Sofie breathed a sigh of relief along with her friends. So, there was a government after all; a government of three, yes, but a government nonetheless. The president was safely under the protection of the armed forces in Quebec City. The news was still reporting the chaos in New York but at least the explosions seemed to have stopped. A battalion from the 101st Spaceborne was in the city along with the local Army National Guard unit to assist with decontamination efforts and providing reassurance and security to the public.
She looked to Matthew as she sipped her drink then glanced to Kasumi. The two of them would be cute together in her opinion and she would try to see if she could make that happen. She didn’t know exactly how she would do that but she was fairly certain that Matthew was eyeing Kasumi. Then again Sofie saw the way he looked at her sometimes. Damn it, why won’t he make a move already? I’ll give him a chance if he did!
She was still looking at Kasumi when an explosion lit the sky up somewhere off-campus. Distant and echoing booms told her it was more than just the one. She looked out the window to where students outside were looking in the direction of downtown. There didn’t seem to be any explosions on-campus, or none that she could see from there. Even now black clouds were rising above the city and the wind was pushing them in their direction.
Suddenly, and without warning, shutters slammed down over the windows and the door into the café. “What?” she asked as a computer’s voice started saying, “Biochemical hazard detected. Beginning lockdown procedures.”
“Lockdown?” Kasumi asked, standing up.
“Biochemical hazard…,” Matthew mused. The two girls looked at him as he continued, “What must’ve happened in New York is happening here. I think they said it was worldwide. If the safety systems were engaged then it must be true.”
“Why safety systems?” Sofie asked.
“If you recall your World War Three history Berlin was fought over at least three or four times,” Matthew explained. “In each instance WMDs were employed; bio and chemical agents and then the Allies nuked the place. It got rid of the Neo Soviets but the city was ruined. This must be some kind of preventive system because of that war. It wouldn’t surprise me if every city on Terra has something like this in their buildings.”
“But doesn’t that mean that anyone outside can’t get in?” Sofie asked.
“Unfortunately, yes,” he answered. “Nor can we get out. It’s not like we walk through airlocks when we go in and out of places. We’re stuck.”
“Forget about us!” Sofie exclaimed. “What about the people outside!? If the computers detected a biochemical hazard then those outside are…”
“Shit…,” Matthew and Kasumi said at the same time. “They’re most likely dead already,” Kasumi finished. “If it was strong enough to trip the environmental safety systems then it’s strong enough to kill at this distance.”
“At least there aren’t too many people outside on-campus at this hour anyways. Most are in classes or somewhere inside,” Sofie stated.
“But how do we get anywhere else?” Matthew asked.
“The underground maintenance tunnels,” Kasumi replied. By now everyone in the place was looking at the three of them. Kasumi looked around and said, “There’s underground tunnels that campus maintenance uses to go between buildings. A few clubs store things down there and the ROTC units sometimes use the straight corridors for their runs. I don’t like running down there myself, but that way we don’t get in anybody’s way. I think some of the tunnels connect to an old bomb shelter network under the city.”
“But how do we get into them?” another student asked. “Don’t you need keys or something?”
“I know how,” the guy behind the bar answered. “If you’ll all follow me I’ll show you.” Everyone followed behind him to the café’s back storage closet and through the door marked “Employees only.” The server gestured to a steel door set into the back wall. He opened the door and started down the stairs there, flipping on the light switch as he went down.
A few students, including Matthew, followed the man down. The stairs went down about six or seven steps before turning in a U-shape down another five.
Kasumi came to the head of the group and looked up at a sign in the dimly lit passage. Several arrows pointed to the left indicating that was the direction towards the main administration building, several of the other colleges of the university, cafeteria, campus infirmary, and a bomb shelter. The arrows pointing to the right indicated the gym, dorms, other colleges, and another bomb shelter. Kasumi pointed to the left. “If we go to the main building we should be able to find out what’s going on.”
Behind her a girl asked, “Hey, who put you in charge?”
Kasumi rounded on the girl, daring the other girl to look her in the eye even though the other girl easily out-massed Kasumi by a dozen kilograms and was a full head and a half taller. “I’m Midshipwoman Hoshiko, Space Force NROTC. Who the hell are you!?”
The other girl gulped but said nothing. “That’s right,” the silver-haired midshipwoman told her before returning to the front of the column. “Now, stay in column and let’s go!” Matthew and Sofie exchanged a quick glance at each other while lifting an eyebrow at each other. This was a side of Kasumi they weren’t expecting. “I like her,” Sofie said softly to Matthew.
“You agree with me?” Sofie asked, when she noticed him nod his head.
“Well, yeah, she’s taking charge. I didn’t expect that when I met her. Somebody had to and it might as well be her. She is going to be an officer someday,” Matthew explained.
Sofie gave him a sly look from the side, “So you like it when a woman’s in charge?” She hoped Matthew wasn’t going to notice the innuendo. A regular guy might’ve but he wasn’t exactly what she’d call normal.
And the guy fell for it hook, line and sinker. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yeah, I don’t mind.”
Sofie all but lost it. She started giggling like a girl five years younger than her. She would’ve been embarrassed if it wasn’t so priceless. Matthew looked at her strangely and asked, “What’s so funny?”
“You!” she giggled again. “I don’t mean that in a bad way but you just said that you like it when a woman’s in charge. Does that mean…that you…?” she couldn’t go on as she was too busy trying to hold back laughter.
“You mean…,” Matthew paused as his face reddened. “You’re horrible you know that?” he asked indigently.
“Oh, come on,” Sofie replied, very lightly punching him in the arm. She had to keep it light because of her muscles from her heavy grav world. “I’m just giving you a hard time, that’s all. You gave me the perfect opening.”
He actually chuckled and scratched the back of his head, “Yeah, I guess I did.”
In front of them Kasumi smiled to herself and rolled her eyes to the heavens. At least those two were getting along it seemed. It was for the better in her mind, because maybe then Sofie wouldn’t nudge Matthew in her direction. It wasn’t that she wouldn’t mind being his friend but that’s all she’d be. Maybe she’d nudge him to try more with Sofie.
As Kasumi led them down another passage Sofie leaned in closer to Matt, “Since we’re kinda’ on that subject,” she found herself blushing as well as him as she brought it back up, “You wouldn’t mind a woman being… well, on top?”
Matt took a deep breath before saying, “Since you brought it up… yeah. I guess I would like it if she were…,” he trailed off, too embarrassed to finish. Sofie found herself staring at him briefly, suddenly flustered. Did he just openly admit that he’d want a woman on top? The girls always talked about how guys they were with liked to be in charge when in bed. Hmm…, woah! Okay! Slow the hell down! This is just idle chitchat after all. But maybe…, yeah, maybe I can get him to loosen up a bit and that’ll help him immensely.
Deciding that a change of subject was desperately needed she asked, while still staying close to him, “You think she’ll make a good officer?”
Matthew was glad for the change in conversation as he felt the redness in his cheeks start to fade. “I think so. I’m not one to judge that really. But if she stays like that and gets through NROTC she’ll be fine.”
The group got to the main building to find the place in chaos. Administrators, faculty, professors, and the student workers there were moving quickly to answer comlinks and type on computer consoles. Kasumi led everyone to the central offices, looking for her leadership and found it easily. Amidst the chaos of the civilians who were trying not to panic there were the NROTC people, staying outwardly calm about the situation.
She knocked on the doorjamb of the open office and braced to attention, “Midshipwoman Hoshiko reporting!”
“At ease,” Lieutenant Commander Tyler Zellers said.
Kasumi put her hands loosely behind her back. “Sir, a group of us were in Steaming Cup Café when, this,” her arm swept out to encompass the commotion, “happened. I figured the best thing would be to bring them here and report in.”
“You did the right thing midshipwoman,” Zellers replied as he sat down again. “We’re trying to contact the other members of the NROTC, as I imagine the other services’ ROTC units are doing the same as well.”
“Sir, I heard the news, but… what exactly happened?”
“As you’ve most likely seen on the news, we’ve suffered a global terrorist strike on Terra, Mars, and several other colonies; including here in Berlin and right on this campus,” Zellers answered while putting a palm to his forehead and running it back along his hair. “You didn’t know about that did you?” The students shook their heads. “From where you were you couldn’t see it. On the edge of campus, close to the science college, there was a bomb there too. I think it was intended more for targets off-campus, but the winds blew it onto campus. There’ve been quite a few fatalities there.
“From what the 101st Spaceborne has been able to tell, they used VX in Times Square. Now, I know that probably doesn’t mean anything to you guys crowding my door,” he indicated Kasumi, Matthew, Sofie, and the others behind them. “Whoever did this must’ve coordinated it very well because there’s no way something like this could just happen. This is Terra damnit.”
“Sir,” Sofie began, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He looked at her with a raised eyebrow, “You’re not from here are you…?”
“Sofie Taske,” she answered, feeling more than a little annoyed that he assumed she wasn’t from Terra. “And I’m from here, not far from here actually. I was just raised on New Germany. Still, what does that mean?”
“Terra is the most fortified planet in the most fortified star system in all of Human Space,” Zellers explained, as if the students should already know that. “Nothing gets past the Sol Defense Fleet or the orbital defenses.”
“Forgive my saying so sir,” Matthew spoke up, “but isn’t that hubris? To think that just because this is Terra that nothing could touch us here.”
“Except for the Inter-System Rebellion in the mid-2100s, Terra has never been attacked directly.” Zellers took a breath and continued, “Maybe that’s why we thought nothing could touch us here. Three hundred years of peace on Earth, if you’ll pardon the expression and the old name, can do that. A little professional hubris comes with the territory.”
“Maybe not by a fleet sir,” Matthew countered, “but this wasn’t a fleet or an army. These were terrorists. They didn’t need ships to do what they did.”
Cocky civilian, Zellers thought to himself, thinks he knows everything. “You have a point, I’ll give you that,” he admitted grudgingly, “But this wasn’t a failure on our part.” He held up a hand to forestall the objections that the students were going to raise. “By that I mean that this wasn’t a failure by the armed forces. This should’ve been detected by the intelligence spooks. What do we have the CIA, FBI, or NSA for, or ONI for that matter?”
“Sir,” Kasumi said, “I think we need to worry about what we should do now. I have these guys here and they can’t stay here.”
“You’re right of course.” He stood up and came around his desk. He towered over Kasumi, as most people did. He addressed the students, “Go back to your dorms. Like every building, they should be in lockdown, but the tunnels underneath can still be used. Midshipwoman Hoshiko will stay here to help me contact others in our service.”
“Yes sir,” Kasumi answered. She braced to attention, performed an about-face that would only get better and went back to at ease. “Guys, go on. We can’t have you cluttering up this area. He and I have work to do and it’s late. I imagine you’ll want to try and get some sleep. So, go.”
“Yes Kasumi,” Sofie answered for the others before turning around and back the way they came. Kasumi went back to attention and did another about-face before going back to at ease. “What do you need me to do sir?”
He directed her to a smaller desk in his office, “I’ve been trying to reach Commander Swenson since this went down. I need you to get on the comlink and contact everyone in our program. I need 100 percent accountability. They should already be on their way here, but I still want you contacting them.”
On the edge of the Newton star system Admiral Moore watched the HFBC broadcast in absolute disgust. As much as she wanted to pay the Human Federation back for everything they did to the colonies this wasn’t how she wanted it done. Lopping the government’s head off made a certain amount of sense to some. While it sowed discord and panic there was another thing it would do; make the victims cry out for blood, especially when it involved innocent civilians. And since it was confirmed that it was an ACF lunatic who caused it all, they’d cry out for ACF blood.
This only meant that their fleets had to finish the job, and soon, before the Human Federation went charging after them on a holy crusade. Not that they needed such encouragement!
Avery Brooks was looking over her shoulder on the flag bridge, his eyes intent on the repeater which held the HFBC broadcast. He was keeping silent, his normal animosity against the HF held in check by the events unfolding on Terra, Mars and her other colonies. Even he admitted that this was stepping over a line. He had no problems firing at HF ships but at least those ships could fire back… most of the time. What just happened to those innocent civilians was slaughter. How many thousands or tens of thousands were dead and for no better reason than they were in the wrong place at the wrong time? How many died meaningless deaths?
Moore looked at him and then at Lieutenant Maria Roman. Her voice was like chipped flint when she said, “Get me the fleet on comms. I want to address everyone.”
“Yes ma’am,” her flag communications officer said as she tapped commands into her console. “Live mic.”
“My fellow officers and crewmates of the First Fleet,” she began, her tone softening only a little. “By now you’ve heard about the events in the Sol System. I cannot condone such acts of wanton terrorism. While I’m sure that many of you are shaken by these events, know this; we have a job to do. Before us lies the Newton Star System. We’ll take it, we’ll burn its orbital infrastructure and we’ll smash any defender that gets in our way. But we shall do it as naval officers and enlisted. We don’t act like cowardly terrorists who strike innocent civilians without cause. We fight with honor and right on our side. Though we target civilian targets we always make sure to follow the laws of war.
“We’ll attack shortly. I expect everyone to do their duty in the coming days,” she took a breath before finishing. “With God’s help we shall win the days ahead. First Fleet Actual, out.”
Far away from the Newton System, aboard the HFS Izumi, two comlinks beeped in unison. Both Rachel and Richard were sleeping in each other’s arms. Though they had spent so many nights sleeping with one another it was still just sleeping. Even three months after they both declared their love for one another, Richard stood firm to his promise to her; they would not be sharing a bed in the biblical sense until after they were married. As much as that frustrated her at times, she loved him too much to want to simply dismiss his wishes and convictions.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” Rachel asked as she looked up from his chest where her head as laying on.
Richard took his link and pressed the button on it. “All officers are to report to the wardroom as soon as possible.”
“What now?” Rachel asked as she sat up in bed next to Richard. “We just got to sleep four hours ago.” Richard shrugged his shoulders. Several minutes later the two of them were dressed. Since Rachel had undressed in Richard’s quarters, she didn’t have to go to her quarters across the hall.
“Wardroom, huh?” Richard asked as he looked to Rachel, “we don’t get called there too often for official business.”
“You really think it’s official business?” Rachel asked.
“Didn’t you hear a sense of urgency in the captain’s voice?” he looked down at the floor as he walked down the hall with a respectable distance from Rachel. He whispered. “God, why can’t I shake the thought that something really bad happened?”
“What did you say?” Rachel asked as she looked to Richard. “Something bad?”
“I don’t know,” he shook his head. Just then Hoshi stepped out of her quarters and the look on her face was one of absolute horror. “Hoshi?” Richard asked, “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“It’s Terra!” She said.
“How do you know this? We haven’t even been briefed yet.” Rachel asked as she looked to Hoshi.
“I just got a message from my government, they already know. They told me in an encrypted email.”
“Ok,” Both of them put a hand on either of Hoshi’s shoulders as she leaned against the bulkhead. “What’s going on?” Richard shook Hoshi, “Damn it Hoshi, what’s going on!?”
“A terrorist attack happened on Terra, Mars, and several other colonies. Multiple targets. That’s all I know right now. Even my government doesn’t know all of the details yet. As far as we can tell even the Zaltaen ambassador to Terra is dead.”
“Shit!” Both Rachel and Richard exclaimed at once. “Just what the hell happened?!”
Hoshi calmed herself enough to explain, “Some unnamed group attacked the presidential inauguration ceremony in New York City. They set off chemical agents and explosives. Apparently that attack signaled others around the planet and on Mars and several other colonies. That’s all I know right now.”
Rachel put a hand to her forehead, “My God, if they hit the inauguration ceremony…, then that means the entire government was there. Everyone.”
Richard scoffed, “They never should’ve been all in one place. That’s just stupid on their part. I guess peace for so long made us complacent and whoever these guys were just lopped the head off the government. What is this? ‘Battlestar Galactica’?”
Rachel chuckled at the reference. The lift stopped two or three times in between and soon the lift was filled. The other officers didn’t know what was going on, but they knew something happened. The CO wouldn’t summon everybody otherwise. The three of them kept their mouths shut.
The lift came to a stop and everyone poured out, joining with a stream of other officers and warrant officers as they entered the wardroom. The captain stood behind the largest table looking like someone shot her dog. The XO was nowhere in sight, but if whatever was happening was important enough for the old woman to call all the officers and warrants there then the XO had to be addressing the enlisted crew along with the bosun.
Only after everyone was accounted for did the captain motion for everyone to be seated. She remained standing herself. Her grim, stony countenance didn’t put anyone at ease despite the comfortable chairs. She rapped her knuckles on the table three times to get everyone’s attention and silence. She got it almost instantly.
“Officers and warrant officers, I have ill news from Terra, Mars, and other colonies. At 1705 Terra Standard Time, during the presidential inauguration, terrorists struck several targets on Terra, Mars, and several other colonies in a massive coordinated attack. Everyone at the inauguration was killed; including the outgoing president and the president-elect, the Justices of the Supreme Court, most of the members of Congress, the ambassadors from Midas, Sirius, and Zalta, and several thousand civilians. We are getting reports in that Alpha Centauri and other worlds were also hit. We will keep you updated as more information comes in.”
A stunned silence fell over the room. Richard felt himself swallow hard, despite Hoshi having told him beforehand. Then he thought, Alpha Centari! Are my parents alright? I have to know!
The captain went on, “As soon as reports of the attack went out the 101st Spaceborne executed a space drop with a CBRN company and engineer company. There were indications on the ground that a chemical agent was used in the attack, but they haven’t told us what it was.
“A second set of explosives was detonated shortly thereafter, shredding the soldiers on the ground. Soon after, the Army sent in another battalion of the 101st to assist with cleanup and rescue operations. Other cities including Berlin, Paris, London, Chicago, Los Angeles, Olympus Mons City on Mars, and perhaps a half dozen others were all hit in the same manner. It’s estimated that the loss of life is in the tens of thousands, if not higher. After this you are encouraged to contact your families to find out if they were in any of the attacks.
“The man responsible for orchestrating this attack is still at large, although it’s suspected that he may still be on Terra. The man responsible is Bernard Hernandez; a businessman in charge of one the largest ship building firms in ACF space and apparently now an ACF extremist. As to how he got to Terra in the first place is still being investigated.
“As for the government, currently acting President Christina Crow is at La Citadelle in Quebec City under the protection of the Army. She will retain the Office of the President until new elections can be held to replace her or retain her as president. The president was in contact with the ACF president and both have declared Hernandez persona non grata.
“As of right now our intelligence agencies are working together to apprehend him, but otherwise the war is still on. There is no ceasefire or peace treaty. This fleet will be prepared as quickly as possible to move to ACF space and begin operations there. The admiral expects us to perform our duties to the best of our abilities. That is all.”
The captain backed away from the table but stayed there, prepared to field any questions the assembled officers might have. Richard rose to his feet to leave. He expected Rachel to follow and when she wasn’t, he looked back, “McFarland, are you coming?”
She looked up, “Um… yeah, sorry Smith.” She followed him out of the wardroom and down to the lift. Silence reigned between them as they went back to their respective quarters. Once at theirs she looked discreetly up and down the corridor before following Richard into his. Sitting at his desk she looked up at him, “I have to find out if Heather is okay.”
“Heather?” Richard asked.
“My sister, remember, the one on Mars in the Air Force?”
“Oh,” Richard began. “I remember you mentioning her when we were in Scotland. I just don’t remember you telling me her name.”
“I probably didn’t. We had… other things on our minds then.”
“I’ll say,” he said with a sudden roguish grin that disappeared just as quickly.
Rachel smiled faintly up at him as she typed commands into the console to bring up communications. She called up the directory for every armed service member, punched in her sister’s name, and checking the local time on Mars she placed a call. A few minutes went by before an image of a woman who looked almost like Rachel, except younger and with lighter hair, appeared on the screen. “Rachel, good to hear from you.”
“You too Heather,” Rachel replied, very much relieved that her sister was okay. “How are things there?” Then she waited for the time lag to in communications to go by. Even with subspace communications that could be routed through jump gates it still took time for messages to traverse the distances between.
“A royal mess,” her sister replied. “Every unit this side of Mars is responding to the attacks. The media is so busy discussing the events on Terra that they’re all but forgetting about us here. That’s typical if you ask me. We have thousands of dead here, we still don’t have an accurate body count there.”
“My God,” Rachel whispered. “Where are you stationed again?”
“On Myfellers Air Force Base a few clicks outside of Olympus Mons City. Our wing was one of the first to respond the attacks here. Hey, I have to go. We’re still in the middle of the crisis here and I’m up to my ears in things to do.”
“I understand,” Rachel answered. “As soon as the fleet’s assembled we’re going to deploy. Let’s try and keep in touch.”
“Will do,” Heather replied before cutting the link.
“That’s a relief,” Rachel sighed as she leaned back in the chair, running her hands through her hair. She looked back up at Richard, “Well, I better get back to my place. I have a feeling that tomorrow is going to be busy.”
“Right,” he said as she got up to leave.
When Rachel left, Richard looked to his computer terminal and called his parents. He hoped to God that nothing happened to them. When the call was connected, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Mom! Dad!” he exclaimed. “You’re alright!”
“Yeah son,” his mom said. “It got scary a little bit ago, something happened at the mall. They have the whole colony on lockdown but otherwise, we’re fine.”
Continue to Chapter 17…