In Harm's Way

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-12 03:38pm

Chapter Eight (cont.)

“This, gentlemen, is the A-217 Model B Special Operations and Reconnaissance Full Body Armor (Powered),” the speaker gestured towards the matte black suit of armor standing in the middle of the stone chamber. “Commonly called Scout armor, this is the lightest infantry armor worn into combat by Recon, Scout, and Special Operations troopers of the Imperial Legions and the Fleet Marines. This armor masses eighty kilograms; or forty percent of standard Marine battle dress; less than a third that of a Legion suit. It is, however, far more nimble and it possesses three times the endurance under combat conditions than any other suit of battle armor in the Imperial inventory. It is also far less heavily armored than its cousins and unlike heavier suits this piece of equipment does not mount any integral weapon systems other than one belt-fed silenced sub-machine gun that can be installed in either the right or left forearm, depending upon the preference of the wearer.”

The Imperial officer grinned, showing his teeth to the assembled audience as he walked around the SpecOps trooper displaying the suit in the center of the room. “I can hear the question in the air, gentlemen, as though it had already been asked: why have such a weak suit of combat battle armor?”

“We built the Alpha-Two-Seventeen precisely because sometimes the situation calls for neither a bigger hammer nor the ability to take harder hits. Sometimes, the objective is to get in, do the deed, and get out, without being seen or heard in the process. Scout armor has the lowest signature of any type of full-body armor in service among any branch of humanity, and this baby carries several tricks and trade secrets of its own. The outer skin of the armor, which is by the way, sufficient to stop light and medium caliber small arms fire of the here and now, is made of a very costly, very hard to manufacture material that will, under the right conditions, absorb incoming electromagnetic radiations. Everything from visible light down to infrared clear up into the ultra-violet frequencies, along with radio waves, sound waves, microwaves, and just about every other type of EM wave known to science. Not fully, mind you; Scout armor is very, very stealthy, but it is not invisibility. In order to function, the suit must have power, first and foremost, and it must also be moving quite slowly and calmly. Sudden bursts of speed, or even snapping a weapon up to bear will break the camo effect.”

The officer nodded at the trooper and something began to happen. The men seated around the room all sat up very quietly and watched with great intent as the edges of the suit began to blur, to shift, and then slowly faded away into almost nothing. Only a slight distortion in the air, like the thick haze of too-humid day, or perhaps a mirage, maybe even a shadow, remained where the suit had been but a moment ago. Then suddenly it reappeared as the trooper dropped to one knee and raised a metal-clad hand as though it was holding a weapon.

“It isn’t perfect, but what in life is? Second, the advantage of carrying less HCA than other suits of armor means there is less interference with the onboard sensors of the armor; both passive and active. Basically, the Scout armor can see better, can hide really damn well, and move faster for longer periods of time. Since the Alpha-Two-Seventeen Mod Beta carries nothing heavier than an SMG inside the armor, this is one of the few Imperial suits that actually have to physically carry weapons, much like your soldiers of this time sling their rifles.”

The officer knelt down and unsealed a bulky case, removed a weapon from its padded interior and stood once again, grunting with effort as he raised the barrel of the heavy rifle towards the ceiling. “The Alpha-Two-Seventeen R77 Scout-Sniper Rifle, gentlemen. Single barrel, semi-automatic, with a thirty-round box magazine and chambered for 12.5mm tungsten cored armor-piercing rounds. Power is provided by a direct feed from the Scout armor for the gravity pulse coils sandwiched between the barrel and the barrel sleeve, providing those big, heavy slugs with a truly incredible amount of muzzle velocity. Maximum effective range is four kilometers, and by effective, gentlemen, I mean able to penetrate the breastplate of a suit of Legion battle armor. The round itself can fly for a hell of lot farther, but it rapidly loses penetrating power past four klicks. Just for your information, the longest confirmed range at which this weapon successfully took down a bad guy was against an unarmored target at a range of eleven thousand, six hundred and forty-nine meters.”

“At close range, this puppy will penetrate side and rear armor on all light vehicles and most medium-weight designs in use by the Legions; close meaning under a kilometer. A very sophisticated targeting system integral to the armor allows the wearer to designate a target, and then compensates on the aim-point for the weather conditions, the condition of the weapon, and the range to target. Or, in a close-combat environment, the trooper is simply shown a targeting box on the interior of his face plate that indicates where the round will strike. But since Murphy is alive and well even in our native time,” and chuckles arose from the gathered men surrounding the speaker, “there are two secondary sets of aiming guides. The first is good old plain iron sights, adjustable for elevation and windage. The second is a high-resolution adjustable x5-x30 scope built directly into the rifle itself. The armor, of course, can, when everything is working, see much sharper and farther than that.”

“The only other weapon carried by the A-Three-Four-Two is a very ancient, very simple system; a combat blade. Silent and made from materials that your armorers have yet to even dream of having, the combat blade for this suit of armor is sharp enough that you can whittle a solid block of steel with it. Backed up with the enhanced strength of the Scout suit, a trooper can even penetrate up to four centimeters of HCA if he hits it just right. Now, in my time, different units used a variety of blades. Marine Force Recon tends to use a combat knife, quite similar to the K-Bar so common today. But the Legions recruit specific cultures for the scout cohorts, and each was given a weapon emblematic of that culture. For example, cohorts raised from a world settled by the Apache were issued a double-edged short knife, while other Native American descendents favored the tomahawk. Scouts from Northern European cultures tended to favor a broad dirk, while Middle Eastern or Arabic ones favored a single-edged curved jambiya, or small scimitar. But for you gentlemen, we realize that no other weapon could possibly serve in place of the one which you made famous the world over.”

The officer knelt once again and from the case on the floor extracted a heavy knife, the blade curving forward and down, a faint gleaming glimmer reflecting from the barely perceptible edge. The officer handed the knife to the trooper and stepped back as the trooper judged the blades balance. And then he threw the knife towards a thick plate of steel that had been set against one of the stone walls. With a thunderous clang, the knife sank in to the hilt; eleven inches deep in homogenous rolled steel armor plate, the metal around the knife alive with a soft diffuse red glow caused by the sudden spike in temperature that the passage of the kukri had created.

“I think, gentlemen,” the officer continued softly in a room that was now so quiet a creeping mouse along the wall could have mimicked a herd of thundering elephants, “that both Nepal and the Gurkha tribes will be very interested in what we Imperials can offer to what may be the finest light infantry troopers mankind has ever produced. I do hope that government sees it way fit to sign up with Empire of Humanity, and take your place alongside us as the defenders of Mankind.”

One of the audience stood and he was nodding slowly at the demostration. "How many Gurkhas does your Empire wish to field?"

The Imperial officer smiled. "Her Imperial Majesty has budgeted to outfit and equip no fewer than ten Gurkha Rifle Cohorts . . . each consisting of four hundred and eighty-eight officers and men. The soldiers of those units would be also be paid at a rate equivalent to the Legion for every rank, and have the same pensions and benefits of the Legions. By law," and he smiled again, "Caesar cannot deploy more than sixty percent of the Gurkha Rifle Cohorts from Nepal at any given time . . . which will leave your country with at least four Cohorts to defend your own nation. If you decide to accept our offer, that is."

"You are speaking of five thousand officers and men . . . traditionally, we have had foreign officers lead our Gurkhas."

"The Empire believes that you are more than capable of leading yourselves, Eldar Narayan," he answered. "We will, of course, assign liaison officers and trainers to coordinate the formation of these units and teach your personnel how to operate and maintain the equipment; after that, unless you request it, the Gurkhas will be under the command of Nepali officers that you appoint, answering only to Her Imperial Majesty and her appointed Warlord."

The eldars began to whisper among themselves and then Narayan turned back to the Imperial. "Five thousand we can provide. It is settled . . . now may we shoot that weapon?"

"Should you not check with your government first?"

"We are the Gurkhas . . . the government will do as we decree, or the government of Nepal will be changed once more."

The officer from the Legions bowed his head and he held out the massive rifle, and one-by-one the Gurkha elders arose and walked over to take their turn with the weapon.

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-12 04:21pm

Chapter Eight (cont.)

The courtroom was packed to capacity; not just with the local and national media who had flocked to witness the event, or even with the everyday citizens of Los Angeles who were drawn to criminal trials like moths to the flame. One half of the court was filled with men—no women, here—wearing identical uniforms of dark blue and crimson, highlighted with sparkles of gold on the jacket buttons and belt buckles. Unlike the milling citizens and frenzied reporters, the Marines sat still on the packed benches, with each man’s gaze locked upon the door in the far wall to the right of the judge’s bench. A door that had so far remained closed.

Between the marines, citizens, and reporters and the bench lay the wooden bar that separated the public from the teams of attorneys, both for the defense and the government, as well as the still empty jury box positioned as far as possible from the defense table. The prosecutors (three men and two men, each with a briefcase of polished leather and a sizable stack of legal pads and documents on the table before them) were already present, as was the single smartly dressed defense counsel. Unlike the prosecutors who buzzed around, talking and looking over their various briefs and statements, the counsel for the defendant simply sat back in his chair with his feet propped on the edge of the table before him, his arms crossed over his belly; his eyes closed and his chin resting upon his chest.

A second door on the far wall on the far wall opened and a deep voice emerged from one of the bailiffs. “All rise!”

As the judge robed all in black entered the court-room, the citizens and the media stood and slowly quieted themselves. All seven attorneys stood as well, many smoothing any wrinkles in their dark grey and navy blue and black pinstriped suits, conscious of the many cameras that would be focused on them. The Marines sat for a moment longer, and then—as one—they each stood, stamping down one booted foot on the marble floor that startled everyone else. The judge stopped in her tracks and turned one startled head towards the marine contingent, but they stood in place as though frozen, their eyes still fixed upon the as-yet unopened door. She shook her head and climbed the steps and then sank into her leather chair. Picking up the gavel, she banged it once, and then a second time.

“This criminal court for the county of Los Angeles is now in session,” boomed one of the bailiffs, “Judge Sandra Beam presiding. Be seated.”

The media, citizens, Marines, and attorneys took their seats as the judge adjusted her eye-glasses and leaned back in her seat.

A second bailiff approached her bench and handed her a manila folder which she opened and laid out several sheets of paper. Quickly scanning over them, she removed her glasses and nodded at the bailiff, who then stepped back behind a small desk to her right and lifted yet another sheet of paper in his hand.

“Case number 839-5674-867-32,” he began to read aloud. “The people of California against Saul Yarrow; charges are murder in the second degree, eleven counts; attempted murder, six counts; assault with a deadly weapon, seventeen counts; battery upon an officer of the law, six counts; resisting arrest, one count.”

The door on the far wall opened and Saul Yarrow was led forward, his hands shackled to a leather belt that circled his waist; his feet hobbled together by another length of chain that was also secured to the belt. But instead of a prison jumpsuit, or a civilian suit, he wore beneath the shackles and manacles and chains the dress uniform of an Imperial Marine, complete with his many decorations and medals . . . although his sidearm and dress sword were absent.

“ATTENTION ON DECK!” Gunnery Sergeant Valjean barked and the Marines, more than a hundred Marines, snapped to their feet once more.

Judge Beam pounded the gavel and yelled for order, even as Saul gravely nodded at the men of his Century (and century) and said, “As you were, Marines.”

“DELTA CENTURY,” barked Valjean, even as the judge rose from her chair, her face flushed red with fury over the disruption, “PARADE REST!" He waited one second, then continued. "AT EASE!”

As one, the Marines snapped out of attention to parade rest, and then after a second had passed, they all sat once more.

“I will tolerate none of this behavior in my courtroom,” Judge Beam spat. “You will abide by the rules of the court or you will be ejected, if not placed under arrest. That ruling will apply to everyone here; am I understood?”

A ringing silence answered her, and she sat back down. “Very well, then. Are we prepared to begin jury selection?”

The lead prosecutor stood at his table. “May we approach, your Honor?” he asked.

The judge waved him forward and one-by-one the five prosecution attorneys made their way forward, joined by the lone man who rose from his seat beside Saul.

“Yes, Mister Cabot?”

“Your Honor, I must protest the outlandish costume the defendant is wearing. This is a civilian criminal trial; and even if it were not, that is the uniform of a foreign power. The defense is attempting to influence the jurors even before the trial begins be parading his client around as if he were a man of honor.”

The defense attorney shook his head and smiled. “Influence the jury? Isn’t that my job, counselor? Your Honor, Centurion Yarrow is currently serving in the Imperial Marine Corps; well, he would be if we were not here to answer these patently ridiculous charges. He owns only two sets of civilian clothing; neither of which is appropriate for the gravity of this court. Unless the prosecutor would have him appear before you and the jury wearing sandals, beach shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt?”

“Once again Mister Colbert attempts to obfuscate the issue, your Honor,” Cabot smoothly interjected. “I believe that Mister Yarrow, his foreign military rank being irrelevant to this case, has more than enough funds at his disposal for his attorney to purchase a suitable set of civilian attire for him to wear in the court. This is a blatant attempt to gain sympathy from potential jurors by using the military service of the defendant to tug on their heart-strings.”

“I agree,” Beam replied. “No, Counselor, save your rebuttal for later. I want that man in civilian dress by this time tomorrow.”

“Of course, your Honor,” Nelson Colbert said; then his face twisted into a wry smile. “Does this mean that you intend to delay the selection of the jury until tomorrow? They are waiting outside, you know.”

The judge shook her head. “No. We will begin jury selection today, regardless of what the defendant is wearing. Save it Counselor,” she snapped as James Cabot began to protest. “One day of the defendant wearing that get-up is not going to prejudice the jury. Once the jury is selected I will instruct them that they are to disregard all references to the defendant’s military rank and service.”

“Now I must protest, your Honor,” Colbert said. “My client acted in accordance with his training and his oath. If you disallow any testimony about his military career you are depriving him of his defense against these charges.”

“I find it hard to believe, Counselor, that his oath required your client to brutally murder ten men and critically injure six more; after his apprehension and incarceration for the first homicide he committed. Regardless, I have ruled on this point. Step back, please.”

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-12 04:28pm

Chapter Eight (cont.)

“Henry? I’m home, honey,” Sandra Beam called out as she closed the door behind her. She set her purse on the side table and began to take off her damp overcoat. A Pacific storm had come ashore late in the afternoon and normally sunny Los Angeles was suffering through sporadic rain. “Mmmm,” she said as she caught the aroma of a spinach casserole drifting into the foyer from the kitchen. “Smells wonderful, Henry.”

Hanging up the coat to dry, she walked down a short hallway and turned into the kitchen, only to come to a dead stop as her jaw dropped in shock. Her husband Henry lay on the floor, his hands bound behind his back; he was still moving, she realized. He’s alive! From either side of the kitchen entrance armored hands grabbed her upper arms and carried her into the room, forcing her down into one of the chairs to the side of the small breakfast nook. Grey duct tape was wrapped around her chest and arms, still more around the legs of both her and the chair itself. As she opened her mouth to scream, one of the menacing figures adorned head to feet in black armor lifted his arm and sprayed a foul-tasting mist into her mouth.

She gagged, and then tried to scream, but no sound other than a dull croak emerged from her throat.

“Sandra Beam?” a distorted voice asked from behind the mirrored visor of one of the suits.

She nodded as beads of cold sweat ran down her blouse.

“We have no intention of harming you; well, no intention today, you understand,” the voice continued. “That spray will wear off in about thirty seconds, but we would appreciate if you do not scream. Accidents do happen, after all. Comprende, senorita?”

Sandra nodded her head vigorously, and the armored man leaned down, placing his visor just inches away from her nose. She could see the distorted reflection of herself jump across its surface as she trembled.

“Good! We heard about your case today; the one involving Centurion Yarrow. Now, Ms. Beam, I really don’t want to hurt a lady, god’s honest truth there, ma’am. But you kind of upset my boys, and me as well. You see, disrespecting the uniform a man earns, disrespecting the service that he gives to the Empire; well, if you disrespect one of us that means you just spat on all of us. And we don’t particularly care for being spat upon.”

“This is just a friendly warning, your Honor. Show some damned respect for the Centurion and his service in your courtroom. Otherwise, ma’am, as much as I would hate to do it, me and the boys will feed you and your Henry there to the fishes. Right smack dab in the middle of the bloody Pacific Ocean, ma’am.”

“And don’t you worry about a thing, ma’am. You see, so long as this trial keeps on trucking along, we are going to be watching over you. Like a pod of protective orcas. Not a thing in the world is gonna get through us to bother you. So long as you behave yourself in that courtroom, that is.”

He stood up and took a step backwards. “We will give the local Keystone cops a yell in a few minutes; let them know to drop by and cut you and your Henry loose. Just you hold on tight and help should be right here in just a few minutes. Up to you what you tell them, ma’am, but remember this: we will be watching and we will be listening. So try to show a little bit of respect for the uniform even if you can’t show any for the man who wears it. Good night, your Honor.”

The men hurried out from her home, and Sandra began to sob. Ten minutes later, she was in hysterics as the police and emergency medical personnel loaded her aboard an ambulance.

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby The Vortex Empire » 2012-09-12 05:39pm

That was not an intelligent move.

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby Lerryn » 2012-09-12 07:55pm

This whole thing is in a high-speed handbasket, on all sides, but yes, that was a mistake of massive proportion.
I suspect the Imperials have no experience dealing with friendly foreign powers, or a lot of things would have gone differently, starting with the "Surprise! We killed a bunch of terrorists you hadn't found yet!" move. Giving the intel to Now-native counterterror agencies, and giving them a chance to prove their competence (or lack thereof) would likely result in a lot less long-term problems. (While still keeping an eye on the targets in case of screwups.) If they get it right, excellent, we (the Imperials) can work with these people. If there are screwups, then we gave you a chance, and you proved you couldn't do the job.

But the Yarrow incident... wow. Fail all around, starting with the lack of a "we know you're a loose cannon, don't do anything stupid" set of orders. (In this case, "stupid" including "anything against the laws of the foreign country you're visiting.") Then, fail on the part of the US gov't by not making sure that the trial is scrupulously fair, getting Yarrow on the "he's a dangerous maniac who is incapable of using anything less than lethal force in a fight" tactic. Now this latest thing, which if it wasn't at least semi-sanctioned shows a dangerous breakdown of discipline, and lack of equipment control. Because a group of soldiers goes AWOL in their power armor? That's not a small thing.
So sanctioned or not, I'm losing respect for the Imperials.

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-12 08:58pm

Chapter Eight (cont.)

“It’s no good, Skipper,” the sailor at the helm called out. “We can’t evade them.”

The captain of the merchant vessel MV Gloria Kessler raised his binoculars and zoomed in on the dozen small and swift craft pursuing his freighter. Damn it all, he thought, the bloody pirates are not supposed to be this far south! Slowly, he lowered the glasses once again and lifted the handset for the direct line to his engine room.

“Sean,” he asked after the engineer picked up, “can you give me any more speed?”

“We’re already running the engines twenty percent above the red line, Skip,” the captain heard above the roar of the twin diesels. “I push them any harder and we’re liable to lose one or both of them. And even if they hold together, an extra knot isn’t going to be enough; not against speed boats.”

He’s right, the captain thought, as he peered through the bridge windows at the sleek, low-slung craft slicing through the water, throwing up spray and wash into their wake. “Do your best Sean; and tell your crew to stand by to repel boarders.”

“Aye, aye, Skipper,” the engineer replied. “I just wish that Parliament would have let us stock guns aboard like in the days of old.”

“You and me both, Sean; you and me both,” the captain finished as he racked the handset and walked over to stand in the open door at the stern of the bridge that led into his radio room. His son, a young man barely out of his teens and on his first merchant cruise to boot, sat in front of the equipment, repeating the same call over and over again.

“Mayday, mayday, this is the Canadian merchant vessel Gloria Kessler calling all ships. We are being pursued by pirates and request assistance. Over.”

Again and again his son repeated the call, and then he finally noticed his captain, his father, standing in the hatch. He sat down the transmitter and shook his head. “Nothing so far, Pop. If anyone is out there, then they are hunkering down and keeping quiet so they don’t draw the pirates atop of them.”

The captain gave a false smile and patted his boy on the shoulder. “Keep trying; maybe we can raise the anti-piracy flotilla.”

“This far south?” the radio operator blurted, and then he blushed a deep fiery red, and continued on, “Sorry, Sir. Aye, aye, Sir.”

The captain shook his head and turned to walk back onto the bridge when a new voice suddenly and unexpectedly arrived through the radio room speakers.

“MV Gloria Kessler, MV Gloria Kessler, what is your current location. I say again, what is your current location, over.”

“Forty-five fourteen oh-eight East; oh-four sixteen thirty South; I say again, forty-five fourteen oh-eight East, oh-four sixteen thirty South,” the radioman answered instantly.

“MV Gloria Kessler, flash your radio transponder code. Repeat, flash your radio transponder code.”

The captain frowned and walked up the radio set and took the hand mike. “Unknown on this channel; identify yourself.”

Static hissed for a several seconds, and then the voice transmitted again, the pronunciation crisp and clear. “Senior Lieutenant Gunthar Hale, Imperial Navy; I am the communications officer aboard the cruiser Centurion. We have you and the hostiles both on our display; flash your radio transponder to confirm your exact coordinates.”

The captain started to reply, but frowned, and then he shook his head and pressed the transmit key once again. “Flashing signal GK-GK now, Navy.”

His son toggled two switches on the panel and the radio now went into continous broadcast mode, sending the four letter transponder code out in a series of electronic dots and dashes.

“We read GK-GK loud and clear, Gloria Kessler,” Hale called out through the intercom. “Instruct your helmsman to come to 183 true and clear the deck of all personnel. Oh, and you might want to avoid standing next to a window or porthole as well.”

“Clear our deck?” the captain asked. “What are you . . .”

Gloria Kessler, comply immediately with our instructions. You have sixty seconds to impact; come to 183 true and the shockwave will be hit you from dead astern.”

“Impact? Shockwave?” The captain began to ask another question, but then dropped the mike and darted back through the hatch onto his bridge. “Sound collision! All hands seek cover below decks! Helm, make your heading 183 true!”

Throughout the ship new alarm sirens sounded and merchant sailors raced to close and dog watertight doors. Slowly, with both the captain and the helmsman struggling to spin the ship’s wheel, the ship heaved around through the waves until her bow was pointed nearly due south.

Far above the deep blue sea, a glowing dot appeared in the sky. The heat of its passage turned the air surrounding it into incandescent flame as it plunged down towards the merchant and her pursuing pirates. As it fell, the thicker air fed the raging fireball and it expanded, doubling in size, not once, not twice, but seven times. The night sky was banished as the fireball illuminated Kessler and the pirates and scores of Somali eyes turned to the new light in heavens. And then the fifteen ton projectile stuck the surface of the water and the light flared to new levels of brilliance.

The pirates topside on their little boats had only just begun to feel the searing burn of the sudden rise in ambient heat before the temperature spiked and their flesh, blood, and bone turned into ash; ash that was scattered by the hurricane force winds and thirty meter waves that expanded in the wake of the flash. None of the speedboats survived. The merchant ship, more than a nautical mile distant fared far better, although all within her were slammed into the deck when the waves struck. Luckily, those same waves extinguished the fires that the expanding bubble of heat had ignited.

The captain shook the cobwebs from his head as he and his helmsman pulled themselves upright amid the shattered glass of his bridge. His ears rang from the thunderclap of the explosion and afterimages of the flash danced across his vision. He could smell melted paint and salty steam, and the thickness of the humidity in the air surrounded him like a wet blanket. But dimly, faintly, he could hear the cool voice of Lt. Hale on the speaker.

“. . . MV Gloria Kessler, respond please. Imperial Navy calling MV Gloria Kessler, respond please. Over.”

Helping his son up from the deck, the captain paused and picked up the hand mike once again.

“Imperial Navy, this is MV Gloria Kessler. We hear you.”

A chuckle came through the speaker. “Glad you folks made it; I told the tactical section they were cutting it a wee bit too close.”

“What was that, Navy? A nuke?”

“Negative, Gloria Kessler. We call that a crowbar. I think you will have no further trouble from pirates this cruise. The ones pursuing you are all gone.”

“A crowbar?!?” the captain croaked.

“A fifteen ton projectile comprised of solid iron. We fired it from one of our ventral bombardment tubes to discourage the pirates; those particular band won't be bothering you again. Don’t worry about radiation, because there isn’t any; it is a pure kinetic energy weapon.”

“You didn’t even try to capture them!”

“From orbit? Are you joking? Besides, the penalty for piracy is death anyway. That sentence has now been carried out.”

The captain lowered the mike and stared at his son, at his only son. He nodded and made himself stand straighter as he raised the handset one last time. “Roger that, Navy. Thanks for the assist.”

“Our pleasure, Gloria Kessler. Call us anytime you need a helping hand from above. Imperial Navy out.”

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-12 09:10pm

Chapter Eight (cont.)

“Peace be unto you, Shah Khan,” the old cleric said as he bowed slightly in the direction of the new King of Afghanistan.

“Walk with me,” the former Imperial officer said as he stood from the austere throne draped with tiger skins.

“But of course.”

The cleric followed the king from the throne room, leaving behind the throngs of petitioners and heavily armed guards; although two of those guards did trail behind the men at a discrete distance.

The pair walked in silence through the ancient halls of stone and mortar so recently restored to rival its past days of glory. They passed through verandas and anterooms and spacious galleries filled with beams of light from windows placed high above. Finally, the two arrived at a stout wooden door where two more of the Shah’s guards stood at attention.

“Do you know why you have been summoned here today, Mullah Jamil?”

“No, my Prince. I had thought that you might desire some . . . advice upon these changes you seek to impose upon your people. They violate the Law of God, these changes.”

Amir Khan turned toward the cleric and slowly shook his head. “No. I have called you here today to bear witness, before man and God.”

Witness? Witness to what, exactly?”

The king clapped his hands and the door opened. One by one, more than a score of women—little more than girls, really—stumbled into the room where his Majesty and the cleric stood. Each of the women was clad from head to toe in robes and veils, allowing only their eyes to be seen. The women lined up along one of the walls and stood waiting, their heads lowered and their eyes cast towards the floor.

“Remove your scarves,” the king said in a gentle voice that despite the softness was quite firm.

Trembling, the girls unwrapped the folds of cloth that covered their faces. Some were crying, but each did as their king bade.

Mullah Jamil frowned in disgust as the whores showed their naked faces, and then he froze. Their bare faces revealed something . . . unusual about the women. Each shared scars covering half of her face, the remains of chemical burns.

“You defile me, my Prince, by bringing these . . . unclean . . . women barefaced into the presence of a holy imam of our faith.”

“I cannot possibly defile you anymore that you have soiled yourself with your sadism and cruelty,” the king replied in a tight voice. “Look upon these children, Mullah Jamil; look upon them, I command you. Students these girls are, or rather were. For the crime of learning to read and to write and figure sums, these girls suffered at the hands of animals citing your damned Shariah laws. What is it that you fear from a fourteen year old child, Mullah Jamil that you would set your followers upon her? That you would order their rape and abuse and disfigurement because they gained knowledge?”

Jamil spat upon the tiled mosaic upon which the two men stood. “It is not the role of women to place themselves above men; Allah has ordained their function in life; for that task reading and writing is not required.”

The king sighed and lowered his head. “Bring them in,” he commanded.

Through the open door came more figures, but there were chained and manacled, their mouths bound and gagged, their eyes wide with fear. Their boyish eyes.

Jamil started as he recognized his finest students among the three dozen boys ushered into the chamber by burly guards; the next generation of mullahs and leaders of the Faith. “By what right have you taken these men from their studies?” he snarled.

“By my right as Shah, Jamil. By my right as Allah’s judge unto the faithful upon this earthly world,” the king sadly answered. “The Koran teaches that injustice must be met with justice; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, does it not?”

“Then they are accused? By these women?”

“They stand accused by me, Jamil. The children only confirmed their identities.”

“The Law states that the testimony of a woman is only half that of a man of the Faith, Shah Khan. I demand this matter be brought before an imam for judgment.”

“You are in no position to demand anything from me, Jamil. These boys have been questioned by Imperial inquisitors and their guilt in this matter has been confessed. All of it, including your role.”

The cleric went white and he averted his eyes from the fiery glare of his king. “You are mistaken, sire, it is . . .”

“No. Unfortunately, I am not mistaken. Proceed,” the king finished with a nod at one of his guards.

The guard bowed and walked to the first boy and took the gag from his mouth. Lifting a pitcher high, he poured a clear liquid along the right half of the boys face. Steam and acrid smoke rose from the flesh as the acid burned it away. A high-pitched wail echoed through the palace. The guard grabbed the boys hair and pulled back, and then poured more acid down the child’s throat.

Jamil collapsed to the floor and vomited as the stench of dissolving flesh, bone, and blood filled the room, suddenly joined with the foul odor of feces and urine as the boy died and his muscles relaxed.

“An eye for an eye, Jamil; that is the Law is it not? Their lives I claim as forfeit for their actions, but first they will suffer as they had these children suffer. The girls will see their faces restored; I asked of Her Imperial Majesty that these children receive our finest medical care, and she has been most generous. Your students, they shall not be so lucky. Nor shall you.”

Two guards grabbed the imam’s arms and yanked him to his feet; he struggled, but their grip was far too strong for the cleric to break. A third guard tore Jamil’s robes from his body, leaving him naked as the first two chained him hand and foot to the wall.

“Come, children,” the King said. “Here is the one who ordered your pain; here is the one who commanded your attackers by citing the Word of God to justify scarring you; take from him your pound of flesh.”

Jamil wailed as each of the women—the girls—drew a skinning knife from the folds of her robes and advanced towards him. His screams did not end for some time.

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-13 01:15pm

Chapter Eight (cont.)

“Her Imperial Majesty, the Caesar Julia,” announced the protocol officer standing beside the door of the White House Cabinet Room as she entered, trailed by a mere two of her Praetorians. Michael and the men and women of his inner circle stood as she walked towards the pair of empty chairs at one end of the table, beaming a bright and cheerful smile as she went. After she sat and the two guards took station to either side of her, she spoke. “It was so kind of you, Mister President, to agree to invite me on such short notice.”

The President, and then his cabinet officers and senior advisors, took their own seats, although the six armed Secret Service agents standing behind him remained in place, their own eyes locked on the two Imperials whose personal weapons they had not been able to persuade them to leave behind. To the consternation of the head of the detail, that request had been refused again and again; and when the Imperial chief-of-staff, Captain Serrano, had informed the President that Imperial Law required the presence of armed bodyguards when meeting with foreign delegations or heads of state, he had been stunned that the President ordered him and the rest of the detail to drop the subject. So, with a pair of armed foreign retainers not thirty feet from the President of the United States, the agents were understandably on edge.

“Well, your Majesty, I thought that it was high time that the two of us finally had a chance to meet face-to-face. Admiral Chandler will not be joining us today?”

“No, Mister President, he will not. I am afraid that his presence is required in Los Angeles to clear up some misunderstanding in the trial of one of my subjects that is currently underway there.”

Leslie Baker, the Attorney General of the United States, started at that comment, her eyes going wide and her jaw dropping. “Misunderstanding? Misunderstanding? You people threatened a judge and her family!”

Julia waved one hand daintily, “Someone threatened a judge and her family, Madam Attorney General. Neither I, nor you, nor anyone else in this room knows for certain who exactly would dare to commit such a brazen and audacious action.”

“They were wearing your Imperial armor,” the AG hotly began to reply, but Julia interjected herself before she could finish.

“They were allegedly wearing Imperial armor; and were so identified by two people who have virtually no knowledge of even your present day military equipment, let alone our systems. In any case, I did not order any such action. If our people were involved, then we will find out who they were and deal with them ourselves, for any violations of Imperial law they may or may not have committed. After all, the United States has not to date signed an extradition treaty with the Empire—because of the concerns raised by your Department of Justice as to the efficacy and inherent ‘fairness’ of our system of jurisprudence, I believe?” Julia finished with a sweet smile, and Leslie started to snarl in return.

“I think we are letting ourselves get sidetracked,” Michael sternly said, glaring at Leslie until she turned away. “I invited you, and Dr. Schaeffer, here to discuss your attempted poaching of NASA personnel.”

Julia nodded, and turned her attention to Bob Schaeffer, seated half-way down one side of the table. “Good to see you again, Robert. I am glad to see that they let you out of protective custody.”

“Thank you, your Majesty,” the administrator responded warmly. “I imagine that it was your formal letter informing the government that it was treading on the edge of violating the treaty so recently signed that made the FBI release me.”

Julia’s smile vanished. “Normally, no Caesar would grant any government who violates a treaty a second chance, Mister President, but I am sure that this entire affair was nothing more than a misunderstanding; perhaps some overzealous flunky of a staffer who exceeded her given authority . . . much like it is possible that someone in the Empire exceeded theirs in the incident out in California.”

Leslie Baker stiffened once again, but this time she kept her mouth shut. “We were all taken a little aback by the report that well over half of our personnel at NASA were defecting, your Majesty,” the President calmly replied.

“Sixty-three point eight percent of them, along with their families, to be precise, Mister President,” Julia interjected sweetly, the smile returning to her face.

“We want you to rescind that offer you made to them, your Majesty,” the President continued.

Julia arched one eyebrow. “Why would I do that?”

“NASA is a national treasure, your Majesty. We cannot allow you to take the men and women who are the cutting edge of our aerospace program and use their knowledge in your service.”

Allow me, Mister President? You cannot stop me, not if I choose to grant these people admission into the Empire. And if you try, then our business is done. We will take back all of those marvelous devices that you are using to clean up the legacy of your ecological recklessness; we will do our business elsewhere. We do not need their knowledge, Michael Gavin; we already have that in our data-banks. As for your secret programs and surveillance satellites, we have complete schematics and command codes as well. What we offered Robert and the other men and women of NASA is a chance to do what they have always dreamed of doing: exploration and colonization of not only our own Solar System but of new worlds just waiting for the first man or woman to set foot upon them.” She paused and shook her head. “Mister President, do you intend to give NASA the funding they need to do their job?”

Michael sadly shook his head. “There simply are not enough funds in the budget to give Dr. Schaeffer and his teams what they have asked for.”

“I can give them those funds, Mister President. I need Robert and his people in order to launch colony expeditions to the Moon, to Mars, and to Alpha Centauri.”

“Well, then, your Majesty, give NASA the funding and I will let our people cooperate with yours, but as Americans and not as Imperials.”

Now Julia shook her head. “That is a non-starter. Your bureaucracy will eat into those funds and insist on compromise after compromise; test after test. It will take four times as long and cost twice as much if your government tries to do this instead of mine.”

“And if you have the people and the technology and the designs, it is your government, your Majesty, that will control the resources of those colonized worlds. And for the sake of our national pride, I intend to see that the first flag flying on those far distant worlds is Old Glory.”

Julia leaned forward. “But you do not have the money. You do not have the means to build the ships, even if you had the funds. You do not have the technology required to colonize those worlds successfully. Alone, neither of us can achieve what has to happen, Mister President. Alone, we both fail. But we are not alone, are we?”

Michael sat back, as he considered her words. “A partnership? Is that what you are proposing?”

“You live up to your treaty obligations and let my people go, Mister President, and we will join forces with your government to colonize those planets. But, there are conditions.”

A slight groan emerged from several of the men and women seated at the table, but now the President leaned forward, his eyes bright. “And those are?”

“We run the show. Period. Dr. Schaeffer will be in charge and he makes the call on who goes and who stays. Your bureaucracy will keep its nose out of this project. Agree to that and we will help the United States establish its own extra-solar colonies in conjunction with our own, but you will have to spend something, Mister President. The Empire is not exactly a neighborhood charity organization.”

“That is it?”


Michael slowly looked over his advisors, taking note of their reactions, and then he turned back to glance at Robert, and then at Julia.

“And if we do not agree? If we do not let Dr. Schaeffer and his people go?”

“Then I land Marines to evacuate the people who have decided to emigrate, load up them and their families, and then we are done.”

“That would mean war, your Majesty,” the President said gravely.

“It would be a very short and very sharp war, Mister President, if you decided to attack any of my people. A war that none of you sitting at the table, other than Robert, would live to see the outcome of. But rest assured, that outcome is very much predetermined.” Julia smiled again, and this time the smile was neither warm nor sweet, but very, very cold. “Consider this . . . situation with the judge in Los Angeles for example. Hypothetically speaking, if Imperial forces were responsible for that incident, they managed to make ingress into your country without being detected, made their way past armed police officers responsible for the safety of that judge and her family, took her husband and herself hostage, delivered a message, left the building—without being detected, I might add, and then once again, after your local, state, and federal forces went on a higher alert status, made their egress without you managing to discover them, their transport, or their route. It is good that whoever was responsible for such a serious breach of your defenses, did not—this time—intend to deal anyone bodily harm.”

“So my military advisors tell me,” Michael replied. “But in your past, in my future, we beat off the Ordan-Kraal without any outside help. We might do just the same to you.”

“If you had the technology that will be developed in the next sixty years, then you just might. And if you were defending the planet against sentient crustaceans determined to genetically enslave your descendents you might have the motivation. But with what you have now? Waging a war brought about because you broke your sworn word? Your signed and confirmed treaty? I think not, Mister President”

Michael nodded. “All right then; we agree to those terms. However,” the President said sternly. “I feel that I must remind you, Your Majesty, that neither is the United States of America honor-bound to sell you the produce of our harvests, the meat from our cattle, or purchase any goods from you. You made your point and I will abide by the treaty . . . but if there are any more unauthorized incursions into the territory of these United States, there will be a response—and that blood will be on your hands. Do I make myself clear?”

Julia nodded. “You do. I hope I made myself equally as clear, Mister President. And you have my word—as long as your government abides by the full terms of the treaties it has signed with the Empire, there will be no future unauthorized incursions into your territory—not that I am admitting that Empire did in fact carry out the last incursion.”

“I can live with that, Your Majesty. One final thing. My scientists—those not defecting to the Empire—must be given unrestricted access to all of the surveys of the planets selected for settlement in your data-banks. We will select our own colony site, just so there is no confusion and arguments as to whether or not the site you would have us settle is less prime than your locations.”

“The planets are untouched, Mister President. They are Edens waiting for their Adams and Eves; I doubt that any of the colonies that will be established will have complaints about the natural resources waiting to be uncovered and exploited.”

“Colonies? What that a plural colonies?”

“Of course. We have already reached the same deal with the ESA, Russia, and Japan. Did you think that you are the only government with people who dream of boldly going where no one has gone before?”

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-13 07:41pm

Chapter Eight (cont.)

Charles Cabot, district attorney for the city of Los Angeles paced in the spacious confines of the conference room, alternating between looking at the seconds creep by on his expensive watch and scowling at the legion of his subordinates gathered around the table. Jesse York shook her head in amusement; why did the strutting popinjay think that he needed two dozen ADAs and staff for this meeting? Does he really believe that he can intimidate the man—the admiral and prince-consort—on which they were waiting? Threaten him—a person with full diplomatic immunity—with the displeasure of the law?

She looked down at her hands folded in her lap to hide the smile—the grin—that threatened to appear on her face, and then she forced it back down deep inside and composed her face once more into assuming a faintly bored look. The Deputy Assistant Chief of Operations (South-west District) for the Deputy Under-secretary of Diplomatic Affairs for the United States Department of State had been awakened by several urgent telephone calls early this morning; well before daylight, in fact. Beginning with the mayor of LA, then the chief of staff for the Governor of California, then the Governor himself, then her immediate supervisor and the Deputy Under-secretary himself, followed by the actual Under-secretary, and then—last, but not least—the Chief of Staff for the Secretary of State, the calls had all made clear that she was to be directly responsible to prevent any additional international incidents from occurring as a result of this conference. Lovely. And so, she was here—on her day off, no less—to try and put the lid back on a kettle that had already overflowed.

The double doors at the far end of the room opened, and two of the Praetorians assigned to the Admiral by his wife entered. Neither wore the full body armor, but each was armed, and their cold gaze quickly examined the occupants and surroundings. Each stepped to one side of the door, and the senior of the two whispered into the device he wore clipped to his ear. Two more guards entered, followed by the Admiral and the final two members of his security detail.

“Good morning,” Jason said cheerfully as he approached the single empty seat at one end of the long table. “I believe that you requested this meeting, Mister Cabot; how may I be of assistance?”

The tall lanky attorney placed his hands upon the table and leaned forward. “You can turn over the bastards that threatened Judge Beam and her husband. Now.”

“And which bastards, exactly, are you referring to, counselor?”

“Your men who invaded her home, held her and her husband hostage, threatened their lives, and attempted to influence her rulings on behalf of the defendant in the Yarrow trial.”

Jason frowned, and turned in his seat towards one of the Praetorians. “David, do we have any bastards under our command that fit the counselor’s description?”

“Hundreds, my Lord,” the guard replied. “There are many in the Fleet, Corps, and Legion, not to mention the Praetorians, who have take exception to Centurion Yarrow’s treatment at the hands of this native witch hunt. Although, I must say, Warlord, I have no direct knowledge of which of our esteemed bastards took it upon themselves to persuade the local magistrate to treat our servicemen with the respect they have earned. Which is a pity; I would like to shake their hands, buy them a drink, and compliment them on a job well done.”

Jason nodded solemnly and turned back towards the DA. “Perhaps you could be a bit more specific, then Mister Cabot? Have you, by any chance, something more exact in their description? Height or weight; hair, skin, or eye coloration; visible tattoos or body art, perhaps? Anything that will aid us in discovering which of my bastards you want?”

“You think this is humorous, Admiral?”

“No, Mister Cabot, I do not. One of my men is on trial, a trial in which the charges are patently ridiculous, and then the presiding judge and the prosecuting attorney seek to denigrate his decades of service to the Empire of Humanity. No, Mister Cabot, I find nothing about that even remotely humorous.”

“Your people threatened a judge, Admiral Chandler! And I intend to see that they are brought to justice for that crime.”

“Really? And how, exactly, Mister Cabot, do you propose doing that?”

“I want you to hand over every last member of your command whose whereabouts were unaccounted for during the time Judge Beam was held prisoner. We will interrogate those suspects and find the truth.”

Jason’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table. “Are you formally accusing men under my command of this crime, then? And making an official request Imperial aid and assistance in this matter?”

“You’re damn right . . .”

“NO!” Jesse said sharply as she stood. “No one here is formally accusing anyone of the violation of Imperial law, Admiral Chandler; what we are requesting is that you allow us to interview the men under your command to determine what—if anything—they know of this matter.”

Cabot bristled at the interruption. “Miss York, I am quite capable of speaking for myself in this matter . . .”

“And you do not have the brains God gave a toad, Mister Cabot. As I told you, repeatedly, before this meeting, a formal accusation against an Imperial subject or citizen—made to an Imperial authority—requires, under their laws, a formal Imperial investigation. A false accusation, against any individual so accused, is, in and of itself, considered to be a high crime, a felony.”

Jason smiled. “So good to know, Miss York, that at least some people in this day and age have actually read our charter and criminal codes.”

She nodded at the Admiral. “The men we wish to question are not suspects, Admiral Chandler, but may be material witnesses to a crime; a crime that we are currently not accusing any member of your command with.”

“I see, Miss York. Request denied. Will there be anything else?”

Cabot bolted upright, his face an angry shade of crimson. He opened his mouth to speak, when he was interrupted yet again.

“SIT DOWN, Mister Cabot,” Jesse snapped. She stood facing him, her gaze locked on his, until the DA finally sank back into his chair.

“It is a reasonable request, Admiral Chandler; why is it being denied?”

Reasonable? I have more than seventy-six thousand men and women under my command. It is likely that between five and ten thousand will meet the criteria you have established; no, Miss York, your request is not reasonable. And it is still denied.”

“I can have you arrested on obstruction of justice,” Cabot spat, and Jesse winced.

“Can you? Can you really, Mister Cabot?” Jason replied with a chuckle. “I have full and complete diplomatic immunity, remember? Miss York can recommend that the immunity be revoked and I declared as Persona Non Grata, and then asked to leave US soil, but you cannot and will not detain me for any crime. I, on the other hand, could order my guards to gut your sorry ass and in that case, you would be very, very dead. And none of you could do a damn thing about that, other than politely ask me to leave and not set foot on US soil again.”

He turned his attention back to Jesse. “Are we done making threats, now, madame?”

“I believe so, Admiral.”

“In that case, I suggest that we come to some agreement on how best to proceed.”

Jesse drew in a deep breath. “And what is your proposal, Admiral Chandler?”

“The city of Los Angeles and the state of California will quietly drop all charges pending against Saul Yarrow and release him into my custody. He will depart the state on the first Imperial shuttle bound for Vancouver, never return to the state of California, and we will both attempt to forget this incident ever occurred.”

“You are insane if you think that we will just drop this because you ask us nicely,” Cabot snarled. “Your man Yarrow is going away for life, Mister Chandler; I will see to it myself that he serves hard time.”

Jason frowned as he turned his attention to Charles Cabot. “My mental condition is not now, nor shall it ever be, a matter of your concern, Mister Cabot. And if you truly believe that I am going to stand by and let you or anyone else take out his displeasure with me and the Imperial government on the person of one of my people, you are sadly mistaken.”

“Am I, Mister Chandler,” Cabot snorted in derision. “There you sit, as impotent as an old man in your ability to change our decision to prosecute your precious murderer. And to paraphrase you from just a few moments ago, there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop it.”

Jesse winced, but to her surprise she heard first a snort, then a series of chuckles, and finally full-blown laughter emerge from the Imperial side of the table. “Something amuses you, Admiral Chandler?” she asked.

“Oh, thank you for that Mister Cabot,” Jason said as he took a proffered handkerchief from one of his guards and wiped the wetness from his cheeks and eyes. “It has been a while since I had that good of a laugh.”

Cabot cast a speculative gaze at Jesse, who shrugged slightly in reply.

“You see, Miss York, Mister Cabot, this is not our first rodeo, not by far. In my time, the Empire of Humanity consists of more than three hundred inhabited star systems, and twice that number of empty ones; or dead ones, in the case of the once-and-future Ordan-Kraal worlds. Not all of those systems were originally settled by Man, you understand; and even those that were, a significant portion changed allegiance to the Commonwealth centuries ago—and have subsequently been reclaimed and restored to the status of Imperial territory. One of the duties of an Imperial Fleet officer, especially an officer commanding an Imperial Battle Squadron, is to enforce the will and law of Caesar on distant colonies that often have vastly different legal, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. How we do that is quite often left to our own judgment, because the Caesars—past, present, and future—have realized that every situation calls for a unique solution. Although governments love one-size-fits-all plans, the universe is not so simplistic; neither is humanity or any other sentient life-form. Accordingly, Caesar has always given the officers of his or her Fleet enough autonomy to deal with and settle local problems before they become Imperial problems.”

“The Fleet deals with indigenous local governments that have been given limited autonomy under Imperial jurisdiction virtually every single day. Much, in fact, as your own state of California features limited autonomy under the auspices of the U.S. federal government. We deal with tyrants and republics and kings and queens and communes and every other conceivable form of government each and every day that the Fleet has existed, Mister Cabot. And we get them to toe the line. Oh, not always through force or the threat of force—although that does help in certain circumstances—but through the use of other resources as well. You see, Mister Cabot, we are all only human; well, except for alien species residing on Imperial worlds, of course. But none of us are perfect; we are all flawed in some way. Sometimes, it may only be a small flaw on an otherwise stellar character; other times, it may take perseverance and diligence to find any redeeming quality in an individual motivated almost solely by vice.”

“Most of us, however, are somewhere in between; far from perfect, but also far from horrific. The Empire and its officers understand that, Mister Cabot; it is drummed into our skulls from Day One at the academy. Do you know why?”

The prosecutor frowned as he shook his head, unsure of where the discussion was heading.

“It is simple enough, counselor. Those flaws that everyone has; the traits that make us imperfect humans, those flaws can be exploited to gain the advantage for the Empire. Now, we officers of the Fleet would never violate the guaranteed rights of an Imperial citizen in such a manner, but indigenous autonomous governing bodies are only subjects and residents, by definition. Or, in the case of the state of California and the city of Los Angeles, not even that. You are a foreign power, and no such restriction exists on our operations here.”

Jason held out his hand and one of guards reached inside his jacket and withdrew an envelope, which he then deposited in the Admiral’s hand. The Prince-Consort leaned forward and slid the heavy parchment package across the table; it glided across to a gentle stop just in front of Charles Cabot.

“I think that you will find the governor of your fine state is not immune to such character flaws and imperfections, Mister Cabot. Those documents bear her signature and the state seal, and grant a complete and total pardon to one Saul Yarrow for any and all crimes committed prior to this day in the jurisdiction of the sovereign state of California. Feel free to examine the papers at your leisure—I have a complete second copy. Furthermore, Mister Colbert has in his possession a third copy; one that he is presenting to the officials and guards of the county jail at this very instant. Centurion Yarrow will walk free, Mister Cabot,” and Jason’s face cracked into a grin, “and there is nothing at all you can do to stop it. Not a damned thing, in fact.”

Charles Cabot went white as he tore the envelope open, extracted the folded documents, and began to scan them. He quickly flipped through page after page, and then went back and reread sections in detail. Finally, he laid the papers on the table and sat back in his chair.

“What did you offer her? To make her sell me out? Sell the people out?”

Jason laughed. “That would be telling, counselor. Suffice it to say it was neither envy nor greed nor gluttony nor sloth nor wrath that made her susceptible to our proposal. I’ll leave you the remaining two of the Deadly Sins to choose between—but in case your religious education was neglected in favor of the law, I’ll just let you know the final two are lust and pride.”

“I can move to have her impeached for corruption.”

“Why, yes, yes you can. And the Empire will be glad to assist you in that regard; corrupt individuals are such a blight upon civilized governments after all. But the pardon she granted, Mister Cabot; that document remains valid, even if she is impeached. No?”

“It does,” he answered sourly.

“Well, then,” the admiral responded with a smile as he stood, “it would appear that my work here is done. If you would excuse me, I believe that I have an officer to retrieve from your custody. Mister Cabot, this has been such a pleasure; really, we must do this again soon. Next time, perhaps, we can arrange for a similar event on Imperial soil; such an experience would be enlightening for you. Good day, Miss York.”

Jason turned on his heel and left the conference room, trailed by his guards.

“York, we can still stop this; contact the US Attorney’s office and have them assume federal control of the Yarrow case . . . we’ll call the homicides in lockup a hate-crime and they can . . .”

“Charlie,” Jesse said softly, “it’s over, Charlie. Let it go. Just . . . let it go.”

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-13 10:54pm

Chapter Nine

Commodore Ethan Howell stared out of the windows of his dimly-lit stateroom aboard the Imperial battleship Vanguard. They weren’t real windows, of course, but 3-D holographic projections set within sunken bays that provided his quarters with the illusion that they sat right on the outer rim of the Leviathan class ship. The stars burned cold and crisp and clear here in the vacuum of space without an atmosphere to make them twinkle. How long has it been, he asked himself. How long since I have stood on the surface of a planet and seen that magical flicker that led me as a young man to enlist in His Imperial Majesty’s Navy?

The weary officer lifted the crystal tumbler and he could hear the ice clink as he raised the whiskey to his lips. He took a deep pull and closed his eyes as he swallowed, and he could feel the warmth spreading throughout his body. Faintly, through the open hatch leading to his formal dining room two compartments away, he could hear the not so harmonious singing of carols. Merry Christmas, Kathy baby. Merry Christmas, David.

A tear trickled down his cheek as he took another swallow of the single-malt Scotch, and then lifted the silk square of cloth he clenched in his other hand to his nose and inhaled deeply. The faint smell of his wife on the fabric was nearly gone—faded away over the past eleven months to virtually nothing. A wife he would never again see; children who would grow up without their father to guide and comfort and protect them. All gone, lost in some other time that now would never come to pass.

It had been a long year, a year filled with heartache and misery and nonstop work to shatter the hatred and mistrust of the present-times humanity and prepare them for the future. Despite the missteps and distrust, more and more of the inhabitants of the Earth of the here-and-now were flocking to the Imperial cause. The economic turmoil and sudden reversal of military fortunes had caused governments to fall and broken apart corporations, but the Empire of Humanity had persevered; nay, flourished. The Province of Afghanistan had been the first to petition to join, not the last. Nepal, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, South Africa, Bolivia, Hungary, Poland, and dozens of others had followed the lead of Shah Khan after the Black Panzers had annihilated all resistance to his rule.

Global terrorism still sputtered on, including new factions that aimed their attacks directly at the New World Order—as their propaganda labeled the Empire. But for each and every single attack directed at Imperial subjects, the Legion and the Fleet and the Marines had responded, swiftly and brutally. The leading first world nations of Europe and North America, with their more progressive governments and sentiments, had protested time after time over the tactics used against the terror-mongers and their backers; citing that few were ever brought to trial, instead being shot dead on the battlefield. And the ones that did have trials were cause for more complaints as the rapidity of Imperial justice reaved through their ranks. And yet, despite their disdain for his Empress’s tactics and the use of Imperial force, for the most part those nations and their peoples had embraced the Imperial dream.

Heinlein Base and Clarke City were bustling with people, and if neither were truly finished, their populations were booming as requests for immigration swamped Imperial consulates world-wide. The quartet of space stations—Apollo, Constellation, Gemini, and Mercury—were well on their way to completion as well, although it would still be months before the graving docks and building slips were finished. Even then, those stations would be capable of constructing only the smallest of starships, although they could handle repairs and overhauls and general maintenance of much larger vessels with ease. Titan Base had been postponed—again—as Her Majesty and her advisors had to concentrate on planetary politics and problems in draining the swamp of corruption and espionage. And that, more than anything else, worried Ethan Howell as he drank alone in his quarters on Christmas Eve.

Until the shipyards orbiting Titan were completed, the restored Empire had no ability to build replacements for the cruisers and battlewagons of the 342nd. The Earth-Moon stations would soon enough be able to construct smaller ships—destroyers and escorts, as well as massive numbers of fighters, bombers, interceptors, and assault shuttles—but to take the fight to the Ordan-Kraal would demand a battle-line, and once again that battle-line had been delayed. He could understand the reasons, especially since Heinlein’s weapons had been brought on-line, but that was cold comfort to a man patrolling the empty space beyond the rings of Saturn.


Ethan shook off the melancholy mood and turned towards his comm. “Report,” he said curtly as he flipped the set on.

“Sir,” the youthful ensign currently in charge of his ship’s communication arrays responded, “I have the Imperial Palace on line; they have requested to speak with you.”

“Put them through, Ensign Palmer.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

The screen blanked, and then came to life once more, showing Admiral Chandler and Her Imperial Majesty on the small screen.

Christ! Ethan started as he realized that the normal protocols had just been thrown out the window. He snapped to attention and bowed his head deeply. “You Majesty,” he began, “I beg your pardon for making you wait.”

A distinctly non-Imperial giggle emerged from Her Imperial Majesty’s lips, and Ethan could hear the Admiral chuckling as well. “Quit groveling, Ethan,” Jason said. “You’re not really that good at it anyway.”

“As the Prince-Consort says,” Ethan replied with a grin as he relaxed and looked back up at the screen. “What can Vanguard and her brood do for you this day?”

Julia smiled a bright and cheerful—dazzling, really—smile across the vast emptiness of space separating Vanguard and Earth. “We wanted to wish you and your men a Merry Christmas, Commodore,” she said. And then she looked at her husband who nodded.

“And we wanted you to be one of the first to know—in about seven months there will be an Imperial heir.”

Ethan felt his heart lurch, and his eyes lit.

“Furthermore,” Jason continued in a more serious tone, “we wanted to ask you if you would consider being the child’s godfather, Ethan. I know it’s no replacement for what you have lost, but Julia and I would be honored if you accept.”

“I-I . . . of course,” Ethan swallowed and struggled to compose himself. I will not let the Empress and the Admiral see me weep! “Of course, I accept.”

“Good,” Julia whispered. “Of all of Jason’s men, it was your unwavering support that allowed us to rebuild the Empire. Without you, all of this would not have happened—we might have even had civil war. All of that and more is why I want to appoint you to your father’s old seat in the Senate when we reconvene next month.”

“You want to make me an Imperial Senator, you Majesty?”

She nodded in reply. “We have no Senators from our time, Ethan, except for Marcus Warren, and he isn't that familar with our form of government—and the politics of the here-and-now are vastly different. I need someone who can set an example of how a true Imperial Senator conducts himself, and how the Senate functions. You learned all the ins-and-outs of politics at your father’s knee; and everyone knew that someday you would replace him. That day has come, Senator Howell.”

Ethan froze with his mouth gaped open and his eyes wide, as Jason chuckled again. “It is easier to replace a battle division commander than it is to find an honest and loyal politician, Commodore. And it would give you a chance to spend time planet-side, which I know you want to do; just as I know you haven’t wanted to ask. At the very least, you would be in a prime position to push us to start construction on Titan Base as soon as possible; and knowing you, you won’t take no for an answer to that.” Jason’s smile vanished. “Which I agree with whole heartedly, Ethan. We need that base off the ground as quickly as possible, and to do that I need—the Empress needs—someone in the Senate we can trust to push and fight for the Fleet and the Legion, without letting local politics get in the way.”

Ethan swallowed hard. “But I’ve never stood for election—and unless I am mistaken, there are no open seats since we reconstituted the Senate two months ago.”

Julia frowned. “Senator Barker was taken into custody late yesterday by Inquisitor Kim. We have him on record as accepting Chinese money in order to throw a monkey wrench into our Fleet expansion program—he will stand trial for treason before he is executed. Now, according to the rules of the Imperial Senate and the Grand Charter, an open seat may be held by an appointee of the Emperor until the next election, which is nearly six years away, Commodore. That should be plenty of time for you to get to know the citizen voters of Vancouver Island, or I don’t know your family,” the Empress explained.

“Who will take over the division?”

“If you say yes, then Commodore Liu will step in. I’ll promote Captain Matthews aboard Centurion to Commodore of the cruiser division in his place, and either I’ll promote his exec to command Crusader or we can finally give Nathan a shot at a command slot—if her majesty can spare him,” Jason answered.

“Teng-Hui is a good man, a good leader—and he knows the staff very well. And both Commander Higgins and Captain Serrano are tested and able men; either can perform well as Crusaders new CO. Karl Matthews has always been a bit rash, but perhaps with a bit more responsibility he will settle down as well—and I know for a fact that Teng-Hui considers him an outstanding officer, and an able flag captain,” Ethan paused and then he nodded to himself. “Very well Your Majesty, I accept your offer and will submit my official resignation from the Fleet by the end of business today.”

“Thank you Ethan, but we can wait until your division returns to Earth orbit after the completion of this patrol tour. The Senate isn't scheduled to meet for another seven weeks anyway, and if have learned anything from my husband, you will hate sitting on your hands for seven weeks,” Julia replied. “I would like you to have dinner with Jase and me once you get back on Terra Firma, though.”

“It would be my honor, Your Majesty, Admiral.”

“Then Godspeed . . . Senator Howell.”

The screen faded to black and Ethan had to grasp the table on which it was mounted to remain upright. Slowly, he stood back upright and placed one hand to cover his mouth as he turned to look out at the steady unwavering stars once more.

It is what you always wanted for me, Miranda. You and father both wanted this, at least as much as I wanted a naval career. But, I would give up everything—the Senate, my commission, my soul—to hold you and the children once more. He picked up the tumbler once more, and raised it towards the stars in the window in a silent salute. Until next year my love, he thought as he took another sip, Merry Christmas.

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-14 03:05pm

Chapter Nine

“. . . and the highest levels of the Chinese government have once again denied any part in the suborning of Senator Barker. In fact, Premier Zhu has accused the Imperial government of manufacturing evidence of PRC involvement in the affair. They have also refused to allow us to interview Shiao Wang—the agent identified in Barker’s confession,” Nathan Serrano said as he concluded the briefing to Her Imperial Majesty and her inner circle of advisors.

“Is there any chance that the traitor was misled by someone else, someone who wants us to believe that China is behind this?” the Empress asked.

Kim So-yeon shook his head slightly. “No, Your Majesty. I have personally interrogated Barker at length and extracted every pertinent bit of data from his conscious and subconscious memory. Further, we have surveillance data that shows the former Senators final meeting with Wang, and we then have Wang entering the San Francisco consulate of the PRC immediately thereafter. Intercepted transmissions from the consulate to Beijing confirm Wang as a player, an agent of their Central Committee and the Party. Unfortunately, we were not ready to apprehend Wang before he returned to China—and since Barker’s arrest he has not been seen outside mainland China.”

Caesar nodded solemnly in reply. “Then it appears, gentlemen, that the government of the People’s Republic of China has decided to intrude itself directly into the internal affairs of the Empire and has conducted espionage against Imperial interests. Is this fact in dispute?”

No one spoke up to contradict Julia at the table, and she nodded once more.

“Options?” she asked in a flat voice that betrayed none of her feelings on the matter. Nathan fought to keep a grin from appearing on his face—if Julia only knew just how much she sounded like her husband just then.

Jason leaned forward on the table, his normally sunny disposition and smile wiped away. Damn these primitive barbarians, he thought to himself. Damn them to Hell for their intransigence and their suspicious minds and their petty attempts to preserve power for themselves and them alone. Damn them for making Julia have to do this.

“We have to respond in a manner that assures the central government of China thoroughly understands our displeasure over these actions—one that cannot possibly be mistaken for weakness on the part of the Empire,” he said sourly.

“Why?” asked Gregg Hamlin, the Imperial Senator representing the new Imperial Province of New Zealand. As incredulous stares and slack-jawed faces from around the table greeted the question, the Senator blushed and continued onward. “I mean, it’s just espionage. Every country attempts some form of spying on others—and they punish spies who are caught, and traitors, but normally take no action against the government of origin.”

Miles Tuturola snorted from his seat towards the foot of the table. “Your governments also seem to believe that spending more than they collect from taxes is a good idea, and that breaking their given word is merely part of the day-to-day comprise required to run a nation. The Empire of Humanity doesn’t play those games—and we damned sure don’t let some piss-ant little non-associated polity interfere with the operation of the Imperial Senate.”

Gregg raised an eyebrow in response. “Little? China is the largest nation—in terms of population—on the face of the Earth, General. Do you want to cause a war with them?”

“Over this farce? No, Senator, I don’t think going to war with mainland China is warranted. There are other ways, however, to make certain that neither the People’s Republic nor anyone else ever tries to suborn one of our elected representatives.”

Jason chimed in. “Senator Hamlin, we have to send a clear and unequivocal message that this meddling in the Empire’s internal affairs will not be tolerated—regardless of who makes the attempt.”

Senator Jung Rana of Nepal nodded his head in assent. “Gregg, there is only one way to deal with bullies, whether those bullies are individual petty criminals or entire governments. For decades, my nation has lived in the shadow of China’s aggressions—look at what they have done to our neighbor Tibet. Diplomacy is effective only when both sides are willing to listen and negotiate, and that my friend is something that the People’s Republic is loath to do.”

The New Zealander shook his head in disapproval. “As Winny once said, jaw-jaw is better than war-war; and no one ever accused him of being weak and indecisive.”

“Churchill was speaking after the enormous cost—in both lives and treasure—England and the Commonwealth paid to fight the Second World War,” Caesar Julia rebutted. “The British Empire was exhausted and he knew that it would have been folly to start a new fight directly on its heels. But back to the matter at hand, I tend to agree with Warlord Chandler, General Tuturola, and Senator Rana; we should make known our extreme displeasure in a manner that even the most intransigent members of the Chinese government will understand."

"I do not disagree," Marcus Warren said as he shook his head. "But this could turn around on us mighty fast, Your Majesty. Earth isn't a Confederation planet, used to the presence of the Empire; these people still think the world works like it did two years ago. We might be taking on something more than we can handle . . . as stretched as we are."

"We have to show that are not going to accept anyone attempting to influence our internal policies," Jason said sourly. "If we do not, we open the floodgates to everyone else to attempt the same thing."

Warren shrugged, nodding his agreement. "I think we are going to be damned if we and damned if we don't, either way we jump, Admiral. That said, I will not object, Your Majesty. We do have to send a message; on that I agree."

Julia nodded. "Any objections for the record, then, gentlemen?"

The table was silent as each man and woman seated there shook their head no. Not even Senator Hamlin was willing to officially make his opposition public.

“Very well, then, we are agreed. Now are there any suggestions on how we are to accomplish this?” her Imperial Majesty continued.

Captain Serrano smiled and he stood from his seat. “Your Majesty, Senators, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that General Tuturola, Brigadier Goodwin, and myself have managed to put together an operation that will accomplish our objectives. With your permission, Sire?”

Julia waved for the staff officer to proceed, and Nathan bowed towards her.

“Next Wednesday, the G-20 is meeting just outside of Tokyo to discuss what they have determined to be the disruptive influence of the Empire on the planetary economy. President Zhu and several senior members of the People’s Republic governing party will be in attendance as representatives of the most outspoken critics of our political, economic, and military policies, as will the leaders of many of the most powerful and influence nations on Earth, ourselves and Canada being the major exceptions. Somehow, I believe that our invitation managed to get itself lost in the mail—and our Canadian friends are keenly aware that their own financial windfall means that their own government will be the subject of several hours of whining by the other delegates.”

Chuckles arose around the table, even from the new Senators native to the present Earth. Except for a small minority, the Imperial Provinces had once been classified as third-world countries. But no longer, for the Empress had poured money hand-over-fist to build infrastructure and energy grids. Corruption in the provinces was no longer tolerated—and having witnessed an average of six days between the arrest and the execution of criminal officials, the people were slowly beginning to believe that better times were in fact here to stay. And while many of the provinces were not yet up to standards of Imperial life in the future that would-have-been, they had managed to pull themselves up from poverty and starvation to equal or exceed the quality of life in many European or Asian nations.

The Senators from those former third-world provinces recognized how dramatic a transformation that the Empire of Humanity had allowed them to make—and the extreme failure of decades of aid from the nations of the industrialized first-world; the same nations that even now complained bitterly about the turbulent economy and loss of the raw resources that they had once upon a time extracted from the provinces without any concern for the wellbeing of people native to those lands. Those Senators especially had little compassion for the rich countries of North America, Europe, and Asia that had refused to join the Empire—and experienced a loss of power and influence and economic might accordingly.

“Operation Red Light will have two parts, ladies and gentlemen,” Captain Serrano continued as he triggered a remote that dimmed the rooms lighting and activated a holo-projector in the center of the table. “Phase One of that operation will entail the first deployment of Imperial Gurkha Rifle Cohorts, supported by elements of the Imperial Marines and the 501st Shock Legion. The Gurkhas will liberate Tibet from Chinese rule—and the Marine and Legion engineers will fortify the border to make certain that the People’s Liberation Army will never set foot on that soil again. Removing Chinese presence from Tibet will send the message that if we wanted to, we could have gone a lot father—all the way to Beijing, in fact. Our analysts believe that faced with the reality of Imperial forces entrenched in the passes connecting Tibet and China, the People’s Liberation Army will not attempt an assault,” and here Nathan shrugged.

“If we are in fact wrong, and the PLA does try to dislodge us, then China will find itself short a dozen odd divisions of men and material when the smoke clears. Emissaries from Her Imperial Majesty have been in contact with several prominent resistance leaders within Tibet or in exile to the surrounding countries, and they are willing to form a government that will ask for admission into the Empire, although the Dali Lama refuses to endorse an outright assault. He has, however, indicated that he will return to Tibet after it has been liberated. If the Senate agrees, then Tibet will immediately become an Imperial Province; which means that any further Chinese aggression against that nation or its people will be a direct attack on the Empire—and we have made clear to the world just how swift and decisive our response to such an action will be.”

“Phase Two of Red Light is aimed much more closely at members of the ruling party of the People’s Republic of China. Unknown to the current attendees of the G-20 meeting, one of our Special Operations teams will also be part and parcel of the events. On Thursday morning, as the units involved in Phase One cross the Nepal-Tibet border, the team will . . .”

Jason tuned out the rest of Nathan’s brief as he turned his head to look at wife, his Empress, sitting at the head of the table. He could see her heart-ache over this decision in her eyes, but her chin was firm, and her face composed and steady. Moving his hand over hers, the Admiral grasped it tightly—and received a solid squeeze in return although his lady’s eyes never left the holo-display and her attention never wavered from the briefing.

“. . . and that concludes the outline of Red Light. Any questions or comments?” Nathan asked his audience as the lights returned to normal.

Only silence answered the staff officer, and Julia nodded. “Thank you Captain. General Tuturola, Captain Serrano, there being no objections from my advisors or the Senate Oversight Panel voiced, I hereby instruct you to proceed with the execution of Operation Red Light at your convenience. This meeting is adjourned.”

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-14 06:34pm

Chapter Nine (cont.)

“Ah, Michael. I trust that you are enjoying the meetings and ceremonies?”

The crisp accent of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom snapped Michael instantly back into focus and he tore his gaze from the snow rimmed tip of Mount Fuji to turn and face his closest international ally. Alistair Haig nodded his approval at the view the President of the United States had been entranced by. Blossoming cherry trees surrounded the courtyard that was paved with ancient stones collected from the many rivers of Honshu’s central plain. Bubbling water twisted and turned throughout the garden as it fell step by step across terraces, crisscrossed with wooden foot bridges painted a brilliant shade of scarlet. And towering in the distance, the symmetrical cone of Japan’s most sacred mountain shone golden and red with the last of the late afternoon sun. “The view is quite spectacular; serene as well, Mister President. It makes one almost forget those things that trouble him.”

“You are welcome to join me in admiring the view, Alistair,” Michael answered, surprised to see that the Englishman was not alone.

“President Michael Gavin,” Alistair continued, “allow me to introduce to you Lt. Commander Takeo Kurita of the Imperial Navy; Caesar Julia’s ambassador to the Emperor and Court of Japan.”

The slender Asian politely bowed to the President, and Michael nodded in reply. “Forgive me, Commander, but my Japanese counterpart has repeatedly told me that my attempts to bow are the source of many humorous comedy skits in this country.”

“It is as much an art as a learned skill, Mister President,” the Imperial replied. “I am pleased, however, to see how much you appreciate the beauty of this Court.”

“Takeo Kurita? Wasn’t there an Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy of that name during the Second World War?” Michael asked.

“My ancestor as well as my namesake,” Kurita responded with a grin. “He almost won the Battle of Leyte Gulf thanks to the foolhardiness of your Admiral Halsey.” The grin grew wider. “Not, of course, that it would have made the slightest difference in the end; Sho-go was a last desperate attempt by Tojo’s regime to force America to make peace.” He shrugged, as he continued. “At least the entire war served well to show my people the folly of military rule.”

“You are an Ambassador to the Emperor, Commander; not to the government of Japan?” Michael asked, diplomatically changing the subject adroitly.

“Correct, Mister President,” Kurita answered. “Governments rise and fall, replaced by shifts of public opinion, but the Emperor and his family and the traditions of his Court remain intact to serve as a link between the Japanese people, their culture, and their governing bodies.”

“I understand that your people have managed to completely remove the residual contamination from the Fukushima disaster—impressive.”

Kurita bowed slight. “We Imperials have much experience in dealing with radiation pollution, Mister President, one that I for one devoutly hope that you and your people never need experience directly.”

“I see that here are the Western powers conspiring with these interlopers,” a voice laced with acid interjected.

Michael turned and nodded to President Zhu of the People’s Republic of China. “Perhaps conspiring is too harsh a word, Mister President, especially since we are only engaged in polite conversation.”

The Chinese leader frowned slightly, his eyes cold as he looked over the three men standing in the garden. “Do not forget, Mister President, just how much your own nation in indebted to the People’s Republic—and that future loans will be based on not merely your words of friendship but your actions. Yet, you stand here with the representative of an illegitimate nation that flaunts the will of the world community—one that furthermore was not invited to these proceedings.”

Kurita bowed politely to Zhu. “Ah, Premier, but indeed I was.”

“My title is President, and you shall use it.”

“Forgive me, Mister President, for a momentary lapse in my memory, for I cannot seem to recall any democratic election that would give you the right to claim that title; now a Premier selected by your Central Committee seems to fit the circumstances much better, does it not?”

“China has borne more than enough insults from your Empress and her government, Ambassador; be warned there is a limit to our patience.”

“How funny that you should mention that singular virtue, Mister President. I bear a message to you from my Imperial Majesty on just that very subject.”

Michael glanced at Alistair, their eyes meeting momentarily, and then he turned his focus back to the Zhu and Kurita. “If you gentlemen wish to continue in private, then the Prime Minister and myself will . . .”

“There is no need for that, Mister President,” interrupted Kurita. “Indeed, my message will affect both you and the Prime Minister as well as the People’s Republic of China. Please stay.”

Michael slowly nodded, even as Alistair replied, “But of course.”

Kurita smiled at the three men. “My sovereign majesty, the Caesar Julia, asks, once again, that the man responsible for the bribery of Imperial Senator Barker be handed over to our custody. That man has been identified as Shiao Wang, an attaché to the San Francisco consulate of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China to the United States of America. You ignore this final request at your peril, Mister President, for her patience with you and your government runs thin.”

Zhu snorted. “You interfere in our internal affairs, you attempt to deny China its rightful place in the world, and you issue ultimatums to us? You and your government have an arrogance that is exceeded only by your lack of courtesy.”

“Then I take it that you refuse, Mister President, to hand over this wanted criminal?”

“China will not surrender its sovereignty to your fascist Empire. Certainly not so long as you maintain relations with the separatists upon the island of Taiwan.”

Kurita sighed and shook his head in feigned sadness. “Then I must inform you that within the next five minutes, the Empire of Humanity, responding to pleas for assistance from the people of Tibet and their representatives in exile, a country which your government has illegally occupied for more than seven decades, will now move to liberate that nation from your rule. Any resistance to our advancing units will, of course, be met with lethal force.”

Zhu started, his emotionless mask dropping, replaced by pure rage and fury. “This is an act of war! China will not allow your mongrel Empress to intervene in our internal affairs!”

The United States President and the British Prime Minister were equally shocked—stunned, rather, by the completely unexpected declaration.

“And yet, the People’s Republic feels that it can interfere in the internal affairs of the Empire of Humanity and not suffer retribution, Mister Zhu?” Kurita innocently asked. And then he shook his head, closing his eyes for a second and chuckled at something that he apparently found humorous.

“It is but a small matter, for you see, Mister Zhu, her Imperial Majesty has relieved you of the burden of dealing with this crisis—that shall be a matter for your successor. Take the shot,” he said into his collar microphone.

Three pairs of eyes went wide at this statement, and then Zhu’s chest exploded before any of the men present heard the crack of the sniper rifle. Michael stared at the falling corpse in horror, his suit drenched in sticky, hot blood, even as the Secret Service and Japanese Security came running from every direction. As his guards dragged him off, the President of the United States saw Kurita standing over the body of President Zhu, and the last thing he heard was the Ambassador’s soft voice.

Sic simper tyrannis, you son-of-a-bitch.”

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2012-09-14 06:45pm

"Sic semper tyrannis, you son of a bitch." That's just awesome.
"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" - Hamlet

“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.” - Confederate General George Pickett, on being asked why his charge at Ghettysburg failed

Corrax Entry 7:17: So you walk eternally through the shadow realms, standing against evil where all others falter. May your thirst for retribution never quench, may the blood on your sword never dry, and may we never need you again.

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-14 06:46pm

Chapter Nine (cont.)

“Target down,” the sniper whispered from hiding place as the 12.5mm round ripped through Zhu’s chest.

“Confirmed,” replied his spotter beside him. “Let’s move, Zach, we’ve got seventeen minutes to meet our ride, or else we are swimming back to Vancouver.”

Zachary Morgan grunted in agreement and crawled backwards through the foliage that lined the shoulder of Mount Fuji. Once certain he was clear of all visual contact with the Imperial Compound nine kilometers away, he stood and began to follow his teammate along the narrow rocky ledges.

“I still say Beta was a better location,” his spotter whined as the two men worked their way up the slope.

Zach grinned. “You’re just saying that because you wanted to beat the record for a confirmed long-distance kill, Theo.”

“You could have made the shot, Zach, you know and I know it. And both of us would have gone down as legends.”

“Maybe, I could have made the shot—but neither of us could guarantee a single-round kill at twelve klicks and you know that just as well as I do. Too many VIPs present to risk a stray round, and besides, Theo, I don’t know about you, but I’m already a legend.”

“In your dreams, Zach, in your dreams.”

The Imperial Scout/Sniper team continued their friendly bickering even after they boarded the heavily stealthed Viper special operations APC that was waiting at the rendezvous.

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-14 06:49pm

Chapter Nine (cont.)

Aboard the assault transport Sofia, Brigadier Edwin Goodwin—clad in full battle armor sans helmet—stood beside the commanding officer of the ship, Commander Lawrence Olsen. Currently grounded in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sofia was ostensibly on a mission to deliver supplies, materials, and training cadre for the six newly recruited Cohorts of the Imperial Gurkha Rifles; although the Rifles neither needed the new supplies nor additional trainers. Shortly after Nepal had petitioned the Empress for admission into the Empire, Legion trainers had arrived, with Scout armor and advanced weapons for Nepal’s Gurkhas. Part of the agreement between Kathmandu and Caesar Julia had been that the Gurkha would only serve in their own units, commanded by their own officers, albeit under the overall authority of the Imperial Legion. For the past six months, 5,034 of the best existing Gurkhas had labored to learn every aspect of their new weaponry and equipment—a labor that exceeded even the high expectations of the handful Legion officers accustomed to working with the Gurkhas of the future. Instead, the vehicle and troop bays aboard Sofia were filled to capacity by the Legion’s 2nd Shock Brigade and their assigned support elements, waiting for the command to initiate their phase of Operation Red Light.

“Skipper?” called out one of the bridge officers.

“Yes, Jansing?”

“The Admiral is on the p-comm, Sir.”

“On speakers,” Olsen replied. “Admiral Chandler, this is Sofia.”

“Is Brigadier Goodwin with you, Commander?”

“Present, sir,” the Legion deputy commander crisply answered.

“Very good. Gentlemen, you are hereby authorized to execute Red Light at your convenience. Have the Gurkhas reached their initial phase lines?”

“Aye, aye, sir,” answered Olsen. “Colonel Bikram reported in an hour ago that all Rifles are in position and ready to begin operations.”

“Then I will delay you no longer, gentlemen. Good hunting. Chandler out.”

Goodwin smiled, and clapped Olsen on the shoulder. “About damn time! Just get us over the hump and into the eastern passes—my boys will make damn sure no Chinese relief columns ever reach the plateau.”

“All right,” Olsen barked as he stood. “You heard the man—sound General Quarters and clear all weapons for combat operations, prepare to lift-off.”

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby Borgholio » 2012-09-14 06:59pm

masterarminas wrote:
Sic simper tyrannis, you son-of-a-bitch.”

Love the line, but I wonder if assassination went too far? Granted it's a moot point given the impending invasion of Tibet, but still I wonder if it was necessary. And also, the "son of a bitch" part implies to me that there was something personal between them...
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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby MondoMage » 2012-09-14 09:08pm

Yes, I'm thinking that the Chinese aren't going to be backing down from this one. They're too used to being able to convince everyone else to go along with what they do to let go of that mentality so easily. An invasion and an assassination are more than likely going to cause the hardliners to become even more so, no less.

Of course, if it all goes south, it's going to put an even deeper crimp on the world economy than the Empire's actions already have... they hold a lot of world's debt as leverage. They can make a real mess of things if they want to get pissy about things. Not that such would affect the Imperial-allied nations. In fact, it might push some of the fence-sitters into the Imperial camp. Probably not one of the intended outcomes of the action, but I don't think Caesar is going to argue with the results.

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby Borgholio » 2012-09-14 09:12pm

I'm just wondering what the other world powers will do. On one hand, the Empire said "You sent spies against us. You deliberately shield your spies from us once they are discovered. Thus we'll take you out as punishment". Seems logical. On the other hand, it could seem overkill to say, "You spied against us, so we'll invade and murder your president (premier, whatever)". Espionage is not a good thing, but is it really on the same level as full scale war and assassinations?
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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-14 10:06pm

Chapter Nine (cont.)

Even as Sofia engaged her drives and barreled towards the high passes between Nepal and Tibet, scores of small units already deep within the country each got the same green light to proceed on schedule. Teams of Gurkha riflemen that had infiltrated over the past week seized troop barracks, command centers; media broadcast stations, and PRC government officials. Police stations were overrun, in many cases without a single shot being fired, for the Gurkhas relied on stealth, speed, and the extremely fine edge of their heavy knives. In a single intense hour of silent combat, the Chinese government in Tibet had been decapitated.

Only the main garrison base of the People’s Liberation Army outside of Lhasa eluded the Gurkhas, but then again that base had never been on their target list.


“All right, you apes,” Saul bellowed out over the Century’s p-comm net. “It’s been a while since Delta has done a high-altitude drop like this—so get over it! We are going straight down into the hornet’s nest, dropping along with the rest of the Cohort directly atop the PLA garrison. Now, they got a few tanks, a few SAM launchers, but most of the garrison forces are just grunts who ride around in trucks and shake down the local farmers. Third raters, by the standards of this planet—those assholes on the ground are not even remotely in our league, Marines!”


“Now listen up, we are jumping from 20 klicks—make damn sure your contra-grav is set to auto-engage at 100 meters Adjusted Ground Level. That means you got three seconds between activation and landing; any higher and you’re a bloody great slow target coming down. Any lower and your armor is gonna be your coffin! The entire Cohort is joining us on this jump, Marines, so check your fire and watch your IFF transponders. Any reports of blue-on-blue had best not be concerning Delta Century! And if any one of you dumb-shits shoots me there is going to be hell to pay. Understood?”


“One last thing,” Saul shouted as the rear ramp on the Intruder shuttle began to lower. “I don’t want to see one armed man PLA bastard down there left alive when we are done. Let’s send those sons-of-bitches in Beijing a message they won’t ever forget. You get me!”


“Gunny, get ‘em up!”

Gunnery Sergeant Valjean stood at the rear of the shuttle and turned to face the Marines. “STAND UP!” he shouted, extending his armed forward.

And Delta Century stood, each Marine turning to face the rear of the shuttle in four lines—sticks—of thirty-eight men each.

“MOVE TO THE RAMP!” he yelled as he bent his forearms at the elbows and turned around to face astern.

The sticks moved toward the ramps, shuffling forward slowly so as not to crowd or push the men ahead of them. Finally, the lead Marine in each stick came to a halt, one step away from open sky.

“COUNT OFF!” Valjean boomed as both his hands clapped against the sides of his helmet.

From the front of the shuttle to the back, each Marine sounded off in turn, telling the man in front he was ready—along with the verbal confirmation, the Marines slapped the man in front of him on the shoulder. The final four, the first jumpers in each stick got the slap and each gave a thumps-up to the Gunny.


Like all of his Marines, Saul watched the red light over the ramp intently. Suddenly, it changed to green and Delta Century ran forward, throwing themselves into the air from the end of the ramp, Valjean being the last man to exit. Above the falling Marines, the Intruder closed the ramp and began climbing for orbit.


Frasier watched the altimeter displayed on the Heads-Up Display projected on the interior of his armored visor wind down as he dropped like a rock. Another display showed Belk and Johansson following close behind him, but the two veteran troopers had spread out slightly—along with the majority of the Marines falling from the sky. But the rookie was not in position, he was tumbling, and the Corporal could hear his frantic breathing over the squad tac-net. Shit, thought Frasier as he configured the HUD to show him the details on Charlie’s medical telemetry. The kid’s blood pressure and pulse were off the charts, and his breathing was shallow and fast—the data showed him nearly in a state of shock. Shit, shit, shit.

“Corp, we got a problem here,” Belk’s calm voice came over Frasier’s p-comm receiver.

“Yeah, I see it. Charlie, what’s the problem?”

No answer, and they had already dropped 10,000 meters.

“Private N’Buta, so help me God, I will have your ass flogged raw if you do not answer me, boy!”

Labored breathing came over the p-comm and then Frasier heard the kid’s frightened voice. “Corp . . . Corp, I can’t stop spinning.”

“Listen close, Charlie; pull your arms and legs together, tight against your body, and lean forward—lean down.”

“I . . . I . . . can’t, Corp,” the gasping voice answered.

“Marines are not people who cannot, Private; Marines are can do! Pull yourself together, and lean forward, or I swear I will shoot you down myself; right now, damn it!”

The altimeter spun down past 5,000 meters, and the ground was coming up fast.

“Yes, Corp,” Charlie sputtered. The young Marine leaned forward and pulled his arms and legs in tight, and his armor responded. Although still spinning like a top, he picked up speed and zoomed past Belk and Johansson; he flew past Frasier and plunged towards the ground.

“Now spread your arms and legs, just like you were taught in boot, N’Buta! Elbows and knees bent, palms out and down, spread ‘em wide, boy! Do it now!”

Come on, Charlie, Frasier thought as he watched the rookie continued to plummet like a rock, and then the kid did as he said—the spinning stopped, and his air speed slowed and Frasier began to breathe again.

“Ten seconds to landing, kid, just hold it together,” the older Marine said, “five, four, th . . . !”

One hundred meters over the still sleeping camp, Frasier’s contra-grav kicked on at full power, slowing his rate of descent and leaving the Corporal feeling as if a mule had just landed on his entire body. And then he was down—and so was Charlie.

With the experience of more than three hundred assault drops over his ten years of service, Frasier hit the ground on his feet, his Reaper spitting fire into the nearest guard tower, even as the first sirens wailed and flood-lights illuminated the base. And just as quickly, the base was plunged into darkness once more, as a score of Imperial Marines shot out the lights—they could see in the dark, after all, so only the PLA soldiers would profit by leaving the spots intact.

Belk came up on his right, his own Reaper pouring a stream of fire into a burning barracks as the garrison soldiers tried to find an exit. And then Frasier spotted Johansson, firing his Ripper across the compound one-handed, as he half-dragged, half-assisted Charlie along. The 60mm grenades impacted on fuel storage tanks in the midst of a large motor pool, and a massive explosion rocked the night sky.

“Two-Bravo,” Frasier called out over the squad frequency, “form up on me and stand fast for a moment.”

He crouched alongside Belk, and then Johansson and Charlie were there—the medical telemetry showed that the kid’s pulse, heart rate, and respiration were almost back to normal. Frasier keyed in his override, and ordered the armor to administer a light—a very light—sedative to the boot, along with a drug compound for motion sickness.

“You still with us, Marine?”

Charlie’s armor rocked back and forth, and Frasier almost laughed as he realized the kid was trying to nod his head in answer, and then the Private answered quietly, “Still here, Corp. I’m still here. Just a little dizzy, but that’s beginning to clear.”

“All right, Marines, we still have a job to do, let’s get to it.”

Three voices answered him in union, “Aye, aye, Corp.”

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-14 10:12pm

Chapter Nine (cont.)

Sixteen hours later, well after the Marines had left the shattered, lifeless base behind them, and after having returned to Reprisal, Frasier reached into Charlie’s bunk and yanked the sleeping Marine to his feet. To his credit, the kid—or the reflexes honed into him at boot—tried to strike Frasier, but the experienced trooper was expecting that. He slammed the half-asleep Private into a row of lockers.

“You want to explain just what the hell happened on that drop, Private?” he yelled.

“No excuse, Corp,” Charlie stammered in reply. “I screwed up, but it won’t happen again.”

“Don’t give me that crap,” Frasier snarled. “What. Happened?”

The kid looked down and muttered something too soft for Frasier to hear.

“Louder, Marine!”

“Jumping scares the shit out of my, okay!,” shouted Charlie, then his voice dropped to whisper and he looked away, not meeting his superior’s eyes. “Being in a high place scares the shit of me, Corp. We only had to do three drops in boot, and I almost didn’t pass because of them—hell, maybe I didn’t pass and they just let me through anyway because of my other scores. I haven’t had to drop since. I thought I could, but then I froze, and then I started spinning, and then I couldn’t stop it and . . .”

Frasier let go of the kid’s shirt and took a step back, shaking his head. “Charlie, why didn’t you tell me, or Belk, or Johansson?”

“You guys aren’t scared of anything, Corp. I wanted to show I was strong, that I was a Marine, but I wasn’t,” the young man answered, tears beginning to leak from his eyes.

“Bullshit,” chimed in Johansson from the compartment hatch. “You think we aren’t scared shitless every time we jump, boot? Every time we enter for-real no-shit combat?”

“Yeah, the muscle-man there is right,” added Belk. “Kiddo, the only people who ain’t scared of this shit are either dead or off their mental rocker.”

Charlie shook his head. “But you just go ahead and do it, and you never show it.”

“Charlie, just because we don’t show it doesn’t mean we don’t feel it. Hell, I’ve made three hundred and eleven combat drops, kid,” answered a very sober Frasier. “And I’ve pissed myself in every last damned one.”

He turned a stern eye to both Belk and Johansson. “And if that ever leaves this compartment, I’ll tear both of you apart with my bare hands.”

The short, wiry Belk and the hulking Johansson both held out their hands in placation, although each had a wide grin across their faces.

“We can teach you how to control that fear, Charlie. It’s the same thing that you did during combat—whether back in Tammoran or down in Tibet last night. You were scared both times, right?”

“Yes, Corp,” Charlie said quietly.

“But you did your job both times, even though there were tungsten slugs whizzing past you, and grenades—or Thunderbolts, for that matter—going off in tight spaces around you. Because you controlled that fear and you didn’t let it control you. It’s the same thing with a jump, and we are going to work on that, Marine. You aren’t a failure, Charlie, not as a Marine and sure as hell not as man; not just because you don’t like heights.”

Charlie looked up at the rest of his fire-team, and saw both Belk and Johansson nod in agreement. And he gave a firm nod in return.

“Good, Marine. You may still be raw, but you have made your first combat drop—sort of,” Frasier added with a chuckle. “And in my book, that means you are no longer a boot—you are now a real live combat-experienced devil-dog, and I expect you to act like one from this moment on. You get me?”

“Aye, aye, Corporal Blenheim; I get you, Sir.”

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-15 10:37am

Chapter Nine (cont.)

“Your Majesty, President Gavin is requesting to speak with you.”

Julia looked up from her desk and beamed a warm smile at Captain Serrano—who despite his naval rank and active duty status was now her chief of staff. She had been surprised when Nathan declined the offer to take command of Crusader the week prior, pleased but still surprised. And her husband, to her delight, had bowed to the inevitable, promoting his flag tactical officer Commander Marius Beck to fill the Admiral’s chief of staff slot aboard Reprisal.

“Well, I do suppose we both know what this is concerning, right Nathan?”

“I would not care to lay a wager against it, Your Majesty,” the older man answered with a chuckle.

“Has he already returned to Washington?” she asked in puzzlement.

“No, Ma’am; he is currently aboard Air Force One en route to Hawaii for refueling—I believe that he had a rather hasty departure from Japan after Commander Kurita delivered our first message to the late unlamented Chinese President.”

“Well, then, why don’t you go ahead and put him through,” she replied, but then she paused. “Am I still presentable enough to conduct a video conference with a foreign head of state?”

Nathan grinned, even as he saw the shoulders of the pair of Praetorians standing guard inside Her Imperial Majesty’s office momentarily twitch before the two hulking brutes restrained themselves once more into absolute stillness. Caesar Julia still wore the rather conservative black silk dress in which she had addressed her subjects only a few hours before—the de facto state of war between the People’s Republic of China and her Empire warranted somber attire that reflected the gravity of the situation. She had only removed the golden laurel leaves and the Imperial Seal that she had worn on a golden chain around her neck. But her hair was immaculate, and Julia—unlike her honored Consort—would never be so forgetful as to allow even a single drop of her afternoon tea to stain her clothing.

“Quite so, Your Majesty,” he answered with a bow before he returned to his own desk in the outer office.

Julia turned to face the screen and video pickups mounted on her desk and pressed a recessed button. The floor-to-ceiling windows behind her gave a panoramic view of Victoria and the choppy grey waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait beyond; they slowly darkened from their current state of fully transparent to a dark tint that blocked nearly all of the ambient light, but still allowed her to see the landscape and ocean below. It had been a little less than a month since the Imperial Palace had been finally completed in the foothills overlooking Vancouver’s largest city, and although Julia had lived much of life in the far larger and more elaborate Palace on the Shannon of her father in that future time, she had still been taken aback by what the Warren and his men had accomplished—and slightly aghast at the cost of it all. Containing her official Residence as well as offices for her and her staff, the Colonel Warren had consulted with present-day architects and engineers, contracting the best men and women available, and obtaining only the finest of materials. Mosaic tile in hundreds of differing polished native Earth stone lined the hallways, covered with the finest rugs on the planet. Furniture of ebony and mahogany and teak and dozens of other woods filled every official and private room, along with a powerful computer system that connected the hundreds—the thousands—of workstation terminals scattered throughout. The exterior walls were sheathed in polished blue marble, overlaid over several dozen meters of Hawkins-Conner Alloy, although they thinned considerably towards the upper floors, until here at the pinnacle—eighteen floors above the ground—only a single meter of diamond-hard glass protected her Imperial Person.

But not only armor protected the Palace, for its structures and grounds were surrounded by a hemispherical shield—a shield seven kilometers in diameter and more powerful than those carried by her Consorts battleships. All of the buildings could be sealed, and were equipped with life support equipment normally found a starship, with power provided by a fusion power complex buried more than three hundred meters deep in the granite below, one that was dedicated solely to supplying the Royal & Imperial Palace with uninterrupted power. Concealed weaponry—anti-personnel, anti-armor, and anti-space—littered those grounds, and the twenty-two additional floors constructed beneath ground level contained emergency bunkers, immense storage facilities, and barracks for an entire Legion of Praetorians. The corner of her mouth twitched at that thought; currently she had only just the single platoon of thirty-six assigned to her by her father before Reprisal’s mishap laden voyage. However, the Fleet and the Black Panzers had each combed their ranks to find enough troopers to fill out two more Cohorts—but as her guards kept reminding her, those troopers were soldiers and Marines, not Praetorians. A few hundred of the best of that lot were being extensively trained in the specialized job of a protective detail, but the remainder was little more than an impressive—and lethal—show of force. In time, the Praetorians would slowly expand until they no longer needed the Legion or the Fleet to assist them, but for now even the most hard-nosed of her guards recognized the fact that the additional bodies were desperately needed.

The screen flickered to life, showing an image of the American President in his office aboard Air Force One.

“Michael,” she said brightly into the pickups, “it is always a pleasure to speak with you.”

“Your Majesty,” he gravely replied in a tight-lipped voice. His eyes showed no humor at the events which had taken place earlier this day. “I must ask you to stop this conflict before it spreads any further—my God, woman, you had the President of China assassinated not three feet away from me and then invaded their sovereign soil!”

“And your point is?”

The President’s eyes goggled in astonishment. “My point? The assassination of a political leader, on the soil of a sovereign nation to which that leader was invited and given diplomatic immunity, is unacceptable to the world community—and to all civilized mankind! And your seizure of Tibet violates the charter of the United Nations, a document to which the United States is one of the original signatories!”

“You have such a . . . provincial . . . viewpoint, Mister President,” Julia responded, returning to the use of titles rather than the familiar. “Anyone—anyone—who dares to attempt to bribe an Imperial Senator and interfere with the internal governance of the Empire of Humanity forfeits his life and creates a de facto state of war between their government and my own. That policy has been in existence for almost as long as the Empire has existed—four centuries, Mister President. And I shall not set it aside because of your own rather twisted set of morals and ethics.”

My twisted morals and ethics?!?”

“Our response to this provocation was quite restrained—we could have launched an attack on Beijing and taken down the entire government of the People’s Republic; instead we moved to liberate an occupied state, one which the nations of your time have done little over the past seventy years to assist in any manner other than useless platitudes. And as for the assassination of President Zhu, I find that most governments become far more pliable when their leaders realize that the Empire will hold them personally accountable for the acts of their governments. That, Mister President, is, in my own view, and my government’s view, far more moral and ethical than causing the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of men, women, and children who had no say in the fateful decision of their government to provoke us!”

“Furthermore,” she coldly continued, “the conflict will not spread; the surviving members of the Chinese government will not risk their own survival over this. Not once they learn the folly of attempting to drive the Legion from ground it has chosen to defend. If they persist in continuing military action against the Imperial Province of Tibet, or if they attempt to militarily engage us in any other theatre, then I will place the whole of the People’s Republic under a blockade, allowing no commercial, passenger, or electronic traffic into or out of mainland China. My information specialists will delete all computer records of their financial transactions and deposits across the globe, and China will wither on the vine until their own starving people overthrows the government and sues for peace. And if they are insane enough to dare to attempt use their ICBMs against my people, then, by God and all his holy saints, Mister President, they will have chosen to commit national suicide! Even though such an attempt will fail miserably,” she finished with a grim smile. “You have seen your own intelligence reports on just how extensively Vancouver is now defended. A hundred times their number of missiles would not even begin to strain my point defense.”

On the screen, Michael visibly struggled to retain his temper—his abject horror. A second passed, and then two, and three, and four. Finally, he shook his head. “Your Majesty—Julia—this is not how things are done in the world of the present. You cannot gamble with the lives of billions.”

“Michael, if it comes down to having the People’s Republic of China attempt to block my government from building the Fleet that will defend this planet against the Ordan-Kraal and annihilate that race from the universe in payment for their once-and-future sins or utterly destroying the government and armed forces of that state, there is only one choice that I as Caesar can morally make. I won’t like it, and I certainly will lose sleep over it, but I will stop their interference in one way or another.”

“My government, and other first-world countries across the globe will not support you in this—and you need us.”

“And don’t forget that you need us as well, Michael.”

The President shook his head again. “The United States and the major European powers will recall our troops training with your armed forces if you persist in this course of action—this is wrong, Julia.”

“By your lights, perhaps it is. And I would suggest that you speak with your own advisors before attempting such a recall—many of your officers and men who volunteered to train for the planetary defense forces, the Imperial defense forces, will not quite so meekly submit to your recall. They understand what is at stake here.”

“Not all of them; not even most of them. I have your word that you will take this attack on China no further than it has already gone?” Michael asked, keeping his face stern despite Julia making the exact point the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had brought up just an hour before. Already, just three months into the formation of new Legion and strike-fighter cadres, the Americans, Russians, Japanese, and Europeans involved were aligning themselves with the Empire—many, but not all, would choose to put the planet ahead of their country of origin.

“So long as the People’s Republic accepts this lesson, and does not attempt to widen the war, then my government is completely satisfied. And provided that they no longer interfere with the internal affairs of the Empire or the defense of this planet; they can retain their own national sovereignty.”

“May I suggest a cease-fire, then, Your Majesty, while we attempt a diplomatic solution with which we can all agree to?”

“My forces have liberated Tibet, and are not operating within the new borders of main-land China. Unless they provoke us further, the war is already over, Mister President. Send your diplomats to Beijing, but the future now depends on what those old men decide to do.”

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-15 10:53am

Chapter Nine (cont.)

Edwin stood in the center of a wide pass, using the powerful optical systems built into his armor to survey the terrain below. In the distance, he could see the wide, deep formations of the PLA army corps forming up as they prepared to assault his position here—along with the other passes his brigade was defending. Too slow, he thought to himself; you indigs took too long to deploy, and you gave my boys four full days to dig in. Turning back to the northwest, he gauged the defensive works the Services & Support personnel had constructed before he ordered them to the rear. Extensive minefields (comprised of both anti-vehicle and anti-personnel munitions) and thousands of meters of molecularly-edged razor wire filled the two thousand meters between the border below and the main line of resistance further up the pass. There, the engineers had built ferro-crete lined slit trenches and bunkers for his infantry, along with hardened revetments for the tanks and APCs; each camouflaged so expertly that only prior knowledge of their location allowed him to spot them among the rocky soil and crags. He marched back up the slope to the fortifications, taking care to stay within the path his armor projected on the HUD to avoid the thousands of anti-personnel and anti-vehicular mines blanketing the pass.

After fifteen minutes, he reached the crest, where his headquarters staff and their eighteen Cougars were parked, surrounded by dozens of additional tanks, APCs, air defense guns, and a host of other combat and non-combat vehicles. Still, there was little doubt that the lines were thin, even with four of the Gurkha Rifle Cohorts parceled out across the passes to man the slit trenches alongside his own heavy infantry. If fact, his only reserves consisted of his HQ, the armored cavalry troop attached to the 2nd Brigade, and two Gurkha cohorts that were currently garrisoning the central plateau of Tibet and its capital city of Lhasa. Even his MPs and Rifle Security Century had been sent to thicken the defenses.

“Jerry,” he said to his staff communications officer, “get the Old Man on the horn for me.”

Edwin unlatched his helmet as he climbed the ramp to board his command Cougar; he placed the heavy piece of armor on a handy stand, and sat down on one of the reclining seats positioned besides the communications and sensor equipment. A soft buzz sounded from one of the hand-set phones set into the gear, a light blinking amber beside it. Edwin lifted the phone to his ear.

“Sir, General Tuturola is on the line,” the officer said. For a few seconds there was nothing but the hiss of static, and then the brigadier heard his general’s voice.

“Has the ballgame commenced, Edwin?”

“Not yet, boss; damn, these boys move slow. But they are formed up in their assault columns in the foot-hills and they should be moving against us before nightfall. Have you managed to get the Rules of Engagement changed?”

“Negative, Brigadier. You are not authorized to conduct a preemptive strike on the PLA within the territory of the People’s Republic of China. You are authorized to return fire against any land or air unit that opens fire upon your command—including rear-echelon artillery. But Her Imperial Majesty threw you a bone, Edwin; your Typhoons are authorized to violate Chinese air-space in response to a direct attack on Tibet.”

“Glory, hallelujah, General. What about top cover? You know how vulnerable those ground-attack fighters are to being jumped.”

“Already in position and will respond to any PLA fighters entering the theatre of operations. You’ve got Banshees and Warhawks from Fleet on overwatch, plus Admiral Chandler has authorized deep-penetration strikes by Havocs if the Chinese go crazy on us. Plus, don’t worry about surface-to-surface ballistic missiles; Belisarius and Gustav Adolphus are holding station fifty kilometers above and behind your lines with their point-defense batteries on standby. The dinky little short-range and intermediate-range weapons the PLA uses ain’t gonna saturate the defenses of those two ships, and they should be able to at least thin out a conventional artillery barrage as well.”

“Thanks for the small favors, boss. I still can’t believe they are going to try and just force us out of the passes.”

“They don’t believe what they have heard of our capabilities, and their government is more than willing to see a few hundred thousand of their own dead, than to admit to the loss of face they will suffer from having an independent Tibet on their border. Have you received the additional munitions I ordered forward?”

“Affirmative, Sir.”

“Good. Satellite surveillance shows they have moved six Corps to your front—a quarter-of-a-million men, all told. You might need the extra bullets before this is all said and done. Did you receive the brief from the Marines on the new rifles they discovered in their attack?”

"Affirmative, sir. The boys know what to expect." Edwin shook his head. In an effort to deal with Imperial infantry, the Chinese had resurrected the old Type 97 Anti-tank Rifle used by Japan in the Second World War . . . a 20mm semi-automatic rifle. Only the new Chinese version featured tungsten-cored ammunition and modern sights. And it was effective in punching holes in armor, as several Marines had learned to their displeasure during the initial assault. The problem was that it was also heavy (50 kilograms unloaded), slow-firing (due to the massive recoil), and there simply were not enough of them. The PLA had assigned one of their new 'Storm Rifles' to each infantry squad, keeping their normal weapons for the rest of the infantry. Edwin shook his head again. It was a good attempt, but poorly executed.

"Heh," Miles answered. "I bet that they do. Just hold the passes and keep their hordes out of Tibet, Brigadier. Once they find out they cannot dislodge you, this should be over."

“We’ll hold, Sir.”

“I know you will, Edwin. Kick ass and take names for me. Panzer Six Actual out.”

Edwin racked the phone, and scrunched up his face as he ran armored fingers through his sweat-laden hair. And then he reclined the chair and lay back to grab a quick nap.

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Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-15 11:17am

Chapter Nine (cont.)

Throughout the afternoon, the People’s Liberation Army prepared to launch its assault under exhortations of greater speed from the Defense Ministry in Beijing. But General Quon, the officer commanding this effort, held his men back until all of his units reported full readiness. This measured, conservative decision was nominally the correct one, but in this case, Quon only succeeded in getting more of his men killed.


Commander Charles Spencer, the CO of HIMS Gustav Adolphus—and known as Spence among his friends and colleagues—took a sip of hot coffee as he sat in his command chair aboard the bridge of the Imperial destroyer. His ship was at Condition Two—with half of crew manning all stations and compartments, all of her weapons hot and ready to engage the enemy at a single command. The other half of the crew had just come off duty, and were grabbing a bite to eat or catching some sleep before their short four-hour rest period was over and they had to return to relieve those currently on duty. Four kilometers away from his ship, Spencer’s companion destroyer HIMS Belisarius hovered as well; the two ships responsible for covering for the Legion troops below. Earlier that day, the Admiral had given both commanders a personal briefing, based on what Intel could glean from the signals leaking out of the capital of Beijing. He had warned Spence and Commander Cook that it appeared as if the PLA was preparing to launch an attack on the destroyers as well as the passes below. Spence shook his head in exasperation—what did they expect to gain by throwing planes and missiles at his command? Certainly they couldn’t think they had a prayer of succeeding?

“Skip,” the lieutenant seated at tactical called out. “We are detecting several low-emissions sensor reflections at 15,000 meters altitude—seventy kilometers out. The bogies are still over Chinese territory, but at their current speed, they will enter Tibetan airspace in less than one minute. Hold one,” he barked as his head bent down low over the display.

“Six hundred plus ballistic shells inbound for the Legion defenses!” he snapped as the display screen suddenly lit up with hundreds of fast-moving icons, each representing a single artillery shell in flight.

Spence stood, his forgotten coffee cup shattering as it hit the deck. “Point defense free! Execute Zulu Seven!”

“Zulu Seven, aye, aye, sir,” his XO answered. A shuddering vibration lightly shook the ship as Gustav Adolphus unleashed her quad mass drivers and twin 5cm plasma guns—and eighty percent of the shells on the display simply vanished as the destroyer and her sister reaved through their numbers

“O’Brian,” Spence said as he stood behind the tactical officer, “I want your attention pegged to those bogies you detected—vector our Banshees to intercept the instant they cross the line.”

“Aye, aye, sir. Bogies are now positively identified as the new Jian-23 stealth fighter. Sir, sensors indicate that all twenty-four of them are carrying radiological packages—heavy emissions leakage indicates the presence of fissionable material in the warheads.”

Really? Spence thought to himself. You want to play chicken with nukes, then? “Guns,” he called out, using the tactical officer’s traditional title, “bring the starboard 16cm turrets on line. The moment they fire nuclear warheads at us, have the main battery return the favor with capital-scale plasma.”

“Aye, aye, sir; the target, sir?”

“Pick a division, Guns; pick any bloody division you see on the ground down below. And Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Watch your impact zones, they are going to be extremely close to friendlies, and 16cm bolts aren’t exactly firecrackers.”


The lead pilot of the squadron of Jian-23s—an updated production version of the Jian-20 based on stolen data obtained on the American F-22 Raptor—crossed the border into Tibet. His orders were quite clear, make no transmissions of any sort; the Air Marshall who was his base commander believed that this enemies sensor arrays were capable of picking up any leakage of radio or radar. Instead, each pilot had received instructions to arm the nuclear missile he carried and launch immediately upon crossing the border. The Marshall had assured his best pilots that the stealth systems of the Jian-23 would, in combination with the artillery bombardment, prevent the enemy from detecting them before launch. Of course, afterwards, it was likely that all of them would be destroyed. And he was almost correct in that assessment.


Only two of the Chinese fighters managed to launch their single missile before twenty-four Scorpions launched by four of Gustav Adolphus’s Banshees streaked in at speeds exceeding Mach 7 to sweep the sky clean. Both of the 115-kiloton nuclear weapons were shot down well short of the destroyer.


“Brigadier,” his aide called out, “it is starting.”

Instantly, Edwin woke from the catnap he had treated himself to. The miniaturized display in the command Cougar was nearly overwhelmed by the incoming artillery shells, but suddenly most of them up and vanished. Thank you, Admiral Chandler, the Legion officer thought to himself. Rubbing the last of the sleep from his eyes, Edwin sat up and placed the wireless headset on. “Panzer Five Actual to all Panzer Silver and Cutthroat elements—the ballgame has just commenced. Stand by to engage the enemy as they cross the border,” he broadcast.

“Jerry, have you informed higher that it has begun?”

“Yes, sir. Panzer Six Actual left a message for you—git ‘er done.”

Edwin chuckled. “All right, then, let’s get the Typhoons moving to target their rear echelons and supply depots.”

Outside, the greatly diminished barrage hit, detonating a few mines, and cutting several strands of razor-wire, but causing no damage to his entrenched troopers. Down slope, the first layer of mines erupted as the Chinese soldiers crossed the border.

“The enemy has now officially entered the sovereign state of Tibet—Panzers and Gurkhas engage targets as they bear.”

Tanks, APCs, and mobile howitzers open fired from their fortified revetments, even as hundreds of infantry troopers unleashed a hail-storm of tungsten penetrators from Reapers and heavy scout rifles. Then suddenly, the night sky turned into brilliant daylight.


General Quon blanched as a dozen star-bright suns erupted directly over his advancing divisions, engulfing those troops in plasma detonations more than twice as powerful as those which killed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He turned to his radio operator to issue the order to retreat, but then Belisarius’s commander fired his own heavy guns; the second salvo included one bolt that struck fifty meters outside of Quon’s headquarter before erupting in 44-kilotons of fury.


Edwin grinned in delight as the assault on his positions recoiled. The few surviving lead troops staggered in the aftermath of two dozen nuclear detonations, no longer concerned in the least about continuing the attack, but instead concentrating on individual survival. From start to finish, the Chinese offensive lasted all of eighteen and a half minutes before being decimated and routed from the field of battle.

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Joined: 2012-04-09 11:06pm

Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-15 12:32pm

Chapter Ten

“The destruction inflicted by the Imperial forces in their indiscriminate attacks upon civilians along the border with Tibet has claimed the lives of nearly two hundred thousand men, women, and children. In a statement released after an investigation into Imperial claims on the matter, officials in Beijing have claimed that the People’s Liberation Army made no attempt to respond to the provocation the Imperial troops and their mercenaries represented. Soldiers of the People’s Republic had been posted along the border, but their mission was simply to observe and provide a counter-weight to the Imperialistic ambitions of these men so out of touch with the reality of our times. The unprovoked attack, catching many Chinese troops asleep in their barracks, culminated in the use of nuclear devices many times more powerful than those that destroyed the Japanese cities at the end of the Second World War. So far, foreign journalists have been denied access to the region by the government in Beijing, citing potentially hazardous conditions due to the wanton use of nuclear weaponry. CNN has thus been unable to completely corroborate the version of events offered by the People’s Republic—although our correspondents on the ground in Tibet have uncovered no evidence that any attack on that nation by China warranted the use of such high-powered weapons, particularly given the resulting civilian casualties reported by Beijing. In other news . . .”

Jason shut down the television set that his wife sat in front of, literally fuming and sputtering at the screen. She spun about, her eyes hot and red, as her clenched fist raised crumpled-up newspapers. “Do you see the lies they are telling about us, Jason? They are saying that we killed civilians indiscriminately—and the media are just eating it up, even with not one shred of evidence. They won’t even listen to us; the Fleet gave them copies of the engagement logs of the ships involved in the action, so they know that China did attack into Tibet—and that we did not deliberately target a city full of non-combatants! But that doesn’t make for good news, does it?” she asked, the tears welling up in her eyes. “They don’t want the truth, Jason, they want ratings—and be damned who they have to hurt to get them.”

Jason knelt beside his wife and smoothed a tangled curl of her hair out of her face. He kissed her gently. “Ethan is back in orbit, along with Vanguard and Leviathan, love. I have to go up there for the hand-over ceremony, and I thought that you would enjoy that more than sitting down here and getting more and more pissed off at the native newsies. Besides, wasn’t it you that told me you wanted to confirm Commodore Howell as an Imperial Senator in your own Royal and Imperial self?”

Julia nodded, and clung to her husband’s chest tightly. “I finally understand what father and grand-father and all my other esteemed and honored ancestors meant when they said there are times with all of the power in the universe is worse that no power at all. If I ordered it, you would level that company in Atlanta—or the one with the peacock that is even worse. Even though doing that would make the situation so much more difficult; never mind the fact that it would be wrong. Wouldn’t you?”

Jason smiled. “I would butcher every last one of those bastards the moment you let me slip the leash, Your Majesty—because it’s your word and your honor they question. Caesar’s word; Caesar’s honor. They fact that you are my wife only makes it more personal for me, but I would do it for your father and I would sure as Hell do it for you.”

“And yet,” Julia said sadly, “having the power to unleash such wrath, I find I cannot use it without losing all that we have fought for in the process. I feel that I can do nothing.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that you have the power to do nothing, my love. The lies these miscreants spew will mean nothing in the long run, other than to discredit them for the telling and retelling of such. Our people, here in Vancouver, and the other Provinces, and at Heinlein and the orbital stations, they don’t believe a word of it. But if these news organizations can get you to play their game, and make you respond to their lies, they have already won. Go out there and ignore them, Julia. Give them no interviews, no fodder for their presses or members of your staff for their programs—cut them off from access to you. The press that has not abandoned you will gain in their stead, and within a few short weeks, CNN and MSNBC and CBS and the others will come crawling back begging you to please speak with them.” Jason smiled, he continued in a half-serious, half-joking tone. “And if not, then I can always shoot the miserable bastards and install our own people to run the newsrooms.”

The Empress barked out a snort of laughter, and her consort nodded his head. “It is not the end of the world, Julia. Soon enough, even these cretins will realize just how petty all of this down here really is—and how desperately they need you. How desperately they need the Empire.”

Julia sighed and leaned into her husband’s waiting arms. “I am so glad that father didn’t have you shot for asking for my hand,” she quietly joked.

“So am I; keeping up with you is difficult enough without leaking blood all over the palace.”

Jedi Master
Posts: 1039
Joined: 2012-04-09 11:06pm

Re: In Harm's Way

Postby masterarminas » 2012-09-15 12:39pm

Chapter Ten (cont.)

Commodore Ethan Howell stood in his finest dress uniform just outside of the main flight deck aboard HIMS Vanguard. His staff and the ship’s senior officers flanked him, but the man standing beside him was not a member of that staff or ship’s company. Commodore Liu Teng-Hui was Ethan’s replacement as the commander of Battle Division 342B and would assume command once Her Imperial Majesty relieved Ethan just a few short moments from now. “Quite a day, eh, Teng-Hui?”

“A very good day, Senator Howell, in many respects, but a sad day as well. We shall miss your leadership here among the Fleet, my friend.”

“I’ll miss being here as well, but I think the Empress is correct—it is past time that I moved on with my life. Being an Imperial Senator will present me with new challenges, whereas patrolling the depths of the Solar System is . . .” the Commodore’s voice trailed off as he searched for the word that he wanted.

Boring?” offered Teng-Hui. “Pedestrian? Quaint, and yet far too quiet? I would say stoic, in that you have much opportunity for reflection, but . . .”

“Quiet you,” Ethan growled as Teng-Hui chuckled. “I was going to say, that cruising aimlessly about and waiting for the Ordan-Kraal to suddenly appear is in many respects what I have done with my own personal life. Everything was in stasis, with nothing ever changing. I cannot live like that any longer, Teng-Hui. I can no longer be static; Miranda and the children would understand and want me to grow and to live and perhaps one day to love again.” He gave a side-long look to the man who had been his friend since they shared a room together at the Academy. “Besides, it is now your job to keep an empty outer system safe for all humanity.”

“Oh, woe is me; however shall I deal with such adversity?” Teng-Hui shook his head. “I’ll have my hands full getting your former command shipshape to my higher standards, Ethan. There will be little time to contemplate the emptiness of the universe, and of man’s soul.”

Ethan’s reply was interrupted by the bosun’s whistle, and then an announcement over the bulkhead mounted speakers. “Her Imperial Majesty, arriving!”

“Ship’s company,” Ethan barked, “stand at attention!”

With the snap of their boot heels, the officers and NCOs in the reception lines sprang to attention and the hatch to the interior of the hanger bay slowly opened. The Praetorians came through first, even here (perhaps especially here) on a ship of the Imperial Fleet, followed by Jason, and then Her Imperial Majesty.

Julia nodded at each of the men in turn, shaking their hand, and addressing them by their names and ranks—memorized only scant hours earlier, along with their interests and hobbies. Still, not knowing the tricks that Caesar routinely used, the men were impressed that she had spent such time to learn about them—and consequently welded themselves tighter to her reign.

Finally, she came to Ethan and Teng-Hui at the end of the reception, and she offered a genuine smile to the two older men. A smile which turned to puzzlement as a sudden alarm began to sound throughout the ship, and a frantic voice came over the speakers.

“Attention all hands, this is the XO; Action Stations, Action Stations; set Condition One throughout the ship, this is not a drill. Action Stations, Action Stations; set Condition One throughout the ship, this is not a drill.”

Nodding his apologies to Julia, Ethan stepped over to the walk mounted communicator and thumbed it on, even as his officers and staff NCOs began to clear to the area and rush back to their assigned stations. The Praetorians surrounding Julia watched everyone around Caesar for any sign of something wrong—the entire matter may be the prelude to an assassination attempt, after all.

“Howell, here. Commodore Liu and Admiral Chandler, along with Her Imperial Majesty are present as well. What’s going on, Ben?”

“Commodore. Charlemagne just reported that she has detected a tachyon wave indicating multiple ships approaching this system. The wave signature is intense enough that Commander Chou believes it indicates at least forty vessels.”

“Time to emergence?”

“Wave configurations indicate that the unknowns are making a near maximum distance transit, so we still have a little more than eighteen minutes until real-space emergence.”

“Understood, Commander. Hold the division at Condition One, and have all departments on all ships make certain that everything is combat ready.”

“Aye, aye, Sir.”

Ethan turned back to the waiting group. “Admiral, I feel that would be inappropriate to step aside at this particular moment, Sir. Request permission to report to my Flag Bridge?”

“Granted, Commodore. Commodore Liu, I would suggest that you reassume command of the cruisers aboard Crusader.”

“Of course Admiral,” the cruiser division CO said with a slight bow. “Ethan, if you could spare a shuttle . . .”

“Take your pick—any but Her Majesty’s, that is. Your Majesty, I must apologize, but I need to report to the Flag Bridge. Admiral, can you escort Her Highness planet side?”

“No need to apologize, Ethan. And we are not going planet side. Admiral Chandler, I do believe that your squadron needs you to command it.” She turned to the leader of her Praetorians. “We shall depart for Reprisal at once, Centurion. Any reinforcements that you need should lift from Vancouver immediately, to join us before the Fleet leaves orbit. And have the press pool lifted aboard immediately—whether they care to join us or not.”

Ethan, Teng-Hui, Jason, and the commander of her Praetorians all opened their mouths to protest, but Julia cut them all off. “No, gentlemen, my mind is decided. Marcus Collins risked his own life aboard the battleship Warrior during the Great Crusade—his son and heir died aboard Retaliation. I will not huddle in my Palace awaiting word of this meeting between the Ordan-Kraal and my Fleet. I will not stand a widow’s walk preparing for the butcher’s bill from this next few hours and days. I will not.”

Jason closed his mouth and slowly nodded. “In that case, Ethan and Teng-Hui, I suggest you see to your divisions. Her Imperial Majesty will be joining me aboard the Flag Bridge of Her Own Well-found Ship of Battle Reprisal. God save Her Imperial Majesty, and may He save us all.”

“Amen,” came from three very sober and soft voices.

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