Chapter OneEdit

Terran Government Complex
Ninth Ward, City-State Of New Orleans, Earth, Republic Of Earth
March 21, 2276, 1232.60 MCT

Swallowing, taking another deep breath, Flavia Brandt steeled herself for possibly the biggest gamble of her people's lives, to say nothing of her nearly fifty years in their service.

The report from Intel was still fresh in her mind...Norm the Cripple had seemingly gone for it, hook, line and sinker...she'd know for sure the instant he'd jumped, along with however many ships he thought he'd need for the job.

Once he jumped, there would be no chance to get everything into place, she had to rely on the active-duty StarForces and her people's ability to remobilize on virtually nonexistent notice, just as she had to trust in her people's faith in her abilities and in their unwillingness to crucify her for even giving the appearance of wanting to discuss peace with a walking fucking corpse of a madman who should've been taken out along with the rest of the goddamn trash two hundred years ago.

She got up from the chair in her office, the holo of every Terran President since Ellen Garvey staring down from three of the four otherwise plainly-decorated walls, Flavia facing the fourth, a picture window affording a view of the Government Plaza's Boardwalk and the Gulf Of Mexico lapping gently along the shore just beyond it...terraforming had rebuilt the entire planet from the inside out the instant the shooting had stopped over Excelsior, reversing three hundred years of enviromental outrages which had seen winters in Alaska shooting up into the lower hundreds on the old Farenheit scale and super hurricanes which had ravaged this great city, turned into a sprawling concentration camp of a Metropolitian Prison Zone by WARCOM, before the Free Alliance had liberated it.

At this moment, the sky was cloudless blue, the sun making the crystal waters of the Gulf glitter...couples and families were walking hand in hand down there, reminding Flavia keenly of her own losses, of the losses this war had already added to all the dead from the other four wars her people had fought with the Mannies over the last couple of centuries, the losses which would surely come if this insane scheme she'd hatched went wrong in any way.

Another hard swallow, more acid bubbling in her stomach...the Terran President couldn't think about that right now, she had to stay composed, not betray anything, when she went online in a few minutes to tell her fellow citizens she was about to let the devil himself come to their homeworld for a visit, on the pretext of talking the peace talk she and they both knew damn good and well he and his so-called Kingdom of Man were incapable of.

"Madame President," a voice said from the doorway behind her...speak of the devil, as King Solomon would say....

"Time already, Gloria?" she asked her Vice-President.

"'Fraid so, Flavia," Gloria Rundgren's Titan accent drawled slowly in reply.

"'Kay," Earth's first citizen said, nodding her head, before turning round and sitting back down at her desk to well and truly put her gamble into motion.

Aboard the RES Shooting Star
Muskogee Spacedock, Free State Of Oklahoma, Geosynchronous Earth Orbit, Republic Of Earth
March 21, 2276, 1237.22 MCT

"Captain," Gerilyn Meeker, the Shooting Star's first mate said, as Melinda climbed out of one of the ship's three StarBarge utility jumplanes onto the Kip Morgan-class war cruiser's hangar deck,"we weren't expecting you back for another—"

Melinda brushing past her, her duffel bag slung over her right shoulder, her SOCOM-12 light assault rifle patrol slung over her left, her sky-blue StarForces flight suit, grav-holstered Smith, gravalloy sword and her CyberLink headset the only damn things which ever made her feel fully-dressed, the Mark III Sparrow jump fighter she was walking rapidly towards an old friend entirely too-long abandoned.

She ignored Geri's asking "Captain?" over and over and the looks of the pilots assisting the robotics maintaining the ship's battalion of 240 jump fighters parked by squadrons directly behind the bay doors, directly behind the Lightning Bolt parked at the other end of the bay, armed and ready to finish the mission Melinda had abandoned twenty years ago....

"...jump for Green Mountain, now!" that bitch snapped at her, Melinda continuing her descent into Tom Dooley's atmosphere, her comm system scanning for Sarah's transponder signal, EM sensors looking for her life signs, warning tones indicating Mannie destroyers and jump fighters hard on her ass, but she didn't give a fuck...Gramma Thorne....

...Flavia's goddamn wife had fucking been crucified with her legs wide open, dildos shoved in everywhere, her body covered with scrawlings, feces, frickin' come, that had been what greeted Melinda's people when they'd finally taken back Tom Dooley sixteen goddamn years ago, and here she was, shitting on Gramma herself by telling her people to sit on their goddamn hands and let Norm the fucking Cripple come in and finish the mission he'd been forced to abandon two hundred years ago.

Gramma was a damn sight better as President, than Flavia ever fucking could be, she thought angrily, the slender needle form of her fighter in front of her now, the master of the Shooting Star laying a hand against an interface surface to the right of the nosecone to drop the gangway down from the belly of the craft onto the deck.

Bitch, she thought again, the same thing she'd always fucking think about her, no matter what the fuck—

"Not without me, you aren't," was all Amanda said, as she stood behind her.

"Baby—" Melinda started to say.

"Not without us," Geri added.

"This is family," Melinda replied, getting ready to climb up into her fighter.

"And the Mannie throneworld," Geri remarked, Melinda hearing the hum of the war cruiser's grav thrusters powering up from stationkeeping mode, feeling the ship move slowly underneath her feet.

"Not without us," the first mate of the Shooting Star repeated, when Melinda turned to face her.


Aboard the His Divine Majesty's Ship Iraqi Freedom
Geosynchrous Orbit Over Heaven, Kingdom Of Man
2276.1906.75 AR

The Bull Run-class Joint Mobile Operations Base was the finest war-fighting platform in modern military history.

Twenty miles and ten million tons of gravalloy, gun turrets, torpedo tubes and hangarage for one hundred Connally-class destroyers, 240 JF-14E Tomcat jump fighters, over five thousand AC-390 dropships capable of deploying the ship's entire 150,000-man Marine complement in a single hop and thousands of other smaller craft of various mission profiles, more than capable of disposing of one of their so-called fleets in a single battle.

Each of their fleets only had one of what they laughingly called JMOBs.

The Royal Interstellar Navy's Home Fleet had thirty of these magnificent machines, with one thousand such fleets all across Kingdom space, poised and ready to drive a stake into the very heart of the Conspiracy at His word of command.

The jumpplane bearing Him flew along and directly above the Iraqi Freedom's starboard side, Joshua gazing at His Seal freshly painted atop the mirrored silver surface of the rectangular hull, the jumpplane's pilot slowing, so as to give His Master the best possible view, finally clearing His leviathan's forward section, turning around gracefully, decelerating, almost drifting into the mammoth hangar bay, Joshua sending a thought to the Throne's nanocolony, it,the tiggers standing guard around Him and the zeds chained and grovelling at either foot floating above the deck, the grav thrusters gently propelling Him down the opening rear ramp, keeping him aloft above the hangar deck, the anointed King of Man smiling benignly, as His eyes took in the view of spacers and Marines in their dress uniforms lined up almost into infinity on either side of Him, Joshua moving slowly through them, nodding slightly, as the Iraqi Freedom's captain and executive officer saluted Him, before taking their places directly behind the Thorne, the King Of Man giving His children ample opportunity to show their respects to Him before making His way to the ladder at the end of the hangar deck, another thought causing the Throne to rise gracefully into the hatchway specially designed to accomodate it.

He was soon on the great ship's operations deck, all activity ceasing at once in His presence, resuming only after their Master had maneuvered His Thorne through the operations deck into its place along the back wall of the adjacent battle management center, everyone snapping to attention and bowing low as He passed them, remaining on their knees until He told them:

"As you were."

"Thank You, Master," the commander of His personal Marine legion replied, ordering his officers and NCOs back to their stations, before turning back to Joshua, bowing low, before reporting:

"Master, the Terran President is on line with Our agents are busy sowing the seeds of dissension amongst them—"

"Not a hard task," Joshua commented,"considering."

"Of course, Master," His Marine commander replied, Joshua merely glancing at the holoprojections of their President's online conference with its fellow zeds, smiling serenely, before activating the comm system, sending the signal to all one thousand fleets in the task force to jump at once for Earth.

Aboard the RES Deirdre McCallum
Muskogee Spacedock, Free State Of Oklahoma, Geosynchronous Earth Orbit, Republic Of Earth
March 21, 2276, 1245.00 MCT

"...all I want is peace in our time," Mom said out loud, at the same time she'd whispered Rosemarie Thorne,"all I want is to give Norm the Cripple the hottest reception he'll ever see this side of Hell. Won't you join me?"

"You heard the lady," remarked the Governor of the Free State of Oklahoma, releasing the breath she'd held for the past few minutes. "Piloting, undock and move us out."

"Yes, ma'am," the Okie flagship's chief pilot replied cheerfully, Mom having whispered virtually the entire Republic, at least the entire Republic minus the ones the Marshals' Service knew were Mannie spies.

"Flight Control—" Rosemarie started to say, the holo of the McCallum's flight controller floating in front of the Governor's right eye, replying," jump fighters launching now, Governor."

"So they are," Rosemarie observed, watching, on her command station's holoprojector, as the McCallum's 43,500 Sparrow III jump fighters flew out of the five-hundred thousand ton Garvey-class JMOB's hangar bay, past the first Shooting Star—serving as a museum since its retirement a hundred years ago—through Muskogee Spacedock's slowly opening main dock doors and into space, the McCallum breaking orbit around the orbital facility's sun, gracefully sailing through the clouds, the 45th Fleet's battleships, war cruisers and destroyers forming up around her, their jump fighters joining their flagship's on station in space.

"The strategy is simple," Mom's holoimage whispered, as it stood in front of Rosemarie. "We have to buy enough time for everyone else to mobilize."

Terran Government Complex
Ninth Ward, City-State Of New Orleans, Earth, Republic Of Earth
March 21, 2276, 1245.48 MCT

The problem with that strategy, Flavia said in whisper, at the same time she continued interacting online,is Intel's latest information puts the potential enemy force at thirty thousand JMOBs.

"How long," Bruce Pennington's holo screamed,"are we just going to wring our hands and play nice, while the Mannies rape and murder our people?!"

"Now, hold on a minute," Bill Myers' holo said, his voice just as loud as his fellow Mannie agent, as he preached the seemingly opposite viewpoint,"that mentality is exactly why we are mired in war after pointless war with these people, wars—"

"—we have to fight," Pennington shouted over his fellow traveler. "We have to negoiate from a position of strength, lead from strength, strength, Madame President, something which you—"

"—part of the radical minority who has drowned our people in two hundred years' worth of blood," Myers screamed back,"a woman who has made a career pissing on the Constitution, tricking us out of every civil right we have, conning us into accepting wars which only isolate us further from the rest of known space, all to feed the money-hungry claws of the interstellar megacorps—"

The Terran President had to muster a supreme effort to not laugh out loud at that blatant insult to her people's intelligence.

Or the one from Pennington which followed:

"—she has twisted the meaning of the law of the land to justify the stranglehold on power she and the other radical minorities have maintained for two hundred years, forcing her kind into the military over the objections of its more expirienced warriors, watering down its budget, equipment and training standards, at the same time she has ramrodded even more feel-good socialist legislation through Congress and the courts which have been allowed to usurp the legislative function, legislation which mandates "diversity" amongst our corporations at the same time it hamstrings their ability to mainatin a functioning free-market economy."

Flavia merely nodding her head, watching holos abruptly fade out one by one, her people appearing pissed at her, but, in reality, answering the call to arms she'd issued via whisper, the holoprojection from her CyberLink showing the active-duty StarForces moving into position behind the reserve yards on the Lunar farside, as well as the jump plane that was en route from the Kip Morgan to take her up the well.

"You want the Marshals to reel them in?" Gloria whispered to her from on board the Johnathan Black.

No, Flavia whispered,no, they're more useful to us precisely where they're at.

For now, at least, she added.

"Surprised they haven't thought of sending drags to do this kind of thing," Gloria then whispered.

I'm not, Flavia replied...the genetic structure of drags was so unstable, they couldn't last more than a couple, three months, without dissolving into puddles of protoplasmic goo, making them good only for....

The Terran President tensed up, the memory of what those bastards had done to Jo after they'd killed her...of what that twisted, crippled bitch of a man had dared do to her granddaughter after she'd said no to him one last time.

"Flavia?" Gloria asked.

I'm fine, Flavia replied tautly, the images Sarah's wife had uploaded to the Terran President's nanocolony as part of her report still playing in her mind.

"I hope so," Gloria replied,"'cause we've just got word from Intel."

"He's jumped."

Genesis Facility #227
Seventh District, Heaven, Kingdom Of Man
2276.1906.81 Anno Rex

"If there's one thing I can't stand," Abbot said, standing over his seated department managers and resurrection team leaders, finally turning to face them after staring at the whiteboard in the conference room,"it's lying, gentlemen."

"Lying," he repeated, even as the screams of more resurrection techs, the reports of displacement projectiles and the guttural howling of the thing which was supposed to have been the head of the fucking Church echoed in the corridors just outside.

"Sir," Micheal Keifer, his Immortal Resurrections manager, had the audacity to speak up,"no one's lied to you that I—"

"Really?" Abbot demanded, fixing Keifer with his cold, blue-eyed stare, adding:

"Then, what do you call telling me we're six months ahead on orders, when it turns out that not only are we eighteen months behind, production-wise, but also. also, we've ended up having to scrap almost all the work we've managed to accomplish, costing this facility millions of crowns in manhours and raw materiel?"

"What do you call that?" he repeated.

"What," he added," else would you call what can only be best described as failure after failure on the part of the Genesis #227 team, gentlemen?"

"Built-in obselesence," Travis Johnson, one of the resurrection team leaders, dared reply.

"What was that?!" Abbot, advancing on Johnson, getting in his face, the zed to be compounding its sin by facing down its anointed superior, replying:

"End of the line, John, as our techs have been warning about for the past eighteen months. Citizen and Immortal DNA has reached the point where, between the distortions caused by the scanning process and the mutations arising from replicating cells past the Hayes' Limit, not to mention the Hayes' Limit itself getting lower and lower with each successive batch of cl—"

"How many times do I have to tell you that is Conspiracy psuedoscience and an excuse for poor work performance and personal shortcomings?!" Abbot screamed hysterically, just barely covering up the sound of displacement projectiles finally finding their target.

"What are you going to tell me next, that you're under too much stress to do a good job, and that's causing you to fuck up a year and a half's worth of resurrection orders?!" he then asked the filthy zed. "Well, let me tell you something here and now, bitch, people are only under stress if they know they're doing a bad job. People who do good jobs never, never stress out!"

"One-ten," he snapped into his CyberLink,"to the conference room, now!"

"Bring in every goddamn one of you," he added, between heaves of breath.

"Attention Genesis #227 associates," he then spoke into the link."Due to massive failures amongst the members of our team, all associates will work twenty-four hour days until further notice. Also, due to possible Conspiracy—"

Just then, the klaxon howled again, the facility's automated voice warning:

"Biological anomalies have escaped containment in Resurrection Chambers 19, 27, 58 and 142. Repeat, biological anomalies have escaped containment in Resurrection Chambers 19, 27, 58 and 142! Security teams to these areas for immediate containment! All remaining personnel, please remain in your assigned workstations until further notice."

The facility then warned:

"Maintenance to Resurrection Chambers 72, 75, 169 and 583 for biologic malfunction and wet clean-up."

the klaxon howling nonstop in accompinment to the facility repeating and adding on to both announcements.

Aboard the RES Shooting Star
9,890 kilometers from Muskogee Spacedock
March 21, 2276, 1248.64 MCT

Melinda had barely stepped through the hatchway connecting the hangar bay spanning all the Shooting Star's forward mid deck, with the bridge located at the ship's exact center, when Flavia had sent the whisper letting her know what was really up, Melinda having even less time to give the orders she needed to, before her ship had executed a microjump.

Emerging right on top of the frickin' Mannie throneship itself.

"Fire at will! I repeat, fire!" Melinda barked out, as she took her seat at the center of the bridge, the war cruiser's weapons officer, Ensign Jada Kemp, letting fly with all thirty-two five-inch displacement projectile cannon and all sixteen displacement torpedo tubes, Melinda screaming for her chief pilot, Lieutenant Jodie Niles, to jump, now goddamnit, the Shooting Star executing and completing another microjump, a warning klaxon letting Melinda know Jodie hadn't quite been quick enough, the war cruiser's pilot making up for it, microjumping before the klaxon had finished shrilling.

The Shooting Star's guns and torps slamming into four Connally-class destroyers firing at where the 27,500-ton Kip Morgan-class war cruiser had been, explosions skipping along their hulls as energy-liberation warheads met gravalloy armor, spaceframes gravitically-reinforced to an effective density of twenty tons per cubic centimeter stopping the projectiles while in jump, shrugging off energies which would've otherwise ripped them to shreds.

For the most part, at least, Melinda noticing a couple of the warheads tearing huge holes in two of the enemy destroyers, before the Shooting Star executing another microjump, emerging inside a cloud of Tomcat jump fighters, the cruiser's point-defense network reflexively pumping the sky full of interceptor missiles before it jumped again, its weapons blasting gaping wounds hemorrhaging debris, atmosphere and bodies, into a Bull Run-class JMOB at point-blank range.

Displacement projectiles sleeted off the cruiser's gravalloy, interceptor missiles entering jump to intercept incoming projectiles, torpedos and jump fighters, Geri reporting,"gravalloy still holding, Captain, no damage, no casaulties."

"Yet," Melinda remarked grimly.

"Captain," the Shooting Star's radarman, Master Sergeant Anne Kotter, reported,"am reading multiple StarForces vessels emerging from jump and converging on the enemy; looks like the reservists are starting to join in the fight."

"That was fast," Geri observed.

"Yeah, it was," Melinda replied, just a a dinging tone in her head alerted her to an incoming whisper.

Flavia's holo appearing in front of her right eye, just inside the Cyber Link's holoprojection field, telling her:

"We've got this. Go bring your sister home."

"Earth," she added,"will be here when you get back."

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