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Quote of the Week: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." - Will Durant, American historian (1885-1981)


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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 10:40am
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Chapter Four (cont.)

Michael Gavin nodded at the Prime Minister of Estonia, smiling as the cameras of the White House Press Corps clicked and flashed, capturing the two leaders on film for all of posterity. He knew what the photographers were waiting for, and after giving them several long seconds to get nervous, he reached out and extended his hand. The Prime Minister took it and they shook, as scores of flashes erupted around them.

The money shot, he thought as he kept smiling. It makes me feel like an adult film star at times, all of this non-stop attention; the heat of the flashing bulbs and the crazed enthusiasm of the journalists. Does that mean that the media are at heart nothing more than pimps and pornographers, he asked himself silently with a suddenly widening smile.

“Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for coming today,” the President of the United States said as the two walked towards the door of the Oval Office.

“No, Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity to discuss our concerns. Estonia seeks greater ties to the West; not to Russia, but to the democratic nations such as your own land of dreams, the United States of America.”

The reporters caught all of the exchange, of course, preserving even the minutiae of this event for archives that would in all likelihood never again be played or read after appearing on the nightly news. The good-byes took another five minutes, and then the press was escorted out in the wake of his distinguished visitor (and his staff), leaving the President and his own Chief of Staff alone in the Oval Office.

Circling his desk, the same desk used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, he sat down and leaned back, picking up a pen and twirling it in his right hand.

“What is next on the agenda, Tom?”

“Well, Mr. President,” Tom Heath replied, “in one hour you have the meeting with the leadership of the House and the Senate over our troop presence abroad. With the insurgency in Pakistan growing stronger by the day, they are getting worried about us being able to wrap things up in the next three years. Plus, the general public is not happy about our contingent of forces that remain in Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria—the polls are not in our favor on this issue, and Congress may be getting ready to say to hell with all of it and cut off funding once and for all.”

Michael frowned as he considered the problem, slowly spinning one of the expensive pens that magically appeared on his desk each night. A decade ago, it appeared as if the long and bloody wars in the Greater Middle East were finally coming to a close—and the fiscal situation made scrounging funds to keep them fighting extremely difficult. But then the President of the time decided to intervene first in Libya, followed by Syria and Egypt, and at last in Yemen, entangling US troops with further commitments not easily breached. The economic downturn spiraled out-of-control, leading to a second Great Recession in less than four years, and unemployment had spiked at almost 11%. And when the Greek government had completely collapsed, it had been the US, once again, that the world called upon to provide peace-keepers in Athens and Cyprus. The sitting President at the time had been resoundingly defeated, but his two different successors—both of whom served only a single term before the angry voters turned them out of office—had not made the situation any better. During his immediate predecessor’s term, Pakistan had (again) exploded into violence with the government in Islamabad facing a growing insurrection led by fanatical religious leaders. And Afghanistan remained the bleeding ulcer that it had been for the past twenty years, stretching the military—the entire country—to the breaking point.

Iraq was stable, at least, with less than a thousand US soldiers left in the country—most of those non-combat types. Thankfully enough, even with twenty-four thousand soldiers in Greece, there had not been the violent insurrections against American and world interests . . . and slowly, but surely, that country was coming under control. But in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the casualties steadily mounted, as they did to a lesser degree in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen, although there were not more than fifty thousand troopers in those three countries combined. The two –Stans, on the other hand, presented a much more serious problem. Almost two hundred thousand soldiers, airmen, and Marines were present there, to support the nominally friendly governments and (more importantly) to make certain that the insurgents could not seize the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

But in the five months since Michael had take office, the situation had gone from bad to worse, and even with the assistance of NATO in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and France jumping into the fight in Pakistan with both feet, the public was weary and ready to call it quits. The financial situation was not helping things, as the country teetered on brink of insolvency—and China had begun to balk at buying any more US bonds. Of course, they ignored the huge trade deficit, and threatened to retaliate against the dollar if Michael’s administration tried to even out the score. To make matters worse, Michael had promised on the campaign trail to put an end to the seemingly endless wars and bring the troops home before the end of his first term.

The public—and many on Capital Hill—took that to mean now, but the situation was on the edge of a true crisis, and pulling out today would only worsen the problems. But that wasn’t what Congress and the public wanted to hear; both wanted to end the wars—and the spending—now. It didn’t help that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans controlled either the House or the Senate, for 167 members of the House declared themselves as Independents, as did seventeen Senators—no party had a majority in any of the halls of Congress. Michael’s election had been just as harrowing, even though his predecessor had received just 31% of the total vote, for an Independent candidate had collected 21%. Only Electoral College math and winner-take-all states had prevented the election from being decided by the Congress—and next time it probably would wind up being decided there, which would make the election of 2000 look like a pillow fight. And won’t that be fun, Michael thought to himself.

“How bad are the latest polls? The truth, Tom; I’m a big boy and I think I can take it.”

“Bad, sir,” his chief of staff answered with a wince. “So far, so far, we are not getting blamed for the mess. But the American people are pissed, sir, and they are ready to call it quits. The smaller NATO countries have already left, and Germany’s last soldiers will leave by the end of this month. Only Australia, France, and the United Kingdom still has sizeable numbers of troops left there: and with the new governments in London and Canberra, we can no longer count on their support. Paris is determined to stay until the job is finished, however.”

Michael nodded solemnly. It had not always been that France had stood besides the United States in the war in two -Stans. Bloody Friday had changed that, however. Twenty-seven months ago, Islamic fanatics had hit Paris with no fewer than twelve coordinated bombings; including one inside the Louvre. More than fourteen hundred people had been killed, thousands more injured, and some of the most loved art treasures of the world destroyed. When the dust settled and the dead had been buried, Gallic pride and anger had surged forward in a tidal wave that country, indeed, the world, had not seen in decades, if not centuries.

The French government had collapsed in the wake of the tragedy, and the new hard-liners who took power discovered that the men responsible for the attacks had prepared their actions amongst the slums of the immigrant ghettos . . . and they had taken off the gloves to deal with them. All foreign nationals were ordered expelled from France, exceptions being made only for ‘western’ countries . . . and those Asians who could show they were not of the Islamic faith. Many of France’s own leaders and citizens protested; the European Union had condemned the action as well, as did the United Nations. But that did not deter the new French government; over three months of bloody riots and blazing conflagrations, France closed its borders and uprooted the foreign ghettos by force, giving the survivors a stark choice: leave or die. The struggle revealed the extent to which terrorists had infiltrated France, and each successive strike against the French people had only hardened that resolve of the government and the people. Afterwards, France had sent fifty thousand of their own men, mostly the Foreign Legion, but several other prestigious units, to aid the US in the fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Damn it, Tom, with what France has sent and what we finally have over there, we’ve got a chance to lance this boil once and for all. But if we pull out, and leave them to fight alone, they can’t end this.”

“I know, sir, but during the campaign you said you would end this war. The public took that to mean that you would bring the troops home. And they want you to do it now. The mood in Congress is going south pretty rapidly, sir. I’m not even sure we can get them to authorize the money to keep us there another six months.”

The door to the outside world opened and several officers of the uniformed armed forces of the United States walked into the room. Michael frowned as they approached him; and he felt his stomach lurch. They wouldn’t barge in unless it was for something that had gone horribly wrong somewhere in the world.

“Mister President,” Oliver Martin, Admiral of the United States Navy and Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, said. “We have a situation, sir; one that requires your immediate attention.”

Tom stood and motioned with his hand towards the door, but Michael waved him back down. Whatever this was about, he wanted the keen minded staffer to remain in order to advise him. “Go ahead, Admiral.”

“Mister President, twenty-two minutes ago, NORAD and NASA independently detected a gamma-ray burst originating from within our solar system. As you may be aware, such bursts are watched for because they are generated from nuclear detonations. This one, however, was massive, and occurred inside the orbit of Jupiter.”

The President slowly nodded. “Can’t these also be caused by natural phenomena?”

An Air Force general answered. “Yes sir. However, natural occurring GRBs are catastrophic in scale; this one is merely very large. And the only way we know of for a GRB to occur as a force of nature involves black holes and dying stars. That is not very likely so deep within the solar system.”

Martin broke in. “NASA trained the Hubble on the location where the burst originated, Mister President. These photographs were downloaded to the White House six minutes ago,” he said as he laid a folder marked CLASSIFED on the desk and opened it.

The photos showed a number of objects, objects that were far too angular and uniform in shape to be something that occurred natural. Each successive photograph showed the objects in greater and greater magnification, and the final pictures were highlighted with circles drawn around what appeared to be massive gun turrets, missile launchers, radar antennae—the final photo even showed six small blurs exiting one of the smaller objects.

Michael leaned back in his chair and opened his mouth, and then he closed it. For several long seconds, he just sat there; and then he opened his desk drawer, extracting a pack of cigarettes. He shook one from the pack, lit it, and inhaled the smoke deeply before releasing the plume and looking up at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Please tell me that this is a practical joke, Admiral Martin.”

“Mister President, NASA has, in conjunction with NORAD, confirmed that these objects are accelerating on a vector that will place them in geo-synchronous orbit above the earth in four days time. No, sir, this is no joke.”


Last edited by masterarminas on 2012-09-09 12:06pm, edited 5 times in total.
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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 11:37am
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This is an excellent story, and I'm just as fascinated by the past/future events described as I am by the technology. The "historical" events as described are frighteningly probable. And now we have the first glimmer of contact... I can't wait to see more!

Have you considered self-publishing? There's been a spate of articles on going the self-published ebook route. Just a thought.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 11:58am
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MondoMage wrote:
This is an excellent story, and I'm just as fascinated by the past/future events described as I am by the technology. The "historical" events as described are frighteningly probable. And now we have the first glimmer of contact... I can't wait to see more!

Have you considered self-publishing? There's been a spate of articles on going the self-published ebook route. Just a thought.


I have considered it; I even took a look at doing it through Amazon. Perhaps one day, but for now, I'd just rather post it and let people enjoy it without having to pay for it. I will continue to submit new works to Baen, and maybe one day they will pick one up. Until then, I am just writing because I enjoy it, not because it makes my living.

Glad you are enjoying the story . . . there are still 200+ pages in MS office I have yet to post, so the story is just beginning.

MA

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 12:28pm
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Chapter Four (cont.)

Major General Ernie Sinclair frowned as he stared at the objects—no, damn it, he thought to himself, the ships—centered in the high-definition screen that made up The Wall at NORAD. Normally, The Wall showed North America and its surrounding airspace, but today it featured a direct feed from Hubble. A smaller inset off to one side held a graphic with Earth, the Moon, and a flashing yellow icon depicting the Visitors, as some unknown wag in his command has christened them. Damn all politicians to Hell, he thought, as he watched the objects, the ships for Christ’s sake, settle down into a geo-synchronous orbit directly above the Canary Islands. Damn them for gutting our space program over the last few decades.

When the shuttle program had ended back in ’11, there was supposed to have been a replacement in the pipeline, the Constellation program. Cost overruns and the need for increased funding for the war on terror had resulted in Constellation being canceled even before the shuttle fleet had been retired. Civilian industry was supposed to pick up the slack, with commercial interests funding new launch vehicles—but then came the economic downturn and market interest in the final frontier had waned. NASA and Space Command both had suffered in the past twenty years, their budgets slashed as revenues evaporated, then partially restored with the recovery. Finally, the last administration had recognized that private industry was not yet able to fill the vital role NASA played in manned space-flight—and so Constellation was put back into the pipeline. That had been two years ago, and the first unit was still incomplete, primarily because the previous administration had insisted on several design changes to make the system more affordable. Which, at the moment, left only the ancient Russian Soyuz capsules and the new Chinese orbiters as the only existing launch vehicles able to ferry man aloft into space. Ernie snorted; he had heard scuttlebutt of the meeting four days ago between the President and Dr. Robert Schaeffer, the civilian head of NASA. According to the rumor-mill, Gavin had gone ballistic when he learned that there was absolutely nothing that the United States of America could do to put a manned mission into orbit before the planet’s new guests arrived; which left just the two Russian cosmonauts and single American astronaut currently aboard the International Space Station as the only representatives of the human race in orbit.

“Sir?” a pretty young Captain’s alto voice broke Ernie out of his reverie.

“What have you got, Captain Hall?”

“Tracking reports the vessels have entered geo-stationary orbit above the Canaries, Sir,” she answered briskly. “We have also confirmed their exact dimensions, Sir; the two smallest measure four hundred and eighty meters fore-to-aft, with a beam of eight-four meters and a height of sixty; the four largest are two thousand, eight hundred seventy meters in overall length, with a beam of four hundred and sixty-two meters and three hundred and twenty-six meters in height.”

Ernie whistled. Big bastards, aren’t they, he thought to himself. “Any educated guesses as to their mass, or what they are using for propulsion?”

Hall shook her head. “We have literally no clue on either front, General. Their mass has to enormous given that the smallest of those vessels is larger and has more internal volume than a Nimitz-class super-carrier; still, the dozen smaller ships are all well within the size range of what we can build today for ocean-going vessels, but those larger ones . . .,” her voice trailed off.

“And all of them pulled two-gravities of deceleration when they entered orbit,” Ernie mused. “Did spectrographic analysis indict what they are using as reaction mass?”

“The satellites picked up no trace of any drive exhaust, Sir. None. Intelligence’s best guess is that they are using some sort of reactionless drive system for propulsion. Pictures from Hubble have also shown no exhaust bells on any part of the hulls, just RCS thruster clusters that canot possibly deliver the deceleration rates we observed. We just don’t know, Sir.” The young woman shook her head as she stared at the images on the Wall once again, and then she stepped closer to Ernie, her voice dropping to a whisper. “What if they are hostile? What happens then?”

“We fight them, Captain Hall. If they shoot at us, we fire off every Minuteman, Peacekeeper, and Trident in our inventory in response,” Ernie responded equally quietly. “National Command Authority has determined that if they attack, we respond with everything we have. The Brits, French, Russians, and Chinese have promised the President they will launch at the same time if it comes to that.”

The young woman turned away from the Wall and looked at her General, tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. “It won’t be enough, will it?”

Ernie didn’t answer; he simply turned back to face to Wall and Captain Hall nodded as she moved back to her desk. Ernie placed his hands on the rail and leaned forward as he stared at the Wall and the images of alien ships that before this week he had expected only to see in the movies. Damn every politician to Hell.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 12:45pm
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Chapter Four (cont.)

“Mister President, sir, you need to get to Andrews,” Tom pleaded.

“Damn it, Tom! For the last time, drop it,” Michael snarled, and then he sighed and sat back at his desk. “Sorry about that; shouldn’t have snapped at you.”

“That’s why I’m here, Mister President, so you can snap at me and not the press.”

Michael chuckled, and then the room grew quiet again. “Have we heard from Norm?”

“The Vice-President arrived at the command bunker in West Virginia ten minutes ago, Mister President, along with the Speaker and several cabinet secretaries. They confirmed that the facility has been locked down and secured. Congress is sequestered at their facility as well, and the Justices of the Supreme Court have all been flown out to NORAD, as per your orders. So far, the press has not seemed to pick up on the fact that with the exception of you, there is not one elected official of the government left here in DC. Several Senators and Congressmen even made the morning shows before they left, but it won’t last. They will know before the end of the day the government has evacuated.”

“Good,” the President replied as he stood, and then walked over to and looked out the windows of the Oval Office. What a lovely spring Sunday morning, he thought to himself. “Norm can handle the situation from there if he has too. The joint chiefs assure me that the bunker can take a direct hit from an ICBM without suffering serious damage, so Martha and the kids will be safe as well.”

The chief of staff to the most powerful man in the world frowned, and he walked around the desk until he stood beside his President. “You should join your family in the bunker, Mister President,” he said softly. “That is where you need to be, sir. Air Force One is standing by; we can get you airborne in fifteen minutes.”

“Michael. Just for today, Tom, call me Michael. And no,” the leader of the free world replied as he turned to face his old friend, “I should be here. When we tell the public, I need to be here.”

The phone on the desk rang, startling both men. The ring was the shrill, distinctive tone of the secure line. It rang a second time.

His face ashen, Michael sat back down at the desk and then he reached out with one hand and pressed the speaker.

“Yes, Helen? What is it?”

A chuckle, a man’s chuckle, emerged from the speaker. “I am sorry, but this is not Helen. I presume that I am speaking with the President of the United States of America?”

“Who is this?” Michael asked, as the door to the Oval Office opened, and Helen Kincaid, the President’s executive secretary stormed in, her eyes wide. “There was no incoming call, sir, I didn’t put anyone through!” she squeaked.

“Mister President, my name is Jason Chandler, Admiral Commanding of the Imperial Fleet, Warlord of the Empire of Humanity, and Prince-Consort of her Imperial Majesty, the Caesar Julia. You have my apol- . . .”

EMPIRE OF HUMANITY?!?” the President blurted, and the chuckles once again filled the room.

“We do have a lot to discuss, but yes, Mister President, the Empire of Humanity. Her Imperial Majesty thought that it would more diplomatic of us to contact you, and several of your fellow world leaders, personally than to deliver some radio broadcast to the world at large. We have been monitoring your global media since our arrival; it has not escaped our notice that as of this moment none of your governments have informed your public of our presence here. I understand the reasoning, of course; if they do not know, then they cannot panic. Although I must say that we do not completely agree. An informed public, Mister President, is the only real guarantee of liberty against tyranny; short of bullets, of course.”

And once again, the sound of laughter came over the speaker.

“Assuming you are who you say you are,” Michael replied, even as Tom was speaking quietly into his cell phone, “why are you here and what do you want?”

“Quite right; if our places were exchanged I would imagine that I as well would want proof of my claims. Right now, there is a directed microwave transmission at the White House satellite farm. That transmission is originating from my flagship in orbit above the Earth. We overrode your firewalls and anti-viral software remotely to let me ring your office directly. Why don’t you take a few moments and confirm that; I will be waiting whenever you are ready.”

Michael looked over at Tom, who was listening intently on his cell phone, while typing into his blackberry. The chief of staff grunted a few times in answer to some unknown statement or question and then he disconnected the phone. “The Secret Service confirms what the gentlemen just claimed, Mister President.”

The President leaned back and took a deep breath. And then he sat forward and stared at the speaker sitting beside his phone. “All right, Admiral . . . Chandler, was it?”

“Yes, Mister President.”

“Once again, why are you here?”

“It is a long story, and quite hard to believe, even for me. But,” and here the voice chuckled once more, “it has often been said that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. It all began . . .”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 12:50pm
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Chapter Four (cont.)

“And we are once again live with coverage of the Presidential address. I am James Simmons reporting for NBC news; with me is senior correspondent and former anchor Edward Russell. Ed, what can we expect from the President tonight?”

“The country, Jim; no, the entire world; is still in a state of shock over the events of two days ago: the revelation that we are not alone in this universe and that visitors to our world are orbiting high above in ships that crossed the vast gulfs of space. We have already seen public hysteria take hold across the planet as everything that we thought we knew three days ago has been turned upside down. President Gavin has a difficult challenge tonight; he must urge our citizens to remain calm, to not panic over the arrival of these so-called Imperials, but he must also project strength and restore confidence.”

The old white-haired man took off his glasses and shook his head as he sat across from James in the studio, a mosaic image of the White House filling the screen behind the two newsmen.

“I never expected this day to come; certainly not in my own lifetime, James. Visitors from other worlds, claiming to be human beings from several centuries in our own future; flesh and blood men and women just like you and me. And for them to ask us, the people of Earth, for refuge, for a place to call their home; well, we need to remember that these are people, not aliens.”

“But there are aliens out there, Ed, according to their spokesman. And in the future that would have been, those aliens will attack the Earth in a little more than sixty years from now. How far can the President go in order to gain the technology of the Imperial Remnant? And how will other nations react if they see the United States making deals for this technology?

“With billions of lives potentially at risk? How far is too far? Russia, China, Japan, Europe, all of the industrialized world, and a good portion of the third world as well; all of these nations have been contacted by the visitors. A delegation from the orbiting ships will be landing in the United States tomorrow, in New York City. Their leader, the Empress Julia—although they seem to address her as Caesar Julia—and a small delegation will arrive to address the United Nations in person. The President, and many other world leaders, will be there to meet her and to speak with their delegation.”

James cut in, a fixed smile on his face as he turned to face another camera. “NBC News will be covering the arrival of Empress Julia and her entourage live, as well as her address to the General Assembly of the United Nations. She will then be meeting with representatives from the US, Russia, China, India, England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, Australia . . . the list goes on and on. Those meetings will be behind closed doors, but the entire world is watching and listening.”

The younger anchorman paused as he lifted one hand to the earbud he wore. “Ed, we are getting word that the President is about to begin. And we take you there live; this is James Simmons, for NBC News.”

On millions upon millions of television screens across the country and across the world, the backdrop changed to display the seal of the President of the United States, and then focused on President Michael Gavin seated behind his desk in the Oval Office.

“My fellow Americans; two days ago, an extraordinary event occurred, an event that will never be forgotten. It was a day that would change our world, and ourselves, forever; a day . . .”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 02:44pm
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Chapter Four (cont.)

Police Commissioner Timothy Hackett watched the fourth of the massive landing ships gently set down on the plaza outside of the United Nations, his jaw slightly ajar in disbelief. Mother-of-God, he thought as the tremendous vessel gently touched down, the concrete and asphalt compressing with an audible groan beneath its nearly inconceivable weight. It’s bigger than a 747!

“Will you look at that?” Lt. Colonel Greg Davis said with a whistle.

Hackett followed the gaze of the New York National Guard officer to where the first craft was disgorging soldiers wearing some sort of full-body armor. One of the armor-clad troopers was standing at the base of a ramp, holding a pair of brightly lit red wands in his hands, directing the vehicle descending onto the city streets. Low-slung and sleek, the vehicle was larger than an M1 Abrams; with a blocky turret sporting a long and powerful looking gun set dead center, the blackened snouts of still more weapons protruding from vehicles interior. On the right side of the turret rested a rectangular box quad missile launcher, but the weapon cells of this launcher was at least twice the size of a TOW. Half-shrouded by the bulk of the sinister vehicle, two more armored figures stood in hatches atop the vehicle, closely watching the clearance to either side, while the head of a third protruded from yet another hatch in the lower hull, directly beneath the cannon.

But unlike the tanks of Earth, this vehicle lacked any wheels, tracks, or treads. It floated down the ramp a couple of feet above the metal surface, and even from this distance, Hackett could feel the thrum of whatever magical device powered the war machine and caused it to hover so smoothly and silently. And then he caught a glimpse of the rear and he stared in complete shock . . . that wasn't a tank, he thought as he shook his head slowly from side-to-side, it was an armored personal carrier! If their build their infantry carriers this big, then what the hell are their atual tanks going to look like?

One of the armored individuals that had already disembarked bounded across the plaza towards Hackett and Davis, each stride carrying him across ten yards in a single bounce. The thud of his feet slamming into the ground shook both men as he came to a sudden halt ten feet distant, and then slowly walked over to join the two, the asphalt creaking and cracking beneath each of his steps. Hackett’s mouth went dry as he got his first good look at an Imperial infantry trooper.

The metallic armor was blended in shades of gray and black, and stood seven feet tall. The burly arms and legs were thicker around than those of a NFL lineman, and the helmet was a featureless expanse of dark mirrored glass. Gadgets covered the outside of the suit, and Hackett could make out two barrels extending from the suits left forearm, the weapons themselves concealed within the armored shell. The individual’s right arm, however, gripped the handle of a deadly and menacing five-barreled Gatling fixed to the armor. And over the left shoulder rested what could only be a missile, easily five feet in length, which pointed straight up towards the sky, sporting yet another handle a foot or so above the shoulder.

The trooper reached up pressed a latch on the gorget that surrounded his neck; his helmet hissed and then the face plate swung outwards and up, revealing a sandy-haired men who grinned at the police chief and the colonel. “Commissioner Hackett? Colonel Davis? I am Centurion Nat Turner, commanding officer MP—excuse me, Military Police—Century Alpha of the 501st Shock Legion. We have been assigned to assist your troops and the NYPD with security for the Empress. Where do you want us?”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 02:57pm
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Chapter Four (cont.)

Throngs of people crowded against the barriers erected by the NYPD around the United Nations building. Some were protestors holding signs and posters and banners that showed their disagreement with allowing these alien beings (they only said they were human, after all) to set foot on Earth. A few of the more clueless protestors held signs that argued against taxes, abortions, and the War in Iraq. Many more of the crowd were members of the world-wide press; their cameras, both still and video, recording the event for all posterity. But the majority of the teeming masses were simply New Yorkers who wanted to see with their own eyes the events of today, so that in latter years they could tell their children and grand-children what they had seen, of how they had been witness to history.

Within the barriers, police outfitted in riot gear, police of all stripes and denominations, NYPD, Port Authority, Transit Authority, New York State Troopers, and federal agents of a dozen different agencies, stood by, their plexiglas shields and black batons ready to respond if the crowd suddenly surged forward. Intermixed with the men and women of law enforcement were Army troopers in their desert camo, incongruous as that was in the streets of the Big Apple. Regulars and reservists alike, the soldiers were clumped together in small units around the perimeter prepared to back up the police if they needed the assistance. On the rooftops of nearby buildings, sniper teams tracked the crowd and watched the windows of high-rise skyscrapers, while Coast Guard cutters and Harbor Patrol boats cruised slowly by off-shore.

Only the sky above was free of congestion, a no-fly zone having been ordered by the FAA hours beforehand. Not even press choppers were allowed into the designated zone, but those vultures hovered and buzzed just outside of the perimeter.

One of the many, many people in the crowd spotted the descending ship first, and he raised his arm to point at the heavens. One by one, the citizens of America’s largest city turned their gaze skyward. A mass of metal silently descended with no roar of engines, no noxious exhaust, no contrails through the clouds high above. Smaller than the vessels that had delivered the military police earlier, the Hermes class shuttle quickly closed the distance, descending to less than a hundred feet and approaching from the water’s edge towards the hastily marked landing grid in the center of the Plaza.

Stationed around the grid, deep within the perimeter of New York’s finest, were the Imperial vehicles and troopers. A dozen Puma armored personnel carriers and two Cougar class command carriers was what the NYPD and press had been told, but each featured a turret that wouldn’t have been out of place on a main battle tank, including a long and deadly looking cannon set dead center. Nearly a hundred battle-armored infantry troopers formed the perimeter, interspaced with the fourteen vehicles. The Imperial forces kept their eyes, and their sensors, on the crowd and the surrounding buildings; and unlike the NYPD, FBI, ATF, and other various acronymed agencies, these faceless goliaths carried nothing quite so innocent as a rubber baton. Their assorted weaponry looked extremely lethal, and while they did not point the guns directly at the crowd, neither were they aimed very far distant.

The Hermes silently drifted over the plaza and deployed its thick, heavy landing struts, and then set down softly onto the ground. As the contra-gravity generators aboard the shuttle spun down, the broad feet at the base of each of the six landing struts slowly sank into the concrete and asphalt, compressing and compacting the ground beneath the almost inconceivable weight of ship; sinking about three feet deep, on average.

In the rear half of the ship, two hatches swung open, and a pair of ramps extended and lowered themselves to meet the ground below. From each hatch, a line of armor-clad men exited, marching slowly in what appeared to be a ceremonial cadence. Unlike the waiting military police, these warriors were not clad in armor with gray-and-black urban camo patterns; instead the Praetorians wore suits of armor in glistening crimson and gold, along with sweeping cloaks of purple silk clasped to their chest with golden chains. The Praetorian’s armor lacked the Reaper pulse cannon and Thunderbolt missile launchers, giving each of the suits a leaner, sleeker appearance than those of the Legion; for those who doubted the Praetorian’s ability to return fire, a polished rifle, complete with bayonet and carried at port arms, quickly erased any such fears. Additional weapon muzzles protruded from both forearms as well, giving an added air of menace and restrained lethality to Caesar’s guardians.

The two lines split apart, becoming four, and lined up flanking the main hatch of the Hermes, as yet still sealed. Eight troopers stood in each line, and a silent command brought them to a halt, their rifles snapping vertical. The remaining four Praetorians halted at the end of the lines of armored men, near to the entrance of the United Nations. These four turned in place, one-by-one, and stood facing the shuttle. The two outermost lines of troopers moved their right foot back and spun in place, now facing away, outwards, towards the crowd, their rifles dropping in unison to port arms.

And for several moments, there was no movement, no noise, just silent anticipation. With a hiss, the main hatch of the Hermes opened, and a third ramp descended to the ground between the two inner lines of guards.

A man, a human being, dressed not in armor, but in an ornate uniform of white, trimmed with crimson and gilded with braids of golden thread, emerged from the hatch. His boots were white, as were his belt and gloves, and the holster upon that belt carrying a heavy pistol was also of white calf-skin leather. Opposite the sidearm, he wore a long curved sword, the hilt wrapped in cords of golden silk and crowned with a basket weave of golden metal; the scabbard of polished ivory. His face stern, the man slowly looked over the waiting crowd, and then he nodded his head, as if in approval. Turning back to the hatch, he removed the peaked cap gilded with braid from his brown hair and he knelt, bowing low. Following his lead, the two innermost ranks of Praetorians likewise knelt, one pair after the next, tilting their rifles slightly forward as they sank to one knee. When the final pair had knelt, the four who waited at the entrance also dropped down, bowing low to the empty hatch. And all through this, the outermost lines of Praetorians did not kneel, but instead watched closely the surrounding crowd, their rifles at the ready.

New York City, the United States of America, the whole wide world held its collective breath.

From the shadows of the hatch there now stepped forth a woman, far younger than many would have imagined an Empress to be. She was dressed in a gown of gleaming and pristine white that billowed from her ankles to where it looped about her neck, the folds both obscuring and enhancing her slight bust. About the waist, a belt of golden links closely hugged her slender hips. Her right shoulder and arm was bare, the alabaster skin but a few shades darker than the gown itself, the left was covered in a voluminous sleeve that flowed down the arm to be secured to her hand with golden rings upon her first and last fingers and her palm. Her chestnut hair was worn long, intricately woven into braids studded with faceted stones of blue, green, and gold; and upon her brow she wore a laurel wreath fashioned of fine gold and gleaming malachite. Her bare right arm featured a wide bracer of gold and canary diamonds tight against the bicep, and her feet were clad in sandals of white leather straps.

She cast her gaze, her green-eyed gaze, across the still and silent crowd. And then she smiled. She smiled and she stepped forward and she waved one long and slender hand towards them. That simple gesture caused the crowd to roar with delight. She smiled again, and she blushed, and she held her hand down to the man kneeling before her. He took her hand, his wife’s hand, in his own and rose, tucking that hand into the crook of his arm. She smiled again, and kissed her Admiral upon his cheek, and the noise from the crowd trebled in volume. Still smiling, the Empress of Humanity, the Caesar Julia and her Consort descended the ramp, walked down the line of Praetorians and entered the Headquarters of the United Nations of Earth.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 03:11pm
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Chapter Four (cont.)

“NO! We will not be refused access while the United States makes secret deals with these, these . . . people. The invitation provided by the President of the United States to settle within their borders is unacceptable!” the Ambassador of Russia to the United Nations bellowed towards the Imperial delegation.

“Nor will the People’s Republic take kindly to the West gaining this knowledge while our population of more than one and one-half billion, almost one-fifth of the entire human race, if I may remind our visitors, is denied their rightful due,” the Foreign Minister of mainland China added.

Across the table, squabbling broke out as more than two dozen ambassadors, Ministers of State, and heads of government, depending on who could actually get to New York in time, began arguing and shouting with each other. Thankfully, the delegates from less developed nations had been excluded from the meeting, although none had left willingly. The semi-insane dictator of North Korea had been so incensed at being shut out that he was ranting in the well of the Assembly, and done so for nearly three hours straight.

Jason frowned at the chaos before him as he sat beside his wife and Empress. They are like children fighting over a new toy, he thought. He turned his head and glanced at the eight Praetorians standing behind Her Imperial Majesty, each of them still wearing full ceremonial armor. And then he looked at his wife again.

She wasn’t happy. The screaming, the yelling, the thinly veiled insulting remarks towards the Imperials, the threats, the proffered bribes; all of this had taken their toll on her, and Jason, in the four and a half hours they had sat in this room. She shook her head, and then met his gaze with her sad eyes, squeezing his hand under the table. Jason squeezed back, and cocked one eyebrow as if in question. She hesitated, and then nodded her head in resignation. The Admiral smiled and lifted Julia’s hand to his lips, kissing it lightly in the center of the palm, and then he stood.

Only a handful of the leaders present stopped their bickering as they noticed him rising, but the overall noise level was unabated. The Warlord of the Empire of Humanity made a simple chopping motion with one hand, and upon that signal, one of the Praetorians raised his right arm towards the ceiling.

The thunder of the sub-machine roared inside the conference room, bringing the bitter so-called debate to a sudden and fearful halt as overhead tiles shattered, crashing down on the table in a cloud of white dust. In the ringing silence that followed that short burst of fire, Jason heard a scuffling at the door, and then a crash. One of the UN security guards had learned the hard way exactly how much Praetorian armor magnified the strength of the wearer, he thought to himself, his mouth twisting into a crooked smile.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began calmly as the Praetorian behind him lowered his arm once more and resumed his post. “You seem to be laboring under a misconception. Yes, we are refugees. Yes, we are seeking to make our home here on Earth. We do not, however, require either your permission, or your assistance, to do so. If we chose to simply land and claim an area for our own, you could not stop us.”

Jason waited as the blunt statement soaked into the assorted heads of state and representatives before him. And he smiled again.

“Luckily for you, Caesar Julia does not wish to institute a whole-sale; what is that phrase that seems so popular in this era, oh, yes; a whole-sale regime change. We are willing to work with you, but we will do so on our terms. We are not, after all, an old bone to fought over by a pack of mangy mongrels. We are willing to share certain portions of our technology with you, as a gesture of our good-will. As Her Imperial Majesty has already stated, several times during this session, I may add, we will provide medications for the treatment and eradication of cancer, AIDs, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many, many other diseases. We will show you how to manufacture the treatments yourself. We will provide you, all of you, with certain civilian technologies that will let you clean your world’s water and air, and provide such abundant energy that there will be little excuse for keeping your peoples impoverished and existing hand-to-mouth.”

“However, we are not going to hand you complete copies of our data cores, nor will we provide any of you with military technologies. Furthermore, we will not, either as individuals or as a group, swear allegiance to anyone at this table, or to any political institution on this planet. We are already oath-sworn, ladies and gentlemen, to the Empress of Humanity. For the moment, because the Empress so wills it, we will not force anyone on this world to join the Empire; neither will we allow anyone to dictate to us with whom we may ally ourselves.”

“Admittedly, there are just seventy-six thousand of us and more than seven and one-half billion of you; and we still have you outgunned and outmatched if it comes down to that; which, of course, I hope it does not,” Jason continued with a broad smile. “Not for your sakes, but rather that it would cause Her Imperial Majesty great heartache to have to issue such an order. I, on the other hand, would have no qualms about carrying out that order. Understand this, all of you; the Ordan-Kraal are coming, and they are coming soon. If you let us, we will lead your defense against them, and given enough time and cooperation, we can build enough ships and outfit enough Legions to take the fight to them, stopping their slaughter before it ever begins. History records that when they came, in my past, in your future, more than five billion of you died. Your children will die. Your grand-children will die. Entire cultures will perish forever. All struck down by the bombs and the viruses and the claws of the damned Crabs. Humanity itself will become an endangered species.”

Jason paused and leaned forward on the conference table, forcing his glare on each of the dignitaries sitting there. He finally, finally, had their full attention. “If you cooperate with us on building defenses and training troops, we may avoid that. We may be able to prevent the deaths of some five billion human beings. If not, well, we will do our best, but we will concentrate on defending those individual nation-states that have asked for our aid and cooperated with us. Everyone else will have to stand on their own. When the Ordan-Kraal arrive, ladies and gentlemen, if you are not one of those powers allied to us, you will wish with all of your heart and soul that today you had made a different choice. If you survive, that is; the dead have so few regrets.”

“What do you propose then, Admiral Chandler?” asked the British Prime Minister as he brushed the white ash-like debris from his suit coat.

“I propose nothing, Mister Prime Minister. The Caesar Julia suggests this: we will purchase Vancouver Island and the surrounding territory from the Canadian government and set up our own enclave as a free and independent government, fully sovereign in our own right. If Canada does not want to part with a portion of its territory, then Chile and Argentina might agree on signing over Tierra del Fuego. Maybe it will be the Falkland Islands, or half of New Zealand, or any of a dozen locations around the world that we can build a home.”

The Chinese representative shook his head. “That is out of the question. We will not allow you to establish your own government; that much is unacceptable to the People’s Republic of China.”

“What makes you think you have any say at all in the matter, Minister?” Jason bluntly responded. “Deal with us or not, but do not presume to lecture either myself or my Empress in this matter. Some leader, some government, somewhere on this planet will cut a deal with us, and we will form our enclave. And you must remember, ladies and gentlemen, alliances are two-way streets; we are not bound to ally ourselves with anyone just because they ask; they need to show their willingness to cooperate and to follow Imperial law. You don’t want to join the Empire? Fine. Leave us alone and I promise you, on Her Imperial Majesty’s behalf, we will leave you alone, even when the Crabs land and rend your nation and people asunder. Unless you provoke us, in which case pray to whatever gods you hold dear that you suffer a death from natural causes before we respond.”

Each of the delegates bristled at the threat, but then President Gavin leaned forward. “And how do you propose paying Canada or Argentina or Chile or the United Kingdom or New Zealand for the land? I don’t think that your ships are filled with vaults full of hard currency, are they Admiral?”

Jason smiled, but it was a cold, cold smile. “Actually, Mister President, we have something far better than vaults filled with chests of gems and precious metals from some mint somewhere. We have the complete history of mankind, including that of the next five hundred years, and we are quite literate. Our arrival might change many things in those records, but somehow I do not believe geological discoveries will shift their location because we altered the time-line. Prime Minister Barclay,” he said, directly addressing the Canadian at the table. “How would your country like a stake in the greatest gold strike in history? One that, historically, proved itself far, far larger than the Yukon and South Africa strikes combined. Would that be worth a few thousand square kilometers of land?”


Last edited by masterarminas on 2012-09-09 04:03pm, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 03:32pm
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Oh well played Admiral, well played indeed :D



"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" - Hamlet

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 04:20pm
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So, which nations are going to be stupid enough to not play along, I wonder?



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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 04:23pm
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Well Canada would be freaking retarded to turn down that kind of offer.



"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" - Hamlet

SDN World 5: The Kingdom of Orion

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 05:18pm
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Chapter Four (cont.)

“Easy, Janos, easy,” Gaius Scott whispered, “too much thrust and you will tear the tractor projectors right out of the hull.”

“Aye, aye, sir. Coming to 2% percent on the mains now,” the sweating helmsman said as he concentrated on his controls. Ian Sinclair looked up from his own bank of controls and nodded at Scott. “Looking good, Skipper. As long as we take it slow and steady, we should be golden,” the exec said with a wide grin, a grin that Scott returned as he chuckled.

HIMS Seydlitz was operating in tandem with HIMS Charlemagne, their tractors locked onto the immense asteroid between them. Designated SGK-01/997C, the misshapen rock measured some thirty kilometers in length and almost eighteen kilometers across at its widest, tallest point. Normally this would be a job for dedicated Fleet tugs, but since the Imperials no longer had any tugs, the two destroyers were manhandling the rock from the Belt all the way into a stable Earth-moon orbit. SGK-01/997C was just another lifeless rock floating in the Belt between Mars and Jupiter, albeit a big one. But, two hundred years from now, in that otherwhen that had been, a survey team had struck it big on the asteroid. Renamed Motherlode, the asteroid was found to contain incredible amounts of gold, silver, tungsten, platinum, iridium, and other rare and valuable minerals and metals.

But that was in a future that would never happen. The records clearly showed which precise rock Motherlode was, however, so Admiral of the Fleet and Warlord Chandler had sent Scott out here with Seydlitz to fetch it home. The problem was that Motherlode was so massive that it would take weeks to shepherd it safely into the orbit that had been chosen. Like all Imperial Fleet ships, Seydlitz mounted two heavy-duty tractors that allowed her to rescue damaged vessels in combat and drag them out of the line of fire. But Motherlode was far, far past their rated capabilities. Too much acceleration and the tractors would rip themselves right out of the hull; too little and the pair of Imperial ships would not manage to nudge the rock into geo-stationary orbit, instead leaving it a rogue coursing through the inner system of Sol . . . and a grave hazard to Earth. It was a delicate balancing act that allowed for no second chances.

“Just how much gold does Motherlode truly contain, Captain Scott?” asked his guest, a mining engineer of the Canadian government sent along to stake out his government’s share of the claim.

“I looked that up in our data-banks just this morning, Sir. On average, a total of 750 metric tons of gold are extracted each year on Earth. Motherlode produced—over thirty-eight years of mining operations—an annual average of 4,400 metric tons, for slightly more than 167,000 metric tons of gold. That is not the ore, mind you, but the weight of the extracted pure gold. Plus, Motherlode is, well the motherlode, with many other rare, precious, and industrially useful metal deposits. I believe the final figures were almost four hundred thousand tons of silver, more than eighty-one thousand of platinum, thirteen and a half thousand tons of iridium, three-quarters of million in tungsten, and better than three billion metric tons each of aluminum, copper, and nickel. Plus another ten billion of iron. The Imperial government got half of that revenue stream—the remaining half made the exploration team the wealthiest men in human history. One old miner bought himself an entire planet, if you can believe it, that he set up as a luxury resort world. And four years later wound up having a coronary in a hot tub he was sharing with a dozen dancers of the Moscow Ballet. What a way to check out. As far as the Empire was concerned, that one rock injected enough revenue into the Imperial treasury to damn near pay for half of the entire Imperial Fleet.”

The geologist blinked with disbelief as he turned his gaze back on the asteroid, and Sinclair moved over by Scott. Leaning down, he whispered something in the captain’s ear, and Scott grinned.

“Mister Holbrook,” the youthful ship commander said, “if you will turn your attention to the center screen on that console, please.”

The mining expert turned to the screen, which projected a live image from the surface of Motherlode. A small team of vacuum suited crewmen from Seydlitz, and one in a bulky, white, ex-NASA spacesuit, hurriedly emblazoned with the Maple Leaf on the right arm, were pictured in the center, clustered around two metal poles embedded in the surface of the asteroid. As Holbrook watched, the white-suited astronaut attached the Canadian flag to the first pole, and then one of the Scott’s men placed the Imperial standard on the second. Both men withdrew several paces, and saluted the two flags.

“Congratulations, Mister Holbrook. It appears that Canada has become the second wealthiest nation on Earth. I just hope that the gold doesn’t have the aroma of maple syrup.”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 05:25pm
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Chapter Four (cont.)

“If I had known how much of this bureaucrat manure Father had to deal with, and that you expect me to deal with, Jase, I swear I would have never agreed to this.”

“Love, this is not even one-hundredth of one percent of what your illustrious father dealt with on a daily basis. Just wait until we get a proper Imperial Senate seated once again; then you will really experience what a headache the job is. And it was for that,” he said with a beaming smile, “as much as having no desire to usurp the Imperial laurels that I refused the job in the first place. Hail Caesar.”

His wife’s answer came in the form of a plush sofa cushion smashing into his face at a remarkably high rate of speed.

“Feel better, love?”

“No . . . yes . . . hell, I don’t know,” she answered sourly. “There is this whole matter of the population down there to deal with. Three-quarters of a million residents on Vancouver Island? My God, Jase; that is twenty times what I expected.”

The admiral, warlord, and prince-consort shrugged his shoulders. “The whole bloody planet is seriously overpopulated by our standards, Julia. The last census put our Earth’s total population at one point two billion, and the older Senators were grumbling about us taxing the environment and natural resources. There are more than seven and a half billion people on this planet right now. That is almost seven percent the total population of the entire Empire in our time.”

He sat down next to wife on the sofa. “It is just something we have to deal with, along with setting up the fuel processing facility on the moon, organizing the first colonial expedition to Alpha Cent, boot-strapping this chaotic hot-bed of insurgency to produce enough of our technology to defend against the Ordan-Kraal and any other predatory race, while keeping the most sensitive aspects of our weapons tech out of the feverish little hands of dozens of petty dictators and would-be Napoleons, and convincing the nearly two hundred individual governing bodies and who-the-hell knows how many political factions it is in their best interests to unite; and just as a side-note reform the Senate and reestablish civilian control over the Imperial Fleet and Legion.”

“And I suppose you have more items for the week after next as well?” the Empress of Humanity asked acidly as she frowned at her husband. And then she began to giggle; the giggles rapidly descending to full-blown guffaws of almost hysterical laughter. Jason took her in his arms to hold her tightly against him. The laughter turned to sobs and tears, as Julia buried her head in his chest, and he slowly stroked her back and her hair and made a soft, gentle hushing sound.

“I don’t know if I can do this, Jase,” she whispered. “Why did this happen?”

“That, love, I don’t know. God moves in mysterious ways, it is said. But I do know one thing: you can do this. And you will be no mere figurehead, Julia. You learned from Caesar Nicolas and your brothers more about practical politics than you think, and you are a scion of the House of Collins, the last Collins of the Imperial line in the now in which we live.”

“You really think so?” she asked, looking up at him with tears still trickling down her cheeks.

He smiled, and used one thumb to brush a tear aside, and then gently caressed her check. “I know that the woman I married and that I love can. Are you still her?”

The young woman nodded her head, and Jason lowered his head and softly kissed her lips.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 05:36pm
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Chapter Four (cont.)

“If this twenty-something bimbo is their leader, then we have learned one thing about these so-called Imperials; her husband, Admiral, Warlord, and Prince-Consort Chandler, must be the real power and authority. Did you see that gown she wore in New York to address the UN? Shameful, shameful, shameful,” Karen Hall droned on to her guests. “I’ve seen street walkers wearing more venue appropriate clothing than that.”

“Karen, all of you so-called liberal feminists are just upset that this young woman, this lady, happens to be more attractive than all the rest of you combined. Can you drop this cat-fight you want to provoke?” replied Professor Emmett Leshy, head of the political science department of Columbia University.

“This is no cat-fight, Professor, and it has nothing to do with her beauty,” Hall replied hotly. “This is about morals and respectability. You could see her breasts underneath that gown; she certainly wasn’t wearing anything beneath it, to be sure. That sort of thing might go over in Hollywood or some mid-east harem, but if she wants to be taken seriously as an actual leader of a major nation, she needs to quit dressing like some floozy wannabe. And shame, shame, shame on that middle-aged man for marrying such a young woman. Tsk, tsk, tsk,” she added shaking her head. “I’ll bet deep down inside he likes little girls, you folks at home know what I mean.”

She turned back to face the cameras. “And for another view point of this issue and all of the others arising from the arrival of our Imperial visitors, we will bring in our next guest. In a CNN exclusive, this show has managed to arrange for Captain Nathan Serrano, the chief of staff for the afore-mentioned power behind the throne, the probable perv, Admiral and Prince-Consort Chandler. Captain Serrano, welcome to New York.”

Nathan walked out onto the stage, his face flushed and tight, his hands balled into tightly clenched fists at his side. Ignoring the chair, he crossed the stage until he stood directly in front of Karen Hall. “Captain Serrano, if you will take . . .”

The sharp crack of his open hand striking her cheek echoed across the studio and over the live CNN feed to millions of homes across the globe. The anchor woman looked up in shock as he swung another blow, this one back-handed, and toppled her from her chair onto the carpeted studio floor . . . and this time the blood flew, splattering across the stage and clothing of her other guests, who quickly stood up and moved away.

“How dare you, you miserable jealous hag, speak of her Imperial Majesty in that manner? In my presence, no less,” Nathan snarled, breathing heavily through his nose as he ignored the cameras, the shocked guests, and the CNN studio crew alike. But although shocked, the cameraman keep on rolling and the studio producer keep the live feed streaming out into the ether.

Several staffers came running onto the stage, one of them wiping the blood of Hall’s split lip from her face. She sputtered, and tried to stand, but fell, and then, helped by two of her aides, managed to get her feet underneath her.

“SECURITY!” she shrieked, as the cameras continued to roll. “I want this man arrested!”

Nathan’s mouth turned up in crooked grin. “You call those spineless thugs security? My own detail is real security, Miss Hall. This interview is over,” he said as he turned away and began to walk off-stage.

“I’ll sue you,” the anchor screamed at his back. “I’ll sue you and your Empress-whore alike.”

Nathan stopped and shook his head. And then he turned back to face Hall again. “Are you really that much of an idiot? You must have a death wish, Miss Hall. But, as Father always said, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” And then he moved back towards her, his fist balled and his arm cocked back.

The staffers took one look at the furious officer and lifted Hall aloft and rushed her from the stage, away from the man about to beat her (and maybe them) into a senseless pulp.

The Imperial officer stopped and unclenched his fist, and released his breath. And then her turned to face the cameras, still carrying the images and sounds live across the world. “Remember this, people of Earth. We don’t play by your rules. To all of the commentators and journalists out there, consider this your first and last warning before you insult Caesar Julia again in a public forum. Miss Hall is still alive since you appear to need to receive a lesson in common courtesy. Next time, neither I, nor any other Imperial, will be so lenient towards the offender.”

The cameras still rolling, Captain Serrano nodded politely to Professor Leshy, walked off of the set, and exited stage left.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 05:58pm
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Chapter Four (cont.)

“Mister President, Admiral Chandler is here,” Tom said as he walked into the Oval Office. He grinned as he continued, “And he even agreed to hand his sidearm over to the Secret Service and leave the Praetorians behind.”

Michael sat back in his chair, frowning as he mused over that course he hoped that this meeting would take. The Empire’s deal with Canada was still causing his stomach to churn with acid indigestion. How could Prime Minister Barclay and the Parliament just agree to hand over part of their land like that? And the looming massive infusion of hard currency into their economy, the world’s economy, just made things worse. Already, international banks had established a new credit category, one that held just two countries: Canada and the soon-to-form Imperial Enclave in British Columbia. Even with the sudden tremendous drop in prices for gold on the spot markets, the sheer amount of the precious metal that would soon be entering the world monetary supply was simply staggering. Canada’s government had announced plans to retire their nation’s debt within two years, despite announcing plans to triple the size of their military and begin their own space exploration program, further causing consternation in the financial world.

Didn’t Chandler and his Empress realize what they were doing to the global economy? To the American economy?

“Show him in, Tom, and then pull up a chair,” he finally said as he stood and walked over towards the twin sofas in the center of the Oval Office.

Moments later, the door opened once more and his political strategist and chief of staff ushered in his guest. Michael forced himself to smile and he extended his hand in welcome. Jason nodded and took the hand in a firm grip, shaking it once, and then he sat down with the President, facing him across the low table.

“Care for some coffee or other refreshment, Admiral Chandler?” the President asked as he sat as well.

“No, but thank you anyway, Mister President. I should also thank you for granting me this audience on Her Imperial Majesty’s behalf. My own staff laid odds of 4-to-1 against after that little bout of gunfire in New York.”

Michael and Tom both politely chuckled, and then the President leaned forward.

“Speaking of New York, you do realize there is a warrant out for the arrest of Captain Serrano?”

“Yes,” Jason coldly replied. “But unless the local police grow wings it will be a cold day in Hell before he appears before them.”

The President held up one hand in a calming gesture. “I understand, really I do. But, you must understand, he committed assault and battery on live television. He has to stand trial for that.”

“Bullshit. Issue him a pardon, Mister President; that action is well within your purview.”

“Why would I do that, Admiral?”

Jason mirrored the President, resting his own elbows on his thighs, interlacing his fingers and leaned forward. “Because you and I are about to make a deal, Mister President.”

“What kind of a deal, Admiral?”

“The kind of deal that will have you and yours singing hosannas about the Empire of Humanity. The kind of deal that will let you keep every last one of those campaign promises you made, and will cost you very, very little in the short term.”

“And in the long-term?”

Jason shrugged. “It might bite you on your ass, but not if you deal with us fairly. Do you know how we Imperial subjects and citizens feel about terrorism, Mister President?”

“Not really, no.”

“It is an abomination before God and mankind. Random violence directed at civilians going about their daily lives; none of us like it, and we’ve had a lot of experience combating it. The Age of Terror in which you live is ramping up to get a whole lot worse, Mister President. In the future which I used to live, our history books teach us that in less than four years New York, London, and Paris will be hit by fanatics using nuclear weapons produced in Iran with rebel Pakistani assistance. Los Angeles, Washington, and Berlin will also be targeted, but those weapons will be either intercepted or fail to detonate. Millions will die from the initial blast and the fall-out; and you will be held to account for letting it happen. Twelve days before the next Presidential election you will suffer the greatest tragedy ever to befall this nation, and the voters will blame you for failing to protect them.”

President Gavin sat back heavily against the sofa, his mouth agape. Jason nodded his head. “Yes, your defeat is only a small part of what happens afterwards. Your successor—and no, I will not tell you his or her name—will order two Ohio class missile subs to strike Iran, and then Iran will hit Israel in retaliation. The IDF will respond, so will Egypt and Saudi Arabia; Iraq and Syria and the Gulf will explode in violence, and following the destruction of Jerusalem by another nuclear weapon, a renegade Israeli pilot will get through everything the Saudias can put in his path and Mecca will burn, incensing Muslims around the globe. That is when the real Jihad begins, Mister President. A real honest to God all-up war, on the scale of the two World Wars, will break out. A war that will take twenty-six years for the West to win and will consume nearly half a billion lives. Not to mention the Pan-African Conflict that is scheduled to start and will drown that continent in blood for the next two decades.”

Michael blinked. What the man sitting across from him was describing was nothing less than Armageddon.

“It doesn’t have to happen,” Jason said as he sat back, crossing his arms across his body.

“How can we stop it?” the President whispered.

“You can’t. I can. And my Empress has authorized me to make the following proposal to you; take it or leave it, but it stands as is.”

“Go on.”

“We will share any information we have on those who will be responsible for the attacks with your intelligence services, along with those of several other nations that we believe we can trust. Knowing how they smuggle the devices in, you should be able to intercept them and heighten your own security; or failing that,” and Jason shrugged as he continued, “you can just kill the terrorists ahead of time.”

“Of course, that doesn’t mean the attacks will not happen; the time-line is already changed by our very presence. But knowing the hows and whys and whos should let you stop this attack, or other similar attacks, in our present time. Regardless of what you do or do not agree to today, that information is yours; Her Imperial Majesty insisted upon that. Personally, I would have used it as a bargaining chip, but she feels differently.”

As Jason paused, the President and his Chief of Staff exchanged and glance, and then Tom nodded and the President looked back at Jason and motioned for him to continue.

“We are already looking ahead at integrating our technology with your own, but not at the cost of being rendered irrelevant. Once we establish a presence within the Enclave, we will set up facilities to begin producing equipment and weapons for a global defense force, one that we hope the United States will contribute to. Those forces will remain under Imperial control, Mister President, along with several planetary defense complexes we have plans to construct, both on Earth and the Moon. Fragmented as this world is, and with all of the chaos history tells us to expect in the coming years, we will not allow any proliferation of our military technologies. You people do enough damage to yourselves without having our arsenal in your hands as well.”

“But there are other technologies, some which do have minor military applications. Against my better judgment and advice, Caesar Julia has instructed me to offer some of that technology to your nation. We can discuss the full list later, and quite frankly, Mister President, some of the items on that list will take you decades to figure out how to mass produce. But two of them are just barely manageable with your technology of today: fusion power generators and high-capacity superconducting batteries.”

“The fusion plant design plans are some of the earliest working examples ever invented, but they do work. They are bulky, far too bulky to fit in any of your wet-navy ships, but they will provide you with clean and abundant supplies of energy. The batteries will transform your transportation sector completely. Each individual cell has a storage capacity three orders of magnitude greater than any battery that currently exists. Picture an automobile, Mister President, with an electric motor. Now imagine driving that vehicle from New York to Los Angeles and back again on a single charge.”

“The batteries do have military applications, but they are almost obsolete technology in our time, ever since the development of grav-fusion fuel cells. In short, Mister President, we are offering you cheap, virtually unlimited power generation on scale that only your science fiction authors have heretofore dreamed off, along with an opportunity to convert your cars and trucks and trains to electricity. Neither technology produces much in the way of emissions, so you can tell your left-wing in this country that you are doing it for the environment.”

“And as for the pollution that exists now in your air and water and soil? You cannot produce the items included on Her Majesty’s little list that are capable of breaking down the toxins and scrubbing the environment clean, but, but,” and here Jason beamed a smile at the two other men in the room, “we will provide the equipment and training in how to use it. Given the sheer size of your nation, it will probably takes two or three years before all of the poisons are leeched from the air, soil, and water, but you can deal with local problems in a much shorter time frame. For example, the contamination from the pipeline in the Gulf the terrorists blew up two years ago that you are still trying to clean up? Our technology will enable you to remove all of the sludge and tar balls and chemical residue within the next three months, leaving behind only clean water and soil. The greenies will fall in love with your administration, despite your political affiliations, and that alone, Mister President, will alleviate several of your headaches domestically.”

Tom and Michael both slowly nodded their heads in agreement, the President’s jaw hanging slightly loose in shock.

“That is part of what we will provide for you domestically, Mister President. As for your foreign affairs, you do recall that I said we Imperials dislike terrorism, yes?”

“That is what you said,” Michael replied softly.

“Her Imperial Majesty has instructed me, as Warlord of the Empire of Humanity, to offer you our aid and assistance in rooting out this abomination to mankind. In short, Mister President, we intend to stop the terrorists, of any faith, creed, or affiliation; starting, of course, with your little dust-up in Afghanistan and Pakistan. How would like to announce to the American people that your troops are coming home; not in two years, not in six months, but now?”

“We can’t, Admiral Chandler,” the President sighed. “We have an obligation, not just to the people of those countries that want to be free, but to our own dead, and to our allies. I would welcome any additional troops that you want to contribute, but I cannot back away from this fight.”

“I think you under-estimate our capabilities. If you agree and ask for our aid and assistance, than we will commit the 501st to action in that theatre of operations, among others, and will shut down the terror cells and rebels within a few months at the most. However, if we go in, then we are in command. You can pull your own forces back, or keep them in theatre, but keep them out of our way,” Jason said as he sat back and smiled wryly. “We do have substantial experience with counter-insurgency from our on-again off-again war against the Confederation in our own time. Plus, it will give you, and other world leaders, a good chance to see exactly what my boys can do when they take on a task. Not to mention it will give the Legion a chance to shoot something, and with the mood they are in, well, let us say that it would be better to have those troopers over there than cooped up on Vancouver Island with a bunch of civilians.”

“I think I will take that cup of tea, now, Mister President,” his guest said as he crossed his arms and sat back once more.

Tom stood and walked to the door while Michael considered carefully the full extent of what Chandler had just said. The power plants and batteries were one huge carrot, not to mention those devices that would clean the environment. And he was certainly right about the effect such an announcement would have on the left. And the second part! If they could do this, if he could bring the boys home, then his re-election would be almost certain.

The chief of staff returned, bearing a platter holding a teapot and two cups. Setting it on the table, he poured a cup for the President, and then a second one for the Admiral. The Imperial lifted his cup and saucer and took a long sip and sighed.

Much better than the stuff we have aboard ship, Mister President. Much.”

“Well, Admiral, the White House staff prides itself on stocking the finest teas and coffees grown around the world. Can you Legion really do this; can they do this by themselves, without any assistance? There are only twenty-three thousand of them, after all.”

“We can, Mister President, and we will; if you let us,” Jason said between sips. And then he set the cup down. “But if we do this, we want a free hand. General Tuturola will run operations, including any combined ops between my Legion, your forces, and NATO. And we will do so in our own way. In return, we expect your full support, or at the very least your silence. Not so much as one single e-mail or press conference or confidential source to the media protesting over our methods from inside your government.”

“What do you intend to do?”

“Do you really care? Give us three months and the war will be over in both Afghanistan and Pakistan; and then we can turn our attention to the little problem of Iran and its role in what the future holds—and I don’t think the mullahs and their Revolutionary Council are going to like we are going to demand from them in exchange for allowing them to keep their heads on their own shoulders. On Monday morning of next week, Caesar Julia will be announcing to the entire world our stance on terrorism. We will declare war on those bastards and go after them all, regardless of where they hide, with the both the Fleet Marines and the Legion. If we must, we will stamp out this disease cell-by-cell, and we have the capability to do just that, between the Fleet, the Marines, and the Legion. At this very moment, Captain Serrano is in Moscow, having a similar talk with their President and Prime Minister. If they agree, then we will handle Chechnya for them, the same way we will handle the sandbox for you. Other governments, the Filipinos, Indonesians, and Kenyans among them, will get the same offer as well.”

“Twenty-three thousand men cannot handle all of that!” Tom blurted out.

Jason smiled, but this smile had little warmth. “Tell me that in three months, Mister Heath.”

“And in return for all of this, Admiral, what exactly do you want?” the President asked.

“Diplomatic immunity for all of my people when on US soil. Retroactively from the day we arrived in orbit. No interference with any US citizen or resident that seeks to join the Imperial armed forces. No interference with any US citizen or resident that wishes to emigrate to the Imperial Enclave. You will make no attempt to tax any Imperial subject or citizen, including those who retain US citizenship, nor will you attempt to tax or lay tariffs against any corporation based in the Enclave.”

“The United States will recognize that any current governing body on this planet, or part thereof, which asks to be incorporated into the Empire of Humanity and whose request is accepted, as an integral part of the Empire, and subject solely to our laws and regulations. We will not join your United Nations, nor will be subject to any procedure of your International Courts. Any treaties the Empire enters into, you will respect and acknowledge as valid.”

“And for all of this, we will end the threat of nuclear terrorism, end the Jihad against the West, and hopefully bring some sanity back to you people. Not to mention beginning to work with your defense companies and military to plan operations against the Ordan-Kraal, for they are coming, Mister President. And this planet has to be ready, unless you want to see three or four or five billion dead and the survivors fertility reduced to the point the survival of our entire species is threatened.”

“So tell me, Mister President: deal or no deal?”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 06:16pm
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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 09:26pm
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Chapter Five

“Ridiculous, Mister President!” exclaimed the Speaker of the House from his seat across the table. “This is nothing less than the surrender of our sovereignty to a gang of high-tech barbarians! You are not seriously considering this proposal, are you?”

“Jake, we have to take a hard look at what they are offering, and then determine what points we will, and which we will not, contest,” Michael answered calmly, even as the remainder of the congressional delegation finished reading their copy of the succinct report Tom had prepared on his instructions.

Senator Morand, the majority leader of the Republicans in the Senate, was also shaking his head. “Somehow, I am reminded of the fact that we bought Manhattan Island from the Native Americans for forty dollars worth of glass beads. This deal has that specific odor to it.”

The President nodded as he leaned back in his chair, one arm propped up on its elbow. “The batteries and power plants are something we need, and these ecological recovery devices,” the President shook his head in amazement once again, remembering the demonstration of Chandler’s men had shown him last night, “my God, people, we can actually put an end to pollution. Furthermore, with their assistance we can end the Civil War in Pakistan, finish our mission in Afghanistan, and have our people home by Christmas.”

“That alone would be worth coming to arrangement with them, Mister President,” wheezed one of his former rivals for the presidency. Senator Kessler smoothed out the top sheet of the report, and then he continued. “However, this provision about recognizing any current governing body on this planet, or part thereof, which asks to be incorporated into the Empire of Humanity and whose request is accepted, as an integral part of the Empire, ladies and gentlemen,” he said as he shook his head, “this could balkanize our nation.”

Jake Takai snorted. “It is the red states that are liable to go, Senator, being gun-nuts and right-wingers and half-savage themselves. Good riddance to them,” and to their counter-productive elected representatives standing in the way of real progress, he thought.

“Do you think this will stop at Alabama and Arkansas and Alaska, Mister Speaker?” the old man sharply replied. “What happens to this country when they agree to put a new factory in Ohio, if Ohio asks to join up? Or if California jumps ship when the Imperials agree to absorb their debt? The entire country is one nation, whether you like it or not, and this provision is the single most dangerous idea I have ever seen.”

“I agree, John,” the President said, “and so does Tom. We cannot sign any treaty with them that includes that provision, but to tell the truth I am a little more than concerned about this part covering diplomatic immunity, and that they want us to look the other way in their handling of the terror problem. Are we sure that we really want to deal with these people?”

“It’s like making a deal with the devil, Mister President,” Amanda Vance, Vice-President of the United States, said from her end of the table. “What they are offering could launch us into a period of prosperity unparalleled in our history, but there are loopholes and catches, and God help us if we fail to parse their words exactly. We need to establish a working group—Justice, State, Defense, Commerce, Treasury, Homeland Security, NSA, and CIA—and determine exactly what we can accept and what we cannot. I’d be happy to head that up for you, Mister President.”

And the bickering began as seven Democrats, nine Republicans, and five Independents began to argue over who would chair the committee and present its recommendations to the President. Michael shook his head and loosened his tie; time to roll up the sleeves and go to work, he thought.

*****************************************************

Across the globe, other meetings by governments—democratic, autocratic, and theocratic alike—took place in similar, if less familiar, rooms. Leaders of nations throughout the world argued over the points of what would become known in the days ahead as ‘The Proposal’.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 10:17pm
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Chapter Five (cont.)

“Corp, why did they pick us for this detail?” Charlie asked as the ramp of the Intruder slowly lowered itself towards the ground.

Frasier Blenheim, Corporal in Her Imperial Majesty’s Marine Corps, sighed inside his armor. It wasn’t fair, he thought. He had been short-time; and suddenly this load of crap? Discharges were delayed for the immediate future, he had been told; but at least Centurion Yarrow had not taken away his fire-team, even if that did mean he still got to ride herd on the kid.

“Well, last time Her Imperial Majesty had me over for tea and crumpets Charlie, I remember her telling me just that . . . NO, WAIT! She’s never had me, and I’ve never had tea and crumpets.”

The two other members of his team chuckled, and Frasier could just picture the kid blushing again inside his armor. “Seriously, Private, it doesn’t matter why they picked us; we are Marines and we have a job to do. Focus on that and leave the worrying to people who actually get paid for that.”

“Corp,” one of others chimed in, “does that mean I can submit a payroll voucher for time spent worrying?”

“You go right ahead and do that Johansson,” Frasier replied. “I’ll make sure it gets to Centurion Yarrow first thing tomorrow, and then maybe I can get a real Marine as a replacement while you are in the body shop.”

More chuckles erupted across the squad tactical net as the ramp made contact with the ground below and locked into place.

“Heads up, Marines!” Frasier called out. “Fire Team Bravo, disembark and form up on the ready line!”

The four Marines, and the other one hundred and forty-eight troopers of Centurion Yarrow’s Delta Century (restored to full strength by the transfer of Marines from other ship’s complements), moved quickly down the ramp and into formation to one side of the massive bulk of the shuttle in the middle of United States Army base in the heart of the Mojave Desert.

Camp Irwin was the home of the US National Training Center, the primary base where the Regular Army honed their war-fighting skills against the men (and now women) of the Opposition Force, OpFor for short. It seemed that someone on high wanted to impress to the Americans (and through them, their NATO allies) just how effective Imperial equipment was. So Delta got tagged to come down and play soldier against the entire Brigade sized OpFor.

A mere 152 officers, NCOs, and men arrayed against more than two thousand; Imperial Marine battle-armor against local IFVs, Main Battle Tanks, and artillery.

But before the games could begin, Delta had to demonstrate how deadly their weapons were, so that the referees could assign a damage value to them in the base computer network. When the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had proposed the wargame, Admiral Chandler knew what he was really after; real-world tactical information on their systems. But Jason just smiled and agreed; after all, there was little enough that the locals could do to replicate the systems in question. And he knew exactly the unit to send to Death Valley.

So, now, as payment for the repeated sins of their Centurion, Delta was once again at the sharp end of the stick while the other jarheads aboard Reprisal were lounging in their bunks or watching ConFed porn. Life sucks, thought Frasier sourly.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-09 10:26pm
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Chapter Five (cont.)

“I was rather impressed with your equipment, General Tuturola,” Brigadier General Kelly Tantaros said as the two stood in the center of the dimly lit Operations Center of the NTC. Dozens of wall-mounted screens surrounded them, showing icons representing units (both US Army and IMC) as well as terrain, weather, and much, much more. Specialists manned consoles, monitoring the equipment that would measure the engagement when it began.

“Not my equipment, General Tantaros,” replied. “I’m a tanker by trade, not some jar-head gun-bunny.”

“But you use basically the same gear, right?”

“To some degree, yes, that is true. The standard Marine infantry battle armor is basically the same as that of my own infantry troops. But those troopers are light infantry, Gen . . . oh, hell. What do say I call you Kelly and you call me Miles?”

“Begging the General’s pardon,” the American replied with a wide grin, “but my understanding of Imperial ranks is that yours is superior to my own. It just wouldn’t be proper for me to call you anything but ‘General’ or ‘Sir’. Now, I have no problem with you calling me by my first name, and really couldn’t complain to anyone if you did.”

Miles Tuturola frowned as he pulled a small metal case from his jacket pocket and tapped it into his palm twice. “Bullshit. That pale blue ribbon with the stars means you rate a salute from any man, any service, regardless of rank. Oh, yes,” he continued as he nodded his head at Kelly’s surprised expression, “we remember what that little patch of cloth and metal means. Hell, we consider the Imperial Medal of Honor its direct spiritual descendent. So call me Miles.”

The Imperial General opened the case, and extracted a single brown cigarette from within. He put the case back inside his jacket, and placed the stick in his mouth, the end automatically igniting as he sucked in first air and then smoke.

“This is a no-smoking area, Miles,” Kelly said with a chuckle.

“The smoke is bad for the equipment?”

“No sir. The Federal government of the United States of America has decreed no smoking in any building owned by the aforementioned government. Including this one.”

“You are joking.”

“No sir.”

Miles shook his head, and took another drag. “Good thing I outrank you and those MPs outside. Want one?” he asked, reaching for his jacket again. A grinning Kelly shook his head.

“Next thing you’ll tell me is they don’t allow liquor on ships,” he said, and stopped suddenly at Kelly’s expression. “On second thought, don’t tell me. Back to the point, Fleet Marine Force expects to be involved primarily in close-quarters combat, boarding actions and the like. And that is the majority of the Corps; century and cohort scale units, company and battalion in your terms, intended for shipboard security and short, sharp actions in confined spaces. Oh, the Corps has several large formations much like my Legion built to go in and take a landing zone as well, but even a Marine Assault Legion is primarily comprised of light infantry.”

“But the Fleet Marines, they operate with very little dedicated support, engineers, armor, artillery, and logistics, other than what their ship can provide. Because of that, they expect to have to carry everything they need on their backs. My boys are heavy infantry, with their own integral armored combat vehicles that deliver them to and from the battlefield. The vehicles carry the heavy weapons and supplies for my boys that the Marines have to haul around, and they can also recharge spent grav-fusion fuel cells from their onboard reactors. Our suits have about half the endurance without dedicated logistical support, but because of that we can—and do—pack on even more arms, armor, and ammunition than the Marines.”

“Your infantry are more heavily armored than those Marines?” the American asked with a shocked expression. “How much more?”

“About a quarter again as much, give or take a few percentage points. The Legion suits are tougher than those of the Marines, and we carry roughly half again as much ammunition, plus a few of our own tricks and trade secrets as well as some additional weapon systems. The down-side is that we are not quite as nimble as unburdened Marine suits, but the difference is not too bad, especially considering we can take, and lay down, heavier fire.”

Kelly frowned as he considered what the Imperial had said. Tests here at the NTC had confirmed that the suits of battle armor worn by the Marines were nearly invulnerable to small arms fire, only a heavy caliber armor-piercing round, such as a .338 magnum or .50 caliber BMG, had a chance to penetrate the chest, back, or head, although the limbs could be pierced by lighter slugs . . . sometimes. If the suits used by the Legions were even tougher . . . he shook his head. “I think tonight’s exercise is going to be interesting,” he finished quietly, not wanting to consider what lay at the end of that stream of thought.

“Interesting? I think you could say that,” Miles answered with a wide smile. “The Centurion commanding those Marines out there in the desert; well, let’s just say he is about as unconventional as they come. Interesting? Lord yes.”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 11:22am
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Chapter Five (cont.)

“Corp, are we going to use all this stuff?”

“What? You mean you actually believe that Centurion Yarrow cleaned out ships stores just so you could lug an additional two hundred kilos on your back half-way across this desert and spend an extra fourteen hours cleaning it before you turned it back in to the armory?” Frasier sarcastically replied.

“Yes,” chimed in Johansson and Belk, the fourth member of his team.

“Stow it, you two apes, and keep your eyes peeled for the locals. Look, Charlie, we are going up against one of best trained units on this dirt-ball and they got tanks. They might be shitty tanks, but they are real honest-to-God tanks. About a hundred of those damned ground-crawlers. How many Thunderbolts do we have assigned to our unit?”

“One hundred and fifty-two, Corporal; one per man.”

“Correct. Now, they also got around two hundred of those tracked infantry carriers they use as scouts, plus some fifty-odd helicopters. How many is that in total?”

“About three fifty, Corp.”

“Once again, you are right. Belk, give the kid a cigar!”

The Marine grunted in reply as he scanned the desert terrain they were racing across.

“Now, do you think we can take out that many armored vehicles with one hundred and fifty-two Thunderbolts, Charlie?”

“No, Corporal,” the rookie whispered over the comm.

“Good, we might make you into a Marine yet, kid. Yes, this gear is heavy. Yes, it is draining your power reserves hauling it. But it just might make the difference between winning and losing. I’ve lost a time or two before, Charlie, but I’ve never acquired the taste for it. Have you?”

“NO, CORPORAL!”

“Uh-rah, Marine. And if I’m not mistaken, right over there is the hilltop Gunny Valjean told us to set up the observation post on.”

Fifty meters ahead of the rest of the fire-team, Johansson suddenly raised his right fist, and came to a halt, crouching down low in the dark night. Behind him, the three other Marines stopped as well, their weapons spread to cover all approaches around them.

“Talk to me, Johansson,” Frasier whispered, even as beads of sweat slowly rolled down his neck.

“Seems like we are not the only ones who thought this bit of terrain was pretty good, Corp; I’ve got movement on the hill. Infantry and vehicles, and they are digging in deep.”

“Delta Two-Six, Two-Bravo Six. Hill 403 occupied by enemy forces.” Frasier did a thermal sweep with his sensors, and his suit display indicated between forty and sixty shifting man-sized signatures, and more than dozen larger ones that could only be vehicles. “Estimate one company, infantry and vehicles, type unknown. Over.”

“Delta Two-Bravo, Two-Six. Copy your last. Delta Two diverting to 407. Dig in and keep eyes on hostiles. Over.”

“Digging in and keeping watch, Two-Six. Two-Bravo out.”

Frasier looked at the menacing, low-slung vehicles on the hill two kilometers away and swore. “All right, you heard the LT, let’s get cracking; sun is up in four, and I don’t think it would be healthy for any of us if they spot us then.”

Each suit of Marine armor featured a small plate magnetically locked against one thigh. Frasier reached down, and activated the unit. It released from the armor and locked onto his left hand, allowing him to use that limb as a make-shift spade. Slowly sinking down to the ground, and laying flat against it, he began to move earth, forming a shallow firing pit with a low berm of raised soil between him and the enemy. The others did the same, moving slowly and cautiously, so as not to raise a dust cloud that might be spotted.

When it was deep enough, the Corporal rolled into the depression in the desert floor and returned the shovel head to his leg. Opening yet another compartment, he extracted and then unfolded a square of camouflage netting some four meters across, and using the half-dozen composite telescoping spikes that came with it, suspended the thin material above and around him. Taking the free end of a cable attached to the netting, he plugged it into a port on his armor, activating the reactive camo. His suit computer thought for a micro-second as it compared stored patterns with the terrain surrounding Fire Team Bravo, and then it picked one. Within a minute, the netting had shifted color, blending into the desert sand and rocks and brush around him. To his sides, and behind him, the edges of the netting lowered itself to the ground and micro-gravity generators locked them in place, leaving only the ground in front of him open. The computer send a second command and the supple material stiffened, appearing to anyone outside as nothing more than an irregular boulder protruding from the sandy desert floor.

Frasier raised his right arm, and extended it, and with it, the Reaper pulse cannon, over the lip of the small berm; the muzzle and rotating barrels free of all obstruction. Switching his sensors to the gun camera located in the center of the Reapers five-barrels, he scanned the hilltop once more. Satisfied that his field of fire was clear, he sent one more command to the netting, and the forward opening drew itself closed. His sensors could still see out in every direction, but (hopefully) no one could see in.

He took a sip of water from the nipple on the inside of his helmet, and looked at the status of his team on his secondary monitor. Each of whom had finished erecting their own hide. Now, if they didn’t spot us getting into position, maybe we are home free, he thought. Maybe.

“Belk, Johansson. Get some shuteye, two hours. Charlie, I’ve got the hill; you stay put and use your sensors, PASSIVE MODE ONLY, to watch for anyone else. If you see so much as two rats that decide to get freaky I want to know if he satisfied her. Got it?”

Three voices quietly whispered in reply. “Aye-aye, Corp.”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 11:25am
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Chapter Five (cont.)

An explosion of white smoke, streaked with bits of soil and rock erupted six meters away from Saul Yarrow as he dove for the cover of a boulder. Cursing, he waited for his armor to shut down, but the computer ruled he had managed to avoid most of the shrapnel, suffering only than minor damage.

“Gunny, I do believe these boys have a hard-on for us,” he spoke over the company tactical net.

“They are a mite aggressive, Sir.”

“Options?”

“Their infantry is inconsequential, even with those light-weight anti-armor missiles. Our suits are too fast and mobile; any hit is pure luck if we keep moving. It’s this damnable artillery that’s murdering us, Sir.”

“Agreed,” Saul said sourly as he scanned the HUD showing his company status. Twenty men down, but the remainder was moving from position to position, ripping into the Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles charging at them upslope. Still more of the desert camouflaged armored vehicles sat hull-down behind a distant ridge, giving covering fire to the charge.

Damn, he thought to himself. I warned the boys not to get overconfident, and what do I do? Get stuck in good; too deep to extract and not close enough for them to suffer friendly fire. All right, you screwed up, Saul, but it’s time to change the game plan.

“PARSONS!” he bellowed.

“Sir!” answered the marine from forty meters away, his Reaper spitting fire into the side of a Bradley. As the MILES gear aboard the vehicle registered the hits, the NTC mainframe ordered it to shut down and the smoke generator began to pour thick, oily, black plumes into the air.

“You still got the package?”

“Yes, sir,” the Marine replied.

“All Delta units, lay down covering fire and then hunker down. Evac ten seconds after computer simulated detonation. Parsons, you know what to do.”

“Aye, aye, Sir.”

More than one hundred Imperial marines rose up and poured pulse cannon rounds and grenades into the oncoming wave of American tanks and infantry carriers. A dozen Thunderbolt missiles were triggered, the training warheads screaming down-range towards the heavy tanks of their foes. The Imperials moved as they fired, even as more simulated artillery rounds impact across the ridge, causing five more suits to shift in Saul’s HUD to ‘destroyed’. Dozens of vehicles began to spew smoke, red flashing lights indicating they had been killed in the barrage, even as their compatriots on overwatch intensified their own fire.

“Choppers!” screamed out one voice over the tac-net. Overhead, Saul heard the Apaches swarm in close, salvoing pods of rockets, 30mm cannon, and Hellfire missiles into the melee, and more of his Marines went off-line.

But the Imperial Centurion ignored the attack helicopters as he watched one individual suit of Marine armor weave and dodge across the kilometer wide valley, evading the enemy fire as it began to zoom up the opposite slope. “Come on, Parsons,” he whispered. “Go, go, go.”

The Marine reached the summit, and a hail-storm of small-arms fire splattered against his armor.

“DELTA! Cover now, now, NOW!” Saul yelled as he ceased firing and dropped to the ground, followed by all of the Marines except Lance Corporal Olin Parsons. Caught in the cross-fire of a full battalion of the OpFor, Parsons’ armor jerked as its computer simulated the damage it was taking, but the Marine had prepared for that. The man-portable HELL bomb was fused to detonate when his onboard systems finally failed.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 11:31am
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Chapter Five (cont.)

“WHAT THE HELL!” one of the controllers in the NTC command center blurted as every screen watching the battle suddenly filled momentarily with static. As each monitor came back to life, the computers considered what had happened, and reached a conclusion. Every US vehicle and soldier on the ridge, or the valley below, or the sky above, began to flash the red strobe of a destroyed unit, along with one single suit of Imperial Battle Armor.

Two full battalions (actually armored cavalry squadrons, but battalions was how Kelly thought of them) of the OpFor were gone, in simulation, of course. And the seventy-six surviving Marines were rapidly moving away from the engagement zone. Kelly turned to look at Miles, who shrugged.

“Lesson number six: never push an Imperial Marine too hard. I wondered why he had your geeks load the stats for that man-pack fusion warhead in your computers.”

“He used a NUKE?” Kelly whispered, his jaw dropping.

“We use ‘em all the time, General, because we play to win. Of course, ours don’t use fissile material so there is a lot less radiation, but each of my Legion’s mobile guns carry six Hell-rounds apiece. Yarrow didn’t have artillery, so it was a suicide charge, but I think he made his point.”

“HE USED A NUKE!”

“What is your problem? It was a clean, small tactical device, about twenty kilotons all together. Cost him one Marine who would have probably been killed anyway to take our more than half your total command. Now, if Yarrow had air-support, he wouldn’t have had to use a suicide charge like that. Your boys would have been ash long before now.”

“He used a nuke,” the Army General said for a third time and his face drained of all color as he considered what he was seeing before him; this man he might have called under differing circumstances a friend, but who had not one problem in the least with the use of battlefield tactical nuclear devices.

Miles smiled as he placed another cigarette in his mouth. “Yeah, Saul loves the damn things. Sometimes I think he sleeps with a warhead in his bunk. Probably has it dolled in makeup and a wig, too. But that’s Marines for you; more balls than brains sometimes.”

The Imperial general slapped Kelly on the shoulder. “Cheer up; you’ve still got that third cohort . . . squadron, battaltion, whever you call it . . . and what’s left of your airborne force, and the majority of your artillery. I doubt even Saul brought more than two or three of those firecrackers to the party, so your team has still got a good chance to pull victory from the jaws of defeat.”

*****************************************************

“Mother of God,” the OpFor operations officer whispered from inside the air-conditioned Tactical Operations Command vehicle. His glassy eyed expression was mirrored by many of the staff.

“Pull it together,” snapped the executive officer, who was now the man in command on the ground. “Do we have any drones still functional in the area?”

“Yes, sir, there is one circling about twelve klicks out,” one of the enlisted staff members said. “It was far enough away to survive the blast with only minor systems damage.”

“So we still have those bastards on camera?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Get me the rocket battery CO. NOW, people.”

*****************************************************

On Hill 403, six MLRS launchers received the fire order and unlocked the launchers from their travel position. Sirens sounded as the twelve-cell rocket pods began to swivel to face south-east, towards the rapidly moving Imperial Marines. Seventy-two 227mm rockets would have been fired in a normal battle, but this was an exercise. Still, the computers treated the simulated launch just as if the actual weapons were in the air.

*****************************************************

In the mind’s eye of the computer, 1s and 0s representing the hundreds of armor-piercing bomblets began to rain down on the Imperial Marines of Delta Company. No single charge could penetrate the suits armor—on the chest, back, or head that is. Suits began to shut down as they registered hits to the arms and legs, and lethal wounds to the Marines within.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 11:37am
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Chapter Five (cont.)

“Delta Two-Bravo Six, Delta Two-Six. Over.”

Frasier instantly woke as he heard his platoon leader’s voice. “Two-Six, Two-Bravo Six. Go ahead.”

“Centurion Yarrow is down, so are most of Delta One, Three, and Four. We need to take out that damned artillery. Over.”

“Roger that, Two-Six. When can we expect support? Over.”

“Negative on support. Remainder of Delta Two will be engaging other targets. Can you take out the rocket launchers on 403? Over.”

“Uh-rah, Two-Six. Over.”

“Good hunting, Two-Bravo. Delta Two-Six out.”

Frasier shook the last of the sleep from his head as he ran the passive sensor sweep one more time. Six tracked rocket launchers, six reloading vehicles just beginning to rearm the launchers, nine tanks, thirteen infantry carriers, and two mortar carriers sat on the crest of the hill before him, along with sixty-to-eighty infantry. Shit.

“All right, boys. You heard the man; Delta is in trouble and we gotta take that little hill to get the arty off of their backs. We open up with Thunderbolts on the reloading vehicles; Belk and N’Buta take the remaining two with Reaper fire; if we get lucky, maybe the secondaries will take out of some of the rest of that contingent. Johansson, I want covering fire from your Ripper as we advance on the hill; keep their heads down. Ignore the grunts and mortar tracks; we take out the rest with the satchel charges Yarrow had us haul. Understood?”

Three voices came back, all answering in the affirmative. “Uh-rah, Marines. Charlie, you stick to me like glue; where I go, you go. Belk, do what you do best.”

“Why sure, Corp, but where are we going to find any women to seduce way out here?”

“And all this time I thought you had to pay for it Belk. We go in five.”

*****************************************************

The four Marines suddenly emerged from their hide, a quartet of Thunderbolts streaking down-range. Three Reapers and a Ripper spat fire as the troopers closed the distance at a speed of almost forty kilometers per hour.

The battery, and its security troop, was taken completely off-guard, for nothing had been in range just moments before. As one, four of the reloading vehicles began pouring out smoke amid flashing lights, and then they were joined by the last two. The NTC computers emotionlessly ruled that the munitions on five of the six were detonated by the hostile fire; the resulting explosions were powerful enough to not only take out the rocket launchers, but the battery fire-direction control center, three Bradley fighting vehicles, and two dozen infantry caught in the open.

And then the Marines were among them. Weaving and dodging like iron butterflies, the four began slapping satchel charges on the hulls and turrets of the vehicles. Each of the twenty-kilo charges magnetically locked onto the target and then detonated, sending a plume of super-heated plasma deep inside, simulated, of course. But more and more of the American vehicles were flashing red.

*****************************************************

“Where the Hell did they come from?” shrieked a sergeant from the gunner’s seat of one of the Abrams.

“Stay with me, Hendricks!” snapped the staff sergeant in the commander’s seat, as he traversed the turret. “TARGET, armored infantry!”

“Target, armored infantry,” the gunner replied. “Load Beehive!”

“UP!” yelled the loader as he slammed the fifty pound shell simulator into the breach of the 120mm gun.

“ON THE WAY!” the gunner screamed as he jerked the firing trigger.

*****************************************************

The Beehive round was technically no longer in use by the United States Army; at least not since the end of the Vietnam War, when it was deemed a cruel and inhumane weapon. However, the recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Pakistan had convinced several key procurement officers to quietly arrange for a limited number of the shells to be produced for the Abrams main gun. Nothing more elaborate than the canister shells used in the Napoleonic and Civil Wars, the Beehive contained two hundred and forty half-inch diameter steel balls, propelled by twenty pounds of gun-power. When fired, it turned the 120mm smoothbore gun of the Abrams tank into the world’s biggest shotgun.

*****************************************************

“Belk is down; the tanks have canister!” Charlie reported, even as another two tanks sprayed him with machine-gun fire, and a Bradley began coughing out twenty-five millimeter shells in his footsteps.

“Finish the tanks, GET THEM, GET THEM, GET THEM!” Frasier screamed as three IFVs caught him in a cross-fire of their Bushmaster cannons and his suit went dead.

Charlie raked the three infantry carriers with his Reaper, even as his contra-gravity assisted leap slammed him down atop the Abrams that killed Belk; the last operational American tank. Slapping the satchel charge in place, he failed to notice when Johansson killed yet another Bradley, just moments before it would have gunned down the rookie Marine. Diving to the side, the Private triggered the charge, and the final Abrams died amid the smoke and confusion. Slowly, the sounds of combat died away. From out of the smoke, Johansson emerged, his grenade launcher smoking with the heat caused by the continuous fire.

“Two-Six wants us to link up with Able team, boot. We’ve got ‘em on the run.”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 01:52pm
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Excellent. I'm enjoying this section a lot. It helps that it's not turning into a straight-out curb stomp. The OpFor are fighting intelligently and not simply as cannon fodder. Of course, that may be the point. As was mentioned, the Marines are considered to be light infantry.

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