Sergeant Taylor Vicks, HFMC, walked along the outer perimeter walls of the Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace, listening to the reports coming in over her comlink. Mixed in with the transmissions from the other guards were reports of what was happening across the world. More Marines and secret service personnel were being called in after what happened in New York City. Vicks couldn’t believe that the president and most of the Government was dead. Whoever oversaw security in New York must’ve been asleep at the switch for something like that to occur.
She was just about to cross in front of the main gate to the palace’s grounds when Corporal Pierce Biggs pointed from his spot opposite her to a large transport truck. It was right on course for the gate and it wasn’t slowing down either.
Vicks clicked on her powered armor’s comlink and called out to the other Marines manning the guard station just beyond the gate. Her words weren’t necessary as the other Marines were already moving into position behind the gate, their carbine rifles still at the low-ready position. Two other Marines were hauling a single Squad Automatic Weapon into position as well.
Vicks’ jaw dropped when she saw two hatches pop open atop the cab of the truck. Two men appeared wearing black scarves over most of their heads. They set up a solid black flag with the Shahada written in white Arabic text on the cargo compartment behind them. They then lugged machine guns up and set them up on bipods before taking aim. Suddenly they started shouting, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah!” in Arabic. Then they opened fire.
Streams of .50 caliber bullets reached out at Vicks and the corporal before the militants swept their guns forward to the Marines behind the gate. Bullets slammed into Vicks’ armored chest like jackhammers before she dove to the right, clearing the gate. The armor stood up to the blows for the most part, but she felt searing pain as a bullet punched through her left arm.
Biggs fared a lot worse than her. He was a second or two late diving out of the way. The .50 caliber bullets punched through his chest plate and his helmet, nearly taking his head off. The Marines behind the gate had long since opened fire but the 7.62×51mm rounds from their carbines simply bounced off the truck cab’s armored front. The SAW opened up too, but its 7.62 rounds barely dented it.
The Marines dove away at the last second before the truck rammed through the closed gate, ripping it from the hinges. Vicks managed to climb back to her feet, mindful to keep her weight off her shattered left arm. One look at Biggs told her everything she needed to know. She walked to the broken gate and watched as the truck sped onward to the palace with the machine guns atop the cab still firing. Marines and secret service were firing whatever weapons they had on-hand, but nobody was expecting a vehicle attack today; otherwise they might’ve had anti-tank rounds or missiles ready.
The snipers on the roof of the palace were firing as well but their 7.62 rounds couldn’t pierce the armored glass of the cab. They did however silence both machine gunners, but new guys took their place. The Marines in the yard finally got a few .50 caliber machine guns set up and those put holes in the truck. However, it was too little, too late. The driver floored the accelerator and drove the truck straight through the doors and into the grand foyer, taking out pillars and even walls as it went. The driver, his face almost mashed into the airbag, kept the accelerator floored trying with everything he had to get that much further.
Looking up he saw Marines and secret service coming for his door. Oh, he wouldn’t let them get him that easily. He reached down to take hold of the detonator in his lap. He shouted “Allahu akbar!” and pressed it. The bomb in the cargo compartment blew up, taking the driver, the four dead machine gunners, the truck, and most of the palace with it.
Vicks and the other Marines still outside were hurled from their feet backwards, flying meters as the explosion reached them. Chunks of masonry, metal, glass and other shrapnel flew in all directions. Their powered armor detected the uncontrolled flight and immediately kicked on their suits’ maneuvering thrusters to stabilize their trajectory. All of them landed safely and they could only stand in horror, watching the funeral pyre that was the presidential palace.
“And there we have it folks,” Gina said as the camera came back to her. “Straight from the mouth of the President herself, the entirety of the Human Federation is under martial law. As we heard from her moments ago, strict curfews will be in place and no one is to be out on the streets past 7 PM until 7 AM and travel will be restricted. This is course until the current crisis is under control and the government regains control over our great nation.”
Meanwhile a Secret Service representative stepped forward close to the president. “Myself, my colleagues, and the 2nd Battalion have been assigned to your protection detail. As of right now, your security code name is Phoenix.”
“As in the phoenix that rose from the ashes?”
Just then Gina came up and patted Christina on her shoulder which made her sort of jump. When Christina noticed that her security detail wasn’t alarmed she turned around to see Gina Parker standing before her.
“Madam President, you did excellent. It turned out that talking in front of Congress prepared you far more than you thought. I’ve watched you many times on C-SPAN; you can be very commanding when you need to be.”
“Thank you, Gina,” Christina replied with a sigh as she sat back down in a chair in front of the news desk.
“What’s wrong?” the news anchor asked.
“‘What’s wrong?’ you ask on this day?” she laughed slightly as she turned to look at Gina. “A great many things are wrong today. The government is decimated. I and two others are the only ones of the government still alive and somehow the three of us have to rebuild it and carry on. Building a government takes time, which sadly,” she paused as she shook her head and looked back at Gina, “I don’t think we have a lot of.”
“Sorry, bit of a dumb question I admit,” Parker answered with a slight chuckle, “but I mean just now. And yes, I know that you have a lot of work ahead of you.” Gina shook her head. “I don’t envy you.”
“Thanks a lot,” Christina replied sarcastically.
“Sorry,” Gina said as she stood up from the news desk. “What do you think will happen when the government is rebuilt? What will happen to you?”
Christina was about to stand up but then she began to think. What could I do? She shrugged her shoulders. “I imagine that I’ll step down from the Office of the President for whoever does get elected by the people.” She looked to Gina. “I only ever wanted to be a senator,” she shook her head again, “I didn’t ask for this.”
“We didn’t ask to be attacked like this. Sometimes things happen and the right people are in the right place at the right time. Besides, what would happen if the people elect you?”
Christina cocked her head to the side. “I haven’t thought that far ahead. If the people elect me as president, then I will serve in that role as best as I can. If not, I will step down and ask to be re-elected to the Senate by the people. Anyways, I don’t want to take any more of your time. You have a lot of news to report.”
“No, Madam President. It’s been an honor speaking with you. I’d be very much pleased if you were to allow me to have an interview with you once all of this is over and we have a government again.”
“Yes Gina,” she nodded her head. “I’d very much like that.” Gina looked to her left as she saw the first sergeant come forward, still in his powered armor. “Madam President, this way. We need to take you and the other two members of Congress to the secure bunker at the presidential palace. We need to secure what’s left of our government and that means the three of you.”
“Sounds good,” Christina said as she eyed Don Harper coming from the back of the newsroom. The look on his face froze her right there. The soldier turned to look to see what was going on when Don dropped a single datapad onto Gina’s news desk. “The presidential palace in Abu Dhabi, it’s gone.” He paused for a mere moment. “It’s just gone. There’s nothing left.”
“What?” Crow, Parker and the first sergeant asked almost as one.
“Terrorists blew the entire place up. From what the surviving Marines say there’s hardly a stone left atop another.”
Christina knew her mouth was hanging open in shock, but she couldn’t help it. Next to her Gina composed herself much faster and pointed at Don, “Get me sources! I want to go live with this ASAP!”
“Believe me, we’re working on it,” Don replied.
Christina looked to the soldier. “What do we do now?”
“Is this a secure building?” the first sergeant asked.
Don Harper shrugged his shoulders. He really didn’t know. “It’s as secure as any.”
“Good,” Captain Martin Chavez said as he stepped up behind them. He looked around at the other soldiers in the room. “We need to further secure this building. Contact the guys on the ground floor. Make sure they know to stay put. Get in touch with 502nd Headquarters and request more forces in place in and around this building. I want a five-kilometer perimeter around this building both on the ground and in the sky. Only military are to be allowed anywhere near here.”
“Wait,” Don said as he looked to the officer. “Are you saying that this building is going to be locked down? What about communications?”
“Yes,” Chavez replied. “Nothing gets in or out of this building until we can secure a place for the acting president. Until we can get a military escort and transportation out of here this site is now the seat of government. We will control communications except for the news cast, which as you know, would be illegal.”
“Sir, where are you going to take her?”
“Is Buckingham Palace still in use?” Chavez asked.
“Um… sir,” Don started. “The Queen of England is still there, but she hasn’t held real power since the Human Federation was founded. She might only be 19 years old, but she might be a bit put out by us hijacking her home. There’s also the Forbidden Palace in Beijing and the Tokyo Imperial Palace, although I think the Emperor of Japan might feel the same way as the queen.” Those places mentioned were secondary executive office buildings just in case something was to happen to the presidential palace in Abu Dhabi.”
“But sir,” the first sergeant asked, “weren’t all those places mentioned also hit by similar explosions as well?”
“Fuck!” he whispered in hopes that nobody would hear it. “Yes, you’re right first sergeant,” Chavez answered. “Damnit, where else can we take the president?”
“What about the White House or the one of the other government houses?” the first sergeant asked.
“The closest one besides the White House I can think of,” a female sergeant standing nearby spoke up saying, “is La Citadelle in Quebec City. If I remember correctly it used to be a residence of the British monarch and is still an active Army base for the Royal 22nd Regiment. There’s also Rideau Hall in Ottawa.”
“And you know this how?” the first sergeant asked.
“I’m from Canada top,” she answered rather matter-of-factly. “Canadians know these kinds of things.”
“Are you okay with that Madam President?” Chavez asked as he looked to her.
“As long as we can establish communications from there and it’s secure,” she nodded her head, “I’m okay with it,” Crow answered. “That and I really don’t want to go to the White House either; if New York and London and other places like that have been targeted I wouldn’t be surprised if the White House will be too.”
“Okay ma’am,” Chavez replied, “I’ll arrange transport.”
President Renalt stared at the HD screen in something approaching horror. On it was the image of the ruins of the presidential palace in Abu Dhabi. Already the HFBC was getting reports that terrorists plowed through the gates yelling oaths in Arabic. “Oh hell,” he muttered. “That’s just what we need, crazy bastards running around screaming that crap. We do not need that tied to us.”
He looked up to Admiral Kennard, “Please tell me that that’s not tied to that Hernandez character.”
“Sir,” he nodded his head, “I think it is,” he answered heavily. “Agent Winfield’s report mentioned something about him meeting with people in Baghdad while she went to the former North Korea. This might be the result of that. It wouldn’t be that hard to get from former Iraq to the former UAE.”
“Fuck,” the president answered as he put his head in his hands. “Please tell me you’ve got that comlink set up.”
“Sir, we’re working on it,” Kennard answered regretfully. “Midas is being, shall we say… difficult.”
“In what way?” Renalt asked.
“Despite what their people and government think of us normal humans in general, the events on Earth have them spooked. They’re hesitant to let us actively use their comm network,” Kennard finished.
“Damn them,” the president growled out. He took a breath and let it out before continuing, “Keep trying though. If we have to we’ll give them something.”
“I’m sure they’re just stalling for time.”
“I hope that’s the only reason,” Renalt answered.
Christina looked out the armored window on the side of the compartment of the CH-87 Chinook-IV Utility VTOL at the ground speeding by below. The VTOL and two gunships from the 101st Spaceborne came down outside the HFBC broadcast center within half an hour of Captain Chavez’s request. That was almost an hour ago and now the aircraft was winging its way into former Canada. Then she brought her eyes over to look at one of the Army’s AH-82 Gunships keeping station next to her transport.
A little further out from the transport, forming a perfect box around the three VTOLs were eight SF-8 Swords which were the Air Force’s heavy fighters that could achieve low orbital flight. Armed with four wingtip laser cannons, bays for up to 14 missiles or a mixed number of missiles and bombs, and an optional 20-mm Vulcan cannon or additional two laser cannons in the nose; they were the most heavily armed fighter the Air Force had at its disposal.
Originally their predecessors were used by the Space Force, able to deploy from warships and orbital stations; much like fighter craft during Earth’s 20th and 21st centuries. That role disappeared when it became clear that no craft that small could be used in space combat about a hundred years ago. Instead of retiring the concept completely the Space Force gave up their starfighters to the Air Force and wet Navy.
She got up from her jump seat and strode forward, much to the dismay of Captain Chavez and the twenty other soldiers with them. They really wished she would sit down where it was safe. Any turbulence could knock her to the deck, or worse. She reached the cockpit where two warrant officers were commanding the craft. The copilot turned his head to look at her.
“We’ll be landing at La Citadelle in about twenty minutes Madam President. Our air route has already been cleared of all traffic and the airspace above Quebec City has been restricted by the Air Force. More of the 502nd is on the way to assist the Royal 22nd. A Navy missile cruiser is just off the coast to provide additional air defense. Finally, two trans-atmospheric destroyers from the 2nd Earth Orbital Fleet are providing over watch directly over the city in the upper atmosphere.”
“Wow, all that?” Christina breathed. “For me?”
“With everything that’s happened madam, they’re not taking any chances,” the copilot replied. “We’re bringing out the big guns here. We need to protect you.”
Christina looked out from the cockpit before returning to her seat and strapping back in. Chavez breathed a small sigh of relief behind her.
The transport VTOL set down outside the front entrance of the Citadel’s Officer’s Barracks, which before the formation of the Human Federation was one of the residence and office buildings of both the Monarch and the Governor General of Canada. The transport’s door opened and the soldiers in front filed out first, forming a wall of powered armor outside. Captain Chavez went before her, offering his armored hand to her as she stepped to the ground.
She looked up when she heard the regimental commanders bark out, “Regiment!” Right after that came a shouted, “Battalion!” from the battalion commanders. The regimental commanders then shouted, “Attention!” and every soldier in formation went to the position of attention. Then came, “Present!” from the regimental commanders and echoed by the battalion commanders, followed by, “Arms!” from only the regimental commanders.
Every soldier in the two formations raised their rifles out in front of them in salute. Off to the side, in a smaller formation, the band from the Royal 22nd started playing the Presidential March on their instruments followed by the Army Song. Regimental, battalion, and company guidons, the flags which designated the units, all moved in time with each command.
Christina blinked back the sudden surprised tears in her eyes. Even after being the President of the Human Federation for a few hours and having announced it to the nation, the sight of the Army saluting her really set it in. She turned her head to look at the saluting Captain Chavez and it finally dawned on her. Her hand came up in an approximation of a salute. After that the commanders of the formations commanded the troops to order arms and brought them back to attention then parade rest.
Situated in front of her was a podium that must’ve been hastily set up for her before landing. Captain Chavez walked by her side to it. She placed her hands on the podium and looked out over the assembled men and women and began to speak. “Soldiers of the Royal 22nd Regiment and the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Spaceborne Division, I thank you for your warm welcome and for offering your services to my protection this day. To the members of your sister services, I thank you as well. This has been a sad day in our history. With God’s help we will move forward. We will persevere. We will rise again. That’ll be all.”
After she finished she started to step away from the podium, but Chavez stopped her with a gauntleted hand on her shoulder. “Ma’am, there’s one last thing they’ll do.”
“Huh?” she asked.
“Just watch,” he said dryly.
The regimental commanders barked out, “Regiment!” It was echoed by the battalion commanders with, “Battalion!” Then the regimental commanders shouted, “Pass in review!” The same command was echoed by the battalion commanders.
As one each battalion individually fell into column with a six-man front. They marched from their positions on the field, swinging right as one and marching forward before swinging left then another left. Each column marched past the podium with their guidons leading them, forming a veritable river of powered and unpowered armor. When they got close to her position the battalion commander barked out to their troops, “Eyes… right!” As one, each soldier marching past, except for those in right column, turned their heads to the right with only the ones in the front rank raising their weapons in salute.
Crow glanced at Chavez, “What are they doing captain?”
“It’s called a pass in review ma’am,” he said softly enough for her alone to hear. “It’s so that you can inspect the troops for good order and discipline. It’s a formal military courtesy to any new commander who takes over the unit, or in your case, a new commander-in-chief. Normally the President’s Own would do this for a president, but this is a special occasion. Other times you’ll inspect the formations yourself, checking for good order and discipline, before your speech, and then there’d be a pass in review at the end.”
She waited until the formations passed before her and fell back in. At Chavez’s gentle tap on her shoulder she said, “I thank you for that soldiers of the Human Federation. May God bless you all.”
President Renalt breathed a sigh at the HD screen, feeling intense relief that the new president of the Human Federation was somewhere safe. He questioned the HFBC’s wisdom in broadcasting where she was but with that many armed service members surrounding her, including destroyers directly above, she was more than safe. At least where she was somewhere where they could set up subspace comlink and he was banking on that.
Admiral Kennard walked back into the room with a grim smile on his face, “Sir, a comlink with Earth is ready. Midas has finally let us use their communication network.”
“Then this is it,” Renalt said, letting another sigh escape him. When the admiral started to move beside him he waved the other man off. “No admiral, I’ll handle this myself. I want to assure the new president that our government had nothing to do with what happened. The last thing I want to give is the impression that the military is calling the shots.”
“Yes sir,” the admiral agreed, albeit reluctantly.
A few keystrokes later and the communication systems started reaching out to Earth.
Christina was sitting on the side of the bed in the royal bedroom, clad in a bathrobe after getting out of the shower. She was running a brush through her hair when Sparky jumped up into her lap. The Maine Coon cat mewed softly at her before settling down to purr happily as she stroked his fur. She smiled at the cat, thankful that one of the soldiers who moved her wardrobe from her New York City apartment thought enough to bring her cat along. A subtle knock at the door took her attention away from the cat though.
“Enter,” she called out.
“Madam President,” a master sergeant from the Royal 22nd in unpowered armor said as she entered the room. “We have a message waiting for you on the subspace transceiver. It’s from the ACF.”
“What do they want?” Christina asked icily as she stood up from the bed.
“I’m not sure ma’am,” the senior NCO answered. “But we’re holding the message in the communications room down the hall. If you wish I can take you there or have it routed here.”
Christina looked down at herself. “I’ll come there, but could you give me a few minutes?” she asked as she gestured at the robe.
“Of course, Madam President,” the master sergeant replied and nodded her head as she closed the door behind her. Christina quickly got dressed, put her hair up, and walked down the hall within minutes. The master sergeant led her into a small room near the dining hall where a sergeant and a specialist (E-4), both from the 22nd as well, were monitoring communications. Before she could get more than a step inside the room the master sergeant shouted out, “President of the Human Federation!”
The two soldiers at their desks bolted out of their chairs and braced to attention with commendable speed. “As you were,” Christina said, which let the two get back to their duties. She was quickly learning how to work with the military around her. The first two or three times she entered a room she forgot to say those three words and it left the whole room standing at attention. It was mildly embarrassing at first; having to rely on an officer or NCO to give an order she should’ve given herself.
The specialist sitting at one of the desks turned to look at her and pointed, “Ma’am, the main communications system is there.”
“Thank you,” she told the younger woman as she sat down at the computer equipment. A flashing green light indicated a waiting subspace message and Christina touched it. Immediately an image of President John Renalt appeared. At first, he didn’t say anything, and Christina wondered why until the specialist next to her said with a pronounced Canadian English accent, “There’s going to be a time delay of at least three minutes ma’am. We’re still tracing the signal, but it appears that it’s bouncing off a comm relay in the Midas System all the way from Altair.”
“Thank you um…,” she trailed off.
“Anderson ma’am,” the specialist answered, “Specialist Kayla Anderson.”
“Right, thank you. Keep up the good job.”
Unseen by Christina the master sergeant and the sergeant both glanced at the young specialist. Anderson glanced back at them and they both gave her a reassuring gesture. The sergeant leaned in closer to whisper, “You have no idea how lucky you are for her to speak to you that way. Consider this a great honor.”
“I know sergeant,” she answered him.
By that time John Renalt started speaking, “President Christina Crow, I wish to say that we were able to meet under much better circumstances. Allow me to express my sincerest apologies for what has happened today to your star nation and your people.”
Christina felt anger starting to rise in her. He was apologizing for something that was probably planned by his government? Who else could’ve or would’ve done it? The sheer nerve of it almost made her want to turn off the comm system right there but she held her hand just above the solid green light on the instrument panel.
Renalt was still speaking, “I must let you know that the people responsible for these heinous acts of terror will be brought to justice. These crimes against humanity were not sanctioned by me or anyone in my government. I’m giving our FBI and police agencies the full authority to find those who perpetrated this. The mastermind behind all this is Bernard Hernandez and he’s wanted in ACF space on charges of mass murder and terrorism. Though we may be at war, no civilized state would condone such acts.”
Christina backed her hand away from the console and sagged into her chair. Bernard Hernandez. She knew that name from congressional briefs from before and after the outbreak of the war. He was one of the most vocal opponents to the Human Federation, a known political radical and owner of a powerful starship building corporation in ACF space. It was no surprise to anyone who knew of him that he went to the ACF’s camp. But who knew he would do something like this?
Taking a breath Christina looked up at the screen, “Citizen Renalt,” she said, being careful not to use his title of president. To do so would give implied recognition of his government and that was something she wouldn’t do. The ACF was still seen to be a rogue nation in the eyes of the Human Federation. “In the interest of humanitarian considerations, allow me to thank you for your sympathies towards our people. While I will thank you for turning your FBI loose against him, rest assured that we will do the same.” She turned her head to glance at the master sergeant behind her and said, “See that it’s done.”
“Yes ma’am,” the senior NCO answered, coming to attention before leaving the room. Christina turned back to the screen. “In the interest of capturing Hernandez, we will work together as much as we can. However, like my predecessor, I will not hesitate to prosecute the war against your rebel government. This might make things… interesting, but I don’t wish to see that maniac loose at all. I don’t care who gets to him first, I just want him found and brought to justice.”
She turned her head to look at the two enlisted soldiers in the room. They were doing a good job of looking like they weren’t paying attention. How could they not want to know what she was saying? How could they ignore it? The only way for that would be for her to put them out of the room and she wasn’t about to do that.
Renalt’s sigh wasn’t audible or visible, “I was afraid you would say that President Crow. Too much already has passed between our star nations for us to call it quits. We can hardly return to the status quo antebellum as that would return us to the Human Federation. I will not hesitate to prosecute the war, but I’ll leave it in the hands of responsible military members to handle according to the laws of war. Terrorist swine like Hernandez won’t be tolerated by my government.”
“It’s still war then,” Crow answered icily. “If our intelligence services do cross paths while hunting down Hernandez, then so be it. In that case I’ll authorize them to work with your people on that case and that case alone. Otherwise, it’s the same unpleasant business as usual.”
Renalt’s reply was simple, “Agreed.” He reached forward and cut the comm channel from his end. Christina sagged back into the chair. So, it wasn’t the ACF after all, but rather some nutter with a political agenda. As much as she disliked the ACF itself, she knew John Renalt was a decent man from their time in the Senate together.
The weight of the job came down on her again, threatening to overwhelm her. The entire nation was looking at her. She needed to get the government started again, to get a Cabinet together, to call for elections to Congress. Before she could get those Cabinet members she would need a Congress again to vet them. There were innumerable things that needed to be done to get the nation running again properly. At least the public, at least those in the unaffected cities, were assured that something would get done.
For now, all she wanted to do was sleep. The day’s events had worn on her, leaving her exhausted. She got up from the chair and turning to the sergeant she said, “I’m headed back to the bedroom.”
“Yes, Madam President,” he said as he stood up to escort her back. “Anderson, mind the shop.”
Continue to Chapter 16…