Operation Liberty Sword

by Matthew Ader

On March 17th, 2030, the country of Donovia, after months of strained relations and covert hostilities, invades neighbouring country Otso. Donovia is a wealthy nation that is a near-peer competitor to the United States. The United States is a close ally of Otso and is compelled to intervene due to treaty obligations and historical ties. The United States is about to engage Donovia in its first battle with a near-peer competitor in over 80 years…


I eyed the message floating in my viz glasses gloomily. “They really called it Liberty Sword?” My AI sent a confirmatory ping, a sharp green flash in the corner of my vision. Too lazy to talk. Or, to be charitable, too busy.


“Makes me want a coffee.”


“The coffee machine is disabled when at general quarters.” There was my AI, Beanie. “I can offer you a mint?” The simulated voice had a syrupy hint. I don’t know who programmed Beanie, but I needed to have words with them. Far too much obsequiousness for a space combat computer.


I gave an eyeroll to decline – the viz picked it up and Beanie went back to working out the trajectories. We had just another few minutes before the shooting started. The first orbital war. Win or lose. Either way, I was going down in the history books. Or a UN criminal court. Despite JAG’s best efforts, no one really had a clue what the legal terrain was up here. What happened when we started a Kessler swarm? As Admiral – Admiral with a command of twenty people, but still – I got the credit. And the blame.


“Jack, are the kinetics in place?” I said louder, speaking across the cabin to Jack Samsonov. Direct commissioned out of MIT, and a wizard with orbit to ground fires. So, the simulators said, anyway. He was half-Donovian. I didn’t know if that got simulated. I hoped it did.


“Yeah.” His voice was oddly relaxed. “Nearest hypervelocity bundle will be over Donovia in three minutes.” I checked my watch reflexively. Should be about thirty seconds after the cyberattack hit.


“Understood. Authorise fires on the AI’s mark.” He nodded and turned back to his console.  


Next, with a flick of the eyes to the side, I connected with the orbit warfare section officer. She had the most people on duty, five on any one shift. They were a deck below, separated by thick steel plating. “Captain McInnis – everything green?” Sub-vocalised and transmitted.


“Yes, ma’am. Task Force Armstrong ready to engage Whales 1 and 2. TF Aldrin defending us. TF Collins preparing for LEO entry to support gunships.” Katherine McInnis was a career naval officer, transferred over to Space Force following that mess in Atropia. She brought the attitude with her.


“Thank you, captain.” The line clicked off. She knew her business, of course. We’d gone over this plan in the previous days, had it double and triple checked by humans and augmentees and AIs. Still. Paid to be safe. The friction of war had somehow managed to reach its cordite flecked tentacles into the literally frictionless vacuum of space. Dead Prussians, I had always thought, should stay on Earth where they belonged.


Checked the watch again. Should be just a few more seconds. Uttered a short prayer.


“Message from grandma,” said Beanie suddenly. I nodded the go-ahead. “The cookies are in the oven.” That was CYBERCOM at Fort Meade. Code that their comprehensive zero-day cyberattack had landed. Even now, the lights would be going out all over Donovia. The only place I was interested in, though, was their Orbital Guard HQ. Buried under a mountain from the First Cold War, there was no way we could get at it kinetically. That’s when the boys at Meade came in.


Well, computers. Most of CYBERCOM’s forces were computers.


“Very good, Beanie. Send her my regards. Commence operations.”


“Ma’am.” The syrup was gone. My viz fuzzed white for a moment, before morphing into a holographic display of the battlespace. Only ours and Donovian forces were marked, and even that was a swirling kaleidoscope of blue and red. My hand moved automatically to the stim tab pouch on the side of the reinforced chair, grabbed and chewed and swallowed. The picture became crisper even as I watched. Easier to pick out the details. As if time was slowing, for just a second.


Modern drugs really were something else.


Things seemed to be going smoothly. Even as I watched, Odin 3 – the hypervelocity rod bundle over Donovia – started discharging. Tungsten telephone poles, 10 tons each, burning paths through the European sky. Samsonov was coordinating, overseeing target prioritisation. Most of them were going to Archangelsk, to blast open the anti-ship and air defences. Give the Marines a chance to get ashore.


Task Force Armstrong, five thousand-ton frigates with nuclear engines and more bite than most armies, was slewing into a new orbit near Whales 1 and 2. These were the Donovian cruisers, a pair of five thousand tonners with grandiose names matched by grandiose weapons batteries. They needed another nine point three minutes to get into range, so said the read-out.


From what CIA had found, it seemed their plan for hostilities was to roar towards us in the command station. We’d have to dedicate a lot of firepower to stop them, and meanwhile their other missiles and drones could savage our satellites and set up no-orbit-zones. Really quite clever. Shame for them that they were remotes, and their controller was sitting under a mountain yelling at his broken computer.


Similarly, our gunboats, all 40 of them, practically frolicked on their orbits, lasing Donovian cubesats and vaping kinetics. We probably wouldn’t get all of them before the cyberattack got cleared up, but it’d be more than enough.

A war won in the first thirty seconds. Felt nice.


And then it all came crashing down. Beanie urgently in my ear. “Anomalous movement from Whales 1 and 2. Projection suggest turning to engage this station.”


Well, fuck me. Seemed like the war wasn’t over quite yet.