Gabriel closed his eyes, hiding the HUD displayed on the inside of his helmet. For a time he relaxed, letting the UCA’s cocoon embrace him with its shock absorbers. Electronic whirs and a soft rumble were the only sounds, muted by the helmet. It was time to watch, wait, and hope for support to move in. Durrant should be in direct laser communication with the fleet as it passes over the crater and hopefully arranging for some sort of extraction.
The speakers in his helmet crackled.
“Alright, guys, here’s the plan,” Durrant said. She sounded... resigned. “They’re pushing several battalions of armor in our direction, trying to open up a corridor. Draconian air defenses are still too thick to risk extraction by Pelican, so we’re on our own until the sliders get here.”
Gabriel sighed, keeping his eyes closed.
“So we’re supposed to sit here and wait, LT?” Katakana asked.
“That’s exactly it,” Durrant responded. “We’re going to hole up in the bottom of this crater with the Minister and wait for reinforcements. It is way too risky for us to try it and get out on our own.”
Gabriel couldn’t hear it, but he imagined Katakana, Neferet, and Biaka all cursing to their AI’s. The speakers crackled again.
“What do you think, Rod?” Durrant said.
He shrugged, keeping his eyes closed. “It’s not optimal, that’s for damn sure. But we have no idea what’s happened since dropping into this hole. That was a few hours ago and we have, what? Six hours? Till dawn? We have to herd the Minister through all of that rubble. They’d probably take off as soon as we came under fire. Yea, waiting is going to be our best bet.”
“Ditto. Exactly what I was thinking. It sucks, but we don’t have much of an option,” Durrant said.
There were a few moments of silence.
“Off the record question for ya, Rod,” Durrant said, her feminine voice introspective.
“Sure, LT.” Gabriel quirked an eyebrow.
“When we’re off the record, I’m Josette. Understood?”
“Loud and clear, LT.” Gabriel smirked.
“As long as that’s understood.” She sighed. “You think this is right?”
“Don’t be dense. The invasion. All of this. These guys have been on their own for fifty freaking years. They don’t need us,” she said.
Gabriel nodded to himself. That was clear. They’d only bombarded them from orbit. No one needed that. “Maybe it’s not about them needing us, but us needing them. You know how piss-poor things have been on Earth. Every hunk of rock between Pluto and Mercury has mines and manufacturing facilities constructed on it. Maybe we need this planet’s resources. Maybe all of Sigma Draconis?”
He paused and she waited.
“Still, what bothers me the most, Josette, is what we don’t know. The UTG only tells us just enough and we all know that earth is far too over crowded. Even with the Mars and Moon colonies. Those are a drop in the bucket. Now that I think about it, maybe this is all about expansion and finding places to move people outside of Sol. Sigdrac kinda sucks, but we have no idea where a gravity wave from here might take us.”
“Yea, so maybe this whole thing is to secure a way out of Sol and to spread humans about?” Durrant asked.
“Pretty much, something along those lines. Only the corporations pissed the Draconians off so much when they first opened the mining and processing posts here that they threw a monkey wrench in the whole scheme. They don’t tell us too much about what really happened out here.”
Durrant hummed to herself for a moment. “Rod, we could ask, y’know.”
Gabriel’s eyes shot open. Ask? “What, you mean Mubarak?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“Uh, well. Shit-well, I don’t think we could get into any trouble, could we?” Gabriel stammered.
“There are no standing regulations against the interrogation of prisoners as long as one does not break the UTG Geneva regulations section 1064,” Lucy said into the conversation.
“You hear that, Rod?” Durrant asked.
Jack must have just told her the same thing. “Yea, Lucy just shared that bit. Go for it.”
“Alright, we’ll keep this short, just in case and I’ll keep you patched in,” Durrant said.
Gabriel listened as she communicated with the Draconian convoy vehicles, trying to get a secure channel through to Christopher Mubarak.
“Yes, Lieutenant, what do you want?” said a moderate, tired voice.
“Prime Minister?” Durrant said.
“This is him. Make this quick, my arm is throbbing where it is broken, no thanks to you and your men,” he said.
Gabriel quirked an eyebrow.
“I’ll try. Just a few questions.”
Silence answered her.
“Okay. Do you remember what happened that caused the rebellion?”
There was a long pause.
“Sir, do you-”
“I heard your question, Lieutenant. I’m trying to decide if you intend this insult or if you truly do not know. How old are you?”
Gabriel raised both eyebrows. Insult?
“I am twenty, sir,” Durrant said.
“You truly do not understand then, do you? You are all drones serving your corporate masters without any knowledge one way or another. Earth must be in as sad a state of affairs as we all fear. I am not happy that you have come back to Hydra, Terran.”
“Yes, Hydra. The planet you’re standing on. The planet you have dropped kinetic energy weapons on and killed tens of thousands of MY PEOPLE! Hydra, you incompetent fool!” Mubarak’s voice strained, the helmet speakers crackling.
“So why did it start? What happened? We are taught that the Draconians rebelled over bad pay and questionable working conditions,” Durrant asked, relentless.
Gabriel could hear a deep breath being taken.
“That is correct. But the way you say it is understated. Thousands of people were dying out here. From exposure, decompression, starvation - it was a nightmare. Earth, for all the closeness that FTL travel brought us, might as well had been eighteen light years away. No one cared. We had no representation in the government. The companies, they controlled everything and everyone. It was desparate and we fought back when we felt we finally had enough infrastructure to support ourselves. No one had fought an interstellar battle before and so we were able to have time to build.” Mubarak paused.
Gabriel sat, staring without sight at his HUD. Could it be true? One had to consider the source. Mubarak is, afterall, the number one politician on Hydra. Hydra. What an odd name.
“And now you have returned and all but destroyed one of our precious cities. You will bring back your government and your corporations and my people will suffer again. We are used to hardship, but we would much rather do it on our terms. Not yours, Terran.”
“Things have changed, sir,” Durrant said after a few moments. “Regulations have reduced a great amount of the business influence. There are watchdog groups. This could be a good thing to have mankind reunited.”
“Maybe, young Lieutenant, maybe. Is there anything else you want to talk about? I am a tired old man.”
“No, sir, thank you for your time,” Durrant said.
“Channel closed, sir,” Lucy said.
“Well, that was interesting,” Durrant said to Gabriel.
“Yea, it was. You think he’s exaggerating?”
“Sure, of course he is. But there’s almost always some truth behind the exaggeration. And of course the UTG would downplay the severity of the situation. We have been at war, after all, for fifty years.”
“I suspect you’re right about that, Josette,” Gabriel said. “Maybe after all of this is settled we’ll really find out what happened.” He paused. “Or not.”
“Agreed. Alright, Rod, let’s focus and get the watch rotation setup. Make sure everyone gets at least a few hours of rest.”
“Yes, sir. Too bad these things don’t have showers. Plasma swords, but no showers. Go figure,” Gabriel said.
Durrant chuckled. “You joined the army, Rod, not the navy.”