Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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by Robert Jarero

Louis Macarthur stood gazing through a pair of viewers on the walkway atop the stone and metal perimeter wall. Displayed in the miniature screens before his eyes were wireframe representations of the terrain he was scanning. He wasn’t simply given a facsimile of the hills before him, however; the viewers, being state-of-the-art, were equipped with thermal and energy signature detection capabilities. So, though to the naked eye the view seemed to be nothing more than a calm landscape with rolling hills and quiet skies, his eyes could easily see the two-hundred or so heat signatures that were far too large to be scattered local fauna.

They were moving in groups, large at first, then smaller as they neared the perimeter defenses. Even at this distance, Macarthur could make out the faint energy signatures of mid to high level projected energy weapons in their hands.

He was fairly impressed at their movements. They maintained a solid grouping and seemed to know the best locations for cover and opportunity. Most were moving toward the western wall, but a fair number were taking up positions along their escape route and even a few more were making their way to the eastern end of the compound. Their tactics were very efficient, really… almost military in design.

Off to his right, a man dressed in a security uniform much like his own casually strolled up to him.

“Clear night?” the man asked, nonchalantly. Though his voice was calm and casual, his eyes belied his comfort, instead remaining sharp and intent on the landscape before them.

“Fairly,” he answered, keeping his voice just as relaxed. “Looks like both moons are going to be in their New phase tonight. Not much light to see by.”

The man standing next to him looked up and narrowed his eyes, making a show of scanning the evening sky for a glimpse of either of the moons circling the planet.

“East or west end?” he asked.

“West,” Macarthur replied.

“Oh,” the man said as he shifted his gaze to the west side of the horizon. Seeming satisfied that he wouldn’t be able to make out either of the satellites he sighed.

Still making a show of being indifferent he crossed his arms in front of him and yawned as he leaned back against the railing of the catwalk. Once again, however, his eyes made their way to the western wall and remained fixed, trying to discern the movement that he now knew was continuing.

“So what’s on the menu tonight, anyway?” he asked, keeping the conversation going.


“Is it thick?” the second man asked.

“Fairly,” Macarthur answered, hesitating only as he counted off a number of probabilities in his mind.

“I like it thick,” he shot back, smiling.

“It may not leave much room for dessert,” Macarthur’s voice took on a slight somber pitch as he saw three more energy signatures, of substantial size, beginning to emerge from just beyond the horizon. At this distance he couldn’t make out any details but they were too large and moving too fast to be simple troop transports. They had to be fighter craft, then.

“Maybe I should skip the dessert, then?” his companion’s eyes closed as he grimaced at the news.

“You wouldn’t want to insult the cook, would you?” Macarthur replied, smiling slightly. This wasn’t something he was going to run from, besides, he was prepared for an aerial attack.

“Perish the thought…”

The words had just left the second security guard’s mouth as a bright flash accompanied by a bone shuddering thunder all but evaporated a portion of the west-end wall.

The two men leapt over the railing on the inner side of the wall and landed lightly on their feet, breaking into a dead run for the second building to their right. To their left, they could both make out the figures of multiple Shidarian raiders breaking through the shambles of the western wall.

They were wearing their typical rag-tag 'uniforms' of whatever was handy garnished with scraps of red and white cloth and armed with Motashi E-7 PEWs, a fully automatic multi-phase plasma rifle. The E-7s were a fairly robust line of rifles used mostly in extreme environments, but they were notorious for their inaccuracy. With this in mind, both men knew if they kept moving then they would be difficult targets for the raiders.

Thinking the pair as vulnerable opportunities, ten of the raiders broke their ranks to chase them down. Rather than seeking refuge inside the building, however, the two men stopped several meters in front of the western-facing wall of their objective and turned to face their pursuers.

Not expecting this reaction, the raiders stopped in their tracks. Seconds later the men’s faces switched from confusion to horror as the outer edges of the building exploded and, swinging outward, fell flat to the ground revealing thirty well-armed soldiers sporting full battle armor.

“Fire!” the second security guard shouted, brandishing a pistol-sized weapon of his own.

The two security men dropped to one knee as the soldiers behind them opened fire. Within moments, the raiders were reduced to charred piles of flesh.

Seeing the new threat, the other raiders began to close their ranks and retreat. A few took aim and fired at the soldiers, but their movements didn’t aid accuracy and their shots went wide. With precision that only came with military training, Macarthur took aim with his own pistol and dropped two of the raiders with two sucessive shots. His companion took out the other two just as easily.

“Alpha and Beta team,” the second man called to the soldiers once more, “with me!” With those words he ran toward the influx of raiders now scrambling to escape through the shambles of the west wall with all of the soldiers in tow.

All around Macarthur he could see the sides of the buildings dropping open in similar a manner revealing scores of the soldiers previously hidden within the complex. Over the shouts of the soldiers and resounding gunfire, sirens could be heard as floodlights shot forth their beams of bright lights into the surrounding area.

For a moment, the raiders were disorganized as they were all forced to remove their night vision goggles. Taking advantage of their brief period of confusion, the soldiers crowded the walkways above the perimeter walls, took aim, and opened fire.

Macarthur headed for the nearest set of stairs and joined his men on the wall. With the hillside clearly visible for almost a kilometer he raised his weapon and picked off one target after another. Around him, the soldiers fired with equally deadly accuracy.

The raiders were quickly starting to return fire, however, and exposed as he was, Macarthur knew a lucky shot would quickly burn through him. Once more, he dropped to one knee and used the railing as cover while he continued to fire into the crowds of raiders.

Next to him a stray round made contact with one of the soldiers, although the most of the round was absorbed by the energy dispersion systems inherent to his armor, the force still sent the man backward. As he hit the floor of the catwalk, Macarthur stopped to check on his man. Before he even moved, though, the soldier had already shaken off the blow and was back on his feet picking off raiders as if nothing had happened. Macarthur couldn’t help but smile.

Spotting one small gathering of Shidarians setting up a mortar tube, he got the attention of the men nearest him and directed their fire.

“Grenades!” he shouted, pointing to the cluster of raiders. In short order, three incendiaries were sent arcing outward and hit their marks. Twelve of the raiders died in the resulting explosion.

“They’ve got artillery, keep your eyes open,” he called out to the soldiers.

Yes, sir!” came the unanimous reply. The helmets they wore giving their voices a mechanical air.

Touching the space just in front of his right ear, Macarthur activated the comm-device implant.

“Macarthur to Gamma-team, report,” he barked as the nearby explosions threatened to drown out his voice.

Sir, enemy forces are being repelled on all fronts. No friendly casualties so far,” a young man’s voice replied.

“Good, maintain fire and hold your positions on the perimeter.”

Yes, sir.

“Macarthur to Alpha, what’s your progress, over?”

Alpha here,” the voice of the second security guard replied. “The raiders are using the escape route we planned on, sir. Alpha and Beta are continuing pursuit.

“Excellent, keep the herd moving, Lieutenant, contact Delta team and let them know your position.”

Roger wilco, sir, Alpha-out.

So far so good, Mac, thought to himself. Placing the viewers to his eyes once more, he looked to the northern edge of the complex. The signatures of the three fighters he’d seen earlier were getting clearer by the second. He punched the data key on the side of the viewers and grumbled as he saw the tactical layout of the approaching ships. TAF-21 Cougars and armed to the hilt to boot. Tactical Air Fighters weren’t space worthy so they had to come from a base somewhere on the planet. He should have known things weren’t going to be this easy. Once things were secure an aerial squad would have to be sent out to find the base and destroy it. Their orders had been clear.

Once more, he activated the comm-device, “Omega, come in.”

Omega here, General,.” a woman’s voice sounded.

“Caliwell, we’ve got three uninvited guests coming through the front door.”

Copy that. Targets are on radar, we’ll show them their hats and send them home, sir. Omega out.

From the east end of the complex, Mac could hear the bay doors of the underground hangar opening. Less than a minute later, six SSF-19 Scimitars screamed overhead, heading north at break-neck speed.

“Give ‘em hell, Marines,” Mac smiled.

Looking back to the scene in front of him, he saw that most of the raiders foolish enough to remain behind were either dead or severely wounded.

“Gamma-1, I need six men at the eastern door,” he called into his comm.

Copy, General. Gammas six through eleven meet the General at the eastern door,” he heard the order.

Already moving, Mac holstered his pistol and motioned to one of the soldiers he passed acquiring the man’s Mc&C P-119 the rifle of choice for the Colonial Marine Corps. Checking the battery charge he saw that the rifle still had just over six-hundred rounds left. With a quick flip of his thumb he switched the fire option setting to fully-automatic and removed the safety. At fully automatic the P-119 had one hell of a kick, but he had been firing rifles since he was twelve and had become accustomed to the shock of this particular weapon.

Upon arrival at the eastern door, he found that the six Marines were already waiting for him with weapons at the ready. With several quick motions of his hand he ordered the men to open the door and take up covering positions on either side once through. In short order, they made their way through and fell into place.

He took position in the center of the group and lifted the viewers to his eyes once more. Quickly scanning the terrain, he soon found his targets. The raiders that had broke off from the main group to the eastern side of the complex were beginning to take up sniping positions.

They’re looking for payback, Mac figured. The readout on the viewers indicated that they were armed with Kessler EES’s – an energy enhanced sniper rifle powerful enough to punch through the Marines’ armor.

Six of the men had taken up positions just over the crest of nearby hills are were only moments away from firing, but the real problems were that several more had continued to move to the southern wall and all of them were wearing thermal scattering clothing. Where the hell they had acquired such technology was beyond him. As it was the only way he could make them out was through the energy signatures of their rifles.

Unfortunately, the Marines’ visors didn’t have the energy recognition capabilities of his viewers and so the men on the hills would be invisible to their eyes. Mac knew that he had to work fast if his men were going to survive. He couldn’t shout out the information because he would likely be heard, and besides, he didn’t have time to give away each position verbally. It was time for Plan-B.

Working quickly, he pulled out his command pad – a small device resembling a PDA – and connected the viewers to it via the data port. As he located the positions of the snipers, he relayed the data to the men in his group and to the men on the eastern and southern walls. Through their visors, they could now see the locations of each raider thanks to the data being sent by the viewers.

Now armed with the information, the soldiers took aim and eliminated the enemies before they could present a threat. The entire event had transpired in less than thirty seconds.

Christ, that was close,” one of the men nearby remarked.

“The miracles of modern technology,” Mac said, grinning.

He scanned the area once more, but saw no signs of activity.

“All units, report,” he said after tapping his implant.

Alpha, Beta, and Delta teams have secured the last of the raiders, sir. We took no prisoners,” he heard Major Grey’s somber report.


Sir, once they saw they were about to be captured, they turned their guns on themselves. There was nothing we could do,” the confusion in his voice was evident.


Sir, Gamma-team has secured the compound and are preparing to secure outer perimeter at this time,” Gamma-1 said, now taking his turn.

“Copy that, Gamma-1, well-done.”

Omega-1 to Macarthur, over.” Caliwell’s voice was a stark contrast to the men’s baritones.

“Macarthur here.”

Sir, the three Cougars are down and we’ve spotted five more on long-range sensors, should we engage?

“Roger that, Omega-1, send two Scimitars on recon and find their launch site,” Mac gave the orders, still trying to understand the Major’s information. “Once they’ve got it scoped I want them to relay the location to Major Grey and coordinate the attack from there. I want that base intact.”

Understood, General,” was her excited reply. “Omega-1 out.

Mac wished that he shared her enthusiasm. This operation was supposed to be quick and simple. From the start, though, things had seemed odd to him. The Shidarians weren’t supposed to have this level of technology and shouldn’t have been that organized. His information had obviously given him the wrong impression; they weren’t just some rag-tag group of thugs looking for a cheap thrill. Quite the opposite, they had been well coordinated and well trained at that. Had he not caught them by surprise chances were that the battle would have gone much differently.

Artillery? Snipers? Thermal dampening gear? Cougars? Nothing was adding up.

Mac felt a cold knot starting to form in his stomach as he considered the possibilities. One, his information source had been given or acquired the wrong intelligence. Two, they were being deliberately deceived. Three, the worst possibility of all, no one actually knew what they were dealing with out here.

Whatever the case, there was more going on than he knew, and Mac didn’t like being left in the dark. Still, they would overcome and adapt. They had to. They were Marines.


© 2007 Robert Jarero

Bio: Robert Jarero lives in Texas and although writing in the fantasy genre for several years this is his first delving into the realm of sci-fi.

E-mail: Robert Jarero

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