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There’s an old saying in warfare: amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics. Unfortunately, logistics of late were in favor of anarchism, not massive nation states.

Hacked replicators were the new hot word of war. Devices which converted matter into energy and then back into matter and arranged it in any way the user had programmed. The culmination of 3D printing technology. They’d been invented half a millennium ago but had only recently been made publicly available in desktop form, by that bastard Elton Dusque and his Alchemist’s Box brand.

The unfortunate side effect had been, anyone with the knowledge to code one could say, load the input tube with anything, scrap metal, dirt or even feces, push go and, in a few hours, have a shiny new shield-piercing plasma rifle.

The colonies were getting unruly. It was all the intelligence agencies could do to keep them at each other’s throats instead of attacking the Central Command System, which has passed the various trade deals and rigged elections which made the colonies run down while simultaneously lining the pockets of the superior class at home.

What General Burpleson couldn’t figure out is why the Pesh militias were so much more effective than the others. If left unchecked, they may have grown too powerful and stabilized the region. Such an outcome would have been extremely damaging to the Command System’s macroeconomic interests. Overpopulation was a grave concern, and without warfare, less popular means of population control may have needed to be enacted, not to mention the massive losses from the arms production sector. Then there were secondary effects. If the system were united, it would have been much more difficult to negotiate favorable deals in the slave market than it was in the current system, where rival factions could be played off each other.

He had to get to the bottom of it, and Sgt. Marcus Schlick seemed to be the key. He had a spec-ops record a mile long, if you had the clearance to read any of it. The biggest highlight was an ambush during an undercover asset extraction in which he had scored a hundred and seventy-three confirmed kills in a two-hour firefight, on foot, in close quarters. His squad of six had held off five hundred enemy militants before air support arrived. He was, in reality, the deadliest man alive, although the typical patriotic nerd would tell you the sniper Kyle Christianson was, thanks to his holoprojector film series and work in less covert environments.

To put it simply, when reviewing the casualty statistics, a pattern had emerged. The Pesh Militia was barely functional two years ago. Taking severe losses in all its engagements. Central Command, hoping to keep their rivals in check, had sent Schlick to advise one of their local commanders. The casualty rate in that area dropped significantly and kept falling. Most puzzling was that as that unit was exposed to other units, a similar pattern emerged in those units.

The Pesh commanders seemed to have taken notice and were dissolving the effective units and mixing them with the others, which in turn boosted combat effectiveness in all their units so significantly that it spread like a virus, a virus that made casualty counts drop off a cliff, and confirmed kills soar.

He had to get to the bottom of this. What had Schlick seen? Even Central Command’s own special forces units were taking heavy losses when engaged by the far inferiorly supplied Pesh Militants. Often, missions were only succeeding thanks to heavy air support or reinforcement. This was an interplanetary catastrophe. If the Pesh had obtained the schematics for the new advanced man portable anti-air cannon, they would likely be unstoppable.

Marcus entered the room.

“Sergeant, at ease soldier, sit down.”


“Sergeant Schlick, I’m sure you’re curious to know why I wanted to speak to you.”

“Hon’stly sir, I ain’t ever really botherin’ wondrin’ why ya’ll generals do nothin’. Ain’t no good never come from it,” he spoke in his thick peasant drawl. The infantry was filled with people of low status.

“Wise man. Well anyway, we’re having a bit of a problem with the Pesh Militants that we were hoping you could help us get to the bottom of.”

“Iah ain’t sure Ah’ll be much’ve a help, sir. Ah’m a soldier, Ah ain’t one a’ ’dem analysts.”

“Well, you see, they have gotten much more effective in recent months.”

“I ain’t ’prised at dat not one bit, sir.”

“You’re not?”

“Well, y’all did done send me off to train them, sir.”

“What did you notice while training them? New advanced body shields? Some sort of infantry cloaking device? Risiankian tech?”

“Nope. Just that ole’ standard cheap replicator crap. Pardon’ my language, sir. And they ain’t even usin’ no body shields.”

“Yes, our intelligence officers noted the lack of them on bodies. We suspected they were removing them to keep their tech secret.”

“No sir. They ain’t usin’ ’em. Ah hon’stly don’t use ’em neither, I keep mine shut off ’less the daggum safety officer is ’round.”

“You don’t use them?”

“Yessir. Daggum thing hums like a church choir an’ glows like a light-nung bug. Might as well run on inta’ battle wearing a red coat playin’ dem’ bagpipes or summin’. Daggum thing only blocks da first shot anyways. Second bullet comes tenth of a second after and gets ya. They ain’t nuttin’ but pointless, really. Wish I ain’t have ta lug the daggum thing round so much.”

“So, in your opinion, Sargent, why have the Pesh become such effective fighters?”

“Well sir, it’s ’cause I done gone and trained them on how to fight, just like ya’ll done ask’t me to.”

“What makes you think that?” the General asked, not expecting to hear anything of note, but willing to explore any kind of lead. Their effectiveness had started in the exact place, and time, that Sgt. Schlick had arrived.

“Sir, pardon my honesty, but ’dat Dieder system y’all think is so great, is a cow pie. It some ole’ bullshit. I ain’t usin’ it. Ain’t nobody in my squad bin usin’ it. And I ain’t teachin’ no allies to be usin’ it neither.”

“So, what do you teach them?”

“Dat Maynard system.”

The General sighed.

“You’re excused sergeant.”

“Thank ya, sir. Sorry I ain’t been more help.”

The Maynard system. He’d heard of it briefly at the military academy. An ancient gun fighting style from the twenty-second century. It was considered the most effective gun fighting system ever devised, but was also considered far too difficult to logistically consider applying on an army-wide scale.

The Dieder system, developed in the same era, was what all soldiers at Central Command were taught. It relied on trusting your body shield, speed, and most importantly, could be mastered in two weeks of one-hour lessons. It quickly made soldiers that were competent enough to defeat an outnumbered and completely inexperienced enemy, such as a typical terrorist force, without much effort. The Maynard system took years to master, was an entire overwhelming storm requiring real time analysis of battlefield geometry, ambient light, cover, concealment, all of it. It was based around a philosophy of flowing through a battlefield like water, only ever exposing your rifle and eye to the enemy and firing before they even noticed you. It took years to master, but apparently only days to become far more effective than Diedering soldiers.

That asshole had made the Pesh into Samurai of sorts, and their armies of crossbow wielding peasants no longer had the technological advantage.

The General saw no other option now, if the Pesh were all practicing the Maynard System. They would have to release Alternative 717LN.

It was not an option that he considered lightly.

The Pesh were a racial minority on their system. Centuries ago, the colonies survived independently of the Central Command World, known as Earth in those ancient days. In those passing centuries, mutations had occurred, which became present in the DNA of nearly all inhabitants of the isolated system and followed racial strains.

Those mutations could be targeted by certain viral therapies.

Alternative 717LN was a weaponized virus, a common cold virus in fact, which for members of any race other than Pesh would manifest itself as merely a mild cold. The sick and elderly may suffer complications from it, but it was a minor cost to pay, especially with overcrowding already rampant in the affiliated systems. The Pesh, however, would die in droves. Not enough to raise eyebrows, but enough to harm the militants' supply chain enough that they could be defeated.

In truth, Central Command would probably stop the process before they were destroyed. A vaccine had already been developed. They would merely wait until the Pesh were mostly conquered and enslaved before making the vaccine available.

Its development would likely be seen as a humanitarian godsend and earn its developers a Nobel prize.

It would follow the standard playbook. Officially as a test of loyalty, and as a sleight-of-hand training exercise, one agent would be ordered to pour a vial of an unknown to them substance into another agent which they are emotionally close with’s drink. The vial would contain Alternative 717LN. The infected agent would then be assigned to run surveillance on a terrorism suspect somewhere densely populated, like a fish shop in an open-air market suspected of secretly dealing arms or the like. The agent would undoubtedly infect numerous individuals, which would inevitably lead to an interstellar pandemic, one which would go unnoticed until it reached the Pesh in large numbers, and by then, it would be unstoppable.

Such is the nature of war. The General thought to himself. Instability in the outer worlds must be maintained at all costs. There was another saying in warfare. Amateurs die, professionals profit. Sergeant Schlick was a statistical anomaly, one that needed rectifying. By all normal statistical extrapolations, the idealistic fool should’ve been a casualty thirteen years ago, plus or minus four years. To General Burpleson, statistics and data were everything. They were the lifeblood of society, and the key to the universe. If X men armed with Y type weaponry entered combat offensively against Z men armed with B weapons on T terrain, they would inflict C casualties and suffer D casualties, claiming M miles of area. Men like Schlick messed up his math. Mathematical errors were not acceptable. Wars are like systems. Systems that favor completion. Left to their own devices, they inevitably end, but the galaxy didn’t need its wars to end. To maintain dominance or even relevance, Central Command required a perpetual conflict, an existential crisis, a war that was both un-winnable and un-losable.

Sergeant Schlick, in training the Pesh, had nearly tipped the carefully curated balance of warring factions towards a victor. They were our allies, yes, for at least today, but they were never supposed to win. This was precisely the reason no state had ever trained its soldiers in the Maynard System since its creation in the late twenty-second century. A special mission might be in order to rectify this anomaly in the data. There was a bit of a hotspot forming in New Libya. His team would soon find themselves on assignment there. They might even receive Medals of the Legion of Highest Honor, Valor, and Bravery, posthumously, of course, as is the custom.

A brutal thought, the General thought to himself, but it’s an honor all these guys dream of when they re-sign every few years.


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