As I made my way to the replicator, I reflected on the long night ahead of me. I had the night shift, and there were 8 hours between me and a good long nap. I took the coffee from the food dispenser, and poured it into a stainless steel pot. I then walked back to my lookout tower, climbed into my station, and began to pour myself a cup when Captain Briggs called out to me over the communications array.
"Lieutenant, are you telling me you made a whole pot of coffee, and didn't even think to offer your commanding officer some. Tch, tch, tch, very sloppy Solomon. With this kind of behavior, the war will end before your next promotion".
"I must apologize sir, but I just thought that you would be following your old habits: sleeping the whole night," I responded with a smirk.
"Watch it now", said Briggs, "We've got a long night ahead of us, and I reckon you don't want to end up with another enemy besides that scum out there".
"Yes sir", I replied. "So, how many hours we got left before sunrise, and another good 8 hours of rest?"
"By my watch", answered Briggs, "we still got a good 6 hours of nuthin to get through before bed, bath, and breakfast".
My official designation is Lieutenant Commander Solomon Triega of the Confederate Spatial Defense Forces, Third Division. I am second-in-command on a desert moon orbiting a planet known as Rikos III. To explain further, The United Terran Confederacy (the humans) are at war with a strange alien race known only as the Crea. We have signed a preliminary cease-fire agreement, but both sides feel it is just a matter of time before one side breaks the agreement. So, all encampments, starbases, and frontier installations were ordered to be on alert for a surprise attack. In turn, I decided to take the night shift in order to be ready if the Crea want to break the agreement.
I poured Briggs a cup of coffee, and returned to my post on the edge of the base perimeter. Captain Robert Briggs had been a very close friend of mine in the military. He was my first Commanding Officer (C.O.), on a small reconnaissance ship called the Persephone. I have been working with him ever since.
I sat down and took a sip from my black mocha blend, and muttered to myself about the awful taste. It was the best I could get on such short notice, and it did keep me awake during the wee hours on border surveillance. Replicated coffee had all the caffeine of regular coffee, but none of the taste. "Man," I thought. "It's going to be a long night."
As I was drinking my caffeine, I noticed a small blip on my environmental scanner. As I examined closer, I realized it was a small Crean ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle). Because of it's proximity to a Confederate military installation, this was a clear violation of the cease-fire agreement. I confirmed my readings, and opened a secure communications channel to Captain Briggs.
"Hey Briggs," I called over the intercom, "Check your scanner at heading 3576.453, it's over the North Ridge. You getting this reading? I'd say it's a scout."
"Yeah kid, I got it. Better wake up the rest of the command staff," replied Briggs.
I activated the communications array, and called back to the center of the lodging facilities in our base. I dispatched a full division of troops to the base's north perimeter, and I put the rest of the personnel on blue alert status. After which, I launched a small probe to see what was hiding out of reach of scanners on the North Ridge of our moon.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing?" asked Briggs. "Who authorized that launch?"
"You always told me to take the initiative for the good of the team. I'm just following your orders indirectly," I replied with a smile. Briggs thought about it for a few seconds and began to laugh.
"You got me there son", he said. "Good job, but in the future, would you mind discussing the plans you have for the good of the team with me before you act on them?"
"Anytime Captain." This made me feel particularly good about myself, so I sat down and checked my watch.
Five hours left before sunrise, and the shift switch. This brought my spirits back down, realizing I had so much more time before someone else would have to worry about the ATV out there. But I decided to buckle down, and deal with it. It wasn't particularly warm, or particularly comfortable in my cramped watch tower, but this was the life of a soldier, and there wasn't much I could do about it.
A small alert light flashed on top of the I viewscreen used to communicate. I turned around to check, and realized it was the probe. It had reached it's monitoring coordinates, and began transmitting data. "Oh my God," I thought. "There are so many of them."
I realized that the Crea had no intentions of holding up their end of the cease-fire agreement. They simply needed time to reorganize their forces, and prepare for more conflict. The force amassing over the North Ridge was much larger than any standard strike team in this war's history. To defend this ramshackle outpost by ourselves would be a feat worthy of song.
"Briggs, WAKE UP! There is a large assault squadron of ground troops lying-in-wait just outside our base, ready to attack!"
"What the hell are you talkin about," Briggs answered rather sleepily. "My scanners show nothing but sand.
"Check the probe's telemetry", I replied.
"What the.....", Briggs said. "This can't be right."
Realizing the truth in my report, he turned to his com station, and blasted across the array:
"All personnel: battle stations! Large enemy force massing over the North Ridge. All units prepare for defensive action!"
I ran down to the armory, found a suitable sidearm to use in case an alien decided to pay a visit to my "doorstep", a spare med-kit I had a feeling I would need, and an extended-range scanner to help coordinate defensive efforts. I then proceeded to each barracks, and repeated the same alert to all those who managed to stay asleep during the commotion:
"Attention all personnel, a large offensive Crean force has amassed just out of sensor range. All units report to battle stations, and all those waiting for day shift, report to the North End fully armored."
I then returned to my tower to install the new scanner. As it came on line, it began retransmitting the probe's telemetry. The readings were off the charts! Seventeen divisions of heavily-armed infantry, three wings of starfighters, and many other units of heavy artillery. I sent a message to the starbase orbiting Rikos III, explaining our situation, and requesting immediate starship assistance. They responded, promising six squadrons of heavy fighters. "Good," I thought. "Not only will we not have to worry about the enemy starships, but our boys can harass the ground forces as well."
"Hey Briggs, you ready to put a few more notches on your gun?" I asked.
"Oh yeah, it's been way too long since I've smoked some alien butt."
"Well, get ready, because according to my readings, the force is on the move," I turned, modified my com frequency for wide-band messaging and began transmitting defensive positions for each group of units in our base. After which, I saw the 1st and 2nd divisions of assault troops move to the perimeter, while the others took up flanking positions, or began patrolling the rest of the base to prevent any surprises. The armored walkers issued to us by the Central Military Establishment were powering up, and preparing for heavy conflict. Because of their ability to handle heavy fire, they would bear the brunt of the attack, but with careful repair and organization, they should be ok. The artillery we possessed was loaded, and brought to the front.
I opened a communications channel with the Outer Rim representative of our Sector, and explained the situation to him. He dispatched three carrier ships to the moon, and told us that it was imperative to repel this attack. If the cease-fire were to be broken with such a spectacular defeat for the Confederacy, the Crea would press that advantage, and we'd be hard-pressed to make up for a loss of this magnitude.
Returning to the scanner, I saw that the Crean force was assuming a "raiding party" formation, and paying little attention to it's own defense. "They have no idea what they're up against", I told Briggs.
"How do you mean son?" asked Briggs. "Looks like a pretty big force if you ask me."
"Yeah, for a surprise attack", I said. "But, they are counting on us being snug in our beds, working on a skeleton crew. When they get over that ridge and see what's in store for them, they will turn whiter than Michael Jackson."
"Ahhh, 20th century entertainer. Real white", I explained. "Don't worry about it. Just look at the scanner and remember back to our training."
"Holy cow, you're right."
I transmitted this to our troops waiting with rifles in hand. This gave the men much more confidence, realizing that the Crean strike force had no idea we were ready for them. Also, the fighters I requested from the starbase arrived. I now realized this would be one easy fight. I reexamined my scanner, and much to my surprise, I found only one unit on the screen. It was moving rather fast as well, so I decided to zoom in and take a closer look.
"Oh my God!!", I exclaimed. It was some form of alien ballistics, enroute to the base. As I tried to jam it's guidance systems, I realized it was headed directly for our defenses. I moved back to the communications array and screamed warnings across the base.
"All units prepare for incoming missile!!! Impact in 5...4...3...2...1...". It screamed across the base, turning and evading fire as it searched for it's target. The missile landed on the perimeter, causing no damage to our defenses, but it completely destroyed the tower opposite of mine. "Briggs, you ok?"
"Briggs, I say again: If you survived the assault, respond immediately."
I looked out my viewport, and saw his tower reduced to ashes, and my heart sank. Captain Robert Briggs was my mentor and friend. He defended me when I bent the rules, got me this assignment, and kept watch over me as I climbed through the ranks. He even granted me the promotion that appointed me to the position of Lieutenant Commander. I choked back tears as I turned back to the scanner, and saw the masses of troops move over the ridge.
"Attention, all units prepare. The strike force is coming over the ridge."
The infantry began moving over the ridge at frightening pace. But most were almost immediately cut down by our infantry waiting for targets. The second rush came over the ridge, and was having almost the same amount of trouble. They did not expect any defense at all, but they were sure seeing some at the moment.
The "skirmish" was going quite well, as our artillery managed to disable any dangerous units, and the fighter groups sent by the starbase managed to tie up any advancing starships. That is, until my scanner completely lost it's mind. I turned away from my viewport, and checked what the commotion was about, only to realize that Crean units were materializing and decloaking on every side of our installation, completely overrunning our defenses, and wreaking havoc inside our base.
"Red Alert!!! Surprise attack from all sides. Infantry groups 3 and 4 move to defense formation Gamma", I yelled over our now-damaged communications system. With the death of Briggs, the chain of command had fallen to me, so I began to shout unit orders over the array. As I looked at the battlefield, my line of sight flashed over the "multi-function display" (MFD). Four hours until sunrise. But I couldn't think about that now, I had to keep these men alive "Walker group Theta, move to the southern entrance to intercept enemy units. All other personnel, fire at will!!!"
Our boys were disciplined, well-trained, and armed to the teeth, but Crean units kept materializing almost everywhere in our base. If the flow of aliens did not stop, we would be overrun in a matter of minutes, and Briggs would not be the only one who lost their lives today.
Then, as the last glimmer of hope had almost faded away, I received a transmission from a capital ship in orbit. Because of the damage to our communications network, I could not identify whether it was friend or foe. Thinking it was probably a Crean Destroyer, trying to reach terms of surrender, I reluctantly opened a communications channel.
Amazingly, the carriers that were dispatched by Central Command had arrived. "This is Captain Bernard Qualtham of the Confederation starcruiser Questor. Anything we can do to be of assistance?" the captain asked.
"What do you think?" I replied with a smile. "Your boys will have a grand ol' time down here, so anytime you want to send 'em down, I'd be much obliged."
Fighters began streaming out of the capital ships' hangers, and garrisons of troops began transporting down to assist us, easily overpowering the Crea, And with the sight of three Confederate capital ships on the horizon, most of the Crean forces turned, and ran like scared kittens. The few remaining units, seeing their compatriots escape, could do little but surrender. Our men celebrated their victory like it was 1999. "Good job boys!" I said with a smile. "We showed them, didn't we.
But I doubt they heard me. I saw men blowing entire months of alcohol rations in minutes, but it didn't matter. We had won a great battle in the name of humanity, and frankly, I would have done the same. A private climbed up into my tower and asked the time. During the fight, his watch had broken. I was about to tell him when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the sunrise. It had been a brutal 8 hours, but finally, after much bloodshed, the time for rest had come.