The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stardust: Towne, Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Major Griever marched down the well lit hall with a mission. Under his arm he carried a briefcase, one that carried notes vital to the war effort. Union Austriaus was not in the war, not yet, but it could not stay neutral forever. Eventually the UA would have to enter against The State and destroy its genocidal dreams. Griever was a middle-man, a forty year old one of excellent health. He spent half his life serving his country, and did so well in the Special Services, the intelligence arm of the Union’s armed forces.

This was the part of his job he loved most; getting out of the office. Meeting new people was fine, but he really enjoyed the going new places. Like this hall for example. Before today, Griever never stepped foot inside Hallomoor University. Nor had he ever the chance to meet the legendary physicist, Professor Eindorf. Eindorf was apparently a recluse, for no pictures existed of him. Nor was there any description within the university’s personnel files. Another perk to his job. Legally, snooping as such without a warrant was a big no-no, but Griever always needed to know who he was going to deal with.

Going for to find Eindorf without any data irked him. He was a combat veteran, back in his younger days. He lead men into skirmishes along the border, and knew that leading men into the unknown was dangerous at best. Suicidal was a better work for it. If one did not know what one was going up against, there was a good chance that one would not walk away. Griever expected no firefight here in the hallowed halls of one of the most prestigious universities in the AU.

Griever stopped at a steel door. Above it lay a plaque with Eindorf’s name upon it. This must be the place. Griever pushed the door open and stepped inside the laboratory. He saw an impressive display of technology. One entire wall of the lab was coated in complex calculating machines. A few computer monitors were lit up in a series of numbers. Griever did not approach close enough to read them. He doubted he would understand them, for it was all in the language of mathematics.

Along side those computers stood many recorders. The sound of tape whirling through the machines, each bit of data being recorded, gave the otherwise silent room much noise. It reminded him of his own office building, where an army of typewriters clacked away all day. Lights blinked off and on, a swarm of fireflies within the machine. The machine was clearly processing something, but Griever saw nobody here, well nobody who could tend the machines.

He did see one fellow standing in front of him. The towering figure, at least two point five meters in height, stood looking at one of the rooms few blackboards. Those boards were a throwback, to a time before transistors replaced chalk. The giant fellow, a specimen of Homo giganticus, just stared at the complex equations upon the board.

Griever tried not to snicker. This janitor, for what else could an ogre be doing inside a university, could not possibly grasp these theorems. Griever had no idea what any of it meant, for he did not speak or read mathematics. He sometimes wondered if any of these numbers and characters actually meant anything, and if the theorist were simply not making things up as they went. More over, the janitor did look a bit silly in his overgrown, white lab coat.

They better not, for if the notes from Doctor Hawk meant nothing, then this operation was all a waste. Professor Eindorf and his fellow physicist were very fearful of any research The State conducted. The operative could not blame them; anybody with a gram’s worth of sense would not trust Naveina. Several elf scientist fled in the wake of the anti-aurumus rhetoric of The Party. They were against any non-sapiens, but really came down hard on the elves. A foolish move, for many of the brilliant minds belonged to elves. A few even now worked within this building.

“Excuse me,” Griever called out to the ogre.

The ogre slowly turned his head. He stared at Griever with thoughtful eyes. Something was clicking upstairs, but who knew what. “Yes?” he asked in a deep, resonant voice.

“I am looking for Professor Eindorf. Have you seen him?” Griever asked, or more like demanded to know.

Eindorf looked back at him with a hint of surprise, and even a twinkle of irritation. He paused to consider his answer, perhaps trying to recall where he last saw him. That would make Griever’s job easier. But that was not what the ogre had in mind. “Can’t say I have. Keep looking, I’m sure you’ll find him soon enough.”

Griever sighed. The ogre had no clue. Swell. That made his job that much more difficult. Curse Eindorf for not having a picture. Perhaps he will give him a piece of his mind once he found him– and after he concluded his business. Without giving the ogre another look, Griever turned on his heals and walked out the lab. Surely somebody would know where Eindorf stirred.

Professor Eindorf continued his consideration on his blackboards. Somewhere, somehow, Ultima Radiation had to fit into his equations describing the Weak Nuclear Force. It just had to. It obviously had nothing to do with the Strong Force, and despite its radiation tag it was not part of the Electromagnetic Force. As for Gravity– that was laughable. Gravity, despite its obviousness, was too weak to do much of anything.

Little was known about Ultima Radiation, except it came from a coating of dark particles surrounding the nucleus of heavy elements. The lay of Cantseeons emitted a force, dubbed Ultima Radiation, were somehow trapped between the nucleus and electron orbits. That lead some of his colleagues to hypothesize a connection with the EM force. Grant it, some Ultima Radiation, ‘magic’ as a laymen might call it, does display some EM properties, but only from yellow dyamascus. The five other colors displayed other universal attributes.

He knew he would never crack the secrets of how the six types of Ultima Radiation worked, but at least he could find out just what it was. That was his goal, his only mission in his remaining lifespan. It just had to be connected to the Weak Force, for those heaviest of elements were unstable, and did radiate EM radiation and neutrons. When either broke through the layers of Cantseeons, it must disturb them.

Eindorf glanced over at the computer console. Infernal machines, it was no help what so ever. Sure, it processed and double-checked equations at near light speed, but that was it. It had yet to give him a single idea, except replacing it with another board. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling another headache coming on. Or perhaps coming in. Behind him, he heard a nock at the door.

“Professor?” Eindorf recognized the voice as one of the gradstudents. Yes, he was a future physicist in the making, but he had a couple of decades to go before he could reach Eindorf’s level. The professor wished he had as much time as the young man.

“Yes?” Eindorf asked. His deep voice always startled those who first encountered him.

“You have a guest.” Eindorf turned away from his work reluctantly. His kind did not have time to waste. The gradstudent stood, reserved and ready to leave. He too had work needed finishing, and did not want to keep away a moment more than he must. Commendable. The other one– the guest, Eindorf recognized immediately. He saw the suited and well groomed man no more than ten minutes previous.

“Professor Eindorf?” the visitor asked.

Eindorf smiled, showing a row of large teeth. “I told you, that you’d find him.”

“I’m terribly sorry,” whether he was or not, Eindorf could not wager. He knew for a fact the man was rather embarrassed about his earlier mistake. “I had no idea that you’re–“

”An ogre?” Eindorf asked with a chuckle. “Not many do.” At thirty-six, he was an ogre approaching the end of his natural lifespan. Due to their large size, and the ancient engineering that created their genome, they seldom lived past forty. He knew the mysteries of Ultima Radiation would not be solved in four more years. That made interruptions all the more annoying.

“I feel like a fool,” the visitor told him. “Without pictures, how was I suppose to know?” He was not apologizing any more than he was explaining. Explaining to himself, trying to justify his mistakes. He was not one who error often.

Eindorf shrugged. “The university doesn’t like to advertise, for reasons you can surely understand.” Ogres were stereotyped into positions of remedial labor. Only a few ever rose above those low expectations.

He quickly reorganized himself. “I am Major Griever, from the office of Military Intelligence.”

Eindorf nodded. “So you are. Now if you have business here, Major, please get on to it. My time is short,” a slight smirk at his joke, “so make it snappy.”

Griever was not a man used to being talked down to, not even when his opponent was a meter taller and up to three times his mass. He picked up his briefcase and dropped it on the nearest table, careful not to disrupt the small centrifuge. He opened the case and drew forth papers. Eindorf could see a couple of binders within the case. “Your country needs you. I have here notes that my superiors would like you to look over.”

“I’m a Professor of Physics at Hallomoor University, not a proof reader,” Eindorf told him coldly. “Why do they want me to look them over?”

Griever gave him a smile. “They come from the office of Doctor Hawk. Now don’t ask us how we came into possession of them.”

Eindorf was still skeptical. The major came this far, he might as well glance at them. He flipped through the notes, not spotting anything unusual. A few formulas, and Eindorf recognized them. They were similar to the ones who worked on. Hawk’s work made him think the Weak Force approach was right. Hawk seems to believe that dyamascus atoms can be split, the same as uranium. More over– Eindorf’s eyes went wide.

“Professor?” Griever asked, after a minute passed.

“There are more of these?” he asked impatiently.

Griever nodded. “Two binders full. Hawk was a busy man.”

“You will leave them?” Eindorf asked, putting the notes on another table.

“I could, but I’d have to stay too. I have my orders to guard these–“ Griever explained.

“Fine, fine,” Eindorf agreed. He quickly reached for his telephone. The receiver was ridiculously small in his giant hands. He had to pick up a ball-point pen to push the buttons. His fingers were big enough to push four at a time. He quickly dialed his number.

“Trellor, please,” Eindorf said into the phone.

“Speaking,” the crackling voice on the other end replied. “Eindorf, to what do I owe this pleasure.” Trellor was one of the researchers who highly doubted the Weak Force approach, but a very competent mathematician. Eindorf would grant him that.

“Some notes were just delivered to my lab, courtesy of Doctor Hawk. It’s a breakthrough. I think you better get the gang together; they’ll love this.” Eindorf said, and waited for a reply.

“Astounding!” Trellor replied, after his third look over of Hawk’s equations. “Certainly crushes my theory, doesn’t it?” Trellor was as arrogant as a sapien scientist with two doctorate degrees could be, but was man enough to announce when he was wrong– after enough evidence buried him.

The shortest of the gang, a gnome quantum theorist named Deutron, gave his own opinion. “Well, this is amazing. Professor Trellor admitting a mistake.” The two went through graduate school together, which was testament to Trellor’s age. At seventy, he was second oldest. Only the gnome, at one hundred ten surpassed him. Deutron was in general physics until five decades ago, when quantum theory was first developed. He saw that as the coming thing, and changed careers. The luxury of a very long lifespan.

“There is plenty of merit to these works,” came one of the younger researchers, Mento. He only received his doctorate a few years ago, and was still treated like ‘the kid’. “The figures on decay do support Professor Eindorf’s hypothesis. A shame we could not trade notes earlier.”

“A shame they could not flee that cursed land,” though he was not the newest researcher, he was the most recent arrival in the AU. Evernaught was one of the few elves to flee The State as soon as The Party took over. The Party drove out many of its brightest minds. Evernaught did not worry about his former homeland, for in the AU he was treated no differently than any other scientist. From what he heard, Hawk willingly served The State, and attempted to recruit others to what he called the inevitable victory.

“Just telephone service would suffice,” Mento told him.

The elf shook his head. “No it wouldn’t. Those butchers do not deserve such theorists within their ranks.” Whenever an advance in science was made in The State, Evernaught worried. New technology in their hands would be another stab in the heart of the allies. “And I don’t like what these figures tell me.”

Griever stood against the wall, keeping an eye on the documents and an ear open. He only had a scant knowledge of the notes, only what his superiors decided he must know. “Then it is possible? They can split dyamascus atoms, just like uranium?”

Eindorf nodded. Fission was known for the past decade, and widely studied in experimental reactors. Due to Towne’s old age and low amount of heavy elements, there has never been enough uranium mined to do anything other than study. Not enough for a commercial reactor, not even enough to make a fission bomb practical. Just one such warhead would deplete an entire nation’s supply of the heavy metal. “I’ll have to run it through the computer, but yes it does look like a runaway chain reaction is possible. And perhaps with far less dyamascus than uranium.”

“An Ultima Bomb,” Griever muttered the ominous words. As if the possibility of a bomb splitting uranium atoms was not bad enough.

Professor Sellar, Eindorf’s old mentor, snorted. “A rather dramatic name, but not accurate.” This device would be a fission one. Once the nucleus split, it would unleash all that energy into the layer of cantseeons, which in turn would instantly liberate all the ultima radiation in one burst.

If that happened over a city– “You do know that we can’t let The Party get their hands on this,” Evernaught declared. He knew better than any other the foul schemes the enemies of mankind cooked.

Eindorf glanced over at the Major. “Major, we’ll have a report for your superiors before the week ends.” And Eindorf knew he had a letter to write. He wondered if the president would even read it.

Half a world away, beneath the tropical sky, a petrol-electric train came to a stop in an old, brick station. The only thing added in the past fifty years were skylights. All those usually did was give the thousand commuters a train a clear view of the rains from indoors. But not today, today the sun shone and turned the windows a dull red. As the train screeched to a stop, Andreas was one of the first commuters to stumble off the crowded car. He almost forgot how miserable the commute could be while away. Almost.

He did recall enough to book first class tickets for himself and Katrina. Otherwise it might take the better part of an hour to disengage from the masses. As it were, first class was cramped enough. He managed to escape that crowd, and land right in the middle of another. Passenger compliments were about a thousand, and the station would soon have twice that; half coming and half going. Andreas lead Katrina through the mess like a seasoned navigator. If this were any other country, pickpockets would be a concern. Andreas smiled every time he thought about common thieves. They would have to be either desperate or stupid to try and steel from the mob. The dwarves particularly do not take kind of others swiping their belongs.

It had not happened yet, at least not in Contra. In this scattered suburb, almost everyone recognized Andreas. If not by face, then by attire. The farmers and factory hands that comprised most the town’s populace wore common clothes, nothing nearly as tailored as Andreas’s suits. They did not bow nor tip their straw hats. They did, however, get out of his way as he moved. A few did greeted him, but Andreas was not interested in small talk today.

None were disappointed for none expected much out of him. Andreas kept on his mask of cool expressions. He always kept others at a distance, even his buddies within Golden Hammers. Andreas learned long ago about connecting with others. He also learned that those others tended to end up dead. How long would it take for Katrina to suffer the same fate. A long time by Andreas’s estimation. He was not trying to get close to her.

The two finally managed to break free of the station and began their march down Contra’s dirt roads. Only about six thousand called this mis-matched network of roads home. The town itself was evenly divided by the rail tracks. The train continued to make its ruckus, letting all know that it was ready to depart. On the immediate sides of the rail stood a row of factories. They went up within arm’s reach of their shippers. Government ran distilleries, canneries and a lone cigar factory, employed most of the town’s work force. The rest worked in the fields, the same farmland from which Contra sprouted.

Just like other small towns, an open air market jammed the main street. Farmers called out to passer-byers, trying to grab their attention. The People’s Government did not own everything. Though they subsidized basic nutrition, they did not provide everything. Farmers made up the rest, growing extra foods from watermelons to pineapples. Most of these foods are not exported, but rather spread around the island for domestic consumption. The bazaar was such a long standing tradition that not even the Tropican Worker’s Party could abolish it. And why should they? The People’s President often did his own shopping in the more sophisticated markets of Tropico City.

Unlike the capital, several kilometers away, the roads were only clogged by foot and cart. Horses, moas and even a lone paracophant with her dull green plumage, waited by their carts for their humans to call it a day. Katrina looked around and saw not a single truck However, she did notice a few autos. By their look, they were older than her. Those designs were even less sleek than the millions of AMCs crowding the continent’s roads. More over, the autos in Contra looked to have seen better days. Each one of them had at least a single dent in its doors.

“Terrible drivers,” Katrina muttered as she passed one rusted wreck. Did it even work any more? It certainly does not looks to have moved recently.

How could it? With so many Tropicans packing the streets, it was difficult for a human to move, let alone an auto. She quickly forgot about the stationary auto as Andreas lead her through the crowd. Andreas did not forget, he knew what made those dents. He was also glad not to own an auto. It would have its own dents in it shortly. That was the problem with living in the suburbs, dealing with the boneheads.

Where Andreas took the cosmopolitan attitude for granted, Katrina noticed every little details. Every species of human mingled in the crowd, both buying and selling. Even both species of gobli were available, trading just as freely with each other as with the humans. Katrina recognized the goblins with ease. In fact, one ran a little ice cart, peddling frozen fruit kebabs. A few gobli had darker green skin and larger eyes, and kept as far from the crowds as possible. Those must be gremlins, a species so rare that they might just be a legend.

They did not shrink from the light as ancient legends tell. In fact, they did not seem the least bit bothered by the dull, red sun. Though they may be shy by nature, they competed just as rigorously as anyone else. Tropicans prided themselves on treating everybody the same. Equality among species was a cornerstone in socialism. Whether they be sapien, pygmaeus or even a gremlin, the workers of the world must unite.

Such unity was widely advertised. Many posters lined the visible walls. Katrina took a look at one of the red posters. It had a picture of Towne’s globe, and the word beneath it read ‘Revolution’. Several revolutionary themed posters were scattered around the street, some on lamp posts, some in shop windows. Katrina knew propaganda when she saw it, and this was blatantly so. What shocked her more was the statue on the street corner. It was a likeness of that obnoxious man. Katrina pointed it out to Andreas.

“Oh yes, Niceto is quite popular,” he said, glancing at the statue of the People’s President.

“Megalomaniac is the word I’d use,” she muttered. After a life in The State, she knew better than to criticize loudly. She was a foreigner in this land, the locals might just turn her in. Andreas would not, but who could say about the rest of the Tropicans.

The two passed through the market without buying a single thing. The sellers did not seem to mind, in fact they hardly noticed. With so many customers, who would missed a couple of sapiens? Once clear of the street markets, traffic thinned out to a few locals going about their business. They did not go far from the rails. Furthest from the rails were the free longhouses, home to many Tropicans. Closer were the pleasant little country homes. They too were owned by the state, but those who lived their paid rent.

Andreas was one such resident. His was a green house, ideally matching the gardens sprouting in his small yard. Every house was like that. Unlike Shownastadt, there were no grass lawns here. Any space available to residents was put to good use. In Andreas’s case, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, chili pepper, carrots and various other produce that could not be determined from a distance.

Andreas opened the gate and walked down the stone pathway. Katrina followed him a few steps before stopping. She took a look around. It reminded her of a little farm house, like the ones that surrounded her old home. The house was a small one too, could not be more than a single bedroom. The front door was a bit battered, just like the autos. Above, on a perch sat a– Katrina was not sure what it was.

“What’s that!” she exclaimed, pointing towards the house.

Andreas did not even bother looking where she pointed. He just smiled. “That would be Sentry.”

“A pet?” Katrina asked, looking up at the creature.

Andreas laughed, “More like a roommate.”

Katrina continued to stare at the animal. He, at least Katrina assumed the bright plumage meant this animal was a male, sat on the roof, just like a chicken might sit on a perch. He just looked down at Katrina with a curious glance. He knew Andreas, but not this new human. The blue and orange Towneform, cawed like a raven as Andreas approached.

“I ain’t dead yet bird!” Andreas called at him. “Just ignore Sentry. Falconeers are great mousers, but lousy conversationalist.”

“They eat mice?” Katrina asked.

Andreas shrugged. “Figure of speech. But they do eat the birds that like to eat my garden, so we have a working relationship.” His gardens did look nice, even after his long absence. He can see the groundskeeper he hired did an admirable job. Guess that means he would have to pay him a bonus too. He even left the pile of leaves alone. The keeper knew just what Andreas wanted. “You see that pile of leaves?”

Katrina nodded. “I see it,” she said plainly. A damp pile of leaves did seem a bit out of place in his yard. Every other square meter was put to good use, except that corner of his house.

“Try and touch it,” Andreas told her. “Go ahead.”

Katrina eyed Andreas with suspicion. As she walked towards the pile, Sentry’s head shot up. His dark, eagle-like eyes locked on to Katrina. Did this human dare violate his space? Yes, yes she did. The moment she picked up a couple of wet leaves, Sentry hoped forward. He cawed loudly, his voice more like an angry rooster than a crow. Katrina dropped the leaves and spun around. Above her, the falconeer batted his stubby, flightless wings. He strutted around the roof top, his head bobbing fiercely.

Not too far from her, Andreas laughed. She took her gaze away from Sentry and bored into Andreas. “That’s not funny!”

“Yes it is,” Andreas dared to dispute. He looked up at Sentry, “Yes, yes, we know. Those are your leaves. Tsk tsk, Katrina, don’t be touching his leaves.”

Katrina’s face went red with fury. “You–“

”I couldn’t resist,” Andreas tried to wave away her anger. “Calm down, would you? The neighbors are going to hear you. Let’s go inside and fight; it’s cooler and dampens the sounds.”

Katrina’s anger simmered as she followed Andreas. While she walked towards the door, her eyes and Sentry’s kept an eye on each other. She did not trust that two meter long creature, and Sentry felt the same about this strange human. As soon as he was convinced his leaves were safe, Sentry went back to his perch above the door. Katrina was not convinced that he would not jump on her head, so she rushed indoors quickly.

“Did you get mad at your house?” Katrina asked, pointing at the door. “Perhaps forgot your keys and tried to kick down the door.”

Andreas nodded. “Oh yes, all the time. Except I tend to shoot the door.”

Katrina’s eyes narrowed. “Then why is their a dent in it?”

“Boneheads,” Andreas replied, as if that answered everything.

“I don’t see how your attitude did that,” Katrina sniped at him.

Andreas sighed. “No, boneheads,” he repeated. “Birds about the size of falconeers, but twice as massive. They like to ram things.” The bonehead was one of the largest Towneform still found on Tropico. Most of their bodies were covered in orange feathers, same as any other Towneform. However, their heads were bald. Instead of a crest, they sported a thick bone plate, up to twenty millimeters thick. When trying to impress a mate, the males will ram each other, or when startled, they will ram whatever scares them. In this case, Andreas. “I opened the door one day and a bonehead was in the yard. I scared him and he rammed me. I slammed the door just in time. Poor guy just stumbled away afterwards. I imagine Sentry got him eventually.”

That explained why all the doors in Tropico were so thick. She never seen such heavy doors in all her days. It was more like a portal to a fortress than a little homestead. Katrina forgot about the door quickly and took around what Andreas called home. The place was tidy and rather spartan, with just plain, bare walls. Beneath her feet was a thin red carpet, almost more for show than anything else. It did not look capable of handling moving furniture or any other heavy wear.

Only four pieces of furniture sat in the main room. She spotted a tan couch in one corner, and an old worn chair in another. Between them, a solidly sealed window displayed the yard outside. She noticed that too about Contra; no open windows. Andreas’s only modern technology was that of a bulky radio sitting near the chair. In the far corner, a metal locker leaned against the wall. The blue metal gleamed on the electric light above.

“Bright enough in here?” Katrina complained, squinting at the orange light above. It was almost brighter than the sun. Almost.

“I was thinking about installing a spot light,” he retorted as he opened the lid to his mailbox. It was built into the door, and had its own dent to boot. The mail box was full of an astro’s worth of mail. Most of it is probably junk, but he would sort it just to be sure. No telling when one of his coworkers might be dropping him a line from some far away station.

“It’s chilly too,” Katrina said. She heard the constant hum of air conditioning. “Can’t you just open a window?”

Andreas snorted. “Sure, if you want Sentry to wander in. Or worse yet, the hobblers. They’ll eat you out of house and home in no time.” Because of the native wildlife, most notably the little hobblers, not many windows in Tropico opened. Instead, the government provided air conditioners and generous electricity rations. Naturally, if anyone went over the limit, the difference came out of their wallets. The Tropican Worker’s Party made an effort to provide the basics, but Progressives, Centrists and Libertarians that made up the other forty percent of the People’s Congress fought to make luxuries available and cost.

Katrina stood in the middle of the room and took another look around. She could see the bare kitchen from where she stood. Its floor was wood, but aside from that, it was little different than the main room; just plain, tidy and bare. What did Andreas eat? Did he even cook? She did not expect it to be a mess, not when he has not even been home after so many days. Still, there was something unsettling about an unused kitchen.

Andreas noticed her watching the kitchen. “Get you something to drink? Have rum and Tropican Punch. I can boil up some water in a few minutes.”

Katrina shook her head. “I’m not thirsty. I– I don’t know. I just wish I wasn’t here.”

“That hurt,” Andreas feigned, clutching a phantom wound in his chest.

“Am I to stay here for the rest of my days?” As she asked, she looked for somewhere to sleep, somewhere that was not the floor. If that was his answer, she would sooner sleep with the falconeers.

Andreas shook his head. He lacked any desire to have her, or any other human to live with him. “No, we’ll go find you a place tomorrow. A place to stay and a job. I can set you up with one in the company.”

Katrina shook her head violently in opposition. “Out of the question. I will not work for a criminal organization. Say what you will, underground is still illegal.”

Always the purist. Andreas expected as much. She never did fancy the mafia, she held it with almost the same contempt she held the whole socialist system. “Suit yourself. I know a few people who owe me a favor. Perhaps one of them could use one with your skills.” Whatever skills those might be. He knew she was a teacher, and she could type and she could work numbers. What might pass for basic education for her, would be quite advance here. She should have no problem getting a skilled labor position.

Katrina smiled. “Thank you.”

Andreas looked back at her with shock. “You know, I think this might be the first time you thanked me.”

“It might be the last, too,” her expression turned back to her typical combative mode.

Andreas was content to just let it slide. “Nonetheless, I’ll find you a place. It might not be the most extravagant joint, but it’ll put a roof over your head. After you get some money, you can go rent your own house if you please. After that–“ Andreas could only shrug. “Perhaps when the war is done and over, you’ll get to go home.”

Katrina gave him an upside down smile in return. Just what was she doing in Tropico after all. This was a bad idea. Maybe she should have took her chances in Port of Dreams. She gave up on trying to wake up. If the nightmare has not ended by now, it was not likely to do so any time soon.

“After that, I’m not sure how much we’ll see of each other. I’ve got my work, and after the meeting today, I think I’m going to be busy for a while,” Andreas sighed, feeling defeated. Feeling like a failure. He wanted to fix all he damaged, but he was nowhere near repairing her life. “I’m sorry, Katrina. I wish I never got you into this mess.”

Hearing Andreas’s apologetic tone got her thinking about that lost puppy, and about what Petro said. She knew nothing of Gustavus, only that Andreas blames himself for what happened. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll manage.”

Andreas did not push her words away. He was too tired, too defeated for the day for that. Instead, he plopped down in his chair and leaned back his head. “It might take me a while, but I’ll make it better. I won’t fail this time.”

After a few days of working, Andreas fell back into his routine as if he never left it. Even with war looming on the horizon, there were still shipments to send, payments to collect and competition to squeeze out of Golden Hammer’s market area. They ruled the underground in Tropico City and throughout the northern half of the country. Anybody who wanted to make shifty deals in their zone had to buy a business license and pay a tariff. Bad things happened to those who did not pay. Andreas shut down more than one rival company trying to set up shop in and around Tropico City.

Every astro the other dwarven mafia companies try to franchise in Tropico City. And every astro somebody had to push them back. It was very precise work, these company squabbles. The one supreme rule, the constant for mafioso, both sapien and pygmaeus, was never, ever hit a noncombatant. As long as the mob kept the general populace out of the mess and only killed each other, then the People’s Government was content to look the other way– as long as “taxes” were paid.

It was a corrupt, yet well balanced system. Andreas sometimes wondered where he would be had he not hooked up with the dwarves about ten years ago. Probably some dead-end job in the factories, or maybe one of the state-owned plantations. However, his luxurious lifestyle did have its share of hazards; namely, the other guy always trying to kill him. In the factories, at least Andreas would not have to worry about some suave dwarves cutting him down in a drive by.

When Andreas started out enforcing tariffs, he never would have imagined landing his own office. Yet here he was, inside Golden Hammer Enterprises’ corporate headquarters. When he left for his last mission, he was but a made man, working under Ghulam. Since returning, the boss decided to put him in charge of his own crew. He was a captain now, in charge of the whole westside. All the operations from Fort Arnold, west across Contra and all the way to the western Croissant Hills ringing Tropico City.

It was not the biggest operational area, far from it. His only real responsibility was to make sure the tariffs were paid, the underground shippers had up-to-date licences and to make sure the unions pay their dues. In other words, he had endless reports to read, phone calls to make and very little time to go out and work himself. He suspected the only reason he was promoted is because he was a sapien. Dwarves, and their gnomish brethren, were notorious for avoiding management positions. Work was in their blood, and it was not their way to sit behind a desk while others bust their backs.

Then there was the meetings. The endless meetings. This was suppose to be the dwarven mafia! Dwarves never had time for meetings, that sort of thing got in the way of real work. Keeping operations organized was a necessary evil dating back to the dawn of human civilization. His secretary, yes he even had to employ one of those to keep his schedule in tact, stuck her head through the door. “Ghulam is here to see you.”

Andreas eyed his blonde assistant. If the dwarves were going to give him one, they should at least make her younger than he. This one had to have twenty extra years on him. “Let him in,” he told her. She might be getting old, but she always stayed on the ball. Talent and skill won out over looks.

An impeccably trimmed beard dwarf strolled through the door. Ghulam covered himself in Tanimo tailored wears these days. There was not classier suit on the whole of the planet. “How are you doing today, Andreas?”

Andreas gave him an exasperated look. “Buried.”

“That’s the spirit!” Ghulam called out. Being buried was never a bad thing, not to a pygmaeus. They lived underground. Every dwarf who owned a house, owned one on the surface, and one that was several times larger directly beneath it.

“I don’t mind pushing crates, but I can’t stand pushing papers,” Andreas told him, trying to bring him back into focus.

Ghulam nodded. “I know how you feel. But, it must be done. Like we always say, ‘no good work goes unpunished’.”

Andreas was starting to wish nobody ever noticed his own quality of work. “For an industry that’s theoretically illegal, there sure is a lot of documentary.”

Ghulam shrugged. Records must be kept and the numbers must be balance. He glanced back toward the entry. “I’m surprised that you don’t have that sheila working the door.”

Andreas had to think a few seconds before understanding. “Katrina? I offered to hook her up with a company job, but she declined. Told me she wanted to earn her money honestly.” Instead of a well paying job here, she landed one that paid half as much. She now worked as an accountant and assistant in Contra’s corner drugstore.

Ghulam laughed heartily. “Who doesn’t!”

Andreas stared down his old friend. “What do you want, Ghulam? I’m sure you didn’t stop by my office just for idle banter.” Dwarves were never really one for small talk. Wasting time was not in their blood.

Ghulam frowned. “I wish I did, but I have bad news. I just came back from the People’s Palace. Looks like The State’s already left the starting gate.”

“Figured as much,” Andreas told him as his eyes slide over to a copy of the People’s Daily. At the top of the paper, in bold characters, it read ‘Rhodes Falls’. Like all newspapers in Tropico, this was overseen by the state. Andreas wondered just how much of it was impartial, and how much hyped. From what he read, Rhodes gave up without a fight. They surrendered on the day The State crossed the border. Just crossing the border was an achievement of its own. A whole army had to drive down the Swamp’s western highway, and not get trampled by angry dragons, and that was just to reach the border.

Rhodes has fallen– or rather its politicians have. A few soldiers escaped, but more importantly, most of its navy sailed south and defected upon the surrendering. As stipulated in the treaty forced upon Rhodes (according to the People’s Daily), Rhodes was to turn every last ship over to The State. It appears the admirals and captains were not about to give up their ships. They sailed south, with two aircraft carriers, a battleship, several smaller ships, and countless aircraft fled to Tropico.

Andreas heard the drone of engines all morning. A majority of aircraft built could only make the flight one-way. Bombers could make a round trip, and fighters with drop tanks, but that was about it. That was what made the escaping carriers, the Capital and the Sovereign so important. Combined with the People’s Carrier Revolution, they could thwart any invasion. However, Rhodes had three carriers. No word was given on the third.

“From sources that I’m not at liberty to divulge,” when Ghulam said that, he meant Tropico’s global revolutionary network. “The State has massed its fleet with its captured ships a ways outside of Rhodes. They’ll be setting sail any day now, and you can guess where they are headed.”

Andreas sighed. Well, at least with a war, paperwork will take secondary importance. “Just let me know when they’ll be here. I’ll take every last foot soldier and even runners from my district and put a Typist in their hands.”

“Not so fast,” Ghulam held up his hand. “You can’t do that. Do you have any idea how much money we’ll lose?”

Now it was Andreas’s turn to laugh. “The State wants us gone. Being dead won’t help profit margins one bit either. Now a couple astros loss we’ll get over, being dead will take a bit longer.” It was only then did Andreas realize the folly of his rush to return home. He returned just in time for a war. For bombs to fall, shells to burst and homes to burn. If The State ever landed its army, Tropico was in a world of hurt. With only forty thousand regular soldiers, Tropico and all its people would have to rely on hundreds of thousands of citizen-soldiers, of the nation’s various militias– including the resident mafia companies.

“I know that,” Ghulam grumbled. Afterwards, he could just shrug. “The boss will decide what to do when the time comes.” That was a half-truth at best. Dwarves always thought ahead, and the boss no doubt already knew what to do on a number of occasions. All that remained was to find out which eventuality would pass

“If your sources are right, then that time will be soon enough.” Andreas went back to his reports without a further comment.

“Just be ready,” Ghulam told him before leaving to meet with others.

Andreas shook his head. Yes, war will be coming to Tropico. Of all the possible things Andreas could worry about, his mind focused on Katrina. He had work to accomplish and this was no time to think about her. She was not part of the company. Yet, he could not stop. He brought her all the way to Tropico after landing her in hot water with the Knights. No doubt, the Knights will be landing right behind the invasion force, dealing out their worlds of pain.

They would recognize Katrina as a Naveinan. Just her being in an enemy land with bring forth retribution. If they ever radioed in a background check and learned she escaped from them once– needless to say she would not be escaping twice. Terrific. He tried his best to fix the mess he caused, and in the end, he just delivered her back into harms way.

Andreas knew his responsibility in the matter. If anything happened to her, it would be on his head. He would have to live with that guilt, knowing he destroyed her life. Andreas did not want any more guilt laid on his shoulders. He already carried enough to equate the mass of a small asteroid. Yes, it was just a matter of responsibility. If she did something foolish and got herself killed, then he could forget about it and move on.

Or so he thought. She was a fine woman, and when she kept that mouth of hers under control, she was a rather charming one at that. Some feeling of affection did swirl around in his head, but Andreas swatted at them the same way he would flies. More than a year passed since his last date, not counting the whole trip with Katrina. That one, like the ones before, decided he was not worth knowing after all. She just wanted to meet him, get to know him. She had no intention on any of committing.

Given the chance, Katrina would do the same. She would hurt him the same as the rest. In the end, each woman in his life lied to him. No matter the pain, he always tried again. With a scarred up heart, what was one more cut? Nothing much. Just another chip of his humanity nicked away. Perhaps one day he will meet one who can say what she means and mean what she says. Andreas was not about to hold his breath.

Despite all the pain, he only blamed the women passively. He held most blame for himself. For his failings. After what happened to Gustavus, Andreas doubted he was even worthy of love. He was sick of the guilt, sick of the thoughts and doubly so of the memories. The only solace he held was that memory lasted only as long as mortality. Once he was dead, he would not have to remember anything. Of course he would not be able to dance when dead– but working in the Golden Hammers, he long since learned nothing came without a price.

After a few minutes of thought, he found his work less than lacking. He was like an old time steam engine out of steam. He would now have to trudge through the paper work half-heartedly, or less, than his normal low enthusiasm. Now, with his inner self in turmoil, he would do his best to reach tomorrow. After that– it was one less day to worry about. Maybe he should have stayed home to begin with, never traveling up north and never meeting her. As he well knew, it was too late for ‘should haves’. It was time to stop thinking about the past and start focusing on the future. At least with the future, he might have some say in it.

A thick canopy of orange and green passed quickly below. Numerous flowers were visible upon the lilies. Red, yellow, blue and even the shimmering of ultraviolet. Humans called the Towneform flowers black. Yamasee always considered humans funny little animals. Their limited range of vision limited them to the ‘visible spectrum’ as they called it. Yamasee never had to worry about that. His sharp eyes could see into the ultraviolet and even a bit into infrared. His altitude dropped by almost a meter, so he added another beat of his wide wings to keep him aloft for another instant.

Though black dragons spent much of their time at water level in the swamps, Yamasee could see new sources of prey from the air. He occasionally patrolled his own territory from above in search for concentrations, but not today. Today he flew with a purpose. Ok, every day a dragon took to the sky, it was for a good reason. The act of flying consumed enormous amounts of energy, which only meant he must eat that much more. Better to stay submerged, or stalk from the undergrowth than to waste energy being airborne.

Today, the normally solitary dragon flew to meet more of his kind. Every so often, dragons did get together in neutral ground, just to talk. To discuss events of the world, to ponder philosophically, and to exercise their minds. Being extraordinarily intelligent animals, they must converse and trade ideas. If not, the solitude would drive them crazy. They must have regular mental stimulation.

Some times dragons would speak to other animals. Few animals on the planet possessed languages. The various species of humans were one of them. Dragons often spoke with them– as long as the apes respect their territory. The giant ones, the ogres were often most environmentally friendly. But Blacks were a talkative lot, and would try to exchange ideas with sapiens and the short guys.

As for other species, the gobli were out of the question. Millions of years of history between the two genera was not forgotten so easily. Goblins and gremlins did their best to steer clear of dragons, and Yamasee was not sorry to never see them. He was, however, unusual for his kind. Though most Blacks were bilingual, he was trilingual. His territory lay on the edge of the ocean, in a mangrove swamp. Often the language-bearers of the sea would enter his waters seeking fish. Admittedly, the language of the dolphin was trickier to learn than one of a human, but he learned it nonetheless. Those marine mammals had the most interesting outlook on life.

Yamasee caught a glimpse of the opening. A small hill rising from the swamp. It was a relatively dry meadow in the middle of the dragon’s swamp. He easily spotted four other black outlines in the orange field. Each of the dragon’s heads turned upward to meet his gaze. His presence made them instantly uneasy, but only for a moment. They quickly overcame their territorial instincts and recognized him as bearer of news. Otherwise, their instinct would be to rise and confront the intruder– though it was only neutral grounds.

“What news have you brought?” asked the dragon nearest towards Yamasee’s landing spot. Kona continued. “I spotted another convoy of their armored vehicles driving south. The third in two days.”

“And I spotted their four engine aircraft flying south,” Tuli told the dragons. Her territory was closest to Rhodes than any of the others. “They keep landing in Rhodes.”

“Are they staying put?” Yamasee asked. He knew enough about humans, same as any dragon, to worry when they start moving in masse. Like the others, he also knew they fought a war across the continent, with increasingly destructive weapons.

“No,” Tuli hissed. “They are flying south across the ocean, destination unknown. Ever since Naveina conquered Rhodes, the newspapers and radio stations have stopped running. Honestly, these humans– how will they learn anything if they shut down information outlets?” The thought of controlling information never crossed a dragon’s powerful mind. Their intellect exceeded a human’s but they simply could not think like an ape. “No matter how imperfect their media may be.”

Krelko let out a low rumble. “These apes are doing their best to destroy each other. Normally I wouldn’t mind letting them, but as you know, technology evolves fast during war.” More over, humans had no shortage of warfare.

“If they existed as one, as they did when first arriving on Towne, then perhaps the technology would slow,” Tuli began her normal speculation. She loved to tackle what ifs and temporal problems. “All this competition only stimulates their growth.”

“Ah, but remember Tuli,” said the oldest dragon, Vango as he held up a talon. “They were significantly more advance when they arrived. That is until their empire ripped itself apart.” Vango knew much about the history of Towne, and maintained the computers within the Dragon Vault. He also kept methodical notes on every little event he noticed. Occasionally, he managed to haggle a book out of a human traveler. Perhaps he should have staked claim to land closer to Rhodes. It was a sound idea, as long as he forgot the fact Rhodes did not even exist when he settled down.

“They are aggressive with or without technology. The planet would be better off without them,” Kona noted. “As stimulating as it is to converse with them, eventually their populations will grow so large they will press against our lands.” The word ‘our’ was, ironically, a lone from the humans. A solitary animal had little use for a word that indicated possession by more than one individual.

Each of the dragons knew Kona spoke the truth. Where ever dragons do not live, the humans have already cleared away the landscape and built their cities, fields and pastures. Soon, they may turn their eyes to fertile dragon land. A hundred years ago, it would be no worry. Dragon’s hide was interlaced fibers, capable of stopping anything they could throw at them. But now, now with their aircraft firing armor-piercing rounds–

“We can’t stand by and let these apes continue to traverse the swamp. If we do nothing, these armies might get it in their heads that they can go where they please. They must learn respect.” Kona’s land was close to the highway, and constant traffic pumped noxious chemicals into his lands. The prey did not take well to carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfate.

“Disposing of vermin is the consensus elsewhere,” Yamasee told his fellow dragons. He already stopped at a few other gatherings today. He made himself a messenger, organizing the dragons to effectively eliminate the ape intrusions.

“I agree,” Krelko lowered his head onto an open hand. “We can not stand by and let these human run free any longer. They already have theoretical knowledge of quantum physics, and even built experimental fission reactors. How long until they start using what they learned against each other. Though the world has few fissile elements, it would be enough to trigger fusion reaction inside warheads.”

“Many others are prepared to enter the Dragon Vault,” Yamasee informer the eldest dragon.

As the oldest, he was in charge of the Vault. Vango let out a long hiss, a dragon sigh of sorts, “Who would have thought we’d ever have to use weapons again.” As such a naturally powerful animal, with an intuitive feel for the forces of nature, dragons were not accustom to taking up weaponry. Each dragon knew what it meant, it meant a danger came that they could not handle with talon or breath. Within the Vault, they maintained weapons of such power, they could easily wipe humanity off the face of Towne. For now, they will only use those that could destroy human machines of war with ease– and the devices that would protect dragons from artificial harm.

“Spread the word, Yamasee,” Vango told him sternly, the closest a dragon would come to commanding another of his species. “All of you, do the same. Check out all the meeting grounds, seek out other dragons. Let them know; we can no longer tolerate the human’s impudence, and the Vault will be open before sunrise.”

Niceto wished he were elsewhere, almost anywhere other than a war council. Ideally, with one or two of Tropico’s lovely ladies, traversing the pristine beaches, dining at the finest pubs. Alas, that was a pleasantry that must wait. From all those in the room have told him, the Naveinans are already on the way. He sat at the ‘head’ of a round table. As the People’s President, he did not want to be treated any different than the next man. With a round table, there was no head, even for the Head of State. Besides, these men knew far more about war than he. All Niceto knew about was how to run a revolution. Overthrowing the Traditionalist was rather easy– since they already managed to alienate the whole populace. Never before had he faced an opponent as heavily armed and determined as The State.

The People’s Commanders laid out several options before Niceto. Though they were all comrades, the constitution clearly labels the president as having final say after war has been declared. Even if war has not been declared; the People’s Congress would be convened after the meeting, where Niceto would tell them what the commanders are telling him. Obviously, war would not be declared until the first of the Naveinan bombs fell on Tropican soil. According to his generals, that might be tomorrow.

“Flights of A12F2s have spotted the Naveinan combined fleet,” declared General Neville, Commander-in-Chief of the People’s Airforce. “They’ve spotted four battleships, and the light carrier that was unable to escape port when Rhodes surrendered.” He held some of his contempt in check while addressing Niceto. All of them knew Rhodes was betrayed, its leaders gave into The State’s demands without even a fight.

The People’s Navy commander, Admiral Veign, spoke up. “We do have a slight edge on cruisers and destroyers from what recon flights say,” Navy men were by nature suspicious of the Airforce. Air power threatened prize-fighting battleships.

General Torus, People’s Army, saw the situation as for what it is. “If the airforce and naval air wing coordinate an attack on the enemy carrier, it will even the score. Without their air cover, The State would be forced to retreat, else our bombers will sink their big guns, and our ships will sweep away what’s left.”

Niceto nodded. “What sort of invasion force are we looking at?”

“Approximately sixty thousand,” General Grot explained. “Operatives still in Rhodes have reported an initial invasion of six divisions. They will outnumber our regular forces. I’ve already ordered seventy-five percent of our regular army into the capital.”

Niceto already consented to the deployment. “The militia will be called out in the event that we can’t destroy their fleet before they reach our shores.”

“The concept does have its merits,” Veign considered the idea as a risk. But not too much of one. Tropican carrier-based planes were little more than interceptors, but the two Rhodesan carriers were packed full of specialized bombers and torpedo planes. As for the Airforce’s A12F2s, they had both range and fire power to deal with ships.

Niceto eyed the head of the People’s Navy. “I sense some doubt in you, comrade.”

Veign nodded. “Destroying the enemy carrier would do little but chase the Naveinans away for the time being. Their invasion force and all its weapons would be free to return to the continent, and either launch a second, larger attack, or be deployed elsewhere. Our best course of action is to destroy the invasion force.”

“And how do you propose to do that?” Neville asked. As far as he could see, the enemy carrier must be sunk first, in order to keep their escort planes from guarding the landing force. “When we destroy their air cover, they will just as likely pull back same as if we destroyed the carrier.”

“Perhaps,” Veign was not as convinced. Naveina has always been, and may always be, a land power. They have few ships, and those they had were forced to sail around from the north of the continent. Only then did they link up with the more modern counterparts captured in Rhodes. “The transports would turn around, unless they have already landed their cargos. In that case, the transports are little more than empty vessels.”

“Surely you’re not suggesting we let them land on our shores?” Grot exploded. Just like the navy to dump their problem on to the army. “As proud as I am of the People’s Army and its fighting spirit, the Naveinan Army fields armor and artillery far in advance of anything we have. To them, our equipment is second hand from the last big war.” The last big was about thirty year past. When it ended, airplanes still had piston engines and wings covered in canvas, and tanks were little more than armored autos with machine guns sticking out the doors.

Grot continued. “Their armored cavalry has armor twice as thick as our’s, and a main gun of one hundred millimeters. Their field guns also sport twice the caliber.”

“They can’t possible land more than half the number of tanks we possess,” Veign replied. “It is a simple matter of outnumbering and outflanking them.”

“Yes, at first,” Grot pointed out. “But they will land more, and more until they overwhelm the People’s Army. And where will the People’s Navy be while this is happening? Guarding the pubs?”

Niceto listened as the two rival branches of the People’s Service argued. This was one of the reasons he so loathed meetings. Not once in all his years as president had a meeting gone by without an army-navy conflict. Niceto had to cool things down if anything was to be decided upon. “General Grot has a point. Not about the pubs, but about follow up landings. If they secure a port, they can ship in as many weapons as they please.”

Veign held up a cautionary finger. “If, Comrade President. If.”

His words caught everyone’s undivided attention. “What do you mean ‘if’?”

Veign smiled. “I do not propose inaction, just delayed reaction. They do not know precisely where the Free Rhodes’ Navy lays anchored. They may assume it fled south, but what if it did not?”

Niceto raised a brow. “You have something in mind.” He did not ask, he merely stated the obvious.

Veign nodded. “While the enemy lands, the People’s Navy will link up with its Rhodesan counterparts near the mouth of the Ola River. That would be far enough away to keep Naveinan eyes from spying them, until it is too late. We will wait until their invasion is in full swing, and the bulk of their forces are on land. That will be the point of no return. Then, we will strike their fleet and sever their supply lines. Thus trapping the enemy on the beach.”

“They’ll suspect a trap!” Torus immediately pointed at the flaw in his plan.

Veign shrugged. “Not if the People’s Airforce attacks with all its heart. You only have to damage them a little, make them think you’re trying.”

Niceto nodded in agreement. “It could work. The Naveinan leadership has such a low opinion of the Revolution that they may assume us incapable of diverting their attack.”

“And,” Veign followed up. “With their fleet destroyed and no hope of supplies, the invasion force will eventually exhaust its ammunition. Since most of our guns use fifty millimeter, as the Comrade General pointed out, is smaller than the enemy’s weapons can handle, they will be unable to rearm.”

Grot began to see the plan. “Some of our field guns use seventy-five, same as their medium tanks. That is an issue of great concern, as with them capturing our weapons. Their Party might not think much of us, but their soldiers will use our own weapons when it comes down to the choice of; use it or lose it.”

“There is danger, but think of the advantage of forcing an entire Naveinan army to surrender. Nobody has done that, and we will be the first,” Veign did love his own idea.

Niceto saw the logic in it, but there was more to being the People’s President than logic. “Is it worth the civilian death toll? I will not sacrifice the people to save the people. We all know some of their so-called Knights will be right on the heels of the army. And we all know what they will do.” The words need not be spoken. Tropico has a relatively high percentage of non-sapiens as citizens. They will be instant targets, same as any member of the Tropican Worker’s Party.

Veign frowned, his brow growing deep with wrinkles. “Comrade President, this plan is not without risks. No matter what plan we take, the people will be targeted. Destroying their fleet beforehand will only make them send wave after wave of bombers. Either way, the people will suffer. But, if Tropico is destroyed, then all the suffering will be in vein.”

“The admiral is correct,” Neville agreed, partially. “He is correct about suffering in vein, he is not correct about their bombers destroying our cities. Surface-to-air missiles will down many of their bombers.”

“Down them over our cities,” Veign corrected. “And our fighters will be marginally successful, assuming their infrared tracking missiles don’t turn around and blow themselves up.”

“If they make it that far,” Neville wore the smirk of a man who knew much more than he ever let on about. “Comrades, as you know, we have all been planning for the eventual attack. We all know The Party’s ideology leaves no room in the world for socialist solidarity. Where as you have been building more ships and more tanks, we in the airforce have been building new aircraft. I assure you that no enemy bomber would survive encountering the People’s new interceptor. In fact, when they face it, they won’t even know what hit them.”

It sounded a bit boastful to Niceto, but he knew General Neville was not a man to act smug unless he had something substantial to back it up. “I have your word on this?”

“Yes, Comrade President, naturally. The interceptors have already flown and outperformed anything on Towne. They shall keep the skies clear of bombers.” Mostly anyway. Nobody in the room believed every single enemy bomber would be downed before these new aircraft ran out of missiles and bullets. As with every attack, something always survives.

That wrapped up concern over threats from the air. Even if these interceptors did not live up to Neville’s boast, the distance enemy bombers must fly would limit their payload, and their sorties. “What of the ground element? There is still the issue of The Party’s butchers.”

Grot slammed his palm on to the table in a loud clap. “The People’s Army will make the enemy fight for every meter of Tropican soil.”

Niceto smiled, beside himself. “The fighting spirit of the People’s Soldiers is never in question. What is, is can you keep the enemy from reach the capital?”

Grot nodded slowly, as if to say yes– probably we can. “The Naveinan will have to fight pass fortifications and trenches, expending much of their ammunition. Despite their advance ground combat elements, attrition favors the defender.”

“Comrade President, I would like to deploy some of the militia along the northern beaches. At any point that could serve as a landing site,” Torus requested. He knew Niceto would agree with his analysis, but protocol always required permission. “The militia can delay the enemy on the beach, perhaps not stop them, but delay them long enough for the rest of our forces to be properly deployed. Without forward defenses, the enemy might grow cautious, but with it, they will grow overconfident.”

Niceto did not like the idea on principle. Torus was, in effect, willing to throw away the lives of those militiamen to trick the enemy. Niceto did not want to waste any of the people’s lives. The only thing worse than waste is to die for nothing. “Do it, but amend it. I want the militia to fight, but not to the last man. When they are in danger of being overran, they are to break into smaller units and harass the enemy.” To this, Torus nodded.

Niceto looked as the people’s top commanders. There was great risk in this plan. To allow the enemy to land would put the people in danger, and if the navy failed to defeat the enemy, reinforcements would pour onto the island. Niceto really disliked this part of his job. He now had to make a decision, one that would literally change the future of Tropico. His word could either bring a decisive victory or utter ruin. He drummed his fingers on the table, weighing all options. No matter which he chose, some of the people would die. Too bad ‘no war’ was not an option. He would pick that in an instant. Still, better it come now, then after Naveina has defeated its continental enemies and can turn its full might Tropico’s way.

What bothered Niceto most was that no matter what he decided, history would not be kind. If he does nothing and lets them land, then he will let some of the Tropicans die. If he does order their fleet destroyed, they will just return later, and kill more Tropicans. They would be rather vengeful after a defeat. In the end, he was forced not to think of Tropico, but to think of his enemy. Which outcome would hurt them most.

“Very well, Admiral,” Niceto said with finality. “I suspect you already have a plan formulated, so I want the four of you to work out the details. I expect a preliminary report by dawn’s light.” Niceto pushed himself back from the table and stood. Before departing, he leaned forward, “And General Neville, I want to hear more about these new interceptors of yours. You should not keep secrets from the People’s President.” Inside, Niceto hoped the army and navy had a few surprising secrets up their sleeves. The People’s Republic of Tropico is going to need every last trick to carry the day.

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