Remote Control War
by John Reiher
Justine Donner sat down in the cubicle that housed her Remotely Operated Battlefield Combat Unit’s controls, setting down the cup of tea she had gone to fetch a moment before. The ROBCU had been in marching mode somewhere in Indonesia, a long walk to a small village on her unit’s patrol. There were a couple of queries from the flesh and blood mercenaries that were with the ROBCU.
She read the notes while sipping her tea; Darjeeling. The mercs, Africans from Zimbabwe, were worried about being ambushed by Neo-Congs. She looked at the video feeds from the ROBCU, cycled through the IR feed and then said through the unit’s mike: “Don’t worry. I did a scan and there are no hotspots within a hundred meters of us. Still, stay frosty.” The words were automatically translated into Sindebele, and then delivered in a man’s voice.
One of the mercs, Melusi, replied, his words real time translated, “Boss…the men… my men… are worried… about the Neo-Cong. They kill… eat their captives.”
She smiled, propaganda put out by the Cong. “Don’t worry Melusi. That’s a story the Neo-Cong make up to scare those that fight against them. There’s no proof.”
She traded jabs with the men, and then hushed them when the group got within 200 meters of the location. Using the ROBCU’s enhanced senses, she scanned the scene and picked out two fires and a dozen individuals. No sign of weapons, but they wouldn’t show in IR unless they got used. She had two squads of mercs, and they were equipped with the best personal armor, commo, and weapons the USA could buy. More than a match for what she saw with the scanner.
She relayed the images to her men through the IR screen on the ROBCU. Then she displayed a map of the huts taken from a drone not 15 minutes earlier. Melusi worked out a deployment that Justine’s computers agreed with.
She gave the go code, her men moving out into position surrounding the huts. Justine made sure the ROBCU’s self-defense systems were engaged and then strode straight into firelight between the huts. Justine turned on the standard recording.
“This is an US Army inspection,” speakers on the unit blared into the darkness around the huts in Mon-Khmer. “Lay flat on the ground and you will not be hurt. Resist, and you will suffer the consequences.”
The mostly women and children laid down on the ground, the few men hesitating, but a gesture of the ROBCU’s minigun changed their minds. After the last man was down on the ground, Justine called in her mercs.
Soon, they were processing the pitiful handful of people, removing any combat weapons and verifying identities. One of the men wasn’t in the database. He was then injected with a truth drug and interrogated quickly for any intelligence. He provided nothing that wasn’t already known. Then Justine used the ID system to photograph him, take a DNA sample and a retina print. An identity card was printed and the chip on it registered and he was then released on his own recognizance.
After that, the men were free to loot the huts for whatever they could find. Justine got up and stretched. Her replacement was due in a few minutes, so she had a little time to prep the change over report. It was just another day on the battlefield.
That’s when one of her men, Igama, screamed and dropped to the ground fighting something black and angular. “Jesus!” she swore jumping back into her seat, and targeted the thing with her minigun. With precise firing, she cut a hole through it, leaving her charge relatively unharmed.
The people of the village scrambled back into their huts and cowered. Her troops spread out and readied themselves for another assault. Justine moved the ROBCU over to the injured man. His face and arms were covered by lacerations from whatever had attacked him. Igama moaned a bit, prompting her to say, “It’s OK Igama. We’ll get you out of here. Medic!” The merc with the medpak trotted over to the injured man.
Standing back up, she walked over to looked at what attacked him and saw what looked like a robotic panther. In IR it was hot where she hit it, but the rest of it was at air temperature. She put the ROBCU on defense, as she reached down and peeled the outer layer of cloth from its surface. Then she saw the heat from the body.
‘Insulated camo?’ she thought. ‘But how does it keep from overheating…’ She went to visible light and saw that it was wet. “Melusi! They are hiding in the water! They have thermal camouflage coverings, but they stay cool in the water!”
Melusi nodded and had several of his men toss some grenades in the nearby river. As the grenades went off, four more of the mecha panthers leapt out of the water and sped towards the men and the ROBCU.
The minigun whirled up and cut two of the panthers into ribbons. The troops stood their ground and fired anti-armor grenades at the remaining charging mecha. They made short work of them.
Behind her in her cubicle there was a cough. She looked behind herself and saw Maxwell Thurman. “Hey Max! I gotta pull some overtime. We got ambushed by robotic panthers. We took them down, but I’m going to call an extract. We need to get our hands on these kitties.”
Max sipped his coffee and nodded. “OK, make sure to brief me when you’re clear.”
“Roger,” replied Justine. “Now back to my ducklings.” She keyed the mike and said, “Melusi, I’m calling an evac. Get that new guy, he might be resistant to the drugs. Gather up as much as you can of those remotes. But first, let’s get Igama taken care of. I’ll do overwatch. You find me a good LZ for the evac.”
“Yes… boss!” the translation said. “We… get… We get the hell out of here… now! Bad… worse than Cong… feed… eating us alive!”
The medic bandaged up Igama while the others stole a couple of blankets to carry the parts from the metal cats. Justine scanned the water, looking for anything odd, but saw nothing.
The troop carrier landed using its ducted fans in to the LZ, with the ROBCU watching over everybody. It was the last thing to enter the carrier, which took off and headed for Ho Chi Minh City, outside of the DMZ between Vietnam and Thailand, once known as Cambodia. She sat the ROBCU down in it’s cradle and told her troops to take it easy, “I’ll be back in a few.”
She got up and walked out of the control cubicle into the main break area. Max was there, nursing his cup of coffee. “Some bit of overtime Justine,” said Max, taking a sip from his mug. “You pulled two hours over. I hope the boss approves it.”
Justine sat down and then laid her head on the table. Her short cropped brown hair barely moving. “We were checking out village 115-JK in the DMZ,” she said, “doing a normal patrol. Then out of the blue, we get attacked by these robo-panthers. One of my men got cut up badly, but he’ll live. They were hiding in the water of the river, masking their IR signatures with insulated camo covers.”
“Yeah, that area is lousy with rivers,” replied Max. “So where is the evac going to? Firebase Jackson?”
“No,” replied Justine, looking up. “Ho Chi Minh City. We need to get those cats to Japan or back here in the States to figure out where they came from. They aren’t armored that much. The minigun tore them a new one. But that makes me wonder if this was a test. We also got a prisoner, a stranger to the village. He’ll need to be interrogated.”
“I’ll make sure he is,” said Max. “Melusi and his men in Ho Chi Minh? Lock up the brothels and hide the beer.” He laughed.
She grimaced and said “That’s your problem. Mine is about to start. I have to talk to the Colonel about this. You know, when I took this job, I never thought I’d have to be around so many military people. They said, ‘It’s like a video game. You just march around and shoot bad guys. You’d fit right in.’ That was a load of bull.”
“Well, it’s better than actually being there,” said Max. “The worst you can expect is that we lose your ROBCU.”
She turned her head to give Max the eye. “No, the worse is if my men get killed along with my ROBCU,” she said, sitting up straight. “They are my men, my friends. Yes, I know we’re supposed to be ‘detached’ from them, but I can’t see them as video game mooks. They are flesh and blood to me. So, don’t get them in trouble Max.”
“Aw c’mon Justine,” said Max, shifting uncomfortably in her gaze, “Melusi and his boys knew what they were signing up for when they contracted with the company. It’s just a job.”
She sat back and crossed her arms and glared at him.
“What?” replied Max. “What’s wrong?”
“This is why they assign me and other women to contact missions,” she said cooly. “The company is afraid that you would’ve let Melusi and his men do more than just loot the village. He knows when we shift change, and he knows when it’s me at the wheel, and when it’s you or Samuel behind the ROBCU.” She rubbed her eyes and continued. “To Melusi this ‘job’ will keep his family well fed and safe. He’s making more as a merc than he would’ve as a farmer. He’s shown me pictures of his wife and children. Has he ever talked to you about his family?”
Max looked at his cup of coffee for a moment, then said quietly, “No. Not as such.”
“‘Not as such’,” echoed Justine. “Did you even know he was married?” Max shook his head. “So think about it next time you’re in the field.” She sighed. “I wish the military would think about this too.” she rubbed her eyes and looked at the clock. “And I won’t be getting home to my family till midnight. I have to talk to the Colonel, then probably to a General. They will want to know what I saw and they think a po’ woman like myself doesn’t have the head for fighting, so they will want me to repeat it at least a dozen times.”
“I wish I had taken that job at Starbucks…”
Written by John Reiher
Operation Jungle Boogie ©2009 Guido Kuip