Desert of Man

Writing. Culture. Politics. Wandering.

Letters – Dante’s Siege

Brother,

I trust you are safe and sound, out there, somewhere. I have no doubt that you have the same concerns as I do, for safety and wellbeing.

Knowing how news travels in times of war I can’t imagine even the grapevine of us Masters at Arms to have kept you apprised of all that’s happened. At least for me I can assure you, in contrast to expectations arising from no siege ever having failed, I am still alive. Most of us are.

Some months after you left with your Admiral, we received word of a renewed effort by the Corporate Worlds, once again setting out to face down yet another region of the territories. As always the same, resources and riches, the prospects of domains and petty titles. You know the drill, we all do. Needless to say, in this knowledge we could not simply do nothing.

The Assembly tasked the military with the mission to prevent this. With your Admiral away on her mission our options were limited, and engaging in costly combat across several worlds would not only be a price too high to pay under the current circumstances, it would also result in collateral damage with great risk of hurting those we seek to protect. You know how it is when battle shifts down the gravity well. It is not pretty, it is horror, particularly for those who live there.

That is why we used the Expeditionary Fleet to not engage the Corporate Task force directly, but to harass their shipping to a point of attrition. It worked in the past, it worked this time as well. It forced them to concentrate their forces, taking on one objective at a time. We knew our tactics would present us with new problems, but the reward we needed was that of time, which we got.

We constructed Dante Station, barely in time. Positioned to dictate the most central gravimetric transit zone of a system crucial to lanes of travel for that region. You could say we raised a flag and dared our enemies to come and burn it. This was 18 months ago.

When I say station, perhaps I should clarify a bit more. It’s not something we constructed, it was already there. You may have heard of the Cassari Drifter? A castaway moon locked in a stable position right at that system’s largest transit zone. Well, that is how Dante Station began. I can tell you one thing, some of these changes your Admiral has introduced, they sure have impact.

While the Fleet was harassing Corporate shipping, forcing their warships to try and take on escort duties, virtually destroying their campaign’s petty scheming, we took that moon and turned it into a fortress. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new, out there with all your Admiral’s magic, but I can assure you that I was just confused in the beginning as I late became pleasantly surprised.

You know, when we were informed of circumstances and concerns they asked for volunteers. We both know what that means, or rather, has always meant. A sacrifice in a larger scheme of things. Instead, as the news kept coming in of Fleet efforts and construction hurriedly continuing we found things had changed, to a point where hope actually became a factor. We thought we would actually get a chance at something other than giving our lives to merely delay hostile efforts. When the Fleet began to use our station as a base that hope became challenged once again. After all, the Corporates would follow them right to this new doorstep.

But as the first battle of Dante Station ended barely hours after it had began, that hope became something of a conviction. I can’t describe the rush, the shouting or the relief. I won’t describe the party afterwards, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

The Corporates engaged us head on, plowing through the surface of this moon with a massive artillery barrage. A complete wing of warships, the type they usually reserve for orbital bombardments, I guess they were quite serious about removing us from what they considered their domain. But we endured it, that first terrific hour, until our artillery ceased to fire and our screens showed masses of hostile transports arriving with invading forces.

It was then that the Fleet launched from deep within Dante’s belly. Streaking past those warships, engaging the transports head on, all the while launching masses of mines behind them. While their volleys did not burn all or even most of the transports massing, those waves of mines and clouds of missile fire did. With the Fleet changing vector on a trajectory towards a slow return the only Corporate ships left were those massive warships, still showing teeth but powerless, unable to kick us off this moon.

This combined tactic, I’m sure something out of your Admiral’s brain, really changed the board. On top of that, I should note, we thought our artillery was dead and gone. It turned out however that all that the Corporates destroyed on the surface of this battered moon was old and obsolete material, moved here from other bases. Imagine my surprise, old and obsolete. When their transports arrived Command deployed the new pieces hidden up to that point. We were believed disarmed and defenceless, ready for troop deployments massing. Instead we wiped the board clean.

Well, almost. The surviving Corporates did retreat, in frustrated shame and disbelief. A month later however they returned. Suffice to say that the speech we got was rather unnecessary, looking at our screens we already knew that the Corporates had upped the ante, we all knew that unless we broke their forces here nothing would stop them now. I had never imagined them able to field this massive a force. You and I were both briefed plenty times with ongoing studies on force capabilities of the Corporate Worlds, take it from me that the cooperation between the Premis polity and the Corporates is not just that. It is an alliance. An integration of resources, planning and command. And with that eye opener the second battle of Dante began.

I can’t say how long the hostile barrage lasted, it still feels as if it never stopped. Like the waves of an ocean crashing on a reef, back and forth, constantly present and hammering even in brief retreats. At some point our screens only showed us a fog of war comprised of dust and ash floating around the moon. Communications from Fleet interdiction runs showed recordings of us as a hazy ball in a growing cloud of illuminated dust. And still we prevailed. Still we returned fire. The same intricate network of tunnels from Dante’s heart that launched Fleet ships we also used for new forms of return fire. Massive volleys of missiles, clouds of them, ever being fed by manufactories deep inside the moon. Fire breaking their massive warships, one at a time. Fire preventing them from using transports to invade us.

During that ongoing second battle we had our share of incursions. Special forces, even convicts sent out on suicide missions in exchange for the lives of their families elsewhere. Guided explosives masked as wrecks. We dealt with them, losing men and women but still managing to prevail. All the while the exchange of fire continued, damage control parties rushing from one place to the next, manufacturies churning out batches and batches of munitions. It is hard to describe, at some point you no longer notice the havoc all around. You only focus on the task at hand and the eyes and ears of those there with you.

Meanwhile the situation had evolved into one of a siege, one history had not seen in a very long while. Enemy positions surrounding the Station, hostile forces massed sufficiently to deny Fleet movements. They were shelling us into submission, starving us into death. You know the old stories, of fortresses not surrendering because those inside had ended up feeding on each other. Stories to frighten children perhaps, but as the weeks went by and we were cut off from the rest of the system they came to us, first as worries, later as a gnashing fear.

Except we didn’t starve. Granted, we did not eat well. But the same new manufacturies that churned out missiles and munitions also yielded rations. Magic or technology, I wouldn’t understand either, but gas,rock and energy transformed into material and sustenance. Even now I sometimes sit wondering about it. Chewing on the stuff. Of course, show me a place with marines and I’ll show you a place where material goes missing to turn out concoctions pretending to be drinks. But this was different. We made what we needed, an automated process continuing behind and below us. And it did more than keep us going, it kept us alive with increased confidence.

Eventually they realised we were not starving, not that they had any real idea, it was merely a consequence of calculations. Instead of turning back they renewed their efforts. And at times it did seem like they would get through. Wings of warships continuing bombardments, they sent in wave after wave of transports carrying soldiers. We killed them as they approached, they themselves killed them as they evaded fire, trying to stay alive. It came to a point where we started to run salvage squads and used special munitions to keep lanes of fire clear of debris. There are very few words that come close to describing it. Death, massacre, killing grounds. We took our losses, and they gobbled up theirs.

I will never understand the insanity behind the minds that send so many of their fellow people to die, knowing their odds of survival to be zero. Again, and again. Constantly, consistently. That such people exist, it is beyond my understanding. Though I will say this, it only strengthens my convictions. It only shows my choices, our choices, to be not simply the right ones. But just.

We listened to their communications, breaking codes and identifying personnel. We observed a Captain finding his demise at the hands of his superiors, proposing change of tactics. We heard of a Wing Commander proposing a detachment to hold hostage this system’s central world, we observed his ship destroyed by their own fire as he refused to follow the order of reporting to their fleet’s command. We saw them change positions to cover endless waves of transports, their own comrade’s weapons at their backs to push them forward. At one point we were called to contain a hostile incursion originating from a warship’s wreck crashed into our moon, finding survivors asking for asylum, shelter from their own.

I’ll have to look up the dates, I just do not know. But at some point it became quiet. Under siege, but no exchange of fire. Warships in their orbits, but no transports on their way to doom. Weapons silent, but no sign of communications. Just a moment of quiet in what was still the same storm. It could have been a week, or a month, nobody here really still gave meaning to the passing of time. Both sides used it though, us to try and clear our skies, they to purge ranks and commit further folly.

But as slowly as the quiet had begun, the next battle surged upon us within minutes of hostile reinforcements arriving. Their warships opening fire once again, in concentrated volleys joined by those of massive inbound waves of reinforcements, not on route to fixed or orbital positions but directly towards us. Listening and watching it became clear that the Corporates had been provided with Premis polity warships, reinforcing ranks. More importantly though, these were polity ships. Heavily armed, massively armoured, filled to the brink with soldiers ready to breach defences and invade.

Command calls that the Third Battle of Dante. It was the same as the second, except it was much worse. We had people going mad, I cannot imagine how it was for those opposing us. Most of us survived. Our installations mostly intact. Our Expeditionary Fleet is mostly nonexistent however, as pressure mounted Command was forced to send them out once again in spite of all the odds, hampering hostile maneuvering and vectors, trailing minefields on their chase. It used to be so that only soldiers did the dying, this time the universe went upside down. And I swear, as we were listening to them and watching them soar, there is no difference between us and them. When called for, we all do what we must. Dying.

The Fleet could have taken much lower losses, but against Command’s considerations they made a return back into the fray. By that time it resulted in clashing head on with hostile forces trying to make their way towards an exit, collisions, mines as kinetic weapons, mindless destruction without regard for survival of the self.

We had a score of luck though. It had taken ages, but we had finally managed to find out and identify the command and control positions among the hostile forces. I’ll tell that tale some other day, suffice to say that at great cost we were able to remove them from our sky. In chaos and in madness they shattered into disarray. We kept firing, they kept firing, but increasingly less at us than at anything in the way of any hope of escape. You know how hard combat maneuvering is in space, the mechanics of it are hardly easy. Try to imagine the chaos, the mathematics dictating the fray. Or perhaps it is best not to imagine.

So it ended. Their survivors far and few. In the end we did not break them, they did that themselves. Yes, we helped, but all we really did was try and hold ourselves together. As I said, the insanity behind their thinking, it is absurd. Pray the universe to help us though, should they ever manage to shed that off and face us with a common sense in service of their interests. At least for now we can briefly rest assured, the Corporate Worlds have neither fleet nor army. I fear though, that this will drive them further into Premis polity hands. What will come of that, I don’t know brother. For now I am just relieved to be alive, happy to see hope, and proud in seeing my men and women still standing.

I miss you brother. But I will be coming home. Our parents, we will see, I had hoped to receive word already.

– Helen

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