The first thing they never teach you about what it’s like to live in the Colonies is the recycled air. Take it from me, you never grow to appreciate the real thing more than a life up here. I was old enough to remember how fresh air felt when I was growing up. My parents moved up here when I was 10. I remember what a fresh breeze felt like, and a warm sunny day. Experiences I vaguely recalled now. The wonders of living almost 20 years in space, am I right? Processed air. A simulated breeze which is really just oxygen cycling. The view is of the other two segments of the colony, as the rotation to simulate gravity continues. I will admit that the view of the stars never ceases to amaze. The simulated daylight can’t block that out. It weirds a lot of people out. Especially when on the tram going between the Sections. Still, beautiful.
“Do you think they’re going to have it rain anytime soon?” the girl beside me asked. I look over to see her sitting there. All gorgeous in her walking outfit. Tight pants and a hoodie. Her long, dirty-blonde hair is tied in a ponytail. Pale skin, with a little bit of acne. The girl was always ashamed of it. She has hair that grows long, and she has lots of oil in her skin. It can’t be helped. Still beautiful. And exercise helps. Gets the oils out. We had been jogging, but decided to take it easy so we could talk. We may have to keep in shape, but given how little the two of us see of one-another, some conversation is good.
I shake my head. “No. The water supply is having to be replenished. It’s running low again.”
Her face does that cute little thing where is scrunches together when she is troubled. I feel myself melt a little.
“That’s not good. I thought the water harvesting on the Natural Resource Satellite’s was at an all-time high.”
I shrug. “Given how things are now with the Earth Sphere forces, I’m amazed that water isn’t being more strictly regulated.”
She nods, still looking troubled.
“What’s on your mind, babe?”
A brief glance at me, a slight smile, then back down. “It’s gonna be war, Jack. I just know it. Any day now.”
“You hear anything about the fighting at L4?”
“There’s brushfire conflicts all over Lagrange Point. It’s getting bad. People are starting to get scared. I just know that I’m going to be called back to active duty soon.”
We both knew that if she was called in, so was I. But it was worse for her.
“You still with Strike?” I asked.
“Strike Unit Seven. We’re a damn good unit. I served with most of these guys and girls back in the Synthetic Uprising. Good people. But this war isn’t gonna be that. How can a ground combat team function in a war in space?”
This was where I felt guilty. I couldn’t tell her that Games and Theory had been working on a plan. A contingency plan on how to take the fighting to Earth. My team in R&D was asked to help design Mechs for ground-side combat.
“Well, you know how to pilot. Maybe they’ll get you in a Mech?”
She rolls her eyes. “Oh please, I can pilot a shuttle. That’s it. And I’m not even close to good. Put me on the ground with a rifle in my hands and combat armor and I’m untouchable. I can’t do shit from a starcraft.. You know?”
“Well, I’m sure that you would be put to work infiltrating enemy bases and whatnot. You ever do any zero-g training?”
There was a brief look of discomfort. “Yeah. Fun times. During the Uprising, I got to put some of that to good use. Damn Synthetics were relentless! Thankfully, those things were predictable. I doubt the Earth forces will be.”
I could tell that she wanted to ask me something. It was how she would continually look over at me without meeting my eyes.
“What’s on your mind, babe?” Might as well deal with now.
She finally looks me in the eyes. “I’m hearing something about a plan to go planetside. Like an invasion. Nobody knows for certain. It’s under lock and key. Do you know anything?”
How much can I tell her? Now it’s my turn to look away. I turn my gaze back up to the stars. How bad is this going to get? Up here, in space, war is so different. Old wreckage from old battles floats around. I wonder how much of it smashes into the casing to the exterior of the Colony. How much more will, if the worst should happen?
“I can’t say much, love. I’ll just say that Games and Theory is preparing for every possible contingency, and my team is being asked to assist. That’s all I can tell you.”
A scared look comes to her face. I turn and look her in the eye. I put an arm around her waist, and run my other hand on her face. She leans into my touch.
“Everything will be okay. I promise.”
Her eyes open and I see her trying to look tough. “I know. Let’s…keep moving.”
Way I see it, that wasn’t just literal. Still, something worth doing.
We jog for another ways, when both of us end look up when we hear something. It’s a Mech. A specialized one.
“That’s Lieutenant Sinclair’s Mech!” she says. “What the hell is he doing here? And why is he piloting his Mech inside the Colony?!”
I look over. “He’s not alone. He’s got escorts.” There are three units. They are flight-model Mechs. So is the Lieutenant’s, but his is unique. It’s a special unit that can go from flight mode to ground mode at the drop of a hat. It also has a number of unique weapon systems. I would know. My team designed it. His and a number of other personalized Mechs for various commanding officers within Mech units. Each one was totally unique, made for their own kind of fighting. Sinclair had asked that we make his Mech one that would push him to the limit to be able to master. We did just that. We designed a machine that was a beast to tame, and he had done so in a way I couldn’t imagine. Perhaps he was here to get his Mech tuned up? Ready for combat. This didn’t sound good.
“Are things so bad now that we have Mechs inside the Colony?” Her voice was quivering. Fear. A rational thing to worry about.
“People need to know that they’re safe, C. Lots of people are wanting to have some Mechs and starcraft in orbit around the Colony. With all the brushfire battles around L4, it’s only natural.”
“I guess,” she replied. I suddenly felt her grab my had. Nothing needs to be said. We just keep walking along. Perhaps it’s time to head back.
Just then, there’s a beep in my pocket. As in hers. No way that’s a coincidence. I reach into my pants and pull out my phone. I unlock it and I see a message. It’s urgent, and encoded. When I look at it, I can feel myself turning pale.
“What is it?”
“The Colony where the Valentine Committee was supposed to be discussing terms for a peace agreement with Earth was just attacked. It’s believed to have been by Earth Sphere forces. The President is preparing to make a speech. Military officials are being advised to have all units report for duty. We will be declaring war within the hour.”
There were tears running down her face. “Is everyone there dead?!”
I knew why she was asking. Her big brother and big sister had been staffed with the Valentine Committee.
“The report says that there was some kind of massive explosion that was triggered inside the Colony. The exterior of the Colony was punctured. The casing was cracked. The majority of the civilian population was able to reach Shelters in time. All those at the site of the Committee meeting are believed to be…” I couldn’t finish it.
She was crying, hard. I put my arms around her and held her close. The girl screamed into me. Those two were the last family she had. There were no words. All I wanted to do was think of the right words to tell her. The things that needed to be said in order to help. But nothing came to me. All I could do is hold her in my arms while she sobbed. How many of the people passing us in cars knew what had just happened? I had my answer when I saw people running over to other people, looking at their phones.
“Those Earth fucks! Those Earth fuckers! I’m going to kill them, Jack! I’m going to kill them all!”
Pulling back, the look on her face is one of anguish and hate. Red, puffy, tear-streaked eyes that had more malice than I have ever seen.
“I swear, I am going to find a way to be part of that mission to get down to Earth. I want to be there when we make them pay. I’m taking twenty of them for my brother and my sister. I’m going to make those fuckers pay.”
All I could do was nod. I put my arms around her and we started for home. I had known people in that Committee too. Those rotten pieces of shit on Earth, blowing up people here who wanted to make peace. Indeed, we were going to make them pay. Of course, my skepticism did lead me to wonder how we knew it was Earth that did it. Then I looked over the rest of that report. Ladar images tagged a series of ships that were leaving the area as Earth vessels. Earth has not officially taken responsibility, but they have not denounced it either. It doesn’t even matter, at this point. The public is already taking to the Net, demanding war. If Earth doesn’t do something very soon, it looks like it’s going to happen.
Part of me wanted to be afraid. But then I remembered – I am a mechanical engineer. I design the greatest fighting machines the Earth Sphere has ever known. I have been preparing for this. Now we get to see who will come out on top.
The last thing I did was look up at the stars again. Now I see starcraft. Lots of them. It’s military vessels. A war is about to start. One for the independence of the last great frontier from that ball of shit down there. Earth came into view with the Colony’s rotation. Those bastards were going to pay! All of them.
Until next time, a quote,
“War does not determine who is right. Only who is left.” – Bertrand Russell