Into the Fire
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Ultimately, the decisions of the admirals...
...were the Viceroy's responsibility.
Could the losses have been avoided?
Down on Alfheim, the situation was dire. Some brave men and women had to be left behind for the greater good. Viceroy Miles Hunt, gutted by the losses, needed to stay focused. A Titan-class warship, the Freedom, could be the key to victory, if it were fully operational with a trained crew.
It was not.
Could Miles find another ally to be a wild card?
Sam, the medical Synth, faced something the programmers never expected--a moment where the only option was to break free of the code. The battle was fierce and there didn't seem to be a way out, until Sam came up with a plan.
Would it save them?
The Republic needed a big win, one that would force peace, but they might have underestimated the resolve of the Zodarks. The superships were on the way, but time wasn't on their side.
The tide of the war had shifted.
You'll love this fifth installment of the Rise of the Republic series because this gripping story of survival and grit will have you sitting on the edge of your seat until the end.
Get it now.
The Rise of the Republic Series is best read in order, as each book builds upon the previous work. The reading order is as listed:
Book One: Into the Stars
Book Two: Into the Battle
Book Three: Into the War
Book Four: Into the Chaos
Book Five: Into the Fire
Book Six: Into the Calm
Release date: December 21, 2021
Publisher: Front Line Publishing Inc.
Print pages: 403
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Into the Fire
Two Weeks Post-Zodark Invasion
312th Battalion Command Post
Frigid air swept down the side of the ridge, bringing with it a swirling blast of snow and another cold front. Every evening, like a well-oiled machine, the sun would fade, and the two moons would appear at the two o’clock and five o’clock positions in the sky. Then the temperature would drop precipitously from the daily high of around twenty to forty degrees Fahrenheit to the nighttime average, somewhere around five degrees. The cold fronts would bring even more frigid weather.
Major Jakub Pilecki rubbed his temples. His head was killing him—a side effect of the kinetic strikes from the battleships in orbit above them. The shockwaves and concussive blasts from the hits were starting to have an adverse effect on him and his men. One could only handle so many overpressure impacts.
“Sir, General Bakshi is trying to reach you on the secured video teleconference,” a staff NCO called out to him.
Pilecki nodded. He stood slowly and walked over to the communications room—a small side room in the cave tunnel they’d turned into a secured room. It wasn’t amazing, but it was a private place to confer with his officers out of earshot of everyone else.
When he entered the room, he saw the digital image of General Veer Bakshi on the monitor. Bakshi was the head of the Republic ground forces and had opted to stay with his forces rather than flee off-world when the rest of the fleet had to withdraw. His face looked tired; his eyes had deep circles under them, likely from stress and a serious lack of sleep. “You look like hell, Major,” the general commented.
“I could say the same about you, sir.”
Bakshi laughed. “We’re all going to need some sleep after this campaign.”
“True enough. Sir, any word on how last night’s attack went?” asked Pilecki, cutting to the chase. “My guys hit their targets, but we took an orbital strike in the process. Lost an entire platoon.”
The general’s face looked grim. “The attack was successful. Your men did a brilliant job. Two of the ten Orions made it through the enemy air defenses and successfully delivered their payload. We took the bridge out, and with it, the enemy’s ability to move freely between the two provinces.”
Pilecki felt good about that. At least his platoon hadn’t died in vain. Their job had been a tough one—get in close and assault several laser and missile batteries so the Orions could deliver a series of smart missiles to take the massive structure out. They’d tried for more than a week to blow that bridge, to no avail, so this was a huge jump forward.
“Judging by the look on your face, General, you don’t seem satisfied with the results,” Pilecki commented.
Bakshi shrugged. “The cost of these attacks continues to grow, Major. Yesterday, we lost contact with the 192nd. They launched a large counterattack against a Zodark base, near the ruins of FOB Troy. Near as we can tell, they destroyed most of the enemy aircraft and ground vehicles when they hit the flight line and the vehicle depot—but during their withdrawal to the tunnels, they just went dark.”
Pilecki had a sick feeling in his stomach. FOB Troy was maybe thirty kilometers from his own position. When that attack had taken place the other day, his own forces had heard it and turned some of their surveillance cameras in its direction. They had hoped to capture some footage of it that might help them down the road. As they were watching everything unfold, they heard a thundering boom, and then a plume of smoke rose into the sky in that direction.
“I think I know what happened to them, General. On our way back from our own mission, we had our surveillance cameras watching us and the 192nd. Pretty much any operations in our area, we observe. What we saw looked like an orbital strike somewhere in their general direction. It’s likely they were taken out by it. If you’d like, I can dispatch some scouts to try and make contact with their base camp and see what happened,” Pilecki offered.
“Yes, please do. If there are survivors, have them consolidate with your battalion. Oh, I’m also sending Dog Company from the 313th your way. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the Orbots launched a series of attacks on the 313th this morning. Near as I can tell, Dog Company and just a few remnants of the others are the only survivors.”
Pilecki sighed at the news. It just keeps getting worse. Each day, each week of this occupation, we lose more and more of our comrades. He looked back at the general. “Sir, when these other units eventually make their way to our AO, it’ll essentially plus me up to preinvasion levels. What more can my unit do to aid the overall effort?”
“I’m glad you asked, Pilecki. I’d like you to start creating sniper, IED, and IDF teams. Spread them out a bit. Have your teams make the roads dangerous to travel on. Use your snipers to create fear of leaving their bases. Your IDF attacks, have them focus on the enemy supply depots. We want these guys to constantly be short on supplies and scared of departing their bases.
“Have all your units that aren’t participating in these kinds of attacks focus on staying out of sight and staying alive. There’s going to come a time when reinforcements arrive. When the Republic returns to take this system back, we’re going to need units left to help with the invasion. So, whatever you do, please try to keep as much of your battalion intact as possible. I can’t let up on the attacks against the enemy, but I also can’t lose my entire ground force, either. We just have to hold out a few more weeks, another month tops, and the fleet will be back with reinforcements. Just do what you can, Major, and don’t risk more of your people than absolutely necessary.”
They talked for a few more minutes before the general ended the call. He likely had a few more battalion and brigade commanders to talk with. Normally, a major wouldn’t have this kind of direct access to a general, let alone the commanding general for all Republic forces on the planet, but General Bakshi had a vested interest in Major Pilecki’s battalion since his youngest son was a sergeant in the 312th.
To the chagrin of Bakshi, his son had joined the RA as an enlisted soldier instead of following in his father’s shoes as an officer. The general had been adamant about his son not receiving any special treatment, but Pilecki wasn’t about to let the young man die on his watch if he could avoid it. He’d made the sergeant one of the battalion operations NCOs. It kept him away from the fighting but still involved in the action.
I just have to keep my men alive long enough for reinforcements to arrive, Pilecki told himself.
Three Weeks into the Zodark Occupation
Apollo Company, 1-331st Infantry Battalion
Deep below the surface of Alfheim, in their makeshift command and control room, First Lieutenant Henry Magnussen slammed his fist down on the table, causing the items on it to bounce. “I am telling you—I do not have the manpower or the resources to conduct such an operation, Hamza,” he barked in frustration to the Primord commander.
Shortly after the massacre at Forward Operating Base McHenry, Commander Hamza had linked up with the human and synthetic survivors. They had all taken refuge in one of the many caves below the planet’s surface, shielding them from the Zodark and Orbot scanners.
Hamza and his VikkSkein Continental Guard began working closely with the remaining Republic soldiers, carrying out hit-and-run attacks against the Zodark and Orbot ground forces as they continued to spread out on the planet. But as more time passed, Hamza grew impatient with the small pinprick attacks. In his eyes, the IEDs, sniper attacks, and small-unit ambushes just weren’t enough.
According to Hamza’s informant network, the Zodarks and Orbots had begun construction on several new orbital defensive platforms to replace the ones the Republic forces had destroyed a month ago. At least one of them was being built on the continent of VikkSkein, within striking distance of their location. The closer the thing got to being completed, the more anxious everyone became.
First Lieutenant Singletary looked at the rest of the platoon leaders of Apollo Company before stepping forward. “Henry, can we at least hear Hamza out? The fact of the matter is, if they’re able to build those defensive platforms before help arrives, then you can kiss any rescue mission goodbye.”
Lieutenant Henry Magnussen closed his eyes. It looked as if another outburst was going to follow, but then he took a very deep breath. He glanced at Singletary and then back to Hamza. “Go on, then, Commander.”
Hamza removed a small circular disc and placed it on the table. Lights sprang from its face and created a three-dimensional blueprint of the defense platform that was being constructed in orbit above them in VikkShein. A large rectangular spaceport hovered in low orbit above the continent, with four long tubular elevators reaching into the atmosphere and down to the planet’s surface.
“Each of these platforms will hold several orbital defensive weapons with early-warning capabilities that will help the enemy seek out and destroy any ship approaching the planet. Once completed, they’ll be able to destroy our Republic ships before they can get within range of their weapons. If the weapons on these platforms are all allowed to come online, Lieutenant, the enemy will be able to defend this planet with impunity. My compatriots are working hard to gather more intel from their people on the inside, and they’re convinced we can destroy the one here in VikkShein before it becomes operational, which will leave an opening for Republic forces when they come to liberate us. However, time is not on our side.”
Magnussen walked around the table, looking at the blueprint. “Hamza, I have one company of Republic soldiers, two mech squads, and four hundred synthetic soldiers. I have three Cougars, three all-terrain vehicles—which are weaponless, mind you—and absolutely no air assets. I understand what the issue is, but I’m finding it more and more impossible of a feat to accomplish. How many Primords do you have in your Continental Guard? A thousand? We simply do not have the manpower nor the firepower to travel up those elevators and destroy the platform. We’re just spread too thin.”
Hamza smiled. “We won’t have to go up the elevators and capture the platform. We just need to destroy their anchors here on the ground before their construction is complete. It will disrupt their supply lines and hurt their ability to send reinforcements through the space elevators. But even more than that—destroying the anchors won’t just prevent them from using the elevators, it will destabilize the platform above and cause it to fall out of orbit—”
“And what, may I ask, would stop them from fixing the elevators and continuing construction?” Magnussen pressed. “After the attack, we will no doubt have lost hundreds of soldiers, our element of surprise, and our ability to hide. What then? We die knowing we took those elevators down with us?”
“Destroying those elevators will buy us time, Lieutenant—precious time we are running out of,” Hamza insisted. “If we destroy those elevators, it could be in vain. We could lose everything—but if we are able to destroy them and your fleet is able to come back with a larger force, we could be the ones who turned the tide. It’s simple: either we destroy the elevators and buy ourselves more time, or we sit in these caves and eventually starve to death.”
Magnussen was silent for a moment, absorbing what the Primord commander had just told him. When he spoke again, he was much more measured in his response. “My big concern right now is trying to figure out how our forces wouldn’t just get zapped from space. You heard what happened to the 312th Battalion, right? On the fourth day of the invasion, they reorganized and emerged from their bunkers and caves and launched a massive assault against an Orbot base. Minutes into their advance, nearly all their armored vehicles were turned into slag. Then an entire company was wiped out by a couple of zaps from their powerful lasers. The bastards had moved one of their cruisers into the atmosphere and used it for close-air support. So, that brings me back to my original question. How do we carry out a complex attack like this without losing what forces we have?”
Hamza also did not respond right away. “You bring up a good point,” he conceded. “Still, I believe it is possible. Maybe we can look to break the attacking teams down into smaller elements, making it tougher for them to target our teams.”
Magnussen’s gaze had returned to the blueprint turning slowly in the air above the table. He flicked his fingers, moving the image to a certain spot he wanted to get a closer look at, and let out a sigh. “I have one of my squads heading out on an operation right now to destroy a mining facility. I could FRAGO that order and send them to a nearby supply depot and slow down the construction of this platform.” He looked over to Singletary, who nodded and walked out of the room to inform Third Squad of the change. “In the meantime, Hamza, I want you to come up with a real, actionable plan on how we can take out those elevators, knowing the enemy will likely have a cruiser on standby to destroy our vehicles and zap any large clusters of troops. No hypotheticals—give me realistic plans with real solutions to the problem we face. The operation tonight should buy you some time to get it done, yes?”
Hamza nodded. “Yes, Lieutenant, that would be satisfactory. Thank you.”
Magnussen nodded, and Hamza and his men left the room.
Magnussen looked back to his NCOs. “While Hamza is working on that, we need to keep trying to find other battalions out there. I know we can’t be the only ones left. We need to coordinate our efforts with these other units. If we don’t act alone, then we’ll have a much better chance of survival.”
The night sky was magnificent. It was hard to believe that a world filled with so much violence and ugliness could spawn such beautiful sights. Andre Bastille pulled his eyes away from the long-range viewfinder and stared up into the night sky. Hundreds of thousands of stars winked at him as the cold air of the ice planet bit into his exposed skin. Even in the most remote parts of the French countryside, he would never dream of seeing that many stars, let alone in Saint-Etienne, where he was from. It made the trips he’d taken with his mother to the Ardennes Mountains even more special.
Andre peered through the viewfinder again, setting his gaze on the enemy outpost that was being constructed a few miles away from where his unit was in refuge.
It had been three weeks since the battles in orbit and at their forward operating base. They’d been left stranded when the fleet had had to retreat from the system. It had been a long three weeks, with little rest and a lot of hardships. But they were still alive and kicking.
Unfortunately, there had been no word from any Republic or allied forces to let them know help was on the way. For the time being, the surviving members of the 331st Infantry Battalion were flying blind. Andre and the rest of Apollo Company had been working hard, building their underground network, working with locals who had chanced to meet them in the dark, and initiating hit-and-run raids on Zodark supply lines. It was about all they could do, given the circumstances.
The enemy knew they were still alive; what they didn’t know was where they were hiding or how many of them had survived. The Zodarks sent out hunter scout drones regularly—nasty little two-meter drones that would fly over the tree canopies, using a thermal lens to identify their heat signatures. Once one of the drones located an allied soldier, it usually just kept going and seemed to ignore them…but a much larger drone would usually show up less than an hour later and prosecute the hunt.
If the Zodarks and Orbots had figured out just how few their numbers were and where they had been hiding, they would’ve wiped them out already. Instead, Andre lay prone in the rising snowbanks alongside his squad leader, Sergeant Tahlia Jones, as they watched the enemy push their area of control closer to the last bastion of Republic defense on Alfheim.
“Takata has been doing well,” Andre said into his headset.
Akito Takata had come to Alfheim as a fresh-faced replacement only an hour before the attack on FOB McHenry had begun. When Staff Sergeant Otto Krauss had been killed in the attack, it had left the mech squad with one less member. Takata hadn’t come down the well to be a mech operator; he was just a regular grunt that had yet to be assigned. However, when the company had taken shelter in the cave systems, Takata had practically fallen into the mech squad’s lap. The young soldier had spent hours helping repair and find ammunition for the surviving mechs, and when no one had come from the line platoons asking for him, Jones had adopted him into their ranks.
From what Andre had seen, Otto Krauss had been a fantastic leader, beloved by Jones and Abede, but he was a hard man. Even though Andre hadn’t known Krauss well, Jones seemed torn up by his death. Andre thought perhaps Krauss’s thick German accent had given his words a harsher tone. Jones had told Andre that the military was made of hard people—some showed it on the battlefield, and some wore it all the time. It was hard men and women who would win this war and the many wars to come. She was right as far as Andre was concerned.
Jones looked over her shoulder to him. “He is doing pretty damn well; I’ll give him that.”
“It’s a shame we cannot give him a mech to use,” Andre bemoaned.
“You’re more than happy to give him yours if you want.”
Andre almost laughed. “I don’t think that would be a very good idea.”
Jones looked back to him again. “Why is that? Isn’t it a shame that he doesn’t get to drive a mech?”
Andre rolled his eyes. It was another lecture from Jones. She could never just say, “No, you can’t do that, and this is why.” She always had to kill him with sarcasm until he got the hint. Sometimes he wondered what was better, getting yelled at for being stupid or having it explained to him nicely that he was stupid. He concluded that Tahlia Jones was no Otto Krauss, and that was OK.
“It would be a bad idea to put him in a mech with no prior training and just thrust him into combat when we are already heavily outmatched. Given we only have a few mechs, we need the most skilled operators in them. Plus, we have no air support.”
Jones nodded and looked back down her own viewfinder, satisfied to have received the answer she was looking for.
Andre wasn’t satisfied with the conversation, though. “Jones, I could teach him. We could all teach him when we have downtime. We almost never come above ground when it’s daylight, and even at night, we almost never bring the mechs out. I could teach him how to pilot one, and if the time ever comes where he is ready, he can be a pilot for the squad. You know, in case one of us ends up getting killed or unable to use our mech.”
Jones sighed, her breath making a short cloud near her mouth. “Maybe you’re right. I’m personally not planning on getting killed anytime soon, and I don’t believe the rest of you are, but if you want to train him, then go ahead. If nothing else, it’ll keep you guys busy.”
Andre smiled. There would likely never be a free mech, but he was glad she’d at least let him plan for it in case something did happen. Krauss and Fujii had been dead for three weeks. While their deaths hadn’t hit him too hard, it was acting like a leech on Jones, sucking the life and light right out of her. He wished he could do or say something to comfort her or help her through the grieving process. But Jones was a tough cookie—no matter what was going on with her, she was hell-bent on handling it herself.
Andre pitied her in that regard—not that he would ever tell her that. Despite having been in the Army for a few years, Andre hadn’t lost any friends yet. This was the first unit he’d been assigned to that had seen real combat. Andre considered himself fortunate that he hadn’t lost a lot of friends in this war. Heck, for all he knew, his family, including his grandparents, were all still alive on Earth. His grandparents were in their early hundreds, and his great-grandparents were in their 130s. It boggled his mind that they were still tilling their fields and pruning their vineyards in the South of France.
When Andre had arrived at FOB McHenry, the mech squad had already lost Fujii, and Andre was his replacement. The platoon had taken a lot of losses. It was always hard for a new guy to join any platoon, knowing their very presence was the result of one of his new platoonmates’ friends having been killed or seriously wounded. However, at the end of the day, they would all just end up a statistic—either they’d be among those who’d fought on this godforsaken frozen planet and lived to tell about it, or they’d join the faceless multitude who never made it home.
In the lead-up to the Zodark and Orbot invasion, Andre had fought well with his new platoon. He’d shown he could follow orders and hadn’t hesitated to take charge and lead in the midst of a battle if it was required. When their home away from home had started getting plastered from space, he’d rallied some soldiers to fight with him while they covered a retreat from the base into the forested hills and caves nearby. That retreat had saved lives and allowed many platoons and companies the time they’d needed to scatter to their predetermined bunkers and tunnel systems. From their new redoubts, they’d go on to carry out hit-and-run attacks against the enemy as they worked with the locals as best they could on building up an insurgency. Now, nearly three weeks later, Andre really felt like he was a part of the nucleus of the platoon, one of the old-timers.
“Friendlies on your six,” came a voice in their headsets, breaking his train of thought.
Andre looked away from the viewfinders to see Abede and Takata slowly crawling their way up the snowbank until they drew even with Jones and Andre. Akito Takata wore a heavy cloth around his neck and face. All that was visible was his dark eyes, which smiled at Andre as they approached. Andre patted him on the shoulder.
“Welcome to overwatch,” Andre announced as he pushed back and let Takata take his place at the viewfinder.
Jones did the same with her position and briefed Abede. “Same activity we’ve seen the past week. The Zodarks are continuing to build an outpost on the edge of that village. They started bringing in more supplies and dismantling those bundles near the road. I believe they’re trying to expand the walls of the outpost to create a roadblock they can control. Two Orbots showed up to watch over the Zodarks, but hell only knows if it’s the same ones from the last visit or new ones. Other than that, it’s been a quiet night. Your relief, as always, will be here in the next eight hours—if you have any problems, call for help using the tones, and we’ll be on our way.”
The tones were a set of rhythmic audio blasts that sounded like keys on a piano being played: three short beeps and three long ones. Whenever that melody went out over the communications network, a QRF, or quick reaction force, would be sent out to its origin. The signal was only to be used in extreme situations.
“We got it from here, Jones. Thanks,” Abede confirmed.
Now relieved, Jones and Andre pushed their way below the sightline of the snowbanks and stood, making their way to the two-person all-terrain vehicle at the bottom of the hill. Andre took his rifle and snapped it into the magnetic gun rack attached to the side of the vehicle before swinging his legs over and starting the machine up. Jones did the same and climbed behind him.
“Will Third Squad’s mission tonight compromise Abede and Takata’s position?” Andre asked.
Jones’s grip on his waist tightened slightly. “I’ve been asking myself that question all night. It shouldn’t—but honestly, nothing really surprises me anymore. If it happens, they’ll be ready.”
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