March 8th 2239
St Giles Convalescence Hospice, Tonbridge Wells, Kent, England
It had taken me the better part of sixteen months to recover my health, sixteen long and painful months during which time I had often despaired that I would forever be an invalid. What we hadn’t known when we were attacked (but do now) was that the Dread Lords beam weapons not only manipulated light to give them their devastating effects, but they also affected the very make up of the light within our bodies and produced a sickness not dissimilar to the radiation sickness that had afflicted those exposed to the nuclear weapons so loved by our forebears: that metallic taste that all of us had experienced as we fled our dying ship was the harbinger of more pain and suffering than I can set out here-suffice it to say that at the time the very electrons in our teeth were rearranging themselves.
Only twelve of us were still alive when the TAS Pizarro found us and those of us who did survive may have wished that we had passed away like our colleagues. The sickness had already taken a hold though we hadn’t known it then as we rejoiced in our providence-by the time we made planet-fall on Thielbahr just five days later we were all blind and in such agony that our voices had been riven to silence by our screams. I was told afterwards by my husband that the three pilots who conveyed us back had to immediately enrol on an emergency course of trauma counselling, so harrowing had been their journey back.
I must say I don’t remember very much of the following three months-just brief flashes of comfort amidst the sound and the fury of the biggest fight of my life-it was a straight contest between my physical constitution and the intruder electrons the doom rays had introduced so insidiously to my body. Those intermittent breaks usually took the form of my son-now approaching his 18th year-he was often by my side or as often as he could be for he had enrolled in the Star Navy and was soon to be a fully fledged Cadet training at the Academy at Kampala. My husband was a constant companion though I was often in too much pain to know it. Only now do I hear from the nurses and doctors that his Altarian healing techniques are most probably what saved me-everyone else on the pod that I escaped in had died by the end of 2238. Somehow I was still clinging to life at year end, my tears of pain and frustration joined by those of my son and partner as we all hugged and brought in the new year with a yearning hope that fate would, once more, smile upon me.
Maybe I am lucky-people have always told me so-even now the President jokes that I am the luckiest man he knows and yet I hardly felt so as the medical people advised my husband that I would be better served at a Hospice in England that specialised in the care of people with similar ailments to myself, somewhere in Kent, not far from where I was born. He had reluctantly agreed; the change of environment may help, he had conceded-besides he was at his wits end to glean any more assistance from the Mysticism of Altarian healing therapies.
And then not long after we had arrived in the grassy pastures of the hospice my sight had finally returned. It was the damnedest thing: one night all was gloom and darkness-the next morning bright light. And the never-ending pain that I now wore like some ill-fitting suit was finally beginning to subside: the days of struggle receding into plain old discomfort.
It had felt so good to be able to hug and hold my darling husband once more and to see him properly again-to look upon that slender, beautiful face where now the tears that blurred him were tears of pure joy and no longer tears of the pain that had blighted so many months of my life. Our reunion was added to by the breathless arrival of Starla, who had returned hot-foot from an exercise off Mars to see if it was true-that his father had recovered against all hope and so the tears all over again.
By February I was well enough to demand news of the world that I had been so long absent from-what had been happening out there I demanded from Mirathro and when his news was not forthcoming quick enough I had ordered the Hospice authorities to furnish me with every E-newspaper and publication available. On top of this a 42 inch Neutron TV was installed allowing me to watch the 24 hour rolling GNN news channel at all hours.
The world had changed it would seem: the first thing I was able to ascertain was that my replacement in command of the Star Navy was none other than my erstwhile rival Mooto-I was not sure quite what to make of that: my head said it was the right choice-he was the most Senior General in the TADF-my heart…well that was another matter really. Then I learnt of the perilous state of the Navy itself-after the devastation wreaked by the Dread Lords fifteen months previously and with the President ordering that the absolute priority was to remain building the endless constructors that would spread our culture as forcefully as any battle fleet. Our Cruiser fleet amounted to no more than twelve ships scattered across all our systems-madness as the news was full of the growing hostility of the Torians, the same Torians who were the most powerful race in the Galaxy and whose attack ships outnumbered ours by more than five to one! It would seem the recent defection of Marsack III (the fourth such planet to decide that staying within the Torian hegemony was not for them) and the growing rebellion upon its sister planet Marsack II, was beginning to really exercise the minds of the Torian Foreign Relations gurus, not to mention their Supremo Tlas Kzientha. I couldn’t fault my old friend’s policies: our economy was a powerhouse-the best in the Galaxy and we had turned four Torian worlds and an Iconian and an Arcean one-we were a myriad star race of myriad star nations.
As my condition improved so the drum beat of war with the Torians increased culminating on March the 8th, exactly sixteen months after the ill-fated encounter with the Dread Lords, with an ominous warning from the Torian Leader himself and one that was beamed onto every TV and receiving media in all of our systems. It was a staggering piece of radio warfare and one designed to send a message loud and clear to all of our military and political top brass. Soon after I had learnt of our humiliating surrender of the Planet Marie II-deep within the Torian main systems-something designed to appease the growing wrath of our amphibian-like foe, no doubt. How do you evacuate a whole world I had wondered? Eight billion humans, who had always considered themselves frontier folk surrounded, as they were, on all sides by the Green-skins. But evacuated they had been- a Fleet of Condor Transports escorted by myriad Frigates headed for the homeland.
I could barely contain myself, my anger and frustration compounded by the silence emanating from the Azure House-why had the President, recently re-elected for a 4th Term as the Head of our Federation, not been in touch? Why had he not enquired about my health and sent messages of support and good wishes for my full recovery? I had asked this of Mirathro one fine afternoon that hinted of the arrival of spring. He had wheeled me outside onto the porch so that I could watch the birds and smell the cherry blossom and revel in a mood and pleasantness that was completely at odds with my own sense of bitterness.
‘The President visited you three times when you were at your lowest Mike-he stayed for over twenty four hours by your side on one occasion in spite of commitments and engagements elsewhere-he just sat there and held your hand-no one was allowed in the room-not even his Chief of Staff-just me, you and he. He loves you dearly Salah-ti’
I was staggered-he had not forsaken me and then a few days later, as if to confirm it I was told by the Chief Physician that the President was coming to see me-he was arriving the next morning.
The hour of his arrival I had felt like a cadet at an Inspection and had thoroughly annoyed my attendant nurses as I got them to check for the fifth time that my Navy Dress uniform was hanging right with no careless specks or bits of dust-Mirathro, I noted, was smiling to himself-ever watchful in the corner.
When the President had entered (alone) I had snapped to attention but he had rushed forward to hold me in a warm embrace.
‘My General-it is so good to see you well again.’ Hot tears sprang to his eyes as he looked upon me ‘you are so thin Mike-sit sit.’
I did as I was told-I was not able to stand for more than a few minutes at a time-the muscles in my legs had severely atrophied and would take a few more months yet to get back to their former strength
‘Tell me all Mr President-what of the coming war? Do we have the capacity to build up our fleet? Are our Cruisers configured correctly to take on the Torians? How is Mooto doing?’
The President smiled wanly ‘You were ever the hungry one for information Mike. Mooto is doing as well as can be expected given some of the conditions placed upon him by the Federation Council-it seems the President’s writ no longer has the power it once has my old friend’
I wondered at this-the Planetary Federation Senators now had immense powers within the Council, with the President as a guiding hand-it made for much more creativity and productivity but also slowed everything down massively.
‘In their wisdom they have decided that half of our twenty one planetary shipyards should continue to build constructors-I can see the logic-it was my idea after all-there is a great temptation in turning ones enemies worlds’ the President mused with a half smile
‘Yes Sir-I hear that we have now caused the defection of no fewer than four Torian worlds with Marsack III soon to follow-it brings in great revenue and strengthens our Federation-it is a good plan’
I remember the President had gaped open-mouthed at this
‘You the warrior agreeing with my political foes-and I thought it was I that was supposed to be the pacifist! By goodness Mike it’s good to have you back!’ And with that I was clasped in another crushing bear-hug.
He beamed at me once more and continued ‘but let me give you the facts. On the money front the economy is strong and we now have a UP sponsored Trade Federation protecting our freighters even in times of war. On the political front our Technologist party continue to have a majority on the Federal Senate with 60 of the 100 seats. And on the alien relations front the Torians are making war against the Vegans and the Paulos-we are doing what we can to assist them with technologies’
‘Hmmm that figures: the Green skins-ah I mean the Torians have no one else to fight as the Iconians, Altarians and Arceans are all allies.’
‘No one except us General eh? Anyway we now have an inventory of five Eagle Class Battlecruisers specially configured with the new Harpoon missiles and Kanvium Armour to take on the Torians-we continue to build Condor Class ships as the Dread Lords are back causing havoc in our Embor systems-two frigate fleets destroying all of our starbases again-‘
‘For frak’s sake! Where are our nearest Condors sir?’
‘Off at Kryseth where they had taken on and destroyed the last lot. They are making best speed Mike-however even retrofitted with the latest warp engines it will take them several weeks to get back here…..’
I had pondered this last-warp engines eh? It had still been something of a pipe dream when I had set off on the London-now it was seemingly a reality: impressive.
‘And your friend Professor Sharp is now developing a new ship-a Battleship-quite a beast-beautiful to look at I must say-it uses something called a Q field to keep the ship together in space.’
A ‘Q field’ eh? Heady and exciting stuff I had thought but I was no longer a part of it and that made me feel very sad indeed. I gazed out over the grassy fields lost in the contemplation of what might have been.
As if reading my thoughts my friend had put his hand on my shoulder
‘General Mormon I didn’t just come to see how you were but also to ask a favour of you…’
He had my attention.
‘Marc Beaton has retired-it has been 13 years now-the longest single period of any democratically-elected President in Earth’s history….’
The President glanced over at Mirathro-they had obviously been talking.
‘I know your body is weak Mike but it will recover-it’s your energy and mind that I need. General Mormon I have come to ask you to serve at the heart of Government-I would like you to be my Chief of Staff-I can think of no better man to be my eyes and ears and my most trusted advisor.’
For once I was speechless and struggled to my feet once more snapping out an immaculate salute for a second time.
‘My President-it will be a singular honour’ I gasped and was taken into that warm man’s heartfelt embrace as my legs gave way and I wept in gratitude at the chance to start over on a new path in my life’s adventure………