February 25, 2229
Somewhere in a goddamn swamp on a backwater planet in the armpit of the galaxy.
Hovertruck broke down at last this morning. One whole night and most of a morning driving through swamps, and the hover pads finally overloaded and shorted out. We buried Jenkins the best we could: laid him in the front seat and pushes the truck into the swamp. Wish we could do more for him, but Graves Registration will just have to pick him up later after we capture the planet.
Whenever that is. I'm thinking it might never happen.
The Lentzlandians Campaign is. . . not going well, to say the least, from what I can see. Dropships have stopped falling, but the sky's thick with Yor Flitters: Hunter-Killers reconfigured with antigrav units. Air cover. They've got air superiority, we're stuck on the ground with them.
It wouldn't be so bad if I weren't stuck on the ground with the Yor and a couple of absolute weirdo ninja-soldiers. Six is bad enough: he's ridiculously huge, and he doesn't say anything worth writing down, but he's at least human. One, I'm not even sure of that. The girl doesn't walk so much as lope or stalk, and I've never seen anyone sit so still in my entire life for so long. Sometimes I don't think she even breathes.
Example: the swamp has these leeches, and those are another story altogether: they're big and slimy and they've got these rainbow colors all over them that would be pretty if they weren't latching onto you and sucking your blood. First time I saw one of them latched onto my arm I freaked out and started tugging on it. "Don't," she said, grabbing my wrist. "It'll break apart. Cause infection."
"Shit, then what do I do?"
"Nothing. There aren't enough to cause you permanent harm, and they'll fall off once they've had enough to drink."
"What if it gets infected?"
"It won't. They secrete an antibiotic." And that was that. No ewww squick, just "oh well."
The weirdest part, though, is when they talk to each other. They don't speak Standard English from what I can hear, it sounds more like Chinese or German crossed with one of those clicky African languages and whistling. That's right, whistling. "Sora Yan Thath," Six will say. "Yali," One will reply. "Sor," Six will say. "What was that?" I'll ask. "Six says that there are seventeen Yor Flitters up ahead and we should head towards the east to avoid them. I suggested we go northwest instead, and he suggested we take it slow and quiet," One will translate. I'm not sure if they're bullshitting me or if that's really what they're saying.
At one point, I heard Six mention something like, "Sei Teer Kwan," and my ears perked up like a fox's. "Teer Kwan, what the heck is a Teer Kwan?" I asked.
That brought them both to a halt. "What do you know about Teer Kwan?" One asked, and I couldn't help notice how her hand was getting closer to her holstered plasma pistol.
"Nothing," I said slowly and calmly, "It's just the Yor kept asking about it. Where is the Teer Kwan, what is the Teer Kwan, what do you know about it. Considering that they kept asking about it and killed a bunch of us to try and find out more, I thought it might be a little important, maybe."
"It's nothing," One said, taking her hand off her pistol. "I've never heard of such a thing."
Yeah, pull the other one, it's got bells on it. "You're a lousy liar," I said flatly. "And considering I've just been through absolute hell these past twenty four hours, I think I deserve an explanation."
Six pulled out a big freakin' knife and pointed it at my throat. "We tell you, we have to kill you," he said bluntly.
"All right, then I'll tell you," I said. "You know what I think? I think it's got something to do with you two weirdoes, and how One here can dodge bullets and shoot a gun in each hand while diving through an open window and get headshots each time. I think it's got something to do with how Six can pick up a crew-served heavy repeater and pick it up like a toothpick, and make every shot hit while firing full-auto. I think the Yor found out something about that and they want it for themselves and that's why they dissected ten of my fellow marines to try and find out more about it. Am I close?"
Stupid of me. Six clocked me on the side of the head with the hilt of his knife and stab the big pig-sticker down at me. I saw One kick his wrist and knock the knife out of his hand: it landed, point down, an inch from the side of my head. The two of them started jabbering in that weird language of theirs. Six was obviously pissed and kept making throat-cutting gestures in my general direction, but One was obviously more pissed and kept snapping one phrase back at him over and over "Sovek Yad Chia. Sovek Yad Chia." Finally, Six backed down and went into parade rest. "Yad Chia Kalia," he said, and walked off into the swamp looking mad and annoyed.
"What did you tell him?" I asked. My hand wouldn't stop shaking, and I had a feeling I'd need a change of underwear.
"What he needed to hear," One said cryptically. "Come on, let's take a walk."
"What do you know about the Arceans?" One asked, as we walked on through the swamp.
"Big, green guys. Got crazy dredlocks. They're a 'proud warrior race,' which I think translates to 'assholes.'"
"Not completely inaccurate," One said flatly. "Go on,"
"They're also getting their asses handed to them by the Yor. Totally stampeded. Word is they've lost all their colony worlds, they're reduced to space nomads now."
"It was because they were the first race to recognize the Yor as a threat, after the Iconians were wiped out," One explained. "By that time, however, it was too late for them. The Yor fleet was simply too powerful, and the Yor themselves were too numerous. Apparently, the Yor homeworld contains several Precursor ruins, including manufacturing sites, which gives them an incredible edge in the field of starship production. Arcean ships were better, and they killed Yor ships of similar size and class three-to-one. But the Yor could build five ships for every Arcean ship.
"The Arceans, being a 'proud warrior race,' as you said, came to a conclusion that their own destruction would not be in vain if the seeds of future Yor downfall could be planted in the short time they had remaining," One went on. "Their scientists shifted their focus to a plan of action that could destroy the Yor, even if the Arceans themselves could not put it into action. What they came up with was in a way, simplicity itself.
"The Yor, despite all their sophistication, are machines," One explained, "and as machines they suffer from several exploitable flaws. The first is that their method of decision-making is analytical. Humans don't work that way. A ball-player doesn't calculate out the trajectory of a baseball and its estimated speed and course of action in his head. He just runs out there and catches the ball. Pattern Recognition, adjusted for the current situation. Less accurate, but faster, and it has the advantage that it can be quickly adjusted and recalibrated for situations that have not been encountered. A Yor needs to rewrite its decision tree and establish a new parameter. They can do it fast, but it usually needs a split second to integrate and optimize that new parameter, and we can exploit that time delay in the meanwhile.
"Secondly, the Yor don't form individual attachments." One brushed a lock of hair back from her face, fingering the burn scar on her forehead. "To the Yor, one Yor is the same as any other, designated only by their serial number. N-1. X-17. Just one of billions. A Yor does not fight to defend its own existence or the existence of its companions, only to complete the mission."
"This means that Yor ground combat tactics are, in a sense, completely brute-force," One concluded. "They don't value the lives of their soldiers, and they don't anticipate change well. So they will continue to use the mass assault combat tactic: throwing billions of Hunter-Killers into a battle and winning in a war of attrition."
"I don't see how they're much different from us in that regard," I muttered, thinking of Jenkins.
"Then you should be dead right now. The Yor don't rescue prisoners," One said bluntly.
"Whatever. . . look, this still doesn't explain why you and Six have magic powers."
"I'm getting there," One said. "With this realization, the Arceans understood that the Yor could be defeated by taking advantage of the two characteristics biological life has that mechanical life doesn't: intuition and individual attachment. Even a Thalan Queen will protect the members of her own brood over those of another. The Yor don't even form those attachments: to them, life is divided between Yor and fleshlings. So they shifted their research focus to individual combat: ground troops, Marine forces, planetary bombardment strategies. And they stumbled across something they didn't expect."
"Tir-Quan, actually. Shorter vowels, roll the R, the Q sound is less harsh, more delicate. . . not that you'd probably notice the difference," One said dismissively. "It was apparently a Precursor infantry training system. It's derived from their words for the numbers 'one' and 'one million,' roughly translates to 'one warrior is worth one million soldiers.' It's what caused us so much trouble during the Dread Lords incident: their technology was far superior, yes, but it was also Tir-Quan training that gave them that vicious ten million-to-one kill ratio in ground combat."
"How does that help us? We don't have doom ray rifles or. . ."
"Irrelevant. The training is mostly mental, learning to anticipate future events before they occur, tapping emotional and physical resources to their utmost, maintaining superior tactical positioning and readjusting tactics within an instant's time," One said. "The first principle of Tir-Quan roughly translates: 'The beam is the extension of the gun, the gun is the extension of the hand/tentacle/claw/pseudopod, the appendage is the extension of the body, the body is an extension of the mind. All combat begins in the mind.' Tir-Quan is just an application of that concept."
"So basically, the Arceans developed a super infantry-training system. . . all right. Why didn't it save them?"
"They were too late. By the time they had understood the concept, the Yor were already invading their core worlds," One explained. "So they did what 'proud warrior races' do: they turned over all their information to another species who was also threatened by the Yor. Not the Altarians, who were next on the list for Yor conquest, but the Terrans, who were second on the list, to give them more time to construct and establish the Tir-Quan training center before the Yor arrived."
"It didn't work that way, though. Somehow the Yor figured out the existence of Tir-Quan, and now they want it for themselves. I don't know if they'll be able to adapt it for their own uses, or if they just want to keep it away from the other interstellar races, but the fact that they want it so badly is. . . problematic for us," One concluded. "They want it badly enough that they were willing to set a trap for us to do it."
"We led the attack on the Hyperion Shrinker, the one that General Warren wanted so badly. It is indeed a Precursor-technology center, but indications are it's only been online for a week or two. Perhaps it was started right after the Yor determined our destination, while we were pushing through their interdiction field." One's eyes were grim and flat. "It's certainly not been online long enough to actually be used. It was bait for a trap, to tempt General Warren into committing his troops to a ground assault instead of using planetary bombardment, to give the Yor the greatest chance of capturing a Tir-Quan warrior alive and discovering the location of the Tir-Quan center. It was a trap," she repeated, "and we're in it right now."