Admiral Creston Lera considered himself as a strong man; he had lived and seen many things throughout his years of service. He remembered the day he graduated from the Academy with top grades and the highest promotion the school had to offer, he had been so proud and arrogant. He had thought he deserved everything in the world. The next day he was assigned to Starbase Juno, an insignificant storage outpost in the outer rim of the Federation. He had been furious, that place wasnīt fit for him, he should have been assigned to a Battleship or at least to a Telecom Center. Five days after he arrived to the outpost he requested an audition with the Commander of the base to `clear things up'. A few hours after that, he was reassigned to Mining Base Trito X, the worst hell pit of the galaxy. That day he had learnt humility.
Since then, he did as told and obeyed every single order issued to him without a hesitation. Slowly he began build a reputation and promotions were soon to follow. Almost half a century later, he was Admiral of the Solarium Fleet and now he was once again being taught a new lesson. He reached for the documents on his desk and opened the folder. His expression was empty as he read the documents one more time, he put them aside and a faint smile crossed his lips. Forty seven years of service and he had still a lot to learn.
He looked down through his large optic-steel window and watched how soldiers and military technicians walked hurriedly from one place to another, shouting orders, receiving hyperline transmissions and trying to stay calm in the process. They were young and full of life, he was old and tired and all of them saw a leader in him, a guardian. He touched the window and the optic-steel began to turn into a solid metal wall.
He sighed and pushed a button, the room went dark instantly, only the command panel was visible. He put his hand on the surface and began to shuffle through the menu; he stopped and selected an option. A hologram was projected over the panel. He manipulated the controls and the projection amplified and moved to the center of the room. He stood up and slowly walked around the hologram. His eyes and mind were fixed on it.
Mars was in the center of the hologram, a big shiny sphere floating in the middle of the room. Green and blue spread almost all over the surface of the planet, artificially created forests and seas, the fruitful results of terraforming. Blurry white areas were visible above the surface, they were thin clouds that provided the right amount of moisture to maintain the temperate weather on the planet. Finally, he could see red spots here and there: reminders of the past, when Mars was nothing but a red lifeless rock floating around the sun. `Nothing compared to Earth' he said to himself.
Fobos and Deimos, Fear and Terror, Mars' moons were visible orbiting the planet. Fobos: home of the most secret research the Federation did, previous home of the infamous Federal Agency of Intelligence and Technology for Humanity. Four centuries ago, FAITH was the most advanced institution of research in the whole galaxy, however, when the government discovered the gruesome experiments they did with humans it was immediately shut down and the case was soon forgotten. As Admiral, he had been informed of the research FAITH did, he even knew that to this day some of those experiments where still running secretly under the radar, he shuddered as he remembered. On the other hand he had Deimos: the only industrial base in the whole known galaxy that was completely robotized. Two hundred years ago, the last human crew of workers was reassigned to other mining bases as the newest models of intelligent robots were installed and programmed to work on Deimos. Tons of resources were transported to the satellite each day and were transformed into a variety of products, from entire squadrons of fighters to domestic appliances and light space vessels.
But now, both moons were silent, paralyzed and empty, evacuation programs were executed perfectly and the general shutdown of Deimos was programmed with precision. Nothing moved without his consent on those moons. However, Mars was another story, to make things short; he didn't know a thing about the actual state of Mars. Nothing. Every bit of information from the surface was beyond his reach.
He remembered Mars as if it was yesterday. He had been thirty years old. Young and still in his prime he had passed his vacation leave on the red planet. Central City was one of the most amazing things he had ever seen in his entire life, even at the age of sixty seven he had to admit that Central City stilled amazed him. Art, technology, power and life a combination that made his head buzz, it was nothing like old Earth, he could feel safety and peace at Earth but Mars was a whole new deal and precisely that was the word... NEW.
He looked at the projection of Mars and searched for Central City, it was a black spot covered with a shiny glaze probably caused by the melting of tons of metal and glass. Two more dark spots were visible on the planet: Hera and Ares. He gritted his teeth as he tried to grasp with his mind the number of victims. Three and a half billion people was the probable estimate. Almost a quarter of Mars' population. He imagined all those souls screaming at the same time before their lives were extinguished and then... silence and nothing more. It was an atrocity; he had to make sure that payback day was near for those who had dared to defy the Federation in such way.
The projection zoomed out as the Admiral manipulated with his expert fingers the controls on the panel. No longer was Mars the only visible object, but the whole Solarium system as well. Mercury with its solar monitors, Venus and the multiple gas stations, Earth with the forever present blue, Mars and the uncertainty that it contained, the asteroid field filled with storage outposts, military bases and mines, Jupiter and its multiple mines, private mansions and so on. How was he supposed to defend this system? Where were his objectives? For all he knew, he could have the enemy under his nose and not be aware of it. He reached for the documents on his desk once more and memorized each paragraph of the paper sheets before he dropped the folder into the atomic disposer. It was an ancient military tradition to dispose of physical documents that way. Top secret files were to be printed, memorized and disintegrated not a single electronic copy should be issued. He knew that the High Council had done the same with their copies.
Suddenly, a soft beep that only his inner ear could hear came from his desk. He introduced his password key into the emergency slot as he sat on his chair. He heard the door closed and knew that the security in his office would be maximized. He pursed his lips and grunted. Familiar devices came to life from within the arms and legs of his chair, he felt how some needles punctured his skin and released their chemicals into his veins. He had never liked this procedure, but when desperate times were present this was the only safe way of communication. After a few seconds he felt numbness spread to his hands, feet, legs, arms, chest and finally he slipped into a carefully programmed trance.
It was always difficult to adjust to the hyper-trance in which he was. Long training hours were required to master the control in which mind and body needed to be before establishing the connection. Complex algorithms ruled this world and the system was always a bit slow when it came to connect and emulate his senses. He couldn't see, hear or feel anything, just emptiness. He didn't even feel his own body, as if his brain had been extirpated and floated in the void. Several minutes passed and his emulated senses began to turn on. First he felt the sudden appearance of his body, then the always uncomfortable pull of gravity, his nose trickled when his smelling returned, his skin began to feel at the same time his hearing was turned on and finally his eyesight hit him without warning making him jump. He took time to adjust to the new environment, when he did, he couldn't hide his surprise.
From all the scenarios he had been before, this was new. It was an elegant room decorated with rows and rows of books on the walls, not electronic versions but printed books, good old paper and ink. Small tables with flowers were around the small library, this place was different, it was cozy and warm. In the middle of the room three comfortable sofas were disposed. Two were already occupied.
"Good afternoon Admiral", said a female voice from one of the sofas. Lydia Herat got up and went to greet him. "We are really pleased to meet you again"
"Senator Herat, always a pleasure", he replied as he shook the hand of the woman.
"Under brighter circumstances would be better", said Enar Ferzoa as he closed the book he was reading with a soft thud and went to shake the Admiral's hand.
"Quite right you are Senator", said the Admiral with a smile on his face. Enar Ferzoa was an enigmatic figure for him, he had never actually been close to that man and still he trusted his judgment.
"Please take a seat Admiral", Lydia said as she pointed towards the other sofa. "We are well aware of your dislike towards this kind of communication, but we need to be as safe as possible."
"I understand completely Senator", he said as he sat on the cozy sofa.
"Oh please, call me Lydia", her hand moved in a dismissive gesture. "I'm tired of titles being thrown at me all day, between us we should call each other by our names, it's silly to follow those pompous traditions, isn't it?"
"As sincere as I remember Lydia", he smiled and turned his head to one of the tables with flowers in the room. To his surprise the flowers were now white roses... strangely he couldn't remember what kind of flowers were before the roses, but he definitely knew that they had changed.
"Interesting isn't it?", he quickly turned to Enar and glanced at him quizzically. "Don't worry I can't read minds... yet", he chuckled. "I figured you just have noticed the flowers change, didn't you?"
"Yes... they are white roses now... but before they were..."
"And strangely you canīt remember what kind of flowers they were before?", said Lydia with a smile.
The Admiral was beginning to get worried. He didn't like not to know what was going on. He was always informed, even the smallest details were given to him.
"It happens to all of us", Enar said while smiling to the Admiral. "You see, when the psychic engineers designed this room, they only programmed `flowers in a vase, on a table' just that. When we connect to this room, our minds fill in the gaps from our memory. For example, Lydia always sees gardenias and me, on the other hand...", Enar glanced at the flowers. "On the other hand, I can only see tulips. The same happens with the books on the shelves, the patterns of the sofas and all the small details present in this room. Everything that was left `unfinished' is completed with our mind, your mind took a little bit longer to fill in the gaps because you had never been to this scenario before and it took its time to plan an appropriate course of action."
"We don't have such scenarios in the military", the Admiral stated. He was sincerely surprised. He had a lot to learn.
"Of course you don't", Lydia said. Her eyes were set on the flowers but her mind seemed to be far away. "Psychic engineers that design scenarios for the military, program every bit of information. They create scenarios which they can control and manipulate, not even slightly flexible. They are quite useful for teaching, however we civilians", she turned her eyes to Enar and smiled. "we tend to use scenarios which will provide certain level of pleasure to us. Gardenias remind me of the summers I used to spend on Mars a long time ago."
"And you Enar? Why Tulips?", he was determined to know more about the mechanism. Maybe if he could get a psychic engineer like the ones who had programmed this scenario, he wouldn't be so uncomfortable with the hyper-trance. He looked up at Enar and immediately regretted asking the question. The Senator eyes were filled up with an immense sadness. But before he could say anything he answered.
"Tulips are the flowers I always bring Xero when I visit him at the hospital", his voice was cold and blunt.
"Oh... I'm sorry Senator... I didn't me-
"It's all right Admiral, curiosity is not a sin", Enar's eyes lit up and were as warm as usual, a grey background could be seen, but he didn't go further.
"Well, now that we have finished our little chat, letīs get down to business", Lydia cut the silence that was beginning to take place and diverted the attention to the actual meeting. "What has happened Creston? What do we know?"
The Admiral snapped out of his embarrassment and focused on the report he had destroyed a few minutes ago.
"Well... I'm glad to say that we actually know everything of what happened, but the hard part is to know what is happening right now on Mars", he knew that the High Council had received a detailed copy of the military specifications that his Battleship had gathered within the last nine hours. The last hour had been filled with updates on further discoveries. "We now know that the explosions that destroyed Central City, Ares and Hera were in fact separated mini-explosions that took place one after the other. They used fusion warheads. The cities were erased completely, not even the deepest tunnels for public or military transportation have the slightest possibility to remain intact."
Lydia and Enar sighed and nodded their heads, accepting the truth as it came.
"We had suspected this Creston, we had hoped for a slight possibility of survival but we were hanging on to false expectations", Lydia said with her eyes set beyond the room. "I suppose that with this information we discard completely the possibility of a small organization behind all of this."
"I was thinking the same Lydia", Enar said, his mind was evaluating every bit of the report that the Admiral had given them. "Our next suspect is a coalition between the most notorious rebel organizations on Mars and... an intricate plan that was designed not only for terrorism purposes, but for an actual civil war. We might be facing an actual desire to dissolve the Federation."
The Admiral was surprised, usually the Senators wouldn't share their opinions so lightly. Even though he was an old friend of Lydia he had never seen her act like that.
"How Creston? How could they penetrate so easily our monitoring systems? As far as I know we have developed the strongest security measures known to man", Lydia was focusing all her attention to the man sitting in front of her. "I just can't understand how we lost control of the situation so fast..."
"I'm afraid we never had control of the situation Lydia", Enar stood up and began to walk towards one of the shelves.
"I agree Enar, it was never under our control... we just...", the Admiral was angry, he couldn't grasp a logical explanation of the situation. He just couldn't understand how this whole operation managed to dodge security. Not even one of the intelligence agencies had information about the event. "We just... I can't explain it; we had never faced such an organized assault within our own borders."
A thick silence fell between them, a silence which meaning was beyond their grasp. Almost a thousand years of relative peace left the human race without any ideas about how a war must be fought
"We know that all of our satellites over Mars were incapacitated with some kind of complex virus that not only destroyed the programming of the satellites but also the functional structure. As we speak, most of our satellites are big metal pieces of junk floating in space, unusable. Some were spared and we still get information from them, sadly they are just 5% of our total network before the attack."
"We didn't know this", Lydia said. "How could the y be spared? Was it a planned action or just a mistake?"
"We are not sure... we would like to think of it as a mistake. However, three days ago those satellites received an electronic upgrade from an unknown source, it was marked with the usual security codes from official federated systems but... we don't know who authorized those upgrades bu-"
"It could probably be a trap Admiral", Enar interrupted quickly as he opened the book that rested on his lap and handed it to the Admiral. He had a strange look on his face. "Look at this"
The Admiral wasn't sure why Enar was handing him the book he was reading before he arrived. He read the page that was marked and was surprised to see the beginning of a top secret file he hadn't seen before.
"Another thing we can manipulate of this program Admiral. We can project our thoughts and memories into empty lines of code, very useful in situations like this.", Enar motioned him to continue reading. "You are reading the only report that I made from my mission to Shigon system some years ago. It was kept in the utmost secret, even to the Senate, only the High Council had access to it.
He began reading the report in silence. The first pages were introductory terms, social, economic and political studies made before the arrival of Senator Ferzoas to the system. Things got interesting when he reached the actual report of the events that took part during those months. Suddenly he read something very confusing; he had to read it twice before grasping the complete concept. He looked at Enar and then at Lydia, he didn't know what to say. He opened his mouth to speak, but he closed it again, he was speechless. Finally he said something.
"Why didn't I receive a copy of this?", he was still trying to understand the full meaning of what he had just read. "This information is vital, I should have been informed"
"I'm sorry Creston, but we had to do it. We didn't know how to react... first we thought it was a mistake, it just couldn't be. We knew that the Federation wasn't perfect; we had allowed very disturbing things to happen under our watch, such as FAITH, but never something like this. We tried to explain it as an error, a simple glitch in our control systems.", Lydia looked defeated and shook her head lightly as she continued. "But we investigated the issue and confirmed the information as truth several times. It suddenly dawned on us we weren't the ones in complete control."
"Since then we have created a secret organization under our complete control and out of the Federation, trying to reach the bottom of this, however we have failed." Enar was worried; he looked as defeated as Lydia. The Admiral had never seen the Senators in this state. "We first thought it was a simple thing to solve, but we discovered that the problem was rooted way before we arrived to the Senate, maybe even before all three of us were born. We began immediate action trying desperately to counterattack their actions, but unfortunately they sped their plans." Enar paused a second, took a deep breath and said. "We knew Mars would be attacked, but we didn't know anything else."
Surprise was an understatement to describe what was the Admiral feeling. He just couldn't believe it, he understood completely the senators and their actions, and he would have done the same in their places. Hours ago he felt frustrated because he didn't know what was happening at Mars, now... he just felt completely powerless. He grabbed the book and read the report again.
The document read:
"...the events reported before the revolts took place were confirmed as rumors and discarded by "official" authorities; however we don't possess any actual reference of it. I checked twice our main database (see HC-f89657-r7893) but the files were erased...
...in Shigon, databases are kept separately from main federated network allowing an independent storage of memory far away from our influence...
...shigonian data proved to be enlightening. I have encased copies of the files into isolated shigonian memory storage devices so federated systems won't be able to detect independent information entering our mainframe...
...confirmation of the so called "rumors" as truth is of vital importance to the High Council. Immediate investigation is required; we cannot let "official" transmissions from authorized federated systems to issue massacre orders randomly...
Update(FD-67/56): Rumors confirmed as truth. Orders were not random. Genocide. Take immediate action."
Is it a simple rebellion or something else? What is sending those unknown transmissions? What is happening in Mars?
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