Only a subject serving a minimum of two years after their training is completed shall be a citizen of the Empire. The only exceptions are death and medical discharge due to injuries received in service. In the case of medical discharge the subject has the option to refuse and take service in any capacity they are fit for upon the approval of a board of review. The exception is experimental medical treatment for the disabling wound.
Those killed in service are entered onto the rolls of citizens.
From Imperial Service-Is It Right For You?
Tara awoke slowly. She looked around and saw the recovery bay just as she'd been shown before the procedure. She looked down and felt hope at the sight of the two bumps under the bottom half of the sheet. Her hands clenched the crisp white sheet over her lower body. She pulled on the material and felt the clinging cover drag on her feet. She started to cry and laugh at the same time. She pulled the sheet aside.
"They're really there," a gentle voice said beside her. "Pink and everything. I'm Althea. The surgery and the regen therapy are all over."
She turned to see a nurse in the ubiquitous green sterile clothing of the surgical ward. She looked tired but was smiling.
"Are they... w-warm?" she asked hesitantly.
"You can touch them and see," the nurse said as she steadied the younger woman. Tara sat up and felt her feet. Her hands and feet both felt warmth. She started to cry again. Althea settled her back and covered her.
"You've got messages waiting, Tara," the older woman said carefully. "Do you want them now or later?"
"I'll take them now, I-I guess," she replied hesitantly.
"There's no rush," Althea assured her.
"I'm a clerk's assistant," Tara said ruefully. "Paperwork is always a rush."
"All right," Althea said with a small smile. "But if you spike a vital sign it's an early bedtime for you."
"Its just messages," Tara said with a tired shrug as she took the data pad.
The first three messages were from members of the 417th Imperial Marine Regiment. The three were at Jocelyn getting medical treatment as well. She smiled at their words and wondered why they were so concerned. Her General Services clerk and she had been attached to their unit very briefly and Tara was just a bureaucratic helper at best. There was a long message mostly filled with children's drawings from the McHeath compound just off Jocelyn's huge starport. Abigail had sent a brief note saying she would be dropping by. Tara was smiling broadly when she tabbed the second to last message. She read the opening. A moment later there was a gentle chime in the room.
"Tara, what's wrong," Althea asked quickly as she entered the bay.
"I-I-I... don't..." Tara looked down at the pad. "It's a mistake. It s-says `citizen'. It's only been six months since training."
"No, it's right," Althea explained gently. "These bone implants are still experimental. They're the best base for regen work but they're new."
Tara nodded mechanically. She looked at the pad and tabbed the last button. Alarms chimed more loudly as she started to cry after a few seconds.
"Oh God, no," Tara whispered. "I don't deserve..."
Althea pushed her remote and silenced the high tech alarms. She called on the oldest nursing skills and held the sobbing young woman.
"Hello, Admiral," Captain Chin said politely as he stood behind his desk at attention.
"Greg, if you call me that, I'll have to salute," Abigail McHeath said with a chuckle. "You don't want to do that to an old retired lady, do you?"
"It'll keep you in shape," he replied easily.
"Like a pretzel?" she said as she sat down. "Sit, sit."
The middle-aged Naval Intelligence officer sat down and pushed a thin wafer of wood on his desk nonchalantly. The outside noise faded quickly. Abigail felt a slight buzz at her throat under the old pendant she wore as her only jewelry aside from her Naval Academy ring. She nodded at the Captain.
"Clear as far as I can tell," Chin replied evenly.
"Any luck?" Abigail asked without hope.
"No," the officer said as he stood up and paced. "Nakamura has the best chance of stopping it but Taylor and Kwon are senior. No one can do anything official anyway until the Planets Rights people are caught doing something on an outside world."
"We don't have a lot of time," Abigail said tiredly. "Miranda's in the worst shape but none of First Planet elites are stable. When they start to lose power it starts."
"How good is your intel about the PR in this sector?" Chin asked quietly.
"Very good, five by four at least," the old woman answered. "But they killed.we lost the source. They're here somewhere. And I'm afraid that means the situation is even worse than I thought."
"And I've got four corks to plug a dozen holes," the Captain said pulling out his small data pad. "I don't have anyone to spare for Europa's, ah special requirements. That's where I'd go if I were them."
Abigail just nodded. She'd fought the trend to enhance intelligence agents and case officers with microelectronics while she had been on staff. Her successor had made it mandatory. Now the planet that supplied almost a quarter of the new recruits for the Empire was being targeted by people convinced the Empire was holding back all of humanity. And none of the best intelligence operatives could step on the planet.
"How about some of your musicians or jugglers or dancing cows?" Greg asked.
"Cows don't dance, city boy," Abigail said with a small smile. "There's already half a dozen troupes and acts on Europa anyway. It's great for live music and acts. There's a small circus doing the rounds. Some of those little nations even pay mimes."
"What are they hearing?" Greg asked quickly.
"They're three weeks away," Abigail pointed out. "Speed of travel is the speed of communication. And we lost the PR about four weeks ago. Maybe I should say the PR we knew about."
"Thank you," Chin replied. "I'm trying not to think about a PR action cell working on Europa. I need more eyes on the ground that won't short out."
Abigail looked up at his comment. Chin stayed quiet. She had been his teacher, mentor and colleague. He knew she was thinking, and by her stillness he knew she was struggling with something. He knew the cost of what they did. He wondered how many times the two of them had made choices that robbed them of sleep.
"There's a girl," Abigail sighed. "Her name's Maclay. Bright, talented and an esper even if she doesn't want to be. I'm going to see her this afternoon."
Chin touched the data pad and frowned. He went to his desk unit and entered a long password and touched the screen twice.
"She's a medical discharge with a schedule full of hypno-therapists," he said unhappily. "A grade one clerk's assistant? She's eighteen. And she's being put up for that? What gives?"
"She was at Tanner's Crossing," Abigail said softly. "The hypnos are probably for survivor guilt. That would be like her."
"Is this citation real?" Chin asked in an awed tone as he read the forms on his monitor.
"According to my Patrick, yes," Abigail said with a hint of pride.
"Student at Oldenberg?" the intelligence officer asked after a moment. "Scholarship awarded with her decoration from a little heard of fund?"
"Plausible," the old woman agreed. "I'll give her a bit more background on the situation. She needs to be needed right now."
"I'll take her, sight unseen," Chin said with a nod. "Every little cork helps."
"Then I'm off to play spymaster," Abigail sighed. "Pimping for Empire and Empress."
"Or watch it break," Chin replied.
There was no humor in either of their voices.
Tara Maclay looked down at the distant planet Europa from the observation deck of the liner. From a million kilometers out it looked like a tiny blue gem. She absently fingered the small gold toned button with the Imperial Sun on her jacket's lapel. She felt the steward come up behind her.
"Miss Maclay?" he asked in a voice that almost trembled. "We'll be docking soon. Uh, I was just wondering... could I have your autograph? I was General Services too and, ah..."
"What branch, um...?" Tara asked shyly as she looked down and took the offered pen and paper.
"Tom, and it was Starport Support," he answered quickly. "Mostly on Nuevo Sonora."
"That's not an easy s-station," she said as she signed the small leather bound book's page.
"We did our best," the steward said standing a bit straighter. "It was all right once you got used to it."
"Sounds too much like w-work and h-hard work at that, Tom," Tara replied as she handed the autograph book back.
"Thank you," Tom almost gushed. "Do you need any help getting debarked?"
"I'll manage, thank you," Tara said. The steward tipped his cap and smiled broadly as he hurried on to a couple with a baby and luggage. Tara looked up to see a very large woman with a spacer cut looking at her.
"Have you been to Nuevo Sonora?" the woman asked carefully.
"Never, um h-heard of it," Tara said softly. The woman nodded and joined a group of hard bodied men and women who all looked alike in their movements and careful gaze. They and others like them made up almost all of the passengers on the D-4 winged cutter heading to the planet's surface.
Marines and security, Tara thought. Mercenaries. I guess this is what 'Aunt' Abigail meant by noting unusual things. I still don't know what instincts I'm supposed to be following if something is 'unusual'.
Tara shrugged and settled her baggage into the bin. Then she sat in her seat and strapped in. She looked at the list of things the planets oddly powerful electromagnetic fields would interfere with. When she saw shimmer make up she flinched and had brief image of a wonderful restaurant. She saw the scene again.
"I've met the most wonderful girl, Tara," Arabella gushed. "And I wanted you to be the first to know."
"I'm glad you're h-happy," she'd replied. And she had been, for Arabella.
Tara shook away the memory and looked at the growing blue sphere in the seat monitor.
"It'll be better here," she whispered to herself. Then she sighed, "Maybe."
The twin facts that the Borders were producing seventy percent of the Imperial forces and the economic downturns caused by planetary governments on the First Planets are now considered the root causes behind a movement that was labeled "Planets Rights". This movement demanded service in the First Planets' own forces to be worthy of full Imperial Citizenship, lower taxes for transport of their exports, and a planetary population based representation of Imperial forces and revenue spent.
The Empire refused out of hand and over the next two decades tensions built inside the core of the Empire. Then a new generation took over the leadership of the Planets' Rights movement. The growing interstellar corporations, now feeling the constraining hand of Imperial law, backed their efforts. For the corporations the Planets' Rights movement seemed to offer the stars themselves. But the new leadership had hidden how eager they were to advance their perfect cause at any price.
The Coming Twilight-Understanding The Fall of the First Empire
There was a pleasant snap in the fire as Sir Quentin Travers leaned back in the winged chair with a brandy. Whatever else these foreigners did at least they made good spirits. The pacing young man in the silk suit in front of him glared at the old man.
"Are we sure we can trust him?" the young man asked brusquely.
"Of course not," Travers said easily. "Really Louis, if you're going to be King of Aquitaine, and then Oldenberg after your victory, you must learn to trust no one who comes to you offering you something for nothing."
"And Mercia will recognize my claims?" Louis asked quickly.
"As long as you sign the treaty giving us East Sussex, your highness," the older man said easily. "Everything has its price."
"And the Summers brat is just part of the price?" Jean snapped.
"Yes, I'm afraid," Travers said sadly. "Cousin on my mother's side, somewhere. Pity. But Lady Dawn will have to be killed in the 'bandit' attack."
"She could not be... kept?" Louis asked with a possessive smile. Travers met the young man's eyes. His stomach clenched and not for the first time he wished dearly to show the second prince of Aquitaine the outside of a dirigible at a thousand meters in the air. He smiled at the prince.
"Too dangerous," Travers said evenly. "Alive she is the legitimate heir in the scenario we spin. Dead she is an innocent martyr to her mother's machinations for power."
"Innocent," muttered the young man and then more loudly, "Waste."
"Fortunes of war," Travers said with a shrug.
"So we use this Meers," the young man said. "Him and the timorous little man with the gadgets."
"And, if we're careful, we don't get used," Travers answered quietly.
"I don't understand," Cordelia said softly. "It's just a week until graduation. He loves to ride to the hunt. I even got Firebrand shipped down for him. And I had all of Mother's favorites made up for the tea."
"I'm sure it was something important," Willow said earnestly. "Like a bridge falling down or a wreck or something."
"He has an important job," Beth added quietly.
"Your mother came across the South Channel," Cordelia said weakly. "She's got rumors running around and she shows up with your sister. My mother's a day away in Anjou."
"She sent a whole trunk load of new clothes," Willow pointed out. "None of which are in any color that won't make me look splotchy."
"Well, of course," Cordelia said rolling her eyes.
"And you can get your dad to send a special train to get you to Paris," Beth pointed out.
"And some of these need to be fitted," Cordelia said more firmly. "I mean, who could fit into some of this without looking like a sack?"
"So it looks like you're off to Paris this weekend," Willow said with a happy grin.
"I know, chocolate and any books on computer stuff," Cordelia said more lightly. "And pants for the adventuress. If I get time."
With that the taller girl stood up and gathered her things. She smiled superiorly at the room Beth and Willow alone now shared.
"I need to get ready for this weekend," she said as she swept out the door, to her private room.
"What do you really think happened?" Beth asked after the door closed.
"Mistress for him, lover for her," Willow said flatly. "That makes an even dozen events they've missed. And mine are crossing the Southern Inland Sea for their next study on parallels between it and the Terran Mediterranean in peoples and trade."
"Sorry," Beth said distantly.
"It's okay," Willow said evenly. "I think they just went down there to delay me going off to Imperial service."
"You have to say goodbye?" Beth asked with a small smile.
"Yeah, and I'm not exactly the most traveled girl in the world," Willow admitted with a weak grin.
"I'll go with you," Beth said suddenly.
"You would?" Willow asked brightly. "But you can't, not with those rumors about..."
"My parentage," Beth said tightly. "Am I the 'librarian's special edition'?"
"Your mom wouldn't do that," Willow said surely.
"Maybe she should have," Beth whispered. "But no, she wouldn't. Will, I'll go with you. I need to get away from this anyway. Maybe if I stop punching reporters they'll let this die off. Damn it, I wish I could see Giles."
"I'm sure he wants to see you too," Willow said gently. "But, you know, appearances and all. He's always been big with the best foot forward and stiff upper lip thing."
Beth just nodded and leaned on her best friend. Willow put an arm around her shoulders. She could feel Beth's tense muscles ease. It was one more reason Willow hadn't told anyone how she was noticing girls now. Beth and even Cordelia needed a friend now more than ever. And the thought of kissing either made her queasy, especially Cordelia. She made her decision.
"All right," Willow said with a nod and a firm tone. "We travel, but by train or airship maybe or even steamship but only if it's, you know, not stormy."
"No horses?" Beth asked innocently.
"No!" Willow said quickly. She saw Beth start to laugh and pushed her. Beth's real laughter made Willow feel better. With her best friend any thing was possible, even finding the courage to say goodbye.
The ring of sabres filled the salle as two padded figures pressed each other for an advantage. The taller figure had reach, the smaller quickness. Finally the tall man bound the blades and used his size to unbalance his foe. He lunged instead of cut and lithe man on the floor lifted his blade in surrender.
"Well done, Liam," he said panting slightly as he took off his mask.
"And you, your highness," the tall man as he ran a hand through his tousled black hair.
"William, please," the dark blonde young man said as he stood. "In Oldenberg 'your highness' is my father, thank God. Besides, I still owe you a thousand marks after last night's cards."
"Well, you made up for some of that with this lesson in swordsmanship, I dare say," Liam answered evenly.
"You'd both be better served with a lesson in stick fighting," a hard figure said as he stood at a relaxed parade rest. "Or better yet, logistics."
"Mr. Finn, I realize you're from outside our bijou little world," William said lightly. "But here, gentlemen use swords."
"Or cards," Liam added archly. The two young man burst into laughter as the mercenary shook his head.
Warren Meers peered at the gloom and hated Europa all over again. On any other planet he would have night vision gear and dampening fields around the ambush site. On a decent planet there would have been overhead sensor drones to make sure the target was on a mag-lev train. The only good thing tonight was that he had professionals on his flank. He didn't know which mega-corporation they worked for and he didn't care. He shivered because wool wasn't as warm as a stealth suit. Finally he heard the sound of a fuel burning engine.
"About time, don't you think Sparky?" he said to the man next to him.
The man made no reply. The back of his head was missing. Next to him was another figure just as dead in the same clothes. It had taken fourteen times the number of power cells to get the bodies here in the correct shape. He hesitated to think what the smell would have been like had his patrons not provided him with the private death trap on tracks that passed for luxury travel on Europa.
He picked up the mechanical detonator and waited for the light of the carbide lamp on the front of the train to light up the bend in the track. It had taken hand figuring the angle of attack and the location of explosives. It had to be enough to bring down a rockslide but not enough to push the train down the ravine or fjord or whatever the local cattle called it. All of that was about to pay off. He felt the exhilaration that the power of life and death always gave him.
"It's show time, Sparky," he muttered.
"Would stop saying that?" a figure whined nearby. "They're dead."
"Shut up Andrew," Warren snapped. "Have you got the sterile bag ready?"
"Why do they want the DNA if she's dead?" groused the shivering technician.
"Confirmation," Warren hissed. The noise grew louder. "Get down."
Lady Dawn Summers looked down at the leather bound journal and sighed. In the private train car, provided by Director Chase himself, were herself, Tildy her nurse and old Harold. The old soldier looked out the window nervously and eased the massive revolver under his shoulder. Dawn sighed and returned to her journal. She had to finish if she was going to get any farther in her Claire Durano novel.
Dawn sighed. Claire Durano had a former Imperial Marine Commando teacher named Brock who taught her how to fight and shoot. Brock was strong and quiet and had won the Gold Sunburst. He only saved her when there were too many henchmen for Claire to escape on her own. Claire had a wealthy father with a minor title and his own airship. She could ride her black stallion Nightsilk as fast as she wanted and take a four rail fence. She could even steal cleverly but only did so to feed orphans, or herself when she was escaping kidnappers or anarchists.
Dear Claire-How is my first Special all to myself going you ask? Dawn wrote in her journal. Awful. Momma dragged me to see the evil one at the same prison I'm going to next year. At least Willow was there. So was the snooty one I don't mention. E.O. did punch one of the-Dawn looked at her nurse across the car knitting-bastards who are bothering my mother so I guess she's salvageable. I got to ride for ten whole minutes on some old gelding and Momma was all "be careful, sweetie!" in front of everyone!!. Then she got called off to East Sussex on something "urgent" but she wanted me to have a good look at my future. So here I am.
Harold still has only shown me about five moves and none of them have neat names. If I'm ever kidnapped I'm a goner. Tildy was fussing at me to put on a wool sweater on top of the rest of the whole sheep I'm wearing so now I'm SO overheating-
The scream of tortured metal pierced her ears as the train bucked under her. Dawn grabbed at her journal and felt a page tear in her hand. Then there were gunshots. Tildy fell and there was blood on her blouse. Dawn grabbed her purse that held her Girl Scout first aid kit. She saw the blood spreading out underneath the now pallid form of her nurse.
"Tildy!" Dawn screamed as Harold picked the girl up and tossed her out a broken window with a pain filled grunt.
"Run!" he shouted at her.
Harold disappeared inside and Dawn heard his revolver roar again, then the sharp cracks of his back up pistol. Dawn stopped at the edge of the rail-bed and stared at the crushed locomotive. She headed forward. When she'd boarded the engineer had shown her the controls. He had a girl her age. Then the car she'd been in was shaken by three loud snaps. Her ears were ringing but she could have sworn she heard bees buzz by. Harold stopped shooting. Then there was a bright light and she felt like she was falling.
"Can you confirm the body?" Meers shouted angrily.
"After that stadium rated flash-bang?" said one of the team as they scowled at him. Meers did not really know anyone but the leader. That worthy was sprawled in the dirt along with two of his men. Andrew was sitting on a rock looking horrified. Meers snarled and entered the train.
There was wreckage and tiny fires were growing everywhere, but he spotted something in the flickering light. He reached down and picked up the silver brush with the initial S on the back. He pulled off a pair of long lustrous brown hairs and placed them carefully in a tiny envelope of his own. Smoke started to fill the compartment. He went out on the downhill side of the wreck carrying the brush with a few hairs left in it and few other small things of Dawn's. He dropped them on the ground.
"Well?" he asked as the flanking elements walked up.
"Nothing got out my way," said one shivering figure.
"Nada," grunted the other.
Meers looked over the edge of the cliff. Below him a river roared on its way to the sea. He knelt down and squinted. He saw the scuffed footprint. He smiled wolfishly and peered over the edge. Below he could make out the churning water by the white water dancing in the moonlight.
"She went over the edge," he said surely.
"Want us to make sure she's dead?" one flanker asked reluctantly.
At that two short squeals of a whistle cut through the night. Warren and the rest looked up quickly.
"She's dead," he said. "Our ride's here. Plan C. Tie the bandannas on them and toss the team's bodies into the train and burn them."
"NMR doesn't pay me enough," grumbled one of men after Meers passed by. "Planets Rights for the people my ass."
Three meters below a girl lifted her head slowly. A wave of nausea flowed over her as she picked up her aching head. She looked at the narrow lip as well as she could by the quarter moon's light.
"Want us to make sure she's dead?" someone was asking.
"She's dead," a male voice said a few thudding heartbeats later. "Our ride's here. Plan C. Tie the bandannas on them and toss the team's bodies into the train and burn them."
"NMR doesn't pay me enough," grumbled another voice nearer to the edge. "Planets Rights for the people my ass."
That's important, she thought. I've got to remember that.
The path seemed to spin. She just put her head down for a moment. There was noise above her.
Want us to make sure she's dead?
The girl started to stand and for a second wavered on the edge of the goat trail. Then she started downhill unsteadily. There was something to remember. Something important she had to tell someone. She almost walked off the trail again. She whimpered in the dark and leaned against a tree.
"Come on," she told herself. "Buck up..."
A panicked look washed over her face. Her breath got short. She put a hand to her head where it hurt and then saw her hand marked with black streaks in the moonlight. She looked at the crumpled paper in her other clenched hand. She smoothed it out desperately.
"I'm, I'm..." she held the paper out in as much of the moonlight as she could catch on the grimy surface of the... it had to be a letter.
"I'm Claire," she said softly. "Claire who?"