Space 2315, Chapter 13

Bernard Hernandez checked over the last of the cleverly concealed canisters that he and his team placed around Times Square where the presidential inauguration would take place in only a few days. He believed that if you wanted something done right you did it or looked over it yourself. His partner Alice would be overlooking the ones on the far side of the square. Sneaking around the square itself to emplace the canisters without being seen was one of the hardest things his group ever did but they managed to do it without arousing the suspicion of the NYPD.

With luck in the next few days his group would cut the head off the Human Federation government. He was almost giddy with excitement; to see this plan that was months in the making come to fruition. But that wasn’t all. No, his group didn’t just want to stop there. Not only were they planning to pull off an attack in New York, but they were planning simultaneous attacks in Chicago, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Paris, Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, and Mars.

The hardest strike of them all would be the attack on the presidential mansion in Dubai. Bernard knew he shouldn’t worry about that one. It either would happen or it wouldn’t. He actually had no idea how the Islamic extremists he met in Mosul three weeks prior would do it but he knew they would figure something out. Part of him really didn’t want to know for those people were really high up on the crazy scale.

He didn’t like working with those people. They were hardline Islamists; owing allegiance to something they called the Islamic State of Earth. They called him an infidel, but once he told them what he was planning they backed off on calling him that, at least to his face.

The HF government still didn’t trust parts of the Middle East even today. Afghanistan and Iraq were one of the few places on Earth that police patrolled the streets in groups of six. The only place that was even more locked down was former North Korea.

The 82nd, 101st, and 203rd Spaceborne Divisions and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment were in orbit, ready to launch drop pods on a moment’s notice. They could put a lot of power armored soldiers on the ground in less than ten minutes.

While he went to Iraq, Alice went to Pyongyang. Once there she contacted members of what was left of the North Korean Resistance. Those people harkened back to the days of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. They were a scary lot in Alice’s opinion. They were fanatical and extremely devoted to the Kim family. Even today they kept a large, stylized picture of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in their headquarters. They long since gave up their pipe dream of an independent, juche state for North Korea however, but kept up their terrorist campaign on the entire peninsula.

The NRK people had blindfolded Alice, got her in a car and drove her a few dozen kilometers north of Pyongyang to one of their underground bunkers in the mountains. There she met with a Kim Jang Un, who was a descendant of the first dictator of North Korea. He and a few elderly men in Korean People’s Army uniforms, all of them bearing the rank of at least senior colonel, spoke with her. They hammered out an agreement for arms and other supplies for Bernard’s group.

Some of that supply was in front of him right now. This particular canister and others like it around the square were filled with VX, a highly deadly nerve agent. This crap was dangerous. The North Korean rebels assured him that it would work even against people treated with nanomachines. Other bombs packed with regular explosives were also around the square. Bernard had other plans for those after the VX went off. To make sure everything was in line, they sent two NKR members with him. He turned to one, a middle-aged man wearing slacks and a sweater much like he was, having ditched his KPA uniform long ago.

The man nodded his head, “Yes, everything should be set.”

“Good. In a few days we’ll give the Human Federation a swift and heavy kick in the balls.” The NKR man simply smiled with anticipation.

 Sofie Taske groaned in frustration as she finished the fifth page for her paper in PO 111 – Human Federation Government and Politics. The founders of the Human Federation certainly meant well when they crafted the new constitution. The First Constitution of the Human Federation was a strange set up designed to keep none of the remains of the global superpowers from gaining too much power. It was a direct result of the Allies, Neo Soviets and what remained of the Arab League and African Union not trusting each other. In the end it all but put a stranglehold on everything as the four powers were given veto rights much like under the old, defunct United Nations.

The First Constitution worked out well for its day. Even under that system major recovery took place, mostly because the representatives from the former Allies and Neo Soviets worked to make things as equitable as possible.

Sofie’s assignment was to write a six page paper on how an old set of documents from 18th century America called Federalist 10 and 51 helped to form the First Constitution. Finding the 18th century documents by James Madison wasn’t hard at all. Finding a set that actually made sense was the impossible part. Every copy was written in 18th Century English legalese and the modern German translations were no better. She gave the two documents one more glance then groaned again.

Around her on the bed were two textbooks from class (both on datapads), datacards from the university’s library and several handwritten notes in German. The lights of the room were dimmed to almost their lowest setting and her roommate Layla had left two hours prior. Looking outside she saw the dark of night lit by the lights around campus and the city of Berlin beyond. White fluffy snow fell from the heavens in one of the few snow storms that came to Berlin. Sofie suppressed a chill as she thought of the outside.

Issus was a much warmer world than Earth; and her village of Cadbury was in the tropical region of the planet. When it reached autumn in Berlin she started feeling cold.

Winter came and after the New Year it only got worse. Thinking back she could remember that it was her first Christmas away from home and a video message from her father came in, wishing her luck and a good holiday.

It was almost February and the presidential inauguration was on the sixth of the month. She was actually looking forward to sitting in one of the on-campus cafés to watch it and maybe nurse a beer or two while she watched it. Most Earth beers were nothing compared to what her father made but she found a few Belgian and German ones that suited her just fine.

“I can’t keep beating my head against a wall,” she said softly to herself in German as she saved her spot on the datapads. The paper wasn’t due until next Tuesday so there were a few more days to go. She could use a break. She slipped out from under her blankets (Layla didn’t like to run the room’s environmental systems too high, arguing that they could use sheets and blankets) and dropped to the floor below. It was a bit chilly to be out from under the blankets wearing nothing at all. She was surprised by how quickly she’d adopted her roommate’s ways of wearing as little as possible, or being naked, when they weren’t expecting company. Back home she always wore something more than her underwear to bed. God forbid if Gretchen or her father found her traipsing around the house in nothing but her underwear!

She quickly got dressed in a sweater and denim jeans. People gave her odd looks about the jeans but she didn’t care. She’d see what people said come summer when she started wearing what were still called Daisy Duke Shorts in the Colonies. Then they’d sing a different tune; maybe one of shock. Or maybe not since European views on the body were very prevalent. It’d probably just be because they are jean shorts to begin with, she thought. It’s not uncommon at all for ladies to be nude at the beaches or pools around here! If people can handle full blown nudity they should handle jean shorts just fine, even if nobody wears denim anymore around here! They just make me stick out, that’s all.

She finished off with a black greatcoat; the thick coats had come back into fashion about ten years ago, secured the buttons and tied the sash around it. The tan military boots she laced up were a gift from her father with GORETEX® lining on the inside to keep wind and water out. She placed a black fleece hat on her head and slipped on black weatherproof/windproof gloves and secured a black scarf around her neck. Thusly prepared she stepped out of her dorm room and quickly got downstairs. All the extra clothes were great for outside or when flying their replica Hellcat airplane back home, but they quickly got warm inside.

As soon as she stepped outside cold wind slapped her. How people could walk around outside when it was well below zero degrees Celsius and enjoy themselves was beyond her! Tucking the scarf around her face she set out for the café attached to the library near the political science college.

The wind kicked up, blowing drifting snow into her face, and she drew the scarf closer about her head until only her eyes were exposed. She passed several other students making their way to one building or another, some carrying backpacks and others like her heading to one of the many cafés or bars on-campus. A few minutes of walking brought her to the Steaming Cup Café. She went inside and instantly started shedding the winter outerwear in the cloak room.

The man behind the counter, one of the ones who normally worked evenings came by, “What will it be Miss Taske?” he asked. “A coffee? Tea? A sandwich maybe?”

This was one of the times where she didn’t mind the “miss” in front of her name. “Something a little stronger please; as well as a ham sandwich.”

“Coming right up,” he answered as he reached for a stein underneath the counter. He dutifully poured a Belgian Tripel after she laid down a ten credit gold coin and got a five credit silver coin in return. Sofie came here often enough that the servers knew what she liked to drink. “Thank you,” she said as she took the first sip. Looking behind the counter she could see all kinds of various beers, coffees, teas, sandwiches, ice cream, and pastries. An espresso machine sat to her right, ready to dispense all kinds of drinks.

Sofie slowly rotated the chair she sat in to look around. Couches and armchairs were to be found all over the hardwood floor with plush rugs underneath them. Most of the seats were taken, as were a lot of the tables around. An old fashioned fireplace was set into the wall between the two big bay windows in the western wall. A cheery fire was going in the old fashioned hearth, adding its heat to the already warm interior. A café worker went over to it and added another piece of firewood, using an equally old fashioned poker to help get it going.

A large HD screen dominated the space above and to the left of her. Broadcasting now was an Earth Hockey League game between the New York Rangers and the Manchester Phoenix. It was being played in Manchester and the Phoenix were leading 3 – 1.

Behind her the waiter set her sandwich plate down. It had a thick slab of ham on it, with lettuce, tomato, stone ground mustard, and mustard potato salad on the side. She turned and took half the sandwich, idly taking a bite out of it as she watched New York’s forward race up the ice on a breakaway. The player weaved side to side before he shot. Faster than she could blink the puck was in the back of the net. Sofie never played hockey, nor was it on the HD feeds back home, but since coming to Earth she discovered she liked it.

She was just about to take another bite of the sandwich when she saw Matthew Carter walk out of the library and head for the door. She hadn’t been able to speak to him, or see him for that matter, since that first day at school. She was never able to thank him properly for helping her that day. A quick glimpse once at the student directory revealed him to be a political science major, but where was he hiding since? Even with majoring in pre-med and minoring in poly-sci she should’ve seen him more often. Different class schedules could account for that. But she looked and looked and never found him until now. If there was one thing about Matthew, was that if you weren’t actively looking for him you wouldn’t notice him. He could blend into a crowd by simply not standing out; he was almost that plain looking.

The first decent guy I meet on Earth and I keep missing him! Not that I haven’t met other decent guys, but I don’t know. Something about him was… different. Well, he’s not getting away tonight! she thought to herself. “Hey Matt, over here!” she called out and only when he kept going did she notice she spoke German. More than one person gave her an odd look. I have to stop doing that! People think I’m weird enough as it is!

She repeated herself in English, louder this time. He turned and she waved him over. Matthew stood in place for a few seconds, as if unsure what he should do before he walked over. “Guten Abend Fra… Sofie. Wie geht es Ihnen?”

She felt her eyes go wide at hearing him use German. Polite, formal German, yes, but still German. “Hallo. Sprechen sie Deutsch?”

He held his hand up, palm down and made a waving side to side motion with his hand. “Ich spreche ein wenig Deutsch,” he said slowly. Then he chuckled a little before continuing in English, “That’s about the extent of my German.”

“Um…, if you want, I could teach you more,” she offered.

“I wouldn’t want to impose,” he said, not quite meeting her eyes.

“You wouldn’t be, and I could use help with my English; as you could tell when I called for you first in German.” She indicated the barstool next to her, “Come, join me please.”

Matthew looked to her then the chair then her again. “If it’s alright with you.”

“If it wasn’t I wouldn’t have made the offer silly. Sit with me and order something,” she said with a smile as he took the seat next to her. She took a second to look him over while he ordered his drink. She could see his nervousness; it was obvious from the way that he sat rather stiffly, like he was afraid to relax. His shoulders were stiff, almost as if he was holding himself at a position of attention while sitting there. Why should he be nervous? It’s not like we’re going to do anything other than sit and talk. Unless… wait. No! That can’t be it! No way! Has he ever done this much with a woman!? Impossible! He’s had to have interacted with women who isn’t family before!

“Matt, there’s no reason to be nervous,” she said simply.

“What? Me?” he asked, pointing to himself comically, “Nervous?”

Sofie took a sip of her beer before turning back to him, “Yes, you are. It’s as plain as can be. Why is that?” She’d find out one way or the other.

Matthew shook his head, “You wouldn’t want to hear.”

“Maybe I would,” she said looking right at him. A part of her wanted to take his hand in her own but she had a feeling he’d react the wrong way. She waited as the shopkeeper set a stein of a dark beer in front of him. He lifted it to his lips to take a sip, sighing appreciatively at the flavor of the stout.

“Growing up,” he began, “wasn’t exactly what you’d call easy for me. Granted, it was better than some kids have it throughout the Human Federation. There’s always somebody who has it much worse than you, I know that. Anyways, I never really had too many friends. Just one or two good ones and in the end that’s all I really needed, right? I’d much rather have one or two close allies I know I can rely on rather than a bunch of people who are ambiguous at best. Otherwise, I was picked on a lot. I don’t know why really, maybe it’s just kids being kids.”

Sofie nodded her head. The “noble girl” from Earth wasn’t exactly the friend-winning type on Issus. Before she could get lost in her own thoughts Matt continued, “I have to admit that none of my friends were women.” She saw that he still wouldn’t meet her eyes but instead was looking into his beer. “I went to one of the few all-male high schools run by Franciscan friars in this little town in Indiana called Huntington, about one-hundred-thirty clicks southeast of South Bend. It’s a quiet place, not a whole lot happens there.” His description of the place mirrored that of Cadbury.

“So why…?” she asked, but stopped unsure of what to ask.

“Why should I be nervous around you?” he asked and she nodded. “The honest answer is that my experience with women is extremely limited outside of a professional environment. While others were going on dates and things like that I was into old science fiction novels from the early 2000s. I found fun in books, computers and Japanese animation and manga, both older and modern. I sometimes find it funny how people depicted the future because it’s nothing like what they thought it would be. Mobile suits and all that, right?” He took a long pull of his beer then set it down on the counter, “But I’m sure that you didn’t want to hear all that. I don’t know what I was thinking telling you that.”

He finished off his beer then got up, “I’ll take my leave now.”

For some reason she wasn’t even sure of herself she reached out and grasped the sleeve of his coat without turning to look at him, “Please, just sit with me for a while.”

“Miss Taske?”

“I told you not to call me that!” she snapped at him with a glare. “Please… bitte, don’t go just yet. I’m sorry for snapping at you, but I don’t ever want to hear you call me ‘miss’ anything again. No ‘miss,’ no ‘milady,’ no ‘your grace,’ none of that! I’m not some noble lady on a pedestal, I’m just a normal woman, like I said. And if you still don’t believe me, I’ll show you.” Sighing softly, she laid on her Issus accent rather thickly as she finished, “You told me all that because I wanted you to. I never got a chance to thank you properly for what you did on my first day here.”

“Okay, I’ll try and remember,” he answered. “And it’s okay, that one time. You were in a bind and I was just there to help. I’m glad I was able to, but you didn’t have to thank me for it.”

“You were right. There are people who have it worse off than you. How about you try coming from Earth, moving to a backwater colony, growing up there with everyone thinking that you’re some noble lady because you came directly from Earth, and now you’re coming back to Earth.” She looked at him, silently asking him to just sit and listen. He nodded then sat back down. “I haven’t seen it as badly as my father said it would be, but I’ve gotten the sense that some people act like I don’t belong here. That I’m… that I’m just some Colonial.”

“I don’t see you that way Sofie,” Matthew stated simply and for the life of him he didn’t know why he said it. It just felt like the right thing to say.

“Danke,” she said unintentionally, which only reinforced what she said before. Even here in Germany it was rare to hear German spoken. “But I see it sometimes, where other students look at me and all they see is that I’m from elsewhere. I think they think that I got here because the school needed to meet some quota or something. They try hard not to show it but I can see it in the way they look at me or how they quiet their conversations when I walk by.

“I was with my roommate once somewhere in the city, I forget where, and this guy heard me talking and must’ve identified my accent. He said, ‘Go back where you came from you Colonial.’ Layla would’ve decked him if I hadn’t stopped her. The sad thing is I came from not too far from here.

“Then came all the commotion about the Zaltaens since when? 1930 or something like that?” Sofie shook her head, “We finally meet an advanced alien civilization that wants to talk to us and the first thing we do is treat them with suspicion and fear.”

“To be fair,” Matthew interrupted, “they did hide among us for that long, like you said. They were into everything. Some even think that they were the ones that helped us along technologically to get us into space. You know those jumpgates?” Sofie nodded her head and he continued. “Some think that the jumpgate tech came from the Zaltaens. Anyways… how does that make you feel? What do you think anyone would think?”

“Like my privacy was violated,” Sofie admitted after a few seconds, “like… like someone out of sight is looking in my window while I’m undressing.” She could see a blush rising to Matthew’s cheeks at her choice of words and she wasn’t even teasing him! “But you get what I mean, right?”

Matthew nodded his head, not trusting his voice right now. Her choice of words definitely caught him off-guard. Glancing over at the pretty brunette his sometimes overactive imagination tried to figure what it’d be like to actually see her undressed. He mentally shook that thought from his head and brought himself back to reality, “Um… yeah. I guess you could say that.”

Sofie sighed as she looked into her drink, “All this with the aliens will only get those Pro-Earth peoples’ blood up. People are afraid of what’s different and they don’t like change. With the war they have all the more reason to hate non-Earthers.”

“I think they’re being foolish,” he replied honestly. “We’re all human and we’re all originally from Earth even if some of us were born on other planets. I don’t care about this ‘Earth for Earthers’ nonsense.” He paused for a second before saying, “Like you for instance. I don’t see a Colonial, I see a fellow person.”

Sofie very gently laid one of her hands on top of his. That simple touch felt like an electric shock to him. He almost drew his hand away but stopped that nerve impulse cold. “Thank you Matthew. That means a lot to me.” With one more pull of her beer she drained the stein then set it aside for the waiter. “Well, I should be getting back. Papers don’t write themselves after all.”

“I hear you!” he answered with a genuine smile that she thought suited him very well. “Gute nacht Sofie.”

“Gute nacht,” she replied as the two went for the door. “Oh, before I forget,” she pulled out her comlink, a fairly standard civilian version of the same ones the military used, “since I never had a chance to give it the last time I saw you you’ll need this,” she held out her comlink upon which was displayed her com code.

Matt quickly pulled out his commlink and scanned the QRCode that was displayed on her commlink. Typing in a 64-bit GUID would have been stupid, hence QRCodes. He also displayed his commlink code and she too scanned his. They then bid each other good night they walked back to their own dorms.

Matthew slid his college CAC through the reader by the door and entered his dorm room. Setting his bag down he started to shed his coat when his roommate Varian Ishiki came in from the latrine with a towel around his waist. Not for the first time did Matthew think that his roommate’s name was… odd to say the least. When Matt first inquired about it the guy chuckled and said that his father was Japanese and his mother was a mix of European.

“You look pleased with yourself,” Varian observed as he saw Matthew’s slight smile.

“I guess I am,” he answered as he sat down at his desk. “I saw that lady I told you about at the beginning of last semester.”

“Last semester…, umm…,” Varian hummed as he proceeded to get dressed. “Sandra was it?”

“Sofie, Sofie Taske.”

“Okay, so… what happened?” his roommate asked.

“We talked a little and that’s about it, what were you expecting?” Matthew asked.

“What was I expecting?!” Varian exclaimed, turning to face Matt with disbelief written all over his face. “Baka! You didn’t ask her out?”

“Ask her out?” Matthew asked, staring at his roommate as if the guy just spoke Greek at him. At his roommate’s nod he said, “I… I… I couldn’t do that. You know that. She did give me her comlink code though.”

Varian covered his face with one hand, forming a V-shape between thumb and index finger through which he looked at Matthew with his left eye, “Oh, man. It’s been obvious that I’m going to have to work with you on some things. I didn’t know you were this bad. Listen, you run into what you told me was a very pretty girl, sorry, lady. I sometimes forget how formal you are,” he said as Matt glared at him. “You run into this woman after how long and you helped her out once but you don’t ask her out? Even after she went out of her way to give you her comlink code without you asking first? I almost guarantee that she’s asking herself why you didn’t ask her out! You just don’t do that!”

Matt reached for his comlink to which Varian shook his head, “Jesus Christ, no! Don’t ask her out for the first time over a com call; especially not right this minute! It’ll seem like it came up as an afterthought, which is far worse,” he said, jerking his index finger at Matthew almost accusingly. “If you’re going to do this you need to do it right and in person next time you see her. In a few days call her up and ask if she wants to do something, anything. Make it sound as innocent as possible and don’t expect anything!”

At his roommate’s confused look Varian continued, “What I mean is that you won’t want to go into this expecting that it’ll be a date. No preconditions, nothing expected and nothing fancy. Knowing you that’ll probably make it easier.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Varian gave him an old fashioned look, “You’re the one who just said that you couldn’t ask her out. So don’t. Just ask if she wants to meet somewhere. Make it over coffee at that café on-campus you frequent. That’s usually a good, neutral get-to-know-you kind of thing.”

“I… think I understand.”

“Good…, I hope,” Varian replied. “Now, if you don’t mind let’s do a little research on this girl… I mean woman you know.” He sat at his computer terminal as Matthew came over to sit on Varian’s bed facing the terminal’s screen.

“Um… isn’t this kinda’ stalkerish?”

Varian gave him a look then shook his head, “It’s not stalker-like if it’s on Facebook. It’s not like we’re going to be trolling through her whole page.” Even three hundred years later Facebook was still going strong. Social media took a huge hit during the Third World War as both the human population and the infrastructure of the Internet were decimated. Not long after humanity clawed its way back from the brink did social media and things like that resurge and even had a renaissance of sorts. A few keystrokes and mouse clicks and Varian pulled up Sofie’s page. He whistled softly to himself as he saw her profile picture. “What a looker. Damn, she’s beautiful, just like you said. Man you set the bar high, didn’t you?”

“What… never mind. I get it. Yeah, you’re right. Normally I wouldn’t even try…”

“I know, I know, I’ve heard you say it a dozen times before Matt. You have to get over your sense that they’re too good for you or whatever it is that’s holding you back. They’re human, just as much as you and I are. Now let’s see, she’s from a colony world though I think you already knew that,” he watched Matt nod his head, “but originally from Earth. A Pre-Med major and Poly-Sci minor, that’s an interesting mix.”

“Which explains why she’d be in the History/Poly-Sci part of campus…,” Matt trailed off, now having an answer as to why Sofie was in that particular café. Most people who went there were majors in those fields of study or in Communications.

Varian went on as if he didn’t hear Matt, “Her roommate is… whoa!” he exclaimed as he saw the photo of the two. “I know her! Layla Fuentes. She’s in one of my classes. God, I wouldn’t forget that face! Or that body for that matter! Well, anyways, um… I hope that things work out for you.”

“Arigato,” Matt said to which Varian shrugged his shoulders saying, “I try. Now to give you some tips on how to handle this.”

Sofie sat before the desk in the other half of the dormitory suite that she shared with Layla. Kasumi Hoshiko, or Kasi as she liked to be called, sat on the bed with her legs tucked under her. Kasumi was a tiny, soft-spoken woman from Kyoto, Japan. To those who she considered friends she was fiercely loyal and was very friendly but otherwise quiet.

Kasumi was just 1.6 meters tall and couldn’t have massed any more than fifty-three and a half kilos. She was very cute even to Sofie, even though her shoulder length silver hair was a bit odd and she had eyes the color of milk chocolate. Kasumi was older than Sofie and was already a junior in the university. Her slender build was well suited for the Space Force Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps which was helping her pay her way through college. Normally the NROTC would put their students in a separate dormitory, to keep them all in one place, but the dorms on campus were almost at maximum capacity and they couldn’t. None of the branches could. Thus, they settled for giving their students single-person rooms in other buildings.

Sofie was fascinated by the other woman’s choice to go into the service. Nobody would know that Kasumi was in the NROTC just by looking at her. She said she wanted to go into computer science for the Space Force but she already knew that it was Needs of the Service first. If the service wanted to put her in, say, Human Resources or Quartermaster they would. After Kasumi completed her studies and NROTC obligations she’d ship to the Space Force Academy for an accelerated program of one year before her midshipman tour aboard a warship.

She looked so downright spiffy in her Space Force Working Uniform that it made Sofie want to go visit the NROTC people herself. It wouldn’t be anything more than to see what they were offering, but the thought was there every day. With the way the war was going and now that humanity knew about the Vonosh it was making people want to join up. Of course the Space Force couldn’t take everybody, so the other branches were taking in people quickly as well.

The two were fighting their way through their British Classical Literature homework. What Sofie was going to use Classical Brit Lit for in the medical field she didn’t know, but the university wanted her to take it. She found it so boring! Hamlet, Macbeth and The Canterbury Tales were as far removed from 2316 as one could be. Sofie didn’t like most classical literature on general principles but she did find “The Lord of the Rings” fascinating, and the film versions of the books from the early 21st century were very well done. There was also her other guilty pleasure in “A Song of Ice and Fire” books and its matching “Game of Thrones” HD series.

She looked at her diminutive suitemate over the top of her datapad and very bluntly asked, “Kasi, just what the hell are we going to use this stuff for?”

“To be honest, I really don’t know,” she answered in her soft voice.

“At least that makes two of us,” Sofie replied with a chuckle as she stretched out her hands above her head. She glanced at Kasumi, looking at her with the slightest hint of a smile. “Come on though, let’s finish this up. I’m going to head over to that café I wanted to meet Matthew at to watch the presidential inauguration and I’d much rather have this crap done before I go. You want to come with?”

“Um…, are you and Matthew…?”

Sofie shook her hands back and forth, palms facing her suitemate, “No…, uh… we’re…,” she sighed in exasperation, unsure how to describe what she had with the guy. “Hell, I don’t even know what we are. Friends? Acquaintances? It beats the hell out of me.”

“Has he…?”

“Hardly,” Sofie answered with another sigh. “The guy’s so damn nervous around me that I doubt he’s thought of asking me out. I might have to change his mind for him or I might not. I like men with confidence, but not ones who are cocky. But he’s just so nervous around women it’s got to be frustrating for him.”

“Oh…”

“Kasi?” Sofie asked, growing a little concerned. She knew her suitemate was usually quiet, but the way she was acting was a bit off. Normally she wouldn’t beat around the bush like this. “What is it? Don’t tell me that you like him. You haven’t met him as far as I know.”

“No, it’s nothing like that!” Kasumi answered quickly with a slight blush rising to her cheeks. Perhaps too quickly. “He’s in one of my classes. He seems nice enough.”

“Then what is it? Do you have your eye on him or something?” she suggested with a tiny grin.

Kasumi looked down at the bed with her hands joined together in her lap. Her face was growing redder by the second.

“Kasi, what’s wrong?” Sofie asked, now getting concerned.

“Can we please not talk about it?” the other girl asked, clearly uncomfortable.

“Okay…, we don’t have to. But I have to get going. Matthew’s probably wondering what’s happened to me. You want to come with?”

“Hai!” she answered, relieved that Sofie was letting it go. Kasumi certainly didn’t want to tell the young German woman that she was eyeing both her and her roommate this whole time and that she wasn’t at all into men. She didn’t want to admit it yet, even though sexual equality and gender preference were legal in the Human Federation since the days of its founding. Although society didn’t care who you chose to be with Kasumi wasn’t about to confess something like that to Layla or Sofie just yet.

Tayeb Saqqaf would’ve preferred to get his hands on a Human Federation Air Force Arrowhead Fighter, but getting onto a HFAF base in the middle of the former United Arab Emirates was impossible. The same went for almost every civilian airport and spaceport in the region. So even a civilian shuttle was completely out of the question. Instead he was forced to settle on an old fashioned VBIED planted in a truck, along with a driver in case something went wrong. It was a tried and true method, even if it was dated.

He walked into the garage where the rest of his Islamic State of Earth crew was making final preparations on the truck. It was a large civilian cargo truck and they were outfitting it with improvised armor plating in order to get it through the gates of the presidential palace. The armor plate the infidels from the ACF, through North Korea, gave him might stop a .30 caliber bullet. A .50 caliber round would still punch through, but anything heavy enough to stop those bullets would slow the truck too much. Once the truck plowed through the main gate it still needed to cover several meters of ground where HF Marines patrolled.

The setup was crude but had proven effective all the way back to the days of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the 2010s. Shaking his head he went up to his explosive expert Halim Alfarsi and asked in Iraqi Arabic, “How goes it?”

Halim gave the truck a single once over again before replying with the same dialect, “It goes well Hajji Tayeb. This thing should do what we need it to do, Insha’Allah. If Allah is kind we should deliver a blow to the infidels who rule the Human Federation.”

“Very good,” Tayeb answered. “I just wish we didn’t have to work with an infidel to pull this off, but Allah works in strange ways. He saw fit to provide us this guy who gave us the resources and papers needed to make this work. Now it’s in Allah’s hands.”

“Did the guy say when we’re supposed to do this?”

“On Inauguration Day,” Tayeb answered, “he said we’d know when we’re supposed to do this.”

Halim smiled in reply before he said, “Praise Allah.”

“Praise Allah,” Tayeb answered.

Bernard watched the growing crowd in Times Square from the empty office his group rented out above about the square. A rostrum complete with blue, brown, green bunting was run up the night before. Human Federation flags, with the stylized eagle rising above the Earth, were draped behind the podium where the president-elect would speak. In his pocket was the primary detonator that would start everything. The waiting was getting to him already.

He knew it was only a matter of time. The police and soldiers down there wouldn’t be a problem. There hadn’t been a terrorist attack anywhere near New York City within the past fifty years so they wouldn’t be scanning the square as thoroughly as they should.

Up until now Bernard didn’t know which he wanted to use first. A part of him wanted to explode the gas canisters first, spreading the deadly stuff all over. On the same remote detonator was a second switch, the one for the conventional explosives ringing the square. Either way, this attack would cause a lot of death and destruction. As Bernard looked down at the people standing in the square, all of them naturally in regular civilian clothes, he made up his mind; the gas and initial explosives first, then the rest of the explosives. That way when the first responders got here he could blow them up too. High explosives packed with metal ball bearings would do the trick.

Sofie walked into the café with Kasumi in tow. It wasn’t a café that the young Japanese woman came to often but she heard Sofie talk about it all the time. On the HD screens were images live from Times Square, showing the crowds waiting for the inauguration to begin. All the members of Congress, the Cabinet and the Supreme Court who could make it were already seated toward the front rows. The mayor of NYC looked supremely proud to be there, playing host to the event. It wasn’t as if NYC didn’t host the event every six years but this was his first time doing so as mayor.

Sofie quickly walked up to the counter and ordered a beer and a sandwich. Kasumi ordered a cup of sake and a salad. With food and drink in hand they went over to a table where Matthew Carter was already seated. He looked up from his beer at Sofie with a smile. He should smile more, Sofie thought to herself, it suits him better than looking neutral all the time.

“Good evening,” he greeted her as he stood to shake her hand. It was almost six in the evening in Germany where it was almost noon in NYC. As soon as he saw Kasumi his smile almost slipped, “Um… who’s this?” he asked, quickly eyeing the Japanese girl behind her. The other girl blushed slightly at his glance but it faded as she sat next to Sofie.

“Matthew…,” she indicated the girl next to her, “This is Kasumi Hoshiko, or Kasi as she likes to be called. Kasi, this is Matthew Carter.”

Matthew looked between the two before extending his hand to Kasumi, “Pleased to meet you.”

She took his hand and shook it, “You too.”

Wow, Matthew thought to himself. She’s so cute! I mean, Sofie’s very pretty, but Kasumi has this whole cuteness thing going. Sofie’s nicer looking but Kasumi… just wow. Wait a minute… what’s going on here?

Sofie took a sip of her beer before going on, “Kasi is my suitemate and I figured you two should meet.”

“We should?” Kasumi and Matthew asked at almost the same time.

Sofie chuckled softly, “Come on, you two are acting like I have some ulterior motive here.” In fact I do, but I figure I’d ease them into it. I think the two would be great together. If that doesn’t work I think they’d make good friends. “What’s wrong in meeting new people?” She looked up at the nearest HD screen as the volume on each one was turned up. “Hey, they’re starting.”

Kasumi glanced at Sofie before looking up at the screen herself. If she’s trying to set us up she’s going to be… disappointed that I don’t like guys that way. Although he looks like he’d be okay as a friend.

On the screen the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Karl Truman, approached President-Elect Bradley Fulton. Behind him was Vice President-Elect Elizabeth Jackson. Behind them, still sitting was the outgoing president, Mark Adams. The chief justice brought forth a hardbound Bible to administer the Presidential Oath of Office. Bradley Fulton approached and placed his hand on the Bible. The chief justice intoned, “Raise your right hand before God and repeat after me… ‘I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the Human Federation, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Human Federation. So help me God.’”

As Bradley Fulton finished the chief justice extended his hand, “Congratulations Mister President.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Bernard Hernandez watched the chief justice approach the president-elect. As the man placed his hand on the Bible he flipped a protective case up over one of the detonation switches. He wanted the timing to be perfect. With this act, and with others that would spring forth all over the planet and Mars, it would all begin. He waited, the seconds seeming to stretch into minutes. He waited until the new president reached forward to shake the chief justice’s hand. As soon as the president-elect said, “Thank you, sir,” Bernard hit the button.

Kasumi, Matthew and Sofie would always remember where and when they were at 1805 hours, Berlin time, on 24 January 2316. One moment they were watching the Presidential Oath of Office being administered to Bradley Fulton. The next moment the world on the HD screen blew up. Static slammed down over the feed seconds before a black screen appeared with white text saying, “SIGNAL LOST.”

Continue to Chapter 14…