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“Going silent!” the public address system announced as lights notched down to a tenth of their normal brightness and machines shut down. Tom Grier even heard the dying hum of the air circulation system being shut off.
“What is going on?” Tom asked as an armored guard and Sandy entered the room. She was wearing her weird armored suit, but the helmet had been slid to the back.
“Fighters from the fleet seem to be flying scout missions in the area,” Sandy said, “I don't know why they would use fighters for that.”
Tom frowned, “Onyx Flight is based on the carrier Umbrage, they are completely loyal to Admiral Robinson and report directly to him.”
Sandy looked confused, “Why does that matter?”
Tom sighed, “There is always a power struggle in the military forces since the new regime took power in the Free Republic. The Generals are supposed to run the ground war, they are supposed to be giving orders to us Marines. Admiral Robinson has been taking personal control and if he using Onyx Flight to gather intel, that means he isn't sharing it.”
He could see the gears start moving in her head.
“Okay, whatever. Maybe we can use that information against them eventually, but right now I'm concerned with how they decided to scan this region,” Sandy replied.
“Scan this region?”
“It seems they somehow narrowed down their search...”
“They're carrying out sensor sweeps, they probably already know where we are! Are there villages or cities nearby?” Tom asked her, she shook her head in the negative, “We need to get far away from here!”
“Why?” She asked, “We're protected by a mountain.”
Tom closed his eyes, “Do you think that mountain is going to slow down a fleet in orbit? Do you think they might have trouble lobbing missiles over it? Of course not. We need to move, now.”
“There is no way they detected us. All of our signals are masked, anything getting out is easily less than the background noise.”
Tom Grier laughed, “Don't you think the fact that the sensors are detecting less than normal background readings from one place is highly suspicious? Of course their algorithms look for that.”
Sandy looked alarmed. She opened the door where other armored soldiers were standing, “General Evacuation, now! Through the tunnels! No time to pack!”
Tom followed through the corridors, now frenetic with activity, and watched as the soldiers guided the refugees and civilians toward lower and lower areas. The tunnels Sandy mentioned must be deeply buried, he decided.
“Follow me, Tom,” Sandy said, her armored bodyguards fell into line behind him and they began moving faster. He followed her down a main corridor and then down a darker off-shoot where they soon met a double metal door.
Sandy pressed in a code and they swooshed open. Inside was a cavern and what looked like a silver monorail train. Six armored soldiers soon followed them into the cavern before the metal doors shut. Tom watched as the side of the train opened and the armored soldiers sat on the seats revealed, leaving just enough room for Sandy, himself and the two armored bodyguards.
“What about the other soldiers?” He asked.
“They're evacuating the civilians!” Sandy answered.
“You can't win a war by sending your troops to direct traffic!”
“I don't want to win a war where we let the enemy slaughter civilians!” Sandy responded. Suddenly the communicator on her armband went off. She activated the hoolo-display but it was audio-only.
“We have incoming!”
“No, we have bombardment salvos from the fleet incoming!”
Tom didn't wait any longer, he climbed aboard the train and the other half closed tight. Very quickly the train was moving at very high speeds.
Sandy was sending a message to some of the soldiers on the evacuation team. Tom could only hear the audio response.
“Roger. We are in the deep level. We are moving as fast as we can... What the... sounds like a quake! The grounds shaking! Oh my...!”
Sandy put a hand over her face. When she saw Tom watching she hit a button on her wrist and the helmet on her chrome suit slid forward and the faceplate slid across her features. Tom imagined thousands of refugees and civilians trying to escape through collapsing tunnels.
Natural quakes were extremely rare on Sync. There was no possible covering this up. Admiral Robinson had thrown out any ethics he might have had. There was no way the Generals would have ordered such a bombardment against an enemy that had no way to threaten the fleet.
“This Admiral Robinson you mentioned. Is he the one who ordered the bombardment?” Sandy asked through her suit radio.
Tom nodded, “It had to be him.”
“This is the act of a mad man.”
Tom agreed, “There have been rumors for a long time that he wasn't completely sane, even in Marine Boot Camp. I was a bit surprised to be posted to the Umbrage.”
The train began slowing down. Sandy stood up and her helmet moved back, exposing her head again. Her eyes were red and her face showed where tears had fallen. Otherwise it was the face of anger.
“I think it's time for you to try on your new suit, Tom.”
Carrier Umbrage Command & Control Center
Everything had gone quiet. Everyone was standing and staring at the holographic display of Sync that dominated the center of room. Generals and Colonels they had never seen before had entered and were also simply staring in disbelief.
The fleet had just fired off a volley of fifty orbital impact devices at a mountain in the Far Plains Section of Sync. The mountain was reduced to a hill, the surrounding area had been flat but was now a small valley. The dust thrown into the air was going to blanket the northern hemisphere of Sync within hours.
Marine General Jesse Gallant finally broke the silence, “Dear God in heaven.”
Colonel Mortimer didn't take his eyes off the holographic display, “We were told nothing about the flight activities and the intel they had about that location. There is nothing short of the presence of anti-orbit weapons that would justify this.”
“All Marine units and assets are reported accounted for and safe, General,” someone reported.
Lieutenant General Roscoe Edwards walked up to Gallant, in a loud whisper he said, “Someone has to do something about Admiral Robinson!”
“General, sir!” Controller Four tried to get his attention. He remembered her, she was named Maggie Anders. He walked to her, followed by Edwards and Mortimer.
“What is it?” He asked, also wondering how old this little girl was.
“Team Five of the 2nd EMU is reporting that shuttles have been seen near the North Plains section. They monitored them with drones. It seems like Admiral Robinson is moving assets into the city of Valla, but they were all dressed as Sync civvies,” Maggie Anders reported.
“So now the Mad Hatter is running covert ops on the ground!” Colonel Mortimer complained, “Who does he think he is?”
“I think we can play that game too,” General Gallant said, “You two join me in my office, we have some planning to do.”
Umbrage Admiral's Ward
Admiral James “Jim” Robinson was lying on his bunk. The chair hovered silently next to it. His left leg had been cut at the knee, he lost a bit more on the right. He was staring at the ceiling. It was supposed to be his rest period but he wanted to hear any updates on the Valla operation as soon as they came in.
Commander Grabble had already been in to report that the insertion of the covert units had been a complete success. The prime operation was being led by a Lieutenant Blade, who Grabble said was “completely loyal” to the cause. Loyalty counted more than anything else, of course.
The Free Republic was now led by a man who Robinson had once dismissed as an awful con-man unworthy of trust. As a candidate the man had taken out his opponents one by one using the most vile and dishonest means. The man saw that the ends justified the means, and the only coin in the realm was complete loyalty.
“The Free Republic can be great again! I will make it great again!” The man had vowed to large crowds at rallies. He promised them nothing but hyperbolic rhetoric. They only thought he had promised them what they had wanted.
The Admirals thoughts wandered back to Sarah. How he missed her. More than words could express. He devoured any news account that mentioned her, but recently the mentions were few and far between. As an advisor and aide to the ruler of the Free Republic she used to make speeches extolling his fictitious virtues while slamming and denouncing any and all dissent.
One of the skeletons in the closet for the new ruler was a small asteroid that had been hollowed out and remade into a paradise for very wealthy thrill seekers. For a price you could rape and snuff the life out of a child. It had been his first mission for the ruler to make it go away. James Robinson had personally flown the long-range craft that delivered the atomic devices, turning the asteroid into an expanding cloud of pebbles.
The new ruler of the Free Republic had many flaws, but these were dwarfed by his virtues. The trivialities of his immoral life had to be glossed over, because he was going to make the Free Republic Great Again. Loyalty was going to make it great again.
There was a knock and soon Commander Grabble was standing at attention.
“We have received word that the rebel meeting at Valla will take place in 26 standard hours. Our assets are getting into place, it looks like the operation is a go.”
Admiral Robinson nodded, “Good. Make sure they understand that possible collateral damage is not to get in the way of this mission. It must succeed no matter how much of Valla is taken out.”
Commander Grabble saluted, “Yes sir!”
---- Go to Chapter Seven
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