Leopard

Part of 2100 CE.

Leopard

Francois Ennis had rarely been one to hesitate.  His parents had been opposed to his seemingly impulsive decision to join the service immediately after completing his degree.  They were Federal employees, part of the bureaucracy that kept the wheels of government rotating in Washington, and naturally saw themselves above the fray of ordinary people.  But Ennis had learned early in his childhood the true level of disparity between those who prospered within the Beltway—and the rest of society.  He had seen it starkly in the public schools he attended, where the descendants of freed slaves continued to live in poverty.  His parents would have attributed it to some sort of character flaw or a disorder within that community.

            Ennis knew better.  The government had never assumed responsibility for the millions it permitted to be held in bondage, much less the millions killed in bondage and on the journey to slavery.  There had never been a Truth and Reconciliation initiative in the United States as there had been in South Africa, Canada, and Australia, and no attempt to compensate the descendants of those held against their will for the compounded generations of abuse, trauma, violence, oppression—the demonstrated evidence linking the inheritance of slavery with the wretched circumstances of its offspring.  The evidence was plain to see—one need only open their eyes—and so to Ennis, any variable interpretation was inherently unsustainable.

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Zahn

Part of 2100 CE.

Rolling up the sleeves of his blazer, Beowulf Zahn stepped from the lobby of the Administrative Center and onto the covered portico outside.  He paused in the artificial sunlight to let it warm his face.  The light was reflected from mirrors mounted around the colony’s northern axial end, the end which extended most deeply into the asteroid, and came not from the sun but from a series of powerful, specialized solar simulators.  Their light was fed against a ring of mirrors which in turn illuminated and warmed the colony interior, the mirrors moving with the passing of time in order to simulate day, sunset, night, and sunrise.

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Braddox

Part of 2100 CE.

Braddox

“Captain, we’re in hailing distance of al-Basra.”

            “Thank you,” Braddox said, though his attention remained fixed on the console in front of him.  For the past twelve hours they had been monitoring a pair of sensor pings shadowing them at a variable distance of two hundred to two hundred fifty kilometers.  Even without an atmosphere to interfere with their line-of-sight, the enemy’s entanglement weapon still affected this region of space.  It acted as a sort of “quantum fog,” making it impossible for long-range sensors to discern what lay beyond the fog’s apparent horizon, some one hundred sixty kilometers from the affected object.  Adding to the problem was the sheer amount of physical debris littering this part of the Greek camp—the trojan asteroids at SJL-4—which likewise made detecting enemy warships at great distances difficult.  They were forced to rely on the computer’s algorithmic estimations to calculate identity probabilities based on a database of known silhouettes, thruster signatures, IFF, et cetera.

            Of all the possibilities stored in its database, the ship’s tactical programming determined that the sensor pings carried an eighty-five percent probability match with the shape and size of Separatist destroyers.

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Landon

Part of 2100 CE.

As a child he had spent Sundays with his great-grandfather, listening to stories from Grandpa Seth’s childhood on Earth.  He loved those stories.  They were from a time before the settlement of space.  Grandpa Seth would talk about the first colonies, the first cities on Luna and Mars, the terraforming of Ganymede.  His Uncle Omar was the most fascinated of the family, taking copious notes which he utilized in his graduate school thesis.  Uncle Omar called it “an oral history of a bygone era,” but to Landon, they were just really cool stories.

            Then there were the sad stories, the ones about the civil war and the world war that followed.  Those inevitably revolved around Grandpa Seth’s younger brother, the boy soldier Adrian.  Those were the times that ended badly, with his great-grandfather becoming agitated, sometimes shouting, sometimes storming out of the room midsentence.  When his mind went in his final years of life, he repeatedly mistook Landon for his long-lost brother.  Those were the hardest and most uncomfortable visits to stomach, because they usually ended with Grandpa Seth crying.

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Hospital

Part of 2100 CE.

Outside the rain came down in thundering sheets, filling the streets and soaking anybody unfortunate enough to be caught in the downpour.  It was the first of what were predicted to be hundreds such storms that were to regularly ravage the east coast.  The millions of tons of water vaporized when the asteroid struck southern California were now returning to earth after more than a year condensing and accumulating in the upper atmosphere.  The year of perpetual cloud cover combined with rapidly flooding rivers and lakes were drowning what few hardy crops remained resulting in massive global food shortages, even among the superpowers.  The United Nations and other international organizations talked about using the coming showers to irrigate the barren Sahara, converting it to agricultural farmland.  But even if the cloud cover broke and photosynthesis could take hold, there would still be insufficient supply to meet current demands, and now in an ironic twist of fate, food was being imported from agricultural centers on the moon and the wealthier colonies in Earth orbit.  And there was still not enough to go around.

            Displaced millions took refuge in larger cities, leading to unrest and finally most recently riots correlated with high concentrations of refugees: Chicago, New York, Boston, and Cincinnati here; Houston, Atlanta, and Nashville in the South; Seattle and Portland on the Pacific coast.  While some of the refugees opted to work for the International Civil Service or enlist in the Peacekeeping Forces, thus dispersing them in droves across other participant member-states, most refused to leave their native country.  Housing and job shortages added to the extreme stresses of food shortages, and in desperation many otherwise insipid individuals turned to crime.  As if to demonstrate the severity of the crisis, international Peacekeepers were being authorized to assist in policing, the first time such Blue Berets had been seen in the country in a half century.  These recent additions to the Peacekeeping Ground Forces were, in fact, reserve units composed of personnel who were in one way or another rendered unsuited for “conventional or direct action,” but still capable of fulfilling the basic duties inherent in peacekeeping operations.  It amounted to a military police presence composed of men and women wounded too seriously to return to regular duty: an amputated arm, a missing eye, damaged tendons.  There was one soldier she had seen with such horrific scarring from third and fourth degree burns that she had been physically startled at the sight of him—and her heart broke.  The pain must have been immense, and she could not imagine the psychological trauma at seeing reactions like hers on a daily, possibly an hourly basis.  And she had been unable to stop staring.  All she could think was, what if that was Emile?  What if that was Emile…?

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Titan

Part of 2100 CE.

“There’s no sign of the enemy,” the gruff voice of Master Sergeant Reltic came over the radio.  He sounded disappointed.  “Nothing but locals who keep insisting they love the confederation…”

            The town of Ashland was situated at the foot of the mesas overlooking the near bank of the Loon River.  It had taken the two platoons the better part of six hours to march around the mesa before entering the town a few hours before the start of the workday.  As the company trudged its way around the rocky outcropping, Emile and Pataki had gone on a hike, as Master Sergeant Reltic had put it.  Where it had taken third and fourth platoon six hours to get around the mesa, it had taken Emile and Pataki the equivalent time to first scale and then cross that same mesa.  They found an opportune ledge overlooking the town and set themselves up there.

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8-Gitano

Part of 2100 CE.

“How does it look?”

            With a slight groan that betrayed his fifty years of working in low gravity, the colony’s chief engineer Uthman came to his feet.  “Well, the simple part is, I know what’s wrong.  The complicated part is that the server is burnt out.”

            “Burnt out?” the station’s superintendent sputtered.  “How?  Can servers even burn out?

            The mining colony’s chief administrator raised a pacifying hand.  It was a well-known fact that this particular super and the chief engineer did not get along, even on the best days, and the last thing Beowulf Zahn needed right now was a heated argument.

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Elysium

Part of 2100 CE.

Keep your head down, goddamnit!” the company sergeant-major was shouting over the din of small arms fire.  “Give me a fucking grenade in that goddamn window!”

            In reaction, one of the soldiers with a grenade launcher dropped to a knee, took careful aim, and with a loud thoomp, sent a 40mm round streak through the air.  The offending window disappeared behind a fireball and cloud of dust—only to disappear again and again as two more grenadiers fulfilled the sergeant-major’s orders.

            “What the hell!” Alan shouted, raising his rifle and firing.  “Where the fuck were they hiding?”

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Suffolk

Part of 2100 CE.

“You’re sure this line is secure?”

            Any more secure and we would not be able to talk, Braddox thought as he suppressed a grimace.  He had been sitting strapped to a chair in the Leopard’s wardroom for the better part of an hour—strapped because decorum called for him to be sitting during a meeting with a superior officer, a nearly impossible task in zero-gravity without the use of such restrains, and for the better part of an hour because the superior officer in question had taken that long to establish the connection on his end.

            Keeping his face neutral, Braddox inclined his head.  “Yes, sir.  I can confirm on our end that the line is secure.”

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Emile

Part of 2100 CE.

The skies were different here, nothing like home.  Here there were no white clouds against a backdrop of blue.  Here there was no blue at all, or even white, or green.  Everything was a uniform orange-brown—a burnt landscape against a burnt sky, decorated by brown clouds laden with dust and grit.  They would gather in the coldest hours of the day, clogging the air in a dense morass that made it hard to breathe, and there they would sit for days on end, thicker with each passing hour.

            And then without warning, the temperature would rise a degree or two, and from seemingly nowhere massive gusts would rip across the desert plains, filling in dried up riverbeds bringing with it the rage and power of sandstorms.  In the flicker of an eye they would be surrounded by screaming currents of air, tearing at their clothes and at any part of their skin unfortunate enough to be caught uncovered—and then it would be gone, the wind and the clouds, gone as quickly as they had come.

            And in those few hours before the process could begin anew, the skies were clear.

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