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Tom Grier wanted to shout to those Marines, but he knew it would be useless. It was just a holoscreen with video gathered by aerial drones. Those Marines didn't have a chance. Not because they were heavily outnumbered but because of the rebel device that totally shut down the powered armor-suits.
Some of those Marines were strong enough to get out of the suits, but then they would find themselves unprotected and unarmed. Even the strongest among them would barely be able to drag a QBR-44, which was the main weapon of the Marines.
“You don't need to do this,” Tom told Sandy and her bodyguard, “This is not the way to get me on your side. Those Marines are helpless and defenseless.”
The aerial platform that had delivered the Marines was a burning hulk. Tom couldn't believe all of this was happening because the Free Republic had picked up his signal on that plateau. A signal from the enhancements that they had surgically removed from his head. The rebels had laid a surprisingly effective trap.
“They're going to know there are underground installations in that area. Those vehicles can't really come out of nowhere. You are sort of blowing your cover to make a point.” Tom told them.
Sandy shook her head slowly, “You still don't get it, Tom.”
“We're not trying to make a point,” Sandy said, “We are trying to liberate our world and our people.”
Tom wanted to come up with some reply, but couldn't think of one. “Those Marines are just doing a job, they aren't your real enemy.”
Sandy laughed, “I knew you would say something like that. The ones pulling the trigger and slaughtering my people and enslaving the rest aren't the bad ones. Wow. They willingly volunteered to do the dirty work of the tyrants, that doesn't exactly make them innocent bystanders.”
Sandy leaned over the control panel near the holoscreen and said, “Task Force, RTB. Condition Orange.”
The rebel armored soldiers began climbing back into the ground vehicles which sped away from the scene. Then the video was cut off. The two soldiers came into the room.
“We'll just leave them there, this time,” Sandy said, “You can go back to your room.”
As if there was a choice. Tom covered the left side of his face with his palm again. It had gotten to be a habit. Not only had he lost the enhancements and the ability to merge with the armored suits of the Marines but even something as simple as depth perception, since he only had the right eye now.
There was more pain from the left side of his face, so he applied a bit of the cream that had been left in the room for the purpose. It deadened the pain receptors and made his face feel almost normal.
Nothing made sense. Sure, he could see why people would oppose the new regime controlling the Free Republic, but secession was simply wrong. Sync or any other planet shouldn't be able to just opt out and become independent just because they didn't like the present government.
Sandy was a commander. Tom shook his head, that was a hard one to figure out. Sure they could have set it up to seem like she had authority. Maybe it was all one big act, but it didn't seem to have a point.
The next day the soldiers were back and they escorted him to a new room. It was empty except for a powered armored suit standing in the center. Tom slowly walked all the way around it. It was very different from the ones his Marines used. It was smaller, for one thing, and probably weighed a lot less.
It looked civilian. Totally unarmed. Like something you would wear to check outside your spacecraft because the antenna wasn't calibrating.
“How long are you going to stand there without saying something?” a magnified voice on the armored suit said. It was Sandy. Since he could not see inside of the suit, he could not assume she was actually inside. It could be another trick.
“Was I suppose to say something?” He asked.
The voice returned, “I assume you had something you wanted to say. Or ask.”
“It's question time, then,” Tom said, slightly amused, “Do your rebels not have any enhancements? Do they not bond with their suits?”
“They do not do either. Here on Sync, the suits are tools that we use. In your fleet, the Marines are the tools that get used.”
Tom frowned. “That's not very nice.”
“It's true.” Sandy said.
The suit still hadn't moved a millimeter. Surely there was a reason he was standing in a small room that was empty except for this suit.
“Why do you assume I will join your cause? Just because some emphatic meter says I will? There's got to be more to it than that.” Tom asked.
After a brief moment of silence, the suit answered, “Humanity. You exhibit humanity, Tom, most of the enemy Marines we found seemed to have lost it. Probably because they had been part of the collective mind for too long.”
“Your rebellion doesn't stand a chance as far as I can see,” Tom said, “The fleet is way up there, out of your reach. They hold the high ground, you could say. Unless you have a plan to take out the fleet and anything else the Free Republic sends, your rebellion is doomed.”
Another moment of silence, a longer one.
“That is where you come in, Tom.” the voice replied, “You are going to help us defeat the fleet.”
Tom laughed, “What do I know about taking out ships?”
“You just need to get there.”
Carrier Umbrage, flagship.
Command & Control
Jesse Gallant, the Marine General on the ship did not like being subordinate to the Admiral. He felt that the Admiral should run the fleet, not the operations of the ground forces. He dared not say or write any of these feelings down. He knew that Admiral Robinson actually was crazy enough to throw people out of an airlock.
The control room was very busy. There was a large dominating holographic representation of the planet below with symbols denoting the location of ground troops and ongoing operations. There were people at consoles around it focusing on more regional and local operations.
Then there were the controllers on the outside of the room who were in constant communications with active units on the ground.
“Where is my extraction team?” He asked one of the younger officers who monitored the operations of a highly mobile unit. Maggie Anders sat up straighter when he started talking.
“The detachment lost contact an hour ago. I can't raise them.” The girl said, “Their suits are still sending signals, but their Aerial platform is not. The platform is destroyed.”
General Gallant was livid, “Why wasn't I informed?”
The girl looked scared, “I passed on everything.”
Maggie Anders punched up her logs and the General saw that they had been rerouted. Admiral Robinson hadn't even bothered to CC him on any of it. The Admiral had already ordered three more aerial units, sent to retrieve what looked like stranded Marines.
General Gallant looked around the room. How many of these people were no longer telling him what was going on? The situation was out of his control, yet he knew that he would be blamed for anything that went wrong. Fine, we would do this the old fashion way.
“It's too quiet in here!” The General announced, “I want my staff to be told, verbally, about everything that happens. I want to be informed about what is going on down there!”
“So, they used this device again, there has to be a way to counter it.” Admiral Robinson said.
“I think so, sir,” One of the young engineers answered, he was still nervous from being summoned to see the Admiral, “I'm already working on a countering system. It would send out the direct opposite signals, although this won't always work.”
The Admiral nodded, although he did not understand the technology involved, “Is there a time-frame on deploying something?”
“It's too soon to say.”
“I see, I want that device to be your top priority. I'll have your other duties reassigned. Dismissed!” The Admiral said, then he spun his chair around and floated off.
The Admiral asked Commander Grabble for a report on the extraction team.
“The enemy was long gone when the second team arrived. They found Marines trapped in their armored suits but got them out. It was a chore to carry those suits to the aerial platforms. The Marines who had lost their suits were not very happy as they climbed into third aerial platform which had arrived empty. They are leaving the scene now.”
A messenger arrived and stood next to the Admiral, “We've just been informed that some rebels are going to be congregating in a township called Valla, in the North Plains section. The source said the meeting would be about new plans for the rebel forces.”
The Admiral thought about this. Just bombing the site would be good, but capturing some rebel leaders would be better. After dismissing the messenger he floated over to the Commander again, who had been given the same intelligence.
“How big is Valla?”
“About fifty-thousand residents.”
Admiral Robinson nodded, “We need to get some troops in there incognito. Is that possible? I want to be able to disrupt this meeting and capture some bad guys. I want to demoralize the rebels and be able to get useful intelligence from the prisoners.”
“Yes sir, I'll see to it.”
“And don't share this intelligence with General Gallant's people.”
------ Chapter Six