Chapter Eight

Back in the South Dakota main office, the commandant's mood had not improved. He waltzed in and threw his fur coat onto his desk. O'mara, for her part, was getting a little tired of his continuous foul mood, but simply leaned against the doorframe. The commandant's window shade was down, to keep the sunlight out. Too bad, O'mara thought. He could really use a tan. Mundane irrelevancies were her only escape from breaking his neck for this unending rant.

"Do you know how many T'set'lar are left in the Empire?" he had asked earlier. "Six! No, now five, thanks to Ka'ti'na up there. Not many Sa'ra'yena left either. They've been killing each other, and have been getting killed by special strike teams of both sides, forever. Dammit, don't you understand how important you are to the Empire? I personally selected the three of you to come to Terra, O'mara! Personally! Because you, Ka'ti'na, and Zela represented the best hope of Aria to lead these people. It wasn't your strengths, or your capabilities, or your ability to kill Velorians that I wanted. It was your wits! Your brains, and your leadership, that these human sheep needed."

"Just like that, though, Ka'ti'na decides to show the Velorians how tough we are. Well, rest assured, Velor knows... and they know something they should not have known! They know, through their Scribe and undoubtedly some Messenger out there, that we have been interfering in affairs the whole time! Thank you very much, Ka'ti'na! I only hope that Scribe doesn't put her mourning on hold long enough to get the word out..."

To his credit, the commandant kept his mouth he leaned over his chair to read the reports on his desk. He mumbled about the reports -- Go'ra'ba's resignation being one of them, one of the things that had gone right. Actually, all of them had, but Ka'ti'na had blown the entire operation in the commandant's eyes. He would soon find out that he was wrong, that Ka'ti'na hadn't been his undoing. In fact, he alone was responsible, for starting the whole mess in the first place.

He found out much, much sooner than O'mara could possibly have anticipated, as at that moment a bright flash of light, more of a glow than a flash, burned his hands. He yelped in pain as a thin line of skin turned red instantly. The line had come from an area between his hand and the shade, where the shade had holes to let its drawstrings through. Beyond that shade...

O'mara moved forward, her eyes very wide. She had seen the flash, and more importantly, had seen that it wasn't just a visual-spectrum flash. Her X-ray vision was itself seeing spots. "Oh, shit..." But before she could shout, "Get down!", the secondary effects hit. Not that it would have mattered at that close range, less than a kilometer from Ground Zero.

Less than three hours earlier, the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations had delivered a Top Secret report to General Forsythe. He took it, read it, and the Russian noted his demeanor become more and more grim. Page 2 went by, then Page 3. Forsythe looked up at the Ambassador, his eyes asking for any hope that this report could be false. The Ambassador sought that same hope in the General. Neither had any indication that it could possibly be.

FROM: (name withheld)
TO:   (name withheld)
SUBJECT: Chinese-American Joint Weapons Program

I.   Introduction
II.  Technical description
III. Basis for usage
IV.  Ramifications

I. Introduction

Admiral (name withheld), I have the unfortunate duty of verifying that the weapons used in the attacks on Paris 
and other cities one week ago were indeed of Chinese origin.  Our forensic scientists have concluded beyond any
reasonable doubt that the Chinese deployed these weapons, which were of a design created in the United States of
America, and which directly had the assistance of on Dr. Najla Imelda Thomas, former head of the Livermore National
Laboratory in the United States of America.

Dr. Thomas, DNA tests have confirmed, was here as recently as three weeks ago.  Her team of special microfusion
engineers was here as recently as eight days ago, and we have conclusively identified each one of them from their
log entries.  They were all of American citizenship, and all employees of the LNL in America.

II. Technical description

Contrary to previous reports, the weapons themselves were (and are) not of a nuclear nature.  The microfusion 
energy process, which is known to power most of China's energy grid and the world's, was used as the energy
source of the weapons.  Specifically, the magnetic field used to initiate the microfusion effect was allowed to
slowly expand, thus allowing the microfusion energy field to expand concurrently in volume, and thus in energy
levels.  This slow field expansion continued all the way until detonation, which was in actuality simply the
release of the magnetic "bottle" field around the microfusion energy source.  The built-up energy immediately
expanded in all directions in a nearly-spherical shape.

I asked one of my investigators why the Chinese didn't simply construct nuclear or thermonuclear weapons to
accomplish these attacks.  He answered that the Chinese would almost certainly be detected in the manufacture
of nuclear or thermonuclear weapons simply by the emissions of waste from nuclear reactors.  China, he explained,
decommissioned its last nuclear reactor forty years ago.  The sudden reappearance of rare nuclear isotopes, after
forty years of microfusion power, would not be easily explainable by the Chinese government.  Likewise, the
infrared, or heat, signature of a nuclear power plant is quite distinctive, and much larger than a corresponding
microfusion energy source.

In short, it was no large leap of imagination to take a conventional power source such as microfusion and transform
it into an unconventional weapon.

III. Basis for usage

Contrary to earlier reports by the alleged "Arion Empire", there has been no trace of Carrie Zorkowski or related
persons at the Urumqi launch site.  There have been traces of Homo Sapiens Supremis DNA recovered there, many of 
them belonging to the American team Dr. Thomas led.  It is uncertain which political affiliation, if any, the 
beings to whom this Supremis DNA belonged, had.  However, the Americans have been known to work favorably with one
particular affiliation in the past, the "Velorians".  Similarly, they have worked unfavorably against the "Arions".
So the claim by the alleged "Arion Empire" has some basis in circumstansial evidence, but not in hard proof at this
time.  We do not have enough samples of Arion DNA or Velorian DNA to conclusively state whether the samples we obtained
at the Urumqi launch site belong to either political affiliation or race.

However, there is no doubt that these weapons were specifically designed to kill Homo Sapiens Supremis.  Dr. Thomas, in
her diaries, recorded more than 60 years ago that microfusion was an essential component of the Homo Sapiens Supremis
biology and cell structure.  It was thought -- and confirmed at LNL -- that a sudden overexposure to microfusion energy
would prove fatal to Homo Sapiens Supremis cells.

The Chinese themselves have not been overly friendly to the Homo Sapiens Supremis, and Dr. Thomas was notably even less
friendly over the many years of her life.  There is nothing to suggest Dr. Thomas was at Urumqi against her will, or
that her team was unwilling to follow her orders.  We believe Dr. Thomas may have had a personal motivation to attack
the Homo Sapiens Supremis, that the Chinese provided funding and materials in exchange for possession of the weapons,
and that the Americans provided technical expertise with a modicum of deniability.

It is not clear at this time exactly who gave the orders to launch, but it is clear that all three parties share some
of the responsibility for these weapons' existence, and therefore, share responsibility for violations of the U.N.
Charter, as amended following the Third World War.

IV. Ramifications

Clearly, the microfusion process represents a new class of weapons of mass destruction.  Although not prohibited by name
in the U.N. Charter, they are prohibited as all weapons of mass destruction are.

The United States of America's veto of retaliation against China is almost certainly void under Article 27 of the U.N.
Charter.  More specifically, as they are clearly involved in t construction of these weapons, they are themselves
subject to retaliation by U.N. Nuclear Forces.

Dr. Thomas herself has disappeared, and her current whereabouts are unknown.  She may have returned to the United 
States of America, and should be considered as a potential war criminal should she survive hostilities.

Whether the alleged "Arion Empire" or the Arions or Velorians had anything to do with this matter is probable, but not
certain at this time.  Our national laboratory in Moscow has the evidence we've collected and is processing it.  The
chief scientist reports he is doubtful of a non-circumstansial outcome.  Thus, we cannot at this time reliably accuse
any Homo Sapiens Supremis of involvement.

Technical details of this report shall be submitted as appendices to this report at a later date.


(name withheld)

General Forsythe knew his duty. The U.N. Charter prohibited not only the use of "weapons of mass destruction, including but not limited to biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons", but the unreported possession or even the construction of these weapons. Moreso, the retaliation would be by weapons of mass destruction, at General Forsythe's discretion.

General Forsythe had a lot of discretion. He was determined to make sure there would never be a Fifth World War. To that end, he guaranteed quite coldly the Fourth would be bad enough.

Adolph Hitler had arranged for the death of approximately 6 million people in the Second World War's Holocaust. Iosef Stalin had arranged for over thirty million people to die in Russia in the years that followed, and Mao Tse Tsung had arranged for a similarly epic number. The Third World War resulted in the death of over 300 million people alone. These numbers were a mere fraction of what Forsythe arranged.

Never before in the history of the world had a "scorched earth" campaign been waged with nuclear weapons. Some might reasonably state that a nuclear weapon was the ultimate scorched earth, but they would do so incorrectly. One nuclear weapon, or even a hundred, wouldn't do the term justice. "Carpet-nuking" would be another term for Forsythe's retaliation. Half of Forsythe's officers balked at the orders the other half carried out, with a metallic taste in their mouths.

Every square meter of the Empire of China was affected by a nuclear weapon. Likewise, every square meter of the United States of America was affected by a nuclear weapon. That isn't to say every square meter of China or the U.S.A. was hit with a nuclear weapon -- even the Arion Empire didn't have that many weapons of mass destruction. But wherever a nuclear or thermonuclear weapon did not touch Chinese or American soil, another nuclear weapon was deployed.

The military commands had it even worse: where an armed force might possibly have survived a direct hit by a thermonuclear weapon, Forsythe deployed another one.

At every moment, the results were calculated by computer, and they were calculated to not be pretty.

In South Dakota, the fireball reduced the Arion headquarters' paint to vapor, and transformed metal fixtures and light poles around the building to slag. Fourteen Betas immediately outside the building and eighty-seven in line-of-sight from unshaded windows to the explosion were set afire. Tables, papers, unused cigarettes, food, wooden handles, just about anything that could burn, burned. Anything that didn't burn was caught in the massive blast wave from less than a kilometer away.

The building shattered under a force which no earthquake or T'set'lar could possibly generate all at once. The superheated, irradiated air slammed into the building at nearly the speed of sound, a wall of air thirty times taller than the building itself, and thicker than the building was deep. The sound was tremendous, deafening. As soon as O'mara could say, "Oh, shit," the Arion Empire Detachment Headquarters was reduced to rubble. Highly radioactive rubble, at that.

That close to Ground Zero, only O'mara survived in the building's ruins -- or for two kilometers around it. Barely scratched by the debris itself or by the radiation, she staggered to find the light again, shoving concrete blocks the size of boulders out of her way as she moved.

As she broke free to the night sky, O'mara could clearly see more flashes in the distance. Big flashes, flashes that spanned the horizon. The hurricane-force winds blew smoke and debris, large and small, past her into the gathering firestorm's mushroom cloud, directly above Ground Zero.

She cried out in horror. This, this was what the late commandant had brought into the Empire???

In orbit aboard Hercules Station, Barbara Peters-Schoenfold had the best seat in the house -- such as it was. She had long since given up her emotional devastation and was reduced to counting flashes -- and ships docking, of course, with terrified Chinese and American refugees scrambing aboard Hercules.

President Marquez's last order. "Get the people out." He'd called Barbara directly, not eighteen hours ago. The Marines, with Admiral M'boto (the Navy's Commander-in-Chief, Pacific) directing, were frantically working to set up staging areas for everyone. M'boto had fled South Africa forty years ago with his parents and two sisters. Now he was fleeing again. Barbara was the only one in the control room, watching Mother Earth get a serious case of nuclear acne.

And still, it wouldn't be enough. They couldn't even save one tenth of one percent of the people down there. They didn't even have enough ships, much less room aboard Hercules Station, to move that many people. But even Barbara, from thousands of kilometers away, could see with awe and terror what Forsythe was doing.

Forsythe could have been merciful and let them get one or two percent up. But no. Forsythe had to go for it all, and be merciless in a way Barbara could not comprehend.

Then, of course, Forsythe or one of his United Nations Bastards from Hell, noticed Hercules Station was an American territory, and sent a little present to escape velocity and altitude.

Barbara hit the alarm, "Incoming! Incoming nuclear missile!" she shrieked over the intercom. It was possibly the worst thing she could say. The refugees didn't need to hear that, and as hard as the Marines had worked to keep order and peace, Barbara had just shattered it. But then, Barbara was a civilian, and not trained to manage a military attack of any kind anyway. Certainly not with upwards of twenty thousand Chinese and Americans aboard that knew, very suddenly, they were about to die.

With that, Admiral M'boto finally took over and gave the order to one of the Marines, a Lieutenant Colonel Rodriguez. Rodriguez punched a few buttons and...

"General Forsythe!"


"Hercules Station, sir... it's just vanished!!"


"Yes, sir. It's not showing on any of our radar scopes... Luna stations confirm it's not on their screens either."

Forsythe chewed on his bottom lip. Then he ordered the ballistics in lunar approach to self-destruct, without nuclear capability. No sense blowing up a piece of the Moon, he thought, even though the missiles would never reach the Moon or Earth again on their current trajectories.

Twenty-four hours later, the British Broadcasting Corporation was still broadcasting a nonstop news coverage of "The Nuclear Attack: Counterstrike". Even then, the sheer magnitude of this event escaped them.

Forsythe, in his nuclear "scorched earth" attack, had caused the deaths of over two billion people, more than one-fourth of the world's population. China, at 1.9 billion people, had borne the brunt of that attack, but the United States with 300 million hadn't been spared.

In weeks to come, it was determined that approximately one million Americans survived the attack, with some ten thousand having been out of the country at the time. One of these in Thailand successfully assassinated Forsythe eighteen days later.

Of China, approximately four million of her people survived.

And that wasn't the end of it.

Fallout carried over into various nations, notably Japan, Mongolia, India, Russia, Canada, and Mexico. Some three hundred thousand people died from that.

That still wasn't the end of it.

Dr. Najla Imelda Thomas died of old age at 107 in Tibet. She was the last survivor of the original MicroFusion engineering projects, and with her went any trace remaining on Earth of what might have really have happened less than ten days ago.

That still wasn't the end of it.

America and China were two of the world's six biggest food suppliers, with two of the world's largest economies. America was still the world's leader in science and technology, and though the Internet had survived the attack as it was designed to, the not-inconsiderable repositories of knowledge on American and Chinese computers did not.

In a very real sense, the end of it could not be seen. Earth plunged into a Second Dark Ages. National governments, and the entire continents of South Africa, Europe, and Africa collapsed into chaos.

On the dark side of Luna, O'mara was called to a special inquiry aboard an Arion warship. She was angry at being called away from not-quite-fruitless rescue and salvage efforts on the wrecked North American continent. She stood defiantly before the inquiry board.

As it turned out, she didn't need to. The inquiry board cleared O'mara of all charges of wrongdoing or negligence. Led by a fellow T'set'lar (to ensure that O'mara could not lie or conceal anything), they ruled that the commandant -- whose name was forever stricken from all Arion Imperial records and thus could not be retrieved for this story -- was in fact wholly and ultimately responsible for the widespread devastation. Though the Empire was generally pleased at having received the political plum of Terra into its political sphere once and for all, it was not pleased at the loss of such terrific resources. First and foremost among its concerns was the damage to Homo Sapiens' genetic varieties, which could be extremely useful in guaranteeing the Arion Empire a much longer future.

It wasn't completely a lost cause, though, and the Empire knew it. But salvaging this planet would take years, and a physical and financial commitment from Aria and her member worlds which they would find extremely demanding.

Do not let a planet die. EVER. That was how the ancient command went, all the way back to Urba Minor. It hadn't quite happened here, yet. The Empire intended to keep Earth alive, even damaged so.

But O'mara had another fundamental quote for the Arion Empire, one of equal importance and borrowed appropriately from Earth's own languages. Before the board, she had submitted it, and they considered it a truism to pass on.

In Terran orbit, circling the planet once every ninety minutes, O'mara could not purge the saying from her head.

If you play with fire, you're going to get burned.