All he could do was moan. The pain had been enormous at first but the nurse kept applying a cream that deadened all the nerve endings. Tom Grier could not believe that they had really removed his enhancements.
It was like losing his sense of taste, small and hearing all at once. Tom didn't want to wake up or admit he was already awake. He wondered what the left half of his face looked like after they had ripped out the equipment. He was also afraid to look.
These rebels had seemed normal but they were barbarians. How could they do this to anyone?
“Okay, Tom. Rise and shine!” A familiar voice said. Tom groaned, he really didn't care to see Sandy again. Such an annoying kid. How old was she anyway? Why are they letting a kid be in charge of a prisoner? No doubt the man who seemed to be her body guard would be standing there too.
“I'd rather stay down and dark,” He grumbled.
The sheet came off and he felt rough hands on his shoulder and back pull him up into a sitting position, he opened his eye. The man was there and he hadn't shaved or showered since the day before.
“How goes the war?” He asked.
Sandy put a platter of fruits, vegetables, cheeses and breads on the low table in front of him. Tom had been out for days and he was starving. Still, he didn't let that show. He would be in no hurry to eat.
“The war is going, that's for sure,” Sandy said, “If you need to know, they wiped that village off the face of Sync. It's a good thing no one was there.”
Tom was only a little surprised. He knew the reaction would be tough, but he had also heard rumors that Admiral Robinson was a hot-head. Those rumors would seem to be confirmed. Robinson was not officially in charge of the Space Marines in the fleet, but in reality the Admiral held sway. The Marines top-brass had demanded a complete separation, but the regime refused.
“Why do you keep me here? What do you need me for?” Tom asked, “Holding me as a prisoner won't stop them from blowing us up.”
The man by the door crossed his arms. Sandy sighed, “I've already told you. You are going to fight for our side now.”
Tom Grier was confused, then he laughed. “That's insane. What makes you think I'd do that?”
She held up a metallic piece of electronics. “This device reads your personality. Your empathy level is extremely high. Once you understand what is really happening, you will side with the good guys. That's us.”
Tom pointed to the left side of his face, which was still covered in bandages. “After you did this to me, you think I'm going to fight for you?”
“Besides,” he thought, “How would I fight without my enhancements?”
Sandy didn't seem concerned, she just smiled and said, “Eat up, you will need your energy.”
Then they left.
The rebels were obviously using a cute little girl to gain his sympathies. They weren't even hiding it, even showed him the device they said measures such things. Sync was supposed to be a backward planet, but it seems they weren't. What else had the Free Republic gotten wrong?
Tom then began eating the food.
The long he sat there, the more he unconsciously tried to access his enhancements and the more he felt panicked by their absence. All of it was happening without having to think about it, but his heart-rate had increased and he was sweating.
Apparently the war was going bad for the rebels. Good! The faster the rebels were defeated the quicker that peace can be installed. That would be better for everyone. Just get it over and done with and move on.
When Tom woke up the next morning there was already food on the table and a change of clothes hanging by the door. He was happy to toss the dirty old pajama-like outfit for something half-way normal, if rather plain. Tom knew what was going to happen, this was propaganda day. Give Tom the grand tour of their struggling, sad, rag-tag people and try to turn his allegiance to their side.
“Good luck with that,” Tom muttered.
He heard the lock click and the door opened. Sandy and the same man entered but there were two black-suited soldiers behind them this time.
“I guess it's time for a tour?” Tom asked them.
“Let's go!” The man said. Tom held up his hands and did as they said. Sandy led the way, the man and the two armed soldiers were behind him as they walked through the rocky corridor. It looked to Tom that they must be in some sort of cave complex. If it had escaped scans from the fleet, then it must be pretty deep underground. If that were the case, they must have some very good air circulation system.
There were occasionally doors and cross-corridors as they walked. Tom was beginning to wonder how long it might take when suddenly the corridor ended and they were in a larger chamber. There were several levels going up and several more going down, the center was open and water was falling past.
For all the world it looked like some kind of shopping mall, at first. Tom almost laughed. Then the details began filling in and his grin vanished. Instead of retail shops and clean, wealthy shoppers this place looked like a dingy refugee camp. A dozen levels full of people who looked like indigent squatters, some were cooking, some were just wandering around.
“I knew I would be shown something like this,” Tom told them, “Although, I admit, it's worse than I had imagined.”
“Keep moving,” The man behind him.
Sandy shook her head, “This is the only route to where we're going. I didn't plan it. This, though, is the work of the Free Republic. Its violence, its slavery, its economics all designed to deprive the people of Sync the benefits of hard work.”
Admittedly, Tom knew nothing about the economic system of the Free Republic.
“It's complete exploitation. A form of mercantilism that benefits our masters. It forces us to buy and sell at their say-so instead of through voluntary and free exchanges. We are forbidden to buy superior products that cost less, or to sell to buyers who would happily have paid more.” Sandy explained, “So, this place that was once a center of commerce, is now an impoverished shelter.”
“Of course, we decided to be free,” She said, “The Free Republic has become everything it had stood against for centuries. Today it is a dictatorship in all but name.”
Tom was aghast. “The Free Republic has stood as a beacon of hope for humanity for many generations, how could you fight that tradition?”
Sandy stopped walking. “That tradition is dead, Tom. The Republic is dead. The freedom no longer remains. Today the Free Republic has become the oppressor. This is the reality, not the false virtual patriotism and bravery they pump into your combat suit. It had a history to be proud of, but history is the past.”
She turned and hit a wall switch, a wide door slid to the side with a hiss. Inside were more than a dozen men strapping themselves into armored combat suits. Sandy looked back at Tom, “I thought you might like to meet the Sync Defense Forces.”
A gray-haired man came out of the room and saluted Sandy, “We're about to head out, Commander. Enemy forces have been located near the Reese Plateau and we're going to surprise them.”
“I know, we set that up.” She told the man, then looked at Tom Greir, “Your former implants have been activated on the plateau, but it's a trap we've set.”
Tom was looking closely at the girl. That old soldier had called her 'Commander'!
“Who in the hell are you?” Tom Grier asked the girl.
The aerial platform sat down on the plateau and eight armored-suited Marines fanned out in all directions, surveying the area. The plateau was covered with high grass and stunted trees.
“I'm not picking any suspicious signals, sir!” One of the soldiers reported.
“Good, find that locator!” The First Lieutenant ordered. He wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. One of his fellow Marines, who had been missing, had been detected out here. This was just a quick retrieval mission.
“I'm picking up drones!” The pilot of the aerial platform reported. “Incoming!”
The first rockets exploded near a copse of short trees, far from where his men were. The First Lieutenant understood instantly that the rockets were probably unguided.
“Cleared to shoot them down!” He said. The gunner of the aerial platform activated the top-side turret that turned and began to track three of the four bogeys. The bogeys began to back off, just outside the effective range of the aerial platforms gun.
“Lieutenant, we found the locator,” One of his men reported, “This is not good.”
He was curious to activate his suit's jet and take several leaps to where they were standing among some large rocks. The First Lieutenant landed and they moved aside to let him see. Sitting there on the center rock, as if it had been placed there purposely were the still-bloody implants and wires, connected to some kind of battery.
“Back to the airship, now!” He ordered them, “This is a trap!”
The drones were now heading at them at high speed. The aerial platform had taken out two but the third impacted near it and exploded. Then as the armored soldiers were heading back, the fourth impacted directly destroying the aerial platform in a fireball.
The First Lieutenant tried to contact the Captain back at the outpost but got nothing but static, “Damn!, set up a defense perimeter!”
Suddenly there were vehicles heading toward them. Armor-suited enemy soldiers could be seen in all directions.
“Lieutenant! We need orders!” someone told him.
His men were arrayed in a rough circle, ready to make their last stand.
“We can't always choose the hill on which we die.” The First Lieutenant said, “Okay men, if we're going down, let's take as many of them with us as we can!”
“Ooh-rah!” they replied in unison.
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