This portfolio originally appeared in Jump Point 7.8.
On August 15, 2825, a Vanduul clan attacked the Caliban settlement of Fabela. The public believed the subsequent battle was a victory for the UEE due to sensational news coverage, such as the Terra Gazette’s headline “Marine Single-Handedly Stops Vanduul Attack.” When Newsorgs flocked to the remote, long-forgotten mining settlement, all they showed were shots of smoldering rubble and interviews with residents who were utterly resolute on their plans to rebuild. Meanwhile, government officials appeared on spectrum crediting their strategic policy shift for the repelled Vanduul threat.
The Battle of Fabela came at an opportune time for the UEE. Less than a century earlier, millions had fled Orion, Tiber, and Virgil as the Vanduul ruthlessly conquered territory and killed anyone in their way. Following the overthrow of the Messers, Imperator Toi and the Senate turned the military’s focus away from silencing political dissidents to increasing defense along the Vanduul border. Marine outposts and advanced military equipment soon appeared in cities and settlements across Caliban, Elysium, and Vega. These assets aided in the defense of Fabela, but the public version of the story spun around the battle didn’t match the facts on the ground.
Caught between the public perception and reality was Paul Barlow, the only Marine in his squad to survive. Barlow became a hero and was paraded across the Empire. As the years passed, the Battle of Fabela faded from public consciousness and into legend. When the press tracked down Barlow for a comment following the Fall of Caliban in 2884, the Marine’s most famous living hero made a stunning confession — that he lied about the Battle of Fabela under pressure from superior officers. In an explosive interview in the New United, Barlow described himself as “no damn hero, just a survivor struggling to live in my own shadow”.
A Good Lie
The widely reported “official” story began with Barlow miraculously surviving the initial Vanduul bombing run. He freed himself from under the rubble and raced to an Anvil Ballista to send a distress comm. As the Vanduul bombers circled for another approach, Barlow used the Ballista to destroy several targets. Barlow managed to survive the second assault, so when the remaining Vanduul ships returned from a different direction, they met a similar fate. UEE reinforcements arrived shortly thereafter and reported that one Marine defeated an entire Vanduul squadron. Embedded reporters quickly spread this version of the story, each eager to have the exclusive account of the events.
Following his confession decades later, Barlow worked with journalist Melania Andrieux on a book that juxtaposed the “official” account with his version of events. In ‘A Good Lie’, Barlow laid bare the truth that had haunted him for decades. He claimed that the night of the attack began like any other. Most of his squad had been relieved by the third watch and had gathered in the barracks to drink and play Trigger. As the lowest ranking Marine, Barlow was ordered on a beer run. He drunkenly stumbled toward the settlement’s small general store when a frightful sound pierced the night sky. Seconds later, Vanduul bombers reduced Fabela’s spaceport and supporting military infrastructure to rubble.
Barlow freed himself from under some wreckage, as swirling dust and debris made him cough ferociously. The official story spun this as the moment Barlow realized that only he could save the settlement. In reality, Barlow fled in fear towards the mine, hoping to hide inside until the attack ended. Barlow ran until he entered a small clearing by the mine, where he found Ignacio Assaf, the man Barlow considered the true hero of the Battle of Fabela.
The Forgotten Hero
A former miner that made a living salvaging old equipment, Assaf had been wounded by shrapnel during the initial Vanduul bombing run but was determined to do everything he could to stop the invaders. He had been formulating a plan when the drunk, dirty, and shell-shocked Barlow arrived looking for a place to hide. Assaf calmed down Barlow and convinced him to use his military clearance to access a nearby Ballista that had been awaiting maintenance. Stored away from the main depot, it was one of the only pieces of military equipment not destroyed during the attack. The two climbed inside; Barlow jumped in the driver’s seat to send a distress comm, while Assaf took the gunner’s seat. On the Vanduul’s next approach, Assaf severely crippled the Void bomber that had caused most of the devastation. The remaining Vanduul split up and changed tactics, staggering their attack from different directions. Assaf fired off shots has fast as possible, downing the other bomber and two Scythes before the Ballista ran out of missiles.
With munitions spent, Barlow hustled the hurt Assaf out of the Ballista and toward the mine, certain that the Vanduul would destroy it on their next flyby. They were between the Ballista and the mine when the sound of approaching ships filled the sky. Barlow believed they were dead, but instead was shocked and relieved to see a Navy squadron intercepting the attackers.
That’s when reinforcements reported seeing destroyed Vanduul ships spread across the battlefield and a Marine waving them down. Sadly, their arrival was too late for Assaf, who succumbed to the wounds caused by shrapnel. It was only once Barlow had been fully debriefed that his superiors became aware of what occurred. As opposed to issuing a correction to the various news organizations, they decided to have his account match the sensational headlines. The Marines urged him to streamline events and avoid embarrassing details or face a possible court-martial. The young Marine agreed to their plan, believing it to be a “good lie” and in the best interest of the Empire – a decision that haunted him for the rest of his life.
Today, a fog of war exists around the Battle of Fabela. Barlow’s revelations briefly stunned the empire, but never replaced the story ingrained in the public consciousness. The Marines stood by their version of events and refused to comment on his allegations. An official investigation into his claims never occurred. Meanwhile, Barlow dedicated the rest of his life to helping veterans suffering from PTSD. Assaf’s family received all proceeds from his book, which included the following dedication, “Though history may forget you, I never will.”