Excerpt for The Vanquished of Eden by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


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THE VANQUISHED OF EDEN

The Panhelion Chronicles – Book 2

Copyright © 2017 Marlin Desault

Cover Art & Interior Design Artwork Copyright © 2017 D. Robert Pease

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Published by Evolved Publishing LLC at Smashwords

ISBN (EPUB Version): 162253512X

ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-512-5

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Editor: Whitney Smyth

Interior Designer: Lane Diamond, with Images by D. Robert Pease

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eBook License Notes:

You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

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Disclaimer:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.


THE PANHELION CHRONICLES

Book 1: Shroud of Eden

Book 2: The Vanquished of Eden

Book 3: Eden Redeemed (Coming in 2018)

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www.MarlinDesault.com

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What Others Are Saying about SHROUD OF EDEN:

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5 STARS: The writing style is crisp, the book is well edited and contains a healthy splash of hard science mixed in with a nice story line (new discoveries, alien aggressors, a military in need of leadership and a bad guy you’ll love to hate). While there are some fleet battles—if you’re looking for hardcore action, this might not be your cup of tea. If you’re looking for a well told story with plenty of length, good descriptive prose, solid editing, adventure, and some action—this offering does not disappoint.” ~ LawBoss

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5 STARS: So interesting I had a hard time putting it down. Excellent plot, interesting characters, believable science and edge of your seat action make this a great read. A true sci-fi fan delight, this book has a strong ‘Star Trek’ feeling to it. Mystery and deception unfold throughout this novel. You won’t want to put it down until you discover the ‘truth’.” ~ ARaY

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5 STARS: The science was believable. The settings were well thought out. I felt the characters were well developed. If you read closely, there is an underlying theme. I’ll let you figure that out. All-in-all, I really like the book and am looking forward to the next in the series.” ~ Terry

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4 STARS: I would recommend this to anyone who is into science fiction with a technical twist and immersed in future reality.” ~ SemperViam


We’re excited to offer a Special Sneak Preview at the end of this book: the First 5 Chapters of ENSLAVED by D. Robert Pease, the first book in the exciting new “Exodus Chronicles” series of Space Opera adventures. Just click on the link below the image to check it out.

Special Sneak Preview: ENSLAVED by D. Robert Pease

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EXODUS CHRONICLES Series at Evolved Publishing


For David M,

We know what we are but not what we may be.


Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright

Books by Marlin Desault

BONUS CONTENT

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Acknowledgements

About the Author

What’s Next?

More from Marlin Desault

More from Evolved Publishing

Special Sneak Preview: ENSLAVED by D. Robert Pease


The arms are fair,
When the intent of bearing them is just.

~ William Shakespeare, Henry the IV

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September 2560 - The 4th Year of the Reformed Panhelion

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Sunrise on Ganymede cast a garish contrast of sharp shadows over the shipyard; a sunrise more in name than in fact. A golf ball sized brilliance appeared as the brightest star in the velvet heavens, a star too bright for viewing by unshielded human eyes. Heavy, crystal panes dimmed the light and separated Scott Drumond, President of the Panhelion, from the sparce, inhospitable atmosphere beyond.

Aloft, the gigantic crescent of dominant Jove bathed the scene in a silver-gray pall. In Ganymede’s light gravity, the imposing figure of a newly completed strike cruiser, with her twin warp rings and three powerful hadron engines, lay tilted forty–five degrees in her launch cradle. The ship patiently waited for the commissioning ceremony and her new name. The honor of launching the ship went to Scott Drumond, President of the Panhelion.

The magnetic rail engine was charged and ready to thrust the cradle upward propelling the gleaming ship into the blackness of space at a velocity sufficient to escape Ganymede’s meager pull. Once in orbit, the cradle would fall away, and the Panhelion’s newest warship would receive her compliment of armaments and crew.

“Rather sleek, don’t you think?” Gabi Daugir, Secretary for Terrestrial Tranquility remarked as she admired the latest of the Panhelion capital warships.

Scott surveyed Gabi’s reflection in the glistening window. “She’ll be commissioned Hyperion, the High-One. The largest and most deadly warship in our fleet. I expect her to live up to her namesake when we next engage the Khepri.” Gabi’s reflected image showed a tall, attractive, brunette. He liked and relied on his Secretary for Terrestrial Tranquility. He had selected her for the position based on her keen intellect and quick grasp of facts. In contrast, his own image reflected faint worry lines creasing his face and a tinge of gray at his temples.

“You defeated the Khepri once before. The people are confident you can do it again,” she said.

His face morphed into a faint smile. “Back then, I commanded Aurora and the entire expeditionary fleet. I’m no longer the warrior I was in those days.” Scott turned back to the window where a scattering of stars surrounded Jove’s meniscus. “When the Panhelion is again united, someone else can lead the struggle to defend our small piece of the galaxy from the Khepri aliens. I intend to resign the presidency and return to Niobe. I agreed to take the office for only as long as it took to raise Earth and the Panhelion out of the ruins left after the fall of the Imperium.”

Gabi angled from the window and faced the president. “The Senate considered you the best person to lead us into the future. You earned the trust of our people when you commanded the expeditionary fleet and brought us victory over both the aliens and the Imperium. The people look to you to finish the task and defeat the Khepri.”

“The threat from beyond our system doesn’t worry me as much as the danger from the Hegemon. With a few more ships like this one, Defense Command can keep the aliens at bay for decades. Given our network of surveillance stations on the frontier and the immense distance to the Coma Cluster, our enemies in space could never launch a surprise attack against us. No, our domestic enemies are the ones who cause me sleepless nights.”

Over his shoulder, Scott glimpsed his barrel-chested chief of security, Chas Beleu, shouldering his way through the crowded auditorium.

“Mister President, an urgent message for you,” Beleu said.

“I’ll deal with it later. I’m scheduled to commission our new strike cruiser in a few minutes.”

Beleu leaned close the Scott’s ear and whispered, “Sir, it can’t wait. General Obergaard reports the Revanchists have attacked across the Nearasian border. If you’ll follow me this way, we’ve set up a secure comm link.”

“I’ll be with you in a moment.” Scott made his way through the crowd to Senator Lee Travis who held animated discussion with the several representatives from Terra-Australis. Scott stepped up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. The senator, tall and well-past middle age, turned and cast a broad, well-tanned smile at the president.

“Senator Travis, I need a minute with you.” The senator excused himself from the others. He and Scott maneuvered away from the assembled dignitaries crowded around the speaker’s platform to an empty corner of the room. They huddled and spoke in hushed tones.

Scott leaned toward the senator’s ear. “An urgent message just arrived. I’d like you to take my place in the commissioning ceremony.”

Travis grinned. Ever the politician, he tugged at his sleeves and brushed back his hair. “I’d be delighted, Mister President. My picture in the news feeds of such an important event is sure to boost my image with my constituents.”

The senator strode to the microphone and directed his ever-present toothy smile at the cameras. “Ladies and gentlemen, President Drumond has been called away on important business. He asked me to perform the commissioning of our newest warship.”

A brief applause filled the room as the senator strutted to the panel decorated with traditional green swaths of pine boughs brought in from Earth for the occasion.

The president followed his personal security chief to a room set up as a temporary communications center off the main room. He stepped through the door and pulled it partially shut, taking a moment to glance back just as Senator Travis reach for the icon on the remote panel.

“I commission thee Hyp—”

The explosion rattled the building and knocked Scott to the floor. The blast was small, but sufficient for its purpose. Scott hefted himself off the floor and reached for the door only to run smack into Beleu.

He shouldered the chief aside and gingerly shoved the door full open. The sound of muffled groans filled the room.

Beleu regained his footing and repositioned himself in front of Scott. “Mister President, stay here. You’re in danger.”

Despite the security chief’s efforts to prevent him, Scott forced his way into the commissioning room of the VIP suite.

In the center of the commissioning platform, a void emerged out of the smoke revealing a blackened pit of charred polymer. On the far wall, splattered blood and fragments of bone outlined a silhouette of Senator Travis. Gabi Daugir and several other dignitaries lay moaning on the floor in the debris field.


Lunar Transhipment Station Two in Selenocentric Orbit

~~~

The catboat pilot stared at Lunar Transhipment Station Two hovering above him. The large central hub rotated slowly in space with its myriad of illuminated ports. Five stubby spokes protruded from the hub, each terminating in a receiving dock.

The pilot keyed his transmitter. “Transtation Control, this is Catboat Four Five Niner requesting docking assigns.”

Like hundreds of other freight transports and prospecting craft, Catboat Four Five Niner plied the lunar skies ferrying cargo and people. With an engine in each of their twin hulls, catboats comprised the heavy lift workhorses of the lunar transport fleet.

“Catboat Four Five Niner, stand by.” Station Control went silent for several minutes. “Four Five Niner, I’ve received no routing from Luna Center for you. What was your departure station?”

“Uh, Transat Central I departed Luna thirteen at U Time seventeen twenty-eight on a station to station clearance. There must be a mix-up in our flight plan.” The pilot’s voice, sharp with irritation, blared over the comm link.

“Catboat Four Five Niner, okay, we just received your routing from Luna Center. Proceed to Transtation Two, dock three alpha. Change to channel eighty-five point one five.”

“Transtation Central, thank you and good evening.” The pilot tapped the radio icon to the new channel.

A distance of seven kilometers separated Lunar Transtation Two and the Catboat. The pair drifted in silence over the pocked lunar surface nine-hundred kilometers below.

A brief burn brought Four Five Niner to Transtation Two orbit, and the boat slid its port side hull up to dock three alpha. The station boom swung out carrying its leech like transfer pipe. Four Five Niner’s port side proboscis mated to the transfer tube and the pipe sealed. A short purge cleared the duct, allowing a clean transfer of the catboat’s cargo.

“By volume, one thousand liters received,” the boom operator called out.

The boat pilot answered with a polite response, “Thank you station two. Ready to disconnect.”

“Stand by Four Five Niner,” the dock operator replied. For five long minutes, the pilot fidgeted in his seat until the operator broke the silence. “Our Station Master would like to personally verify your bios.”

“What do you mean?” The pilot said in a brusque tone. “You’ve got my bios, my voice, and faceprint from the comm link. What kind of bull is this? I’ve never had to appear in person before. Request you disconnect me now.”

“Not before you report to the Station Master with your manifest and let him verify your bios.” The boom operator extended the passenger tunnel to the catboat.

An adrenaline burst flooded the pilot’s body, and his suit went damp with sweat. With his boat solidly connected to the dock, he had no choice but to comply. “Alright, I’m on my way,” he grumbled and closed the comm link.

The pilot trudged through the corridors to the heavy crystal door of the Station Master’s office. The Master sat at his desk and waved him in.

“What the hell is going on?” The pilot’s voice reverberated in the small office. “I delivered a cargo of helium for transhipment to Earth, now the operator won’t release me until I chat it up with you and get your okay to leave. I’m in no mood for this crap.”

“Don’t get surly with me,” the Station Master bellowed. “Stow the attitude unless you want to be here all day. Someone wants to see you.” He motioned toward the door.

A clean-cut man in a dark gray business jumpsuit entered and flashed his identification token. “Agent Thomas, Panhelion Security. Now, Station Master, tell our friend here what he just delivered.”

“Certainly, but first we’ll take care of a few formalities.” The Station Master glared at the pilot. “Sit in the chair and thumb print this e-doc agreeing that you’re voluntarily giving us your retina, facial pattern, and DNA bios.”

The pilot hesitated and put his thumb to the sensor. “What in hellfire is this all about?”

Agent Thomas sat in the corner and listened as the Station Master quizzed the pilot.

“You want to know what this is about?” the Station Master snarled. “I’ll tell you. The density of your cargo doesn’t add up to fractional damn.” He tipped his head. His mouth widened into a smirk. “It’s a tad on the low side, mister. Now, what kind of fools do you take us for? You unloaded a thousand liters of helium-3 and act like an orangutan contemplating its toes.”

The pilot threw his head back and laughed. “Now I know this is a joke. I delivered a thousand liters of ordinary helium. If I were carrying that much helium-3, I’d be retired on my own private estate. Do you have any idea how much a thousand liters of helium-3 is worth?”

Agent Thomas rose from his chair and sat on the edge of the Station Master’s desk. He studied the pilot with a mocking sneer and leaned back on his palms. “You bet your about-to-be shredded backside we do. You off-loaded seven million pandits worth of helium-3. Now what would a down and out dumbass pilot like you, on a derelict catboat, be doing with seven million pandits worth of helium-3?”

The pilot slumped in his chair and raised his hands palms out in surrender. “Look, I just fly the damn thing. I pick up the cargo. I bring it here. I drop it off. That’s all I do. That’s all I know.”


Earth: Two Weeks Later

~~~

Scott Drumond, President of the Panhelion, made his entrance to the cabinet meeting room of the Panhelion presidential residence. In attendance were heavyset General Rikart Obergaard, of the Panhelion Terrestrial Army, and First Admiral Rigus Bauer, Commander-in-Chief of Panhelion Space Defense Command. Bauer, a man with perfect grooming, stood next to Rufus Kronstaff, Director of Panhelion Security.

General Obergaard greeted Scott. “Welcome back, Mister President. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say we were relieved to hear you escaped injury on Ganymede.”

“Thank you,” Scott replied, “Unfortunately Gabi wasn’t as lucky. By the way, Gabi are you feeling better?”

Gabi Daugir, sat in a high mobility chair in the back of the room, her leg in a cast. “I’ll live and keep all my fingers and toes. I’m still a bit stiff and sore in places, but otherwise fit for duty.”

Scott approached her and lightly gripped her hand. “Brave girl. If there’s anything I can do for you please let me know.”

He returned to his chair. “Shall we get on with the meeting? Director Kronstaff, please give us a review of the Nearasia situation.” He and the staff members turned to the Director of the Panhelion Security Agency. The director fumbled a moment with the display control. “Yes, Mister President. Two weeks ago, the Hegemon rump state launched a hit-and-run attack with their Revanchist forces from out of the mountains of the Anatolian Peninsula into the Nearasian low lands. The Revanchists then retreated behind the Hegemon border. Nearasia will, in all likelihood, file a formal complaint to the Panhelion senate.”

“Do you have any details on this action, General Obergaard?”

“My staff is working up a complete presentation for you. It will be ready in a few days. It will confirm Director Kronstaff’s description.”

The president shifted in his chair. “Thank you for the update, Director Kronstaff.”

The director, a white-haired professorial type, adjusted his portable viewer and glanced around the room.

“Gabi, please send a statement to the Nearasian Ambassador. Tell him we will support a formal objection if he wished to make one, and we’ll send a stern notice to the Hegemon. Anything else Director, before we adjourn?”

Kronstaff straightened his posture, glanced around, and settled his gaze on the president. “One last item, Mister President, one of our agents discovered the power source for the weapons used by the Revanchists. Field reports described the weapons as directed energy devices with advanced fusion-power sources powered by Helium-3.”

As if hit by a jolt of electricity, President Drumond stiffened. “You have my rapt attention.” The deep furrows in his brow reflected his concern. “Where did they get helium-3? Those isotopes are damn expensive. We must move to cut off all sources of funds to the Hegemon immediately. If we starve them of financial assets, they can’t buy the isotopes, and their advanced weapons will be useless. Then the Nearasians can brush them aside with ease.”

The Director shifted and looked the president in the eye. “That may not work. We don’t think they bought the isotope on the commercial market. We think the material was smuggled directly out of Luna.”

“What!” Palms hard on the table Scott pushed himself half up from his chair. “How, could that happen?”

Kronstaff’s expression morphed into a grim visage. “One of our agents on Transhipment Station Two discovered a catboat attempting to smuggle a thousand liters of helium-3 out of Luna. We intercepted the shipment and interrogated the pilot. He claims complete ignorance about the cargo, claimed he was only the mule. Given the Revanchists use of fusion power for their weapons, the helium-3 we intercepted was no doubt destined for the Anatolian Peninsula and the Hegemon Revanchist army.”

Drumond leaned back and rubbed his chin. “Put whatever resources you need on it. Just make sure you stop further shipments.”

“Yes, Sir. we’ll pass any further details on to you as we learn them.” The Director said.

Scott leaned to his right and put his hand on Admiral Bauer’s sleeve. “Rigus,” he said in a soft voice, “I wish to discuss a matter with you in private.” Scott trusted the Admiral who saved his life in the first battle of the Khepri breakout from the Coma Berenices Star Cluster.

After the others left the room, Scott turned his gaze on the admiral. “Join me for a moment on the terrace? I’d like your opinion on a matter of importance.” Scott and the Admiral left the room via the president’s private portal. They stepped out to the plot of green. “Rigus, this business with the helium-3 worries me. That much He-3 had to come from the lunar noble-element processing facilities. There isn’t another source in our entire system capable of refining a thousand liters of helium-3. How did the smugglers plan to move the cargo from Station Two to the Hegemon?”

“It seems obvious,” Bauer said. “Someone inside the transhipment system is an agent for the Hegemon. The smugglers must be familiar with shipment procedures and intended to reroute the helium to the peninsula interior.”

Drumond’s face flushed fiery red. “When I assumed the Presidency of the Panhelion I swore to root out this kind of corruption.”

Bauer nodded agreement. “Mister President, no one person could pull off an operation this daring. We’re up against a cabal in league with the Hegemon.”

The president moved squarely in front of the Admiral. “We must move against their Revanchist forces right away. Reposition one of your ships to strike the Hegemon and their Revanchist forces.”


En Route to Selene Civitas

~~~

Although the ship carried Panhelion military markings, her interior appointments belied any suggestion of simple utility; instead, she incorporated all the comforts due the rank of her special passenger. President of the Panhelion Senate, Scott Drumond had logged tens of thousands of space flight hours as a captain of Panhelion warships, but he much preferred the military version of this commercial passenger liner christened Panhelion Fidelis. She epitomized amiable travel with all the presidential requisites: communications, all possible reference material, and luxuriant human comforts available at his slightest request.

A gibbous Luna surrounded by darkness dominated the scene in the forward view port of Fidelis’ executive conference room. He glanced around the table at his staff. “Our first stop on this diplomatic mission is the settlement on Luna. How do we broach the helium-3 smuggling issue with Governor Kamau?” He referred to Emeka Kamau, Governor General of the lunar settlements. The interception of a shipment of helium-3 imparted urgency to his diplomatic mission to Luna.

Scott hadn’t sought the job of president, but he could hardly refuse after the overwhelming vote of the Senate. Six semi-autonomous nations of Earth and three far flung settlements from Luna to Mars and out to Ganymede, made the concept of popular election unwieldy. Moreover, the Senate had chosen Scott Drumond for the most powerful office in the Solar System. After the ruthless reign of the Imperium the nations of the Panhelion began to question the security offered by a central authority. The burden of persuading the nations of Earth and the off-world settlements to recommit allegiance to the Reformed Panhelion fell on Scott’s shoulders. He planned to start with the Lunar settlement and then to make his pitch to the Governor General of the Mars settlements.

Liam Gunson, the Secretary for Inter-Planetary Matters leaned his forearms on the smooth, dark surface of the obsidian-like table. “Give it to her straight, Mister President. No flogging around the asteroids,” Gunson said, using the common idiom. Scott studied the faces around him and made a quick mental tally of those for and those against the proposal. “I agree. We lay it on the table immediately and in clear terms. The Panhelion has kept the nuclear peace for over one hundred and eighty years. I’ll be damned if I let a nuclear war break out during my presidency.” Scott stabbed his finger against the table surface. “Not one milligram more of helium-3 will find its way into the hands of the Hegemon.”

The journey from Earth had begun with the launch of a rail shuttle. The craft ferried distinguished passengers to Earth’s exosphere where the president and his staff transferred to the military liner Panhelion Fidelis in high Earth orbit. Fidelis arrived in lunar orbit, and the president’s entourage prepared to board a shuttle for the descent to Luna’s capitol city, Selene Civitas.

Scott had paid several visits to the habidomes of the lunar capital during his military career. The Lunarian habidomes consisted of hollowed caverns in naturally occurring, volcanic lava tubes that ran deep inside Luna. Where the tubes opened on the lunar surface, transparent convex covers provided protection from radiation and the constant bombardment of meteorites.

He initially recoiled at the thought of living inside a series of the monstrous, tapered drums rotating inside the caverns. At their widest point, the series of drums measured three kilometers deep by two kilometers in diameter, but after some acclimatization, he found the environment inside tolerable.

In the Fidelis hanger bay, two spotless white, stubby wing shuttles stood ready to ferry Drumond and his staff to the lunar capitol. In thin atmospheres such as on Luna, the wings supported thrusters for roll axis control. When landing in the thicker atmospheres of Earth, and to lesser extent on Mars, the wings provided slight but sufficient aerodynamic lift and roll.

Amos Rector, the trip coordinator for the journey, approached Scott. “Mister President, we’ve made a slight change in our plans for the flight to Luna. Fido One has equipment problems. You and your immediate staff will descend to Luna in Fido Two. I and the rest of your party will follow after the techs complete an update to the navigation program on Fido One.”

As the craft warmed up for launch, Fido Two’s systems emitted a perceptible whine as the president and three members of his personal staff boarded. The overcrowded presidential shuttle dictated that two of the president’s staff would travel with the media reporters and support staff standing a few meters away, waiting to board Fido One when it became available.

Pilot Garner Evans sidled up to Scott. “Mister President, would you care to take advantage of a standing invitation to join me at the control?”

Scott eagerly accepted. Before the Senate elected him president, he had spent a good portion of his military career flying shuttles, and he still enjoyed the elation of sitting at the controls of a spacecraft, even a small one. He stuffed his one hundred eighty centimeter frame into the righthand seat and paired his comm implant to the shuttle’s communications equipment.

With the president sitting next to the pilot, the launch crew towed the shuttle into the small, form fitted chamber. Through the cockpit ports, he watched the mist fade as the chamber decompressed. Fido Two launched, and the shuttle leaped away from the liner and into space.

Scott’s comm implant sounded with the voice of Pilot Evans. “Luna center this is Fido Two en route Selene Civitas, space harbor with Senate One on board.”

Fido Two, you are cleared to Selene harbor via standard orbital approach. Contact harbor approach on one eighteen point thirty-three. Good day.”

Ten minutes into the descent to Luna, Scott caught the beginning of Fido One’s first transmission as it launched from the liner bringing the rest of the president’s party. “Luna center: Fido One with you. Departed Panhelion Fidelis Request—”

Scott caught a flash of light reflected off the starboard canard at the same time as the transmission interruption.

The metallic voice of Harbor approach sounded. “Fido Two, you have traffic at your six o’clock, low, ten kilometers and closing.”

Pilot Evans answered. “We have him on our radar. Please contact him and request he alter his orbit. We have Senate One onboard. The area around us is restricted.”

Fido Two, be advised we did not authorize him into your restricted area, and he is not answering our transmissions. Our patrol craft are in high orbit near the Panhelion Fidelis. We’ve rerouted them to warn off the intruder, but they’re ten minutes away.”

The voice of approach control sounded once more. “Fido Two, we have no radio contact with the craft trailing you. In addition, be advised we’ve lost radar and voice contact with Fido One.”

Evans deflected his thrust-vector lever to the side. Scott gripped his restraint web and braced for the maneuver. The little craft angled to port and rolled to a lower orbit. Scott saw the intruder, a catboat with no markings, flash by mere meters from his shuttle. It trailed blazing blue-white plasma out its twin exhausts. The catboat vectored its thrust, looped over, and rolled out low. It closed fast on Scott’s shuttle from behind. The attacker began a burn on course directly for the shuttle. At their lower orbit, Scott could now make out fine detail in the pockmarked lunar surface.

Luna control’s excited voice screamed at Evans and over Scott’s comm implant. “Fido Two, your traffic has moved in behind you again.”

The catboat took a trailing position perfect to make a second pass at Fido Two. On its downward trajectory, the catboat used the lunar gravity to increase its velocity and outpace the shuttle by fifty kilometers per hour. Despite its twin engines, the cat, built to carry cargo, was considerably less maneuverable.

Scott’s pulse pounded hard in his temples. Ears ringing from the blood pulsing in his head, he twisted around to Evans. “The bastard is suicidal. He’s setting up to ram us from behind.”

“I see him.” Evans spoke rapid fire into his comm. “Luna approach, be aware Senate One is onboard and traffic is a catboat. He tried to ram us once, and he’s making another attempt.”

“Evans, take us down fast!” Scott shouted.

With the catboat less than twenty meters behind, Evans had anticipated the order. Evans revectored his thrusters, and dove toward the cratered surface. Fido one, with the catboat accelerating close behind, raced a mere fifteen meters above the lunar surface. Scott braced for impact. At the last minute, Evans yanked the shuttle into a steep climb. Exhaust plasma from the shuttle blasted the lunar landscape, and a dark gray cloud of thick regolith erupted from the lunar surface. The billowing wall formed a dense curtain of dust blocking the catboat from view. Evans vectored the little craft high to join two patrollers racing in.

Scott glimpsed a flash of red inside the slowly settling the blanket of regolith as the catboat tore a new crater on the lunar surface.

In the private conference room of the spaceport director, Scott politely but reluctantly declined the cocktail offered by the director’s steward. The events of the morning had left him shaken and exhausted. He promised himself that he would call for a drastic change in his personal security procedures when he returned to Earth. He wanted no repeats of the near disaster he had just experienced.

“I must share some more bad news.” The scowl on the chocolate brown face of Emeka Kamau, Governor General of Luna, betrayed her anger as she strode into the room. A few centimeters shorter than Scott, she carried a slender but wiry build and a stern countenance.

She composed herself and continued. “Moments after it launched from Panhelion Fidelis, Fido One exploded with no survivors. The ones who set the bomb expected you to be on that shuttle. The suicide attack by the catboat on your shuttle was their backup plan in case the bomb failed. I’m sorry. I know you lost friends on Fido One.”

Scott collapsed into the nearest chair. “Emeka, if this is related to the smuggling operation we have a great deal to discuss.”

Emeka sat in the chair next to Scott. “Two years ago, when we battled the Khepri, I didn’t risk my ship and save your backside just to see you assassinated in our home star system.”

“You were a damn fool to take the chance.” Scott put his hand on her arm. “But thank God you maneuvered your ship into position to take the fire intended for me. Aurora, crippled as she was, would have been split open like a ripe melon, and I’d be a dried-out cadaver floating in the Coma Berenices Star Cluster.”

“Yeah, but it worked. The shields on my ship held.” Emeka’s eyes narrowed as she focused her alert gaze on Scott. “My security staff is scouring our catboat fleet for clues as we speak, and I sent a recovery team to the site of the crash. I also ordered a thorough investigation into the security of our helium-3 refining operations.”

“A few moments ago, I spoke with Rufus Kronstaff. He assured me his teams are working the possible smuggling locations on our end,” Scott said.

The Governor General of Luna tipped her head back and stared Scott in the eye. “I assigned three of my security guards to be with you at all times while you tour our refining facilities.” Emeka nodded toward an adjoining room. “Join me for a bit of lunch?”

They munched on a lunch of bread with thin slices of ersatz meat. Scott sipped his favorite Arabica brewed from plants imported from Niobe and grown hydroponically on Luna.

Emeka pushed her plate to the side and furrowed her brows as she locked her gaze on her guest. “Scott, what ever happened to the lady companion that you were quite taken with, the one who came to Earth with you when you returned from Niobe?”

Scott’s eyes focused in the distance as if lost in thought. “Ariela, her name is Ariela Lavendal. She returned to Niobe. I tried to talk her out of it, but when the Proconsul of Niobe died, the Ekklesia pleaded with her to succeed him. She couldn’t refuse her people just as I couldn’t refuse the Presidency of the Panhelion Senate. We both were called to serve our respective sovereignties.” His eyes misted over and his expression took on a faraway look. “I do miss her, and I wish to God, we, as humans, could overcome our maliciousness. If only our people could be more like our Niobian cousins.”

His expression hardened. “The sooner we destroy the Revanchists and restore the Anatolian government to its people, the sooner I can resign the Presidency and get on with my life.” His momentary anger faded and his words once again became soft and plaintive.

“The presidency is a damn lonely job. Two years ago, when we defeated the tyrant Camus, and restored the Panhelion, I swore I would join Ariela on Niobe and settle down to a quiet life with the woman I love. Niobe is a veritable garden populated by a truly peaceful people with a tradition of non-dominance. You should go there and experience it for yourself.”

Emeka returned his pensive gaze. “I intend to, right after we rid the Panhelion of some traitors.”


Luna: Selene Civitas

~~~

Scott crossed his arms and locked his gaze on Emeka, “The attempt on my life won’t dissuade me from continuing my diplomatic mission.”

She gave a sympathetic tilt of her head. “We all share your vision for unity and stability for the nations of Earth and the off-world settlements, but you should at least reschedule for a later time. Give us a few weeks to find and arrest the people who made the attempt on your life.”

Scott shook his head. “We need the support of the Mars settlers. If I return to Earth and reschedule the visit, the distance between Earth and Mars will increase, and the extended travel time would throw my schedule into chaos.”

She eyed him from the other side of the table. “If you continue on to the Mars colonies, chances are high the assassins will make another attempt, but since you insist, I’ll order a flight of patrollers to escort Fido Two back to Panhelion Fidelis. I don’t want an assassination in my jurisdiction. I requested Defense Command provide an armed corvette for protection of your ship once it leaves our local space.”

He rested his hand on her shoulder as an expression of gratitude. “Thanks, Emeka. If the nations on Earth shared the spirit of your Luna settlers, my job would be far easier. After the reign of the Imperium Regent, the nation states no longer trust the Panhelion to protect them. I’m doing everything I can to build a trust that will hold the alliance together.”

She cast a reassuring smile at him. “You can count on the loyalty of the Lunarians. The regent was particularly heavy handed with us, and we’re grateful to you for freeing us from his vengeful yoke. We couldn’t prevent his attack on our Mars cousins, but we fought him with all the power we could muster.”

Scott nodded in appreciation at her remark. “I’ll pass your sentiments on to the Governor General of Mars.”

Emeka escorted him and his entourage to the launch bay. An honor guard presented arms in salute, and Scott boarded Fido Two. Emeka watched the rail launcher sling the president’s shuttle into the black skies over Civitas space harbor where five hundred meters aloft, a flight of patrol craft loitered. Within minutes Fido Two reached one thousand meters in altitude and the escort formed up, one in the lead and two as wingmen. Near the president’s ship, two thousand kilometers above, the attack corvette Arion hovered in orbit ready to protect the president and his ship.

Two and a half days later, after a long one g deceleration, Panhelion Fidelis dropped into Mars orbit.

“Mister President, the replacement shuttle for Fido One arrived from Earth. Are you sure you want to meet with Governor Prosper on the Mars surface? Why not meet him here onboard Panhelion Fidelis?” With a heavyset frame, short hair, and a bulldog scowl, Chas Beleu, the Chief of Presidential Security shared his concern. “I carry the burden for your security. I advise you to not make the trip to the Martian surface. The Mars settlers hold a deep-seated resentment toward Earthfolk. In the last fifty years they revolted against Earth’s authority twice.” Conservative to a fault about the president’s safety, the determined Chief, spoke with typical bluntness.

“Chas, I’ll meet the governor on the surface. We must bring his nation into firm alliance with the nations of Earth and the other off-world settlements. That will only happen if I persuade them to accept a mutual defense pact and a new era of security,” Scott explained as he and Chief Beleu strolled to Fido Two parked at the exit ramp. The president’s security squad waited to make the trip.

With the passengers strapped into their seats, Fido Two shot out the launch port and dropped into the thin Martian atmosphere. With wing extenders deployed, Fido Two scorched its way to within one hundred kilometers of the surface where Fido’s ionetic engines fired, and jump-jet like, the thrusters brought the craft to a gentle landing on the habidome tarmac. Overhead, the panels closed when the engines shut down and with the dome sealed and the ship resting in the arrival cradle, the bay pressurized to a level tolerable to a human biology.

At the end of the ramp, leading from Fido’s boarding hatch, the Governor General of Mars, Bjorn Prosper, stood in stiff formal pose. A military band played the presidential anthem, “President Drumond, welcome to the Mars Voortrecker Nation,” Governor Prosper said above the cheering crowd. “We’re delighted to welcome you, and in light of your difficulties on Luna, I’m pleased that you decided to continue your diplomatic visit to Mars. The news feeds say someone tried to assassinate you a second time.”

“The news feeds exaggerate. As you see, I’m fine. I regret to say a few of my close friends and members of the press died when someone sabotaged my back-up shuttle. I’m resolved to make sure those behind this plot are brought to justice.”

Prosper lowered his head and spoke in a soft voice. “I’m sorry for the friends you lost.” He recovered his composure. “In honor of your visit, I asked the Mars Congress to convene in chambers. They are anxious to hear your views on trade and security, and afterwards, I arranged for a luncheon with a few key leaders.”

Scott acknowledged him with a nod and a smile. “Lead the way. We don’t want to make your influentials wait.”

The Governor escorted Scott to the podium in front of the semicircular congress chambers. Around the hall, verdant foliage gave the entire scene the outdoor look so prized by the Mars settlers. Overhead panels cast off light that matched the spectrum of sunlight on Earth. In the warm, pleasing glow the Governor gave a short, complimentary introduction.

The president stood behind the podium in a straight, but relaxed posture. “Representatives of the Mars Voortrecker nation, regrettably, the past, strained relationship between our two worlds flared into armed conflict. Today I want to assure you that the reformed Panhelion desires only peaceful association with our Mars cousins. I came to offer you the protection of the Panhelion. The senate also authorized my staff to engage in trade negotiations of benefit to both our worlds.” With a nod of his head, he acknowledged the polite applause. He spoke another twenty minutes about the advantages of a strong relationship between the two worlds and finished to resounding applause from the audience and Governor Prosper. The governor approached and escorted him off the dais.

“Well put,” Prosper whispered to him. “Follow me, and I’ll introduce you to the senior members of our government.”

The president and the governor marched off to a side room. Prosper introduced each of the five senior members of the Mars Congress, and Scott shook hands with them. They sat down at the table, and the governor steered the conversation to a few trade grievances as they all took their lunch of stir-fry vegetables grown in the local hydroponic farms.

Prosper motioned one of the servers holding a wine cradle. The server approached the table. “President Drumond, would you take some of our excellent local wine? We make it from a grape grown only on Mars.”

“I’m sure your wine is excellent, but thank you, no.”

“Then it’s true what they say about your abstinence?” Prosper asked.

“Yes,” He answered in a matter of fact tone and glanced across the table at the governor. “I understand you brew a superb Arabica on Mars.”

The server returned in a moment with a crystal coffee urn filled with an aromatic, light-brown liquid.

The luncheon finished, Prosper stood and motioned for quiet. “Please, gentle persons, if you will forgive me, I’d like to discuss a few issues in private with the president.” He leaned toward Scott and spoke quietly. “This way, Mister President,” and motioned toward a set of doors. “In the solarium we can discuss some additional matters in private.”

Scott acquiesced, and together they strode to a large room covered by a transparent dome. Artificial lighting supplemented the natural sunlight along a pathway that wound through manicured shrubs and small trees. They chatted about Scott’s offer and strolled under the mild warmth of the light from above.

After the long trip from Luna, He enjoyed the opportunity to stretch his legs. “You’ve cultivated a marvelous environment here.” He stopped and locked his gaze on Prosper to emphasize his remarks. “For my part, I’ll do everything possible to support the further progress of our Mars cousins. What is the population of the planet these days?”

“Mister President, we are as of the last census, fifteen million souls. We’ve expanded our settlements into ten thousand hectares total, in five interconnected burgs, or habidomes, as I believe you call them.”

“Governor, the relations between the people of Earth and their cousins on Mars haven’t always been cordial. I seek a permanent relationship of mutual benefit to us both.”

Governor Prosper gave a polite nod. “We’ve fought two wars with the Panhelion in the last fifty years, and we suffered the tyranny of Regent Camus and his Imperium. Your defeat of the tyrant and your success lends you substantial influence among us. In fact, most Mars settlers hail you as a liberator. They remember Camus ordered the destruction of one of our burgs as punishment for our resistance to his schemes.”

He glanced over at the Governor. “I’m sorry you suffered the loss. While we defeated Camus’ fleet in the Battle of the Restoration, we were too late to prevent his attack on your settlement.”

The president dipped his head. “Governor, I need your answer to an important question. Will the Voortrecker Nation stand with the reformed Panhelion government?”

“With the recent improvements in security, popular support for the alliance of nations grows each day. A vocal minority of our people still agitate for an independent Mars free of ties to the Panhelion. They fear the Hegemon will defeat you and install an even more brutal dictatorship on Earth.” His voice hardened to match his serious expression. If the Hegemon is victorious and takes power on Earth, they’ll treat us as bad, or worse than the Imperium. Another catastrophe like the Imperium would be the end of us. Many of the Mars settlers argue for self-sufficiency and for our own military.”

Scott ran his hand over the petal of a large flower growing next to the path. “Has the Hegemon infiltrated the Mars settlements?”

“There are a few sympathizers, but we know most of them. I’m not aware of any actual Hegemon agents. Few people come to Mars from Earth, and our officials keep a watch the few who do make the trip. In spite of our efforts one may have slipped through.”

In the distance, the muted sound of voices echoed through the otherwise quiet solarium. “What’s happening?” he asked the Governor.

“I believe it’s a demonstration of sorts.” Prosper made his way to the bay window a few meters away, and with a brush of his palm over the sensor, the window slid open.

From the balcony, Scott and Prosper scanned the small crowd below. The throng chanted, “Go back to Earth. We don’t need the Panhelion. Mars for the Voortrecker.”

Prosper sidled next to him. “Pay no attention to them. There aren’t more than thirty or forty. Demonstrations like this occur now and then, but are always peaceful. They’re only venting resentment from the past.”

“All the more reason to improve our relations as soon as possible. I don’t want to chance the Hegemon getting a foothold on Mars.”

“President Drumond, help me to understand what’s going on. Where did this Hegemon threat originate? I read the published reports, but they carry very little about the Hegemon. It’s as if someone clamped blackout on the news feeds. You can foster improve relations and trust between the Panhelion and the Mars settlement by sharing the facts with us.”

“We don’t know a lot more than what’s carried in the feeds, but I can share a few classified details with you. What I’m about to tell you is in strictest confidence, so please keep this to yourself.” Governor Prosper frowned but nodded his agreement.

Scott stepped in front the Governor and turned to face him. “Centuries ago, the Hegemon lost the war against United Sovereigns. In the ruins of the war, the nations of Earth united to form the Panhelion, and the Hegemon went underground, but now intel sources tell me their forces survived only to resurface a few years ago.”

Prosper’s mouth went slack for a moment. “But the nuclear wars were over two hundred years ago. You’re telling me a remnant of the original Hegemon continued all those years and no one knew of their existence?”

“They went undercover on the Anatolian Peninsula where they built up their military arm under the guise of a peaceful neutral nation called the Agrarian Believers,” he explained to the governor’s astonishment. “All those years they claimed their religious beliefs forbade them all outside contact. With tight control over their borders, they built up a force of fanatical followers. They sent agents to infiltrate other countries and encouraged outsiders to join them. The Hegemon is the political organization, but they organized a military force called the Revanchists. Their military force recently made a foray across the border into Nearasia. By the time we sent in our forces, the Revanchists retreated back to the peninsula.”

Prosper’s brows pinched as the words sank in, “You think they may try to infiltrate the Mars settlements?”

“No doubt at some point they will try, so yes.”

“On Mars we’ve never needed a domestic intelligence apparatus. I’m afraid we need to rethink the idea.”


Northern Nearasian Foothills

~~~

Sergeant Jay Dawson pulled his eighty-five-kilogram body mass up behind the GROWLER and pounded on the cover of the disabled vehicle’s control panel. Smoke rose from the wedge-shaped front armor that now drooped like molten glass. The odor of burned metal wafted across the battlefield. “Come on. Open up. I’m facing a God damn human wave attack,” he shouted at the vehicle even though he knew the vehicle’s small interior operator space was empty. A remote operator comfortably located at his station kilometers away commanded the GROWLER. Officially, the armored vehicles were ground remote-operated weapons launchers, but Panhelion military units simply called them GROWLERs.

Grim faced and muddy from crawling two-hundred feet to the damaged machine, Dawson cursed his earlier decision to dismount from his recon vehicle, a decision he’d made to get a better view of the disposition of the enemy positions. Now, separated from the rest of his forward recon team, he put his energy into a frantic attempt to defend himself from a company of enemy fighters. His seven-millimeter personal launcher, designed as a defensive weapon, was no match for the enemy’s body armor. He’d hit several Revanchists, but a few minutes after they fell, most got back up and resumed their attack. The long odds left him with bile welling up from his stomach. He needed a heavier weapon to fight his way out, and the mangled GROWLER offered his best hope. If he could get control of it, and if it still operated, still had power, and if....

A bright red pulse of light hit the far side of the GROWLER. The strike vaporized a portion of the armor plate with a loud bang and a shower of sparks. The one-ton machine rocked on what was left of its suspension, forcing Dawson backwards. A click on his comm implant alerted him, none too soon, that the remote operator, call sign Slackjaw, had established contact.

“This is Slackjaw.” The controller’s voice echoed through the din of battle, “Is that you, Dawson?”

“Better believe it. Give me control of the GROWLER, now! I’ve got a company of Vanchees charging my flank and I need heavy kinetic weapons.” He envisioned the controller, surrounded by displays, sitting safe and sound in the sheltered, air-conditioned compartment of a mobile control vehicle twenty kilometers away.

The metallic sound of Slackjaw’s voice punched through the concussions of exploding energy beams and whining vehicles. “Dawson, that vehicle doesn’t have enough power to move or to fire the directed energy weapons.”

Once again, Dawson pounded his fists on the panel. “Release the damn panel. I don’t want to move the thing. If the DEWs won’t fire, I’ll use the main tube kinetic weapons,” he referred to the turret tubes loaded with self-guided missiles. Each of the five tubes launched missiles filled with smaller missiles. The smaller munitions used pattern recognition guidance with deadly accuracy. If he could launch them, he might beat back the assault and be able to hightail it back to the safe zone.

“Hurry up! I’ve got Vanchees all over my ass here. Give me control now, or I’ll be monkey bait, and you’ll be talking to dead air.” He struggled to control the panic in his voice that betrayed his catastrophic situation.

The access panel sprung open. “You’re clear to take control of G 115.” The calmness in the controller’s voice grated on Dawson’s nerves.

“Bout damn time.” He paired his personal comm with the GROWLERs weapons system. In his helmet display, the targeting screen from the turret camera flashed into view. The stored energy icon read at the border of yellow and red. Might be enough. I hope so anyway. The turret, sync’d to the movement of his eyes, jagged erratically and came to a stop. He concentrated on the scene before him and glanced left at the nearest horde of attacking Revanchist troops. The turret dutifully followed with a left spin. A light in his helmet blinked, and red circles formed around the images of the running figures. Lock. His eyes twitched on the fire tab and in milliseconds, projectiles streaked out of each of the five tubes. They cleared the muzzles, traveling at five hundred meters per second. Free of the tube, the rocket engines on the missiles ignited, increasing their velocity. Ten meters down range, they reached a velocity of Mach four, and the front case fell away spewing a cluster of smaller missiles, each guided by pattern recognition logic.

Fifty of the twenty-five-millimeter projectiles struck the enemy figures in a frenzy of explosions. Revanchist soldiers collapsed in droves. Dawson’s elation vanished a second later when another company of Revanchists rose from their hidden positions and raced toward him.

If I’m going to die in this engagement, better make it a good show. The thought flitted though his mind even as his comm came to life. “Dawson, help’s on its way. Remote armed aerial vehicles approaching above you. Check your six. You should be able to see them any minute now.” He flipped his view to optical and scanned the sky behind him. A swarm of black winged shapes appeared, growing larger with each passing moment. He jumped up on the aft deck of the GROWLER waving his arms.

Overhead, RAVENs formed up in a V shape, and rolled one-by-one into a downward spiral in preparation for their attack. A swarm of missiles from the sky slashed through the air around the battlefield, followed by a web of directed energy beams from aloft. Despite the destruction raining down, the Revanchists kept advancing. The last few still standing were easy pickings for a final burst from the GROWLER’s tubes.

Dawson keyed his comm to transmit, “Good job Slackjaw. Thanks for releasing control of the GROWLER, but you could have given me a heads up about the RAVENs.” Dawson wiped the torrent of sweat from his eyes.

The RAVENs began loitering in a wide circle above, awaiting the controller’s call to send them on a new mission.

“Dawson check your five o’clock,” Slackjaw called out. “Your recon team’s coming to extract you.”

The rising dust cloud off to his right lifted his hopes. His mind conjured images of the steaks and beer he’d have at the operating base canteen. A high-speed, personnel recon vehicle, its forward armor shaped like a bulldog’s snout, skidded to a halt. Its hatch flew open, and an arm extended and waved, beckoning him to jump in.

Inside Corporal Charley Angel grinned though the hatch. “Where ya been, Sarg. When you jumped out of your recon vehicle, we took you for a goner. Damn dumb move if you ask me.”

“Corporal, I’m glad to see you, but shut up and drive.” Dawson scrambled through the hatch. Inside he threw his head back against the padded passenger rest and closed his eyes. He let his muscle go slack as his adrenalin rush faded. His head wobbled and his shoulders whipped left and right as the recon machine spun around and accelerated. They sped across the scrub until, half a kilometer away from the front line, Angel joined three other similar vehicles from the rest of the recon squad.

“Damn fool thing to do if you ask me.” Angel said, his jaw set and his head rolling back and forth with the jounce of the vehicle. His face exuded calm as he steered over the rutted battlefield. “We couldn’t figure why you stopped and dismounted your vehicle. What the hell were you thinking Sarge?”

“Something that obviously never occurred to you chicken heads. I wanted to get a close look at the weapons the Vanchees carry. I got a lot of intel for the secret squids back at Headquarters.”

Angel wrinkled his nose and shifted his glance from Dawson back to the hardscrabble path outside. “So, what did you find that’s so all-fired important that you damn near made yourself Vanchee meat?”

“Couple of things. For one, the Vanchees wear some kind of peculiar, padded battle tunic and leg coverings.”

With a quick snort, Angel returned his eyes to the terrain ahead. “You left your vehicle and risked your neck for that?”

Dawson wiped his gloved hand on his fatigue pant leg. “Yeah, what’s more, some of the padding was torn by a hit from a guided munition. Some type of gooey liquid oozed out the hole. Dammed stickiest stuff I’ve ever seen. It got all over my glove. Maybe the Intel bloodhounds can figure it out.”

“Hold on Sarge.” Angel shot a glance at Dawson and tapped the side of his neck to indicate his comm implant was active. “New orders are coming in now. The Vanchees are retreating. Our orders are to chase them down. Troop-net says they’re streaming across a bridge about a kilometer to the North.”

The four scout craft circled and reformed into a broad V stretching five-hundred meters wide and accelerated. In the distance, the image of the bridge stood out in the driver’s forward display. “We’re too late. The Revanchist and their machines have crossed.”

The recon vehicle bounced along toward the bridge. An intense flash lit the bridge ahead. In microseconds, Dawson grasped the significance.

“Nuke!” He flung himself to the floor.

The recon vehicle bucked in the shock wave. The light inside flickered. His knuckles turned white as he gripped the side struts. The machine rolled over and over again, throwing him against the sides, floor, and top. All went dark. He lay on his back against the overhead.

The machine came to rest like a flipped turtle—its undercarriage skyward, and its wheels spinning.


Panhelion Fidelis en Route to Earth

~~~

In his private cabin, Scott took a break from his study of the reports on his desk. The moment he rose to stretch his legs, his comm chimed. Entangled Communications Operations, ECCO officer Lieutenant Yoshi Murata announced a message for the president. The sender, he reported, was a Proconsul Lavendal, and she had noted the message personal and confidential.

“Please bring it to me immediately.” Scott’s heart and breathing raced. The designation held a special meaning for him. He received a few confidential messages every day, but only one person ever designated a message to him as personal.

Moments later Lieutenant Murata handed him the finger sized e-doc reader. Scott thanked him. But before Murata left, the ECCO officer said, “Mister President, just to let you know, an hour ago we received another message from our Niobian Ambassador. You’ll find it in your stack of today’s e-docs.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” He activated the projector and the e-doc. The text projected thirty centimeters in front of his eyes.

ROUTINE – ECCO - ROUTINE


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