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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: 2012-09-10 02:05pm
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masterarminas wrote:

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


*Admiral Ackbar* - "It's a trap!"



You will be assimilated...bunghole!

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 02:14pm
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Chapter Five (cont.)

“Show them in,” the President said quietly as he closed the door to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep. The secret service agent walked over to the door as Michael pulled his bathrobe tight against himself and sat down, a steaming cup of coffee already waiting for him on the table. He smiled, as President he had possibly the finest staff in the entire world; not his political staff, but the permanent White House personnel. Presidents came and went, political operatives came and went, but the House staff stayed on.

Admiral Martin and Tom were ushered in and Michael set down the cup and pointed at two chairs. “How did the exercise go?”

The navy officer drew in a deep breath as he winced at the question, and the President felt a shiver deep inside at his expression. Not good, apparently.

“Mister President,” Admiral Martin began, “the exercise was called two hours ago. At the time it ended, casualties for the OpFor, which is quite possibly the best trained force we have, had reached 92%; the vast majority of those were KIA, simulated KIA, of course.”

“And the Imperial forces?”

“They had forty-three surviving infantry out of an initial force of one hundred and fifty-two, or about 72% casualties. However, almost half of their own casualties were either damaged suits of armor or wounded that could be recovered.”

“So we can kill them if we have to,” the President mused.

“Mister President. That exercise was one company of their unsupported infantry against what amounted to one of our heavy brigades. They have twenty-six companies of Marines aboard their ships. We do not have twenty-six heavy brigades. And that does not include their Shock Legion which has heavy tanks and artillery of its own. Yes, we can hurt them; the question is will either of us have anything left when it is over!”

“And something else we need to consider, Sir,” Tom interjected. “They used simulated nuclear weapons in the exercise.”

“They what?” Michael nearly came out of his chair.

“According to General Tantaros at the NTC, they seem to regard it as normal operating procedure. General Tuturola, the Imperial Legion commander, made an offhand comment about his Legion having six ready-to-fire nuclear shells for each of his mobile field guns. Mister President,” said Admiral Martin, shaking his head in disbelief, “that is over twelve hundred tactical weapons for his Legion alone.”

Tom nodded in agreement. “It does not include any air-to-surface munitions, or even orbital bombardment. That number reflects their loadout for normal day-to-day operations. Tuturola even said that if heavy combat is expected, they will double or even triple the number of so-called ‘Hell’ munitions his vehicles carry.”

“How big are these weapons?”

“Roughly twenty kilotons Mister President,” answered the Admiral. “Or just about the same size as the bomb that leveled Nagasaki.”

“Are they insane?” Michael asked, his mouth hanging open and his eyes wide. “Or do they just not care about the environment at all?”

“In their defense, Mister President, the weapons that they have in their arsenals are far cleaner than any that exist on the planet today,” Martin replied, even as Tom snorted in disagreement. “Mister Heath, there are no fissile materials in those warheads, meaning that any radiation generated is quickly dissipated and there is little, if any, fallout. In a way, it is an elegant solution they have engineered, and when you take away the radiation,” the Admiral shrugged, “then it really is just one hell of a big bomb.”

“There are no clean nuclear weapons, Admiral!” Tom retorted, but he closed his mouth as the President waved him down.

“Admiral, do you think they are planning to use these in Afghanistan and Pakistan and perhaps Iran?”

“If we agree to the terms of their proposal and they intervene in any of those theatres, Mister President, and if they follow their own doctrine; then yes, they will use these weapons as much as they feel they need to. And if Empress Julia does declare war on terrorists across the globe, they will probably use them elsewhere.”

The Admiral paused and looked down at the floor.

“Was there something else you needed to tell me?”

“Sir, in the exercise, the Imperial Marines lacked air support or artillery to deliver the warhead. A volunteer carried it into the middle of a full battalion of our troops and detonated it. There was no way he could have survived the blast, but he did so anyway. And quite frankly, that is the thing that scares the hell out of me the most about this whole damned mess. The Imperial observers simply shrugged, and said sometimes one man has to make a sacrifice; anyone wearing the uniform has to be ready to step up and do what has to be done. It is a mindset much like the terrorists we are fighting now, or the Japanese kamikazes at the end of the Second World War. It is not one that has really been part of our culture since much past the last stand at the Alamo. Are we really, really certain we want to get into bed with these people?”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 02:28pm
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Chapter Six

“I’m a fisherman, ma’am,” the old man said as he took the microphone. He looked nervous as he stood amongst the thousand-strong crowd in the cramped secondary school auditorium, questioning the Empress of Humanity. “I’ve lived here on the Island my entire life; my family lives here; my home is here. What is going to happen to me and to mine?”

The crowd applauded the question as the fisherman sat back down, and Julia beamed a smile towards them.

“You, and everyone else currently living on Vancouver Island, will have a choice to make. If you want to stay, you may do so; provided that you swear allegiance to the Empire of Humanity as one of my subjects. Our laws are not so very different from your own, and our Grand Charter accords all subjects with rights that no one, not even Caesar, can lightly discard. I would like for you, for all of you, to stay, but we will force no one to take an oath to which they object.”

“If you choose to leave, the Empire will pay you full market value—in gold—for your home and your land, as well as provide you with a compensatory package to help you in your move off the Island.”

Another man stood, his face pinched and tight. “Market value? Have you paid no attention to the financial meltdown?”

“Market value,” replied Julia calmly, “as determined by our own appraisal, based upon the value of the land and structures. I think you will find that our evaluation of the relative value to be greater than any bank or other commercial institution would offer. I will not take advantage of you, nor will I allow you to be cheated of your possessions.”

The crowd began to murmur and whisper as those present conversed with their neighbors, friends, and families. After several long minutes, a third man stood.

“Your Majesty,” he began, “you said we would become subjects if we stayed. Can you explain that to us?”

“Certainly. The Empire has three categories for people living within its jurisdiction: residents, subjects, and citizens. Residents are those who have not sworn fealty and allegiance to the Empire, and through it to Caesar. This stratum of society features the fewest rights and liberties, but they pay only a sales tax on goods purchased. Residents may not benefit financially from any Imperial program, and they are not allowed to own or possess weapons or purchase land, though they may rent property. Typically, residents are visitors from another political body, although there have been many humans throughout history who refuse to swear oath.”

“They are however, assured of certain rights, including the freedom to peacefully assemble, to protest; the right of free speech and the guarantee of freedom of worship; the right to privacy both against governmental entities and private individuals.” She paused, and smiled again at the crowd. “Privacy; that is a major concern on this world, in this time, is it not? We take our laws seriously, and we enforce them unflinchingly. No one, not even Caesar, may intrude upon the private affairs of anyone, citizen, subject, or resident, that has not been formally accused of a crime. We are forbidden by law from looking at your computer files, your work records, your medical records, unless you are accused. And so are private individuals, as I have said. These private investigators and paparazzi your world seems to have spawned in such great numbers? They will be without a job in Imperial territories. And our courts tend to impose prohibitedly large fines against anyone outside our territory that intrudes upon the privacy of our people; if our armed forces do not send them quite a different message first, that is.”

“But back to the subject of subjects,” she said as a twitter of laughter burst through the hall. “Subjects may own land and weapons, but they do not have the right to vote in Imperial elections. That right is reserved for citizens only. Subjects can vote on purely local matters of the region in which they live. Subjects pay five percent of their gross annual income in taxes, plus the sales tax on goods purchased, while citizens pay ten percent. Both subjects and citizens receive free health care, provided for by the Imperial government, residents do not. All Imperial subjects and citizens are afforded access to primary and secondary education for their children with the funds dedicated by the Imperial government. The actual schools and curriculum are managed by local jurisdictions which answer directly to the parents of the children attending.”

“How do you become an Imperial citizen,” a woman called out from the audience.

“Excellent question, madame,” Caesar said as she nodded solemnly. “Citizens are those who have devoted their lives to the Imperial cause, defending our subjects and residents with their own life if need be. Law enforcement, fire-fighters, soldiers and spacers of our armed forces; all of these are paths to earning the rights of a citizen of the Empire, as are doctors and nurses, paramedics, and many other methods of public service. Before we grant the franchise to anyone, we expect him or her to prove they are willing to put their own lives on the line for others. Citizens pay higher taxes, but they are the only members of Imperial society that may vote or hold office above purely local jurisdictions. Also, only citizens may become educators in our schools.”

A woman jumped to her feet, her face white from shock. “Teachers have to serve as myrmidons before they can teach?” she exclaimed. “That is both ridiculous and barbaric!”

“You are a teacher, I take it?” asked Julia, her smile vanishing. “I have seen your so-called educational system; it is nothing less than criminal. It is more indoctrination than education, and it is you and those like you that have managed to screw it up so badly. The purpose of school is not to teach children what to think, but to teach them how to think; how to reason and to apply logic; how to ask questions and find answers for themselves. You idiots teach by rote and discourage free-thinking, and then you are surprised when so many fail? The freedom to come to a decision for yourself is, in the end, madame, the only real freedom anyone has. And it is a freedom that you have been destroying for the past century.”

From the back of the auditorium, sudden noise erupted as a group of protestors, carrying hand-painted banners stormed inside. “ALIENS GO HOME!” they shrieked. “NO NUKES! NO NUKES! NO NUKES!” they chanted.

Julia shook her head in disgust as the dirty and unkempt mob swept forward towards the stage; towards her Praetorians waiting patiently. A three meter wide space had been cleared around the stage, with the assembled crowd kept back behind a simple rope barrier one would expect to see in a theater. The protestors ignored that rope and crossed over towards the stage.

The first one across, a shaggy-head man with a long beard, was met by an advancing Praetorian in full battle armor. His eyes bulged outwards as the Empress’s guard slammed the butt of his polished rifle deep into the man’s stomach, doubling him over before he collapsed to the ground. A woman was backhanded by another guard; the SNAP of her jaw breaking echoing across the town-hall meeting. Dozens, scores of protestors crossed the barrier, but each one was beaten bloodily to the ground; seven would die before the day was over.

And then the surviving protestors stopped short of the rope, their survival instincts warring with their outrage.

“I do believe that my guards asked nicely at the beginning to please not cross that line. If you want to stay and participate you may; but I warn you now, I will tolerate no further outbursts or demonstrations in here,” Julia sweetly said to the crowd with a cold smile. “You can take that behavior outside, or you can go to the morgue, your choice.”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 02:34pm
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Chapter Six (cont.)

“Shall we wait for the Empress?” Michael asked Jason from across the conference table in the Cabinet room of the White House. Beside the President sat Vice-President Vance, and then to either side the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader. Lesser representatives of the government filled out the dozen or seats on his side.

Facing them sat Jason and Nathan, along with his legal affairs officer, Lt. Commander Webster Lewiston, the remainder of the chairs forlorn and empty.

“No, Mister President, Her Imperial Majesty has another engagement at this moment,” Jason replied.

Another engagement?” the Speaker asked, his high squeaking voice sounding to Jason’s ear as something akin to the scrapping of fingernails on a chalkboard. “This is a meeting with the President of the United States; she couldn’t be bothered to attend?”

“Mister Speaker,” the Consort of Caesar answered, “she is speaking with the people of Vancouver Island about how we are going to handle the transition. Some of those men, women, and children will become our people; that fact alone makes them far, far more important to her, and to me, than any bloviating assembly of politicians.” He turned his gaze back towards the President. “Regardless, Sir, I am here on my wife’s behalf. You called this meeting, so the floor is yours.”

“Admiral Chandler, we,” and Michael gestured around the room, “have considered carefully the specifics we discussed at our last meeting. There are a . . .”

“Your pardon, Mister President,” Jason interrupted. “But I do not need the entire history of your reasons for calling this meeting. What is your decision?”

“All right, Mister Chandler, you want it blunt, you will so have it. We will not surrender our sovereignty to you or to anyone else. While I will pardon Captain Serrano for the incident in New York, only accredited diplomatic personnel will receive immunity from prosecution. We agree, in principle, to your proposal to intervene in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there are numerous concerns. Specifically, we will require that you not use any of your tactical nuclear devices. We will not . . . what are you doing?” Michael blurted out as Jason and his two officers stood and began to walk out of the room.

Jason turned back towards the table and placed both hands on the oak surface, glaring across the polished top at the individual who had formerly been the world’s most powerful man. “I told you then, Mister President, take the terms or leave it. You have chosen the latter, apparently, as have Russia and China. So be it. Fight your own war, then. Just stay the hell out of our way while we fight ours.”

He stood straight and turned to leave once again, as the table began to erupt in bursts of outraged shock.

“Admiral! Surely we can discuss this issue; there must be some room for compromise,” Michael spat out.

Jason stopped just before he arrived at the door, and gave Web a wink, and then he slowly turned around, a scowl on his face. “Don’t screw with me, Mister President. If you want us to solve your problem, do not, for one damned instant, believe that you can dictate to me and my troopers how we solve it. Give us ninety days and the Pakistan insurrection will be over and done, Afghanistan will be secure, and I will guarantee that Iran will never be in a position to give terrorists the bombs that would otherwise devastate your cities. You will be the President of the United States that brings the boys home. But don’t you, a man who has never worn the uniform and shed blood or shared mud, ever presume to tell me how to fight that war, Sir.”

The President nodded slowly. “If we can discuss the rest . . . ?”

“Captain Serrano,” Jason said to his Chief of Staff, “inform Reprisal we may run a little late.”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 02:37pm
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Chapter Six (cont.)

Six hours later, as the Hermes class shuttle accelerated out of the atmosphere and into orbit, Nathan shook his head. “I didn’t believe they would give away so much, Sir.”

“Never forget the allure of an individual’s quest for power, Nathan. Even their President suffers from it, wanting to go down in history as a great man. History has yet to be written, but they are not concerned with the future; they all want to seen today as great. It gets in the way, that ambition, and prevents them from taking decisive action that would make them great. They are all condemned to mediocrity because they do not dare take a risk.”

“Still, we got most of what you and the Empress demanded, Sir; everything, in fact, but the blanket immunity and the recognition of individual portions of terrestrial powers joining the Empire.”

Jason chuckled. “They were never going to give us those items, Nathan. But they wanted the rest of the carrot pretty damn badly. By including those demands, I could compromise by giving them up, not that we ever really needed them in the first place. But, in return, I held on to what we truly required. And we got it.”

“Yes, Sir. You did, Sir,” replied his Chief of Staff.

“Signal General Tuturola, Nathan; the word is go. He may land the landing force.”

“Aye, aye, Sir.”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 03:00pm
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Chapter Six (cont.)

HIMS Belisarius led the way, all of her weapons manned and ready for action, as the destroyer and four assault transports plunged deep into the atmosphere over the Mediterranean Sea. The sudden and completely unexpected movement of the Imperial ships from their parking orbit above the Canary Islands caused more than a little trepidation in national capitals across the globe, although the major powers had been informed just minutes earlier that the Empire was fulfilling it promises, and doing so now. No one on the ground dared to fire, as the nations of North Africa and Europe came to the realization (the relief) that the ships were not heading for them. Others, further east, began to fret and worry—in Tehran especially, there was panic among much of the government, for they had been shown copies of that future history, copies that included the locations of their own clandestine nuclear weapons programs. A fact that even though the highest ranking members of the government knew to be true, they had indignantly denied, in the process using language which they now saw that may be cause to regret.

The mammoth ships continued their descent from orbit, and hit the upper reaches of atmosphere over Sicily. Oblong shields flared into the visible spectrum as they absorbed the heat bestowed by the friction of the atmosphere, the upper shields flickering and dancing in red and orange and yellow, though the ventral shield interface surfaces steadily glowed white-hot under the strain of the fires of reentry crawling across its surface. Across the remainder of the Imperial Fleet in orbit, warships launched Banshee interceptors, Warhawk strike fighters, and Havoc strike bombers, which formed up in their own serried formations and accelerated hard and fast after the transport ships, rapidly overtaking them, even in face of air resistance. The fighter craft fanned out, forming a perimeter a thousand kilometers in diameter ahead of the assault wave, and aboard two hundred and sixty-four fighter craft, sober crews went weapons hot.

When the plasma fires finally died, the ships had gone feet dry, passing over Israel and Jordan, and crossing into Iraq while continuing to plummet deeper and deeper into the atmosphere. The Iranians grew more nervous, and terrified commanders of the Revolutionary Guards urged the mullahs who truly ran that government to fire their missiles now, before it was too late—but the eldest cleric among them held them back and ordered his army to stand down. Three of the generals most favored by the clerics died at the hands of their own men, when they refused to obey and vowed to smite the infidels from the sky; the ayatollah ordered them killed. Not one Iranian missile was launched when their air-space was violated—and the radars finally confirmed that their track was too shallow and their speed too great for ancient Persia to be the invaders target.

Having just arrived back aboard his flag bridge, Jason received the news that Iran had not responded to the provocation and replied with a single word. “Pity.”

By the time the ships and their fighter escorts reached the western border of Afghanistan, their speed had slowed to Mach 2; their altitude was but 15,000 meters above the ground. Now the ships lowered their noses still further, and steepened their dive. Observers would have expected the ships to gain speed, but they continued to slow as ship captains and helmsmen kept continually reducing drive power through the thickening atmosphere. In Kabul, in the dead of night, windows shattered as hundreds of sonic booms exploded directly overhead, waking the President of that country from the bed he shared with three concubines.

At 8,000 meters, massive hatches on the flanks of the assault ships Cape Town, Moscow, Perth, and Sofia snapped open, and the first wave of the 501st Shock Legion roared out into the screaming night sky. This first wave consisted of the Legion’s armored cavalry scout tanks (130 in number) and their onboard sniper teams of the recon infantry. Forming up into their troops and squadrons (alone among all of the Imperial Legions, the scouts retained their ancestral cavalry titles), the vehicles spread out, forming a perimeter two hundred and fifty kilometers across.

Passing 6,000 meters, and wave after wave of combat vehicles began to emerge from the bowels of the massive troop carriers. The true might of the Legion was now evident as one thousand, two hundred, and fifty tanks, APCs, command carriers, air defense vehicles, mobile howitzers, signals intercept/electronic warfare vehicles, and combat engineering vehicles formed up into their individual cohorts and centuries.

The quintet and their immense brood of much smaller craft continued to slow as they descended through 4,000 meters. Finally, one by one, the eighty-four heavy Tiger and Leopard tanks made their appearance. Four hundred tons in weight and twice the size of an Abrams, the Imperial heavy tanks had been feared by all of the Empire’s many enemies in their once and future reality. For despite their small size compared to Jason’s warships, their 20cm mass drivers and 5cm plasma cannons were capable of hitting targets in orbit—and posed a very real threat to vessels the size of cruisers and smaller, especially en masse. Nothing in contemporary arsenals short of a direct impact with a nuclear weapon was capable of even slowing, much less stopping, this mailed fist of the Legion. Although sluggish at such high altitudes, the bruisers of the Shock Legion became more and more responsive as the air continued to thicken around them.

The Legion and its transports soared through the southern Hindu Kush, surrounded by peaks that climbed above them, and they passed into the wide hour-glass shaped valley that formed the Khyber Pass. Now close enough to the ground that their passage frightened animals into stampeding for safety, they slowed until they crawled along, each meter forward dropping two closer to the rock and soil below. Only Belisarius and the fighter craft deviated, as they climbed back to an altitude of 8,000 meters—and there the destroyer hovered, her plasma cannons searching the skyline for targets while the fighters circled an area a five hundred klicks in radius.

A squadron of Pakistani fighters, scrambled to drive off those who violated her airspace raced towards the Legion, but all sixteen died when four Banshees ripple-fired their Scorpions. Legion signals intercept officers in their Ocelots picked up orders from the regional headquarters in Peshawar to fire surface-to-air missiles—these vehicles blocked the transmission and, using the proper Pakistani codes and flawless unaccented voices gave the missile battery crews direct orders from the Minister of War of stand down, while protesting to central command that there was nothing to shoot at. Confident that confusion was now raging across the Pakistani chain of command, the combat hackers aboard the Ocelots and the assault transports unleashed a targeted computer virus that forced every active computer system linked to the Internet within that country to reformat itself. The virus sliced through firewalls because in many cases it had the proper codes; even when this wasn’t true, the Imperial computers and the hackers running them were far superior to their opponents. In less than fifteen minutes, more than 90% of all computers in the Islamic state were no longer functional, and the chaos spread still more.

In the exact center of the Khyber Pass, the assault transports extended massive landing legs—scores of landing legs—and settled gently to the ground. More than 3,000 additional vehicles began their exodus from the cavernous holds, along with the fourteen thousand officers and men who constituted the Services & Support Brigade of the 501st. One complete SSB regiment began constructing the primary Legion rear-area HQ near to the now-grounded transports, while the four smaller SSB cohorts formed up to follow their assigned Brigades and Legion’s field headquarters into battle. The perimeter of vehicles broke up, with a single brigade proceeding west into Afghanistan, while the remaining two and the Forward HQ crossed into Pakistan.

On the eastern slopes of Khyber, a Cougar command carrier settled to the ground amid a score of others, ringed by air defense guns, and a rifle security detachment. As its rear ramp lowered to the ground, General Miles Tuturola trotted down the armored surface to join his field headquarters staff where they were erecting his temporary forward command center. Behind the General followed his aide, holding his commanders helmet in one arm and a Reaper pulse cannon in the other. Setting foot on the soil of the famous funnel through the mountains, Miles stopped and placed two armored fists on his hips, taking in a deep breath of the air around him.

“Smell that, boys?” he asked theatrically. “Both of these damned countries have just shat themselves; I love my job!”

The 501st Shock Legion—Caesar’s Black Panzers—had arrived in-country, spoiling for a fight.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 05:34pm
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Chapter Six (cont.)

“The instructions from your government are quite simple, General Keller,” Miles snapped at the Frenchman commanding the NATO contingent. “Return to your base camps immediately while my Legion neutralizes the rebellion and restores central authority. Can you not follow your orders, sir?”

“Oui, mon Général, I understand my orders perfectly well. But I will not stand by while you use these hell-rounds of yours upon the people of Pakistan. Such a thing is not needed.”

“I beg to differ, General,” Miles said as he lit another cigarette and took a long puff, which in turn caused Jacques Heller to frown again. Bloody health-Nazis, Miles thought to himself.

“Point the first: those are rebels and terrorists holed up in that old mountain fort and the NATO forces you command have failed repeatedly to remove them.” Miles took a puff.

“Point the second: all two hundred sixty-three of those people in that fort are heavily armed, so any idea that innocent people are there is bullshit; that flag ain’t gonna fly, not today.” Miles exhaled the smoke and pointed his cigarette at the Frenchman.

“Point the third: as much as I detest Centurion Yarrow, he is quite right that sometimes you just gotta send a message. And that message today, General Heller, is if you shoot at my boys, then you are going to get slapped down pretty damned hard.”

The Frenchman waved his hand in dismissal. “Using this weapon is not necessary; your infantry can clear that redoubt in fifteen minutes.”

“Of course they can,” Miles snorted. “You think that is a concern of mine? Please, General, worry about anything else; my boys could take that place in five minutes flat. But for right now, I need to put the fear of God-almighty and my Legion in everyone watching, rebel, insurgent, terrorist, soldier, and civilian alike.”

A kilometer away from the mobile command center, one of the mobile howitzers attached to the 501st fired; the boom of the shot echoing across the valley floor as a dull POMPH from this distance. The French general’s shoulders sagged and he shook his head.

“This is not what warfare should be, mon Général,” he said sadly, “where is the honor in this?”

“War is not about honor, General Keller,” Miles quietly replied as an immense fireball erupted against the flank of a distant mountain, the mushroom cloud rising high into the sky above, “nor about fair-play. It is about kicking the other side so hard he cries uncle and hoping you survive in the process. It is about keeping as many of your own alive for as long as you can, and killing as many of your foes as possible in the meantime. War is Hell, Jacques; it has never been anything but. If you plan to wage it, however, then you best damn well be prepared to do whatever it takes to win it. Otherwise, why the hell even bother?”

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

Two dozen members of the Taliban shouted and yelled at the Imperial troopers standing in the middle of the village. Each member of the unkempt and ragged band held a screaming, crying woman, a girl, really, before them as a shield against the soldiers.

Corporal Esteban Ramirez waited until his on-board computer finished uploading his instructions to the other seven men of his squad, while he half listened to the demands of the hostage takers.

“. . . and you will leave, leave now,” the software in his armor translated the language into English. “Leave, or we kill the whores!”

Ain’t gonna happen, you piece of shit, Ramirez thought. “Ok, ok,” he said aloud, disengaging his Reaper and laying it on the ground, even as the remainder of his squad did the same. “Let the girls go, and we will give you our armor.”

The Afghani’s eyes went wide, and Ramirez knew he had him hooked. “No. You will give us the armor now; then we let the whores go. With your armor, we will drive you into the desert and the Jihad will triumph!”

“Sure, helmets off, boys,” the squad leader said as he reached up to unlatch and remove his helmet; and then the preprogrammed computer command activated. Eight suits fired sixteen forearm mounted sub-machines at the exact same instant; a three-round burst aimed by the computer directly into the face of one of the hostiles. Ramirez and three of his men swiveled slightly and a second burst fired, dropping the last eight Afghan insurgents before they could react. Zero point eight seconds passed between the first shot and the last.

Corporal Ramirez knelt down and reattached the Reaper to his right arm, then cranked up his external loud-speaker. “These assholes won’t be bothering you good folks again,” he said. Reaching down to a compartment on the leg of his suit, he took out a small communicator and handed it to the village head-man. “Any others like them come back; you just give us a call. Fifteen minutes at most, and the Legion will be here to take care of your vermin problem.”

He switched channels. “Hotel Three-Six, Hotel Three-Charlie Six. Village secured; zero civilian casualties. Twenty-four hostiles KIA. Villagers look like they could use a doc and some hot food; some of the women and girls might need a shrink as well.”

“Roger that, Three-Charlie Six,” the speaker in helmet crackled. “Services & Support has elements en route. Proceed on mission, Three-Six out.”

“You heard the man, team. Upwards and onwards and all of that,” he said as the squad began to move towards the next village on the list.

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

Lance Sergeant Adrian Pike crouched in the turret hatch of his Panther main battle tank as the first and second RPG’s exploded in mid-air—the third slipped through the defensive fire of the Hauberk point-defense laser turret and slammed against the side of the Imperial tank . . . leaving a scorched piece of hull plating, but the light warhead failed to penetrate. “Gunner, target right—dual-purpose HE; designating now.”

“That is a mosque, Lance Sergeant,” the gunner answered.

“Affirmative—and that is where the RPGs came from. Take the shot,” Pike ordered.

The heads-up display within Pike’s armor showed the gunner load a 135mm dual purpose high-explosive shell into the mass driver cannon and the turret pivoted slightly and centered on the red brick building. The Panther jerked under the recoil and front of the structure vanished in a cloud of flame and dust and ash. The rest of the building gave a creaking groan and it collapsed in rubble.

Pike swore as the streets of the Peshawar neighborhood suddenly filled with armed men and he ducked down beneath the cupola shield as they began to spray his tank with bullets, covering the six men with satchel charges running towards the massive vehicle. But the designers of the Panther had allowed for that and Pike removed the safety cover from a thumb switch on his turret control. He waited until they had closed to fifteen meters and then he pressed the switch.

A massive explosion erupted outwards from the Imperial tank as the anti-infantry strip encircling the hull detonated, flinging razor-sharp shards of armor and ceramic outwards in all directions from the vehicle. The concussion staggered Pike, but he pulled himself back to a standing position where he could see with his own two eyes. The wind cleared the smoke and he gazed down on the scattered pieces of bodies that surrounded his vehicle and the bloody smears left on the surfaces of the buildings nearby.

The communicator crackled. “Echo Two-Three, Echo Six. Do you need to spelled on point?”

“Negative, Echo-Six. We are good to go.”

Two clicks answered Pike, and he his sensors again began to flash red. “Gunner, target, left—possible IED, plasma burst, designating now.”

The turret smoothly rotated to the left and three plasma bolts snapped out from the co-axial weapon and flashed down-range—the secondary explosion confirmed that it had been an IED after all.

“Ahead slow, driver,” he commanded. “Let’s clear out this rat’s nest once and for all.”

And the Panther glided ahead, the blackened muzzle of its main gun shifting right and left looking for more targets.

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

“You have got to be shitting me,” Captain Antonio Vargas whispered as his holotank aboard HIMS Perth showed the incoming mortar rounds. His ships sensors had detected the weapons the moment the first shell launched itself into the air on a ballistic arc towards the assault ships.

“Point-defense is ready, Captain,” his XO called out from his station. Vargas snorted. Point-defense was barely required; the mortars were only 81mm shells, and those paltry warheads would not even ding his hull. Still, even if the odds were against the shells, stranger things had happened; and besides, there were friendlies on the ground below, unloading equipment, supplies, and munitions from the ships immense holds.

“Point-defense free, mass-drivers engage the shells,” he said. “Guns, I want fire from every five-ce-em that can bear on the launch zone. Saturate the entire area the bastards hid in.”

“Aye, aye, Sir,” the two men replied. Vargas could feel the slight vibration as the quad 35mm mass driver cannons went to rapid-fire mode, and the three mortar shells displayed in the holotank vanished in mid-flight. Then the 5cm plasma cannons opened fire; four twin turrets each firing one round a second. For thirty-two seconds, the plasma guns hammered the area from where the insurgents had launched the mortar shells. One hundred and twenty-eight plasma bolts impacted across a grid almost a kilometer square, each bolt detonating with the explosive force of a 500-kilo bomb. The plasma detonations fused the sand and rock of the valley floor into a glassy plain, shimmering from the heat and dimpled with shattered craters.

The ships computer calculated the odds of the launch crew surviving and ran one final sensor sweep. Satisfied with the results, the soft and sultry feminine voice that some unknown computer designer had given it purred, “Targets destroyed.”

Vargas smiled. The computer may be an idiot-savant, but it was a damned sexy sounding idiot-savant. “I hope it was good for you too, darling,” he drawled as his bridge crew erupted in a fit of laughter.

“Easy now, Skipper,” his XO said, “If you make Perth decide she wants to have a smoke and bask in the afterglow, I don’t want to be the one assigned to roll the tobacco!”

More laughter erupted, and Vargas too joined in.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 07:30pm
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Chapter Six (cont.)

The full-bird colonel was shaking his head in disgust and private disquiet as he heard a voice call out his name from down the hall.

“Colonel Nash, may I introduce to you Inquisitor Kim?” Captain Paul Stanley of the Imperial Legions asked.

Nash stopped and looked up at the two (well, aliens was too harsh a word) . . . time-travelers. Stanley he knew, if not well, from their meetings over the past twenty-four hours, but Kim . . . the small, slim, immaculately uniformed Asian he had never before met. Then the title Stanley used hit him.

Inquisitor?” he blurted.

Stanley smiled and nodded his head. “Yes Sir. Inquisitor Kim represents Imperial Intelligence and is currently on loan from the Fleet. His equivalent rank, in both my service and your own would be that of a senior Colonel; the same as yours, Sir.”

“You must be the torturer in chief that we have been waiting on then,” Nash stated bluntly.

“My methods bear little resemble to the monks of the historical Inquisition, Colonel,” Kim replied in return. “And they are certainly far more effective in their results.”

“Colonel,” Stanley interrupted, “Inquisitor Kim is a senior member of Intel. He gained his posting through sheer ability, and he is far more skilled at extracting information than the specialists assigned to the 501st. That is merely one of the reasons why the Admiral asked him to supervise the interrogations.”

“What can you find out that we couldn’t?” Nash was unable to stop himself from asking the question, the rancor at being replaced as the CO of the captured insurgents and terrorists still gnawing at him.

“Quite a lot, actually, if I had the time to do the job correctly,” Kim politely answered with a slight bow. “Alas, Colonel Nash, time is very much a finite resource. I will presume that you and your people have done an adequate job at extracting information, and quite frankly it is highly unlikely that anyone here knows much of great import in any case. I will, for today, at least, be asking just one question of each detainee.”

“And what might that question be?” Nash asked, his curiosity outweighing his indignation.

“Quite a simple one, I assure you. Have you used a weapon, with the intent to kill or wound or intimidate, against either a member of the Coalition or any unarmed civilian?”

Nash barked out a burst of laughter. “Sure, they will just up and tell you the answer to that one.”

Kim shrugged. “They will answer while connected to one of our truth-detectors; the machine will tell me if they are lying or speaking truthfully.”

“Without a base-line?”

“Such as your polygraph requires?” Kim responded, shaking his head. “No, that technology is quite antiquated and unreliable as well. And one can be trained to defeat any polygraph your civilizations have so far produced. Our machine works on a different principle, measuring the pattern of synaptic activity within the brain. Truth produces one result, a lie something quite different. And there is no method to trick the machine. None.”

“And if the detainee refuses to answer the question?”

“For our purposes today, Colonel, no answer is as good as a confession. If I had a fully-trained support staff and a dozen other Inquisitors, perhaps I could spend four-to-five hours on each detainee using machine- and chemical-interrogation tactics to discomfort and disorient them enough to answer. That, however, is for another day, and for prisoners with potentially more valuable, and current, information.”

“You are talking about torture!”

“Am I? Colonel Nash, the men I interrogate will receive no permanent injury due to my procedures; directly, at least. At most they will experience pain, but pain is something that all creatues in this life experience. My pharmaceuticals are tried and tested, and barring an unfortunate allergic reaction, quite safe, with no long-term side-effects. In my career I have conducted eight hundred and seventeen sessions and I have never lost one of my subjects during the interrogation process. The information I can obtain will potentially save lives; the information I have gained in the past has saved lives. The point is, however, quite moot, because I said before, time does not allow for a full interrogation. Now, if you will please excuse me, I have two hundred and seventy-three people to ask a question of.”

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

Seventeen hours later, the open-air yard of the compound surrounded tall fences strung with razor-wire was filled with detainees, every single detainee in the facility. A door to one of the concrete blockhouses, separated from the prisoners by yet another wire fence opened, and Inquisitor Kim stepped out onto a small wooden platform, accompanied by Colonel Nash and Captain Stanley. A second door opened off to one side, and eight battle-armor clad Imperial soldiers filed into the yard with the detainees, who cautiously backed away from the inhuman appearing armored figures.

Kim tapped the microphone, and when he was sure it was working, he began. “Good afternoon again, gentlemen; I would like the following prisoners to report to Sergeant Hall,” one of the soldiers raised an armored-clad arm, “when I call out your name.”

He recited twenty-two names, and each of the white-garbed prisoners came forward, shuffling their shackle-clad feet and looking as nervous as lambs going to slaughter.

“You gentlemen told me the truth when you denied having ever used a weapon. With the apologies of Her Imperial Majesty for your confinement, gentlemen, you are free to go. Caesar Julia has instructed me, with her own voice, no less, to give each of you compensation for your time here, and to extend to you an offer. If you wish to remain here in your country, with your families, that is of course your right. But if instead, you, and your family, wish to swear allegiance and fealty to Her Imperial Majesty, then we will accept you as subjects of the Empire. Be warned gentlemen, such oaths are not given lightly, and if you lie to me, then, well, let us say that bad things will happen.”

“You will be given clothing, money, and a good meal before you leave; further, if any of you have any medical needs, my staff will see to your care. Think hard about our offer, gentlemen, and make the right decision for you, for your wives, and for your children.”

Kim nodded, and Sergeant Hall waved the twenty-two forward through the door.

When the last of the twenty-two had left the compound yard and the door closed once more, Kim turned back to face the crowd and shook his head sadly. “As for the rest of you, well, all but two of you lied to me. Gentlemen, I do not care for being lied to; it presumes that you believe me incompetent at my job, which I assure you I am not. Khalid Adjani and Pashmir Khan, the two of you told me the truth about killing Coalition troops and or unarmed civilians. Thank you for having the honor to admit what you have done, for being men enough to take responsibility for your own actions. I regret to tell you, however, that your punishment will be the same as those who lied to me. Sergeant Hall, you may now carry out your orders.”

“Sir!” the trooper replied with a salute, and then all eight members of the squad brought up their Reapers and opened fire on the crowded yard as Colonel Nash of United States Army watched, his eyes wide with horror, the atrocity taking place directly before him.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 07:43pm
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Chapter Six (cont.)

“Thank you gentlemen for flying out here today; I fear that we are inconveniently placed in relation to the major financial centers here in Vancouver,” Julia said to the two dozen men (and four women) who stood when she entered the conference room overlooking the Pacific coast of the Island.

Two of her Praetorians stood one on either side of the door while another six were spaced around the spacious gallery overhanging the rolling waves below. Today, the bodyguards of Caesar were in dress uniform, not battle-armor, but each wore a holstered pistol on his belt and carried a sub-machine slung across his chest. One walked forward and pulled out a chair for the Empress, and she gave him a sparkling smile as she sat. That Praetorian did not return to his post, but remained standing slightly behind her and to her right, giving his shooting arm a clear field of fire at the captains of industry gathered together at the table.

“Now, then,” she said as she opened the black leather folder on the table before her. “Each of your companies has signaled your intention to open offices here in the Imperial Enclave, and that was even before you read about our taxation policies,” she said with a smile, and series of chuckles erupted around the table. “There are, however, a few points of Imperial law that you may be unaware of that you will need to carefully consider before making a final decision.”

The head of the board of GE leaned forward. “Your Majesty, I am certain we can come to an arrangement that is mutually beneficial to both of us; you and your Empire will need raw materials, and I am quite certain that you do not want to make the global economy collapse.”

“Oh, dear,” she said as she closed the briefing folder and shook her head. “We should perhaps go ahead and clear the air now, I guess. You seem to mistake me and my government for everyone else on this planet, sir. The Empire does not make accommodations in its laws; not for you, not for me, not for anyone. They bind me just as they bind the lowest resident, subject, or citizen. And if you choose to open offices here, they will bind you as well. There is no amount of money, influence, or resources that you have which would in any way alter that.”

She smiled at the GE exec, and then turned her head to look over everyone at the table. “To operate in the Empire, you must form a separate corporation that is headquartered in the Empire, ladies and gentlemen. It may be affiliated with you, but will be a separate institution; perhaps something such as General Electric Imperial, or Ford Motors Vancouver. Your stock will be publicly traded, but the Imperial government will purchase fifteen percent at market price the day you open your doors. I will, personally, purchase an additional ten percent that will belong to the throne. That twenty-five percent stake of your corporation will remain in the hands of my family and this government in perpetuity, ladies and gentlemen.”

“I believe that such a large piece of your stock would normally give me and this government seats on your board; I neither need such a post, nor do I want it. My own job keeps me quite busy. And neither my government nor I will vote on the composition of such executive boards or your ranking corporate officers. However, as a major stake-holder, both I and my government will have full access to your books whenever we wish. Expect a complete audit at least once every quarter.”

Whispered murmurs down the table became audible as Caesar paused. The additional start-up capital would be incredible, but the very idea of letting any government (especially this one!) have such a large ownership was frightening. And such fiscal . . . scrutiny could prove very much a double-edged sword, some of the executives thought.

“You do not have to agree, ladies and gentlemen,” the young lady who was the Empress of Humanity softly said. “If you do not, however, then you will not be allowed to do business within the territories claimed or controlled by the Empire. Nor will you be allowed to bid on any equipment that the Imperial armed forces or the government wishes to purchase. Nor will I or my government make any investments with you, or for that matter allow you to hold our currency or our precious metal reserves.”

“You will find that our regulations are fairly quaint when compared to the quagmire of the confusing and complex codes to which you are accustomed, particularly those of the United States. We will insist on one thing and one thing only in your operation: you will do what you promise my people. No loopholes, no exceptions, no excuses. If your corporation makes a statement, it had best be true, or you will bankrupt yourself making it so; that, ladies and gentlemen, is a promise.”

“Oh, and one little thing more,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. “The Empire does recognize that corporations were created to shield shareholders from liability. And we firmly agree with the intention behind that ideal; individual shareholders have no day-to-day control over the corporation as a whole, and they will continue to be shielded from all liability, as will public shareholders that also lack preferential stock—myself and the Imperial government as a whole included. As for the board of directors, the chief executive officer, and other high placed officers of the corporation; well, Imperial law holds them personally responsible, fiscally, morally, and criminally responsible, for the conduct and actions of their company.”

Jaws dropped around the table and eyes went wide, as Julia's smile vanished and was replaced with cold, emotionless face that could have carved from polished marble for all the empathy it conveyed.

“You play games in my Empire, ladies and gentlemen, with my people, and so help me God above I will put your collective asses in a sling and send you into orbit. Without a space suit.”

The harsh stony mask vanished and she smiled at her guests again and stood, clasping her hands together. “Why don’t you give this some thought; in the meantime, my chef has prepared a light afternoon brunch. You all look as though you could use a drink or three,” she said cheerfully.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 08:01pm
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Chapter Six (cont.)

“And now we have breaking news from the Fox News Desk. Live from the United Nations in New York City is Lisa Broome. Lisa?

“Thank you Bill. Just a few moments ago, we received word that Captain Nathan Serrano of the Imperial Fleet will be holding a press conference; we have been given to understand it deals with the War on Terror. Let’s go there now.”

On millions of television sets world-wide, the screen changed to a slim, dapper brown-skinned man with flecks of grey in his otherwise midnight black hair wearing an Imperial navy uniform standing behind a podium, before an audience of reporters.

“Good morning,” he said, with a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his lips. “I am Captain Nathan Serrano, Imperial Navy, chief of staff to Her Imperial Majesty and Fleet Admiral Chandler. Her Imperial Majesty asked that I brief you this morning on an operation concluded just a short while ago. Over the past two month since the Imperial Remnant arrived in Earth orbit, our Intelligence and Signals Intercept specialists have been gathering data to confirm information already present in our historical data-base. I am happy to report to all of you that earlier this morning, the final pieces of the puzzle were put into place and that we can positively identify and locate one hundred and seventy-six individuals that have either already committed an act of terrorism, or according to our historical records, will commit or is involved in the planning of a future attack of mass murder. Thirty-seven minutes ago, I had the honor to inform Her Imperial Majesty that Imperial special operation teams from the Legions and the Marines have successfully terminated all one hundred and seventy-six of these individuals with no collateral damage to civilians.”

The room erupted with noise as every reporter stood and began to shout questions. Serrano shook his head and chuckled, and then he motioned them back into their seats.

“I will answer questions, but can I first finish this statement? The Imperial government, and Caesar, view acts of terrorism as an abomination, and a threat to the very survival of all of humanity. She said in her address to the General Assembly that the Empire would wage war against any individual or organization, based in any nation located anywhere on this planet and beyond, that committed these heinous acts or actively sought to commit such acts. Of course, your Earth being what it is, I imagine that many of you felt that her statement was mere bluster, an appearance of strength rather than the substance of it. You were wrong. When the Empire sees a threat, we do not talk about it, we act. And we act decisively.”

“This morning, Imperial special operation teams operating in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Indonesia carried out the will of Her Imperial Majesty simultaneously. All targets were eliminated and there was no collateral damage to any innocent bystanders. I will now take your questions.”

Every reporter stood and began jabbering, and Nathan smiled as he pointed to one of the crowd.

“Michael Gordan, BBC. Were the governments of the nations where your teams operated informed of your actions ahead of time?”

“No. This matter did not, and does not, concern them. The Empire acted to eliminate a threat against humanity, as we are required to do according to the Imperial Charter.”

“A follow-up, if I may,” the reporter pressed, and then continued as Nathan nodded assent. “Will her Imperial Majesty hand over the members of these teams to stand trial if the sovereign nations whose territorial integrity you violated demand their extradition?”

“No. These men were acting on the direct orders of her Imperial Majesty, and they will not be punished by the Empire or any other institution for carrying out her lawful orders.”

“Jake Hopper, ABC. We have seen demonstrations across the planet in response to the massacre of prisoners handed over to the Imperial forces. You have used excessive force both on and off the battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including more than two dozen of your tactical nuclear weapons. Your actions, in this case as well, seems to be disproportionate to the level of threat presented by the alleged terrorists.”

“Is there a question coming, are you just making a speech?” Nathan said acidly.

“Has your government no regards for the human rights of your victims?”

“Anyone who engages in indiscriminate bombings against men, women, and children who have done nothing wrong has no rights in the eyes of the Imperial government. Period. If they have information we need, we will question them; otherwise they get a bullet. The prisoners in question were armed men, caught in the act of violence against soldiers of the Coalition; all of them were questioned and it was confirmed that were insurrgents and terrorists; they were executed accordingly. And as for proportionate use of force; that is the dumbest idea I have ever heard of. When someone hits you, you don’t hit them back using the same amount of force: you do your damnedest to lay the son-of-a-bitch out for his stupidity at striking you to begin with. Bullies and criminals alike understand only one thing: force. And this whole world better start to understand real fast, we do not pull our punches; you piss us off and the hammer of God is coming down on your head.”

“But are you not concerned with the effect your treatment will have on your own captured troops.”

“First off, the Empire does not negotiate with criminals or terrorists. If any of our people are captured, then we will move Heaven and earth to get them back; and whoever takes or mistreats our people will wish they were dead before we finish with them. Against a civilized foe, then, yes, we will treat their people well; unless they deliberately and knowingly target civilian bystanders, or commit some other heinous crime, such as rape, and we expect them to do the same to our people. And that expectation will be enforced with the full might of the Imperial armed forces if need be.”

“Henry Wells, CNN. The International Criminal Court has called for immediate hearings over the conduct of your troops in the Afghan/Pakistan conflict. The events of this morning will certainly accelerate those cries. How is Her Majesty planning to deal with this?”

“Unlike the governments, politicians, and leaders to which you are accustomed, the Imperial government will do what it says it will. We will not promise you one thing and then give you something else entirely. When Her Majesty said to the United Nations that she will wage war, on any portion of this planet, against terrorists and terror organizations, she meant it. We are not now, nor will the Empire ever be, bound by your so-called International Criminal Court. Quite frankly, it can hold all of the trials it wants to; we couldn’t care less. If, on the other hand, that court attempts to impose any verdict upon an Imperial citizen or subject, then we may have problems, or rather, the court may have problems.”

“Lisa Broome, Fox News. Do you mean to say, sir, that the Empire considers the entirety of the world as its jurisdiction to impose its own principles and rules? That you regard no state entity as sovereign?”

“The nation-states of this world are sovereign and should be able to deal with the problems they have on their own. That is what governments are for; to deal with situations out of the reach of individual members of society. Quite frankly, most of your governments are failures in that regard. As far as Her Imperial Majesty and this government are concerned, we will work with anyone willing to work with us. But if you say you are going to do something, we will expect you to keep your word. If a particular government is unwilling or unable to take care of a situation that the Empire feels is either an imminent or a potential threat to our people, then we will intervene and handle it for them.”

“Even if the government in question protests the violation of their territory and sovereign rights?”

“Any government that is unable to maintain and protect its territorial integrity isn’t really very much of a government in the first place, now is it?”

Nathan held up hand to press corps and smiled. “I am quite certain you would keep me here for hours, but frankly, I have other jobs to do—and you have all the information you need. My aide will pass out briefing books listing the name, location, and criminal act—past, present, or future—of the individuals in question. Good day.”

And the Imperial officer turned away from the podium and walk out of the room. The camera shifted to Lisa as she too turned around and placed one hand over her ear to hear her producer’s voice.

“Quite an extraordinary press conference, Bill. Captain Serrano admitted, publically and on the record, that this morning, Imperial Special Forces violated the sovereignty of no less than thirty-five different countries—the United States of America among them—and executed more than one hundred and sixty men responsible for acts for terrorism across the planet. He then went on to say that the Empire has declared war on terrorism and will wage it across the entire planet and beyond, taking direct action against both groups and individuals even if countries sheltering them refuse to grant permission to do so. Back to you, Bill.”

“Thank you, Lisa. Lisa Broome, everyone. And we will be back in ninety seconds after a brief commercial break, where we hope to comment from the White House and Capitol Hill.”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-10 08:30pm
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Wow... a War on Terrorism that actually worked.
A pity it's walking all over everyone else's rights in the process.

This is a good story, it's making me THINK about what's going on. BRAVO



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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 08:51am
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Chapter Seven

Saul Yarrow sighed as he took another bite of the mint chocolate cookie ice-cream his double cone held. The dry heat of Los Angeles was making the substance begin to melt and run, but that was alright by him. How the hell had this Ben & Jerry’s place not managed to survive until his time, he asked himself as he licked some of the melt from his hand where it had dripped.

The Admiral had give Delta some time for R&R (rest and relaxation; or I&I, intoxication and intercourse, as the troopers tended to call it!) for their performance at the NTC. He sat down on a small brick wall beside the boardwalk as he turned back towards the bright afternoon sun, the sandy white beach and rolling breakers, the songs of sea-gulls, and the many, many oh-so-very lovely and barely clad women!

I love this planet, he thought as yet another busty woman rolled by on a pair of skates, wearing little more than what she had been born in. Even the native troopers weren’t too bad; once the NTC boys had got over being sore about their loss, he and his Marines had been feted like royalty by them. Several had even asked him how to go about arranging for a transfer to Imperial service.

He snorted; damn that fight had been a close-run thing! Yeah, he’d take any one of those boys (and girls) in his Century any day of the week if he could get them. And their reaction to how the Admiral had given the chop to those cowardly terrorists; that had been priceless. The soldiers had been delighted, even if their political masters were apoplectic. And then came the news reports from The Sandbox (as the local troops called the Two -Stans); reports of what the 501st was doing, and by God, the base had gone completely nuts!

The politicians might not be able to pull their shit together, but these troopers were a different story entirely. Hell, give them gear even remotely close to what he had, and Saul was convinced they could have taken him; although he would never admit that to anyone but himself and Admiral Chandler.

Even as he mused over the past few weeks, Saul’s instincts began to sound alarms, and he turned his head as something made his hackles rise. Twenty meters away, a young man shoved an elderly woman, grabbing her purse from her arm. The thug spun and began to run; straight towards Saul.

Tapping the shoulder of a woman dressed in a business suit standing at the bus stop, he handed her the cone. “Ma’am, could you hold this for me, for a moment?” he asked, and then he stood and brushed pieces of sugar cone from his hands.

As the kid ran past him, Saul swung a haymaker that caught the thief square in the throat, sending him sprawling to the ground. Saul picked up the woman’s purse and walked over to the old lady, and extended his hand to help her up from the ground.

“Here you are, grandmother,” he said gently. “Sorry about that.”

“What are you sorry for,” she answered as she dusted herself off. “You’re the only one here who was man enough to stop him.” She opened her purse and began to count out some money, but Saul just smiled and shook his head. He walked back over to the bus-stop and took his cone back from the shocked business-woman, and then took another bite, feeling the mint and the cookies just dissolve in his mouth in a frigid wonderful satisfying instant.

The tattooed thug, the mugger, was wheezing on the ground as he grasped his throat, while a crowd gathered around. “Yeah, I busted the crap out of your larynx, kid. You got sixty seconds, maybe ninety if you are in good shape, before you black out from lack of oxygen, and then you are gonna die, son. Tough luck, but that’s what you get for robbing someone right in front of an Imperial Marine; and a woman old enough to be your grandmother, at that. You really should be ashamed of yourself. Oh well, make your peace with God, boy, because you are going to see him real quick.”

Saul sat back down, even as emergency services vehicles pulled up and paramedics rushed in an attempt to save the gang-bangers life, and witnesses told the police what they had seen.

Ten minutes later, Saul was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car. “What,” he asked, “have I done besides stop a robbery? Dumb-ass cops, as pissed off now as in my time when someone else does their job better they do.” At least I managed to finish the cone first, he thought as the door closed.

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

The desk sergeant heard the ding of the bell on his desk, but he kept his head down as he finished the form he was filling out. Then the bell rang again, and again, and again. Finally, he lifted his head.

“Ring that bell one more time, and I’ll lock you up,” he growled to the three men standing before him. All three were fit, well-muscled, and each was wearing a pair of shorts, a brightly colored flowered shirt, and tennis shoes without socks, along with a pair of sun-shades. “What do you want?”

“We’re here to get our Centurion out of lock-up, Sergeant,” the blonde in the middle answered. “Saul Yarrow; seems like one of you people screwed up and put him in with a bunch of criminals.”

“Yarrow, would that happen to be the crazy man that killed a kid over on the beach today?”

“Sounds like it. We’re here to pick him up.”

The LAPD police officer sat back. “Really? Yarrow is charged with a homicide, he ain’t going nowhere.”

“Look, he was just getting back the woman’s purse. So some scum thief got himself whacked while he was committing a crime; so what? We’ve got to be back aboard by 2000 hours; that is two hours from now, so can we have our Centurion back or not?”

“The answer to that question would be not,” the officer replied; his expression torn somewhere between incredulousness and amusement. “His arraignment is tomorrow morning at 10 am; the DA is going to ask for no bail, so he will probably be in county until his trial.”

“That doesn’t work for us, Sergeant. Who do I need to speak with to get Centurion Yarrow back?”

“It ain’t happening; he killed a man, he is going to stay in jail.”

“Oh, you guys are so completely screwed,” another of the tough-looking guys said as he shook his head.

“Is that a threat?” the desk jockey asked, standing up and placing his hand on his pistol butt.

“No, it is a fact, flat-foot,” the third one snapped. “Christ almighty Gunny, the only things the Centurion hates more than idle Marines are rapists, murderers, and thugs. He is going to go freaking berserk in there.”

Gunnery Sergeant Jean Valjean shook his head as alarms began to sound. “Sounds like he already has,” he muttered as police officers in riot gear began to stream towards the holding cells.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 08:56am
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Chapter Seven (cont.)

The officer slammed the cell door shut and Saul shook his head. It was not the first time (by far!) that he had been in lock-up, but never before for something so patently ridiculous. Any Imperial court would order the arresting officers to face a dozen lashes for bringing this before them, after all.

He sighed, and rubbed his close-cropped scalp with one hand as he scanned the other occupants of the holding cell. Must be a busy day, he thought to himself, there were almost thirty young men—white, black, Hispanic, and Asian alike—crammed inside the steel cage. The steel benches bolted to the floor next to the bars were taken, and at least half of the two parallel inner ones were also filled with men and boys sitting or laying down.

He walked over to an empty spot and sat, resting his elbows on his bare knees and his forehead against his interlocked fingers. Then he was shoved from behind.

“That is my seat, old man,” a loud voice said, followed by chuckles from a dozen or so throats.

“Funny,” Saul answered, not moving, “didn’t see your name engraved on it.”

“You just didn’t look. Now move your ass before you get hurt.”

Saul stood and turned around to see a heavily-tattooed man, his head shaved bald sitting on the next bench back. He snorted. “Aren’t you a little young to be in jail, son? I’m not sure your momma has you on solid foods yet.”

“Old enough to put paid to you,” replied the street tough. “What they put you in here for, trying to rob a denture store?”

The laughter rolled around the room, as a dozen others that shared the tough’s shaved heads and body art slapped hands and glared towards Saul.

“I wish it was something like that, but no, I had to be dumb enough and drunk enough to take your mother to bed; only it turned out it wasn’t your mother, it was a miserable hairy-assed goat; I thought that gal was too attractive to be your mamma,” Saul finished as he shrugged.

The smile vanished from the gang-member’s face. “You wanna get hurt, old man? That what you want? I’ll cut you from ear-to-ear, and cut your balls off to boot.”

“I’m just shaking and quaking, little boy. If you had half the brains that you have balls; oh, wait you do. That’s why you’re sitting down like some little pussy, mouthing off to your betters. Tell me, do you have to pay your bitches to keep secret how small a dick you have, or do you just like taking it up the ass?”

The young tough flew from the bench towards Saul, and then he kept going towards the steel bars as the Marine used his body as a fulcrum to hurl the gang-banger through the air. With a CLANG, the tough’s head slammed into the steel, and he collapsed unconscious to the concrete floor.

Like a wave parting, most of the people in the cell moved away from Saul towards the bars, leaving him standing alone in the middle to face the rising mob of skinheads coming to their own feet.

“Nigger, you just bought into a world of hurt,” one of the older ones said.

“Been there,” Saul snorted, “done that, got the goddamned t-shirt. Why don’t you folks just sit back down and this too will pass.”

“Bit late to live and let live,” the leader answered. “Of course, if you come here, kneel down, and beg me to let me use you like a bitch, I might not hurt you too much.”

Saul put his chin in one hand as he appeared to consider the offer. “Well, it is tempting, but my bad knees make kneeling pretty much out of the question. And for being your bitch, son, I give; I don’t take.”

Another one spoke up, “We are gonna mess you up worse than we did that little whore, old man. She was a tasty treat, at least at first; you are just gonna pay. But you are gonna beg us to stop, just like she did, ‘til you can’t beg no more; just whimper like a beaten down dog.”

Saul suddenly froze, and his eyes went cold. “You mean you dickless assholes actually raped a woman?”

The gang-banger smiled. "Screwed the shit out of her, old man, and then cut up her face and titties.”

The marine let a breath he had been holding. “Up until right now, this has been fun and games. But now, now you’ve messed up, boys. You see, I don’t like rapists.”

“Screw you, old man,” the leader snarled. “Take him!”

Saul dropped into a fighting stance as three of them advanced; the first dropped when a right foot slammed into his solar plexus, the second when an elbow caught him on the temple, the third, well, the third died when Saul’s hand—his fingers formed into a claw of flesh and bone—ripped out the throat of the young gang-banger.

Blood splattered and pulsed across the holding cell, and many of the prisoners screamed for the guards, even as the torn jugular and carotid keep spraying everyone in the cell with hot salty blood. Saul dropped the piece of bloody flesh, and spat on the ground. “Come on then, if you have the guts to take on a man and not just beat down a woman. Come on you little bastards!”

And then the Imperial Marine charged them.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 09:04am
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Chapter Seven (cont.)

“Of all the bone-headed, dumb-ass things that you could have done, Centurion, you just had to go balls to the walls flank speed ahead and hand my wife this load of crap!” Jason snarled as the LAPD officer in riot gear let him into the isolation cell where they had moved Saul.

The grizzled Marine veteran snapped to attention as his Admiral entered the room. “SIR!” he snapped as he locked his eyes on the cell wall.

“Sir, what?” Jason spat curtly. “Is that supposed to be sir, I’m sorry I screwed up and handed you a major diplomatic incident? Or is it sir, I’m sorry I’ve put your ass in a sling because I didn’t think about what I was doing ahead of time? Which is it, Centurion?”

“Sir,” Saul answered crisply, “that would be both, sir. And sir, I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to finish that pack of filthy damned rapist bastards off before I got pulled off of them, SIR.”

Jason stepped directly in front of Saul Yarrow and glared directly into his eyes. “That was not your job, Centurion; not today it sure as hell wasn’t. Christ almighty, Saul, I’d expect this out of your fire-eaters and heart-breakers, but I thought you might show a bit more common sense.”

The Admiral shook his head, and then forced himself to relax. “What happened today, Saul? Just give me the straight story and don’t worry about making any excuses.”

“Sir. I witnessed a crime on the boardwalk; a mugger shoving down an old lady and stealing her purse. I stopped it, sir, but I got a little carried away and the asshole died. Apparently, they frown upon citizens stopping crime in these here parts, sir, because next thing I know the local cops are putting steel bracelets on me and hauling my ass off to jail.”

“Then they put me in a great big cage with a bunch of other criminals; real dirt-bag scum criminals, sir, the kind that brag about raping women. I didn’t start that one, but I finished it, or would have if they hadn’t come in to break it up. After that they put me here in a cell by myself, sir, and then you came in.”

Seven dead, Centurion, and another four in surgery at the hospital that may not make it out alive; with five more that you somehow failed to cripple or maim,” Jason interrupted. “Sounds like you didn’t leave them much to clean up afterwards.”

“No sir.”

“Well, the shit has hit the fan, Saul. These locals want your balls in a vise; and there is no way in hell their President is going to order you released, not after they have seen how we are dealing with their problem in South-West Asia—and our covert actions on their own soil. My problem is this: even though most of these government people are sons-of-bitches, we need them on our side for now. And right now, because of how we do our job, they are already getting as nervous as a freshman girl invited to the senior prom. And now this; damn it Saul, they want to put you away for life. Luckily, this state doesn’t allow its civilian government to execute prisoners . . .”

What?” blurted the Marine. “Have all of their governing officials just lost their ever-loving minds, Sir?”

“Maybe, Saul, maybe. But count your lucky stars you are not going to be standing trial facing capital charges. We will get you the best legal representation available, don’t worry about that. And if things go belly-up in the trial, I won’t leave you to rot in one of their prisons; damn the consequences. My boys will not be sharing a cell with people who find rape and child molestation humorous. Until then, however, you need to stay frosty, Marine; you understand me?”

“Sir, yes, Sir!”

“Good. We are going to push them hard to try this fast; I want you back in charge of Delta ASAP, Saul, but it will take some time. Apparently, their legal system is as screwed up as everything else they are doing; seems like normally this might take two years before it came down to a trial. I’ll move heaven and earth to see that it doesn’t, but you have to stay out of any more trouble; and for god’s sake Saul, whatever you do, don’t kill any of the prison guards!”

“Sir, no, Sir! The very thought had never even crossed my mind, Sir.”

“Right; I know you Centurion,” Jason said with a slight smile on his face. “And Saul?”

“Sir?”

“Try not to kill any more of their prisoners until we get this cleared up, ok? Not even the scum of the earth prisioners.”

“I’ll try my best, Sir.”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 10:40am
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Chapter Seven (cont.)

“OK, people, quiet down,” Robert Schaeffer said as he walked out onto an auditorium stage. “Grab a seat and shut your traps if you want to find out exactly why we are assembled here today.”

Slowly, the crowd of nearly one thousand engineers, scientists, administrators, mission specialists, and astronauts finished milling around and the auditorium quieted. The lights over the audience dimmed, allowing all those gathered to view the stage and the NASA logos on the wall behind clearly.

“All right then, most of you, probably all of you, have heard this before, but let’s keep it traditional: welcome to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Mission control. Kennedy may be the launch point, but Houston has been, and always will be, where we plan, execute, and direct our manned and unmanned exploration programs. To anyone here from the Cape, sorry about you being second-best, but hey, at least you are better than Vandenberg.”

A mixed set of sounds came from the audience; some people clapping and whistling and laughing, the minority booing and making cat-calls.

Schaeffer smiled at the men and women he knew well. As Director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration it was his job to know them and to lead them. The past few years had sorely tried his, and his people’s, nerves, what with the previous administrations canceling both the return to the Moon and the projected Mars mission, as well as the entire Constellation program to replace the shuttle fleet. Money had been siphoned away from NASA, and with the mandatory retirement of the shuttle fleet a decade ago, the very future of manned missions was suddenly in doubt. NASA had lost many of its best and brightest as hope slowly faded away; they left their government jobs, with paychecks restricted by law to less than that of a congressman, for more lucrative private sector employment. Still, the ones who remained were the ones that still dreamed, who wanted to follow in the footsteps of Glenn and Armstrong and Lovell. They were the best America had to offer, even in a time of tight budgets, and collectively were the most brilliant collection of men and women on the face of the planet. The most loyal to the ideals of the final frontier as well, even the ones that knew that they would too old to fly a mission when they Agency finally begin to receive the reinstated Constellations.

“I’m not going to bore you with a long introduction,” Schaeffer began, but had to stop as a standing ovation interrupted him, and he waved them back down into their seats as he shook his head and started over. “The recent arrival of our guests has really upset the apple cart. Not only are they far more advanced, with hundreds of years of knowledge that we have only just begun to plumb, they have a functional faster-than-light means of travel and working single-stage-to-orbit lift vehicles.”

The crowd went utterly quiet. Most had thought that this was what the conference would be about, but they had not known for certain. It was uncommon for NASA to summon the cream of the crop for a conference with no published topic, but it had happened before. Only rarely in the past had the attendees been ordered to leave all lap-top computers, digital recorders, cameras, cell phones, and blackberries outside, but even that had occurred. But to have both, at the same time, and for armed NASA security to be present at all doors? That was highly unusual. But when they had walked through the doors and saw the EM scramblers mounted on the walls and ceiling of the auditorium, they knew they were in for something very secretive and very, very special. The electro-magnetic scramblers prevented anyone outside from using listening devices to record or transmit the session, and the devices would erase any magnetic or digital tape that passed through their field. This particular auditorium was of the cold-war era, and it showed in the construction. There were no windows for laser whisker microphones to hear the conversations through, only four-foot thick reinforced concrete walls.

Their curiosity was raised, so the normally boisterous crowd simply waited for the Director to continue.

“First of all neither the Administration nor the White House has approved of this meeting, and especially not of the topic. I will take full and complete responsibility if they find out. We all know they want to kill manned flight; replace it with probes and sensor packages to make it safer and cheaper. But we are not going to go to the stars without taking risks, even with the help of our long-lost cousins from the future.”

Schaeffer turned to the wing and nodded, and then an Imperial navy officer stepped out onto the stage and took the Director’s place at the microphone.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Dan Moore, and I hold the rank of commander in Her Imperial Majesty’s naval service. I am an engineer, and am currently assigned to the flag staff of Commodore Liu Teng-Hui, commanding officer of Cruiser Division 342. Today, I want to share with you some of our—the Empire of Humanity’s—plans for the continued exploration and colonization of space.”

From somewhere in the crowd, a voice floated out on the ether. “A damned grease-monkey; we came here to listen to a wrench-puller?”

More voices, some agreeing and some disagreeing began to fill the air. Schaeffer walked back over to the microphone. “Stow that shit, people. For the record, Doctor Moore holds three Ph.D.’s; in physics, astrophysics, and computer science. He attended and graduated from M.I.T., yes, it still exists in their time, and it is still one of the best schools around, and then volunteered for service in the Imperial Fleet to earn his citizenship. Add to that the fact that he knows how to build the engine for a SSTO, and I think it will be worth your while to listen to what he has to say. Doctor Moore?”

“Thank you, Director. I understand your skepticism, really I do. What you have to understand is that I, and the majority of the Fleet, both enlisted and officer alike, are in awe of what you have done over the past fifty years. My god,” he said, shaking his head and grabbing the sides of the lectern, “from this room, from this Space Center, you people put Armstrong and Young on the Moon. You began all of this. And you have our deepest thanks for your sacrifices and your struggles. Her Imperial Majesty instructed me to come here, and to offer you all a place in what we will be doing. We would be honored to serve alongside you heroes.”

The room was quiet once again, as the Commander’s quiet and sincere words touched the heart of everyone present. Thinking of themselves as heroes was viewed as anachronistic and old fashioned; certainly the current President and his cabinet did not think of them in that way. Sometimes it seemed he thought of them only as a budgetary obstacle, in fact.

“Three months from now, the destroyers Scipio Africanus and Wallenstein will escort the auxiliary merchantman Preston Little from Earth orbit to Luna orbit. Little will be carrying supplies and equipment to construct the first permanent lunar settlement. This site, which will become Heinlein Base, will be primarily a fuel processing station, extracting lithium hydride from the lunar crust for use by the Fleet. However, it will also serve as a scientific research facility and an astronomical observatory. Plus, there are a few other strategic minerals nearby the area where we plan to build that will be eventually mined. Heinlein will also serve as the gateway to Clarke City, which we expect will attract men, women, and children caught by the lure of space. This twin city complex will become Man’s first extra-planetary refugee.”

“The problem is,” the navy officer continued, “we lack one critical resource, numbers. Numbers of people. Trained and skilled and motivated people who want to press outwards and onwards. We intend to ask for volunteers from every nation on this planet; but those volunteers will need to have skills and training and the sheer guts to carve out a settlement in a hostile setting. As we expand our construction to Clarke City, we want to bring families to the Moon, allowing the miners and researchers and hundreds of other required professions to be near their loved ones.”

“Both Heinlein, and eventually Clarke City, will be equipped with our contra-gravity generators, which means that the installations will feature the same internal gravity as Earth itself, so there will be no need to worry about the health risks of prolonged exposure to a low-gravity environment, and our anti-radiation shielding is a lot better than what you have right now, so that concern can also be set aside.”

Heinlein will also serve as the primary planetary defense facility for Earth. There are races out there that mean the people of Earth harm, ladies and gentlemen. Even if you object philosophically to weapons in space, I can assure you that those races will not applaud your decisions to make war no more; they will attempt to devour you and your children. The defense facilities will remain under the control of the Imperial Fleet and will be manned and commanded by our personnel, to include men and women from this time who volunteer for service. When completed, Heinlein will have more firepower at its disposal than Admiral Chandlers entire Battle Squadron, enough to smash into kindling any Ordan-Kraal culling fleet that ventures too close to the Moon and Earth.”

“Once we have the beginnings of Heinlein up and running, we will begin construction on a pair of stations, one in Earth orbit and one in Lunar orbit; those stations will be named Mercury and Apollo to honor your own exploration programs. Eventually, we plan to add two more stations, Gemini and Constellation, in Earth orbit to complete the orbital infrastructure. These stations will serve as transit points as well as orbital factories and shipyards, and like Heinlein will serve as key elements of defending the planet.”

“Within five years, Admiral Chandler, myself, and, most important of all, Her Imperial Majesty, hope that we can launch the first extra-solar colonization mission, using Preston Little and Lindsey Santiago, our other merchant auxiliary, to transport colonists to the Alpha Centauri system. There is a habitable world there, ladies and gentlemen, untouched by any sentient hands. It has oxygen, it has chlorophyll; it has both plant and animal life that we can digest. Within a decade, we want to transplant one million humans to New Earth, and start colonies at Tau Ceti, Epsilon Eridani, and a score of other pristine and virgin worlds waiting for us and our children.”

“Within twenty years, we hope to have colonies on Mars and Titan as well, and we intend to construct a massive ship-yard orbiting Titan—although construction of the shipyards is slated to begin as soon as humanly possible. The moons of Saturn and the asteroids of the Belt will provide us, as they did in our past, your future, with incredible quantities of material to build the Fleet that will defend our race, our home, and our people.”

“That is what we hope and dream of accomplishing; God willing and the Ordan-Kraal don’t come early. But we cannot accomplish this without your assistance. And that is why I am here to today; to ask the heroes of my childhood to help us save all of Humanity from the threat that wants nothing less than our enslavement or extinction.”

Commander Moore released the podium and stepped back and to the side as Director Schaeffer walked forward again. The silence was overwhelming; a single dropped pin would have deafening.

“Now you know what this conference is about,” Schaeffer said with a sad voice. “My contacts within the White House tell me that the President will not be diverting any funds to this effort; he hopes to force the Imperials to foot the bill and join later on the cheap. But we didn’t sign up to sit on the sidelines, people. We didn’t join NASA to let someone else, even heroes from our future, boldly go where no one has gone before and make history. We didn’t study and work and dream to see other brave men and women do our job that we have spent a lifetime preparing for.”

“Caesar Julia has spoken privately with me, and has offered full Imperial citizenship to any member of NASA that wishes to ask for it, along with a place in their program described today. I am submitting my resignation to the President a week from Friday afternoon in order to accept her offer. I want you to think about this; think about this hard. Go back to your departments and divisions, and let your people know as well—or at least the ones you trust, really trust. We have to keep this quiet. Regardless of what the President agreed to, do you really think he is going to let this entire agency leave en masse if he knows about it ahead of time?”

“Talk to your families, and make the choice for yourself. If you decide to accept the offer, there will be Imperial shuttles at Kennedy, Johnson, and Vandenberg on Friday of next week to take you to Vancouver. Have no doubt about this, people; if we do this, there are some that will call us traitors to the United States of America. I can live with that to accomplish what these people are offering. As for you, the choice is yours.”

The lights in the auditorium came up as Schaeffer stepped back from the microphone. And then, from the crowd, one astronaut stood, tears running down his cheeks, and he began to slowly clap, the sound echoing across the chamber. And then a second, and a third, and it became a wave ripping through the crowd until every one of the thousand was on their feet and the sound was thunderous.

NASA had made its decision.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 12:27pm
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Chapter Seven

“Their general is here to see you, Your Excellency,” Abdullah Ghadrin’s major-domo said to the newly reelected President of Afghanistan. The President sat back in his seat as he savored the title once again. Let the West say his election, his reelection, was corrupt; it was no matter. They needed him to retain the little stability they had in his country. And so what if his extended family had become Ministers of State and judges and chiefs of police? The best government was kept in the family, was it not?

“Yes, Jamil, show him in please and offer him some chilled pomegranate juice.”

“General Tuturola, mister President,” the man announced a moment later as he held the door open for the Imperial. The Westerner was short and stocky, Ghadrin saw, and accompanied by another of the Imperials, though this one was darker skinned, with a thick neatly trimmed black beard. That one could have passed for any one of the president’s tribal leaders, if he had a bit more dirt and grime scattered on his uniform. Both of the men wore field camo, and each carried a sidearm; holstered in the presence of the President of Afghanistan, of course.

“Ah, thank you for coming, General Tuturola,” Ghadrin said with a beaming smile after both of his guests turned down the offer of the juice, or even of water. “Your troops are making excellent progress against the rebels, and I have wanted to speak with you in private.”

“Well, go ahead, Mister President,” the general said amicably. “Major Khan is a member of my staff at the moment, and since he grew up in the Kabul of our time has been an invaluable source on the region.”

“Quite an asset then, General,” the Afghani leader said, and then paused as he carefully decided on his next words. “There are some in the tribes who lack a certain amount of respect for our central government, General. Now that your Legion has dealt with the warlords who sided with Mullah Omar and the remnants of the Taliban have made their way to Allah, we must set our own house in order to assure that the chaos does not return.”

“You got that right, Mister President,” the General replied with a smile of his own, “which is why you will announce within the next twenty-four hours that you are voluntarily stepping down as President and going into foreign exile. So that your countries wounds can heal without a leader present whom many regard as illegitimate.”

Ghadrin blinked once, then twice, and he emitted a short bark of laughter. “I had not known for you to have such a lively sense of humor, General,” he said, but his eyes were not laughing; his skin had lightened several shades, and his hands were shaking slightly.

“I have a very good sense of humor, Mister President, don’t I Amir?”

“As the General says,” his aide replied.

“Only, I’m not joking today, Mister Ghadrin,” the General finished as he lit one of his cigarettes and inhaled deeply, releasing the smoke through his nose.

Why?” Ghadrin wailed.

“You stole the election, which means that at heart you have become nothing more a fraud, sir. Maybe others in this time play the game that way, but we don’t. I’m sure you were fairly honest and wanted the best for your country when you began this, but when you just asked me to break the heads and hearts of people politically opposed to you, rather than people who are actually pointing guns at you, that only confirmed the Empress’s decision for me. No, Mister Ghadrin, you gotta to go.”

“And if I decide not to?” the seething almost-former President managed to utter past clenched jaws.

“In that case, I will bury you myself. The choice is between going into exile and spending the rest of your natural life in luxury, Mister Ghadrin, or being carried out of this palace in a body bag. I’ll let you make your own decision.”

“And who replaces me? That flea-bitten son of a whore I ran against . . .”

“No. Right now, Mister Ghadrin, there is no one in this country, from this time, either I or the Empress will trust with putting the Afghani people first.”

“From this time,” Ghadrin whispered. And then he grew red in the face, and stood to shout, “You intend to install one of your own as President?”

“Sit down, Mister Ghadrin,” Miles said in a forceful voice, dangerous and flat. Even as angered as he was, Ghadrin still retained enough sense to follow that instruction.

“There will not be a President. Quite frankly, your people are not ready for democracy; not without corruption and whole-sale incompetence. You are still a tribal people, not a united society by any stretch of the imagination. Major Khan is a direct descendent of Amanullah Khan, the last legitimate King of Afghanistan. You, having discovered that he is in fact the last son of Shah Amanullah, will announce tomorrow along with your chief rivals for the presidency that you are all going into exile, renouncing all claims of future power among the tribes of Afghanistan in favor of crowning Amir Khan as King, as Shah, in Kabul.”

“His ascension to that ancestral throne will calm the Pashtun tribesman; his being an Imperial and our even-handed treatment of men and women in the north will restore relations with the Teljik and Uzbek tribesmen and reassure everyone that the Taliban will not be returning. The rest will learn to accept your new King, and so will Pakistan.”

“What of the mullahs,” Ghadrin asked sourly.

“What of them?” replied Miles.

“They remember Amanullah Khan; they deposed him for lightening the restrictions of shariah law, for letting women decide whether or not to wear the veil, to learn to read and write, for taking away their role in the courts. They will oppose your man.”

Major, soon-to-be King, Amir Khan smiled at the former in all but name President. “Let them try, Abdullah. Let the bastards try.”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 12:37pm
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Quote:
NASA had made its decision.


Interesting descision to make...renounce American citizenship to take part in the greatest project in human history? Hell, I'd be sorely tempted.

Actually that raises a question. American law recognizes individuals with dual citizenships... so would they really be doing much more than quitting NASA and moving to another country / outer space?



You will be assimilated...bunghole!

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 01:36pm
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Chapter Seven (cont.)

“What have they done now?” groaned the President as Tom entered the Oval Office, his face pinched and narrow.

“They just restored the Kingdom of Afghanistan; Ghadrin and those who opposed him in the campaign are all going into exile, supposedly voluntarily,” his Chief of Staff answered bluntly.

Michael’s jaw dropped and his eyes grew wide. “They overthrew the sitting government?”

Tom nodded. “Turns out one of their people is direct descendant of one of the Afghan Kings deposed back in the ‘20s, they just finished crowning him a few minutes ago.”

The President opened a small drawer on his desk, and took out a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches along with an ashtray. Striking a match, he lit one of the smokes and took a deep inhalation, holding it for several seconds before releasing the cloud of smoke into the air.

“Did they give a reason?”

“Speaking to Her Imperial Majesty’s spokesman, he said that the Ghadrin government recognized their legitimacy was in question, and after having, serendipitously, discovered that one Major Amir Khan was in fact the great-great-great-great-great-and-so-on grandson of Amanullah Khan, he and all of his opponents in the recent race decided that the people of Afghanistan needed to be united behind a monarch that none could accuse of corruption. On the bright side, the new King, although his official title is Shah, declared that he would retain the national assembly, and that he would not tolerate any corruption among the delegates, or his police, or his army. He pledged to serve the people of Afghanistan, regardless of tribe, and offered amnesty to any member of the Taliban or any member of the various militias run by local Warlords who are willing to lay down arms and swear allegiance to the throne. Then he said that anyone continuing to bear arms against his government would be staked out in the desert for the women to mutilate.”

Michael’s eyes goggled, but Tom shook his head. “It sounds more poetic in Pashtun, Mister President. It is a traditional turn of phrase that in their culture means any type of death sentence. I’m not at all certain he actually meant it literally.”

“After these past few weeks, Tom, I won’t bet the farm on it,” the President replied coldly as he rapidly finished with the cigarette and crushed out the lit coal.

“Will the Afghans accept this; I mean the Imperials putting one of their own on the throne?”

Tom shrugged. “Amir Khan was born and raised in the Kabul of their time, he is an Afghan. He knows the people, the culture, their society, their history, and shares their religion. The question is, Mister President, will the Afghans see him as an outsider or as a knight in shining armor come to rescue them from their nightmare?”

Michael nodded. “And the down-side?”

“Other than they just installed one of their own as a head-of-state and deposed the standing government? Other than they have given up on democracy and returned to a monarchy?” the advisor shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, sir. The left will scream bloody murder, if they haven’t already screamed themselves hoarse, that is, and if Shah Amir pledges his fealty to Her Imperial Majesty, bringing Afghanistan into the Empire of Humanity as a province, it will cause a lot of tension in the region. Especially with China and Iran.”

The Chinese were already upset with the Empress over the casual use of nukes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as were the majority of countries across the globe, Michael thought. That, and the way which they dealt with the terrorists they captured, or got from us in the first place, or assassinated on US soil, had threatened to split America’s own government apart. The left had gone completely nuts, calling for the renouncement of all points of agreement for the multiple human rights violations, while the more moderate center had condemned it but espoused the don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater philosophy. The right-wing (of course) had thrown celebrations over how, in their words, the Imps were kicking ass and taking names. Iran, well, he wanted Iran to be nervous, it could be a lever to use against their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Although having a neighbor who had them, and had used them, no less, might well have the opposite effect.

China, on the other hand, could be a major problem. China had been thoroughly rebuffed by Her Majesty and her husband after they had insisted on being given access to the Imperial military technology. And when China’s leadership had coldly lectured the Empress that a third of the world’s population looked to China for leadership, she had smiled and replied that can change in a heart-beat. Whether or not she meant to imply that her ships could bombard mainland China back to the Stone Age from orbit, the government in Beijing choose to interpret it that way.

And when the Empress had visited Taipei last week, the People’s Republic went ballistic. She emerged from her meetings with the Taiwanese Prime Minister with signed contracts for those fusion plants, along with a basing agreement, and Taiwan had forged a defensive treaty with her as well. Any attack on the island or people of the Republic of China would be considered an attack on the Empire, she oh-so-sweetly had announced on live TV from the Prime Minister’s front lawn in Taipei.

To call the Chinese government miffed would be like saying the Pacific Ocean was just a little bit bigger than your average back-yard puddle.

The phone on his desk buzzed, stirring the President out of his momentary reverie. He hit the speaker button. “Yes, Margaret?”

“Mister President, the Attorney General is here, and she says it is urgent.”

Michael and Tom exchanged a worried look, and then he answered, “Send her in, Margaret.”

The curved door set into the wall of the Oval opened and Leslie Baker, Attorney General of the United States stepped into the President’s office.

“Afternoon, Leslie,” Michael said as he stood, extending his hand to the woman. “What brings you to this part of town today?”

“Mister President, we have a situation with NASA that requires your immediate attention.”

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 02:07pm
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Chapter Seven (cont.)

The Empress groaned with pleasure as she lay back on the couch, her eyes closed. “That’s the spot,” she whispered to Jason as he massaged her bare feet. “Right—ooph—there; press just a little harder.”

She sighed, as the day’s tension began to ebb away. A flash of lightning from the storm clouds still far out over the Pacific lit the room around them for a moment; already, the breakers below the house overlooking the ocean were white-capped and rough. Soon enough, the storm would be here. She sighed again, and then sat up, tucking her feet beneath her legs.

“Jase,” she whispered, as he bent over to kiss her, “we need to talk first.”

The Admiral, her Admiral, smiled. “After all that work, I get nothing?”

“Spoilsport! You are supposed to like doing that for me!” she laughed.

“What’s on your mind, love?”

Her smile faded. “We can’t do this; there aren’t enough of us, Jas.”

“Of course we can; we show them how the Empire works, better than any government they have; we help them out, and they will eventually join us.”

Eventually, they will join us. But will it be before the Ordan-Kraal come? We don’t know when they will expand in this direction; we know when they did in our time, but everything is changed now. What if they detected our time-jump? What if they come looking for us now?”

“Then we fight. The 342nd can handle their initial expedition alone; and the effects of that battle might force everyone to unite behind us to resist the main force when they arrive later.”

“It isn’t enough, Jase,” the young woman said. “I know you, and your men, want to keep as much tech as possible out of these people’s hands. That’s why we are setting things up here so that Vancouver, and Heinlein, when that gets up and running, will produce our weapons. But there is only so much room here, and there is so much to do.”

“What do you want us to do?” her husband asked, the warmth in his voice fading away.

“We can’t have a, oh, call it a bunker mentality, love. These people are smart, they are industrious; it’s just that their governments are utterly unworkable. Give it to them, Jason; give them the entire data-base, all of our technology, except for the weapons tech. They will set up the means to produce what we need, and who knows, some young genius out there might come up with something we haven’t thought of.”

“You are serious about this?”

“Dead serious, Jase. There are too few of us to hoard this knowledge. But there are seven and a half billion of them, and their own interests will drive them to produce what they can themselves; for them and for us. You can keep the weapons tech, and we can produce it here and on the Moon, but if we get them to do the rest, that means we can concentrate on preparing for the confrontation. We aren’t businessmen and women, Jason, we aren’t magnates of industry; I’m just Caesar’s daughter with a degree in political science, and you, and your people, are soldiers and sailors. We have to bring everyone on this planet to the table, or we risk losing everything, husband.”

“You are not Caesar’s daughter, Julia, you are Caesar,” the man she loved said softly. “I swore an oath to obey you, and I will hold to that oath.”

“Even if you don’t agree with me?” she asked sadly.

“Even if I don’t agree with you, love,” he replied gently. “It would help us boot-strap them to modern times a bit faster,” he mused.

“And it would let you get your engineers back to the Fleet, instead of running around trying to explain how to construct this or that widget,” she said with a little smile.

“How many of the NASA people do you think we will wind up getting?” He asked, changing the subject as he continued to mull over the idea.

“Half,” she answered, after considering the question. “At least half, and about the same again from the ESA, the Russians, and the Japanese.”

“That will help ease some of the pressure on my people. Are you certain you want to do this? With all of these new men and women . . .”

“They don’t know how to build and run production factories anymore than you or I do, Jase. We have to incorporate a lot more people, or we will come up short when the balloon goes up.”

“All right, then we do it your way. When do you want to make the announcement?”

“Tomorrow, if we can. If you can have copies of the data-base ready by then,” she paused as she chewed on her lower lip. “This is really the first command decision I’ve had to make, Jase; I mean where you and I don’t agree.”

“Yes. But you, not I, not Miles, not Nathan, not anyone else, you are Caesar. You are. I will support you, now in private and later in public, and so will my officers. So will the men. And if they don't, I'll have them flogged.”

“Have I told you today how much I love you?” she whispered as she fell into his arms, tears trickling down from her cheeks.

“After that foot massage, I would hope you still love me,” he answered with a chuckle, as the Empress joined in.

Against the angled windows set in the wall, the first heavy drops of the rain began to splatter. The storm had arrived.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 05:43pm
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Marvellously done so far. I have to admit that it reminds me a bit, thematically, of David Weber's Dahak trilogy. I don't suppose that was one of your inspirations?



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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 06:15pm
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Crayz9000 wrote:
Marvellously done so far. I have to admit that it reminds me a bit, thematically, of David Weber's Dahak trilogy. I don't suppose that was one of your inspirations?


Well, I read a lot of Weber, including the Dahak saga. But I wouldn't say it was based on that . . . or any piece of fiction, really. I know I have tried to put my own stamp on this story; can't say how successful I have been though.

MA

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 06:29pm
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So far, very successful. I am really enjoying it.



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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 06:44pm
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As I said, perhaps inspired by. Even Weber's own stories tend to follow similar lines: I've been following his Safehold series and the concepts there are all vaguely familiar to the ones presented in the Dahak trilogy.

Post-apocalyptic stories in general have a limited basis to draw from. The overall concept of a more advanced version of humanity coming to Earth to prevent the impending apocalypse has been done before by various authors.

I haven't seen the time travel angle before, and I love the way you've executed it. After all, any system that allows you to travel faster than the speed of light has the potential to violate causality in various ways.

The characters all ring true, and despite having a fairly large cast, I think you've managed to do a good job of fleshing them out. The beginning of the story was a bit heavy with tech infodumps, but it balanced out over time, and the tech such as it is isn't terribly outlandish. You also didn't try to over-explain the mechanisms behind the systems, which I agree with. It's easier to sell a black box that does x with y than it is to use pseudoscience to explain how the device uses y to do x.



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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 09:22pm
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Chapter Eight

Marcus Warren snapped to attention as the guards escorted him into the presence Admiral Chandler—and his wife, the Empress of Humanity. “The prisoner is reporting as ordered!” he barked, giving a Confederation style salute, with his open hand locked into place where the brim of his cap would normally have been.

Jason stood and he returned the salute with a somber face. “At ease,” he ordered, and then he grinned as Warren instead assumed a position of parade rest, his eyes locked on the wall behind him and his wife. Then the Admiral sat and his wife spoke up.

“No doubt you are asking why you are here, Colonel Warren?”

“Ma’am, I am a prisoner of war and I am here because you have ordered me to present myself.”

Julia sighed. “Colonel, the Confederation does not exist in this time—and as you can see, the Empire is not quite as misogynist as it once was. Would you care for some tea?”

“Ma’am, thank you, no ma’am,” Warren answered stiffly.

Julia sighed again. “You are not going to make this easy are you, Colonel?”

There was no answer, and Julia nodded. “Alright, the humans of this Earth need you and your men, Colonel—I need you. The Confederation we once knew and the Empire both are lost to us; but we can make a difference here. I need your help to prepare for the coming of the Ordan-Kraal.

And a muscle in Marcus Warren’s face twitched at that name.

“We have a chance to avoid the near extermination of the human race, Colonel,” she continued, “but to do that I need every last man and woman from our time to work together. That includes you and your people. Please sit, Marcus,” she asked again, “you are a tall man and my neck is developing a kink from looking up at you.”

Marcus looked down on the woman and he too sighed and then he relaxed and sat down in the chair opposite her and her husband. “Ma’am, you cannot tell me that my men and women would be accepted among your forces. I know what you want, and once we are split up, all hope that we have of making a difference, of . . . toning down the Imperial nature of your new realm, that will be lost.”

Julia nodded. “Which is why, despite the protests from my husband,” and she patted Jason on the hand, “and other officers, I am going to keep your engineers together—under your command.”

“Excuse me?”

“Colonel Warren, you are a construction engineer from our time—a highly trained and expert construction engineer. And you have four Confederation Naval Construction battalions under your command, along with a company of Naval Infantry for security. I am not going to assign you to the Legion, but I need you and your men to help keep Earth safe from the Crabs.”

She slid a data-pad across her desk to the POW. “This house is quite nice, but it is rather small to run the Empire of Humanity from, Colonel Warren. We need a new Imperial Palace—not just to serve as my home, but as the command center for the entire Imperial Government, and the defense headquarters of Earth itself. The Legion’s construction engineer battalion came up with this design, but they are needed to support the Legion—and the engineers from this time have never worked with our construction methods and materials before.”

Marcus began to scroll through the pad and he shook his head. “The geology of the site will not support the structure as designed,” he whispered. “You had a professional draw up these plans?”

Jason grunted. “Lt. Colonel Rice was the only member of the Legion trained as an architectural engineer—he was killed last week in an accident in Peshawar.”

The engineer nodded and he shook his head again. “The design will have to be changed—and these are local ground surveys? With current technology?”

“They are,” Julia answered.

“Then we need to get accurate readings with modern equipment,” Marcus sighed again and he sat down the pad and shook his head. “If we can come to an agreement on the status of my people.”

“They take the Oath of Service, and they all receive citizenship regardless of gender. Everyone keeps their current ranks and their time in service, I will provide you and your people with the same pension and retirement benefits as any Imperial officer or enlisted personnel. In addition, I need a loyal opposition—to keep me from going too far. Accordingly, when we reform the Senate, I will appoint you as a Senator, representing your people in the Imperial Senate to serve as a voice of opposition.”

Marcus swallowed. The offer was far more generous than he had expected. And the Ordan-Kraal were coming. At last he nodded. “I will convince my people—what about those who do not want to serve under you?”

“They have the option of being discharged as a civilian—and I will ensure that they receive the benefits and pension to which they are due. I am certain that other nations will be more than happy to receive any of your personnel who choose not to stay, Marcus.”

“And Commodore Palik? How is her condition?” he asked.

Jason shook his head sadly. “She remains hospitalized—the realization that we Imperials came back in time broke her completely. She’s mad, completely and utterly mad.”

“She has to receive care for the remainder of her life as part of this deal . . . Your Majesty,” Marcus said as he stood.

“You have my word upon it,” Julia answered as she stood and held out her hand. Marcus stared at her for a moment, and then he took it and shook once to seal the deal.

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 Post subject: Re: In Harm's Way PostPosted: 2012-09-11 09:40pm
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I was wondering when we were going to hear from the Confederation personnel again. I'm looking forward to hearing more about them, why they are in (an ultimately futile, apparently) opposition to the Imperial state, etc.

This is getting better and better with each post.

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