Space 2315, Chapter 14

Bernard Hernandez fought down the almost maniacal laughter that threatened to escape his throat. Those pathetic fools down there in what was quickly becoming a highly toxic environment were trying to run every which way. There was no escaping the nerve agents pouring out into Times Square from the canisters exploding all around. The VX buzzed through the air below, killing those that the explosions didn’t get. He didn’t know the precise science behind how the nerve agent killed; but seeing how the people down there were convulsing and writhing as the agent coated their skin and got into their lungs told him enough.

His hand hovered over the other detonation switch, the one still covered by a plastic shield. He didn’t want to use that one just yet. The “fun” down there was just beginning. Already in the distance he could see the red and white flashing lights of emergency response vehicles in the air. Those guys would have no idea what they were walking into. They’d be without CBRN protective gear and that would cost them dearly.

The first ambulances and fire vehicles touched down, about ten in all. The responders moved to try and assist people who were surely too far gone by now. They only had their regular uniforms and the persistent nerve agent would take effect before too long. First, they would feel tightness in their chests, coupled with nausea and later they’d piss and shit themselves as they lost control of their muscles. Blisters would form on their skin and in their lungs and their eyes would burn. Not much longer after that their muscles would start seizing uncontrollably until their respiratory systems shut down. Bernard, in a moment of sympathy for other humans, winced at what must’ve been painful in the extreme for them.

He shook that sympathy off almost as soon as it surfaced. To him those weren’t people down there, they were the enemy. In war, you killed the enemy. In his eyes, this was total war and they deserved no mercy.

Reports must’ve already been flowing back from over the radios from those emergency crews; both from the vehicles themselves and now from the crews hightailing it back to whatever station they came from. Those vehicles that left the scene would have to be decontaminated before they could let their crews out. Already more emergency crews were arriving; these ones decked out in either rubberized suits with gas masks or in unpowered armor for the NYPD. The police’s armor wasn’t as good as the military’s unpowered armor, but it would provide ample enough armor and CBRN protection for them. At least that’s what they thought.

Kasumi, Matthew and Sofie stared blankly at the HD screen that still showed “SIGNAL LOST.” Stunned silence reigned throughout the coffee shop as everyone stared at the screen. It stayed that way for perhaps ten seconds before a newsroom appeared with a visibly shaken newscaster on it. News crews weren’t supposed to look that way; they were trained to show calm and cool dispositions at all times. The woman on the screen didn’t seem to realize the cameras were on but she quickly got herself under control.

“Um…,” another sign of how shaken she was, “This is Gina Parker from the HFBC headquarters in New York City. We’re not sure what happened or why the feed cut out. Initial reports from camera crews on the scene report explosions within Times Square, but we’re still not sure about the extent of the damage. The damage has to be extensive to knock out our camera feeds and we’ll try our best to get the feeds back.

“The crews are reporting multiple dead already and more dying as some kind of gas or liquid is spreading through the crowd. We’re not sure what it is but our crews on the scene are reporting tightness in their chests.”

“Nerve gas,” Kasumi whispered.

“What?” both Matthew and Sofie asked at the same time. “How could you know?”

“It makes sense,” Kasumi started to explain. “The crews there are reporting tightness in their chests correct?” She waited for them to nod. “Not all of them would come down with the same symptoms at the same time if it were anything else. Next will come convulsions and other effects as whatever nerve agent takes hold. Seeing as how everyone in Times Square has received nanomachine treatments, same as we have, whatever agent was used would have to be strong enough to overcome that. If you wanted to kill as many people as possible quickly and to kill more later, you’d have to use a persistent agent.”

Matthew stared at her in mild shock, “And you know all of this… how?”

Kasumi looked at him and shrugged, “My father used to work in a chemical production plant for years. He got all the safety briefs on what certain chemicals could do when they react with each other. They were also contracted by the government to handle chemical disposal, some of which were very old poison gases left over from World War Three. I’m also part of the Space Force NROTC and the chiefs gave us a short CBRN brief a few weeks back. They said we’d need it when we went for training, as they still put recruits through the gas chamber. They jokingly said on that day our chiefs will want us to eat a big breakfast so they can see it come back up.” She finished off with a chuckle.

Sofie nodded her head at that, “Yeah, my father told me about that. He was in the Active Army and Reserves when I was younger. He said it was one of the more unpleasant parts of Basic Training. He did it a few more times in the line unit he was in. It was something about having to trust the CBRN protection of your armor; although he always joked about trusting the gear without taking it off.”

Matthew responded pointed back to the screen where the newscaster was still on.

“We’re now receiving reports that some kind of agent is in the air. Whatever it is has affected dozens of the first responders on the scene. Whatever it was made them cry out, ‘Gas!’ First responders coming now are coming with full chem gear. We have a crew moving to the scene, staying hopefully out of affected areas. We go now to them.”

The screen shifted to an image of a man wearing a gas mask, probably an unneeded thing where he was but you could never be too sure. “Hello, I’m Rick Santor reporting live from outside Times Square where what appeared to have been several explosions occurred. We’re seeing that most, if not all of the delegates who were attending are dead. There seems to be some kind of mist spreading through the area, killing anyone who isn’t wearing protective gear. We’re not sure at this time what this gas might be as experts aren’t on the scene yet.

“Rick, are there any indications of survivors there?” Gina asked on the HD screen.

“No,” he shook his head, “any people who were within the vicinity of the event are either dead or dying. Gina, if it’s indeed true than it’s my guess that the entire federal government has been…,” he paused and gulped briefly, “has been removed.”

Gina sat looking at her own screen which surely had an image of Rick on it. Coughing softly to clear her throat she asked, “You’re saying that…”

“Gina, I know I shouldn’t fuel a panic, but it’s my guess that there’s no member of the federal government alive. They were all down there today.”

“Surely there’s got be a designated survivor,” Gina asked as she gulped.

“I don’t think one was designated, nobody even anticipated something like this. Nobody saw a need for one. And besides,” Rick paused, “I’m receiving reports from more areas of the city, especially government buildings being attacked as well. I can’t help but to think that even if there was a designated survivor that person would surely be dead anyways.”

Gina looked down at the desk in front of her. “Rick,” she paused again, “are you saying that there’s no government right now?”

Rick nodded his head. “That’s exactly what I’m saying. The head of the government has effectively been cut off. We… have… no… government.”

“What about the Joint Chiefs? The Cabinet? The various secretaries of the various agencies and armed forces? Judges?”

“They were all there to witness the inauguration.”

“So now what?” Gina asked, fearing the answer.

“I don’t know Gina, I just don’t know. All I know is that in one swift move the entire Human Federation has been brought to its knees. We effectively have no government right now.”

Bernard was watching the same news broadcast on a wrist-sized HD screen. He chuckled to himself, “Serves those fuckers right. Yeah Rick, they’re all burning in hell right now.”

The other detonation switch felt mighty tempting but he still kept himself from pushing it. Already more emergency responders were flooding into Times Square. They wouldn’t be the only ones either. His best guess was the Army would be mobilizing to assist. If he could catch some of them on the ground in the next set… that would make the months of planning really pay off. Not that it hadn’t already with the hated Human Federation government wiped out for now.

Christina Crow coughed as her vision slowly came back to her. The first thing she was aware of was that she had a splitting headache from when her head smacked the steering wheel of her air car. Her shoulder felt like she wrenched it, probably from the safety strap keeping her inside the vehicle rather than flying through the windshield. The next thing she noticed was a growing heat from in front of her. She’d been trying to get to Times Square, having been delayed because her cat kept getting in her way. Finally, she got fed up enough that she put Sparky in the bathroom and shut the door. She’d let him out when she got back.

Her cat and the safety strap were probably the only things that saved her when the first explosions happened. I’ll have to give the kitty extra treats tonight, she thought humorlessly. The fur ball probably saved my life.

Sitting back in her seat she noticed the other air cars piled up in front of her. The force of the explosions must’ve thrown her air car back to hit the ground somewhere. She also noticed the fire at the front of the vehicle, probably from something ruptured under the hood of the car. Wait, explosions, she asked herself, what happened? First things first though, get the hell away from the car!

She reached down and undid the safety strap. She tried the door. While the handle worked the door didn’t want to move. Eyeing the fire again she pushed against the door with her aching shoulder. It still didn’t want to budge. She briefly considered kicking the window glass out. But if that glass could withstand the force of the crash she was in her foot wouldn’t do anything to it. Moving her body she got sideways in the car, got one foot under the door handle to lift it up, then kicked out with her other foot. The door moved just a little, enough so that she didn’t have to hold the handle anymore. Kicking with both feet once, twice, a third time she got the door open enough where she could scramble out.

She ran from the car, trying to put as much distance between her and it as possible. She wasn’t the only one running from the pileup either. Dozens of people were streaming away from it, with others pulling people from various wrecks.

She had no idea how long it’d take for the flames to touch off the fuel cells of the car but it wouldn’t have to be long. Running as hard as her aching body would let her she dove behind the nearest source of cover she could find; a concrete half wall placed alongside the street and flattened out on the grass there. She waited, not knowing how long it was until the car blew up. When it did the noise was terrific and pounded her eardrums.

Her air car’s explosion touched off the other wrecks around it in a massive daisy chain. Large chunks of scorched metal slammed to the ground not too far from her. Shards of glass flew malevolently through the air. Anybody standing up was cut down by the flying bits of metal or glass or by the explosion itself. Screams or moans arose from the wounded or dying. The ones already dead were mercifully quiet.

When the last explosion faded some minutes later, she looked up and wished she hadn’t. It was a charnel house out there. Some people were simply broken; their limbs bent at angles no human could do naturally. Some were dismembered and others had been turned into so much badly butchered, charred meat. Still others were down and bleeding and either silent or wailing their agony at an uncaring sky. She watched a woman, no older than twenty, staggering toward the curb holding her arm in her other hand. She stared at it in numb fascination, seemingly unaware of what happened to her. She didn’t make it to the curb, but rather slumped to the ground, either passed out or dead as she continued to bleed out.

A man sat up on the ground and watched his guts spill into his lap. He blinked at that, probably too far in shock to know how maimed he was. Christina watched him say something but she couldn’t hear anything with her battered eardrums. The man slid back to the ground, hopefully passed out or dead. Another man, not too far from him had the same thing happen to him but instead of passing out his mouth dropped open, screaming like a damned soul. He tried to stuff his guts back in but his efforts were in vain as his motions slowed until he slumped back dead.

That was enough to make Christina puke all over the half wall and herself. If she’d been even a few seconds slower in coming to and getting away that would’ve been her out there.

She was still heaving when another girl, this one maybe only sixteen, ran over and dove behind the same wall. Miraculously she was unharmed except for a few cuts from the flying debris. She looked at Christina and held up a comlink. Her mouth moved but Christina still couldn’t hear. Christina shook her head and the girl got closer to mouth, I can’t get through to 911! The line is busy! How is that line busy?

I don’t know, Christina mouthed back at her. Keep trying! If the emergency services lines were held up that badly she hated to think about what was happening elsewhere. Those explosions looked like they came from Times Square. If that was the case… she tried to get up and run forward but the girl behind her held her arm. She looked back to find the girl shaking her head and mouthing, You can’t go that way! There’s bound to be more explosions that way.

Christina stared at her for all of two seconds then nodded. She stayed right where she was. Then she noticed the girl’s comlink showed a green light on it signaling a connection. She held her hand out for it then, remembering not to shout, she gave their location and what happened and that she couldn’t hear. A text message came up on the digital screen reading, We will dispatch emergency services to you as soon as we can. Other higher priorities take precedence.

Christina wanted to throw the comlink across the road but held it instead. If they couldn’t come here now that must mean they were swamped elsewhere. Again, she wanted to know what was happening in Times Square, but she had no way to get there.

Bernard was waiting for the opportune moment to hit that second detonator. His thumb was getting awfully twitchy and those first responders coming now looked like such a juicy target. He held the switch, waiting to see if he could get more with the next explosions.

As if in answer to his dark wish he saw something fly past the window perhaps ten meters from him. It was taller than a man, metallic, and riding a braking jet as it came down. He looked up to see pods just like it coming down, looking like tongues of fire as they slowed their descent through the atmosphere. Bernard picked up a pair of binoculars and stared at the first pod that landed. He looked for a symbol on it but couldn’t find one then moved his sight to another. He saw a stylized eagle head on a black shield. Above that in a curved black field was SPACEBORNE in gold letters.

The doors of the pods blew open with the force of their detonation bolts and Soldiers in powered armor came streaming out of them, four to a pod. They fanned out, rifles up and at the ready. On their left shoulders was the same unit patches. The Army was sending the 101st Spaceborne Division? Suddenly Bernard felt like a kid on Christmas, as if Santa just delivered him a host of presents to play with.

Only forty or so drop pods landed. It was probably a CBRN company and an engineer company from one of the infantry brigade combat teams. They wouldn’t send a whole battalion down here, not for something like this. Some of the Soldiers started fanning out to the perimeter; others were directing the emergency responders. If those were combat engineers they’d know what to look for in terms of bombs and how to disarm them. It was now or never. Bernard flipped the cover off the detonator and his thumb came down on it hard.

Sofie and her friends only listened to the HD screen with half an ear. The HFBC had little more to add than what they announced already. With what was still called “cable news,” just like in the early 2000s, if they didn’t have any new material they just played the same thing over and over. Sofie brought over another stein of beer for her and Matthew. Kasumi herself was coming back with a mug of tea, deciding that after the sake she didn’t need any more alcohol.

“So, they’ve confirmed that it’s a chemical attack,” Matthew began. “What happens next?”

Kasumi pointed to the screen which was showing drop pods from the 101st Spaceborne landing in Times Square. “That happens. The first responders were adequate for the time being, but the military can bring in specialized units to finish.”

The cameramen on the scene panned their cameras left and right, getting the image of the Soldiers landing and beginning to move out. Sofie watched them intently, recalling that her father was once with the 2nd Infantry Division out of Joint Base Lewis–McChord–Stanfield. He used to talk about the things his unit did and now she was seeing something like it live on the HD screen.

Sofie was just about to turn her head to look back at Kasumi when the next series of bombs exploded in Times Square. The feed cut out again and was replaced again by, “SIGNAL LOST.”

“Oh my God,” she muttered.

Bernard sneered as the explosions rang out, sending pieces of armor, concrete, ironworking, and bodies everywhere. The core of those explosions was typical high explosive, propelling metal ball bearings at high speed. Accelerate something like them fast enough and they could punch through even powered armor, much like a grain of dust would punch through a starship’s hull at fractions of the speed of light if not for particle shielding. He could see fires on the ground which had to be huge considering that he was on the tenth floor.

He walked out of the room casually as if someone was simply taking a Sunday morning walk and laughed as he walked down the hall to the lift. Once in the lift he closed the door and laughed manically, not unlike the Joker from the old Batman comics. “Serves those fuckers right! They fucked us over and now they pay!”

Back in the HFBC news studio Gina stared in absolute horror. “Oh my God,” she gulped as she looked to the camera in front of her. “I’m sorry,” she motioned for the camera man to cut the feed.

Gina sat back in her chair and breathed in deeply. Nothing in her life could’ve prepared her for this. Nothing like this ever happened to the Human Federation before. Not even the coup at the beginning of the war was like this. The Great Coup, as it came to be known, was almost gentlemanly in how the ACF did it. The stories that came out mostly revealed how the HF loyalists were calmly detained then put onto shuttles and transports to go back to HF Space. It was an almost bloodless coup according to most.

“Gina,” the news producer called to her over the earwig in her left ear. “Get a hold of yourself, you need to report the news.”

“I know, just give me a moment,” she replied as she leaned down on the desk for a few moments to compose herself. A minute later she reached up and put a thumbs-up and the feed went live again.

“To the viewers of HFBC,” she gulped, “our main feed to Times Square has been cut out again. We’re trying to reestablish camera feeds in the area. If anyone has any video that you may have taken with your comlink, please send it to videonews@hfbc.com. That email address should be on the bottom of the screen. I repeat, if you have any video you may have taken with your comlink, please email it to the address at the bottom of your screen.”

“Gina,” the news director called to her over the earwig. “We’re getting reports from Chicago, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Paris, Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo that similar explosions have taken place as well. Information is pouring in as we speak. There’s also word about similar things on Mars and other colonies including Alpha Centauri.” Gina nodded her head.

She looked at the camera. “We’ve received reports that additional explosions have taken places in other major cities around the world and on Mars. We at HFBC are working to confirm these reports and will report it as soon as we know more. And now to a commercial break.”

“Don,” Gina said over the earwig, “get those reports confirmed and ready. I want us to be the first to break that news!”

“Yes Gina,” Don Harper replied back. Meanwhile Gina could hear Don talking to several other people in the news control room. “Gina, you have two minutes until the commercial break is done. We’re working our sources as fast as we can. I’ll try and get in contact with our reporters in those cities.” Gina nodded her head. Just then Don came back on the earwig. “Gina, we have camera footage that was emailed to us from someone who was close to the area.”

“Get it ready, now.” Gina shouted. Don pressed a few buttons on the control board and the video was pushed to the desk in front of Gina. She looked in horror as the video played out. “Get us back on the air Don!” He nodded his head and the commercials came to an abrupt end.

“This just in,” Gina said as the video on the news channel split into two panes; one with her in it and the other with the emailed video. “We’ve received an emailed video that someone took from the area.” She let the video play for a moment. “As you can see, a second, more powerful explosion has taken place in Times Square. Emergency responders and Soldiers who dropped in from space were all caught in the new round of explosions.” She paused for a moment. “We’re still confirming reports in other cities and we’ll report it as soon as we have more information.”

Don yelled into Gina’s earwig. “We got it, it’s confirmed. All those cities I named before have similar incidents happening, including Olympus Mons City on Mars. Alpha Centauri has also been hit.”

Gina looked at the camera with a blank stare on her face as she heard the list of cities over the earwig.

“Gina,” Don said.

Gina nodded her head and looked back into the camera. “We have confirmed reports that similar explosions have taken place in several cities across Earth. The list should be on your screen right now. We at HFBC don’t know if these attacks were done by the same people who attacked New York City. We’ll bring more news to you as it comes in. We ask that if you’re in those cities please stay in your homes until this is over.”

Kasumi, Matthew and Sofie all looked to the television in abject horror as the news came in. “Oh my God,” Sofie whispered. Both Kasumi and Matthew nodded. “Who could’ve done this?”

Matthew spoke first. “Considering that these explosions lopped off the head of our government I’d have to say that it probably is someone connected to the ACF.”

“Fuck,” Sofie replied as she looked to Matthew.

Meanwhile on Altair, the capital of the ACF, the president looked in horror as the news hit the streets of Altair. Admiral Anthony Kennard, the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came into the room and stood at attention for his president.

“I want to know just who the fuck did this!” John Renalt yelled as he picked up a statue from his desk and threw it across the room narrowly missing Anthony as he came into the room. The president didn’t normally yell or for that matter, swear like that and definitely didn’t throw things across the room; so, for him to do so showed how rattled he was. “If it was one of our men, by God, they’re going to hang for this! The Human Federation is going to want our heads on spikes for this! Not that they don’t have enough reason to want our heads. I want that person in here right now so I can kill the fucking bastard myself! I’m going to gut him like a pig I tell you!”

“Sir,” Anthony said. “It wasn’t one of ours. I can confirm that.”

“Ok,” John paced about the room, calming down just enough so he wouldn’t yell at the admiral. “Well then, tell me who the fuck it was. I want the guy dead! He has no idea what he started!”

“Intelligence reports from some reliable sources seem to point to a person by the name of Bernard Hernandez.”

“Bernard Hernandez?” he paused for a thought. “Where have I heard that name before?”

“He’s the owner of one of the biggest companies on Altair; in fact, his company was awarded many of our ship construction deals.”

John looked up and stared at the ceiling. “Oh fuck! In a way, it was one of ours.”

“In a matter of speaking,” Anthony paused, “yes.”

“Who gave us this information?”

“Eileen Maguire,” Anthony replied. “She was a deep cover FBI agent for us, working closely with Hernandez ever since we broke from the HF. She posed as a close confidant for a few months, as he has a weakness for females and his ‘appetite’ is well-known among his colleagues. She used that to get close to his organization. According to her reports he was talking about doing something like this for months, however, she didn’t think he was this far ahead. By the time she found out he was, Hernandez was already in Sirius and then on Earth. By then it was too late for us to move against him.”

John sat back down in his chair behind his desk. “Anthony,” he looked to him, “I want a comlink with whoever’s still alive in the Human Federation government as soon as possible. I have to put the fires out before the Human Federation Space Force comes and bombs us all back to the Stone Age.”

“That may be a problem Mr. President. All of their representatives were at the point of the explosion. There may be no one to call. Some reports, unreliable as they may be, indicate that the entire government has been killed. Not only that but setting up a comm channel now may prove to be far more difficult with this going on.”

John looked to Anthony and put his hands up in frustration. “I don’t care who I talk to. It could be the principal of a high school on Earth or Mars; I really don’t give a damn. I need to talk to someone back there before this whole thing gets out of hand.”

Christina was lying in a hospital bed in New York with a nurse standing over her taking her vitals. Except for her hearing and some sprains and cuts, she came out of the situation relatively unscathed. She could already tell some of her hearing was coming back because of the extra dose of the nanomachine treatments that she received upon coming to the hospital.

“Senator, you’re alive!?” someone asked when the door opened unannounced.

“Yes, I’m alive.” She shook her head. “By the grace of God I am. If it wasn’t for Him, I’d probably be dead too.”

“Good,” the man replied. “I’m Chris O’Malley, I was the former president’s secretary.”

“Ok,” Christina replied as she nodded her head. “What does that have to do with me?” she asked wondering why someone like him was coming to her.

“As far as I know,” he stated, “there’s no one left. Everyone in the federal government died in the explosion. The whole of Congress, the system governors, the Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs, the secretaries, and the Supreme Court, they’re all dead; except for you and a few others. As the last remaining senior member of our duly elected government still alive, all decisions fall in your lap now.”

“Oh shit,” Christina said as the weight of the situation land on her.

“I, and some others from the government, went on a search of all hospitals in the area looking for anyone in the government still alive.”

“How long has it been?” Christina didn’t want to know.

“It’s been several hours since the… since the…” He couldn’t bring himself to complete his sentence. “We’ve been searching for hours, searching for anyone who’s still alive from our government.” He gulped. “I know that you don’t want to hear this ma’am but of all the people my team has found, you’re first in the line of succession. Everyone else we’ve found are junior to you, you’re the only senator still alive.” He paused. “This makes you the President of the Human Federation.”

Christina sat up in her bed and put her head in her hands. She didn’t at all want this responsibility. She was only a relatively new senator at that. She had only been a senator for one term, he had been just re-elected a few weeks ago. Before that she was member of the House but she quickly rose up through the ranks and gained the respect of her fellow Congressmen and the confidence of her constituents. She didn’t have the kind of experience needed to lead a star nation, let alone one after such an attack as this.

She looked to Chris. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she shook her head.

Chris looked to her and shook his head. “Sometimes things like this are thrust upon us without our asking. By the presidential line of succession, the Office of the President falls to you.” He paused for a moment. “You are not the acting President of the Human Federation.”

“Alright,” Christina said as she stood up from the bed. She suddenly felt the weight of the whole universe on her shoulders. She turned to the nurse. “Am I ready to be discharged?” The nurse looked at her with a blank stare on her face. Christina asked again. “Am I ready to be discharged?”

“Yes,” the nurse replied as she nervously nodded her head, “Yes you are, Madam President.”

“Okay,” Christina looked at Chris. “I guess the first thing we need to do is get me sworn in. Who can do that?”

Chris spread his hands, palms up, “I don’t know Madam President. The chief justice died in the attack, as did all the members of the Supreme Court and a number of the district and circuit court judges. I’ll have to look for any remaining judges so they can administer the Oath of Office.”

“For now, you’re my temporary chief of staff,” Christina said. “While you’re in charge of handling that formality I’ll need a security detail. With what’s going on I think I’ll want the armed service, whoever can get me guards first. I need to go back to my apartment and get a change of clothing. I need to address the people of this nation. We need to reassure the people that there is still a government, that things will go on, and that the people who did this to us will be brought to swift justice.”

“Alright!” Chris replied enthusiastically. “Now that sounds like a president!”

“Maybe I do have what it takes,” Christina said as she got her tattered clothing from the hook on the wall and proceeded to get dressed. “Can you leave the room please?”

“Oh right,” Chris said. “I’m sorry Madam President. I’ll contact the Army once I’m in the hallway. The 101st Spaceborne has deployed a full brigade combat team to help here in New York. I’m sure they can spare someone for their commander in chief.”

After getting dressed in what remained of her clothing, Christina walked out of the hospital room and outside the room stood four hard-faced men in black suits. Chris looked to her. “Madam President, this is your Secret Service detail. They weren’t in Times Square, instead being at the hotel the former president was staying at. They’ll be accompanying you to your apartment to get your clothes.” Chris looked to her and shook his head. “That won’t do.” He looked to a soldier standing nearby. “Get me one of those uniforms!”

The soldier looked down and pointed at his uniform in question. “Yes, that uniform! I need a female uniform right now!” Chris exclaimed. With that the soldiers ran off to God knows where, minutes later he came back with a full military uniform.

“Here,” Chris said, “your clothing is a mess, we can’t have the President of the Human Federation walking around with tattering clothing. It’s unbecoming of a person in your position.”

Christina looked down and realized just how much of a mess her clothing was in. Her suit coat was a massive piece torn off, another part of it was burnt, and her blouse was stained with blood. Her skirt was even worse. She managed to put it on, but it was being held together with hopes and prayers.

“Yes,” Christina looked at the uniform and walked back into the room. She had no idea how to put the uniform. After several minutes she walked out wearing the army uniform. “Here,” Chris said as he bent down and helped her lace up the combat boots. “I know how this uniform goes together.” He stood back up and looked at her. “You almost look like you belong in that uniform.”

“I certainly don’t feel like it,” Christina looked down at herself. “I didn’t earn this uniform; I have absolutely no right to wear it.”

“Well,” Chris looked about, “Do you see a Saks Fifth Avenue around here? Because I certainly don’t!” He came forward and brushed off some dirt that was on her shoulders. “We can’t have you walking around in blood-stained and tattered clothing. It’s what we could come up with on such short notice.”

“Come now, we need to get you back to your apartment. There you can change into something that you’re more comfortable wearing.” Chris paused. “I’ve reached the 101st Spaceborne and they’ll have two squads at your apartment when we get there, as well as unpowered armor for you. We need to get you on television as soon as possible.”

“Unpowered armor?” she asked incredulously.

“That’s right ma’am,” Chris answered. “They feel that having you in some type of armor is best. With what’s going on, I don’t think you can blame them. When you get back to your apartment, I suggest something durable; jeans for instance.”

“Right,” Christina said as the two started walking with the security men. A few seconds later Chris turned to her. “I was going to tell you but it somehow slipped through the cracks. I found two other people who are part of the government still alive, but they’re lower on the line of presidential line of succession than you are. They too were delayed getting to the presidential inauguration. You may know them, Congressman Mark Spencer of the Tau Ceti System and Congresswoman Diane Flores of the Newton System. This still makes you acting president of the Human Federation.”

“I know those two,” Christina nodded her head. “They’re good people. Tell them to meet me at the New York HFBC broadcast building. The three of us need to get on the air and reassure the public that not all is lost.”

“Right, ma’am; will do.”

Inside the New York HFBC broadcast building two private security guards watched as several people came busting through the locked doors of the building. “You can’t be here, we’re on security lockdown!” he started to say.

The man’s jaw dropped open as he found himself staring at a man in powered armor towering over him. “I’m Captain Martin Chavez with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Spaceborne Division. I have the acting President of the Human Federation. We must get up to the broadcast floor now!” Normally a captain wouldn’t lead a mere two squads of troops but considering who they were escorting headquarters decided to send him along with his first sergeant.

“By all means sir,” the man stammered as he looked at the sixteen armored men and women plus three other people in unpowered armor. They were much smaller compared to their escorts, but even their armor was better than what he was wearing.

“Did you have to overawe him?” the security guard heard a woman say.

“Ma’am, I needed to get my point across,” Chavez said as they went for the lift. One squad would ride the lift up while the other would secure the ground floor.

“We have reports that members of the 101st Spaceborne Division are escorting someone up the lift as we speak. As for who is with them, I’m not sure,” Gina said in the camera. “More information will be coming as it comes in, for now, we go to commercials.”

“Gina Parker,” Christina said as she approached the woman with two armored Soldiers beside her. Parker was keenly aware of the M36 Carbines the soldiers filling the room carried. “I’m a fan of your work, you’ve done some very good reporting.”

“Thank you, but why are you here, Madam Senator? I’m glad to see you alive, but why?” Gina asked as Don, her news director, came out of the control room.

“More like President Christina Crow,” Don stated.

“Excuse me?” Gina asked. “What do you mean? Are you the president of the Human Federation?”

“Yes,” Christina nodded her head. “Considering that I’m one of the few remaining members of this government and that I’m the most senior level person still alive, by the Presidential Line of Succession the Office of the President has fallen to me. I didn’t ask for this but it is what it is, sometimes life is like that.”

“I see,” Gina said. “Then why are you here?”

“I need to address the nation; I need to reassure them that the government is still here and that not all hope is lost.”

Gina nodded her head. “Right, we’ll get you on the air as quickly as we can.” She turned to Don. “Get her situated. I want her ready for television in three minutes!” She looked about. “Why are you all standing here? Get the president ready for television!”

Three minutes later Gina sat down in front of her desk with Christina Crow by her side. The soldiers with her insisted that she kept her body armor on while she spoke to the nation. There were thirty seconds to airtime. “Don’t worry Christina, you’ll be fine. You’ve spoken in front of the senate before and you were fine.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t speaking to the whole nation; I am now.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine; trust me. I do this kind of thing all the time.”

“Alright… in five, four, three, two, one… we’re on the air!”

“And we’re back, you’re watching the Human Federation Broadcast Company, here with an exclusive interview with the acting President of the Human Federation, Christina Crow.” The camera swung to face Christina.

“Hello, I’m President Christina Crow,” she stated, now feeling the full weight of those words. “You may know me better as Senator Christina Crow of Toronto, Canada. I know that many of you are hurting this night; we, as a star nation, are all are hurting tonight. A most heinous act of terrorism has been brought upon us all, one that we did not ask for. We have all lost loved ones today and we, as a star nation, grieve for those we have lost. Know this, you aren’t standing alone.”

Christina paused. “As one of the three last remaining people in the government of this star nation, by the Presidential Line of Succession, the Office of the President has fallen to me. I didn’t expect this to happen to me nor did I ask for it. But times like this have been known to strengthen people, to give them a drive to do what must be done. I will do what must be done. Let it be known to the people of the Human Federation that we will come back; we will heal and we will persevere. We will not let those people who have done this to us bring us down, we will come back fighting, we will not go quietly into the night. And to those people who have committed this terrorist attack, know this, you will be brought to swift and deadly justice.”

“I have already been sworn in as president by one of the circuit court judges from Boston. While this is highly irregular, there was nobody left alive from the Supreme Court to administer the oath. Any constitutional concerns will be handled when a new court convenes. As of now, citizens of the Human Federation, know that I am safe under the care of the Army’s 101st Spaceborne Division. They have been gracious enough to give me escort for the time being.”

She paused for a moment. “To those factions in Human Space who aren’t aligned with us and especially the ACF, don’t mess with us tonight. We are ready.” She paused for a moment to let that sink in. “Until further notice, strict curfews will be in place and no one is to be out on the streets of Earth and Mars past 1900 hours until 0700 hours. That’s 7 PM and 7 AM respectively in civilian time. This is of course until the current crisis has been dealt with. Checkpoints will be put into place and travel will be restricted to only those with an absolute need to travel.”

She paused a moment. “I have also suspended all trading on all stock markets and closed the banks. ATMs for the purpose of currency credits will remain open and online. I’m sure all of you can understand that we don’t need a full-blown economic crash to occur while we are dealing with this situation.”

She paused. “As for the Space Force and her officers, I’m calling for the entire fleet to be put in for shore leave for the next week. I am sure that many of you have lost loved ones today, that last thing you need to be doing is worrying about deceased loved ones as you prepare for battle.”

Meanwhile on Altair, President Renalt was watching the HFBC news broadcast of President Christina Crow’s speech. He watched in horror as he heard her words. In her defense, she had every right to be as angry at the ACF as she was.

He turned to his Joint Chief of Staff. “Get me on the link with that woman. Now!” He practically yelled, loud enough for people in the next room to hear him.

“Yes, sir,” Admiral Kennard said. “We’ll get her on the link as soon as we can. As you know, even with subspace comms it’ll take a while, especially since they locked out our IFF transponders from the jumpgates. We’ll have to Macgyver a signal to Earth, probably by routing it through Midas or Sirius, much like how we’re getting their broadcast.”

“Get it done,” he said, then after a pause he called, “go through Midas actually. Don’t ask why, I have my reasons.” Most of them being that Admiral Moore is camped out in Sirius’s backyard. I owe enough favors to the Siriusian government without adding more to it.

President Christina Crow continued, “I’ve been in contact with several admirals of the Human Federation Space Force and they have assured me that our fleets are at the ready. They are standing by to protect any Human Federation planets from ACF incursion.” It looked like President Crow was specifically looking at him when she said, “Citizen John Renalt, if you’re involved with this in any way, you will be brought to justice in front of a military tribunal. You will be held responsible for this act.”

“And there we have it,” Gina said, “straight from President Crow’s mouth.”

“Holy fuck!” President Renalt whispered. “Get her on the link as soon as you can!” he shouted again. He turned the feed off, he didn’t want to hear any more of what the Human Federation news had to say. He needed to speak with that woman this instant.

Author’s Note: Yes, I know, I ripped off “Battlestar Galactica” by having the entire government there in NYC. The way I see it is that without a major attack on Earth by anyone in 300 years it has made the Human Federation government complacent in that regard. Earth is the most fortified planet in the most fortified star system in Human Space, so what could touch them there? They probably didn’t think that a lone wolf style attack could succeed. We’ve seen it before in history where the lone gunman with nothing to lose succeeded where others might fail. John Wilks Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, 11 September 2001, and any number of suicide bombers by jihadists come easily to mind.

Continue to Chapter 15…