December 15, 2183— continued

Armstrong felt his weight evaporate as the transport settled into orbit. Maneuvering to the first round of Colonies, dropping off the various companies of his soon-to-be-dispersed Force, would take several hours. Then, the transport would boost farther from the planet, making for the Earth-Moon L4 point and the second set of Colonies. The second transport wasn’t stopping in Earth orbit at all; though he couldn’t see it from his position, Armstrong knew it had powered on past the Colony orbit, on its way to the L5 point and from there to Lunar orbit.

He’d settled on an intermediate command level, in between the companies assigned to each Colony and his own Force Command Staff, during the final stages of operational planning. It was a week ago that he’d briefed his officers on the final details, gathering them in one of the pilots’ briefing rooms aboard Admiral Gali’s carrier.

“We’re organizing our Offworld Force into four regional divisions, each under a unified command. That means you Company COs will answer to your regional commanders rather than directly to the FCS. Our Force is a bit small for an extra command layer but the Offworld Colonies occupy four distinct regions, each easier to travel within and between, so regional divisions will keep things smooth. The four regional commanders will have authority to transfer companies between Colonies within their division if necessary, and can choose which Colony within their region to make their headquarters. Following this briefing you’ll all meet with your regional COs and find out exactly how they want things done in your respective regions.” Armstrong paused, and smiled slightly. “They already know how I want things done, so I don’t expect any misunderstandings.”

He put up an Org Chart on the wall screen. “Companies one through seven, you’re assigned to the Colonies in Earth orbit, under Commander Aitken. Eight through fourteen, the L4 point under Commander Guerra. Fifteen through twenty, the L5 point under Commander Callahan, and twenty-one through twenty-four are going to the three Colonies in Lunar orbit, plus Copernicus on the Moon’s surface. You’re under Commander Grigorov.

“The FCS will headquarter in the L4 region, at Star City. Star City’s taken the lead on refusing to evacuate. It’s the only Colony to hold a referendum explicitly defying the Presidential order. Its governor, Charles Safreth, is the most visible leader of the opposition. He’s the one who needs the biggest saber rattled in his face, so that’s where I’ll be.

“At the moment, saber-rattling is our only mission. That is crystal clear in our orders from the CMO. Our mission is to make the offworlders see reason. If they do, our mission then is to organize the peaceful evacuation. If they don’t, if it comes to blows, that won’t be up to us, we’re not a large enough Force. If you’ve done the numbers you’ll have realized that at one company per Colony, we’d be outnumbered around five to one by local police departments alone. No. If it’s a question of military force then a far larger Force than ours will be assigned. Most likely it will take the form of a fleet action— battleships with missiles armed, threatening the Colonies themselves.

“Do not let it come to that. Make your Colony understand, by whatever means you have short of starting open hostilities, that they have to obey the order.

Now, a week later, aboard the transport bound ultimately for Star City, Armstrong had settled on the tactic he’d use when he came face to face with Charles Safreth.

Despite what he told the company COs, Armstrong didn’t think Monroe intended battleships as the next step. The President wanted a bloody hand-to-hand battle between an occupying force and a population determined to resist. He wanted it all over the newsnets. He wanted it to drag on for weeks, or months, or years, while he gained ever more popularity by denouncing the offworlders for their evil determination to cling to their villainous sky palaces.

But Armstrong wasn’t going to say that to Safreth. He was going to paint a picture of those fleets of battleships, missiles aimed at the Colonies, and of a president who would gladly pull the trigger. He was going to remind Safreth that the Colonies were fragile, complex machines, and that after such an attack there would be no survivors climbing out of underground shelters like in some bombed-out city during the Unification War. Instead, on Monroe’s order, forty-six million offworld civilians would be killed at once stroke— and the majority of Earth’s population, stirred up by Born-to-the-Earth’s propaganda, would enthusiastically cheer the worst loss of life in any single event in human history.

Armstrong thought it was a credible bluff. Monroe might well be fanatical enough to do it, if he wasn’t more delighted by the picture of a protracted conflict. Safreth would probably believe that. Armstrong hoped so.


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