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Saturday, 28 December 2013

Space battles on land

Three years ago, when I'd nearly finalised The Eden Paradox, one of my pre-readers voiced a complaint. He wanted to see a battle between humanity and the enemy. I decided he was right and wrote the scene below. I figured that humanity, who had only just made it to their first planet (Eden), would not stand a chance in space against a space-faring species, but they might be able to wage war on land.

When reading it sometime later, I noticed that there is something about defending land that rouses the spirit, so I put one such battle into the second book, Eden's Trial, and as for the third, well, defending Esperia occupies most of the second half of the book. The chapter called 'Ground Assault' in Eden's Revenge is probably my personal favourite chapter so far of the entire series.

As I use the Xmas break to get stuck into the second half of the final volume, Eden's Endgame, I find myself once again drawn to this theme, only this time the enemy is defending their territory (Savange). Even though they are the enemy, and did a lot worse to us (mankind), I can't help rooting for them a little, because their home is under attack. There must be something inside of us, no matter the culture, creed or philosophy, that rallies when what we call home is under attack. It is probably primal, in that most species have such an instinct, whether animals defending their lair, or insects or birds defending their nest.

In science fiction series such as Star Trek, one of the ways occasionally used to 'up the ante' and increase the stakes, was to have Earth under threat. But why should Earth matter if humanity has been re-populated on a hundred other planets? Well, put simply, it does, and science fiction writers also use 'Earth-under-threat' as a device to draw in the reader.

Home - where we grew up, where our parents live(d), where our ancestors are buried; it is somewhere we would naturally defend, even if we left it for good reason. As a psychologist, I should have a better handle on this deep-seated feeling, but I confess I don't, and I'm not sure it matters, since it's almost instinctive. As a writer, though, I make use of it. In the case of the Eden series, once humanity gets displaced, they become even more attached to their new home. Will they be successful this time? Ask me in a couple of months, LOL. For me, now, I'm back (in my head at least) on the planet Savange, where the Alicians are under brutal attack. In the meantime, here's a reminder of the land battle scene near the end of the first book. Vince is leading the defence on Eden, where enemy Q'Roth ships are heading out to attack Earth...


Vince piloted the lead Sarth missile at a distance, using a virtual immersion "head-can" as the mil called it, bulleting it across the desert. While his body lay sleep-like back at base, the neural interface allowed him to steer the C6-laden dart just above the dune-tops, caressing Eden’s skin, zeroing in on the latest Earth-origin Q’Roth ship arrival. A black scab formed on the horizon. He clicked on zoom.

The swollen image resembled an animal carcass swarmed by ants. "Damn, too late – again," he muttered, knowing Vasquez and the controllers back at base could hear every word. Not that it was necessary – they saw everything via the slave screens. But he was pissed off – each time a ship landed full of human cargo, the Q’Roth began harvesting within minutes. He zoomed in further. People flooded out of the ship, dazed and bewildered, then fought to get back inside, eyes and mouths wide in panic, scrambling over each other upon seeing the swathe of Q’Roth warriors sweeping towards them. He zoomed back out, suppressing a welling of anger.

He rapped a control to relay the coordinates to his two tandem missiles, and the pair of piloted F-39s trailing behind with their nuclear payload. He signaled the attack pattern to the base controller with a single word: "Delta". The "D" stood for destroy – he judged it was too late to save the people; instead he had to make sure the ship didn’t take the latest Q’Roth hive back to Earth. A letter flashed in his left field of vision, "‘S", meaning Save. This was the third time Vasquez had disagreed with him. Okay, Vince thought, we’ll try it your way. He ramped up the acceleration for all three missiles, scratching across Eden’s flesh. 

His recon system auto-zoomed onto four smaller Q’Roth ships buzzing like flies around the feed – he’d seen similar ones around the last ship too. An electric blue band scythed in front of him, missing him by metres. He sent a command to "stutter" his engine thrust, making it harder for the Q’Roth to get a fix on him. His vision auto-compensated – but that was because he was there virtually – the F-39 pilots couldn’t use this trick, so he had to take out these smaller ships. But there were four, and he only had three missiles. As if on cue, they lifted away, accelerating towards him in a square defense pattern. He picked the nearest one and went to maximum speed, transmitting the command "frag-mode", as he spiraled through the blue beams latticing the sky. He pummeled into his target too fast to make out any expression from the Q’Roth pilot.

His vision leapt to the second missile, scorching in from the East. He dipped low to avoid a web of azure fire. He saw that his first missile had found its target – a plume of flame billowed mid-air, the wreckage of the Q’Roth vessel fire-balling to the ground. Better, some of the explosive fragments had scraped another one, not destroying it, but sending it to the ground like a swatted fly. He swerved his missile to the right, attracting another ship away from the transport, breaking their defense formation.

His vision snapped to the third missile – the second must have been hit. He shrugged it off; he’d distracted the ships, allowing the two fighters to roar in from the West ten metres above ground. He watched their pulse lasers strafe the rear edge of Q’Roth warriors, slicing a hundred out of existence like a razor clearing stubble.

            The remaining two Q’Roth ships disengaged from Vince’s missile and pursued the fighters. Vince was about to take out one of them when he spotted an open sore in the ground – the source of this particular Q’Roth horde. A steady stream of warriors hemorrhaged from their underground nest into Eden’s morning sky faster than blood from a slashed artery. He didn’t give it a moment’s thought: he broke off his pursuit and swung the missile full throttle into the cave’s mouth.

            He saw white. He tore off the head-can – no more missiles.

            "Christ, Vince," Vasquez shouted, "you just sentenced those pilots to death!"

            Vince muscled past Vasquez to the screens relaying video from the two fighters. Most of the people on the Q’Roth transport arrived from Earth were already dead, thousands of Q’Roth warriors scurrying over the mound of corpses to get inside the ship, to head toward Earth. One of the screens flat-lined. Vince snatched the microphone from the military controller handling the second fighter.

            "Take out the ship – do it now, you’re dead anyway!"

            Vasquez pushed next to him, seizing the microphone, but offered no counter-command. They watched the screen in silence as the fighter banked hard enough to make the controller flinch. The transport grew large in front of them as the jet aimed straight for the main hatch, a red light indicating the nuke was about to detonate. The screen flashed white.

            "Yeah, I know," Vince pre-empted Vasquez, "another hero. You should be proud. Medals all around later. How many Eagles left?"

            Vasquez’s lips squeezed to a white line. "Three."

            Vince eyed him, recognizing the look. '‘Want me to fly one? I can, you know. I’m a bit rusty, but –'’

            Vasquez grimaced. "What are your orders?"

            Vince scanned the intel around him. Three quarters of their screens were dull; almost all of their info-drones shot out of the sky. He rapped a control and the holomap folded out in front of him at waist-level, revealing Eden’s major continent in beige relief. Orange flags highlighted Q’Roth nests, yellow ones transports arrived from Earth, and red ones transports that had arrived with human freight, swapped it for Q’Roth warriors, and vanished back to Earth. Too much red! The inbound ships had been programmed to land on top of nests.

            Vasquez nodded towards the Southern section. "Turnaround time’s getting quicker. They know we’re here so they’re boarding fast as they can. Latest one was thirty minutes."  

            He made up his mind. "Change of strategy. We nuke them as soon as they arrive." Vince spoke to the map, pointing. "We send the fighters to these orange flags – we know transports are going to arrive there soon. If the fighters get there before the transports, they nuke the nests. If the transports arrive, they nuke them too." He held up a hand, raising his voice, shouting so everyone in the room was clear. "The fighters go in hot, nukes armed, so if they’re shot down, they detonate, if not, they bomb the ships as soon as they find them."

            Vasquez blanched. "What about the people on board? We’re soldiers for God’s sake, not butchers."

            Vince rounded on him, ignoring the fact that Vasquez was a head taller. "Your job is to protect humanity. Contain the threat on Eden. Maximize survival back on Earth. We can’t help the people here, they’re dead either way. Give the command!"

            Vasquez faced off Vince. "We’ll meet in hell, for sure, Vince."

            Vince didn’t blink. "I have a condo there waiting for me. You’re welcome for tea. Now give the fucking order, Colonel."

            Vasquez bristled. He nodded to the controllers.

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