Battle Luna – Snippet 02



by Timothy Zahn

“I wonder how many of the people up there hate us.”

Papillion “Pappy” McLeod — who disliked his given name so much that even the sarky nickname “Pappy” he’d been saddled with had come as something of a relief — turned from his contemplation of the half-Earth hovering ominously over the lunar surface and looked across at the foxhole twenty meters to his left at the other end of his comm cable. The cables were a little awkward, but under the circumstances no one wanted to be caught gabbing over a radio, not even a theoretically secure one. “Excuse me?” he asked.

“I was just wondering how many Earthers hate us,” KC Devereux repeated.

“Odd question,” Pappy said, peering across the rocky ground. KC had always liked rolling verbal grenades into the middle of conversations. But this was hardly the time or place for such antics.

Still, from what he could see of KC’s expression through his helmet faceplate, that didn’t seem to have been the big French Canadian’s goal anyway. “Any reason in particular you’re bringing that up right now?”

“I saw a new CNN poll this morning,” KC said meditatively. His eyes, Pappy saw, were fixed on the hovering half-Earth. “It said eighty percent thought the moon wasn’t worth the time and money United Earth is pouring into us. Eighty percent comes to about five and a half billion. That’s an awful lot of hate.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Pappy soothed. “CNN likes to claim they speak for the whole world, but no one believes that, not even them. It’s probably only a couple hundred million who hate us. The rest don’t even know we exist. Or care.”

“Thanks, Pappy,” KC said drily. “That makes me feel so much better.”

“They’ll know soon enough,” Morgan Lee murmured from the foxhole twenty meters to Pappy’s right. Her voice was thoughtful and a bit distant. Inscrutable, Pappy might have characterized it if that term wasn’t pompously frowned upon by Earthers in regards to Asians like Morgan. “They’ll care, too. Eventually.”

“Right,” KC said. “The shot heard ’round the world. The high drama of the century.”

“Pun intended?” Pappy asked.

“Pun intended,” KC confirmed. “Heard ’round their world, of course, not ours. Can’t hear anything in a vacuum.”

“It’s supposed to be metaphorical,” Morgan said. “I wouldn’t worry about the poll, either. If you know how to tweak the questions, you can make a poll give whatever answers you want.”

“They’re fattening us up for the slaughter,” Pappy added. “The minute that first shot is fired — by either side — we’re the ones who’ll get blamed for starting the war.”

“With seriously edited recordings, no doubt,” KC said darkly. “Pretty hard to blame us when the Ueys are blowing up domes and slaughtering people.”

“Hey, if we weren’t so damn stubborn about paying our fair share of the taxes that keep us going they wouldn’t have to teach us a lesson,” Pappy said. “See? See how easy it is? Even easier than writing slanted polls.”

“They’re not going to blow up any domes,” Morgan said.

“And what share of taxes are they talking about?” KC retorted. “The tariffs — the prices they’re paying for our metals — hey, we’re the ones getting robbed, not them.”

“And when you’re in charge of CNN and the rest of the media, you can explain that to the world,” Pappy said. “Good luck. Even just speaking the word economics is usually enough to make people’s eyes glaze over.”

“Yeah,” KC growled. “Too bad economics is what drives everything else. Suppose I’m preaching to the choir, though.”

“Well, that is what accountants do,” Pappy agreed.

“Understand economics?” KC asked. “Or glaze over people’s eyes?”

“Both,” Pappy said, trying to put a little lightness in his tone. Neither of his two companions had ever been in combat before, and he could feel their tension and bubbling fears.

Not that Pappy himself was exactly immune from that. In the fifteen years he’d been with the British SAS, until the leg injury that had ultimately turned him into a Luna Colonies accountant, he’d seen action on three different continents. He was well aware of the role adrenaline and fear played in combat readiness, and how to find that fine line where they stopped being assets and became liabilities.

But that had been a long time ago, and under vastly different circumstances. On Earth he’d had his mates at his sides, and even when the plan went sideways — and plans always went at least a little sideways — he knew what he was doing and how his weapons and gear functioned.

But no one had ever fought a war on the moon.

The reports from Tranquility said the Ueys had brought rifles with them. That was fine, as far as it went. Modern cartridges had enough oxygen mixed in with the propellant to make them function in vacuum.

But did the soldiers know how to use them? The reports had suggested that the invasion force had landed, unloaded their improvised tanks from the transports and loaded up the troops, and headed immediately toward the various domes. Certainly there’d been no indication of the soldiers being put through any target practice.

Charging in without proper training was typical of Uey forces, of course. They were cocky S.O.B.s at the best of times. More importantly, if the rumors were to be believed, the United Earth leadership had leaped into this whole thing way faster than they should have.

The rumors.

Mentally, Pappy shook his head. As former military he knew a lot about rumors. They were like motor oil: a lubricant for social interactions that could spill out into the air at the slightest opportunity, and typically got pretty much everywhere. Their reliability, according to his own private tally, ran to maybe sixty percent with at least a whiff or two of truth, twenty percent with enough truth to make them worth listening to, and less than one percent that were spot on.

By all logic, the Mimic rumors he’d been hearing for the past month should be well within the forty percent that were a hundred percent make-believe. But at the same time, the United Earth response was far out of proportion to the Lunar Colonies’ threats to withhold metal shipments until a more equable profit-sharing scheme could be worked out. Someone downthere apparently believed in the Mimic, and that someone had troops, transports, and firepower at his disposal.

And the Loonies had nothing.

They had no soldiers. No weapons. No fighting vehicles. No experience. The shot heard ’round the world metaphor might be the current darling of the fringe news media, but at least the American Colonies had had muskets and had known how to use them.

They’d had allies, too, eventually. Sadly Lafayette and his buddies wouldn’t be coming this time around. France was as much a part of United Earth as everyone else.

It was going to be a slaughter. Everyone knew it. Or rather, it would be as much of a slaughter as Earth decided to make it. Morgan’s rose-eyed trust in Uey restraint notwithstanding, there was no reason they couldn’t blow one of Luna’s colony domes just to prove they were serious.

Certainly the mass drivers the Council had scrambled to set up as anti-spacecraft weapons weren’t much of a counter-threat. They were designed to throw metal canisters across large distances as an aid to ore transport, and no matter how much jury-rigging the techs did to the programming they were always going to be slow and ponderous and utterly incapable of targeting something moving past at even a moderate rate of speed.

Granted, if a Uey attacker insisted on flying straight at its target dome before unloading his bomb, a mass-driver might have a chance of taking it down. But any pilot who did something that stupid deserved to be shot down anyway.

But then, the Ueys didn’t have to take even that small risk. The mountains and ridges around most of the domes meant their mass-driver defenses couldn’t throw at anything running at ground level. With troops and tanks, the Ueys could simply roll into the colonies’ front doors.

Which led to Pappy and his companions.

Pappy turned to look behind them. The Freeway, the people of Hadley Dome called it: the doglegged, more or less level approach to the dome wending its way through the jagged ridges of the Rima Fresnel, the fields of scree, and other hazards to ground transportation. It was the only lane big enough for the Ueys’ tanks, at least according to Tranquility’s description, so if they decided to hit Hadley, this was the route they would have to take.