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Authors: John G. Hemry

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Stark's Command

BOOK: Stark's Command
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Stark's Command

The United States military forces on the moon have overthrown their high-ranking officers and placed Sergeant Ethan Stark in command. Instead of just issuing orders, Stark confides in his fellow sergeants in hopes of forging an army based on mutual respect. Now, in addition to fighting a merciless enemy on the moon's surface, Stark must contend with the U.S. government's reaction to his mutiny . . . .

The moon's American civilian colony has offered to assist the military with food and supplies on one condition: that Stark's troops back the colony's plea for independence. In order to survive, civilian and soldier must learn to trust each other as one man's cause becomes a crusade . . . .

"When it comes to combat, Hemry delivers."
—William C. Dietz, author of
By Force of Arms

"John Hemry has perfectly captured the cynicism of the professional soldier and the camaraderie that develops in any good military unit—the sense of interdependence, the confidence that one's comrades are the only ones to be fully trusted."
—Rick Shelley, author of

For Paul Crabaugh, a good friend whose ownstory ended far too soon.
For S., as always.
Stark's Command
Table of Contents
A Storm of Battle
Courage of the Second Kind
No Glory Left


A Storm of Battle

The organized violence humans call warfare takes many forms. An attack can be as sudden and brief as an earthquake, a surprise spasm of fury in which soldiers dash against defenses then fall away. Or an assault can be slower, gradually building in strength as soldiers cautiously push forward, seeking weak points in defenses, their efforts as continuous and unrelenting as a sea straining against barriers holding it from dry land.

So the attack began, slowly building in intensity. Like a flood of water, the pressure rose, in a place where the only real water rested eternally frozen beneath the lifeless rock of the surface. Gradually it increased. Testing here, pressing there, searching for any signs of weakness, any give in the defenses holding it back. Every probe met a firm barrier, each push repulsed with varying ease. But the pressure continued, shoving harder, the strength of barriers at some points herding it toward those areas where the defenses held with less strength. Not much less, but enough, as the flood pressure gathered at those points where resistance seemed softer, where trickles of advancing elements could push through. Slowly, so slowly as not to be apparent at first, but with increasing speed, the apparently firm wall of defenses began to crumble.

"Ethan, we got problems."

Sergeant Ethan Stark, acting commander of the rebellious soldiers still defending the American Colony on the Moon hastily donned his battle armor. "I'm still suiting up, Vic.

What's happening?"

"You don't need battle armor inside the headquarters complex," Sergeant Vic Reynolds, Stark's acting Chief of Staff, scolded. "I need you in the Command Center. Now."

"Okay. Okay. But I'm gonna be in armor." Stark sealed the last fastenings on his suit, grabbed his rifle, and darted out the door. The corridors around him still felt unreal, wood paneling where bare rock should be.
I'll never get used to the luxury here at headquarters. Maybe we can sell this stuff to pay the troops.

Most of the personnel in the Command Center were unknown to Stark, experienced enlisted troops manning their consoles to maintain a constant stream of symbology, communications, and video feed between individual soldiers. All of it centered here, where until recently officers of every rank had tried to dictate their subordinates' every action. Now that those officers sat within the stockade under arrest, that role, if he wanted it, was Stark's.

"Wow." Stark paused to admire the massive main display screen on which a sector of the front glowed in enhanced 3-D. Green American symbols hung in a slightly ragged arc marking the perimeter, each group of friendly soldiers clustered around the heavy weapons fortifications symbology that indicated the presence of strong defensive positions. In front of those green markers, clusters of red symbols ebbed and flowed, shifting in a constant dance as sensors reported the presence of enemy soldiers trying to break through the American defenses. "They're pushing harder than before, aren't they?" In the three days since the horrible failure of General Meecham's grand offensive, forces of the enemy coalition had tested for weaknesses in the American line a dozen times as rumor of riot and rebellion came dimly across to them.

"Yes," Vic agreed, one clipped word which spoke volumes. "We should be able to hold it, though."

Should be able to.
Stark studied the display again, scowling. "Why are those enemy units getting so close? Why aren't they being shoved back farther?"

"I don't know." Vic tried to keep her frustration hidden, but it swelled to the surface as the Sergeant tried to handle far more soldiers than her training and experience had ever prepared her for.

"I don't like 'I don't knows' in combat, Vic."

She fought down another sharp answer before speaking more calmly. "Neither do I, but I'm not sure what's happening on the line. Everything looks right, but our defenses don't seem to be as strong as they ought to be." Vic glared at him briefly. "We shouldn't have gone ahead with the unit rotations this early."

"Vic, we didn't have any choice. The units on the line had been extended there because of Meecham's offensive, and they were getting really ragged."

"They could have stayed on line a few more days. Another week. We started rotating units the day after we took over, for Christ's sake!"

"Everybody insisted on it," Stark reminded her. "What could we do?"

Vic set her jaw stubbornly. "Tell them no."

"I haven't got that authority, Vic."

"The hell you don't. They elected you commander, remember?"

Stark jabbed a finger at her. "Yeah, I remember. You helped that happen. And you know as well as I do that saying I've got full authority and actually being able to order people around at the drop of a hat are two damn different things. I can't buck every other Sergeant. Not yet. They're still gonna think about it before they do as I say."

She bent her head, then nodded wearily. "You're probably right. No, you
right, but I still don't like it. Everything is still too soft and rotating units made it softer. I've activated the on-call reserves for that sector," Vic added.

"Good move. How many soldiers is that?"

"Two companies."

"Where are you putting them?"

"I don't know!" The frustration surged into the open again as Vic waved at the display. "Where do we need them?"

"If you can't tell, I sure as hell can't."
Vic's the best tactical thinker I ever met, so if she can't read this mess, nobody can.
Stark watched the display, hundreds of symbols clashing together and moving apart, a constant stream of data scrolling along the sides of the display where it framed simulated terrain so real Stark felt he could fall into it.

She stared first at him, then back at the display. "I think that's because there's too much on here to think through, Ethan. They packed every bit of data they could onto these displays so it's just about impossible to see the forest for the trees. We've got to prune this junk back to essential data."

"Sounds like a real good idea. But we can't do that now."

Vic lowered her voice, barely whispering so only Stark could hear. "I wish the hell I knew what we

The other enlisted were glancing back at them, expressions guarded. Stark smiled tightly, eyes on the display as if unaware of the attention.
Just like leading my Squad, only a lot bigger. People have to think you're confident. Even if you're scared as hell and don't have a clue what to do.
The distraction triggered an instinct as something nagged at Stark's mind. He stared at the display, green and red markers swimming amid the rapidly swelling and just as rapidly disappearing threat symbology that marked the flight of heavy shells. It felt like that odd itching between the shoulder blades when a sniper had you in their sights, as if the display were saying something his conscious mind couldn't grasp, but that caused a sub-consciousness honed in uncounted battles to shout alarms. "What else have we got for backup? What's the next reserve?"

"The next?" Vic frowned at the question. "Two battalions. But they're not on-call. We'd need to activate them, get them suited up."

The words felt wrong. Advice from Vic was always good, but right now it felt wrong. "Do it. Get them ready to hit the line."

"Ethan, there's no reason at this point to jerk around a lot of soldiers we'll probably need sharp later on."

Reasonable words. Reasonable advice. Vic playing her old role of guiding his decisions down the right paths. Stark kept his eyes on the display, almost unfocused, seeing the rhythm of movement rather than the details, and not liking the feel of it. "We don't have a handle on this, Vic. We need those troops ready."

"If we keep them suited up too long—"

"I know. I know. Let's get them activated."

"Ethan, I don't—"

The itching intensified, urging action. "I said do it!"

Vic halted in midsentence, face rigid. "Yessir."

The word hit Stark like a fist in the stomach.
We've always worked as equals, or I've deferred to Vic. Now I'm supposed to call all the shots, and I don't like it and neither does she.
He wavered, trying not to be seen noticing the angry lines etched on his friend's face as she transmitted the order to the on-call battalions.
Am I wrong? Am I just being a jerk? No. No. I've got to be in command and every instinct I've got says I'm gonna need those troops.
"Thank you," Stark stated softly, leaving anything else unsaid.

Vic glanced his way, startled by the reply, but still mad. "You're welcome. This isn't easy."

"It ain't for me, either. We'll talk later, figure out how to work this better. I still want you telling me what you think."

"You won't get it if you cut me off like I'm a stupid recruit," Vic noted, her tone still hard, but somewhat milder.

"You're right."

To Stark's surprise, the last words brought a smile to Vic's face. "Now, that's never happened. I never worked for a commander who told me I was right." She glanced at Stark, one eyebrow raised in question. "I've got two battalion commanders asking me why their people need to suit up and deploy."

"Because . . ."
I said so? Real bad answer.
"Because we've got some real strong probes hitting us. They're stressing the line. The guys holding the front might need backup."
Too soft.
"No. Leave out the 'might need.' Say we need backup for the front."

"Okay." Vic rapidly repeated Stark's words into her comm unit, then nodded. "They rogered-up. Ethan, that's a real vague reason for activating that many soldiers. What's got you so

Even as she spoke the question, an answer appeared before them. "That." Stark pointed a rigid finger toward the display, where a small patch of their own soldiers had suddenly begun moving. "They're falling back. That squad. Retreating. Why the hell are they falling back?"

"Bunker status is okay," Vic muttered. "What's going on?" she called over the headquarters communications circuit. "Corporal Hamilton. Why did your squad abandon your bunker?"

Stark linked in to hear the reply. Hamilton's words came quickly, rushed with fear and the stress of rapid movement. "Too many of them. Too much pressure. Couldn't hold."

"Hamilton," Vic barked, "there's nothing out in front of you an entrenched squad can't handle. Return to your position."

"Negative. Too hot. Falling back."

Stark forestalled Vic's next transmission with one hand on her shoulder, using the other to point again. "Look how fast that symbology's moving. They ain't falling back. They're running."

BOOK: Stark's Command
6.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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