Continuing on with Chapter 1…
Fort Riley, Kansas
0625 Local (0725 Eastern)
“Jack, what the fuck is going on?” Captain Jason Mitchell, CO of A/2-70th Armored Battalion (FCS), West Point Class of ’03, asked worriedly. The two of them had been in the middle of a conversation when Jack had suddenly stopped and focused on the far corner of the room. Over the next fifteen minutes, his oldest and best friend, recently back from the “dead”, had gone as pale as a sheet.
The two of them had come a long way from Mrs. Phipp’s Pre-School class, held at this very post. A short, squat fireplug with dusty brown hair and soft brown eyes, Jason had been the Jeff to Jack’s Mutt for over a quarter of a century. In all of those years, through High School jitters, pregnancy scares, and even a pair of operational deployments, Jason had never seen his friend look so simultaneously frightened and despondent as he did when he turned to meet his eyes.
Star Major Jackson ‘Jack’ Aaron Phelps, commander of the 6th Shock Battalion “Golden Lions”, was a tall, skinny man that had been described as a walking red-headed pipe cleaner on more than one occasion. Just a tad over 6’ 6”, technically Jack should never have been an Armor officer, but he had slouched on the day that he was being measured for his commissioning physical at West Point. It had helped his cause that he had been flirting with the nurse when she was writing down his measurements, continuing his reputation as a goofy ladies’ man with his friends. That he and that same nurse, fortunately a civilian, had carried on a torrid love affair most of his Firstie year at the Point had cemented his status as a “male slut” in Jason’s eyes. Of course, that relationship had come to an end when Jack had started dating Jason’s wife, a topic that the
That Jack’s inherent goofiness was seemingly nowhere to be found was just one of the many changes Jason had realized in his friend. The two of them had not really had a chance to talk in the past thirty minutes since Jason had arrived early at his office. Amazingly, he had not turned into a gibbering idiot when he had realized who was sitting in all black armor shooting the shit with the charge of quarters. Before Jason’s stunned look had really registered with the young sergeant, Jack had told him they should probably talk in Jason’s office about the upcoming alert.
Now, after getting less than specific answers to many pointed questions, he had just watched his friend conduct a conversation with an empty corner. Jack looked at him like he had just asked the stupidest question in the world, like why air existed or something. I’ll be goddamned if you get to come back from the dead and look at me like I’m an idiot, Jason thought, standing up from behind his desk, his face starting to turn a deep red. His subordinates called the expression ‘nuclear release’, as it usually meant the verbal equivalent of an atomic bomb was about to spew from the commander’s mouth.
Realizing that Jason was about to go beserk, Jack held up his hand to stop his friend and started to “speak”. The sounds that came from his mouth were utterly alien, a somber stream of unintelligible vowels, consonants, and humming sounds that seemed almost impossible for a normal human being. Tears forming in Jack’s eyes, the expression on his face one of utter pain. Frenziedely, he began gesturing with his hands, the sounds coming even faster, as if his mental control was starting to slip. Jason ran around the table and grabbed his friend, his battle armor feeling cool and rough to the touch.
“What the Hell is the matter with you?!” Jason shouted, shaking his friend. Jack stopped, his face looking like someone who had just come out of a hypnotic trance.
Jason’s office door opened, causing him to turn as his executive officer, First Lieutenant Eugene Hitchcock poking his head around the corner.
“You okay Sir?” Hitchcock asked, his face in its usual scowl. His eyes switched from his commander to Jack’s, clearly indicating that he still wasn’t buying that the man was absolutely trustworthy. He had heard about the strange Major who had shown up in an armored suit that looked like a cross from Herbert and anime. Hitchcock made no bones about not being an intellectual, having been a jock his entire life. In High School had been one of the guys who always tripped the nerds in the hallway, barely passed his classes, and had sex with the captain of the cheerleading squad while she had been dating the town’s all conference quarterback. Hitchcock’s head was perpetually shaved, his green eyes hard and squinty in his somewhat fleshy face. His penchant for cruelty and exacting attention to detail made him easily the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the battalion, a man even the sergeant major did not cross.
Unfortunately, Hitchcock’s ignorance meant when confronted with something he didn’t understand, he had one setting—animosity. The fact that this stranger in front of him was wearing something that appeared a whole level of technology more advanced than his M-9 Powell did not make him happy. That the bastard apparently outranked him and had the identity to prove it had him positively upset. That the CO, an officer that he did not particularly like but had come to respect over the past fourteen months had basically told him to go make himself busy while the adults talked had caused his office wall to spontaneously sprout some holes. Nothing would have made him happier than storming into the room to find the CO being assaulted, giving him clear license to the crap out of this Phelps guy. That this was his personal fantasy was clearly communicated in the glance he leveled Jack’s way, a look that any superior officer would have found highly belligerent. Fortunately for Hitchcock, he did have control of his temper and made no attempt to attack Jack—even without the armor, he would have never known what hit him. Six years of combat, Dominionite hand-to-hand training, and Jack’s knowledge that his world had hours, not days, to live would have made the fight short and pitiless.
“I’m good XO,” Jason said sharply, feeling the power in the suit as his friend tensed. It was a subliminal feeling, but Jason suddenly realized that there was nothing in the office, if not the unit’s arms room, that could stop his friend when he was in the suit he wore. “Major Phelps was apparently having a…uh…”
“Jason, you might as well tell him,” Jack said, this time in perfect English. Looking at his friend, Jason could see that whatever psychotic episode had possessed him had quickly passed. Indeed, Jack looked positively resolute, like the time he had been fought old Tom McClary, the school bully that had outweighed him by forty pounds. Not surprisingly to those who knew him, Jack had won—insanity trumped mean-spiritedness nine out of ten times.
“I think it’s better if you do it,” Jason replied after a moment. Although I’m not sure if he’s going to listen.
“Actually, you probably want to get all of your officers and NCOs, for I have even worse news,” Jack replied, his voice barely a whisper. “Life as you know it is probably coming to an end in the next twenty-four to thirty hours.”
There was dead silence as Jason looked at his friend’s face. One of the great advantages of having known someone their entire adult life was that you realized really quickly when they were completely and utterly serious. More so than any time that morning, Jason realized his friend had changed. As a man who had recently seen the elephant himself, he recognized a fellow veteran, and apparently one that was not exaggerating the danger they were all in.
“XO, go get the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants.”
“Sir?” Hitchcock asked, incredulous.
“I don’t think I fucking stuttered, XO!” Jason barked, his voice utter iron that drove Hitchcock out of the room murmuring apologies.
“What the hell happened to you just now?” Jason asked, looking at his friend with real concern.
“I slipped into Dominion and forgot you didn’t have a translator chip inserted behind your ear,” Jack replied simply. Jason looked at him blankly, causing Jack to grown even more pale.
“My God, what have you people been doing the last six years?” he asked in utter despair. General Connelly was right—this situation is very, very bad.
“Living our lives, wondering why my best friend sent an e-mail instead of calling to say that he had been asked to do something special, and that he’d be in touch in a few months,” Jason snapped. “Getting told that same friend had died at an ‘undisclosed location’ forty-eight hours later, burying a casket full of sand, and comforting his ex-girlfriend, who just happens to be my wife now. Fielding new tanks, then taking them to the desert to fight freakin’ World War III. You?”
Jack seemed utterly unimpressed by Jason’s litany, the look on his face one of utter contempt. ‘Pardon me why I shed a tear, you stupid bastard’, his face seemed to say.
Jason felt the color rising back up into his face, shocked at the utter lack of reaction his friend showed to the fact that three to four million Americans had been killed in broad daylight by a terrorist bomb. The nuke, an old Russian one, had been placed aboard a container ship in a thoroughly shielded container. It was still unknown how the weapon had made it through several checks, orbiting satellites that scanned for the distinctive radiation plume that all warheads gave off, and just plain old dumb luck for discovery.
However it had happened, at precisely 9:23 A.M., 11 September, 2006, the residents of New York City had joined the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as people who had first hand knowledge of what the center of star looked like. Estimates of the bomb or bombs’ yield had ranged from three to five hundred kilotons. The total of the dead would never be known, but they included several well-known celebrities, both of New York’s Senators, and most importantly the 44th President of the United States and his Vice President. The most violent of the several attacks that would occur that day, the New York bombing had galvanized the nation in a matter that its predecessor hadn’t even come close to. The ensuing war, while not eradicating Islam as some had advocated, had definitely eliminated its more radical elements. That Jack was unimpressed at the horrors Jason and his fellow Americans had suffered was too much to take.
“What the hell is the matter with you? I just told you that five million people were killed and you have no response?!” Jason asked, balling his fists.
Jack snorted, shaking his head at his friend. In that instant, Jason felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. His friends’ eyes were dead, a stunning example of a thousand yard stare if there ever were one.
“I have seen entire worlds die, Jason. Been part of battles without name, on planets your great, great, great-grandchild’s grandchildren would not have ever reached if we had been left to our own devices,” Jack said flatly. “Held the hand of aliens while they bled all over me, telling them the entire time that it would be okay, that my planet was preparing itself for war, and that no species carries out war like humanity.”
Jack turned away from his friend, looking out the window. I have to get control of myself. Jason didn’t know, no one did, he thought. But most of them are going to die all the same.
“But yet I return home, to find out that my best friend and my girlfriend, the one woman whose face sustained me through so much, are married. My life, everything I owned, gone—sold off through a lie. Oh, and most importantly, my vaunted species so utterly unprepared for war it seems like I never left.”
Jason glared at his friend, bristling at his emphasis on the word girlfriend, like Amy and Jason had cheated on him or something. Maybe if you had actually married her rather than just dated her for two years, I’d feel a bit more guilty. While it now appeared quite fortunate that Jack’s notorious commitment phobia had kept Amy and him from going up the aisle, Jason had always thought it was an awfully crappy way to treat a wonderful woman.
“I’m sorry that we seem so unprepared, Jack,” Jason said with a sneer, his anger starting to bubble over. “Glad to know we might as well basically lie down and wait for the anal probes.”
“A freakin’ anal probe would seem like heaven compared to what the Orions will do once they reach this planet,” Jack said, his voice matter-of-fact.
“Whoa!” First Sergeant Adam Panke said. “I feel like I just walked in on the end of a very twisted conversation. You want to start from the beginning?” Like most tankers, Panke was a very large man. While he still was within the Army body fat standards, it was often a close run thing. Of course, Panke just happened to be one of the best NCOs, if not the best First Sergeant, in the 2/70th Armored Battalion, something that probably bought him a little bit of slack with the Command Sergeant Major.
“Delilah, estimate on how much longer until the Orion Fleet attacks?” Jason asked the computer within his suit.
“Thirty-one hours, twenty-two minutes, and thirty seconds using standard attack algorithms,” the speaker on Jack’s suit intoned in a sulty feminine voice.
“Dammit,” Jack breathed slightly. “That means the entire freakin’ battlefleet is deploying.”
“Confirmed, all analysis indicates over ninety-eight percent of of the Orionan battlefleet will deploy, to include four, no five Emperor-class battleships,” Delilah replied. “Over ninety-eight percent of the Orionan battlefleet is projected to be present.”
“Uh, is your suit seeing anyone?” the 1st Platoon Leader, 2nd Lieutenant Jim Mulryan, suddenly asked. “Because if not, I’d like to take her out.”
“Prepare a mind flash, setting Humans,” Jack said, ignoring the comment.
“Wait a second,” Panke started. “What in the Hell is a mind flash? That ain’t like that flashy thing Will Smith uses in that movie…damn, what’s the name?”
“No,” Jack said sharply. “As a matter of fact, it is the complete and total opposite. When this is complete, you will know just about everything I know.”
“I’m not so sure about this,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t want some damn alien playing around in my brain.”
Jack pinned him with a glare, the look so intense that Hitchcock actually felt a momentary pang of fear. The wild intensity in the man’s gaze told him that he had just used up his one free opportunity to be stupid.
“You don’t have to be sure,” Jack snapped, his eyes never wavering. “You can walk right out that door right now, Lieutenant, and the only thing you’ll be sure of is that you will definitely be dead in thirty-one hours.”
There was a stunned silence in the room, every man present sure that Jack was not bluffing.
“Well, with a ringing endorsement like that,” Panke said, “let’s go ahead and do this mind flash thing.”
“Mind flash, prepared,” Delilah said.
“Have you even seen the woman who made that recording? Is she available?” Mulryan replied.
“Ever seen a Gorgon? You know, Medusa?”
“They’re myths,” Mulryan said, his voice showing his doubt.
“They’re not a myth, and she’s one,” Jack replied, completely deadpan.
“You’re shitting me,” Mulryan said.
“No, but you’re about to find that out anyway,” Jack said. “Gentlemen, as I said before, once this is complete you will know just about everything I know in about five minutes. This means you are about to absorb about six years worth of information all at once. Your emotions will be heightened, as will your reaction to certain stimuli.”
“How many people have these suits?” Mulryan asked, his face skeptical.
“All members of the TEC have these suits, and they record our experiences every time they are put on until the owners are killed or the suits upgraded.”
“So we will know everything you have known, everything you have done for the last six years?” Jason asked, the interest in his voice clear.
“Yes, to include the sensory input, i.e. all my pain, all my nausea, everything,” Jack replied solemnly. “First Sergeant, you might want to send someone for a mop now.”
“Why is that?” Panke asked.
“We’ll likely need one by the time we’re done.”
“How long is this going to take?” Panke asked.
“We’ll be done by the time the mop and bucket get back here.”
Panke leaned out the door.
“Specialist Peters, go get a mop and bucket and bring it back here,” Panke said. “Wait for me to open this door.”
“Roger Top!” Peters replied, after which Panke closed the door.
“All on you, Sir,” Panke replied.
“Delilah, start flash.”
The experience was roughly the same, but different for each of the officers.
Jason found himself sitting out in space, looking back at Earth through a transparent window. Suddenly he saw a hand extending a picture and recognized it as Jack’s. Looking closer, he saw it was a picture of Amy, six years earlier. Surprised, Jason felt his heart catch as he looked at his wife’s bright green eyes and red hair.
“Yeah, she’s beautiful,” he heard Jack say, causing him to jump. He started to try and turn his head to the right, where he heard his friend’s voice, and had an intense moment of discomfort as his view started to rotate to the left. Feeling his mind slide into madness, he mentally closed his eyes and found that stopped the nausea while still playing the images in his mind.
“Sorry about that,” Jack said. “Best if you just listen and let the images flow—about the third time you do a mind flash, you start being able to change your field of view independent of the memories being viewed.”
Jason started to reply, then found that speaking started to make him ill.
“I really wouldn’t try to talk right now—like I said, flashing’s a bit intense. Just listen.”
The next few moments were a fast forward of the journey to the ice planet of Barren. There were periods of weightlessness, Jason feeling Jack’s initial joy followed by a gradual tiring of the sensation. Finally, gravity returned, albeit at a stronger rate than what he was used to. He found himself wanting to ask for an explanation, but remembered his friend’s advice and kept his mouth shut. That decision had just been made when he was confronted by a Dominionite explaining that in an attempt to replicate Earth’s gravity, the (unpronounceable name)’s artificial gravity and inertial dampeners had both failed, something that could have been quite bad at FTL speeds. Then just as he had time to process that information, the ship was orbiting Barren with its four moons, one quite close, and its bright red star.
“Planet’s a little too far away from the star for the surface to be very habitable,” Jack said. “Should’ve heard the Russian contingent…those jokers were going off! You’d think the aliens had said Beria was actually alive and in charge of the place.”
Jason fought the urge to shake his head at his friend, not sure if the movement would make him violently ill. Lavrenty Beria had been Stalin’s KGB head, a fact that only Jack and other history freaks would remember.
“However, once they realized that everyone lived underneath the ice crust in advanced cities, they calmed down.” The view cut to the interior of one of the cities, the technology far in advance of anything seen on Earth. Jason watched as the person’s eyes scanned over a wide city panaroma, the expanse bustling with people. Or not, he realized with a start and a closer look. Many of the “people” were bipedal aliens, everything from lizardlike humanoids to multi-legged insectoid aliens. As he looked at each different type, he felt his mind categorizing each of them, many of them too numerous to name.
“This city is New Avalon, the largest on Barren, population five hundred million sentient beings, two hundred million of them human.”
“Two hundred million?!”
“Oh yeah, guess I should cover that. Basically, the Confederation has cured just about every disease known to Man. We’re relatively lucky, actually—there are diseases that evade even the most advanced medicines among many of these races.”
“Still, two hundred million humans in one city? What the hell?!”
“Well, Barren is sorta like Switzerland in the Confederation. Neutral terrain, neutral native populace that can’t go off planet.”
“Wait a second…”
“Yeah, let me go ahead and get to that part,” Jack said. There was a sensation of displaced time, then suddenly Jason found himself in a large hall that was full of a great number of aliens. A tall, distinguished alien in what was obviously a full dress uniform stood at the center of the hall, his back ramrod straight. Dominionite, his mind echoed. Star Admiral Lihr Tobarakh, to be exact.
Across the room, a solitary alien stood up. A bright light fell upon the alien, and Jason got his first good look. The alien’s skin was a light red, the color of a tropical sunset. This color was offset by bright, almost glowing, yellow eyes, four of them set in a broad, protruding face. The creature’s mouth opened, and Jason saw several rows of sharp teeth as it began to speak. Its voice was a deep, ominous rumbling. It’s two arms were quite animated, indicating the depth of its emotion.
“Lepscallions, the most hated bastards in the Confederation. Despite their fierce appearance, the fuckers can’t fight their way out of a wet paper sack,” Jack spat. “This idiot is known as Rax.”
“Star Admiral Tobarakh, you stand accused of violating the laws of this august body. Specifically, you have communicated with a less advanced species for purposes of exploitation, introduced non-quarantined specimens into a controlled population, and violated the Charter of the Confederation. How do you plead?”
The Dominionite ignored the Lepscallion, turning away from the alien and looking into the darkened chamber. The look on the Dominionite’s face was one of utter contempt, the alien’s blue eyes glaring like baleful embers. As he finished rotating around the room, his lips parted in a snarl.
“So it has come to this, that those races which run, skitter, and hide in the face of the Orionans deign to prosecute one of those who guarantee their safety? That a Lepscallion, a member of a race so pitiful at warfare fully half of its systems have been conquered, its members filling the Orionan larders, stands as my accuser is a symbol of all that is wrong with your ‘enlightenment’.”
The hall erupted with noise, cries of shock and anger in thousands of tongues rising in a babble that threatened chaos, enlightened species or no. Suddenly there was a high, keening noise, the piercing sound causing Jason to whince in a pain comparable to a swift kick in the groin.
“Oops, sorry, forgot to tell you that these folks don’t use gavels,” Jack said with a sheepish grin. “It’s even worse when you’re present.”
That much was obvious from the utter silence that followed the instrument and Lihr visibly staggering before regaining his composure.
“Your insults are an indication of your guilt and lack of development, Lihr Tobarakh. No matter, this body finds you guilty and sentences you to banishment on the planet of Barren. Per banishment rules, you are to be stripped of all titles and allowed to live whatever days remain to you without the intervention of nanotechnology or advanced medicines. These proceedings are closed,” Rax snapped.
There was a chiming sound, causing Jack to look around at his surroundings.
“Well, your men will be coming out of their own flashes in about five minutes, so I’d better speed this up. Unfortunately for Rax, that was most definitely not the end of the proceedings. The Dominionites have a Constitutional Monarchy, and the Tobarakh’s are royalty—let’s just say by the time all was said and done, the Lepscallions were lucky that they didn’t wake up to the Second Fleet bombarding their planet. Basically the Dominionites told them if Lihr was stripped of all titles, the Dominion would leave the war and take the chance that the Orionans would take so much time to digest the rest of the Confederation, specifically the Lepscallions, that the Dominionites would be able to defeat them with Human help.”
Jason took stock of his nausea and decided to risk speaking.
“Would they have been right?”
“Maybe, but given that the Second Fleet was the cutting edge of technology at that point, probably not.”
“Second Fleet?” Jason choked out, then immediately resolved to quit talking.
“Rough translation that I’ll cover very quick. Basically, the First Fleet was the scratch group of vessels that fought over the first ten years of the Second Orion War—mainly some smaller warships and armed merchant cruisers. It’s now an honorary thing, as the learning curve was a bit steep at the start of the war and not many of those guys are around.”
Jason marveled at how matter of fact his friend was about death and dying, talking about the destruction of an entire fighting force like he was discussing the weather.
“The Second Fleet was the first one to actually be constructed around purpose built warships—most of those vessels now patrol quieter sectors against Orionan raiders and pirates, although after the general amnesty offered for all pirates there aren’t so many of the latter. The Third Fleet was specially constructed and saved for a vital occasion, that being the Battle of Taurus IV, the Lepscallion Homeworld. That was the first use of the full Terran Expeditionary Corps, as we Humans had chosen to be called. Some of us had already fought, especially Star Colonel Walthers and his merry band. The TEC would’ve held the planet if the Lepscallions could fight worth a damn.”
Suddenly Jason found himself plopped down on a fertile plain, in the middle of a terrible combat. His first sensation was of terrible scream over the comlink, followed by a blurred object hurtling across his field of view from right to left, and he felt palpable shock. The field of view whipped to the right, a targeting reticle swimming into the center of his field of view. The sight in front of him made his blood run cold, or at least whomever’s field of view he was looking through’s blood run cold.
Advancing at a rapid clip just over the horizon, approximately twenty-five miles away, was a line of dark dots that stretched across the entire field of view. While too far away to clearly see their shapes, a helpful image was suddenly projected just below the targeting reticle, with PRAETORIAN BATTLE ARMOR scrolling underneath it. The “Praetorian” was humanoid in shape, with two thick legs and two bulbous arms extending from its broad shoulders. Facts and figures rapidly scrolled by, Jason catching that its armor was approximately ten meters in height, five meters across. As the dots continued to close, the animated Praetorian’s right arm suddenly split down the middle, the hand flipping back along the upper half, then both halves sliding back above the elbow to reveal a long, glistening blade. The field of view looked up just in time for the entire advancing line to sparkle, then suddenly all was blackness.
Jason frantically came to, his eyes wide with terror and his arms swinging wildly. Jack grabbed him, grabbing his friend close.
“Shh, shh, the rest of them aren’t woke up yet,” Jack murmured, comforting his friend. “Sorry, but I wanted you to understand what we’re up against.”
“What the hell happened?” Jason gasped, his face suddenly breaking out in a cold sweat.
“You died,” Jack replied, letting his friend go. “That was the feed from my 1st Platoon Leader, Chester McPherson.”
“What were those things?!”
“What the readout said, Praetorian battle armor led into battle by the Crown Prince himself.”
“Sweet Jesus, what was the range?”
“Twenty-three point six miles, to be exact.”
“Oh God.” Suddenly Jason understood how much things had gone to Hell.
“If it makes you feel any better, that was a lucky shot, fired by the Crown Prince himself. About a five percent hit chance, and Chester hadn’t raised his shields yet or the rail gun wouldn’t’ have killed him. Taurus IV was a rude shock for all of us.”
“Sweet Jesus.” The Powell’s max effective range was eight kilometers, and that was with a HEAT round. That video had given Jason the impression chemical energy rounds wouldn’t be much use against those monsters.
“How many aliens are in each of those…things?” Jason asked.
“Aliens?” Jack asked with a near maniacal titter. “Jason, there’s only one alien.”
Jason’s response was interrupted by Delilah signaling the end of the remaining men’s mind flash.
“Your men are getting ready to wake up,” Jack said grimly. “I wasn’t present in their mind flashes, so they saw some things you didn’t and vice versa.”
“Things like what?”
“Things like what the aliens look like in the armor. I’ll get to that later for you.”
In the end, only two people were sick, Mulryan just making it to the window before he hurled, Hitchcock spewing all over his own front before his eyes fully focused. The remainder of the men were clearly shaken, the hardest veterans among them sitting with eyes wide and mouths agape. Jack showed his first signs of sympathy, remembering back to his first introduction to the harsh realities of interstellar warfare.
Nothing like realizing you really are on an insignificant ball of dust in the grand scheme of things to make you question everything you’ve known.
“I apologize gentlemen. Usually mind flashes are done in smaller increments, but as you can see, there is little time.”
“My God, we are all dead,” Panke said, his voice hollow.
“Well, glad to know there is some truth to the Trojan War,” someone else muttered, following the comment with a short bark of laughter. “Although I’m not so sure about being a Christian and the Bible now that I know Goliath was an alien.”
“There still remains no good reason why David’s stone should have pierced Goliath’s helmet, if that makes you feel any better,” Jack replied drily.
“Oh, yeah, makes me feel just great to know that there is a God when Satan himself is coming to kill us all,” Hitchcock replied softly, his face still white as a sheet.
“You and your families will be safe,” Jack replied. “We are shifting first priority to the military posts and any veterans we can find. As you can see, death from disease should be a thing of the past.”
“So you mean all these cures for diseases, like cancer and Alzheimers that the Center For Disease Control just ‘figured out’—they’ve all been a freakin’ plot?” Panke said, his voice low and menacing. “My mother died of breast cancer three years ago, just a couple years before the ‘cure’ officially came out. Our freakin’ leaders have had it the whole time?!”
“Before you go getting upset, General Connelly is Weather Mountain talking to the G-8 leaders as we speak.”
“Talking? Fuck that, I hope the bastard is killing them all,” Jason said with vehemence, his eyes brimming over with tears. “Janet’s in Baltimore. There’s not a chance, is there?”
Jack thought quickly, then shook his head. Janet was Jason’s younger sister, and suddenly he found himself having to shut thoughts of her out of his mind. Constantly underfoot as a child, Janet had grown to a quite attractive and smart woman. If not for Amy, and the fact she knew just how much of a dog I was…Jack forced himself to stop thinking about her.
“Given current evacuation loads and available vessels, Delilah estimates there will be over five billion dead,” Jack said simply, his eyes hard. “Right now we’re just trying to save whomever we can.”
“So in other words, no,” Jason snapped. “Bastard!”
“Jason, five billion people are going to die. Five billion. One in roughly six people will be alive in forty-eight hours.”
“My God,” someone sobbed, his sentiment echoed by several oaths as everyone else in the room did the math. Suddenly the magnitude of their fate started to hit home.
“So who is the chooser of the slain?” Hitchcock asked mirthlessly. “What’s the criteria for these Noah’s Arks?”
“Priority will be given to trained active military and their immediate families that share the same domicile,” Jack said heavily. “Followed by women and children evaluated by DNA coding.”
“So only the best and the brightest, huh?” Hitchcock asked, his face a mask of anger. “Guess that means everyone in my family but me is pretty much screwed.”
“I didn’t make this…”
“I know,” Hitchcock said wearily. “What’s the plan?”
“Mecha are already being dispatched to find men and women who have been identified through various DNA repositories throughout the world,” Jack replied. “Unfortunately, that means things are going to rather heavily weighted towards the developed world.”
“Guess we’ve been screwing the Third World for the last two or three hundred years, why stop in the last few hours?” Jason asked bitterly.
Jack gave his friend a look, sighing. Jason had been that rarest of individuals at West Point—an honest to God Liberal. While not as rare as an African-American Klu Klux Klan member, it was in the same ballpark—with about the same social stigma among one’s peers. While Jack had been judicious enough to realize his friend’s views had some merit, he still felt that many of them didn’t. One of latter was the fact that the Third World’s plight was some great plot of the developed world.
Although after this colossal goat fuck, I’m not so sure.
“I’m fairly sure that the people responsible are going to be hating life soon,” Jack observed grimly.
“So who else knows everything besides us?” Jason asked.
“The entire military senior leadership of the state is on the way to Topeka as we speak. For now, you need to activate your battalion’s alert tree, the brigade if you can trust them to keep things under their hat,” Jack replied. “I don’t know who your senior officer back here is, but we need to start getting transportation set up to get everyone here on post. Make sure the fucker understands that we don’t have enough time to draw up a damn PowerPoint decision brief, wargame this out, and everything else. We need to get the ball rolling now.”
“What are you going to go do?” Jason asked.
“Figure out how we’re going to set up the damn evacuation from the airfield. Go home and get your wife, Jason. Amy’s a great woman, and she’s not going to take it very well that she’s going to have to leave her family.”
Once more the enormity of what was happening hit every man in the room.
“I hope it’s slow and painful,” Hitchcock seethed. No man in the room needed to wonder what he was talking about.
“If you knew General Connelly, you’d understand that’s not going to be a problem.”