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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Rohon was a soldier. He had seen the Alliance do great things building the verse. Then two scientists his team of special forces had retrieved are killed. Poor intel leads to dead civilians, operations against the rebels are botched, and his plan to rid the Alliance of the rebels is discarded at the highest levels. What is happening in the Alliance and what plans do they have?
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1666 RATING: 0 SERIES: FIREFLY
Silver and red decorated the sides of the buildings on Victory Way. Not unlike the canyon on Beaumonde it was the perfect place for an ambush, a channel to funnel your enemy into your sights. Rohon didn’t think of the masses teeming below as his enemy, but the parallel came to mind none-the-less. It had been a long time since he could just look at a sight like this-towering marvels of engineering, gleaming chrome, vibrant colors, music and cheering-and be elated. Now every event was an operation; every trip a tactical sum of risk versus reward; every meeting a possible trap. Sitting in the office of the Alliance politician had every hair on his neck standing on end. He listened for any sound that might betray ulterior motive even while the man prattled on about the need of the Alliance to maintain peace and harmony for the benefit of all and the betterment of the future of mankind.
“…is why you were chosen for this,” the man was saying. “Mr. Rohon,” he smiled at that. It seemed no one ever knew what to really call him, “we want you to tidy this up. The man you delivered the, um, item to said you were his first choice.” Again the deception of knowledge. Sometimes it was better to seem more ignorant or more informed than one really was. In this case, the politician, some upper middleman named Ocher, was unsure what he knew and didn’t want to give anything away. Rohon turned from the window and faced him.
“In other words, your chemist, Run-di wants me to find the two escapees from his chemical prison and ensure no one else knows about the chemical weapon you’re developing?” Eyes wide, mouth hanging limp, small beads of sweat appearing on forehead, hands shaking almost imperceptibly, yes he had shaken the politician. This Ocher was really an amateur. Why had they used him? Probably expendable. In fact, Rohon thought, Ocher was probably his next mission. But for now…
“What is the latest on them?” The man hesitated a moment and blinked several times. He was trying to get his mind back on track.
“Um, we um, we think they are headed for Concadia. It’s an industrial city…”
“Yes, I know what and where it is. Where in Concadia? They escaped five days ago, so they are probably already in route.” The man looked confused again. How he hated working with such incompetence.
“Um, yes, the girl, Foster, has an aunt living in the crowded area called Phipps. Most of the workers there are part of the machinist guild working in the engine plants and harvester factories. Very dense. Easy to get lost in.” Ocher looked up at Rohon. He had a desparate look in his eye. Rohon knew he was hoping their meeting was almost at an end. He stepped far too slowly over to the desk. The other man looked about to relieve himself. He leaned slightly forward and, as fast as he could, snatched the file from Ocher’s hand. Ocher literally almost fell over backward trying to move. Rohon, again very slowly, lowered his gaze and opened the file. He appeared to glance over the paperwork for a minute then looked up at Ocher.
“Okay, that’s about it,” he said showing as many teeth as possible in a large smile. He tossed the file back onto the desk, turned and strode from the room. He walked straight to the lift, down to the lobby, through the front door, and onto the street. He waited until he had rounded the corner before stopping and laughed as hard as he could out loud. Several pedestrians gave him quizzical or disapproving looks as they passed. He hadn’t had that much fun for awhile and it wasn’t every day he got to mess with a politician in his office. Yes, he thought to himself continuing along, this day was looking up.
Rohon descended the steps to the tube. He slowed a moment as his eyes adjusted from the sunlight to the subterranean darkness. While his instinct held him up others pushed past him. It was habit, and he hardly noticed. With Victory Way several blocks behind, he went down three more levels to the express tubes. He glanced at the map and schedule but he already knew the one he wanted would arrive in twelve minutes. It would be another forty to his destination and then twenty to walk to the hanger. He pulled out his clip and put it in his ear.
“Hertz, you on?” he asked pressing the button on the clip to activate it. He heard only static, but it was keyed static. Someone was on, but, maybe the depth, was not giving him a proper signal. He hated the tubes. Okay, he thought, add another thirty minutes for the team to get to the hanger. They could be skyward in two hours. They would be in Concadia in two days. Two days and he would see his home world.
There were five principal industrial cities on Lissabon and Concadia was the largest. Within the city were over thirty industrial plant complexes, two hundred factories, and a few thousand construction and assembly houses. Concadia was known for its engine pods, commercial grade shuttles, avionics and astronavigation assemblies as well as just about any other item you would find on your average space ship. His family had worked for Tyrell Fabrication for generations. He had family that made engines, hull insulators, pod rotators, oxygen scrubbers, navigation interface panels, solar converters, power dampeners, landing gear actuators, sinks, water filtration systems, cabinets, and even weapons for Alliance assault ships. And it didn’t stop there. Above, ringing the planet, was a string of assembly stations where many of the largest ships in the galaxy were completed. He always remembered the first time he saw an Alliance cruiser. His mother took him up to the station where she worked and there, moored to the factory, were the spires of the cruiser. He had been an excited boy and had talked about the sheer size and power of it for days before his father had finally told him that was enough.
Lissabon was an inner planet and was strongly Alliance from the beginning. Even so, his father had always had a strange reaction whenever the Alliance was mentioned in the house. He couldn’t remember any specific words against the Alliance, just a general feeling that his father didn’t approve. It wasn’t until four years ago that Rohon had had that same feeling.
Living the military life was rough. He had been a defender in the fleet and part of the Eighteenth Infiltrators, a squad of shock troops dedicated to putting down hard, often behind enemy lines, and doing whatever needed done. In truth, it often only meant taking out infrastructure like power generators, military construction, and the like, but since there was often civilian casualties they were often thought of a “death squad” or sometimes “murder squad”. The terms had never meant anything to him as he had seldom seen the collateral damage they caused. Then, on a mission in a backwater speck of land on the edge of the galaxy, he had met Selia. She was four inches shorter than him, had rusty red hair reaching her hips, bright blue eyes with just a hint of violet, and fire red lips. She couldn’t get enough of him and that made her perfect.
Rohon had been dispatched to search for a small terrorist cell on a recently terra-formed world called Miranda. With a stable atmosphere in place colonists were racing in droves to be part of a new world. Three cities were under construction and twice that many more in the planning stages. In a jungle area near the planet’s equator a small group calling themselves the “Anti-Alliance Free Militia” had been causing disturbances in every settlement. Recently they had been reaching out to a few other planets and that caught the Alliance’s attention. Rohon and his Infiltrators were sent to clear them out. It was shortly after planet fall that he had met Selia. He was walking to the capital complex to speak with the planet’s governor and she was walking out of a shop. He saw her and she saw him. He turned and walked straight toward her. She stopped and waited, as did his escort. He asked her name and where she lived. Without hesitation she gave him the information. He returned to his escort and they continued on. Later, after the obligatory meetings and discussion on his mission with the local authorities he went in search for her. She was waiting with a table set and food ready. They enjoyed the meal, talked about themselves and slept soundly in each others arms. When the sun shone through her windows he had to leave.
Using an electric glider they swooped in over a small wall and dropped in the midst of about forty or fifty men. Fifteen seconds later they counted the bodies and reached forty-three. They followed another through a door into a descending ramp. It slowly curved deep into the ground. The fleeing man was shouting as he ran, “They are here, they are here!” Rohon wasn’t sure if he knew who “they” were and didn’t really care. Soon they heard other voices and slowed. Rounding the curve of the wall they saw a barricade hastily constructed. Shots came at him when he stuck his head out to see. It looked like an easy fix. He turned to his men and signaled for grenades. Three of them pulled and threw. The little metal devices bounced off the far wall and fell behind the barricades. Holding his ears and closing his eyes he still heard the bang and saw the flash. Rushing forward there were eight more men standing there looking dazed. One other was on the ground already dead. They dispatched the eight and moved into the next room. It was circular with six doors. A soldier went to each door and quickly cracked it tossing in another grenade. They all went off nearly simultaneously and the soldiers advanced. Inside each of the cells was a family. Two held only women but the other four also held children. Their bodies lay piled indicating they had been huddling together when the grenades went off. This was an aspect of the mission he hadn’t expected. They had fragged innocents before, but to bomb out families was simply murder. That’s what really caused him to pause. Murder. Why had that word popped into his mind? He had never even considered what he did as murder. It was necessary and sanctioned. He didn’t go looking for innocent people to kill, they were part of an underground movement. Without explaining he ordered his men to positively identify combatants prior to engaging. It wasn’t normal procedure and the men seemed skeptical, but they obeyed without question. Intel had indicated only armed resistance. That would be a question for a later time.
The remaining portions of the camp were cleared and the survivors gathered. Several women and children were found in other cells in the burrows but no more armed combatants. Rohon had Hertz call in local authorities to handle the families and his men cleaned the place out for possible intel. Once the locals secured the site and he was sure they would find nothing more of interest they returned to the city and he returned to Selia.
While she slept he completed his report and sent it to the orbiting ship. They had two days until it headed back to their base and he informed the commanding officer that his team would be back before then. They spent most of the day touring the city. It was magnificent! Promoting the new planet meant the Alliance had provided some of the best architects and civil engineers to create a place settlers would want to come to, and they did. The bustling on the completed streets, and in the unfinished sections, was tremendous. Rohon had never seen anything like it. Selia was proud of it all! She was an inspector with the city’s administration assuring that everything was being constructed according to specifications and all codes and tolerances were met. It kept her constantly running. She kept up a monologue pointing at buildings, statues, tunnels, transport stops, nearly everything explaining where she had a hand in its completion. It put a permanent smile on her face and he stared at her more than the city she was pointing to. That smile captivated him! He couldn’t’ not look at it constantly. That was why he was so concerned when it faded.
They were sitting at a small table at a street side bistro when she received the call. As she listened the corners of her mouth dropped slowly and steadily. Her eyes widened ever so slightly and her lips parted a little. The moisture built until it couldn’t be contained and the tears ran down her cheeks dripping from her jaw . He put his hand out trying to indicate his concern. The whole time she was listening the rest of her body was a statue. It wasn’t until she said, “Uh-huh. I’ll come.” That she showed any animated response. She clicked the comm closed and lowered it to her lap. Without moving any other part of her body her eyes moved to his. The pain there was unbearable for him to see. He wanted to hold her, comfort her, make her forget whatever caused her pain or grief, but something about the whole situation stopped him from rising and going around the table to her.
“What did you do yesterday?” she asked. He was caught short. What? He didn’t really understand what she was talking about. She asked again with a little emphasis on the ‘do’, “What did you DO yesterday?” A connection started forming. He really hoped he was wrong.
“It was nothing,” the first warning bell went off in his head. “My team was dispatched to look for some people that we thought were a danger to the citizens here.” It wasn’t’ really a lie, but it certainly wasn’t the whole story. The second warning bell went off in his head. Her eyebrows sloped barely and her bottom lip trembled slightly. He knew this look. She was sad, but now she was angry as well.
“Did you go into the mountains and kill the people living there?” The tone was pure accusation. She knew he was a soldier.
“We quieted a pocket of rebels that were a danger…” he never finished as the fork flew at his face. His reflexes let him bat it away easily. She shook and she let out a sob.
“My…brother and his family…they…they…were living out there…,” her sobs broke her speech as it broke his heart. “Kendra was only five! She…they…YOU MURDERED THEM!” she screamed! He didn’t need his peripheral vision to tell him every eye in the bistro just turned toward their table. She sat there, tears now running freely, sobbing openly. Her body shuddered with each but she kept eye contact with him. Rohon thought, or maybe he hoped, there was still some affection behind the pain and anger. After about a minute of silence between them she wiped her eyes and her nose and said again, this time quietly, “You murdered them.” He knew there would be nothing positive between them again. He stood and walked away. He would do nothing to cause her any more grief. Looking back he thought it strange that the most intense and complete relationship he had ever had was with Selia, and it took him only three days to destroy it.
Forty-eight hours later they were on the Indomitable heading back to their main base. He never liked to call it home because his only home was Concadia. Concadia, where he would be taking another team in the “ongoing struggle for peace throughout the Alliance” as the politicians kept droning on about. Rohon climbed the stairs from the tube slowly giving his eyes time to adjust. When he reached the top he keyed his comm..
“Hertz, you there?”
“Yes sir,” came an immediate response. Rohon grinned slightly.
“Meet me at the transport ASAP.”
“Yes sir.” Eighty three minutes later they were entering orbit and on their way to Concadia.
His team for this mission consisted of five. He and Hertz could have handled it but the command didn’t like what they termed “cowboy action” and he had to play the game by their rules. He brought Torrez, a specialist with communications and electronic warfare; Gober, an intel specialist; and DeLaire, the mole. Of course he never called DeLaire a mole to his face but he and Hertz knew the reason DeLaire was often put with them was he always reported back to the command on everything that happened. He was a necessary evil most of the time. As long as he kept the command happy they would keep him happy. For those times when he wanted to do something and not let the command know he always could find something for DeLaire to do. The five of them sat around a table looking at the intel.
“Foster and Milligan,” began Gober. “They ran off with the material and are believed to be heading to Concadia. The only known family for either is an aunt of Foster’s in the Phipps district. Neither has any training or specific affiliation to warrant extra precautions, but…” she paused and looked up at Rohon. “Sir, you are from here, why would they come here? I understand the aunt, but it’s an obvious place. They must know we would look to family and friends first. Every indication is these are very smart chemists. What is on Concadia that would be worth the risk?” The rest of the crew shifted their gaze from her to him.
“Nothing. You’ll learn that smart people, like the rest of us,” that got a smirk from all of them, “get scared and don’t think sometimes. Whatever reason they took the stuff and fled they probably just took off for the first place they could think of. There is probably nothing here for them except an old woman who might put them up for a few days.” He looked at each of them. He sat back and continued. “The Phipps district is crowded with a general cluttered appearance. It’s not a slum, just crowded. It draws a lot of people because you can get anything there. The underground market is active and generally ignored unless something dangerous starts getting passed around. And the locals can clean it out in a matter of minutes. The only time a full raid on the place was done was when a man named Gerritan started selling infantry grade hardware. They shut that down pretty quick. The other stuff is not worth the effort.
Now, we want to keep this low-key. Let’s not attract too much unwanted attention. The moment we enter Phipps people will know we are not regulars. The trick is to act like you are from another city and are simply looking for something. They want buyers and won’t mess with you. We want to avoid any confrontations not directly associated with our targets. These two are not trained combatants, so let’s try and do this quietly. Maybe they will simply come with us when we ask.” Again, everyone laughed a little. “Pick your loads and make sure you can make them invisible. Any questions?”
The crew sat quietly. He knew they thought this would be a simple grab and they would be back home in a week. He hoped they were right.
After landing in Serberia, it was two hours by train to Concadia. They traveled as individuals, not talking or interacting with each other. Hertz struck up a conversation with a couple headed home from visiting relatives. When Rohon got up to stretch and walk back to the restaurant he was dumbfounded to see Hertz laughing and stuffing his face with some pie the couple was sharing with him. They all had drinks and it looked like a long-lost reunion of sorts. He moved around until he had checked on the whole team. Torrez and DeLaire were sleeping and Gober was getting hit on by a short man wearing a bright green suit with wine colored cummerbund and a peach shirt. He actually laughed out loud when he saw them. Gober was wearing a simple light blue dress but that is not what caught him up. The man was trying to act debonaire and important and the whole time Gober was staring at his hat. The man was wearing a peach top hat that had to be at least a half-meter tall. Her eyes looked glued on it and her mouth hung open. He exited the car as quickly as he could. He was sure she could handle the man.
As Rohon approached his seat he heard Hertz and the couple with him singing some folk song he could only guess at the origin of. He sat and quietly ate the food he had purchased in the restaurant. They were about fifteen minutes out and went over the plan and map in his mind. There was a perverse rule in his world that the easier the job should be the more difficult it would be. He really hoped that would not be the case.
On time the train pulled into Bei Concord and Rohon went in search of a taxi. He found a row of electric rickshaws and chose a green one with yellow stripes. He sat in the back and told the operator to take him around the corner. The operator, who was a boy of about fifteen or so, looked over his shoulder at Rohon and nodded. They moved off and once around the corner stopped. The boy turned all the way around.
“You want around corner. This around corner.” Rohon leaned forward. He looked right into the boys eyes and pulled out his role of cash.
“I am looking for something very special. I hear I may want to go to Phipps. Can you take me?” The boy never flinched but his eyes went to the money role and stayed there.
“Yes,” said the boy turning back around. Rohon had never ridden one of the electric rickshaws before and now he knew he would never ride one again. The boy drove the bike like a fighter pilot! He was going full speed and didn't slow for anything. He would point them where there wasn't a hole only to have one open up as they got there. They passed other vehicles on the left, on the right, and sometimes, right down the middle of the road. Around a few corners he could feel the outside wheel come up and wondered how many tourists died annually riding in these. Thirty minutes after getting off the train he was at Phipps.
Walking down an alley Rohon entered a small courtyard with three other alleys opening off it. He strode down the middle one like he knew exactly where he was going. There were five large men playing cards at a table in the courtyard and he could tell they were watching him. He knew they were probably heavily armed and he didn't want to attract any attention as a possible troublemaker. He left the alley into a larger square where numerous kiosks were lined around with small groups in the center. He made his way around the square looking at the items in various stalls. As expected most items were machinery related. There was the usual machine parts but also artwork made from machinery. He wished he could actually take the time and reminisce of days when he would wander the Phipps as a young boy. But now wasn't the time. He made his way through the maze of alleys and squares until he found the one he was looking for. He found a small booth selling pastries, purchased one, and sat on a nearby bench slowly eating it.
Shortly after sitting on the bench Rohon saw Torrez looking at goods in a stall nearby. He continued looking around until he saw that the whole team had made it. As if on cue, Gober came strolling down the alley looking around, checking out items in various kiosks, looking like any of the myriad of people out for a day in the market. She approached the building where the aunt lived and walked right up as if she lived there. To their surprise the front door opened right up and Gober entered. That's when he saw the man. Coming down the alley, presumably following Gober, was the man from the train with the top hat! This could be a complication. A nod, a natural gesture, and Torrez bumped into the man with an armful of blankets. In what could only be described as an overacted moment, Mr. Top Hat and Torrez were on the ground surrounded by brightly colored material. Torrez was making a total fool of himself being dramatically obsequious. He couldn't get half a blanket folded before stopping and begging forgiveness again from the man. DeLaire had stopped near the door through which Gober had gone and continued to watch the commotion. Two clicks came over his earpiece. That was her signal.
DeLaire turned and entered the building. Rohon got up stretching. He put his money on the table and leaned over to the couple sitting at the next table and made a joke about the man and the blankets. They laughed, he laughed, it was fun for all. He then looked both ways and crossed the street, like he had for many years. It was a simple thing to act like it was all a game. Torrez was finally getting his blankets together and moved to some steps across from the door where he made a fuss of trying to rearrange and straighten out his purchases. From his location he could watch the door and the street.
On the third floor Rohon entered the home of Foster's aunt. It was a typical dwelling for Concadia. There were the usual family nuances, but in general it held the same collection of mismatched hardware inspired décor and trinkets from the various cities. Images of her family were everywhere. When he entered the main living room he saw his team and three people tied up and gagged on the floor. Foster and Milligan were sitting back-to-back and a woman he thought was probably older than the others combined was lying prone next to them. He looked at Gober and gestured toward the aunt. Gober rolled her eyes and leaned down.
“Okay, grandma, let's get you somewhere more comfortable,” she said in an exasperated tone. The other two were still. They probably knew why this had happened and didn't want to endanger the old woman. Gober escorted her into an adjacent room. Rohon looked at DeLaire and nodded toward the door. He moved over to it listening and watching out a nearby window. When Gober returned she gestured back toward the back of the house, “She's lying down...comfortably, on her bed. She won't give us any trouble. I told her we didn't want to hurt anyone and her niece would be fine as long as no one caused any problems. I think she bought it.” Rohon looked at the two on the floor.
“This is simple. You are coming with us. No problems. Once we are clear of Phipps we will call the local authorities and let them know your aunt needs some assistance.” The two just continued to stare. “I will loosen your gags. Noise is not our friend. If I hear noise, then we need to silence it. Do you understand?” They stood the two up and loosed the gags.
“Who are you?” asked Foster.
“We are from your former employer. The one you stole from. Now, remember that part about noise?” He was giving her his best stare down. She nodded and looked over at Milligan. He shrugged at her but kept quiet. Rohon clicked three times on the comms. That would be Torrez' signal they were coming out. He clicked three times in return. They froze. It should have been twice. Three times meant the way was not clear. It was probably that man following Gober. He clicked back twice, paused, and twice again. That was the signal for the backup plan. They headed toward the stairs and went up.
On the top floor there was a walkway adjoining this building with the one with the cafe where Rohon had watched the place. Their only problem was that it was glass and difficult to hide two prisoners if someone was watching. Gober moved to the edge of the crossing. She holstered her pistol and adjusted her clothes. She looked like the girl wandering through the square. She winked at the prisoners and started dancing across the walkway. Rohon and DeLaire stared at her, mouths open. She was kicking her heels up and spinning snapping her head left and right. She put her hands up back stepped, spun, shuffled and when she was almost to the other side, did a split so fluid they couldn't figure out how she had gotten back up. She reached the other side where she wasn't visible from below and stopped. Turning around facing them across the walkway, she did a little curtsy and just stood there straight faced. Rohon and DeLaire looked at each other. What had just happened. When they looked back she was gone.
On the street below Gober resumed her act. She exited the building and started down the street. Every few steps she would pause, back up a step, squat or spin making it look like she was listening to music. She even yelled out a few words here and there as if singing along. Torrez watched her with the same awe struck expression as the others had. She made it half a block before he caught himself and resumed watching the people around them. The man who had followed her before was not visible and he cursed himself for losing his location. He walked slowly to the corner and waited. There was a local transport that came around every hour and checking his chronograph they had two and a half minutes before it would arrive. He clicked twice then three times. The others would be on their way.
When they cracked the door to the building Torrez, leaning against a post dropped his hand from his chin and continued watching the stalls. This told them it was clear. The others came down the steps and turned toward the corner. Rohon put his arm around Foster's shoulder and leaned toward her. Anyone watching would assume they were together. DeLaire talked animatedly to Milligan as if they were having an exciting conversation. After they rounded the corner Torrez slowly turned and followed. He looked further down the road and saw Gober still dancing to her imaginary music. Other pedestrians would look at her and smile and continue on. As the transport halted at it's programmed stop Rohon and DeLaire led their guests to seats in the back. Torrez started to get on and, looking through the windows, saw one pedestrian that was not smiling and continuing on. He clicked his comm five times, stepped off the transport, and walked across the street.
Rohon and Foster, and DeLaire and Milligan sat in the transport as it moved on. Glancing out the window they saw Torrez walking quickly up the street. They rode for six stops and exited. The four of them walked to the train station. They went directly to the security office, showed their credentials and were escorted to the chief of security. He was tall, muscular, and his uniform was immaculate. Rohon was pleased that the chief appeared to be a professional that actually cared about the job he did. Too many weren't which kept him busy.
“I am Transportation Security Chief Smyther. I understand you have an official transport?” He came around his desk and extended his hand. Rohon shook it firmly and handed Smyther his credentials.
“We have two prisoners. We are taking them to Serberia for transport back to our ship. They are level two,” he said looking at the chief. He looked at Foster and continued, “And, you will find Foster's aunt at her residence secured.” He looked back at the chief who raised his eyes from the credentials and looked at Foster. “It was necessary for extraction, but the woman is of no interest and has no charges against her. I was hoping you could send someone to assist her.” Smyther handed the wallet back and straightened up.
“Of course, sir. We are, after all, here for the benefit of the public first and foremost.” He turned to the officer that had escorted them in and said, “Ensure we get someone over there immediately...and let's do it quietly. No need to make waves in the Phipps.” The officer nodded and immediately left. The chief had obviously grasped the situation better than Rohon had expected.
“Thank you. I will make note of your professionalism and assistance in my report,” he said extending his hand to the chief. “I am waiting for two more of my team and then we will take the scheduled transport back to Serberia. We will not need any more official assistance and don't foresee any difficulties. I thank you again.” The chief shook his hand and led them to the lift.
In the station they sat at a table in a corner bistro and waited. They could see every approach but very few passers even gave them a second look. Foster and Milligan were sitting against the wall and provided no trouble. DeLaire had gotten them something to drink and they quietly stared at their cups and sipped. Ten minutes after sitting down Gober and Torrez walked into the station and crossed to them. Torrez veered off course and grabbed two drinks. Gober sat down facing Rohon and said, “Did we miss anything, sir?” Torrez sat a moment later and put one of the drinks in front of her.
“As promised,” he said. The two of them began to laugh. Rohon and DeLaire looked at each other. They expected a good story followed, but nothing was offered.
After the two had settled Rohon asked, “I assume you extricated yourselves professionally?” They looked at each other and laughed again.
“Yes, sir,” they said simultaneously. This, of course, brought on more laughter.
“Okay, I am sure there is a good story there that we will want to hear...later. Right now our plan is Serberia, ship, cruiser, home. Got it?” The other three nodded. Turning toward the prisoners. “Look at me.” They did. “I don't know why, but there is a 'dead-or-alive' caveat to our mission. Do you understand?” They both went wide-eyed and nodded slowly.
“Sir,” started DeLaire leaning over toward Rohon, “I don't think we need to discuss any of this with them.” Rohon did not take his eyes from the prisoners.
“I am making it clear to our guests where we stand and where they stand. And I think they are crystal.” He sat back looked at Torrez. “Make sure we have a private room on the train.” Foster and Milligan returned to their drinks and kept their eyes down. Gober looked from Rohon to DeLaire and back. She knew DeLaire was political and that Rohon distinctly did not like political officers. She hoped it was as far as it went.
Canna Set, Third Earl of Lauries, rose early. He frequently took breakfast in the garden with his children. He had a son, Rual, twelve, and a daughter, Leorra, eight. Both attended Acheron Preparatory Academy. They would take turns naming birds, butterflies, or other creatures flitting about as they ate. It was a ritual all equally enjoyed. He would see them to the transport and watch until it turned the corner. Once ready his driver would take him to Echelon Seven, the headquarters for Beyleyn Corporations. Walking the halls of Beyleyn the Third Earl of Lauries was king!
“Sir, Mid-Mayor Salamon requests a meeting at nine to discuss the terms of employment for the construction of the city seat. Mr. Docker has an appointment at ten regarding development in the Hotch Quarter. You have the Duke and Duchess of Avonshear for lunch. Also, there are eleven messages from Mr. R. on your line.” His current assistant was very efficient. His current assistant was well organized and efficient. Most importantly she was very pleasing to look at. The office he currently occupied was a model of efficiency and economy. He had studied many Zen masters and fancied himself a follower of a few. He attempted to project these ideals into his environment and thought of his office as a Zen garden for the corporate world. He turned and contemplated the city.
“Yes to Mid-Mayor Salamon, but if he is not here promptly tell him I have gone. Get me zoning and that little weasel of a man from the environmental group that has been causing the fuss over the Hotch Quarter. I want them in there too to make it interesting. Confirm the table for lunch.” He looked at the chrome towers and the streams of traffic and saw a machine of commerce. He saw the pulsing heart of the Alliance.
Canna returned to his desk and keyed up his messages. Mr. R was known to him as Professor Run-Di of Corporate University on Ariel. He also knew the professor by his position in the government. Run-Di was head of the invisible research and development branch of Alliance Intelligence. It didn't officially exist, so the professor had no official standing in politics. Unofficially he was one of the most sought after voices in the halls of power. Canna gave the messages his utmost attention.
“Lord Set, those files that had been misplaced have been located. I have had a chance to look through them and found the information we need. The files have been destroyed to ensure they don't get lost again. Let me know when we can meet to discuss the findings.” Canna smiled. The loss of those...files...had been a source of some disconcert. It hadn't fit in his ordered and controlled world. The rest of messages were simply attempts to connect. He put in a code that would give him a direct line to the research offices.
“You received my message?” was the first thing the professor said. This, too, Canna enjoyed about Run-Di. He was efficient and precise.
“Yes. Are you available after lunch?”
“Any time today will suffice.”
“Expect me at two.”
“Very well.” They disconnected. This put him in a much better mood. Maybe he wouldn't crush Mr. Docker as badly as he intended. Perhaps he didn't need to try and reset the balance as much as he thought. Yes, this would be a good day!
Only a few people shared the path at this time in the morning. There was a man he saw regularly, a distance runner, he waved to each time around. Another who seemed working hard to make one circuit of the lake. His favorite was the woman in orange. She was keeping a good pace and, following at six meters, gave him something to watch as he ran. So far she had done three laps and didn't show signs of stopping soon. That was good for him because he averaged fifteen laps and enjoyed the distraction. As they approached the gate where the path was closest to the surrounding city the woman pulled up quick and limped to a bench. He ran over to her.
“Are you okay?” he asked. She had long brown hair tied in a ponytail that had been mesmerizing in its pendulum-like rhythm but now hung over her down-turned face. She was massaging her left calf.
Still looking down she replied, “I think so. Doesn't feel like I popped anything,” and she looked up. Her mouth hung slightly open and she stared for a moment. Rohon saw two deep brown eyes look up at him. Her hair fell to the side and over a shoulder. He thought her front even more attractive than her back.
“Sit here, I'll get you something cold for that,” and he jogged over to a vendor just outside the park gate. He bought a frigid container of water and got the man to give him some ice in a small bag. She watched as he came back. He squatted in front of her and put the bag of ice on her leg. She put her hands on his and slid them in place to hold the bag.
“Thank you,” she said, keeping her eyes on his. He knew she was flirting and, not taking his hands from hers, he was returning the gesture. She sat back a little and he stood up. He pondered his next words. Should he say his place is near and she can rest there? That seemed a bit tacky. True, but tacky. Maybe he should pick her up and carry her home? That would be romantic, but a bit over the top since they just met. Probably presumptuous as well. He had just decided to make it a simple, “Let's go sit across the road at the bistro and get something to drink and relax for a few minutes,” when he saw a news screen over the very bistro he was thinking of flash a picture of Foster with a banner reading Suicide at Mall.
“Do you want to get a drink and rest a bit,” she asked reading his mind. He looked down at her and smiled.
“That is exactly what I was thinking...but, I have to run.” He turned to go and paused. “I run here whenever I can. Maybe I'll see you again. Take care of that leg.” He took off. The timing of the universe never ran according to his clock.
“Hertz, what do you have?” Rohon walked around the table to Hertz' station. There were five monitors and other little devices that he only had a small idea as to what they did. Hertz pointed to the center screen.
“The official story is she jumped from the eighth floor of the mall. A note found in her flat indicated suicide. Not much else. Apparently she was well known in some academic circles, thus the story. Appease those who may ask questions.” He tapped more keys and looked at the screens on the left. “The real story is a bit more interesting. A local doctor was performing an autopsy before the body was taken. They deleted her files but the doctor uses a secondary voice system to take notes during her procedures and they get transferred through an intermediary bus and a switch where they are sent to a firewall protected server that transcribes and produces the official documents that then get reviewed and signed for the official files.” He looked up and saw Rohon just staring down at him. Short version, right. “Uh, the official records were deleted, completely, but the initial voice records weren't. It seems since they were not yet complete the file was never closed so they didn't get deleted.”
“Yes, I have those.” Rohon patted his shoulder.
“Good. Let's hear them.” Hertz hit some more keys and turned up a small speaker on the table. The voice was clear and very high pitched. It was annoying to listen to.
“...but the third is punctured. There is a small discoloration at the point of entry indicating...”
“Does she make a conclusion?” interrupted Rohon.
“Yes...” answered Hertz said and quickly skipped to the last part of the remaining recording.
“...clearly not suicide. There are multiple wounds indicating an altercation (beep) pre-mortem. My primary decision will be enhanced traumatic death with indications of possible extenuating aggravated interaction. (beep) A complete toxicological screening should note variations in chemical makeup and any introduced... excuse me, you will have to leave now.” Another voice, masculine, responded.
“Stop. We thank you for your findings and will inter the (beep) body for the relatives. You are excused.”
“This is my lab. You don't excuse me. Who are you?” She sounded upset. There were shuffling sounds and some noises probably others moving the body to a gurney. “Oh. (beep) Okay.”
“We need your transcriptions. Where is the terminal?”
“Over there. I will get...”
“No. Stay right here until we have left. You will (beep) not report this case to anyone.”
“I understand.” At this point she seemed totally compliant. There were more sounds then the recording ended.
“Do you want to hear it again?” asked Hertz.
Rohon thought a moment then asked, “Did she say evidence of torture, then murder?” Hertz nodded.
“Yes sir, that's what it sounded like she was getting to.”
“Thanks. Let's not lose that, okay?” Hertz looked back at him nodding slightly.
“Roger. It will get...filed, somewhere.”
“Find out if Milligan's name has popped up anywhere. I have that feeling...” Rohon turned and walked away. Hertz knew that meant there was something big brewing and life was about to get more interesting again.
Lunch was pleasant and the Duke and Duchess sublime. They always added an air of fineness to the room when present. Dining with them left him feeling his natural superior self giving him reassurance of his standing and ability to properly hold power over the peons that filled his world. He knew the verse needed him and he it. He was in the perfect mood to meet Run-Di. He would be channeled, focused, properly fit to process what he knew would be a heavy confrontation. He looked forward to the debate, but, when not in the right mood, it was so tedious and worrisome. Now, though, he was ready to address any criticism and negativity the professor deemed necessary to drop on him. Someone had told him once that pride came before power and a haughty spirit before a rise in status. He lived by that creed.
Run-Di. Professor. Scientist. Genius. Psychopath. He was known by each and all were a part of him. One hundred and sixty centimeters tall it was often said that he may look up at everyone, but everyone truly looked up to him. His stature was taller than his physique betrayed. His yellow hair always parted perfectly down the center fell below his collar. An equally yellow beard was trimmed neatly from ear to ear and below the chin. He kept his lips whisker-free. In his trademark deep blue labcoat he met Canna in the reception area.
“My lord, nice to see you again.”
“Yes professor, always a pleasure.” They met and shook hands. One always had to keep up appearances in public. “Where shall we go?”
“This way,” said the professor, gesturing toward a door. “Let us retire to my offices where we can catch up.” They strolled to the door and passed through.
Canna started. “Was it there? Did they have it?” Run-Di couldn't tell if it was desperation or excitement. It may have been both.
“Yes. The girl knew the formula. Once we got it we didn't need the other. He had worked in the dispersement lab and it was doubtful he knew anything of value.” They were walking fast now and entered the lab. Run-Di went directly to the counter with several beakers and vials. There was also a containment box. Inside the box was another vial. It was clearly thicker than normal and had a lid fixed to it. Canna stared in through the window. The vial, so small, so innocuous on its own, but so very, very dangerous.
“Is that the final version? Is it ready?” He could hardly contain himself. To be this near the culmination of so much effort.
“I think it is. I am testing on the Beremore's tomorrow. We should have final data by the end of the week.” He too, was excited. This would be an achievement outshining anything since the colonization of the system. More importantly it would usher in a new era of the Alliance and finally contain all resistance.
“Good. I will be unable to witness the tests myself. I have certain engagements already scheduled that may draw suspicion if I miss them. I should be back at week's end and will try for an early return.” Canna knew the Beremore's were a special version of an ancient creature called an ape. It had certain human-like qualities and were bred specifically for medical testing. While not compatible with humans their DNA, development and organ processing had been constructed to give as close to human as possible results allowing a much higher probability of accuracy in determining how a chemical would be reacted to by humans. In the eighty years they had been used there had never been a false result. He was truly disappointed in missing the tests. But there was a second reason for missing them. If Run-Di had a problem or the experiment discovered, he had deniability.
Rohon and Hertz watched the monitor. They saw Canna Set leave the university grounds. Why was the head of the Beyleyn Corporation at the university?
“Are you sure the trace went back to the university?”
“Yes. There is no doubt. It was a clear signal.” Hertz pulled up the tracker. They had activated the tag planted on Milligan after finding out what had happened to Foster. His was still active. It led directly to the university. It was still transmitting.
“Okay, let's find him. Remember, this is a school. Let's just act like we don't care and we'll fit right in.” Hertz smirked as they got out of the vehicle and walked across the square. He had a hand-held tracker and they followed it toward the science center. The signal was coming directly from one of the buildings but it was difficult to narrow it down.
“Sir, it's coming from right there, but it isn't registering to a known floor. I think we ought to circle the building and try and get a better triangulation.”
“Alright,” nodding to their left, “that direction looks like a natural path. We don't want to draw the attention of the campus security if we don't have to. Pretend like that is work.”
“It is work,” answered Hertz looking at Rohon.
“Ha, ha. Yes, well...homework, schoolwork, I don't know.” Hertz laughed. They strode off around the building. The signal continued from an area that now was looking like it may be behind the building. When they reached the back there was an enormous refuse container. It was a sterilization box most labs or chemical companies used to ensure any waste was sterilized prior to shipping off for recycle or disposal. They looked at each other and the screen. The signal was still strong and clear. It was coming from the container.
The lights on the container suddenly came to life. An alarm sounded. There was a quiet sound of rushing air and then the lights went off and the alarm stopped. They looked at the scanner. The signal was gone. Milligan's body had been sterilized. They hoped he had already been dead. They continued to walk past the building and across the campus. Upon reaching the other side they skirted the property making their way back to the vehicle. Getting in they sat for a minute thinking about the implications.
“Hertz, we have to keep this very quiet. We know what it sounded like on that recording and now, another scientist that we saw alive two days ago, was killed. Mil Intel may have wanted them but, even if it was to get info and then shut them up, they wouldn't have gone through the trouble of faking a suicide and dragging one to a university to sterilize.”
“You sure, boss?” Hertz asked. “I mean, if they wanted to keep it away from them...”
“No, there are better ways. They must have been turned over to another party. Someone outside the Mil Intel wanted them. And here we have a trail leading to a science department with one of the best labs in the system. Do you know who works here?” Hertz shook his head. “Run-Di.” Hertz' eyes widened slightly.
“Yeah, heard of him.”
“He has a lot of ties in the Alliance. Mostly political. Mostly on the 'how can we control everything' side. He was the one who made the directed viral agent used on terrorists thirty years ago. After that even many of his supporters backed off and lobbied for controls for bio weapons. It was horrific. I was young, but I still remember seeing images. It was supposed to be some sort of pacification agent but it had terrible results. It caused aggravation in the nerve center of the brain or some such. The criminals it was supposed to pacify it turned into raging psychopaths. They did grotesque and horrible things. This smells similar. Take us home. If this was a deal between corporate and Alliance that involved Run-Di...I do not like being used for genocide. We need to connect these dots.” Hertz started the vehicle and they sped off.
The Beremore's were housed in a special environment to make them as stress free as possible. Normal protocol was to use the smallest doses and work up over the prescribed range. With all animal tests strict regulations dictated every step of the procedure. But this wasn't the typical tests. Their time line was a bit accelerated. He checked the mixture in the environment. All was going to plan. In a week they would know if the new formula was correct. The dawn of a new Alliance era was upon them!
Hertz dropped Rohon off and took the vehicle to the garage. Rohon went directly to their station and began looking up the historic event. In 2475 a group of terrorists or freedom fighters, depending which side you were on, took the center of Lameer city and held it against the local Alliance forces for three weeks. At that time the Alliance was still a new organization. Planet by planet were slowly joining, their power growing fast, but not evenly. Lameer had little defense, especially against a local organized uprising. The majority of the renegade force was made up of ranchers and farmers from the vast majority of the planet. They came to show their disfavor in joining the Alliance. They argued that the capital city did not have the authority to make that decision for the whole planet and wanted a general election to decide. There were harsh words, then the local police attacked a group of farmers that were driving farm equipment down the central avenue resulting in several deaths and nearly a hundred injured. This triggered a reaction that turned into an outright insurrection on the capital.
In came the Alliance, savior of peace and prosperity. They promised a quick and bloodless end to the uprising if given the chance. They launched an aerosol attack using a compound known as G-15. It was supposed to be a nerve agent that would relax the populous and make them compliant allowing the military to get everyone quietly incarcerated and sort out the problem. It sounded so good and forward thinking. It would make any mass uprising a thing of the past and allow a lasting peace. An hour after the release of the gas everyone within the affected area began to wander. They appeared to be randomly walking. Some walked into walls. Many of the armed men dropped their guns and stumbled around. The military readied to move in. Thinking the people were pacified they were all on foot, minimally armed. This was going to be a fast operation. The plan was to move in as fast as possible and herd the people into holding areas erected in parking lots. Once safely behind fences the guilty could be sorted from the bystanders. And all done without shooting and death. A perfect battle.
The military formed up and started moving in. Only ten percent of the soldiers were armed. The idea was that, since there would be no resistance there was no reason for weapons. The ten percent that was armed was at the insistence of the military commanders who refused to send completely unarmed soldiers into a conflict, whether or not they didn't expect violence. The initial phase went as planned. A few thousand people were moved into the wider boulevards and moved slowly toward the holding areas. Then something started happening. Individuals scattered throughout the mass began screaming. The soldiers decided that it might be better to split them up into more manageable groups. As soldiers moved into the crowd some of them started shouting. One, then another, disappeared and more and more of the corralled were moving quicker and more erratically. Suddenly a small group broke through the line and ran up an alley. A couple armed soldiers followed. The runners stopped unexpectedly and turned on their pursuers. One soldier was killed before the others gunned down the runners. While that was happening some more broke and ran. Aerial observation watched as, within five minutes, the entire group became a restless mob. Unarmed soldiers were beaten down and groups overpowered the armed soldiers. Armor stationed around the perimeter moved in and opened fire on the crowd.
When the entire operation was over everyone in the crowd was dead as well as all but five of the soldiers originally sent in. When military inspectors moved in what they found was a nightmare. Only about half of the dead was killed by weapons fire. The rest were ripped apart and forensic evidence proved that many were gnawed upon. Later they would put it together. The G-15 created a rapid change in brain chemistry that caused the the affected to lose all rational thought and pain sensation. A deadly combination that led to the massacre. The whole story wasn't shown to the public, but enough of what happened was seen that a plausible explanation had to be constructed. Willing to take a blow to lessen the backlash, the Alliance declared that the G-15 had not had the desired affect. Instead of pacifying the whole crowd it had only worked on a small portion. Later investigation proved the rest used it as cover to mount a counter attack that then was put down. The fine citizens of Lameer were safe again thanks to the Alliance.
Inside the government there was a big backlash. A lot of people lost their jobs and several, even some of the actual guilty, were executed. This was the second response to satisfy the hardliners and those who more closely watched what was going on. The story as it stood was nothing more than an attempted counter-attack on the soldiers and some over anxious response by a young commander and nervous troops. After the punishment of those deemed guilty, a few local politicians made a lot of blustering about Alliance heavy handedness and failure to respect local governments. The Alliance apologized profusely and threw a bunch of money at the city, world, and family members of the massacred. It would last locally as a rallying cry to any real troublemakers who tried to rekindle the fire from time to time, but for the vast majority things returned to normal. After five years or so few could really tell what had happened.
In the research centers of the Alliance, the scientists dissected the bodies looking for an answer to what went wrong. Run-Di spun the event as the best test scenario they could have hoped for and soon, even some of the skeptical could be heard mumbling how it could have been worse. Still, the research was pushed further into the shadows to prevent prying eyes. Then, in 2499 two scientist who helped perfect the compound, who thought they were making a better medical solution for the insane, who thought they knew what they were a part of, discovered they really did not.
Rohon slowed the bike and signaled Hertz. The rebels were gearing up to move. Intel said they were planning to make a raid of Salisbury. The Alliance contracted a factory there that made port controllers for close support fighters. It was a protected factory, but they would not be expecting a real attack from an organized force. The rebels he was watching not only appeared organized but well armed. He saw heavy support machine guns, repeater mortars, shoulder-launched missiles and other various weapons. The camp had radar which had kept them from using aerial surveillance. His team went in as point to watch and determine what response was warranted. Watching the attack force move out he decided it would definitely need to be more than the five of them.
“Kappa one to Kappa total. Stand off to Sierra three two. Kappa niner echo, time niner zero, range at three one seven, execute.” Rohon lowered his visor and sped off into the forest. He had to get to that rendezvous as quickly as possible.
Rounding the bend Rohon saw the assembled response force. He slid to a stop in front of Hertz and jumped off the bike. Pulling off his helmet he strode to his team.
“Kappa niner echo has three armored transports and forty troops standing by. They are under cover one minute from target,” Hertz replied falling into step with Rohon.
“We have an artillery battery in grid seven but to keep it out of range for the rebels its accuracy in the city will be dangerous. Recommend as fail safe only. Also, the racer has pulse laser on the turret,” Gober paused looking at Rohon. She was smiling and he grinned at the last part. “Yep, someone on the cruiser thought it wouldn't hurt to let us use one on this op. Gotta love those heavy assault teams, even when they don't throw bodies our way.”
“Probably just get in our way anyway,” Torrez jumped in. “Are we waiting for commitment by the rebels?” Rohon stopped and looked at each.
“They have a real force here. I know intel said a small hit-and-run platoon, but there are at least sixty and they are well armed. There are also reserves manning their camp and the radar. We have to wait until we can ambush them. We don't want them running home. We need to hit them at the edge of town. As soon as the last group get into the city we jump them. We need the buildings to box them in. We have to expect they may split up to prevent this. Let's get Kappa niner echo in place and get ready.” He looked at DeLaire, “Get over there and tell them we are using plan beta for setup. You have ten minutes.”
“Yes, sir,” replied DeLaire and he took off at a full run. The rest of them headed to the racer and got in. Torrez took the pulse laser. Gober and Rohon each picked up assault heavy machine guns and prepared. Hertz drove. They took off headed for their ambush position.
Racing through the forest on the bike was exhilarating. He had to get to Kappa niner echo as fast as possible. Six minutes later he sped out of the trees and across a field. Aiming for the city he gunned the engine until it was screaming. He estimated another five to the locals.
“Sir, remote sensor indicating the rebels have reached the checkpoint. We need to be in place in three minutes!” shouted Gober over the wind. She was watching a small screen mounted on the side of her weapon. “They have scouts watching for any sign of ambush but they haven't detected the sentinels.” The sentinels were remote miniature vehicles that were configured based on the task. Theirs only had cameras and self-destruct charges. They were small and quiet.
Two and a half minutes later they rolled into position. They pulled the racer under a tarp and watched the feeds from four sentinels positioned around them in the path of the rebels. They received a quick triple click indicating that DeLaire was with Kappa niner echo and ready. Now they had to wait. It wasn't long until the scouts worked their way past them headed toward the factory.
“Kappa niner echo, three visible working up Steelem boulevard. Three more on King road. Stand by,” Rohon let the locals know what they were seeing. “First trencher just passed the alley. There are a lot of troops working up the side street to the east. You should see them in one minute.” So far things were proceeding as expected.
When the last of the rebel force had moved past their position Rohon signalled for a slow advance. Hertz carefully maneuvered them to the end of the alley. Gober and Rohon edged to the corner and looked up the main road. There were few civilians as most seemed to realize these weren't the regular forces. Rohon used his scope to scan the rebel advance.
“Kappa niner echo we are on King. Prepare to engage.” They sighted in on the rebels. “Take left.” Gober targeted the soldier on the left. Rohon on the right. “Now,” and the two dropped. The one in the middle of the road had enough time to turn and see his fallen comrades before he too fell. “Kappa niner echo, King down. Moving to Steelem.” Gober and Rohon jumped back into the racer. Torrez took them away from the main force and worked over to Steelem.
Peering around the corner Rohon realized the troops on Steelem had advanced faster than the others. They were now at least three or four blocks ahead of where they were expected to be. “You have a shot?” He didn't like their positioning.
“No, sir. They are moving too much at this distance,” she said. He concurred. They remounted the vehicle. Rohon thought about it. This meant they may have to engage this small group prior to positioning behind the main force which would allow for some of the rebels a change to escape. He was trying to figure out how to make the plan work when Torrez gave him the answer.
“Sir.” Rohon turned to their gunner. “The sentinels.” Of course. The sentinels were unarmed except for a self-destruct charge. But that charge should be enough to take out the three troops as long as they are all near enough.
“Do it!” As soon as the command was given Torrez drove the nearest sentinel down a side street and got it ahead of the scouts. He watched the small screen and Rohon returned to the corner and watched through his scope.
“They are moving to the right side looking at something. Get ready.” Rohon clicked to the other channel. “Kappa Niner Echo, we are about to engage Steelem. When you hear the bang, go!”
“Roger, go on bang.” Rohon jumped back in the racer.
“Torrez, when you see the first one appear on the screen race to it and detonate. Hertz, as soon as it goes boom get us over to the main avenue.” He and Gober picked up the big guns and readied themselves in the harnesses. This would be run and gun...and it would be fast.
“Hear we go,” said Torrez and four blocks away the small sentinel shot from the side alley and blew up between the three rebel scouts. Hertz hit the accelerator on the racer. They spun around and shot back toward the main road. Sounds of conflict already reached them. Boom. Boom. Tat-a-tat-a-tat, zzzzzzzzip, zhzhzhzhzhzhzh: canon, small projectile, infantry laser, vehicle mounted pulse lasers...everything at once.
When they cleared the end of the alley they were surprised by five rebels at a full run about thirty meters coming right at them. Before the vehicle came around to give Rohon a clear shot, Torrez had taken five down with the big gun and Gober had put down the other. They sat there a moment taking into the situation. About a kilometer up the avenue the main rebel force were fully engaged with Kappa Niner Echo. It was a mess and there was little they could do other than watch for runners. Then it got worse.
A building next to DeLaire's position exploded. Shrapnel flew everywhere knocking down rebels and local soldiers alike. One of the army gun bikes took off down a side road and the rebels scattered. The plan was falling apart.
“Kappa Niner Echo, we see...”
“Kappa One, who ordered artillery?” It was DeLaire and he sounded very out-of-character excited. Rohon looked at Hertz.
“Did he say artillery,” then another building was hit. The entire front of a hotel crumbled into the street, effectively blocking anyone coming toward them. In the distance he heard the artillery firing. Then again. And again. “Kappa five, cease fire, cease fire!” he screamed into the radio. The incoming took out two more stores and fountain. Now the rebels had scattered every way. Hertz, get us back to the checkpoint.” They took off toward the edge of town.
“Kappa Niner Echo, this is Kappa One. We are enroute checkpoint. Send support and coral. We have enemy everywhere. Let's chase them back through the checkpoint or we will lose too many.”
“Roger.” Torrez was firing behind them. Rohon realized there was a rebel racer coming up behind them. He hit Gober on the shoulder and pointed back. They both swung their seats around and engaged with their heavy rifles. Hertz kept the vehicle as steady as possible while avoiding incoming fire. Torrez saw a small vehicle parked and took aim. He timed it right and it exploded as the rebel racer passed. The driver was surprised and yanked the racer to one side where it hit another parked vehicle at high speed. Both exploded. They all turned forward.
Ahead was the main highway out of town. They already saw some armed bikes and a troop transport. “All units, Kappa One, rebels have reached checkpoint. Engage on site.” They were losing containment. If the local forces didn't get in position fast it would completely collapse. Hertz took a different road and got them onto the speedway just ahead of the armored transport. The gunners all engaged as before but were having difficulty. Their guns just weren't designed for armored vehicles. Suddenly the left side of the transport exploded and it flipped into the air and off the right side of the road. An attack flier shot by overhead. They all cheered and turned their attention to the bikes again. It didn't take long to get them both as the rebels weren't really ready for this kind of assault going this fast. Both ended in burning metal along the side of the speedway.
Hertz pulled them off the road. They scanned the road for anyone else coming along. The flier was visible from time to time in the distance.
“Kappa Niner Echo, Kappa One, SITREP.”
“Kappa One, we have rebels engaged on all sides of town. No breakaways. Situation contained and approaching completion.” DeLaire sounded much more relaxed.
“Roger, we are on our way back,” Rohon responded.
“Uh, where were you?” He smiled and signaled to Hertz who turned them around and headed back.
When the racer returned to the checkpoint DeLaire was there with the army commander. They got out and shook hands.
“Sir, I'm thankful for the flier. I'm sure we wouldn't have contained this without it,” Rohon said. The commander nodded.
“It took some pressure, but the governor finally allowed me to bring it in. After I told him what the artillery was doing he wanted this thing ended quickly. I think the artillery commander may be facing some stiff punishment.” He seemed somewhat pleased. After discussing some cleanup and passing the Alliance's expectations of the report Rohon and his team left.
Two weeks had passed since Salisbury and the team had gathered after a few days off. The final report from the commander had been read by all. It included some very disturbing information. Cleanup of the rebel base had followed the repelling of the city incursion. It was quick and brutal. There were no prisoners. What they had found was a lot of intel. It seems the leader of that group had been involved with planning some larger mission that would have brought open warfare to several of the Alliance's central worlds. It also confirmed that Miranda was central to their forces. Being a newly settled planet it allowed for a lot of traffic not carefully scrutinized. Settlers and suppliers, businesses and government agencies constantly coming and going building a civilization. The most valuable prize was recorder cube found in a disintegration bin. Somehow it had survived an attempt to destroy it. The recordings on it included map that showed not only the base but the defenses. Rohon and the team were excited.
“I want a plan by tomorrow. I'll pitch it to command and get their permission to go in and finish the rebellion.” They worked through the night and had a sound plan for taking the base with minimum loss of life and civilian casualties. It was the hope of an end to hostilities that drove them.
“The general will see you now,” said the assistant at the desk. She was probably twenty or twenty-five and stunning. Her hair was slicked up showing her neck and shoulders. She wore a strapless dress making her the centerpiece of the office. Rohon stood and thanked her. The entire time he had been sitting there she had not shown a single emotion. He wondered if she was just tired of every young soldier ogling her. He opened the office door and went in. Closing the door he approached the desk and stood at attention. General Meel was known as a front line general and Rohon respected him as a true fellow warrior.
General Meel was reading something. He looked up at Rohon who stood rock steady at attention. After a few seconds he said, “At ease.” He went back to reading. Rohon kept silent and waited for the general to speak. After another thirty seconds he looked up.
“Commander Rohon,” he started leaning back in his chair. “You have quite a distinguished record. You may have the most time in actual combat than any other officer in the Alliance. Your team has pulled off some missions that most brass didn't think could be accomplished.” He paused.
“Thank you, general. That means a lot coming from a true warrior as yourself.” They pondered one another for another few seconds.
“Yes.” He paused. Then he pushed his chair back and stood. Coming around the desk he went to a pair of chairs behind Rohon. “Please, have a seat.” Rohon hesitated a moment then sat. What was the general up to? They both sat and the general reached for a carafe of water. “Would you like some water?” Rohon looked at him carefully.”
“No, sir. But I don't think you called me here for the refreshments.” He hoped the general wasn't just erratic.
“Of course not, commander. I have read your mission proposal. The general staff has read your proposal. The Military Branch of the government read your proposal.” He let that sink in. For a mission to make it to staff level meant something very big was happening. I am going to brief you on something that, as, as you put it, a fellow warrior, I hope I can expect your...tact, regarding.” His eyebrows went up as he looked at Rohon over his water glass. Rohon shifted himself in his chair.
“Of course, general.” The general paused and then nodded.
“Okay. Do you remember the scientists you brought back four months ago?”
“Yes. I also know Milligan was found...dead. Officially; suicide. Unofficially; murder.” The general sighed and looked down at his glass.
“You have followed it. At least as best you can, I guess. You are right...”
“What if I told you I know where Foster died?” interrupted Rohon. The general stared at him.
“Commander, you must be very careful who you repeat that information to. This is why you are here. Your plan is very good. I approve. I sent it to the general staff with the expectation of putting it into action and finishing this rebellion before it gets any bigger. The next day I was told the Branch had taken interest. I was later visited by an agent who instructed me that I was not to speak of this again. The plan never happened and I was to tell you the brass had disapproved. So, I am telling you that the brass disapproves. Do you understand me, Commander?” Rohon understood completely. He nodded. “You will not pursue this further. I am not telling you that something is happening at the highest level of government that is...disturbing...to an old warrior.” He stared unblinking at Rohon.
“I understand, sir,” replied Rohon staring back. They understood one another completely. He shook the general's hand and went to the door. Opening it he looked back and said, “Thank you for the consideration, general. I'm sorry it didn't meat your standards. Thank you for your time.” With that he left. The assistant watched him as well as a well dressed man standing nearby looking out a window. He hoped the words would leave the impression that the general did as told. As he turned toward the lift he saw the man walk to the general's door.
The next day the team met at the range. Rohon told them to follow him.
“Where is DeLaire?” asked Gober.
“Not coming,” he answered. They continued walking until they were near the launch area. There was a lot of noise. He huddled them close so they could hear.
“Our plan was approved by General Meel. He sent it to the brass. Someone there pushed it to Branch.” Their eyes proved they knew how important that was. “Then, the general was told that the plan did not exist. There is no official record of it. We are instructed to stand down.” They were looking at each other and back to their boss. “Before you say anything, understand. This comes from Branch level. The reason we are out here is there was an agent at HQ who was giving the general his orders. I don't know what Branch is planning, but they don't want interference.” He let that sink in for a moment. Then added, “and it ties back to Foster and Milligan.” He paused again. “No one speaks a word about this in the buildings. And don't say anything to DeLaire.” They all nodded. They walked silently back to the barracks.
End part 1
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