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There was no time for a meet and greet when Tom Grier rejoined the rebels, including the rebel leaders that had been gathered in Valla for a conference. The immediate issue was getting back underground, back on the subterranean train and get as far from there as possible.
Tom only relaxed when they were many kilometers from Valla.
Sandy had her helmet down again as she approached where he sat. She sat next to him and was quiet for a moment.
“I was wondering if you might not come back,” She said.
“I'm not dead.”
“I mean, I thought you might have rejoined the Free Republic Marines. Just a small part of my mind thought you might,” Sandy said, looking embarrassed.
He nodded, “I did have a chance to do that. It just did not feel like the right thing to do.”
The gray-haired man with the trimmed beard stood by his daughter, “My name is Enoch. I am one of the rebel instigators, as the Free Republic likes to say. I hear that you have some information which might be of use to our cause?”
There was no reason to hide it, Tom looked up at Enoch and said, “The Free Republic Marines were arresting some of Admiral Robinson's agents after what happened in Valla.”
An eyebrow raised, “Indeed?”
“The Marine General Gallant himself was there,” Tom said, looking anywhere but at the man now, “You'll probably be upset that I didn't shoot him, I guess.”
The rebel leader crossed his arms but grinned, “No, you did the right thing. It seems, though, that a bigger rift between the Fleet and the Marines is opening. I'm sure that could be used to our advantage in the next operation. We just need to determine how.”
“Are you people seriously thinking of attacking the fleet itself? They'd do to the whole planet what they did to that base we fled from!” Tom told them both. A mountain had been turned into a valley by orbital bombardment weapons.
Enoch nodded, “I believe the old axion was something along the lines of, 'If you're determined to punch the Regolian in the snout, you'd better make sure he doesn't get back up.' We won't act without a real plan, Tom Grier, I assure you.”
“I thought you might like to see one of the ships, Tom,” Sandy said with a broad smile. Of course she had reason to be happy, her father and sister had been saved.
Tom sighed. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. The rebels didn't seem to understand what he was trying to tell them. Attacking the fleet itself was the worst possible course of action. For one it would unite Admiral James “Jim” Robinson and General Gallant to a much rougher course of action against Sync.
For two, news of such an attack would create sympathy and anger across the worlds of the Free Republic even where it was not popular. More ships and Marines would be sent and harsher measures against the population would be enacted.
When he woke up the train had stopped. He exited to find it was sitting next to an underground lake surrounded by lighting devices. The other soldiers had gotten out of their armor and were swimming, bathing and even playing in the water.
Sandy in a black one-piece bathing suit looked more like a child than ever as she splashed water at soldiers. Tom still couldn't pin-point her age, it was always possible she was just naturally on the flat-chested side. Suddenly her father in formal attire was standing next to him holding out a glass of something.
“It is Syncrian Tea, sweetened,” Enoch said. Tom took the glass and took a sip. The fruity tea flavor was a surprise.
Enoch smiled. Tom suddenly realized another girl was standing behind the rebel leader. Enoch took a step to the side and held out a hand, “I don't think you have been introduced to my other daughter, Kembra.”
Tom held out his hand and bowed a little. Kembra was beautiful and not under-developed in the least like her little sister. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Kembra.”
She smiled, Tom was captivated, “Likewise. I don't know if you understand that your name has spread across the planet among us rebels. You've become famous even before you have really earned it.”
“I hope to be of use,” Tom told her. He felt a bit self-conscience about the state of his face after the rebel surgery to remove all of the enhancement implants. Tom imagined that his one-eyed scarred face was hideous to a girl like Kembra.
“Yes, there is something you could help us with,” Kembra told him. Tom felt like he had just walked right into a trap.
“And what is that?”
“You could help us plan the attack on the fleet. You aren't the only former Marine in our ranks, but you are here and available.” Kembra told him. He heard it as, “The others are busy out there fighting.”
Tom looked back at the underground lake, “I think an attack on the fleet itself is a bad idea.”
Kembra nodded and smiled, “I'm sure you do. You don't know some of the things we need to show you that will change your mind.”
“What do you mean?” Tom asked.
She smiled again, Tom was already in love with her teeth, she asked “Interested?”
“Sure,” He answered.
Enoch drank his tea and nodded, “Show him that it won't be a suicide mission. With his help, we can give the Free Republic more than a bloody nose.”
The entire side of the command car of the train was open, top and bottom, creating what would look like a normal sized room without walls. A couple members of the leadership delegation were in the center looking over a holographic projection of Sync.
“Okay, Anid, let's show Tom what we have,” Kembra said as she motioned for him to be seated, although he was perfectly comfortable standing in the suit since the suit did all the supporting. He sat down anyways, just to be next to her. The short, older woman named Anid started speaking, first blue dots appeared on the globe, most of them in the oceans.
“All right, the main thing is we have ships. They were well-hidden a long time ago, the fleet destroyed mothballed junk whose electrical signatures were changed to match the new tech. As you found out when you were captured we have the ability to block the carrier signals to implants and knock out the power distribution node of your suit.”
He nodded, “I found that out the hard way.”
Anid smiled, “We can do something similar to the shielding and sensors of fleet vessels.”
Tom shook his head, “Impossible. It would take incredible power output to even reach the fleet.”
The woman moved her hand and the holographic image closed in until only the image of the fleet was visible.
“The power output would be coming from aboard the rebel ships, not nearly as far away as the surface of the planet,” she told him, “At any rate their sensors and some shipboard functions will be negatively affected as well.”
Tom frowned, “You don't really know which systems would be affected?”
“Having never done this before, no we don't.”
Kembra spoke up, “I assume the power distribution nodes aboard a ship like the carrier Umbrage would be heavily shielded from interference. Maybe not as much for some of the smaller vessels.”
Tom stood up and turned to face Anid and Kembra.
“The first thing that will happen, when you are still too far away to jam their system, they will open up on you like a fireworks display. Then before you get too close, Onyx Flight will be launched. Those are your basic advanced fighters, not as maneuverable in space, but much more than your ships are likely to be. If you can get passed all of that, the Umbrage has close-in weapons systems that are hardened against jamming and glamming,” he told them, “It would take quite a miracle to get through all of that.”
Anida stepped forward, “We forgot to tell you that our ships will be mostly invisible to their sensors, we have a system that creates the opposite of whatever signals might be bounced off the hull, nullifying the signature. Like sound and anti-sound systems in a factory to reduce the noise level, except ours is better.”
“That is impossible, every research project into that found it to be so flawed that it could never work,” Tom said, “The Free Republic has a lot more scientific research going on that Sync by itself could.”
Kembra laughed, “Quantity over quality is not always a good thing. The Free Republic throws out grants and contracts like candy, irrespective of results. Actually, they normally reward failure with more money. Thus encouraging a bloated research industry that produces little. Sync doesn't do that, real advances get grants not promising proposal papers.”
“It's already been fielded. You've already had a run-in with the technology,” Anid said.
“On your way down to Sync aboard the landing pods. You felt a jolt, the enhancement and the carrier signals that controlled feelings and thoughts blinked off for a moment. Your pod had bumped into one of our stealthy ships, and it still got away without being detected,” Anid told him.
Tom was dumbfounded. The rebels could really do that? Challenging the goliath of the Free Republic with its many planets was still insane. Or was it? Could this little unassuming world named Sync really defeat the Free Republic?
No, they'd just send more fleets and bombard the planet. There was no way the man running Free Republic, a narcissist who could never admit to being wrong, was going to allow it. Dissent wasn't tolerated by his regime, rebellion would definitely not be.
Tom Grier still thought the uprising was doomed to eventual failure, but if they managed to put a dent into the armor of the fledgling empire, it might encourage more rebellions on other worlds in the Free Republic.
“How many ships do you have? What are their configurations and weapon systems?” Tom asked, as a nugget of an idea entered his head.
“Tom,” Kemdra said.
“The point of this attack is to board the carrier, which is the flagship and is running the combat operations and cause enough damage to cripple it,” she told him, “If you have an idea on how to accomplish this, we'd all love to hear it. Anid, call a gathering.”
The train stopped again in a large underground chamber where another rebel group was temporarily based. These soldiers belonged to Kembra's command, Tom learned rather quickly as some of the ranking officers lined up to salute her.
Enoch, Kembra, Sandy and others took to a natural stage at the center of the assembly. Tom was reluctant to join them but they insisted.
“Today is a new beginning, shed the burdens and worries of the past and take on the duties required of us to go forward,” Enoch began the first speech, “You have all heard about what happened in Valla, we were attacked by the Free Republic and we managed to escape. We all mourn the loss of our five brave soldiers, but we look forward to avenge them!”
Tom thought Enoch sounded a lot like a politician.
“Our next move is to show the fleet that oppresses us that we are not cowed, we are not going to submit to their rule over Sync! Syncrians shall be free!” he said, the crowd was getting a little raucous. Of course these were soldiers and rebel leaders, the speech was apparently being recorded for further use too.
“We will strike at the fleet itself, we will take out their crown jewel and make them choke on it!” Kembra told the gathering, resulting in cheers.
Sandy leaned toward him and said, “Maybe you should lead the assault.”
Lead it? Tom wasn't confident enough to offer something like that. Just getting there and getting out alive would be enough of an accomplishment. The plan was simple: board the Umbrage and plant at least one nuclear device to take out the biggest weapon in the fleet. Get out alive if possible.
Carrier Umbrage, auxiliary storage room lowest deck
“It was a fiasco of the highest order. The Admiral is... less than happy about what happened in Valla and you are the highest ranking officer that survived, Bolton,” Commander Grabble told the soldier who was standing at attention, as much as he could with his arms bound behind his back. Three masked soldiers with light guns kept Bolton from trying to escape.
“It's not true. I did nothing wrong,” The soldier responded.
Commander Grabble paced back and forth before facing Bolton again, “Lieutenant Blade was alive when you saw him last?”
“I helped him board the shuttle!”
“I see,” Grabble said, “Yet, he wasn't aboard when the shuttle arrived.”
Bolton shook his head, “He was behind where I sat, I don't know where he went.”
“You described Blade as having two useless legs and a useless arm. How could he have gone anywhere, much less while aboard a shuttle?” Grabble asked, “You can see why the Admiral would have a problem with this. With General Gallant taking two of our men prisoner, charging them with violating the Code of Military Justice in an attempt to embarrass the Admiral, it is imperative that embarrassments are made to disappear.”
“You can send me away, I'll never be heard from again! You can send me to the remotest world in the Free Republic, I'll go gladly,” Bolton told Commander Grabble.
Grabble put his hands behind his back, “It's not my call. The Admiral gives the orders around here, Bolton.”
Grabble nodded to the soldiers who slung their weapons to their back and each grabbed one arm of Bolton and began pulling him toward the air-lock.
“No, please! Don't do this!” He pleaded as the air-locks inner hatch cycled open. The guards pushed him inside. Just before the door cycled closed he screamed, “I'll tell you where Blade is!”
Grabble smiled and walked up to the hatch, “I'm listening but I'm not making any promises.”
Bolton was desperate, “He was let out at the Dispensation. The Marines tech ship.”
Grabble was confused, “Why?”
Bolton shook his head, “I don't know, he wouldn't tell me.”
Grabble then turned and walked away, and waved his hand in the air as he walked to the exit hatch, “Follow the Admirals orders!”
“What?” Bolton said as the inner hatch shut and before he could react the outer hatch opened and he was thrown out into space before his world went black.
Carrier Umbrage, General Gallants office
“The Admiral is not going to silently wait while we prosecute two of his men at a court-martial. If I know the old man, he will hit back sooner rather than later,” Colonel Mortimer said, holding his glass of Tarsish champaign as if it were poison while standing near the door.
Lieutenant General Roscoe Edwards sat across the Generals desk with his hat on his lap, “I've posted extra guards in the corridors and near the lifts. If he's insane enough to send men to try and free the prisoners, he'll have to face a court-martial himself.
Gallant nodded and then finished his drink, “It's a tense situation, for sure. Although he has political connections that reach the top, he has to be made to follow the rules. I'm not sure if Robinson is playing with a full deck, but he isn't playing the same game the rest of us are.”
“He's dangerous,” Colonel Mortimer said, finally putting the demon liquor down on the desk, which the General smiled at, “I'm not sure what will happen going forward, but if he is as unstable as we think, he will strike.”
“Between the three of us, I think we need to be prepared for the worst. We might have to send Marines to arrest Robinson for the safety of everyone on this ship,” Lt General Edwards told them.
General Gallant reached across the desk and took the glass Mortimer had set down, “Let Robinson make his move. Then we can decide our response.”
The door swung open and Colonel Wilma Johnson entered, “General, we have a situation!”
All three of the men looked alarm at her statement. Gallant stood, “What is it Colonel?”
“Someone has boarded the Dispensation and stolen the prototype Mark IV, sir,” She told them, Colonel Mortimer leaned against the wall to keep his balance. Edwards looked astonished. Gallant took deep breaths, “What happened? Get me someone aboard that ship, I need to know how this happened.”
“That's the worst news, sir, there doesn't seem to be anyone still alive on that ship!”
---- Chapter Ten
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