The Twilight Struggle on Larmes Island
By Patrick Lamont, Placid News Network - Investigative Report
I am standing on the white pebbled beach of Larmes Island. At first you might think this forested speck of land (a tiny pinprick on the face of Annacale VII’s northern oceanic hemisphere) could be a small slice of paradise. But stroll along the beach for a while and you will find signs everywhere that less than twenty-four hours ago, this place was hell. Twisted hunks of metal that were once amphibious landing vehicles, hovercraft and air fighters dot the island. Some are billowing black, oily smoke. There are more gruesome remains, but by now both sides have retrieved their casualties. Not much remains on Larmes Island besides search parties looking for those still missing in action - and a single news reporter.
Not so long ago Larmes was host to a small town of fishermen. They were mostly Intaki, mostly poor, and mostly satisfied with a quiet existence. There was a dock for surface craft and submersibles, a cannery for the fish, and modest, comfortable houses for the fishermen. Ida shrines dotted the island’s natural beauty - temperate pine forests, hot springs and secluded valleys. They were a ‘Delta town and proud of it’ as the saying goes.
Larmes got a little busier over a year ago when Perkone set up a distribution center at the north pole. Bright points of light became visible from the shore. These were the exhaust plumes of galloping shuttles on their way to low orbit. Then it turned out Larmes was an ideal midway point for submarine cargo ships on their way to and from the shipping center. The Caldari established a branch office, and within months the care and feeding of submarines became the island’s primary industry, and the Caldari the island’s largest employer.
According to Lakshmi Sherri Singh, a longtime resident of the island, that was because: “Although the hours were long, and they worked you like a dog, the pay was unbeatable.” Lakshmi is one of those that claims to be reborn, and she says she has spent six lifetimes on Larmes. She says in one of those past lives, she was mayor. Now she’s a dark skinned, middle-aged baseliner, slightly bent, with a husband and three children. In this life she was working a humble job as a clerk on the sub docks.
It put food on the table and then some. Everyone in Larmes partook in the new prosperity. Suddenly the sleepy little Delta town could afford a little Beta City luxury - a new holotheater, a modern hospital, a public magtrain. With that also came a taste of big city vices. The docks developed a thriving nightlife catering to the passing submarine sailors. Nightclubs, gambling parlors and smokey backrooms cropped up along the waterfront. A little too noisy for Lakshmi, who preferred to stay in with her family.
In short Larmes became a tiny member of the interstellar community. That brought new troubles and dangers occasionally. At one point Annacale “flipped” back to Federation control and some men came to the island from off world to ‘audit working standards’. They made some regulatory demands. The Caldari and local businesses hemmed, hawed and begrudgingly made plans to comply. Then a few weeks later the system flipped back, the whole revision was scrapped, and it was back to ‘business as usual’.
Then came a sign of the end. The first indication the residents of Larmes had of the Federation Navy’s presence were streaks of light in the night sky. “It was like a meteor shower, except all the little stars behaved like sparks, darting this way and that”, said Lakshmi. It was at this time, although she didn’t know it, that landings were being made to assault the polar shipping center.
Waves of Federal Marines were charging across the ice floes, fighting and dying in an attempt to capture the Caldari installation. As the casualties mounted the Navy decided there was enough blood on the snow. They broadcast a demand to the facility that they surrender or be turned to ash. The Caldari flatly refused. Shortly thereafter the Navy began a ferocious bombardment that lasted over ten hours.
In Larmes it manifested as bright flashes over the horizon, like lightning. It was followed by the most dazzlingly beautiful northern aurora they’d ever seen.
As they’d received warning the Caldari rushed to evacuate the shipping center in the hours leading up to the bombardment. The submarines arriving at Larmes now carried a full cargo of refugees from the pole, as well as platoons of security contractors. Soon the island was swarming with them as they began transforming Larmes into a fortress.
The island was important because of the submarine docks, which were now a vital means of transporting war material along the island chain beneath the waves and hungry eyes of Federation air patrols. The Caldari were busy refitting the civilian submarines with makeshift arms for ambushing Gallente convoys, as well as deploying portable anti-air batteries, pill boxes and sea mines.
The Navy tried several times to take Larmes. Each attempt came at high cost in marines but also in mounting damage to the island’s civilian infrastructure. Although the Caldari were outnumbered and outgunned, the Navy was dependent on long supply chains stemming from orbit. They were constantly subject to submarine ambushes at sea, as well as fighters in space and the air intercepting logistics. Still, the Navy felt it was only a matter of time before Larmes was liberated.
The final assault came in the waning twilight of 11.15.124. The Navy had prepared a spearhead of landing hovercraft that were racing over the ocean. From the deck of one the water stretched out “Like black glass, so close you could touch it”, says Oliver. Oliver isn’t his real name. He’s a marine who was there, but Oliver agreed to speak with me only on condition of anonymity.
The landing force was moving under radio silence and cover of darkness in order to creep as close as possible to the shore before being spotted. Unfortunately, what the Navy didn’t expect is that the Caldari already knew they were coming. "The first sign we had something was wrong was sensors picking up a squadron of friendlies incoming at high speed, ignoring broadcast silence. At first it was, ‘That’s funny’, then ‘Those idiots!’ "
Oliver says that was when he saw the hovercraft next to him take a hit, and by the light of the explosion he watched it spin into pieces, plunging out of control into the dark, icy water.
“We started taking losses, and we realized they weren’t friendlies at all”, he says. His voice is tense and far away.
According to Oliver the Caldari had somehow cracked the Navy network. This allowed their Dragonfly fighters to get inside the Federal formation before opening fire. The Gallente formation broke as they realized they couldn’t trust their sensors. “We were flying blind in the dark. It was a moonless night, pitch black, and every man for himself.”
The Caldari were also broadcasting a jam net over the island. Thus, neither side knew when the clock struck midnight that a ceasefire agreement had been reached far away, in Intaki, and no one needed to die for the sake of that tiny island.
Instead of arriving together the attackers landed off course by scattered twos and threes. The survivors were up against the shore fortifications and hidden defenders firing at them from the treeline. Somehow, by sheer grit, despite horrific losses, the scattered marines managed to regroup and establish a beachhead. Inch by inch they pushed the dug in defenders back. Most Caldari refused to surrender even when completely surrounded.
Aatami Nakamui is a Caldari security contractor employed by Saitsuo Interstellar Security. He tells me he grew up hearing stories from his parents about an ancestor’s exploits as a fighter pilot in the Caldari-Gallente War, and it was his dream to be in a fighter cockpit himself one day. Unfortunately, Hyasyoda aptitude tests decided he had insufficient depth perception and was too tall for the job. He was passed over for the Caldari Navy, so working as a security contractor was his fallback. Clearly those bedtime stories had a lasting pull.
He fell into Federal hands because he suffered a head injury that knocked him unconscious. He says he was captured with an empty clip.
“I am a prisoner, but not by choice. We had our orders. I knew my duty. I was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
Aatami says the whole garrison was under strict orders not to surrender or face employment termination, a deeply dishonorable fate for a conservative Caldari. He hopes that by telling me his story for publication his employer might decide to pardon his present circumstance and not fire him.
I ask Aatami if he has anything to say to the Federation readers at home.
“Agoze never fell” he says, staring into my eyes defiantly.
The battle raged into the next day. Though the civilian population had fled into prepared underground shelters, the small city’s infrastructure became the scene of urban fighting. By the morning the Caldari had counterattacked, and the Federation offensive was repelled. The marines held out on a small toehold by the shore, and it was their frantic requests for evacuation that brought them back into contact with high command. That’s when they learned about the ceasefire.
“We were stunned”, says Oliver. “We’d just been through hell. We lost friends. What was it all for? There are no words I have to describe that feeling. War is organized insanity.”
“How do you feel now?”, I ask.
“I just feel despair. That’s why I agreed to talk to you. People need to hear what’s going on out here.”
For the Caldari, along with news of the ceasefire came orders from IRED - the Protectorate’s main force in Placid was withdrawing their armed forces everywhere. Annacale was no exception. Larmes would have to be abandoned.
“When I heard I felt relief, at first”, Aatami says. “I am going to live. But then - shame.”
“Why?” I ask him.
“Not only had I been robbed of an honorable death, my kirjuun (comrades) had been robbed of the ground they fought so hard and so long for against impossible odds. We’d all rather die standing than give an inch to the invaders. We won but the glory was taken from us.”
A little after noon a Caldari delegation came down to the shore, wearing tattered grey uniforms and marching under a white flag.
“Truce, not surrender”, Aatami clarifies.
The Federation and Caldari commanders met in the ruin of the old cannery. One of the members of the entourage was Oliver. According to him they all shared a bottle of Caldari rice wine - brought by the Gallente. A few hours after exchanging pleasantries and some back-and-forth calls up the chain, an agreement was reached. The Federation would take Larmes Island, and the Caldari would share the island’s stock of emergency medical supplies. The Caldari across Annacale would have free passage to withdraw into orbit, safe from the Navy battleship guns. They could take their property with them unmolested. The first shuttles started landing not long afterward.
For the residents of the island the future was far more uncertain, and even more bitter.
“We lost everything,” said Lakshmi. “If we stayed, I’m not sure it would even be rebuilding. Everything about the island I knew for generations is wiped out. I have been reborn here six times. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. But I can’t imagine staying, either.” She wipes away tears. “There’s nothing left of Larmes except each other. For that at least, I am grateful.”
Standing on the beach of Larmes, I gaze out across the waves. I see the beautiful, cherry red rays of an island sunset shining through the smoke. At this crystallized moment I sense the end of many eras.
Annacale might never face the fury of the Pendulum Wars again. It’s certainly the end of militarized Caldari presence across the whole constellation. It’s the end of an era for the Intaki, for the Federation, and for IRED. The battle here was the furthest tip of that arc of history. It was the last battle in Viriette of the war - if we can call it a war. It’s also the end of a more ‘civilized’ era, when the fighting was mostly done by a dwindling few capsuleers in small ships and the interstellar treaty still meant something (whatever that was) to the signatories. Now it seems for all sides it’s little more than of a piece of paper to be ignored, bent or discarded when politically inconvenient.
I don’t think Lakshmi cared whether a green or blue flag flew over Larmes. In that moment I don’t care, either. No one needed to die that night, but I wonder who in the warzone ever did. Hasn’t there been a ceasefire going on for the rest of us the whole time? I hope our leaders take Oliver’s words to heart about this organized insanity. I hope we can find a way forward to a more peaceful future.
A future the Intaki fishermen of Larmes, everywhere, can appreciate.