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Richard A. Friar

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Excerpt from The Keepers: Part Two: Tribulation
By Richard A. Friar
Monday, June 09, 2008

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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A short excerpt, sneak preview, from The Keepers: Part Two: Tribulation, release date Winter 2009.

 

Pages 64-71 in current draft

 

The Battle of Olympus Mons

 

            Mars is a fascinating planet. To the naked eye, it is fairly conspicuous in the eastern sky. If you gaze at it through a small telescope, you can see light and dark markings on the surface or perhaps even the ice cap at the southern pole. Bathed in red, the color of blood, Mars was believed to be a God of war in ancient mythology. But this was not only due to its color, for Jupiter, which is also visible without any help of technology, is red as well. As the planet moved across the night sky, it appeared to make a hairpin turn and head in the opposite direction. A couple of months later, Mars would make another hairpin turn and resume its earlier heading. In this, it reminded the ancients of an angry warrior whose behavior was erratic and unpredictable.

This apparent change in direction was an optical illusion that occurred due to Earth’s and Mars’s orbits. Earth crossed Mars’s orbit sometimes, making it appear as if Mars was traveling backwards. Other planets appeared to change direction as well, but were so much farther away that the effect was not noticeable to the naked eye.

There were other aspects of Mars that made it quite incredible and unique. Though it was not the largest planet, with Jupiter and Saturn having moons that were larger than it, it had the largest geographical formations in the Solar System. It had the largest canyon, Valles Marineris, a continent-wide and long trench that cut across the belly of the Red Planet like a lethal wound received by a warrior in battle. It also had the largest mountains. Three of the mountains stood in a line, created by ancient volcanic upwelling. They were Arsia Mons, Pavonis Mons and Ascraeus Mons. These lay in the Allied territories and, being that the high-ground always provided for the best place to mount a defense, they were where the Allied fortifications and bases were built.

Across from them, forming the peak of an isosceles triangle with the three other mountains being the base, was Olympus Mons, the largest mountain in the Solar System. Latin for Mount Olympus, Olympus Mons stood twenty-seven kilometers high and was five-hundred and fifty kilometers wide, making it three times taller than Mount Everest and larger than Britain and Ireland combined. Like the three other massive mountains, it was a volcanic plate, and from afar appeared quite flat. Though it stood so tall, it was so vastly wide that the incline was not as steep as it would seem. Nonetheless, it was a point of high ground and it too provided the base of military defenses for the Apex Martian territory.

Like most invasions, this one was scheduled around the weather. Often times, the invader waited for good weather to come. From ancient days to modern, spring and especially summer, when the ground was dry and easy to move about on, was usually the time when warlords would begin their conquests. The invasion of Normandy by the Allies of World War II was planned to be launched when the seas were least rough. The invasion of Apex Martian territory was both similar and unique in this way, for while it was scheduled to be launched when the weather was perfect for the invaders, perfect meant when the weather was at its worst.

Mars had extreme dust cloud storms that paled those on Earth in comparison. The Martian surface was covered with loose dirt that could be easily kicked up into voluminous clouds that would cover a large continent on Earth. These were not caused so much by wind, for there was very little atmosphere, but by static electricity. The dry Martian surface built up tremendous static that lifted and whirled about the dust and, as this dry dust was moved about, the friction from striking against itself caused even more static electricity that could move the clouds with incredible velocity, creating hurricanes, tornadoes and even powerful and colorful lightning storms. While it was inarguably dangerous to brave these elements, the dust storms provided an environ that would prove beneficial for a military invasion.

Under the cover of one of these tremendous clouds, which stretched from the Allied mountains to Olypus Mons, the first prong of the Allied offensive struck out while Apex reconnaissance craft were unable to peer through the thick, dusty chaos. Neither a visual by camera, nor a radar or sonar reading could be had, for the dust and static sent any radio or sound waves into disarray. Surprise was the single most important aspect of both the attacking and defending side’s plan for battle. Thus, the dust storm was of awesome strategic benefit, ensuring that the Apex could not know when the Allies were coming.

Nonetheless, it had its drawbacks. Within this tempest, the Allies could not see anything themselves. Anything beyond a meter or so was hidden behind the whirling dust. Neither could sonar or radar or any other type of electromagnetic device aid them on finding their direction. A clever yet simple solution was found for this. All transport and assault vehicles were attached in groups by cables that had motion detection devices within. The cables registered when a vehicle in the group was out of position and the driver within could then adjust accordingly. They also doubled as communication lines, being that radio communication in the storm was impossible. Every group was part of an assemblage that was called a division. The vehicles that were the group leaders were attached by larger cables to the vehicles that were the division leaders. Finally, each division leader was attached to the army leader’s vehicle, which belonged to Major-General Hansen. There were other key transports in the division that were redundantly attached to Hansen’s vehicle and to vehicles in other divisions.  This precaution was taken so that if one key vehicle was taken out, including Hansen’s, it would not blind an entire division. The groups and divisions were situated in such a way that the cables wouldn’t tangle, so long as they stayed on course. The maneuver of this massive army was well-choreographed, for they had very little leeway.

The militia rode on the transports, which were driven by professional soldiers who had been specially trained for this task and had been practicing the maneuver as a potentiality during war games for years. Today, their rehearsals had finally become a reality.

Major-General Hanson gazed from out the front viewing window of his massive transport vehicle. He sat upon a large commander’s seat that looked like a throne, his arms resting majestically upon those of the chair, his eyes fixed ahead in a trance. Bursts of multi-colored light shone through the orange-red cloud, the glow of bolts of lightning that not only struck the ground, but wound throughout the cloud like a spider’s web. Pink and blue bolts struck the viewing window, but did not phase the vehicle. Like the others, this craft was designed to endure this onslaught of electricity. As it reflected off Hansen’s cobalt blue eyes, he smirked with euphoria. His pupils dilated and every hair on his body stood up. Waves of exhilaration rippled up from his tail bone, through his spine to his neck and head and out his arms and legs. He imagined that in all of history, there was never a more spectacular sight beholden by troops heading to battle.

All of the transport vehicles were specially designed for this mission. They needed to be stable and have many points of contact with the ground, so that they could maneuver in zero-visibility. In this, they were an animalian vehicle based on the centipede, named Cienpies, which was Spanish for centipede and like the English equivalent of the word, meant one-hundred legs.  The Cienpies had long serpentine bodies and one-hundred small legs that kept the large battlemachines close to the ground, so that they wouldn’t tip when moving over an unseen rock or dip in the ground. The length of the vehicles was also valuable when out in the dust storm. The Cienpies could rear more than two-thirds of their bodies’ straight up into the air, giving those inside a greater view of the environment. This was vital, for there was little else one could do to get an elevated view of the battlefield, being that the Apex and Allies had both knocked out each other’s satellites and the lack of atmosphere made it impossible to have much airpower.

Hummingbird-type craft worked in the same manner as propeller planes, by moving a surface through air in order to push off of it. Jets worked on the same basic principle; however they could operate at far higher altitudes, where the air was thinner, for a jet engine first compressed air before propelling it out the back end. Neither however, could fly through an atmosphere that was only one percent as thick as Earth’s.

Another reason a jet plane could not operate on Mars was by default of its name—plane. A plane craft was given its name due to the two wings it used to keep itself aloft. Plane wings worked by using Bernoulli’s law, which stated that the faster a fluid substance moved, the less pressure it exerted on an object perpendicular to the flow of the fluid. This was why plane wings were made flat on the bottom and curved on the top. As the plane flew through the air, the air below the wing did not have to travel as far, for going in a straight line was less distance than being curved over the top of the wing. The wind going over the top of the wing had to travel a greater distance but in the same amount of time, for top and bottom of the wing were going through the air at the same time. Thus, the air going over the wing was going faster than the air passing below the wing. This built up more pressure below the wing than above it, thus creating lift.

The only thing which could operate in a vacuum or near to it was a rocket. A rocket worked by propelling a fluid that it held inside of its body. According to Newton’s Law that all actions exert an opposite and equal reaction, by propelling a fluid out of the back of the rocket, the rocket itself was propelled forward. So, rockets were used to provide an eye in the sky over the battlefield. However, they did not maneuver quickly, for they could not turn as planes or missiles did by manipulating their wings or tail rudders to catch the air they passed through. The rockets had thrusters on all sides which maneuvered them from side to side, up and down. Furthermore, they were clumsy and easily shot down by gunfire.

Major-General Hansen’s Cienpies, which was nearly a hundred meters long, could rise up and provide him an incredible overhead view of the battlefield. His was the largest of these vehicles, but the others, being an average of fifty meters long, were nonetheless extremely helpful. All of the Allied battlemachines on Mars were designed with a need for height in mind. This was why they abandoned construction of a quadrupedal cavalry on the red planet and created an entirely new type of animalian craft— the bipedal battlemachine— the Raptor.

With the same amount of materials, the Raptors were able to stand far taller than a quadrupedal battlemachine, such as a Cougar or Panzer. Standing on two legs and having a long neck like that of its namesake, a Raptor driver in the head of the vehicle could get nearly twenty meters above the ground. A long tail formed the counterbalance to the neck and head as it ran. Mounted on the head was a powerful laser bolt cannon. In the place of what would have been arms on the dinosaur the Raptor was modeled after, were two large Gatling guns that fired foot-long uranium penetrators at a rate of five thousand kilometers a minute. The extreme density of uranium gave the penetrators incredible momentum when fired and any vehicle on the battlefield that was struck by these projectiles would be shredded.

Unlike its quadrupedal counterparts, the Raptor cavalry was a long range fighting unit. Whereas, the Panzer or Cougar would run up to close range and engage the enemy with its powerful arms and claws, the Raptor pilot’s tactic was to shoot from afar and then run away. It would do this over and over again, striking from different angles and harassing the enemy out of harm’s way.

The Raptor had a top speed that was equivalent to that of the quadrupedal battlemachine, however, being that it only had two points of contact with the ground as opposed to four, it had less traction and stability. It could not turn or accelerate as fast and it did not have near the capability to rapidly jump from side to side in order to dodge. This was not considered important for the Raptor though, being that it was not a close-quarters fighter and therefore, would have more time to get out of the way of incoming fire. The Allies had gone with the more tried and true quadrupedal battlemachine cavalry on Earth, but if the Raptor showed to be as tactically capable as they predicted it might be during the battle on Mars, Allied High Command would consider mass-producing the Raptor for the war on Earth.

Following alongside the Cienpies transport vehicles, the Raptors were attached by motion-sensitive cables as well. And so the enormous assembly of transport vehicles and assault cavalry moved as one through the blinding dust storm.

Suddenly, Major-General Hansen received a report from an alarmed pilot of one of the group leaders of the Cienpies transports.

“General Hansen, sir! I have a disconnect with two of my Raptors!” the group leader called out. “And there’s something rockin’ the hell out of my Cienpies! What the fuck! Hoooly shiiit!” His vehicle was suddenly lifted off the ground and violently rotated about in an unusually powerful dust storm tornado. The Cienpies was thrown half a kilometer, hitting the ground with a deafening impact, rolling many times and crashing into a Cienpies from another division. The tornado ran amuck within the formation, picking apart the vehicles in many different groups and divisions. Often one unfortunate Cienpies or Raptor would be carried away, while those right next to it were left unharmed. Such was the nature of tornadoes. Their victims were scattered and arbitrary.

Though this was an atypically strong twister, it was not unheard of and the Allied military planners had accounted for such a scenario.

“Halt!” Hansen roared out to his subordinates over the communication lines. The formation came to an immediate standstill. This was the only solution. They had to wait it out. Attempting to move as one while the tornado destroyed units at random, would result in utter chaos and disunity. Now, though, as they faced the dreadful and maddening task of remaining motionless while the fickle phenomena chose its prey, hundreds of thousands of soldiers felt like they were playing Russian roulette, waiting to see if fate would spare them or have them perish.

Finally, the tornado dispersed, leaving behind a dozen wrecked Cienpies and more than thirty destroyed Raptors. Some had been completely broken open, ripping out the people within and scattering them for miles, often in pieces. Yet, the formation was not broken, for the redundant communication lines had kept the divisions and groups as a whole in contact with one another. Now, they had to go forth on their previous course. They could not attempt to launch a rescue mission. Those who were left unharmed could only pray that their comrades who were still alive in the battered vehicles would be alright until the dust storm cleared. Until then, they had to continue forward and hope that the bumps their vehicles moved over were merely part of the ground and not the injured vehicles or militia men.

              Though the powerful tornado was about the worse scenario Major-General Hansen had been prepared to encounter in the dust storm, he was happy to see that his army was, for the most part, intact. The Martian milieu had thrown its worst at them and they came out strong.  This tumult left Hansenwith even greater optimism and courage.

 

       Web Site: The Keepers Trilogy

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