 G and the odd magnetic field, which is nearly twenty degrees from the poles. Then we all checked our basic load of ammo for cracks, warps or other flaws.

    I did all that as a precaution, assuming for safety's sake that the area was hostile and would remain that way. I was correct, it turned out. Professional paranoia scores another win. Once our heavy gear was ready, we formed up for airlift/convoy to the UN headquarters, which was for some odd reason not attached to the starport. This is what comes of letting diplomats and politicians with no military experience run your war plans.

    At least the stark and sere compound, near the northern edge of town and easily reached by roads or air, had ringed perimeters and solid roadblocks and berms. I landed with half the unit as the other half brought vehicles, so as to clear our squad area ahead of time. The buildings were modern, basic and clean, far better than anything I expected in a combat zone. The chow hall was roomy, as were the theater, exchange, gym . . . I tried to decide if this was a war or a summer camp? The UN has the material and starlift capacity, but it struck me that being overly comfortable encouraged a long stay and lack of ardor in the fight. Best to move in, do the job and go home, not turn a developing nation (submerging, even) shithole into a parody of home.



    The key to understanding the UNPF is to remember that they are all effectively reservists. A reserve unit needs some shakedown training and time before deploying on a mission, and so did they. In the case of reserves, it's that they only train a few days a month. With the UNPF, it's due to inadequate training and poor budgets.

    Consider their "training": In basic, they shoot one string of "live" ammo with the charges reduced to near nothing. Beyond that, they shoot non-lethal weapons only once a year, and usually simulate that with a machine. They fire a simulated string of "live" ammo every five Earth years, if they stay in that long. Their first aid and other support training is all done by watching videos and answering true/false quizzes, which are corrected to 100%. If it isn't in the soldier's specific tasking, he gets either next to no training, or is denied training and told to "leave that to the experts." The infantry handles real weapons only once per month, and shoots only once per year.

    Before deploying, all personnel shoot another "live" string, officially. But commanders often skip that to avoid the adminwork, as every single round of ammo has to be accounted for. Since they don't allow people to possess weapons and account for them every time they go in or out, it seems redundant to count electrically fired cartridges that cannot be used as more than firecrackers without a weapon, but understanding the rationale of paranoid sheeple has never been my strong suit.

    It shows in their chain of command—officers supervise every little task, they have constant roll calls and accountability and they have civilians and contractors handle cooking, maintenance and other support chores even in a combat zone. These are technically noncombatants under the Mars Protocols, but accidents do happen. I consider those people braver than the troops; they have no weapons, little armor and only occasionally a single guard per detail.

    The FMF has no noncombatant personnel. We shoot weekly or monthly, depending on unit. We use live ammo. Our training consists of going to the field and doing it. We constantly seek tougher challenges (such as Mtali) to increase the difficulty of that training. We issue our troops weapons in basic and, unless court-martialed and discharged, they keep them for life. Ammo is ordered by the truckload and dispensed by the kilogram, not by the round. I figured we'd outmatch them about ten to one. I was correct.

    The biggest giveaway was when we met General Bruder. He seemed a bit on the slimy side. Not only that, he had a camera crew. Now, we have public affairs people, too, but this clown had a personal crew and a director to oversee the shots. Unbelievable. Especially as his acting resembled a tree, his face would jam an M-23, and his voice was a soft, whiny tenor to match his pale, sluglike body.

    This wasn't a military operation; it was a PR circus. All it needed was ten clowns getting out of a little car. Then I saw his staff limousine. Yes, limousine. Naumann had a plain SPV-46 command car, armored and gunned. No flash. But then, Naumann has nothing he needs to prove.

    I had a crawling feeling along my neck and shoulders. This couldn't be a serious operation. It had to be a dream, or a joke. Any second now, he'd smile, brace up, laugh and become a commander. Any second now. Any second. Now would be good.

    It wasn't a dream. But it was a nightmare. Then it got worse. Someone panned the camera across the crowd. Across me.

    I spun, getting my face out of view, slumping my shoulders to hide my posture, and flipped my visor down and my scarf up, as did my nearby squadmates. One of the crew came over to reassure me about permission forms and all that. I politely said, "Point a camera at me and I'll hack your throat open with a saw." He gibbered and left. So did I. This was no place for an Operative. It was no place for a soldier. It was no place for a real military.

    Which was exactly why we were there.

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