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Chapter 2


7:10 AM Mars Tharsis Standard Time

"Approval ratings for President Alberts today are the highest in the history of the United States." Walt Mortimer, one of the so-called expert panel members for The Round Table of News and lead White House columnist for the Washington Post, commented on the news of the latest polling data from the nation's capital. Mortimer had long been considered one of the "graybeards" of reporters on Washington, D.C., and systemwide politics helping the populace. Actually, he was just another of the million Beltway Bandits making a living by feeding shit to the American public. But it was a good living.

"His policies are following a whirlwind of approval from pollsters," Mortimer continued. "Systemwide economic growth and a strong defense against inter-system competition of market goods and commerce due to cheaper products from the Colonies seems to be a big successful hot button for the American voters." Mortimer leaned back in his chair and scribbled some notes on a pad in front of him.

"That seems to be how the American people feel about it anyway," Britt Howard, the show's host and anchor for the Earth News Network (ENN) at the New York City anchor desk, replied. "It would appear that a 'Buy American' policy has been the unofficial cry of the Alberts administration and indeed the president has lobbied extremely hard to increase the tariffs on all imports from the four extra-solar colonies. There has also been a push from the White House to tax the goods and services coming from the Separatist Laborers Guild on the Martian Reservation. This policy has also seemed to not only be broadly accepted by the American public, but the latest polls show that the public is overwhelmingly for higher taxation on the Reservation Workers' incomes and businesses," Britt Howard continued, and then nodded across the round table at the only female on the panel.

"Well, I have to say that I think this will cause the wedge to be driven even deeper between the actual states here in Sol's System and the Separatists on the Reservation at Mars and the colonists at Proxima Centauri, Ross 128, Lalande 21185, and Tau Ceti," Alice St. John of the System Review replied. As the youngest member and with her shoulder-length black hair and more modern dress and demeanor, she was often used to express the radical dissenting voice on the panel. After all, Alice never minded showing the tiniest hint of her cleavage or any restraint when calling one of the "elder reporters" on something that she thought was utter bullshit. Fortunately for Alice, she was smart and pretty and therefore what little bit of radical viewership the Earth News Network had liked her and so she was able to keep her job secure.

"The Colonies have shown little interest in supporting these new White House policies since, on the surface at least; they appear to be nothing more than the statement that the citizens on the Reservation and in the Colonies are second-class citizens with little voice," she continued.

"I agree, Alice. That does seem to be the present view of the radical Republicans and the Independents. They are campaigning on the platform that the Reservation should become a state and so should the Colonies. But since there is no longer an electoral college, making those territories states will do little to overturn any major population majority votes. The people of those regions already get to vote. Calling them members of a new state wouldn't really matter, would it? Most feel that this is just a ploy of the GOP to usurp power from the other two parties again. And the radical Republicans claim it would enable Americans to 'take back' their country."

"Careful, Walt. That sounds a little revolutionary." Britt laughed. Of course neither he nor Walt would think that any members of the United States of America could ever consider such an archaic concept any longer. Civil wars and revolutions were things of the past. Oh, there were terrorist skirmishes but not all-out war.

"Well, in that case, Walt," Alice replied, "wouldn't you have to agree with the Separatists and the Colonists that they have no voice and that their votes really do mean very little? With no electoral votes the measly few percent of the popular vote they have is easily swayed by, say, the New African bloc, or the Mexican votes or the Chinese votes or the Indian Nationalist votes or the Luna City votes. There are strings of other special interest groups much larger than the few million Separatists or the Colonists. A few percent voting bloc is no longer a large enough piece to really sway the elections of anything one way or the other."

"Ha, ha. Alice, I most definitely wouldn't go that far. This is still a democracy and the majority status rules," the elder reporter Walt Mortimer said jocularly. "The guidance of our forefathers tell us that 'majority rule' is best. And in the end every vote counts."

"Come now, Walt. Every vote counts? Oh sure, every vote gets counted. But there is a large difference in the nuances of the two statements," Alice corrected her colleague. She held her composure well but she grew a bit red in the face with anger at the seasoned reporter's judicious use of incorrect statements as facts. "And 'majority rule' isn't history at all. In fact, the United States was actually designed as a republic and the electoral college was created to prevent an uneducated majority rule. Our forefathers actually feared the thought of majority rule once the majority grew complacent and learned how to vote themselves power, hence the electoral college."

"This isn't a history debate, but I recall there also being an issue of voting technology as a factor in driving the need for an electoral college. People walked or rode horseback to vote on a piece of paper in their general elections. The states counted the votes and then the representative from the electoral college would travel to Washington to cast his distribution of electoral votes based on the general vote."

"Okay, I have to comment on that." Steam nearly escaped from Alice's ears as she approached the boiling point. She kept her composure, almost, and that is what her radical fans liked about her, emotions. "Walt, that is just not true historically. Oh, the geographical representation was considered, but not for that reason. The Founding Fathers who are now known as the 'Framers of the Constitution' didn't doubt public intelligence of the time. They feared it could happen in the future and that the electoral college could help prevent it in from happening but it was not the issue of the day. Instead, what they feared most was the problem of the 'favorite son' scenario." Alice paused for a second to see if there was recognition of the scenario from her colleagues' faces. She saw nonplussed poker faces, which meant they were probably having their AIs download backup information for them and summarize it to them as quickly as possible. So she sighed and continued.

"The 'favorite son' scenario is that without sufficient information about the candidates running for president from outside their state, locals have no reason to vote for an outsider and would most likely cast their votes for the 'favorite son' from their own hometown region. The local boy would always win the local election over a stranger from out of town; that was the fear. The worst fear was that no president would ever be elected with a popular majority of the votes to govern the whole country without bitterness from other regions. Another fear was that the popular majority choice of president would always be from the largest and/or most densely populated states which would pretty much render the votes of the smaller states superfluous and irrelevant. Does this sound familiar to anyone here? Déjà vu anyone?" Alice threw up her hands.

"Well, be that as it may, and it may be a topic for a full show sometime," Britt interjected himself into the debate with an attempt to stall Alice's soliloquy. "The main issue for today is that the Separatists and the citizens in the four colonies do seem to have little desire to support this administration or its policies. In fact the governors of Tau Ceti and from Lalande 21185 have issued statements that their lawyers believe that President Alberts' new tariffs proposal to the Congress is in violation of the Inter-System Free Trade Agreement and that they are indeed seeking appeals of the policies through the Supreme Court."

"Well, I think that is the right course of action, or perhaps, the only real course of action that could be taken from a colonial standpoint." Mortimer replied magniloquently. "If they don't like the law either challenge its constitutionality or rally Congress to change it or the president to veto it. The Supreme Court is their best shot."

"Walt, again, is that really true? From a colonial perspective what did the original colonists of the thirteen colonies of the United States do when faced with similar impositions from England?" Alice once again began explaining history to the elder reporter who had long been accused of being a mouthpiece for the DNC and biased but only the GOP extremists would ever say such a thing.


"Goddamned rightwing nut!" President of the United States of America William Alberts sat in his West Wing office of the White House watching the news. He always enjoyed The Round Table on ENN. Mortimer and Howard were so stately and wise, but that damned broad on there was a hotheaded radical, almost comical she was so radical. Nobody ever really took her seriously; otherwise, the president would not be supporting the ninety-six percent approval rating across the entire country. The country loved him. There was a present economic flourish. There hadn't been a terrorist uprising since a year ago way out at Triton and that crazy Kuiper Station affair from his first year in office in his first term, which was all but forgotten by the general populace. The only bit of trouble was the Separatist Extremist terrorists on the edge of the Reservation, and the armed forces had been able to keep that at bay and the news was playing it fairly low-key. The overwhelming might of the U.S. Fleet prevented any terrorists from truly revolting and besides that, the media loved him. Things were looking good for the administration and the legacy of President Alberts. With only a year to go until the election his successor, Vice President Michelle Swope, could ride his high approval rating wave right into the White House and give the Democrats four more years.

Mr. President. Paula, his AI staffer, interrupted his train of thought.

Yes, Paula? He leaned back in his desk chair and propped his feet up on the desk. It was his office, it was his country, why not? Was it disrespectful? Will didn't think so.

The secretary of defense, the national security advisor, and the director of national intelligence are here for the daily intelligence brief, the AI said into Alberts' mind.

Shit. Didn't I do that yesterday? the president asked.

No sir.

Well, when was the last time I read that thing? It couldn't be that long ago.

It was thirteen months and four days ago, Mr. President. The AI paused. Sir, your wife is also requesting you meet with her and the Reservation Historical Fund Society this morning.

Shit again. Tell her I have an important meeting with the sec def, the NSA, and the DNI that I can't get out of today.

Very well. And the sec def, NSA, and DNI, sir?

Oh hell, send them in.


"Okay Conner." Alberts held up his left hand and looked up at the secretary of defense. "All this secret stuff just isn't any good for the country. The polls show that these clandestine operations make the public distrust the government. You know who the government is, Conner? Me, that's who. Did you see my approval rating today? We don't need to be doing a bunch of clandestine stuff that is gonna screw that up in my last year in office."

"Uh, yes, Mr. President, we thought of that. But the DNI's office has intelligence that there has been a lot of technology being transferred from somewhere into the Reservation," the sec def told the commander in chief.

"Is this true, Mike? Where did we get this intelligence from? I thought none of your forays into the Reservation had ever delivered anything other than a hefty bill," Alberts said.

"Well, yes, Mr. President. In the last raid at the edge of the South Elysium border of the Reservation near the crater line of Nepenthes Mensae we met heavy armored resistance. The imagery data from the telescopes on the U.S.S. Nelson Mandela got shots of what looked like mecha deep within the territory. The imagery is a bit limited as there was heavy SAM and cannon fire but analysts believe there was a mecha division moving into the Elysium region," the director of national intelligence, Mike Netteny, explained.

"Yes, they have mecha. They've had Orcus drop tank mecha for years but that is obsolete technology compared to our M3A17-Ts and our FM-12s, as you have explained to me before." Alberts was growing impatient with this daily brief. He had never had much use for it. The DNI would always suggest that they needed more money to conduct some harebrained cheap spy-novel heroics that would never pay off and the secretary of defense would tell him that the Joint Chiefs needed more money for more weapons systems and the national security advisor would always say that there was an imminent threat from the terrorist movement from within the Reservation.

"Mr. President, from this picture it is quite clear that this is not a Seppy drop tank," the DNI replied.

"Mike, that is a racist word and you know I don't like it," Alberts said.

"Sorry, Mr. President. But this is not a drop tank."

"Now, how the hell could you tell that? Look at it. The damned thing is so small it is just one damned pixel. Hell, it might even be a Martian conifer tree as far as I can tell." Alberts shook his head and ran his fingers through his light brown and gray hair. Once his term in office was over he'd have that damned gray removed, but for now the people seemed to like it. It made him seem more presidential.

"Well, Mr. President, if you will notice here." Netteny pointed his pen at the point in the picture that was supposed to be the mecha. "Then notice this dark spot here. This is the mecha's shadow. And note that the two aren't touching at the bottom."

"Yeah, so?"

"That means it is in the air, sir. And knowing the details of the optical system and its pointing angles at the time and from the angle of the sun and the length of this shadow we can tell how big this mecha is and how high off the ground it is."

"Cut to the chase, Mike."

"The mecha is larger and much higher in the air than the standard drop tank. This is something new, Mr. President." The DNI didn't grin triumphantly but he wasn't still frowning at Alberts either.

"Okay, so the Separatists have a new experimental mecha. Good for them." The president sat up straight and started to close the brief.

"Wait, Mr. President. Look at the image on the next page." The DNI pointed at the briefing. With a sigh the president flipped the page and began to study it for a moment.

"What the . . . ?" he asked. The image showed a squadron of the mecha in nearly the same level of resolution. "How many is this?"

"Maybe as many as thirty, sir. It was hard to tell from this data. But turn to the next page," the DNI offered.

"Okay, I've seen this before right? These three big ships are full-sized Separatist cargo haulers on the ground. What are these dark lines here?" This picture was much clearer. The tag on the bottom right-hand corner of it showed the source of the image was from an orbital spy platform over the Reservation. The lines leading into, or out of, the large haulers ran for a kilometer or so into the side of a small mountain and then vanished. But there was no mecha in any of the pictures.

"Right, sir. Those are haulers. And the dark lines in the Martian grass are tracks from vehicles. Heavy vehicles. Analysts suggest three haulers full of vehicles, Mr. President," the DNI explained. "But the next image shows more."

"Are these footprints?" Alberts asked.

"Yes sir. Mecha footprints. Thousands of them."

"Well, Mike, if they have that many of these new mecha that sure raises a couple of questions that sort of foul up the logic." Alberts ticked off on his fingers. "One is how did they march all those out of that mountain hangar and into these haulers without the CIA and the NRO and the entire space reconnaissance wing of the United States getting a single picture of one of them? Two, why didn't they just land right up next to the mountain and do it under cover anyway. And three, where in the hell could they have gotten that many mecha without us knowing it?"

"It doesn't add up, Mike. I agree with the president," the sec def added.

"Mr. President, in order. Let me see, one, they are invisible, at least to our sensors, or they managed to cover the road between the mountain and the haulers with camo netting. Two, they parked the haulers far enough away that they had to walk over to be loaded in the open on purpose so we would know they were invisible. After all, the Separatists know we have our eyes and ears in the sky above the Reservation." Mike had to pause from the president's reaction.

"What? Invisible? That doesn't seem likely. We've been working cloaking technology for centuries, right? And you're telling me the Separatists developed it first? No, don't go spread that nonsense around. I think the netting idea makes more sense."

"I'm just describing the data, sir. We know that they are at least invisible to our sensor platforms or as you say were camouflaged very well. And finally, the answer to your third question is that they didn't get the mecha from anywhere in the Sol System. Which means, the Colonies."

"It takes a year or more to get to or from the Colonies and you think they've developed those things that long ago. The FM-12s just went into operation six or so months ago and they had the might of the entire military-industrial complex working on them. The Colonies have a few tens of millions of people with limited resources. What do you think, Lake?" The president turned to the NSA, Lake Rostow.

"I think we should check it out, sir. Could prove to be something here. This is either too fantastic to be true or not good for us. Either way I agree with Mike that we should check it out," National Security Advisor Lake replied.

"All right then. Draw up the mission plans and go do something and let me know how it goes. But in no circumstances are we to engage further than the current truce lines. The fighting stays in the gray zone," he ordered.

"Uh. Sir. We are planning to engage deeper than that today for Operation Bachelor Party."

"Who authorized this?"

"Uh. Sir. It has been in the brief for more than six months now." The sec def backpedaled a little. "You told us to get better intel on where the Reservation was getting its resupply and that you would authorize it."

"That's right, sorry, Conner. I do recall this well. If they are buying supplies from somebody in system or out they aren't paying taxes on it." Alberts recalled the brief from the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. One of the manufacturers in his district was certain the Separatists were buying arms, and not from legal vendors in the United States, which was bad for the economy. So the political action committee for the arms firm had their representative check into it. Nearly the entire state of Bolivia worked for that firm and reelection was coming up. "Okay. I remember that. What is happening with this Bachelor Party?"

"We are pushing the lines and attacking the submountains of Phlegra and are dropping-intelligence gathering sources there, sir. Deniable sources, sir."

"Right. And let me know what you find out so we can put a stop to this illegal arms trade and get Congressman Aldridge off my back."

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