Early Short Stories

 


 

There Are No Alpha Ants On New Obregon

 

Some statements, the instant uttered, are bound for the history books, You can feel future generations of historians holding their collective breath hoping like hell no one else notices so that they will be the first to immortalize the words, the speaker, the moment.

General Disney's statement, "There are no Alpha Ants on New Obregon." carried the force of his forty-five years service to the Corps and the United Stars of the Galaxy as well as the impeccable logic on which the statement had been constructed.  In command of the largest contingent of Marines assembled for Peacekeeping duties over the last century, sitting astride the mountainous arid central continent on New Obregon, set against a guerrilla force of Obregonians that couldn't number more than a third of his Marines, confident technological superiority rested on his side of the insurgency, and being as aware as anyone else in the galaxy that Alpha Ants are not, repeat not, native to New Obregon, General Disney's statement was as far from hubris as humanly possible.

There will be those, basking in hindsight, who paint this man as a peacock, a martinet, and in so doing prove to themselves how far superior they are to the man they attempt to describe.  Reality is far too contradictory.  Disney was not a stupid man nor was he vain.  He was a Marine, a living, speaking, strutting, fighting embodiment of four and one half centuries of Marine tradition.   He had given good account of himself in far more difficult campaigns than the one he now faced.  He wore enough decorations for gallantry to satisfy the most bloodthirsty chronicler as well as two service medals for extremely difficult but resoundingly successful humanitarian relief efforts that he had commanded.  General Disney was not a one-dimensional parody of a Marine Officer; he was a multi-dimensional paragon of a Marine Officer. This remarkable and yet unremarkable basic fact prompted his most famous remark.

Majority forces should not enter into guerrilla warfare; it just isn't fair.  In recorded history, majority forces won only two guerrilla wars.  The ancient British won in Malaysia on old Earth in a time long enough forgotten to as much myth as history; the Aldebarian loyal forces won their civil war.  In both instances, the majority force enjoyed the magnificent and crucial advantage of controlling the supply lines.  In both instances, it took time.  The British needed ten years before declaring victory; the Aldebarians required six bloody years.

General Disney and his force were in the sixth month of the third year of the New Obregonian Peacekeeping Mission.  The enemy were native Obregonians disenchanted with USG occupation and mining of the largest plutonium deposit every discovered.  The mine itself was on the western continent of New Obregon.  Most of the native New Obregonian population lived on the central continent which placed Disney's Marines right in the thick of the battle.

New Obregon, when discovered, had no technology.  They also had no conflict.  War between the native clans was unthinkable.  Over the course of their evolution, for whatever reason, the native population developed a system of government requiring no central authority but permitted no trespass among the clans.  Before the USG sociologists accumulated enough data to determine the mechanisms that made this so, developers discovered plutonium and things - as the euphemism goes - escalated out of control.

The escalation demonstrated two very important facts.  Fact number one: the native New Obregonians, technologically behind the times, are the intellectual match of any USG mind.  Fact number two: they are not cowards.  Fact number one plus fact number two provided General Disney and the rest of the Peacekeeping Mission work for three and a half years.

Fact number three must be added.  The New Obregonians have help.  The rest of the galaxy watches events on New Obregon very closely.  Plutonium in great quantities tends to attract great attention.  Some of the bystanders are not content with standing by.  They render assistance and the USG could not shut off that supply line without starting Galaxy War One.  World wars are bad enough; galaxy wars are unthinkable.

The supply line gradually upgraded New Obregonian weaponry making General Disney's task increasingly more difficult.  To this point, the armament progress up the technological scale has been limited to hand-held weapons.  Large, crew served weaponry has not hit the Obregonian playing field because moving heavy equipment requires heavy moving equipment.  New Obregonians never before experienced a need to develop heavy equipment.

Alpha Ants, if available, would resolve this logistic stumbling block.

Alpha Ants are native to Rigel's second planet.  Officially entered into the StarBooks as the Emirate of Rigel, it is better known by the name the original discovery party had attached: Hot As Hell.  On old Hot As Hell the Alpha Ants are at the top of the food chain.  They're big, in the neighborhood of one and a half tons on the average; insectoid, community-oriented; and not very bright.  Obstinate, yes; bright, no. Point an Alpha Ant in a given direction and it marches until it discovered something edible and large enough to feed more than one of its kind.  The Alpha Ant secures that edible and returns by the most direct route to its hive; drops off its plunder and starts all over again.

You can harness this natural behavior.  Alpha Ants became beasts of burden on Hot As Hell and elsewhere whenever technology was not as important as biology. They're an anti-technologist's dream.  As an export, they constitute the considerable pillar of the Emirate's economy.

Alpha Ants are not truly aggressive.  There is no predator in their native habitat large enough to pose a threat to Alpha Ants. With the arrival of extra-Hot as hell life forms, Alpha Ants demonstrated a straightforward coping mechanism: given the presence of a threat, they simply gang up to remove the obstacle.  An early exploration party made the mistake of setting up camp too close to a hive.  A number of the AAs, after determining the metal of the shuttle and other campsite implements had no nutritional value, simply removed the entire obstruction to a location more comfortable to the hive psyche. The exploration party killed a good number of the AAs in an attempt to discourage this relocation policy but replacement AAs arrived immediately and the relocation effort continued to completion.

Interestingly enough, the exploration party itself had not been considered of gastronomic interest to the Alphas.  The Emirate's prime concern has always been to keep it that way.

General Disney's remark came at the end of a weekly press conference.  Each member of his staff provided a situation report to the galactic press corps.  After digesting the content of these sitreps, the press was afforded the opportunity to question conclusions, plans, and intentions.  USG policy said there was nothing to hide and General Disney's policy was to follow USG policy.

The general's staff is a composite made up of Marine, Army, and Navy officers.  While Disney commanded the Marine force on the central continent, overall command belonged to General Harold Eastland aboard the USG Carrier Mettlesome in orbit above New Obregon.  Since Eastland's command was of necessity a joint command, General Disney operated a similarly joint command.  This placed Army and Navy officers on his staff in support positions, a fact of life General Disney could have lived without.  He had total confidence in his Marine staff and, while these other service representatives were not bad people, they were not Marines.

Typical of the problems these non-Marines could present, the Deputy Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Colonel S'Mantha Wong, reported in her briefing a rumor that the New Obregonians had acquired Alpha Ants and were using them to transport equipment in the mountains. An Army agent filed the report based on information obtained from New Obregonian sources. By General Eastland's order, such a report is rated F7.  This designation describes both the source of the information and the probable validity of the information itself.  The "F", taken from a scale from A through F with A being the most reliable, describes the source. The "7" is from a scale of 1 through 7 with 1 describing the most reliable information.

As a matter of policy, all information received from a New Obregonian is rated F7.  The logic behind this policy derives from the fact that no one knows very much about New Obregonians.  No one knows with absolute or any other degree of certainty how to tell the good New Obregonians from the bad ones.  Since you can't know for sure whether you were dealing with a good one or a bad one, you definitely cannot place a high value on their information. You most definitely cannot base operational planning on that information.

This week, though, this Army officer had seen fit to raise this report in front of the press.  General Disney knows that's her job and, in weak moments when no other Marines are around, he knows that she is damn good at her job.  Review of her record when she posted to his command gave the General a very clear picture of a bright, capable, and dedicated Intelligence officer. In this case, however, General Disney's view, is that she should have known better.

As Lieutenant Colonel Wong delivered her briefing to the press, General Disney looked a question mark across the Command Shuttle to the Marine Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Clarence Harkins.  Harkins had been with General Disney for ten years and the two officers shared a mutual respect for each other's abilities and a friendship based on mutual support through ten years of the dirty work the USG Marines are routinely assigned.  Harkins understood the question to be whether he agreed with the Army officer's report.  He did not.  No Marine agent had reported anything like this data.  He answered the General with a shoulder shrug informing his Commander that he could not support the report.

The inevitable question came from the press. General Disney replied with absolute conviction and complete contradiction to Lieutenant Colonel Wong: "There are no Alpha Ants on New Obregon."  He then terminated the briefing effectively removing the press' access to Colonel Wong.

The meeting that followed was not open to the press.  General Disney sat in his office with the two Intelligence officers across his desk and he was not a happy man. "Damn it, Colonel, why did you have to report that nonsense?" he demands.

Lieutenant Colonel  S'Mantha Wong is not intimidated by general officers, even - and maybe especially - Marine general officers.  With twenty-five years of Intelligence experience behind her, she dealt in data, data analysis, and interpretation of that data as it affects military operations.  She understood sources.  She understood agents.  She understood the workings of military command and the reasons they accepted her input or rejected it out of hand.  She understood clearly the issue underlying this meeting.

Her voice held the respect due a general officer but did not convey a fear of a general officer.  It id not occur to her that she might have cause to fear this general officer.  What occurred to her was that the information she reported was not being accepted.  She believed, based on every bit of experience gained in her career, that it should be accepted.

"Because, General, it is not nonsense.  It is fact and we had better prepare ourselves accordingly.  With Alpha Ants, the New Obregonians can move heavy equipment. They can and they are.  What I believe to be true is that one of our three base camps in the Backbone Mountains is about to come under severe attack.

"I didn't say that in the briefing.  I merely set it up so that we would have something to fall back on as explanation when it happens."

Harkins was even more astounded than Disney was.  "That's impossible, Colonel!"

"No, it is not impossible.  It is going to happen."

"Son of a Bitch!" a very angry General Disney responded.  "Colonel Wong, the New Obregonians have never attacked a base camp.  They ambush patrols.  They block and disappear from our operational thrusts.  They snipe and they sabotage but they don't attack.  They just don't attack base camps."  His exasperation is so palpable. LTC Wong wanted to duck out of the line of fire.

"You know why that's been true, General," she persevered, "because they haven't had the weaponry to make it work.  What if they now have the weaponry?  Why wouldn't they change tactics?'

"Because they don't have the weaponry," Lieutenant Colonel Harkins answered for General Disney.  "They don't have the weapons and they don't have the Alpha Ants.  We would have seen them.  We would at least have seen some evidence of them."  

Harkins attempted logic and control and professional bearing but it wasn't easy.  The absurdity of the Army officer's claims was just too much.  "Look, Colonel Wong....."

"It was S'Mantha this morning." the Army officer interrupted.

"This morning I thought you were a competent Intelligence officer." Harkins retorted.

"I am a competent Intelligence officer, Colonel Harkins.  You and the general seem to be dismissing that fact."

General Disney cuts off his friend's response.  Sarcasm overlays his remarks like the used oil from an M-1000 main battle tank on water.  "Competent Intelligence officers base their analyses on facts, Colonel, on objective data.  Let me give you a few facts.  

Fact: no orbital sensors have scanned any Alpha Ants.  Fact:  no orbital sensors have scanned major landings by other than USG forces.  Final and most important damned fact: No Marine on any part of the Central Continent has seen any trace of Alpha Ants."  General Disney leans forward over his desk to add his imposing stature to the weight of the facts he had just itemized.   "Those are Intelligence facts, Colonel.  How would you interpret them?"

S'Mantha Wong leans forward in her chair bringing her eye to eye with the General and only the field desk between their bodies marks neutral ground.  Levelly, calmly, she answers the general that she would not interpret those facts.  If she was any good at her job, which she is damn good at, she would take those facts and balance them on the fact of Alpha Ants and try to discover how such apparently contradictory facts could be

Defiance of a senior officer can only be pulled off once or twice in a career.  It is prudent to pick the time and place with judicious regard for all circumstances and complete understanding of the ramifications of your actions.  Lieutenant Colonel S'Mantha Wong might have wished she had planned this confrontation a little more thoroughly but she was committed.  She does not back down.  She is certain of her analysis and she desperately needs to impart that certainty to General Disney.

General Disney, however, isn't buying anything the Army officer has to sell.  He holds the gaze until he's certain the obstinate little bitch isn't going to back down and then he settles back in his chair.  With a final dismissive glance at Colonel Wong, he transfers his attention to his Marine ally.

"Can you think of anything that would help this officer to understand she is wrong?" he asks with a controlled pleasance that highlights and emphasizes the scorn he feels.

"No, sir", Harking responds.  His expression is that of a man trying to consider all alternatives and, surprisingly enough, he is doing precisely that.  He keeps his musings audible.  "To pull off the injection of Alpha Ants and heavy weaponry requires a stealth technology every bit as good as our own.  To move the Ants and the weaponry around the mountains requires an operational and logistic sophistication every bit as good as our own.  To hide all evidence so that no Marine patrol discovers even the slightest clue requires a degree of expertise and such an enormous amount of luck that it does not seem reasonable to believe it possible."  His internal musing concludes with Harkins addressing his Commander and admitting, "No, sir, she's wrong but I don't know how to make her understand."

"   I don't know, either, Colonel" General Disney agrees.  "But, I am sure of this"....and his deep blue eyes turn to steel as they regard Lieutenant Colonel Wong..."there are no Alpha Ants on New Obregon."

And with that, the meeting is over.

 ***

Three weeks later, on a ridge of the Southwestern Backbone Mountains, a Marine Base Camp comes under fire from a New Obregonian force.  The attack lasts two hours.  Twenty four hundred rounds of anti-personnel ballistics hit the camp killing three hundred seventy-eight Marines.  So unexpected is the attack, so total the surprise, no return fire can ever be initiated.  A relief shuttles arrived and a reconnaissance-in-force was dispatched, there is no trace of a New Obregonian force or any other force for that matter.  The camp has been attacked but there is no evidence to suggest who conducted the attack.

The Marines learn from the disaster and anti-ballistics are issued immediately to all base camps.  Security heightens and perimeter patrols are initiated.   It is not enough. The second raid hits the same base camp with much less success.  Forty-three Marines die but the counter-battery fire does take out a New Obregonian ballistic emplacement.  Included in the casualties for the New Obregonians are two Alpha Ants.

Four nights later at a base camp one thousand kilometers across the Backbone range, and seventy kilometers to the north, another attack occurs with similar results.  Casualties on both sides are light but the Marines now find themselves in a very different kind of peacekeeping mission than the one they had been dispatched to perform.  

And General Disney discovers he will make the history books.

End