Author : Benjamin Fischer

“Have a seat, Jim,” said the General.

“Is this what I think it’s about, sir?” the Colonel asked, shutting the hatch behind him.

He sat down. Across from him, a LED nameplate proclaimed “Major General David Pietz USAF, Commander-in-Chief Colonial Expeditionary Force” on a broad, glass-covered aluminum desk. Behind it the General reclined in a plush leather chair halfway turned to face a bank of monitors behind him. Blown up to maximum magnification were the latest from the reconnaissance office–an impressive fleet of spaceships, moored like the petals of a flower around a long, cylindrical space station.

One of the ships was highlighted in red.

“Your thoughts?” asked the General.

The Colonel shook his head.

“Yeah, that’s her,” he said.

“The Charleston,” the General nodded. “Old Chucktown. Lost with all hands. Five years, six months, and two days ago.”

“You still keep track of that too?” the Colonel asked.

“Yes,” General Pietz said.

They sat in silence.

“Definitely, positively destroyed in a meteorite collision,” the Colonel finally said. “They found pieces, they found bodies. No doubt at all.” He was paraphrasing a report.

“And yet the Colonials seem to have repaired her,” the General responded.

The Colonel snorted.

The General sighed.

“OK, Jim, confession time,” General Pietz said. “I don’t know whether to be completely pissed or crying with joy.”

“Yeah, it took the wind out of me, too,” said the Colonel. “She could be alive.”

Pietz let out a sharp laugh and turned away from the telling images. He set his elbows upon his desk and leaned towards his guest.

“Oh, she most definitely is,” he said, his face half-smiling, half-grimacing. “My girl was always tougher than that. I knew a handful of damn buckshot couldn’t have killed Marissa.”

The Colonel swallowed.

“So that means?” he said.

“Yes. The god damn rumors,” said Pietz, “are apparently true.”

“Apparently,” agreed the Colonel.

“Well, here’s another one, for you to spread,” said the General. “Tomorrow, at twenty one hundred, we’re deploying. Our eventual objective will most likely be those facilities at Lagrange Two. And the fleet defending them.”

“Jesus,” said the Colonel.

“To say I am disappointed in the Security Council would be a gross understatement,” said Pietz.

“Jesus,” repeated the Colonel. “We’ll have to use nukes. There’s no other option.”

“Eventually, when our hands are untied, yes,” said the General. “And that’s why I called you in here.”

“Sir?” asked the Colonel.

“When Lieutenant Colonel Pietz and I last spoke,” the General said, “she was convinced that full independence was the only reasonable course for the Colonies. She told me that any sort of half-measure was an invitation to open, violent rebellion, and that she sympathized with secession. I disagreed. It was not a pleasant discussion.”

“Lord,” said the Colonel, his eyes wide. “She told you.”

“Almost,” said the General, shutting his. He snorted softly. Then:

“Jim, I’ve known you and you’ve known me for damn near two decades now, so listen to what I say very carefully now. This contest will be for control of mankind’s future. We can not lose. I say again, we can not lose. If at any point–if at any point you feel that I am holding back even the least bit-”

“You’re not the only one who misses Marissa,” the Colonel said.

The General opened his eyes, and they were cold.

“I expect everything up to and including the last full measure from everyone, myself included,” he said. “Marissa will be very hard to kill.”

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