It would be the first combined operation of the rebels of the Belus region. Three rebel colonies had decided to pool their resources to fend against the UEC’s aggression. Their assets amounted to five combat-capable MMVs and a single MAV, plus a few transports and militia fighters.
However, even though the gear and the personnel existed, the same couldn’t said for a sound strategy. That much became evident during the planning stages of the operation.
“I’m saying that it only makes sense,” Sophia Epstein sounded exhausted already. A middle-age woman with piercing green eyes, Epstein was the leader of the Kur Mining Conglomerate. Claire could see in her the telltale signs of someone who had been in command positions for most of her life. Haughty but democratic, decisive without being overbearing. Epstein, clearly rubbed Mister Zhou the wrong way.
“So you say,” Zhou pointed a fat finger at the woman, “but that means my pilot would have the hardest job.”
“I feel you there, Mister Zhou,” Dareen Faizan intervened. Faizan was the Mayor of the Siris colony, and compared to Zhou and Epstein, he had a more relaxed posture, almost aloof. He had launched his engineering company as a startup back on Earth, and sold it so he could pay for a ride to Europa. In Claire’s eyes, he was clearly a man who got used to do things his way without supervision. The kind of person who would risk everything to go to the depths of the Jovian System in search of new opportunities. The kind of person the UEC expected to simply lay down and accept their fate…
“However, the fact is that Miss Campbell’s MAV is our only true war machine,” Faizan pointed out. “If the MeeVees were to face the governmental units on their own they wouldn’t stand a chance. We need war machines to deal with war machines.”
“Also, remember that one of my pilots will support Miss Campbell.”
“One. We’ll need the others to secure the depot.”
Mister Zhou frowned. His glance shifted from the other two leaders to Claire, who was leaning against a wall, arms crossed and attention focused on the conversation between the three leaders. Zhou’s attention then drifted to the rest of the people assembled in that room in the center of the Kur mining complex. Leading figures from the three allied colonies and their pilots had gathered to come up with some sort of strategy to strike at the UEC.
The initiative had been fostered by Mai Nguyen from Belus, although apparently Sophia Epstein had also been contemplating something similar. Many agreed that the colonies needed to unite and even go on the offensive, but the exact method was pretty much up in the air.
Truth be told, no one in that assembly had a military background. Together, they could come up with a workable plan, but Claire still feared that they would overlook details that would seem obvious to a trained military pilot. In time, maybe, they would start to get used to consider such things, but only after a few costly lessons.
“And those other MeeVess will be the ones from Siris?” Mister Zhou leaned forward as his eyes locked onto Faizan’s once more. The other man hesitated for a moment. “I thought so.”
Other voices rose around the room, some supporting Faizan while others sided with Zhou. It all made Claire very uncomfortable. The war had barely started and already they stood divided.
“I’ll do it,” Claire declared. “I’ll take on the military MAVs.”
The chorus of disunited voices kept rambling on, with only a few people noticing her words. The three main leaders, though, understood her clearly enough.
“See? She understands what needs to be done,” Faizan pointed out.
“She does, alright,” Zhou retorted, his voice sounding tired and slightly disappointed. “I think we should make a short pause. It is clear we have been running this topic to the ground.”
“I agree,” Epstein said with a nod. She turned to the crowd and waved her arms to get their attention. “Everyone should go eat something, and we’ll restart in fifteen minutes.”
Claire leaned away from the wall and inhaled deeply. Once more she would be thrown into the worst possible situation, and with her own avowal, no less.
Through the corner of her eye she saw Mister Zhou approaching her.
“Can we have a talk, Miss Campbell?” he asked her, his voice little more than a whisper.
Zhou led Claire to the corridor, and then to a small storage room. There was no one in sight, but still Zhou gave a look to the corridor before closing the door.
“You really like to play the hero, now do you, Miss Campbell?” he muttered.
“There is logic to what they’re saying, Mister Zhou. The Brasswolf Two is by far our most powerful unit.”
The entrepreneur made rebel leader shook his head slowly.
“You should never take what people like them say at face value. You should never take what I say at face value.” He started pacing around the room. “Miss Campbell, you remember where I am from, now do you?”
“Yeah, you’re from Chengdu, right?”
“Exactly! One of the most industrialized places on Earth. Full of industrials and investors from all over the planet. Double-crossing bastards, all of them.” He pointed to the door. “Those people out there are no different. We are no different. Right now everyone is simply looking out for their interests.”
“And what are your interests, Mister Zhou?”
Mister Zhou put a hand over Claire’s shoulder, and looked her in the eye.
“Right now it is to keep our people alive, Miss Campbell.”
“But we’ll need to take risks to do that, Mister Zhou.”
“True.” Zhou took a step away from her. “Just keep this in mind, though. You mean well, I know that much. That’s why I’ve hired you and kept you around. But this is not a game, not even a simple job. It’s a war.”
The harsh truth from Zhou’s words wasn’t completely new to Claire. Still, it resonated in her mind even while she commanded Brasswolf II to victory that day.
The assault involved a distraction to pull some governmental MAVs away from a storage site. Then the secondary force went in to capture a hoard of military parts to equip the rebel machines. That would make the rebels much more dangerous, and raise the stakes that much higher.