FIVE DAYS LATER [ELANOR PLUS FIVE]
Stepping over a puddle of rainwater – now a solution of mud and blood – he came to a pause at the mangled metal gates of the courthouse that sat behind him. Acker looked behind towards the roof of the building. Just a few days ago he’d ordered the local governor’s corpse to be removed from his hanging place between the pillars where he had been left, stripped and flayed for all to see.
There was no longer any trace of him. All that was left of the area now were broken things; windows and cobblestone paths, pitted, uprooted rusting gates and shattered iron fences. The remnants of crumbled and fallen walls were scattered and lying in piles, torn down and stippled with bullet holes.
Acker coughed into the padded leather covering his hand; his breath starkly visible in the damp morning’s winter air. It was cold and wet here, having rained in the hours following the final conflict at the turning of the day cycle.
He made his way over the square that lay before the government building, Around him, the 32nd Infantry’s task force went about their business. Apart from the scavenging gulls and the dwindling military occupation, the town was relatively void of noise. The 502nd had vacated the area to the immediate vicinity of Penan in order to deal with the threat of the remaining enemy forces who would retake the town if they were to rapidly regroup nearby. They were realised not to be Mandate, but a whole other force. Until identification these hostiles were given the code of Strangers.
Major General Acker pushed the door to a nearby house open, a house that had previously housed a local medical practitioner. As he did so, a trooper in olive medium carapace and a maroon beret sharply saluted him. Acker returned the salute without missing a step. His face remained turned upwards, not out of arrogance but out of natural born pride.
He was far from a heavy build, but Acker looked all the more powerful for his high, stiff collar that hid his neck, and the hooked nose sat between two glacier-like eyes beneath short, thinning chestnut hair.
Acker’s staff had commandeered this house as a temporary base of operations. Before this, Acker had no sway on Demeter and had been dispatched in the second wave of reinforcements, tasked with the mop up of the remaining Mandate forces. He was a minor general who had been transferred to Demeter after a drawn out political game on Earth that led to him gaining a foothold of command here. He was pleased with the outcome.
As Acker understood it, he and Teach were the generals who were operating the North and South Thule theatres. He knew that there were other theatres on the other, minor continents, and their superior on Demeter was General Crawford, who held the present military might of all the operational theatres on the planet. Meanwhile the Union Navy sat in orbit with little more to do than picket the system and oversee the overall Marine regiment’s appointments – in some cases Earth Union Army generals had been loaned temporary command of the marine forces. There were a number of such ranks on Demeter now, given the size of the planet, with few marine regiments to go around. Only one had been loaned to the South Thule theatre’s commander and that was the 9th.
Acker had been met by the higher Lieutenant General Teach upon his arrival to the Thule continent, whose last act in the South Thule theatre was conducting the Penan operations – including that Operation Elanor – in a mobile habitation unit umpteen kilometres from the previously somewhat busy fishing town. During the last push, Acker had attached himself to the 32nd and had since inherited the command of this theatre from Teach. The lieutenant general had gone to the northern reaches of Thule in order to oversee the now more important operations in the Highgate areas, and Major General Acker had been left to oversee the actions in the Penan sectors of South Thule. That was five day cycles ago, Acker had seen several news broadcasts relating several, if vague, allusions to the war effort and especially the growing problem of refugees from all over the continent, fleeing destroyed homes or trying to flee the Mandate revolution. This didn’t take from the fact that, five days after taking over Teach’s duties, Acker was still compiling the tools and data that Teach had at his disposal.
Upstairs, above the murmur of staff and officers working away in the rooms below, Acker tapped away at a flat keypad, peppering the silence in the room. The study, as it was in its previous use, was now Acker’s private room. Once scattered books were piled back onto the shelves and the heavy desk and chair had been dragged away from the window to face the door. The room was almost as cold as the outside and no one had found the time to light the fireplace that sat like a blackened, wide-mouthed golem behind Acker, who, although he had removed his greatcoat, still wore his scarf and gloves.
Birch placed a tray of the least broken cups and teapot he could find on the table.
“That isn’t coffee,” stated Acker, not even bothering to look up from the glow of the holoscreen that sat suspended in the air above his keypad. His hawk-like face was motionless. Steam snaked from the pot.
“There is no coffee,” Birch was mousy in his appearance but carried himself with a silent poise that gave him an uncaring demeanour – either he was uncaring or he was utterly comfortable and aware of any situation surrounding him.
“I noticed,” he replied. The general paused for a moment, looking at his screen. “Elanor?” His features stiffened, somewhere between apoplexy and confusion. Birch instinctively looked at the screen but couldn’t make out any of the words on it from that distance.
“The operation, sir?” Birch had made it his job to read up on all the events he could within his security clearance; which, in the Thule continent’s southern theatre of war, wasn’t a lot. Acker hummed, his thoughts unreadable as he accessed the details on his screen.
“Send a message to Colonel Nifelheim.”
“Stating what?” Birch took the tray and placed it under his arm after pushing the round glasses back up his nose.
“Congratulating the success of Operation Elanor.” Acker looked to the young adjutant. “What is the look for?”
“General, the operation wasn’t a complete success. The 9th didn’t manage to rescue the EU-2.” – the Earth Union Espionage Unit. This was true. “Although the 9th Marines did disable the Hammer AA unit.”
The Hammer AA unit. This was a towered silo that could launch and track guided missiles at up to three aircraft in a one kilometre radius at any given time, given that they weren’t displaying the correct IFF codes – something which was taken advantage of in the extraction of the 9th in Operation Elanor. If the Spectre craft had been in the operation zone with other Union units, there was every possibility that they could have been tracked and shot down by friendly fire. According to the files in front of Acker, on the translucent screen, command had felt It was a risk worth taking. The risk was minimalised since Sparek’s marines were only meant to signal for extraction via a beacon when the objective of nullifying the Hammer was successfully met.
At the very least, with that objective met, the liberation of Penan was enabled and, as evidenced by the presence of the 32nd and Major General Acker in the town, successful.
Although the EU-2 was not extracted, the AA unit was negated. The EU-2’s condition was not entirely reasonable. The detail here read “evacuate Earth Union Espionage Unit personnel Lt. Reinhardt Blake and Cpl. Cecelia Wordworth alive”. Acker felt it was unfair – the variable of their life’s condition was not something that was guaranteed by ODIN.
There was no guarantee at all that they would be alive. So, yes; the objectives were, to Acker, satisfactorily met.
Acker felt a small debt to this Colonel Nifelheim. To him; not so much his team, but to Nifelheim himself. He and the 9th were a proven tool that he could use now. Acker was an ambitious man and strongly felt deserving of more influence back on Earth and on Demeter.
“I had to push for this position, Birch. They wanted me peacekeeping in the Africas.” he said. Birch nodded. Acker didn’t need to state it. He already knew. “I need something tangible. Something respectable.” The secretary, in return, cleared his throat. He was looking towards the pile of books on the mantlepiece. He could say it to Birch. Birch was his most trusted hand.
“Something respectable. Something solid. Something that will prove that you are up to the task, perhaps? Something which will turn their teas sour when they can’t claim credit for your work.” All to which Acker was nodding behind arched fingers perched on his lips. “Might I suggest by starting with a public announcement of your command of the forces in this sector? And then a good, solid victory? Consolidate your forces’ attentions on you and then show them what your directions can do.”
Acker looked up, catching eyes with his secretary. “What do you have in mind? The announcement, I mean,” to which Birch’s grin crept up his face.
“Dinner with the more important COs. I’ll organise that, sir.” Acker grinned too. “You are the expert on the victory – you can think of something more fitting than I can. Will that be all, brigadier general?”
“The 9th are in need of tasking,” he said, slow and heavy with thought. Birch saw where he was going.
“The Persephone Geothermal,” said Birch.
Acker was peering down his hawk-like nose and Birch through his glasses at the general. “Yes,” he said, slowly agreeing. “Thank you, Birch.” The adjutant smiled, saluted, and made his way out of the room.
Acker turned back to his keypad, typing his way through more files, more documents. The orders of Operation Elanor’s origins weren’t specified. That was an unusual find. That meant that the orders must have from significantly higher than himself for the details not to be available to him.
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– by Kier Sparey
© Kier Sparey 2015