From our Correspondent in the Front Line. Lake Victoria.
How can our navy attack the Swarm? We all know that the Sa'arm avoid water and mostly stay in their tunnels. What can a lake-bound naval force do to help resist the invaders? As Vice-Admiral Kolekile, commander of the African Union's Lake Victoria Naval Assault Force explains, "Since the Swarm will not come to the water we have to take the water to the Swarm.
"In the years before the Swarm landed humanity prepared a number of underwater bases that would be relatively immune to the Swarm. Since Africa was considered to be a likely target for a Swarm invasion one of those bases was set up here in Lake Victoria so that our forces would have secure areas nearby to rest and recuperate between attacks. At first the LVNAF just provided support for our brave ground forces but then one of our Petty Officers had an idea."
The now Chief Petty Officer Julia Ssetongo is a petite brunette with a trim figure and bright eyes. She appears harmless; not the kind of woman you would think responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of lizards. As she says, "It was mostly luck. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was assigned to help one of our geophysics teams map the Sa'arm tunnels around the lake so our infantry could plan their attacks. Normally I don't get to see their maps — they are for the army planning people — but in this case I did. I noticed something about one of the Sa'arm communications tunnels."
The geophysics teams do not actually go anywhere near the tunnels of course. As they explained to me they use techniques from the oil industry, enhanced with Confederacy assistance, to find underground structures by working from the surface. Julia was on a small ship moving the geophysics team round the lake's shore as they did their survey and marked up their maps.
As Julia tells it, "On such a small ship we were all pushed in close together, so I saw some of the tunnel maps laid out on the mess table. I noticed a shallow communications tunnel that came pretty close to the lake, closer than any other tunnel. The army people weren't very interested in it but it struck me that there was a different way, a navy way, we could attack it."
In my talks with the army planning staff it became clear why they usually ignore Swarm communications tunnels. They are long tunnels joining one infestation to a second hive some distance away. They have no branches and no exits to the surface. The Sa'arm could easily seal off any army incursion and dig an alternative route. It is far more effective for the army to directly attack one of the hives at the ends of the tunnel rather than in its middle. They were quite happy to let the navy have a crack at Julia's tunnel.
Julia passed her idea upwards to where it reached the Vice-Admiral — a big, solid looking man, almost the size of a Confederacy Marine. He had a glint in his eye, "I leapt at it. Here was a way for the navy to attack the Swarm directly, instead of simply acting as backup to the army. Great for morale. I put my planning people on it and we soon had logistics working all hours getting together the equipment we wanted. They did a superb job, I must say. We suddenly needed a whole lot of stuff that had not been required before and they had it all there for us when we needed it."
Julia is becomingly modest about her achievement. "I just had the initial idea. It took a lot of hard work by other people to make it into a workable plan. My initial thought would just have been a one-off attack. It was all the others who built it into the campaign it has become."
And indeed Julia's idea has become a full campaign. To see how it was progressing I boarded a submarine for a journey out over the lake bottom. Through a porthole I could see the entrance to a water-filled tunnel sloping down into the bed of the lake. The tunnel was narrow, but the helmsman assured me that the automatics would keep us from crashing into the sides. Most reassuring! As we descended he explained, "This is our first tunnel that we dug down towards the Swarm tunnel." He also pointed out various side tunnels where the Swarm tried to stop us and where we dug back towards them. "At the end is a T-junction where we broke into their original tunnel and flooded it. You will have to disembark there because this sub is too long to turn the corner. We have a small base at the junction, with other subs that work along the length of the Swarm tunnels that we have captured."
In that underground base I talked to Leading Seaman Ibrahim Magwaza, one of the team who are pressing forward with the attack on the Sa'arm. "Once we broke into the Swarm's communication tunnel they quickly sealed things off at both sides, just as we expected. It wasn't as if our arrival was a surprise to them. When the initial rush of water had subsided we did two things. First we set up some pressure doors here at the T-junction to protect ourselves. Second we sent down two men with scuba-scooters and waterproof demolition charges, a bit like the one-man torpedoes used in World War Two. They laid their charges at the Swarm's two new bulkheads and withdrew quickly behind our pressure doors. That made short work of those Sa'arm barricades. We opened our doors and let in more water to fully flood the newly exposed sections of Swarm tunnel. It was a real mess down there. We caught both their digging crews working on a bypass tunnel from each end."
Of course the campaign is now a lot more sophisticated than in those early days. The captured tunnels are well supplied with listening devices to both locate Sa'arm counter-mining and to help geophysics study the layout of Sa'arm tunnels and what barriers they have placed in our way. The uphill end of the tunnel is relatively quiet now because it is not close enough to the hive at that end to make the effort worthwhile. The downhill end is a different story. The naval campaign has actually reached inside the enemy hive and is continuing its advance.