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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Life and Times of Aries Webb, Part 6: Amelia’s Story

Amelia watched as her troops trudged back into camp. The temporary dome had been set up on the flat plains of Utopia Planitia, and had been serving as her base of operations for the past six months. She hated being this far away from both Aries and Zita, but it was necessary. Zita. The thought of her two year old little girl being afraid for mommy broke her heart But it was partially for her that she lead her troops. The fighting had become particularly harsh here, near Elysium Mons, the largest US Holding on Mars. Though Bo had decided, and rightly so, to fight a defensive war, Elysium Mons was providing too much support to the US troops, and it needed to be either taken or at least cut off.

Amelia had attacked the city twice, without success. Now, she was preforming a siege, preventing the city from getting anything out and from the US troops from getting in. It was that last part that was proving difficult. Her forces had been assaulted three times in the last month alone, and from the looks of the returning troops today, this was another loss for the Martians. A few moments later, DeVore entered her office.

“We lost, didn’t we?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. They had developed a good working relationship over the past few years. What little success she did have she truly felt was due to his aid. “The enemy managed to break through our line and get some soldiers into the city. The good news is that they’re stuck in there now. We managed to seal the entrance they used.”

“What about our losses?” she asked.

“Surprisingly light,” he said, handing her the report.

She sighed. This was the part she hated the most. She would write each family that had lost a child to this war personally, but that would have to wait until later.

“We need to do something different,” she said. “This siege is only partially working. We’re keeping them in, but we’re not preventing supplies from getting in either. At this rate, we’ll win this siege well after the war is over. We need to do something different.”

“We’ve already tried attacking,” DeVore said. “I mean, short of a surgical strike inside the dome, I think we’ve done everything we can.”

“Wait,” Amelia said. “I thought we looked at surgical strikes and ruled them out. What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about commandos,” he said. “A small squad that gets inside and takes out some key targets. Food stores, water, that kind of thing.”

“Again, we talked about this,” Amelia said. “It’s not practical. There’s too many enemy troops inside, whoever we send in has a high chance of getting caught. It would be a suicide mission. What changed?”

“Nothing,” DeVore said.

She looked at him blankly for a few moments. It took that long for what he was saying to sink into her tired brain.

“I take that back,” he said. “Something has changed. Our need for something to happen.”

“You’re seriously wanting me to order men on a suicide mission?” she asked.

“Of course not,” he said. “You ask for volunteers.”

“I don’t think I can do that,” she said.

“Think about it,” he said. “ You’re right, we can’t keep on like this. Right now, our enemies are fighting a war of attrition against us, and we can’t win that way. They have more troops back on Earth. We don’t. If we don’t do something here soon we’ll loose Elysium Mons, and they keep a major foot hold on our territory.”

“I should have never allowed you to speak so freely around me,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “But you also know that I am right. We need to do this.”

She thought about it for a few moments. The sad truth was, he was right. But she just didn’t know if she could really ask any of her men, even men who volunteered, to commit themselves to something like this. Her father once told her his secret to being a leader. ‘Never order a man to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself.’ Was she willing to go on such a mission? The answer came to her right away, and it surprised her. Yes. She thought of her daughter. She should be thinking of her, and getting back to her, not getting herself killed. But at the same time, she realized that it was because of her daughter that she was so willing. She would gladly lay her life down to protect her daughter, and also to provide her daughter with a safe home.

“Okay,” she said. “Well do this. But I’m leading this mission.”

“No, ma’am, you can’t,” he said. She looked up at him. She realized that he wasn’t the least bit surprised by her answer or desire to lead. That smug bastard knew what she was going to answer before she did.

“Don’t give me the ‘your too valuable an officer’ speech,” she said. “I’m leading this, and that’s final.”


“No, ma’am,” he said. “It’s more than just your value as an officer. Don’t get me wrong, you are one of the finest officers I’ve ever worked under, but it’s more than that. You’re the Prime Minister’s wife. Our First Lady, if you will. A celebrity. If you die out here, it would be a blow to moral, not just to our men, but to the people of Mars. Not to mention your husband. If he fell apart, this whole war would be for nothing. No, ma’am, you need to stay here.”

She smiled up at him, then stood and clasped him on the shoulders. “DeVore, I appreciate your honesty about all this, and you make some valuable points. But I can’t ask a man, even one who volunteers, to do this if I’m not willing to do it myself. I have to lead this mission, and there is nothing you can say that will get me to change my mine. Understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. She believed him.

“Good,” she said, “gather the men. We need to find the rest of my squad.”

****

“Honey, this plan of yours,” Aries said over the video call, “it’s amazingly dangerous. Those men you send in there have a higher chance of being killed than completing the mission.”

“I know,” she said. “That’s why we asked for volunteers.”

Aries shook his head. “What’s the chance of this working?”

“Pretty high if they manage to get their first two targets without getting caught. The food and water storage facilities will be highly guarded, no doubt, but if those can be taken down, then we can turn this seige around and make some real progress here.”

“I still don’t like it,” he said.

“Me neither,” she said, “but we don’t have much of a choice. its also why I’m the one that will be leading the mission.”

There was a long pause as Aries did a touble take and stared at his wife. She kept a serious look on her face.

“What?” he said in a very quiet whisper.

“I have to,” she said. “I can’t ask men to go on what amounts to a suicide mission when I’m not willing to do the same. Besides, I have experience in doing this kind of thing.”

“Since when?” he asked. “You weren’t a commando when you were in the Marines.”

She wanted to laugh at that thought. Marines were commandos out of basic, as opposed to Army grunts. At least, that was her opinion. Instead, she gave him an even stare.

“Since Korea,” she said. “I spent a lot of my time behind enemy lines running these kinds of missions. I’m qualified.”

“What does DeVore say?” he asked.

“He’s agreed,” she said simply. There was no use in stating all the arguments he already made. “I’m leaving Captain Pei in charge. DeVore has worked with him a lot already. He’s a good officer with lots more experience at being an officer than I have. He’ll do well while I’m gone.”

“I...” Aries said, starting to protest again, but stopping when he saw the look on her face. He sighed. “I guess I’m not talking you out of this. I don’t think this is a good idea. I’m stating that on the record.”

“You wouldn’t be the man I married if you did think it was a good idea,” she said. She touched his face on the screen with her finger. “I love you, Aries Webb. And my daughter too. I promise the both of you, I’ll be back.”

“You’d better be,” he said. “You’d better be.”

****

“Okay, soldiers,” Amelia said, looking at the eight men and women that had volunteered for this mission. “I’m not going to give a long speech here. You all know what we’re doing, and the chances we have of success. But, those chances are worth it, so we’re going in. If anyone wants to back out, now’s the chance. No one will think the lesser of you.”

Not one of them backed down. She smiled. Of these eight commandos, only two were native to Mars. All of them had prior service in the US military, serving in such groups as the Special Forces, SEALs, Rangers and Marine Special Operations. One of them she had worked with before in Korea. These were people that knew their stuff. And more importantly, they had declared Mars as their home, and their willingness fight and die to protect that home. They were her people, and if anyone could get this job done, it was them.

“Okay then,” she said, “let’s move out.”

The plan to get into the city was simple. Her troops had the city pretty much surrounded, and all the known entrances were sealed. They would simply use one of the less well known routes inside. It was one used before by Martian Intelligence operatives to get in and out. No one inside seemed aware of it. This was one of the advantages to being the side that built all the cities on the planet.

Once they were inside, they met with a contact that set them up in an apartment building that would be their base of operations. It was in a district heavily visited by the military. That didn’t seem safe at first until it was pointed out to her that this section of town was considered the property of the US Army, and thus no one would be looking for terrorists here. Their contact provided them with false ID papers, listing them all as American citizens. Amelia was now Amanda Dreyfus. The military presence also allowed them to easily store and transport military hardware, like guns.

The team waisted no time. Four of their number were sent to scout the first target. There were three main food storage facilities in the city, but one was the central hub. The other two were simply storage. If the hub could be taken out, the food in the other two units would disappear pretty quickly. Of course, the hub was probably the most heavily guarded building in the city. They took the reports from the scouts and formulated a plan.

Everyone on the team had a part. Demolitions, cover, heavy weapons, something. Everyone by Amelia. Even behind enemy lines, Amelia was still the Colonel. When this first raid was staged, she stayed behind with two others. She was still proving to be too valuable for the other soldiers to just leave her be or allow her on the raid. So, instead, she wrote off on all final mission plans.

When her men came back to report the mission was a success, she was elated. When they reported that they had taken fire, and had a causality, she fell again. The only good news out of that was that they managed to drag her body back with them. That would slow down the investigations. But she didn’t have the numbers to loose people each mission. Still, she supposed it was too much to expect that they wouldn’t lose anyone. this was a suicide mission, after all. She sighed.

“Everyone get some sleep,” she said. “We’ve done all we can to prepare for target number two. We’ll hit it tomorrow.”

As she prepared to sleep, she thought that she would go with them. She came here to help, to actually do something, not just sit at a desk making decisions. There would be some left behind to watch the base, of course, but the rest would go. The water supply was nearly as heavily guarded as the food storage was, and everyone would be needed.

The next morning, they started early. No one seemed surprised or tried to stop her when she geared up and discussed her part in the raid. She smiled. They were expecting it, apparently. She wasn’t stupid, she paired herself with the two Marine Special Operations soldiers, who knew that part of their job was to keep the inexperienced officer alive.

The plan was pretty simple. The main water resources was a big tank kept at one end of the city, attached to the water line that fed them from the newly created Hellas Basin Lake. It was the first real sea Mars had, and was a major point in the terraforming of the world. It’s fresh water fed both Olympus Mons and Elyssium Mons. The goal of this mission was simply to destroy the tank. A few well placed bombs would do the trick. The hard part would getting the bombs well placed. Or placed at all really.

They set off. Getting to the location was easy, it wasn’t difficult to miss. Getting through the first set of guard posts and fences proved to be fairly easily as well. She was in awe watching this team work. Though they had never worked together before, they were consummate professionals, and the way they knew what the others were doing, their method of silent communication, it was massively impressive. In order not to slow things down, she had put Lieutenant Rand in charge of the team, and his leadership style was very interesting to watch. No one questioned him, or talked back. They just did what he said. And if they didn’t, they were off the mission and set to guard duty.

She was no exception, and he made that clear during the mission. She kept her mouth shut and did as ordered, and it all felt pretty good. To just be a soldier again, to follower orders and get the job done. That was why she had enlisted rather than go the university to officer route. Getting the job done felt better than ordering others to it.

They managed to get tree of the five bombs planted before they got caught. Getting caught, in this case, meant the fire fight started. This was where Amelia and her two Marines came in. They were the distraction to allow the rest of the team to keep working. She fired her gun, making sure to take careful aim. She and her men had three men killed before they even had their weapons raised. Then the real fighting started. The three of them ran, keeping up the fire as they went. They ducked in and out of cover, leading the enemy guards on a merry chase away from the other team. They even set up a few bombs of their own, mostly designed to distract the enemy, but if they managed to go off, all the better.

She could hear some other fire fights going on, which means the guards discovered the second distraction team. She kept firing, taking down two more soldiers. These had to be the worst soldiers she had ever seen, she souldn’t be able to take them down this easy. Then she saw their uniforms. They were roughly made, and looked like they were jackets and jumpsuites that had unit patches sewed onto them. They weren’t real soldiers, they were a unit of civilian volunteers, probably just had a truncated basic training. Things were more desperate in here than her spies had lead her to believe. They continued to run, but eventually one of her Marine’s pulled them to a stop.

“What’s up?” she whispered.

“They’re leading us,” he said. “Those aren’t the civilian troops we’re supposed to believe they are.”

“What?” she asked.

“They’ve been directing us, showing up where they weren’t supposed to be, forcing us to change course,” he said.

She had noticed that they made a few unexpected turns, but they were still heading towrds the extraction point.

“Trap?” she asked.

He nodded.

“Anything we can do?” she asked. There was still some gun fire going off from another end of the tank.

He shook his head. Great, she thought. She looked up, and found herself looking at the last bomb she just placed. She could hear the enemy getting into position around them. They were being boxed in. If this was a trap, it was about to be sprung. Then, she had an idea.

“Get ready to run,” she said, pointing her gun up at the bomb. The two men with her looked up and saw what she was about to do. True to form, they only nodded and set themselves to run. One looked around the corner and saw the enemy setting up position. After a few minutes of tense waiting, he put up his hand as a signal to wait. Then, he dropped it down quickly and the two started running. She fired her gun, hitting the bomb and started running after them.

The two men in front of her were firing at the enemy, causing them to scatter out of surprise. The bomb went of behind them, and she felt a push from behind her of hot air. So hot her back felt on fire. It pushed her hard, causing the three of them to fall. Quickly, she started getting up, but apparently not fast enough. One of the Marine’s grabbed her arm and yanked as the other stood next to them firing. She watched as five men fell to the Marine’s fire, but the enemy was equally quick to return fire. The Marine fell to a hail of bullets as she and her partner took of running. She raised her gun firing as well. Everything seemed to stand still. The fire burned behind her as water leaked out of the tank. In a few seconds, the tanks emergency systems would take over and seal of the hole, but for now it worked as a distraction.

But not enough of one. The two ran around a corner to find themselves facing a large group of soldiers. And these were wearing full uniforms, in the gray and black of urban camouflage. She looked behind her to find about twenty men setting up positions with guns. They were well and truly trapped. She held up her arms and dropped her rifle, and the Marine next to her did the same.

****

The room was completely dark. She didn’t even know how long she had been here now. A couple of days, at least. She had telt her way around the chamber when she was first placed in it. It seemed like a prison cell, with a bunk and a toilet and notihing else. Some how, during the time she slept, food and water was placed in the room. She found that out the first time when she stepped in the food. It was some kind of gruel that tasted like oatmeal mixed with ground beef. It was still better than the field rations she had been eating in her tent. She figured from the feel of things that she had been placed in a space ship and was probably on her way to Earth. None of this was really a surprise. She was a high profile office in the Martian resistance. The wife of the Martian Prime Minister and leader of the Martian Army. They would try to use her to get Aries to surrender.

She was concerned about that last bit. She was worried that Aries would capitulate. That would be the absolutely worst decision he could make, but outside of the Free Mars movement, she was his one true love. He had said that too many times for her to not believe it. Still, he was dedicated to winning their freedom, and there was the hope that he wasn’t willing to give it up even for her. Maybe he could even find a way to rescue her without giving up.

She ate her gruel. She felt like an idiot. How could she have let herself be trapped like that. She remembered Atherton after her capture. How the older man had gloated.

“I expected to capture most of your team, Mrs. Day-Webb,” he said, not even using her rank. “But I never expected to capture the woman that has been leading the fight here at Elyssium Mons. Thank you for proving why it is that you Martian’s shouldn't be allowed independence. If we let you go, you would fall to a superior foe, like the Chinese, who would surely use that moon your husband stupidly gave them as a launching point.”

Her only response was to glare at him. She hated that, too. After all that fighting, she gets herself caught, and then can’t even come up with a witty come back. He had thrown her into a make shift prison cell until she was put into a box that was presumably latter put on the space ship. She didnt know if the five other soldiers that had been caught at the end of the last mission were still alive, or on this ship with her. All she did know was that after Atherton was done gloating, the bombs on the water tank went off. Her men that managed to avoid capture were successful, and the siege would change.

It was the only hope she clung to. She had made a difference. Hopefully, Aries and Bo could take it the rest of the way, and Mars would truly be free. She slowly ate her gruel. It was bland, and she found herself wishing she had some Martian salsa. It was a unique dish from Mars that originated when a scientist managed to genetically engineer a tomato that grew with its own spices built in. The Martian Tomato, as it was now called, had become the center piece of Martian Salsa, and the dish had quickly grown to be one of her favorite things on Mars. It went well with lots of food, and she wanted some now to mix into her gruel. It would make it taste so much better.
She heard something outside, and then a noise like a door being rattled. Quickly, she stood up. She had flung the food across the room and lifted the bowl up, flattening herself against the wall. She wasn’t sure where the door was, but she figured it would be across from the toilet, like a prison cell was built. The door opened, and she closed her eyes due to the bright light outside, but swung where she saw the figure outside. The bowl connected with something, and she felt it dent from the impact. The guard that had come in fell to the ground. She shot out her arm to try and punch the next guard in line, but the lights were still too much for her eyes, and she couldn’t see. He grabbed her arm and swung her around, twisting her arm around her back.

It hurt, but she grew up with her uncle putting her in this move all the time, and knew ways to escape it. Like the simple move of kicking the attacker in the knee. He backed away, letting her go, and she spun around, hitting him hard in the face with her fist. She saw a third figure move into the room, and crouched ready to move. The brightness was starting to dim some, her eyes getting used to it.

“That’s enough, ‘Melia,” a sharp voice said, and she paused. No one called her that. No one except...

“Dad?”

****

“It’s unconscionable,” he said, throwing the letter across the room. It managed to hit Bo in the face, but he calmly pealed it away and looked at it instead. Aries, in the mean time, continued to rant. It was nothing short of what Bo had expected when the first reports started coming in from Utopia Planitia. The siege there had been won. General Atherton and his troops made a final run for it, launching a full attack against the blockade and making it through, but giving up Elyssium Mons in the processes. It was a huge victory for the Martians, taking away the largest foot hold the enemy had, but it came at a major loss of men.

“I can’t believe that they would hold her hostage like that,” Aries said. “And to think that they believe I’ll just roll over and give up Mars for her. She’s my wife, and I love her, but damn it, this is bigger than that.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear you say that,” Bo said, which brought Aries up short. He looked over at his long time friend.

“Why would you say that?” he asked.

“You love her, like you said,” Bo said, as if that answer were obvious. “You’ve done things for her that I’ve never seen you do for anyone before, not even me. I was afraid that you might be willing to end this whole war to save her. Or at the least resign.”

Aries paused, as if resigning wasn’t something he had considered before.

“You can’t,” he said. “Like you said, this is bigger than that. It’s bigger than you and her, bigger than me. But it also needs you and me to keep it going. If you quit now, even if it is to go and rescue her, the people of Mars will lose hope. We have to keep this going. We have to.”

Aries narrowed his eyes, and for a moment there Bo believed he would actually disagree with him. Not that Bo could blame Aries. If the situation were reversed, and it was his wife that had been captured, Bo wasn’t sure he would be able to let her go and continue the fight. But, Aries was a stronger man that Bo ever was, and as much as he hated to admit this in public, he believed that no one else could lead Mars through this time but Aries. Something about that man brought people together and bound them in common purpose like few other leaders in history could.

Eventually, though, Aries just sighed and sat back down. “You’re right,” he said. “I can’t leave, there’s too much important stuff going on. And even if I could resign and go after her, what good would I do? I’m no soldier. The best I could hope for was to turn myself in in return for her freedom. And that wouldn’t really change anything, just switch our positions. Not to mention that I need to consider how any decision I make affects Zita.”

Bo breathed a sigh of relief. “Now we need to take advantage of the opportunity she provided us. Atherton is on the run and his reinforcements are not due for another week. My suggestion is that we push him back to his fortress near the southern pole.”

Aries listened, and then nodded. For the most part, Bo wanted to fight a defensive war, but opportunities didn't come all the time. And for once, Aries found himself really wanting to punish Atherton, to hurt him, even kill him if he could. That was the man that had not only been leading America in its bid to retain Mars, but now he had taken his wife from him. It had become personal, and briefly Aries wondered if that was a bad thing. He shook off the thought, though. He could use this anger. Never before had he wanted to push Atherton off Mars more than he did now.

“Do it,” he said. “I want you to push Atherton right of the edge of the world. I want his base destroyed, I want his reinforcements to have no place to land. I want this war ended, and I want the end to cost the American’s dearly.”

Bo glanced at his friend. He had never seen him so angry. He hoped this wasn’t a bad sign. Still, the idea of taking out the American base was an appealing one. They really had no way of preventing the reinforcements from landing, but stripping their resources away was a good idea.

“Good ideas,” he said. “I’ll get the plans in motion. And don’t worry, Aries. We’ll get her back. I don’t know where Atherton has her holed up, but we’ll find her. I swear we’ll find her.”

****

“Stand down, Colonel Webb!” Major General Louis Day said in that commanding voice that only a life long military man can muster. “That’s an order.”

Amelia found her self responding to the order and stood at attention. She dropped her bowl, but glared at the two men that were entering the room. The General was, of course, her father, who she hadn't seen since her wedding. He wore a standard duty uniform instead of his class A’s, but he looked no less imposing. In fact, he may have looked more imposing, his short cut curly hair and dark skin contrasting against the gray and black of the urban camouflage.

The other man she recognized as the spy that had saved her husbands life during the assassination attempt a few years ago.

“You,” she said to him.

“Me,” he said, with a rather smug smile.

“Yes,” her father said. “Colonel Webb, I want you to meet Agent Ford of the CIA. At least, meet officially.”

“What’s going on here, General?” she asked. If he insisted on using her rank, so would she.

“Simple,” he said. “I’m saving your life. I ordered Atherton to take you alive, even though he wanted to kill you, and rather publicly too, in order to try and break your husband and end this war. Instead, I’m taking you back to Earth in the hopes that I can talk you and that stubborn husband of yours to end this needless conflict before more people have to die.”

“Earth?” she asked. All this time, she had assumed she was in orbit around Mars, at the US research station. Earth would mean that she was beyond rescue. Earth would mean that she was now a POW, and would likely not see her husband and daughter again.

She broke down. She couldn’t handle that knowledge. She collapsed to the floor and started to cry.

The End

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