3 – The World As We Know It
Those first few years were pretty much business as usual for the world outside what eventually became known as “The Valkyrie Initiative.” But in 2019 there was fresh fighting in places we’d been told were “ready for democracy,” and sure enough Marines were sent in to take care of business.
Well, mostly Marines. My new platoon was full of all sorts of soldiers, and a bunch of civilians with reflexes just like mine. There was the 45 year-old MMA fighter, the Olympic gymnast, the 747 pilot who was able to land his damaged plane on one wheel and half a wing. People who never dreamed of being soldiers were following Elizabeth Canas’ dream of making human beings better through technology, and ending war as we knew it.
So me and my shiny new lieutenant’s bars dropped into a Somalian war zone with the best guns, best tech, and best training the United States of America could pay for. They call it The 5 Hour War now, but for the 24 men and women who drove the SPEAR suits into Mogadishu, it was our baptism of fire.
Even now there are a bunch of peaceniks who call us murderers and criminals. But we saved more lives than we took that day, and the world took notice. For the rest of that year I saw near constant action in hot spots around the world. Every one of our drops ended the same way, with me and the others kicking just as much ass as we had to, to make sure the next idiot with too-little brains and too much manifesto got the message.
Then, in 2020, we got one of our own. Terrorists had decided to turn back the clock and bomb the hell out of a railroad in northwestern China. By then we (the US) didn’t ask permission to deploy any more, the rest of the world just knew we would when something like this happened. We were up to battalion strength by then, but it was me and the 50 members of Alpha Company that dropped into Ürümqi at dawn, looking for the repurposed nukes the terrorist’s press release boasted about and hoping that we wouldn’t find them the hard way.
We hit the ground hard and fast, and were still 20 klicks away from the improvised fortress the terrorists made by collapsing a few buildings around the blast site when we got the word. There was another force of armored suits converging on the site, and it wasn’t one of ours.
Years later, when we were friends again, we found out how they did it. The People’s Republic of China had reverse-engineered our suits from bits and pieces we’d lost along the way, and by hacking our biometric feeds. They had more than enough space to build and test their own “Dragon Armor,” and had been waiting for something like this to happen to prove there was more than one super-power left in the world,
But unlike us the Chinese weren’t concerned about minimizing casualties, and threw everything they had at the terrorists. And unlike us, they hadn’t designed their power systems to handle a nuclear detonation.
That was the day we found out not only just how good the old Soviet system was about keeping secrets, but also that the extra shielding Doctor Daggs worked into the suits was effective against radiation. Before Ürümqi, the biggest nuke ever detonated had an estimated yield of 50 megatons, and exploded 4 kilometers above a frozen bay in the Arctic Circle. 50 years later, its descendant exploded with almost twice the force in the middle of a major city, and 6 million people became a statistic in a flash of light.
S-waves from the blast rattled teacups in Paris, Moscow, and Beijing. It knocked our transports out of the sky and us on our asses. The satellites we had tasked to cover the site had an unparalleled view of the fireball rising up, and out of, the atmosphere.
And of us standing up again after the hardened suit systems came back online. With bits and pieces of the city falling like snow around us, it was Alpha Company that went in to sift through the wreckage. Our cameras recorded everything, and the rules of war changed forever.
Believing them to be the source of both the stolen weapon and the terrorists, the Chinese declared war on Kazakhstan, and conquered half of it in a month with 100 more suits of their scratch-built Dragon Armor. They would have taken the rest of the Silk Road as well, until Alpha Company and the rest of the battalion, backed up by Russian and NATO ground forces, forced them back across their own borders.
But the terrorist nuke had done more than just kill Ürümqi. It threw up enough radioactive particulate to not only kill the Siberian heartland, but to fry most of the Kazakh infrastructure. With the Chinese hell-bent on revenge and focused on taking ground rather than keeping it, uncontrolled oil-fires across the country burned off a billion or so years of carbon in less than six months.
We learned later that the entire Caspian oil shelf was irradiated, doubling the ecological impact of the attack and effectively ending the petroleum industry in that part of the world. The subsequent economic collapse rippled around the globe, further separating the “first world” from everybody else.
The next run of suits was bigger, bulkier, and more powerful, and with half the world now without food, power, and money, the third decade of the 21st century started a new age for the human race. Every major nation started dismantling their “useless” bombs and missiles, and every US ally started building SPEARS.
But we stopped calling them that soon after the third generation of suits rolled off the assembly lines. They were SHIELDS now: Special Humanoid Infantry Enhancement LoaDoutS. We stopped carrying our guns and started mounting them, as many as the targeting software and the pilot’s reflexes could accommodate.
They weren’t suits so much anymore as they were tanks with legs, and when the first one without hands hit the battlefield the illusion of enhancing human potential was shattered. There was a SHIELD for every conceivable combat situation and venue, but with the world on the brink of economic and societal collapse, the international courts became the new battlefields.
Countries nationalized every industry they could, and people like me started seeing action in places we never thought of as enemy territory. If American assets were deemed “essential” by a foreign country, there were two ways to go about convincing them otherwise. And although the US was committed to diplomacy, the one that worked every time was dropping Alpha Company in to make sure things stayed put.
By 2030 border skirmishes and “friendly” disagreements over resources were the norm. Sea levels were rising, crops failing, and tensions were at an all-time high. On our 5th wedding anniversary, Elizabeth said goodbye to me as I assumed command of First Battalion and deployed to Kazakhstan with 500 of the finest soldiers I’ve ever known. Intel said the Chinese were building up their programs again, and we were to hold the line until the next generation of suit tech could give us an edge.
Looking back, I can’t really blame the Russians for jumping the gun. They were nearly finished as a country, almost totally reliant on food grown in other countries and unable to feed even half their people. China was in even worse shape, so much so that when half the country “defected” to its northern neighbor, their only option was to dig in and try to take it back.
Our orders were to let the battle play out on its own, while the diplomats negotiated a peaceful solution, But if any Russian or Chinese suit entered Kazakhstan, we were to expel them as soon as possible.
I’ll cover the specifics of the “Three-Cornered War” in a later chapter. You’ve seen vids and read books about it that are far more picturesque than anything I can write. What you need to know about that war now is that it proved once and for all that borders weren’t lines drawn on a map, but in headspace. I spent the next ten years defending a stretch of sand that nobody wanted, trading shots daily with 20 years’ worth of military hardware originally designed to end war entirely.
When the first Valkyries were delivered, I knew that fighting would never stop. My original SPEAR suit could have fit inside one of the power cells of the new designs, and it took a scaffolding to get us up to the cockpit. They had guns as large as a luxury yacht, and since the pilot’s body was no longer a limiting factor, the torso could swivel in any direction. Legs and arms could compress at impossible angles, and when I saw them all I could think about was a scorpion.
Or specifically, the story of the Scorpion and the Frog. How even though it would drown if it stung the person carrying it, it just couldn’t help but be what it was.
If I’ve learned anything from 4 decades of mechanized war, it’s this: Some things will never change, and even with the world dying around us, there will always be something to fight about. And no matter what kind of weapons they give us, there will always be a Marine ready to use them.
But as I write this, I’m also reminded of Lieutenant Francis Connelly, and a dusty hangar in the middle of Helmand province. That first day, while I was looking with wide eyes at the suit that would come to define me, he said something I’ll never forget.
“Gunny, you’ve been fighting wars for us since you graduated high school. How’d you like to win one for a change?”
Still waiting, LT. Still waiting.