Chapter 16
Camp Chisholm, Argyre Planitia, Mars, Martian Sphere
Date: Thu 30 Oct 122
Time: UST 1614

Although he was company commander, Captain Vasiliy Kalinin was almost never in headquarters. He preferred to stay in 'the Jar', the secure container where the company performed its SIGINT/C-SIGINT operations and intelligence/counterintelligence analysis. This way he knew what was happening when it happened and could brief the battalion commander with firsthand information. His XO could deal with the day-to-day admin nonsense while he focused on their actual work.
In a more typical arrangement, the personnel in the office would defer to the element leaders and NCOICs, but they spent most of their time in their own offices while Captain Kalinin had his desk right in the middle of 'the Bubble' where all the action took place. As a result, people had a habit of leapfrogging the chain of command and approaching him first.
PFC Paolino, one of the SIGINT analysts, leaned back in his chair and asked, "Sir, any chance we could close up shop a little early today?"
The Jar operated 24 hours a day and the shift change was still 45 minutes away. Just about any other officer or NCO in the service would immediately leap on the opportunity to tear Paolino a new asshole, but Captain Kalinin, like a cat, was known for playing with his food. Occasionally he would grant favors out of sheer caprice, just to keep everyone guessing, but it also gave his subordinates hope enough to angle for long shots.
In a level voice that betrayed no intention one way or the other, the Captain asked Paolino, "And why would you want to leave work early today?"
"Well, sir," Paolino replied, "to be honest, me an' some a' the boys were gonna head inta town for the midnight showin' a' the new Russ Benedict flick. Traffic's gonna be hell."
Specialist Rosenbach, one of the more senior members on Paolino's SIGINT team, scoffed, "A stupid movie? You do realize we got bigger shit to deal with than a damn Russ Benedict movie."
"Like what?"
"Like the Shellies, dumbass."
"What's that got ta do with us?"
Rosenbach rolled his eyes.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Did we all get discharged and relocated to Earth when I wasn't looking? 'Cause otherwise, we're soldiers in the Earth Union Army in the only military installation within a thousand klicks with the entire Shelly fuckin' Imperial Navy on our doorstep!"
A few of the others turned from their terminals to watch the argument unfold, while the rest pretended to ignore it. Captain Kalinin simply watched on to see how things played out. Oftentimes the junior enlisted would go at each other in far more entertaining ways than any of the higher-ups could.
Paolino, standing his ground, replied, "I say again, what's that got ta do with us? It's the swabbies' problem. Ain't no way the Shellies're gettin' through Fifth Fleet an' the orbital defenses."
"Don't you read the INTSUMs?" Rosenbach asked harshly. "The Shellies have landed on Phobos. They're getting through."
Paolino, who did not make much of a habit of reading the INTSUMs at all, was visibly shaken by this. The government was trying to maintain a media blackout of the landing on Phobos, but it was only a matter of time before SBN or MCN broke the story. Maybe the authorities would be braced for the ensuing panic by then.
Unsettled by the news about Phobos, Paolino stammered, "Well, uh, even, even if they make it through, they ain't gonna waste their time here. They're gonna go after Tharsis an' Elysium an' shit."
Sergeant Koenig, the CI team leader, took the opportunity to insert himself into the conversation.
"That isn't how Shellies fight, Paolino," he said. "They go after the weak. Weak like this rinky-dink colony that doesn't even have two full divisions defending her."
More unnerved that ever, Paolino could only mutter, "You're, you're jus' bein' paranoid, Sarge. No way the Shellies'll come here."
Sergeant Koenig sniffed derisively.
"Yeah, keep thinking that."
Before Paolino could come up with a response, the whole room noticeably shook.
"What the hell was that?" PFC Greerson, another CI specialist, asked.
The room shook again, two brief shakes in quick succession.
"Just the artillery boys firin' off a few rounds," Paolino said dismissively. "It perfectly nor--"
Rosenbach shot his hand up and said, "Shut up and listen."
The room was shaking more frequently now and with increasing intensity. Each shake was punctuated by a distant thump that was getting louder.
No doubt everyone in the room was thinking the same thing, but it was Paolino who vocalized their fears.
"Oh God..."
The shaking grew more violent, rattling anything that was not bolted down.
"Take cover!" Captain Kalinin shouted.
He ducked under his desk just as the bombs started to drop overhead. The lights flickered and then everything went dark. The room shook so hard that Captain Kalinin and his desk were lifted off the floor. Unsecured items were flung around, ceiling tiles broke loose and crashed on the floor. Paolino's screamed curses could just barely be heard through all the deafening explosions.
Intellectually, Kalinin knew that nothing short of bunker busters would penetrate the Jar and that the Shellies were only known to do surface bombing, but he couldn't help but feel that this could be it for him. However, the threat passed as quickly as it appeared.
As the shaking relented and the sounds of the bombs grew more distant, the emergency lights clicked on. They should have turned over the second the main power failed, but worrying about that was not priority one at the moment.
Captain Kalinin emerged from his desk and asked, "Is everyone alright?" When there was no immediate reply, he shouted, "Sound off, people!"
Specialist Kumarwal, the C-SIGINT team leader, said, "Rosenbach, Paolino, and Lian are fine, sir."
"Kowalcek cut his hand," Sergeant Koenig said, "but other than that, everyone on my team is fine too, sir."
"Lian, go check on Weintraub and Ximenez," the Captain said. "Sankarian, check on Hsiu and Agarwal."
"Yes, sir," Lian and Sankarian replied in unison.
While those two left to check on their element leaders, Captain Kalinin looked around a bit before asking, "What about the civilians?" Pointing to one of the available junior enlisted, he said, "Greerson, go check on them."
"Yes, sir."
The Captain did not intend to wait for the Lian, Sankarian and Greerson to get back. There was too much that needed to be sorted out as quickly as possible.
With the dozens of screens in the Bubble blank, Captain Kalinin's first question was, "What's the status of the equipment?"
"Everything's down, sir," Specialist Kumarwal replied.
That was not supposed to be. It was one thing if the bombing had cut off their connection to the outside network, but a total crash of all their sensitive hardware? Everything there was supposed to be designed to avoid a scenario like this. Even if the Shellies were dropping EMP ordnance, the Jar was supposed to be hardened against EMPs. What went wrong and why were both important questions that needed answering, but right now it was more important to fix the problem.
"Get to work and find out what's broken and what's just powered down," he said. "Find out what's going on with the UPSs, because everything shouldn't be down like this."
"Yes, sir."
Captain Kalinin picked up his phone. The landlines were supposed to run off a separate power source from that of the computer networks. There was a chance that he might still be able to call out. However, there was no dial tone, only silence.
"Line's dead," he said aloud, setting down the receiver. He then looked up and pointed to Rosenbach, saying, "Rosenbach, go see if you can't get HQ on the radio."
"Yes, sir."
Rosenbach would have to exit the Jar to use the radio, so that would take a while and longer still to hear back from him as to whether or not he was able to make contact. Fortunately, Lian and Sankarian were just coming back.
"Lieutenant Weintraub and Sergeant Ximenez are fine, sir," Lian said.
Sankarian followed him, saying, "Lieutenant Hsiu is fine, sir, but Sergeant Agarwal hit his head. The Lieutenant isn't sure how bad it is."
"Is Lieutenant Hsiu checking for signs of a concussion?"
"Yes, sir."
"Well, I'll go check in on them myself later. In the meantime, we need to reestablish communications ASAP. A Shelly bombing run means that ground troops will be coming soon."
"I don't fuckin' believe it..." Paolino muttered to himself. "The Shellies are actually invadin' Mars..."
"Stay focused, Paolino," the Captain said sharply. "We may have to move out quickly. Kumarwal and Koenig, check and make sure we can close shop if we have to."
"Yes, sir."
The 'closing shop' Captain Kalinin referred to was not the same thing Paolino was asking about before the bombing began, which seemed like a long time ago even though not even ten minutes had passed. This kind of 'closing shop' meant the destruction of all classified materials and equipment to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.
Their goal, of course, was to get in touch with Battalion and do their part in base's response to the Shelly attack, but at very least, they would not give the Shellies anything they could use against the Union. If that ultimately proved to be the full measure of their service, so be it, but Captain Kalinin planned to do a whole lot more than that and pay back the Shellies in spades.