500 meters over Highway 2, Skykomish River Valley, Washington State, NAU, Earth
The older MV-22F Osprey pitched back and forth across the rain-swept valley the President's seat belt strained to keep him secure his crash seat. It was a far cry from his early days in office when he had traveled the world in the luxurious comfort of Air Force One. The events of the war made those recent times seem to have happened a lifetime ago.
Inside the red-lit cargo compartment a dozen different aides worked diligently at their laptops. He wished they could have saved more of the computers. The devices' storage capability was so much more valuable after the Empire ripped horrendous holes in the Internet's Cloud storage capabilities. Physical hard drives had long ago become redundant years ago, when most storage started being downloaded into virtual drives housed in remote servers. Those remote servers had been targeted by the Empire's phasers at the same time as the enemy's jamming technology had almost completely wiped out wireless and broadband communication on Earth.
"So much data lost." He sighed.
Across from him his young new Treasury Secretary, Cordell, worked diligently with the Under Secretary from Brazil. Both of them were armed with AI-automated laptops. They were struggling to merge the economies of the two former American Unions into the newly created United Earth's super-economy. It would have been no small task in the best of times and the difficulty was only compounded by wartime conditions.
Harris was tired. But even on a secretive mission like the one they were undertaking tonight he couldn't afford a moment of rest. If he had left his aides behind as the National Security Adviser had suggested out of security concerns, the President feared it would give the Empire a few hours of respite. The war would not wait for him. The Earth depended on him too much.
"Great news out of the Eurasian Union, Russia and Belarus are in and so are the Aussies out in the Pacific." His Foreign Under Secretary, Carlos, yelled over the thrumming noise of the twin tilt-rotor prop wash roaring outside the plane's hull. "The Empire has been pummeling their eastern seaboard for several weeks. Trying to block whatever they're up to in New Zealand. The Australian Air Force has taken a pounding and is almost non-existent at this point. They've got a government set up in some place called Towoomba. The Prime Minister states he's willing to commit their remaining armed forces to the United Earth government as well as merge their civilian government with ours, pending elections at the cessation of hostilities with the invaders."
"That's great." The President allowed himself a smile. One more country united in defense of their planet. "Any word out of New Zealand?" he shouted back.
The Under Secretary looked grim and just shook his head. The President didn't expect anything. The Empire had been sitting on the Kiwis for over a month now. Despite sporadic short-wave radio broadcasts from the south island he didn't hold out a lot of hope.
Even that wasn't as bad as the news out of China. Civil war had broken out in the northern part of that country now that the Empire had retreated from the Yangtze and given them space to breathe and fight over the ashes of what had once been one of the greatest nations on Earth.
Lightning flashed ahead of the crew compartment. It crisscrossed the sky well out over the Pacific as they headed towards the Seattle ruins. The rain that pummeled the plane was most likely toxic, due to the thousands of burning cities around the world. The plastics and synthesized chemicals of mankind were going up in a world-spanning blaze, as some news hack had called it. It was just another global disaster on top of a whole list of catastrophes Harris had to deal with on a daily basis.
The pilots wore night-vision goggles and flew with an advanced nap-of-the-earth system that was supposed to be a top military secret, the details of which Harris didn't need to know. Despite being only a few hundred feet off the ground Harris could tell the aircraft was descending. A series of thumps from outside the hull signaled the tiltrotors were configuring themselves into a vertical position for landing.
The half-dozen Secret Service agents at the rear loading ramp stood and took up defensive positions. Long gone were their dark suits and hidden holsters. Now they wore night-vision gear and full combat armor with prototype highly-reflective surfaces, designed -in theory, at least- to absorb laser-fire. They carried heavy assault rifles and powerful shotguns.
"Coming up on Woods Creek. Delta Force has confirmed they have the package, sir!" The crew chief yelled as a jostling thump and slide told of a slick landing.
Harris nodded that he understood. He motioned for the crew chief to lower the ramp and the exit dropped with a hydraulic whirring noise.
For several seconds they stared out at the rain. Like most towns on Earth Woods Creek was blacked out in a vain attempt to hide from the Empire's orbiting warships that prowled overhead. Though people didn't always have a choice in the matter since a good four billion people on the planet simply had no electricity to turn on anymore. Gone were Earth's coal burning, hydroelectric and nuclear powered energy plants. Solar-powered microgrids and isolated wind turbines fought desperately against the steady approach of another Dark Age. The few surviving smart-grids funneled any energy to hidden manufacturing plants that were being constructed around the globe.
Harris wished he had asked for some night-vision goggles of his own. The agents must have spotted something, because they all tensed up and pointed their rifles out into the darkness.
An object moved out of a nearby copse of trees. As it came closer the President was able to make out a restrained individual with a black hood over his head. The figure was advancing on them but wasn't moving its legs, instead he looked like he was suspended between two more individuals that Harris couldn't make out. The figure made it to the bottom of the ramp before Harris could just barely detect two human-shaped blobs flanking the prisoner.
The figures made their way into the crew compartment where the shackled prisoner was dropped onto the deck at the President's feet. The two blobs depowered the camouflage that had made them nearly invisible to reveal masked Delta Force operators. It was impressive even though Harris knew that their experimental Adaptiv uniforms involved some type of nanotechnology and carbon nanotubes.
"We took him outside of Anchorage, sir. Negative Imperial activity in the area. The Alaskans didn't realize we did the exfil until we were already back inside Canada." One of the operators reported.
"Good work, boys. Thank you." Harris said.
The two commandos saluted and then activated their camouflage system again. They instantly blended into the background of the cargo bay. The two nearly invisible blobs then stomped down the ramp and vanished into the night. The crew chief raised the ramp as the twin Allison 501-M80C engines revved up for take-off.
Harris sat back down in his crash seat. The agents placed the prisoner across from him. A momentary pang of betrayal and hatred coursed through him and he patiently waited for it to pass. He didn't try to fight it because it reminded him that he was still human but right now he needed to be the President and had no time for emotion. He was attempting to forge a coalition of all of Earth and was responsible for its surviving five billion souls, even those who foolishly tried to leave the fold.
"Remove his hood." he ordered. "Make sure we record this. I don't want anything misinterpreted later."
An agent did so. Another agent filmed the proceedings with an HVD camera as evidence. The commandos had blindfolded, gagged and left sound-muffling digital ear phones on the captive in an effort to leave him disoriented. Harris motioned for those to be removed as well. The agent did so, revealing the face of John Davis, the Vice President of the North American Union.
Davis glared at Harris with open hostility. "Pretty smooth. You initiating a policy of kidnapping American citizens abroad now?"
"Alaska is not, nor shall it ever be 'abroad'. No matter what that dimwit Governor Palin thinks." Harris replied hotly. They were at war with invaders from Mars and Alaska had chosen to secede. He and the Earth really didn't have time for treason at a time like this. "For God's sake, John, how could you throw in with such a maniac?"
"How could you sell us down the river with the Southerners? Was that a joke, making Chairman Chavez your new VP of your bullshit Axis Pact of Earth fascism? If it was, I sure as hell wasn't laughing. And neither will you when he turns you out in the next election."
"He could do that and I welcome him to the job. The man is willing to fight the Empire, not run and hide in some Alaskan igloo and buddy up to Emperor Yos like the goddamn King of England!"
"Fight? Fight what? The aliens bomb us from space day after day. What are your advisors telling you? A million dead every day? Two million? Ten? And no way of punching back? There are stories that we did something up in Canada, smacked one of their ships from space, but where's the evidence?"
"Oh, we hit them with something special up there. But the lives and tech we lost with that project, well, the people can learn about it after the war. We've also stopped the aliens cold in Vegas." Harris retorted.
"After they curb stomped us in LA. Palin's got the right idea. He's already talking to one of them, some kind of Fleet Commander something or other. This Seco guy is gonna put the hurt on anything you throw at Palin. Once he's done with something else he's got cooking up on Mars he's promised to level everything south of the Rio Grande. All we have to give him in return is the Asians and Africans as a work force and they'll leave the rest of us alone. I don't like the slavery angle but it's either them or us. The Empire isn't going away anytime soon."
"You racist, evil bastard! What has the Alaskan government agreed to?"
"From my point of view the United Earth government is evil, Mr. President. Can't you see that you've already lost? You aren't ever going to throw them out of Vegas. We just can't fight them well enough. Who are you to fool the people of Earth into maintaining hope? To let us believe that we're something special compared to these supermen from the stars? Why should you be the one to lead us? You're doing nothing more than setting yourself up to be the Emperor of Earth. The emperor of a pile of rubble when the Imps get through with you."
Harris paused for a moment. The men and women in the crew compartment stared at Davis in disbelief. Harris could tell by the looks on their faces that they wanted to open the ramp again and push the former Vice President out. Davis sat back in his chair, his hands still bound behind him, daring Harris to reply.
Harris rubbed his eyes to try to ease some of the stress induced soreness. "Make sure the people hear what I have to say next." Harris told the agent with the camera.
Then he opened his eyes again and faced his former political ally. "I'm sorry, but I don't want to be an Emperor. That's not my business. I don't want to rule over or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible, Jew, Asian, Arab, gentile, black man, Indian, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We all want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the good Earth is rich and can provide for everyone.
"The way of life can be free and beautiful. But we have lost the way.
"Greed has poisoned men's souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.
"We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in, machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity, more than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.
"Without these qualities life will be violent and all will be lost.
"The space shuttles and the internet have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now recordings of my voice are being sent out to reach millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of an archaic nation state system and a terroristic Empire that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To you John, and those out there who have heard me I say: do not despair.
"The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of aliens and men who fear the way of Earth's progress. The hate of men will pass and Emperors will die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people and so long as men live liberty will never perish.
"John, don't give yourself to brutes like Palin or Yos, men who despise you and enslave you, who regiment your life, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you as cattle, as cannon fodder!
"Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not a machine! You are not cattle! You are a man! You have the love of humanity in your heart. You don't hate. Only the unloved hate. The unloved and the unnatural. John, don't fight for slavery, fight for liberty!
"The people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. The people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power, let us all unite! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. By the promise of these things brutes have risen to power here on Earth but they lie. They do not fulfill their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfill that promise. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men's happiness.
"John, in the name of democracy: let us all unite!"
"Unity." Davis spat on the floor of the plane. "You mean crawling on our bellies to those countries that have been beneath us all our lives. There needs to be a ruling elite who unify and run this new regime you and 'El Presidente' are establishing. Yet you're too ignorant and full of schoolyard fantasies of JFK and FDR to recognize how the world really works."
"The United Earth will be a democracy based on the will of the people."
"Bullshit. I've heard enough of your socialist lies."
With fatigue wearing him down Harris couldn't keep his rage in check any longer. He jumped across the cabin and grabbed his old friend by the front of his fatigues, lifting him completely up and out of his seat until they were face to face. His Secret Service agents took a step forward but didn't interfere.
"And I am sick of your bigotry and lies. Palin's little act of treason has cost time and resources we don't have." Harris shook the man. "For God's sake John, they took my wife and kids and killed God knows how many billions of others. You really think throwing in with them will make them treat you like equals? You sold out your fellow man. You'll be little more than the crap they scrape off their boots when this is over."
"Yeah, but we'll be alive and the wetbacks won't." Davis sneered.
Harris shoved him back into his seat. "I'll have you know there are quite a few people in the new government who wanted you executed out of hand. But I figured that would make you a martyr to the Alaskans. Besides, you and I go back a ways."
Davis just stared up at him in defiance. "Don't do me any favors. You and I both know the best thing you could do for the United Earth is throw me out of the back of this plane."
Harris hesitated. The demands of the War were slowly dragging him down paths he would never have even considered before. It would be the easiest thing to do, he thought, but it would also be wrong. "No, you'll stand trial for your crimes. If not now, then once we kick the Empire off of Earth. If Palin lives he can face justice right alongside you. And God have mercy on both your souls."
He nodded at one of his agents, who stepped forward and jabbed a hypodermic syringe into Davis's neck. The former vice president started to protest but passed into unconsciousness before he could utter a sound. Part of Harris was envious of the sleep Davis was about to get. What I wouldn't do for a few extra hours to catch up, he thought. Of course, every moment he spent working was another moment closer to victory and getting his family back, and so he pushed on.
"Mr. President, you might want to look at this." The crew chief called from the forward compartment. The airman had been in contact with the flight crew while he had been speaking with Davis. Harris walked forward, bracing his hands on the overhead hull for balance. After a moment he reached the crewman.
"Look, sir." The chief indicated that he should duck into the cockpit.
As Harris stepped into the cockpit the Osprey was clawing for altitude and heading north into the Cascades. To the west hundreds of fires raged up and down the Puget Sound despite the storm coming in from the Pacific. He had already seen scores of similar vistas across North America yet every new one affected him the same, hardening his resolve to fight for a victory over the invaders from the Empire.
"See anything missing, sir?" The co-pilot asked while thumbing towards the sky over the ruins of Seattle.
Harris peered toward the distant fires but couldn't figure out what the flight crew was indicating.
"Sir, if it's all right with you I'd like to take us up a little above the cloud cover and show you what we mean?" The pilot requested.
"If you're sure the Empire won't pick us up, go right ahead." Harris replied.
The Air Force pilot pulled back on his stick and their view disappeared as they entered the rain clouds above. A few seconds later they were through. Rain water beaded off their windshield. Above them millions of stars were visible in the Washington skies, clear and bright thanks to the reduction in light pollution caused by the destruction of so much of Earth's power grid.
"How about now, sir?" The pilot asked.
The President scanned back and forth across the empty skies. "Where are all the Star Destroyers? At this height you boys can usually spot one or two of them, can't you?"
"Roger that, sir. Also flying this high usually exposes us to those six-wing orbital fighters of theirs, those ARC-170s intel told us about. But they seem to have cleared out of Dodge as well."
The co-pilot spoke into his radio. "Sir, we're picking up spotty commo from across the Union. Sounds like everyone is reporting the same thing. The Imps started heading east an hour ago. Command is reporting that the ETs are consolidating over the Sahara for an unknown purpose. Several of their ships have disappeared altogether and spotters in Bermuda and northern Mexico have claimed they witnessed Star Destroyers firing on each other."
Harris closed his tired eyes and tried to think. What is the enemy up to now? "Get me back to a CENTCOM CP immediately. Contact NORAD. Password of the day is Galileo. Have them retask the Joint Surveillance System. I want eyes on that fleet immediately."
"Yes, sir." Both of the flight crew said in unison. The Osprey dove back into the mountains and under the Imperial radar coverage.
"Gentlemen," Harris stood between them and rested his hands on their shoulders, "It may be time for the Earth to strike back."
Thank you everyone who made it this far. To all the favoriters, the alerters and the reviewers thanks for making the review page one of the most enjoyable sites to visit every week. I can't believe it's one of the top reviewed stories on the fanfiction-star wars page. I hope to hear from all of you later this year, when Tarkin's Fist 3 begins. Please keep an eye out for it later rather than sooner this fall. After it's out I plan on releasing a chapter a month until I'm done with school and then its full steam ahead until the whole thing is finished.