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"Thrace Encounters Matilda"© 2006 S.T.
Even in the 37th century, the metropolitan area of Pinschiang was the classic, Asian urban tableau. Shops carrying either over- or underpriced goods lined narrow, dirt and refuse strewn streets. These shops were either centuries old with residential histories spanning scores of generations, or the classic oriental merchant’s lean-to with just cloth, cardboard, corrugated tin or pressed wood to delineate its boundaries. This was prominent in the outskirts of the massive metropole, but by no means the only condition. Most of the citizens of Pinschiang lived quite well, considering the press of people the city’s resources had to support. It was rumored that a hundred and twenty five to two hundred million people lived in the great city, but no census could be accurate, since three quarters of the population was transient.
The overall feel of the city was grey, oppressive and undeniably mighty. Military families made up a healthy portion of the middle class; engineers and administrators, the rest, reaching from there in to the rare, blue stratosphere of EarthCon home society’s upper classes. There was a mode of life over here that was completely different from anywhere else in EarthCon’s sphere. EarthCon urban society had a distinct and surprising humility to it: Every contributor to the Earth Consolidated Forces native community wore a uniform displaying their station in the pecking order, from the lowliest custodian on up to the Grand General’s circle. These uniforms were worn every waking hour to let administrators know just how just how much military they had on hand just by a casual scan of the countryside, to let the sundry populace know how many doctors they could rely on in any one area and project foremen just how many engineers they had at their beck and call for any given assignment.
It was the innate cultural programming for extreme social order that had not left the venerable Orient yet that precipitated this unique custom, and though it wasn’t legally mandatory, if one wanted to live peacefully and prosperously, with the least amount of bureaucratic harassment, he wore his station for all to see. It was one of the few ways intimate EarthCon was like the UFN. One of the very few ways.
The city itself looked dirty, grey, but very structurally sound. The building style was both sinister and utilitarian, with a motif that borrowed an awful lot from the crumbling Great Wall, but very little from the delicate pagoda. EarthCon World Headquarters was situated on the Great Hill of the City, a modest rise on the northeastern end of the great sprawl of the megalopolis that had all aspects of the region emanating from it. It was a fortress, an elaborate castle and office building in one. At the base of the towering structure was a wall that would remind historians of the Kremlin in its massiveness. Situated above this substructure was an interlinking of occupied minarets, towers and a core building that looked like a dark, Gothic interpretation of the city-castles of storybook legend...the ones the wizard-kings usually lived in. It was a very complex structure that inspired awe in anyone who viewed it with its thousands of windows, three quarters of which were usually burning with undone business, general scale and foreboding air. This was the structure Ti-Loo’s office was in, and it was the final destination of the incensed Dragoon brigands.
Back in the ships, Ralph was wondering just how they’d get past internal defenses, even cloaked. Surely the EarthCon capital city would have its frontier swarming with early warning security systems. Mansfield explained the situation as it stood to a bewildered Krimson over the radio.
“Ralph, we have to keep our fingers crossed on this one! We only have our cloaking and descramblers to keep us out of a skirmish and we have no idea how much cloak-detective radar EarthCon has cobbled up. Obviously they have none fitted to their ground based units, or we would have been set on like locusts on corn by now, though I think our band of WC-1’s could hold their own in any fight! For a while, at least. Rest assured, if anything starts here, we’re going to have make sure that we finish it, or that’s all she wrote! Twenty WC-1’s against half of EarthCon’s air force does sound like a fair fight, though...”
“Gawd, man...I wish I had your confidence! You mean to tell me it’s feasible that twenty of our battleships could stand up to half of EarthCon and come out smiling....””
“Hard as that is to believe, Ralph, it’s been done...many times! The only time we’ve had any major problems handling E-Con is when their troops are near a plentiful munitions resource, such as their moon bases or a Flying Fortress.”
“Well, hell, man...this is the capital city! Surely....”
“Nope...nearest artillery and warship depot is a thousand miles away, in Beijing, the old city!”
“What?! Lord, the more I hear about EarthCon, the more incredible it gets! These people have the strategic ingenuity of lemmings!”
“Eastern logic and demographic mandates, old man! You saw the sprawl out there! There’s no way they could keep a secure military base around here! Two hundred people, maybe more, near a high security base would make one of those two entities mutually exclusive...either the base personnel would wipe out a protesting populace or the protesting populace, by sheer weight of numbers, would wipe out the base. It would be more or less suicide to keep it in a plebeian area. Flying times aren’t all that bad, so 1000 miles isn’t that bad for them...it could buy us some time, though!”
Ralph made a face betraying his skepticism, but he was with the angels nonetheless, so his mind snapped back to the business at hand. They were about to set down in the ‘promised land’, and just about everybody was mystified as to what they were going to do. There was a standard invasion repertoire ingrained into every MarsShield soldier in training, based on past and projected EarthCon military behavior, but most of these people were free-thinkers, and with no formal battle plan specifically designed for what Mansfield was thinking of. Command minds raced with suggestions they could give to their acting Supreme Commander.
Diedre thought they should take the whole battalion into Pinschiang and simply flatten the city, and they could do it! Sashi Kumar felt that if they simply completed the job that that strange, unexplained vortex did and bombed the World Headquarters to kingdom come with the high level explosives they had on board. The chaos that would result would make it a cakewalk to walk in an set up a new government. So far, that sounded like the best alternative to a simple invasion. Ralph had no suggestions. The very scope of this whole theater was a little too much for him. He never had to think of insurrections back in SouthCal in 2657. The only thing he could think of, because it was still fresh in his mind, was blowing up the artillery/munitions base in Beijing, and wherever the attack fleet was hangared. They had enough manpower, he estimated. No way. Too many diverse targets and too little time to avoid possible discovery. He hoped his suggestions would be less uninformed in the future, but he stoically satisfied himself that total inexperience had him covered on this one. Unfortunately, all the radios were on and everybody heard it!
“Sorry about that, troops! It was just a thought. How about your ship’s mates? Any suggestions?” Avril, who had been like a churchmouse through the whole trip, chimed in with his franc and a half....
“With all due respect to our new Supreme Commandant, I like Msr. Vishnapur’s idea. It is neat, with minimal effusion de sang!” Mansfield shook his head, looking over at his newly appointed temporal first officer. Then he addressed Avril again:
“You mind translating that for us colonials, Dauphin...?”
“He means bloodshed, Manse. I must admit, it sounds like it has the most possibilities....”
Behind Ralph, in the cabin of his ship’s radio room, which had a small bank of navigational and weapons computers in it, a synapse of the type only controlled high voltage short circuits could produce shot an unseen, eerie, bluish glow through the rear of the computer bank. This glow congealed into a yellowish will-o-the-wisp nimbus, seeping through the cracks in the wall panel hiding the unavoidably extensive circuitry. Ralph didn’t see this potentially dangerous seepage of current, which looked to be imitating ball lightning, something that could possibly be the result of damage incurred by Thrace’s fireballs in the conflagration just passed.
He left the room for a while, after it was mutually decided to confront Ti-Loo first before blowing up the World Headquarters complex per Sashi’s suggestion, to check up on the troupe members aboard his ship. He wanted to make sure they were up for accompanying the rest into the inner city. It was decided that the diplomats and honorary soldiers would have the choice of opting out of the confrontation, which was sure to be bloody. Among the others, commissioned and enlisted, it was a given that they were under orders to accompany Mansfield’s ship. Ralph immediately disqualified Mondidi and Samedi, which left Mars, Vendredi, Judi, Juin and Juillet. Mars, Vendredi and Judi would be excellent candidates, responsible attachés to accompany the ‘diplomatic invasionary force’, as Mansfield had tagged it, so he decided to avoid ‘Pere et Fils’ entirely, just going to the other three with the news that Mansfield wanted them along.
“!Libération! Mort à la tyrannie! Vive la révolution!!” Ralph was tickled.
"I knew you’d like the job, Vendredi! Mars, Judi...are we a group?”
“Raoul...have we ever let you down before?”
“Yes, many times, but we won’t get into that...” The four friends chuckled at the zinger, with Mars bringing up the many times ‘Raoul’ had come up short with them.
"MarsShield Insignia"© 2003 S.T.
(Click on above thumbnail for larger picture)
"MarsShield and EarthCon in Corridor Battle"© 2000-07 S.T.
"Mars"© 2000 S.T.
"Firedragon Main"© 2004 S.T.
An ensign who thought that Ralph was still in the radio room went to the room to bring him a damage report from the sensor station. He saw it was empty and turned to leave. As he turned on his heels, he just caught a bright flash in his peripheral vision that he assigned to further damage to internal systems. He thought little of it, thinking it might also have been an alarm light alerting whoever might be in the room to a malfunction. He made his way down the corridor to the stairwell down to the main concourse of the ship, where he found Krimson and the Frenchmen. He left the readout with him and added a caveat about the room, not specifically mentioning the flashing.
“Okay, ensign. You’re dismissed.”
“Yessir, oh, and sir...I think you’d better check the radio room...there seems to be some kind of malfunction up there.”
“Okay, thank you, ensign...” Ralph sighed, realizing he was back in the army now and excused himself from his cohorts to check on the ensign’s warning. He found his way up to the hallway outside the radio room and wondered what could possibly be wrong, since he was just up there and had experienced nothing wrong. As he walked down the short corridor to the room, the old familiar feeling hit him, that he was going to run head-on into another meeting with destiny, and his fears were confirmed when he peered into the dimly lit little room.
It was Oswald, or someone that looked just like him.
Ralph’s heart extrasystoled.
“Os...is that really you?” Of course it wasn’t, but what nobody knew yet, what with all the hubbub in Earthspace and the invasion plans currently occupying everybody’s time, was that the radio transmission from Orion Kessel’s ship received right after liftoff from Mars supplied all the encoded digital information for a plasmic reconstruction of the human entity Ralph knew as Oswald Nineveh. And the transmission hadn’t come from Sonsuang, as everybody thought, but from Fahnsoma! Apparently some of the transmission included information that reproduced the same spectral energy that characterized Fahnsoma’s ‘revenant’, for here he was, just as Ralph remembered him, only this time, his lifelong buddy knew him! The spectral image spoke again....
“Essentially, Ralph. I’m just as you remember me....all the memories of the UFN, the jokes, the missions together. They’re all there! How’s it been, buddy?”
“Os, I don’t believe this! Who did this?? Are you the same guy we left back on Fahnsoma?” The shimmering image frowned but answered:
“No, I’m a product of the reawakened memory of my descendants. One of the reasons the planet held onto the French group’s shuttle was to study the technology of it, and out of that, it managed to replicate a transmitter, probably inspired by your own work brought to Fahnsoma from Sonsuang! The planet itself had to dig deep down into its ‘mind’ to improve on the design enough to transmit me here. It, of course, added its own power and materials to the mix, and even gambled on encoding the beam digitally based on what it took from the UFN shuttle.”
“Galdamn! Can it make you solid...?? Autonomous...?"
“Afraid not, memsahib! It might happen on the secret to making my image more solid, but I have to be near a radio, monitor or holocaster for the image to be maintained. Microwave ovens are good, too. You established a link with the planet when you set foot on it and it needs you for information on my background and how to make a UFN of its own!”
“Verdammte!” Ralph stared into empty space for a while after making the exclamation and blinked a few times in bewilderment. He asked the image one more thing he could think of that he felt was of tantamount importance.
“Suppose I want to summon you for any reason...what then?”
“Um...well, I can turn up at my own discretion or you can switch on a computer terminal and hope I’m traveling through the nearby circuits. I have a sense ingrained in me that can determine where I am and whether you need me. As long as I have a circuit to travel through, I can stay alive indefinitely and can congeal myself whenever I please as long as a unit’s turned on. But I have to stay near a terminal for integrity. Looks like you got me for keeps, pal!”
"Ngangh, ngangh, ngangh!” Ralph felt just a wee bit dizzy.
The image of Oswald was holding back, for stored in the ship’s memory banks was information of a far more wide-ranging importance. For now, Fahnsoma only wanted details that would reconstruct the world the original Oswald lived in in replica, it probably already had the native intelligence of any biosphere to inspire its population to make a viable civilization, but this was not in Ralph’s mind as he asked the image another question.
“Os...what was on the other side of that rift...what’d you see...?” The image of his old friend cast a thoughtful glance toward the computer banks to its left and drummed its photic fingers on a countertop pensively, formulating an answer.
“Let’s just say we’re a very small part of a much larger whole, and leave it at that! Sorry...that’s a very unpleasant memory...I mean, 'I' did die out there!”
“Hmm...not much to go on, but if I’m not mistaken, does what you’re trying to get at involve any kind of molecular or atomic microcosmic-infinity theory....?”
“Yes! Hey...that’s not bad! You been taking courses, old bean...?” The wording was a shock. Expressed almost exactly as Oswald himself would have said it. Ralph tried to appear unflappable.
“Oh, I’m full of surprises! So...you’ve got all the real Oswald’s memories, eh? Inconceivable! How’s that work?”
“Well, Fahnsoma’s at a nexus point in the universe that provides the energies to do the things it does. It’s essentially a world with a super-magnanimous humanoid mind and accelerated biospheric development that it can manipulate at will. However, it’s relatively innocent, and you, the troupe and the Sonsuangians provided it with the spark of knowledge it needed to support sentient life!”
“Thrill a minute, Os!”
“...I’m now an integral part of the planet’s being. It’s a very powerful adolescent among sages, but few worlds have the articulated abilities it has. Emanations from 560ane and the radiation of the rift bathed it in just the right combination of particles and light to produce the world you remember. A million other planets were bathed in that same radiation, and neither it nor I really know whether there is another Fahnsoma out there, but it likes to think it's unique. Rather than create the planet as it is, it awakened the dormant power within it. There is a core within the world unlike any other, even this one’s, that gives it the ability to converse and interact with sentients directly. It could well be the largest living thing in the universe! However, from what I'm told emanated from that rift, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more like it. Even it isn’t able to determine the extent of its own uniqueness.
“For God’s sake, Os...what did you see...?”
“Ralph, we’re all....the universe is all...a part of a great...human being! An infant, in fact. The rift was it first opening its eyes. Somewhere, billions of miles on the other side of the universe, the same scenario was more or less duplicated, with the simultaneous opening of the other eye, a thousand years ago!”
“What’s Fahnsoma like now?”
“It’s replaying a mixture of appropriate Earth legends: the flood, pharaonic Egypt, Atlantis, but it endeavors to be original. It had a tribe of Oswald II’s descendants living in a glacier in the Northern Polar Region, like pueblo Indians. It turned into quite the metropolis before it developed dangerous cracks and had to be abandoned.”
“Who was the girl...?”
“Pol’s sister, Carmen. We met when I was a lieutenant on the moon.” A look of far-away longing passed over the image’s features, then it recovered. “How’s Mars, Ralph?” The slight reverberation in the image’s voice was starting to raise goosebumps on Ralph’s flesh. He shuddered slightly and answered it.
“Os, it’s fabulous up there! You wouldn’t recognize it! There’s another Guerropolis and a whole colony of university towns on the other side. It’s turned into a hell of a world, which is pretty much what the UFN originally planned....”
“Do you miss the UFN, Ralph?” Ralph was taken slightly aback by the question. It seemed somewhat out of synch with the way the revelation-spiked conversation was headed.
“Just asking. The beard flatters you, pal! Don’t shave it off. Well, you’ve got to get back to your little war, so I’ll go back to keeping the electrons company. When I see you the next time, I’ll have more information for you, but for now, ta-ta, amigo!” As Ralph watched, the image of Oswald dwindled into the wall panel again, like smoke into a vacuum cleaner. He sat there for a second afterward, just staring in complete bewilderment. Would it ever stop?
“Raoul! Raoul! What is keeping you up there?” It was Vendredi, calling from downstairs and reminding Ralph that gravity existed. He would be useless for this maneuver...he knew it, but he picked himself up off of the stool he had been sitting on to go downstairs to his compeers.
“Sacre bleu, mon capitain! You look like you have seen a ghost!”
“I just did.”
"Planetoid Buster & WE-1s" ©2004 Stephen Turner