Hello, my name is Jack.  I have seen destruction in my time.  I have seen orbital bombardments destroy entire cities.  I have seen weapons of such power that only pulverized ruins remained.  I have seen the dust that is left blasted into the air to block the sun itself.  I have seen winters come to entire worlds.  War is terrible.  I hope to never see it again.





Jack let out a long breath, watching the warm air from his lungs crystallize in the cold front washing over the ruins of New Washington’s capital.  He sucked air in through the clear filter masking his face against the dust in the air.  He looked up, barely making out the dim glow of Alpha Centauri A in the dust-shrouded sky.  Most people would need glasses to see anything it was so dark, but Jack shook his head and returned to examining the capital.  The Shang’s sustained orbital bombardment had left nothing standing.

A cold wind howled and Jack shivered despite himself.  He zipped the leather flight jacket up to his neck and stuck his hands in its pockets.  Betty echoed his motions at his side, even though she didn’t really need to.  It was just her way of fitting in, and he had to admit it felt a lot better standing out here with her than alone.  Dirty snow swirled in the wind, wrapping around him or driving through her holoform to dust the ground at their feet.  Jack sighed as the temperature continued to drop.  It was dark as night even those it was midday and a long winter was coming to New Washington.

Jack shivered again, wondering how many innocent people had died today, under the Shang bombardment.  Another bombardment had brought another winter to another world.  The sound of footsteps on the rubble came to his ears and Jack turned to see Tom and Juliet leaning into the wind as they trekked up to the hilltop.

“Aren’t you going to come in?” Tom shouted over the wind.  “It’s getting colder!”

Jack shook his head.  “This isn’t cold yet,” he returned, making a show of not noticing what actually was beginning to be a bit chilly.

“Oh.  Right,” Tom said with a dark chuckle.  “You know you Minnesotans are crazy, right?”

Jack forced a smile against the gloom ahead of them.  “Everybody knows it ain’t cold until it’s thirty below.”  Tom shivered and Jack shook his head slowly.  “Can’t tell you how many times I snow shoveled in shorts and a tank top at fifteen below.”

Tom answered with an exaggerated shudder as he and Juliet reached the top of the hill.  “You shoveled snow?”

Jack shrugged at Tom’s attempt to make him laugh.  “My parents wanted me to develop a good work ethic.”

“That must have been some con,” Tom said with a wink.

Jack finally snorted despite the destruction around them.  “One of my best,” He answered with a shake of his head.  Then he sighed and nodded at the destruction.  “What do you think?”

Tom’s playful acted disappeared immediately and he followed Jack’s gaze towards the ruins.  “The Shang should read more Sun Tzu,” Tom said in a low tone.

Jack blinked at the odd answer, trying to fit it into this.  He’d never read Sun Tzu though.  Ancient Chinese generals were simply outside his interests.  “What?” he asked in complete confusion.

Tom sighed.  “You should read his works.  One thing he said was to ‘Never do your enemy a small injury,’” he said with a nod towards the ruins of the capital.

Jack turned with a shocked look and waved a hand at the destruction.  “This is small?” he spat out.

Tom met his gaze and nodded.  “On an absolute level, yes.  Anything that does not kill you is a small injury.”

Jack’s eyes narrowed as the slow anger that had been building in him finally flashed to the top.  “Well, there’s a lot of dead people there,” Jack growled, finger pointing at where the capital once ruled the river valley.

“Tom’s right,” another voice said and Jack turned to see Charles and Dorothy walking up to their observation point, waving his hands towards the north and the rest of the colony.  “The Shang destroyed the capital, but not the rest of the colony.”

“Because we stopped them,” Jack returned in a bullish tone.

Charles just shook his head.  “Aneerin miscalculated.  The Shang fleet was larger than he expected and the New Washington’s defenses fell too soon.  They had plenty of time to bombard anything they wanted before we arrived.  Instead they just hit the capital and orbital infrastructure.  Like they did at Earth.”

Jack’s anger turned into a cold rage he hadn’t felt in months.  “They dropped Yosemite all over the American West,” he said in a cold, calm tone.  “Maybe you don’t-”

“Jack!” Betty interrupted, stepping in between them.  She glared at him, telling him not to say another word with her expression.

Jack met her gaze for several seconds before looking away.  He took in a deep breath, released it, and nodded.  Accusing Charles of not caring wouldn’t be fair.  But he couldn’t stand around and listen to either of them talking about the “small wounds” the Shang inflicted.  Jack turned to walk away from the hilltop.

“Jack,” Charles called after him.  “I need you to keep an open mind and listen to me.”

The vision of Yosemite falling ran through his mind, its wreckage destroying International Falls and killing the vast majority of the people he loved.  Jack turned back to Charles.  He held his voice under control and spoke in a quiet tone that he knew they would both pick out of the wind.  “If it means thinking the Shang aren’t responsible for the people they’ve killed, for my family and friends, I don’t think I can do that.”

Charles brought both hands up in a placating gesture.  “Fair enough.  All I ask is that you listen.  And then think about it.”

For a second, he was back at the bonfire on the beach, dancing and having fun with so many people long dead.  So many people that he loved.  He blinked the dream away and held Charles’ gaze.  “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about them,” he noted, keeping his tone calm.  “There’s not a morning that passes that I don’t miss every last one of ’em.  Yosemite killed almost everyone that made life worth living.”  He pulled in a deep breath.

Charles spoke before Jack could continue, answering the quiet tone with one of his own.  “You don’t need to go on.  We understand.”

Jack shook his head.  “No you don’t.”  Jack raised a hand to forestall their protests.  “There’s a lot of reasons I volunteered to serve after Yosemite.  I’ve always answered the questions by saying I wanted to kill the Shang for everyone they killed.”  He shook his head again and chewed his lower lip for a moment.  “The thing I never told ’em was that I knew I wouldn’t live through it, and I was fine with that.”  He watched their eyes open wide in surprise and nodded at them.  “I didn’t want to live without them, so I found a way of joining them I wouldn’t be ashamed of.  All the cybers that didn’t pick me were right not to.  I wouldn’t have made a good partner.”

The feathery weight of a hand touched his shoulder and he raised a hand to touch Betty’s.  He met her gaze and she smiled, letting him know she was happy with her decision.  He sighed, then jerked his head towards Tom and Charles, asking what she thought.  Her smile grew and she nodded towards them.

Jack pulled in a deep breath and turned back towards Charles and Tom.  “My better half tells me to listen, so I’ll listen, but you better have a real strong argument.”

Charles nodded, accepting the challenge.  “Honestly, most of my argument centers around orbital dynamics and questions.  I do not have any facts.”

Jack considered that for a moment and glanced at Betty.  She raised one eyebrow and he pursed his lips.  “So something doesn’t make sense to you,” Jack said towards Charles.  “What?”

Charles smiled before he continued.  “Yosemite actually.  You know Yosemite wasn’t actually in orbit, right?”

Jack nodded.  While Yosemite Yards had been in space, it had actually been held in place over California by gravity generators.  For the better part of a century, it had been a constant beacon in the sky, day and night, a sign of American prosperity and power.

“Good,” Charles said with another smile.  “If we had anything orbiting as low as Yosemite Yards, it would be flying across the sky, not staying in one point.”

“Unless it was in geosync orbit,” Jack supplied.

“But geosync is much farther out than Yosemite Yards was,” Charles said with a raised eyebrow.

Jack nodded with a sigh.  “True.”

“Now, something in a west to east orbit, down where Yosemite was, when it got shot down, it would scatter in the atmosphere and impact in continental America.  We would be picking pieces of it up at least as far as the Mississippi, perhaps all the way to the East Coast.”  Charles paused to make certain that Jack understood.

Jack glanced at Betty and she nodded.  He turned back to Charles with a smile.  “Gravitics wasn’t my specialty, but I’ve seen a water skier totally frak up a landing at seventy kays.  I think I get your meaning.”

Charles chuckled and shook his head.  “Sometimes I forget how hard you work to act like a dumb country hick.”

Jack snorted.  “More like differently motivated.  The skier in question was a real nice girl.  Lucky for both of us I was there to fish her out,” he finished with a wink, then sobered as he remembered what happened later.  “Of course, she died with Yosemite too, so I guess they’re a bit more linked then they were at first glance.”

Charles let out a long breath.  “Is there anybody you grew up with that did not die?”

Jack shrugged.  “Taylor and Jennifer.  A few others.”  He shook his head.  “Not many though.”

Charles nodded.  “I am truly sorry.”  He glanced at Dorothy for a moment, and Jack saw her give Charles a look.  “I guess you are right about me understanding,” Charles said to him with a sorrowful look.

Jack looked away and turned to the ruins of the capital.  “So what doesn’t make sense to you?”

Charles stepped up beside him to follow his gaze.  “That girl of yours.  If she had been hovering above the water, not moving, on a gravboard when it failed, what would she have done?”

Jack shrugged.  “She would have fallen.”

“Straight down?”

Jack turned to raise an eyebrow at Charles.  “Yes.  Straight down.”

Charles nodded.  “Yosemite was on a giant gravboard.”

Jack blinked as he considered the fall of Yosemite again.  He’d never thought of it like that, and the realization brought a shiver down his spine.  Or maybe that was the cold finally seeping through his flight jacket.  He shook his head though as another thought came to mind.  “But Yosemite didn’t just fall.  It got hit by missiles.  There were explosions.  Lots of them.  Those would push it around a lot.”

Charles tapped his temple.  “You watched it happen with our eyes.  Yosemite accelerated to the east after the missiles hit.  Where did the missile fire come from?  Did they come from over the Pacific?  Could they have pushed Yosemite east when they hit?  Or did the missiles that killed Yosemite come from the same ships that leveled Washington D.C., from the east?”

Jack brought a hand up to rub his temple.  “You know the answer to that.”

Charles nodded.  “And that is why I wonder why Yosemite fell like it did.  My family has connections.  I have seen the data that was not released on the news.  It was secondary explosions that brought Yosemite down like that.  Not the missiles.”

Jack chewed his lip.  “The missiles could have set them off.  It was a yard.  There were all kinds of things that could blow up on it.”

Charles smiled.  “Yes.  They could have.  I would like to know if they did or if something else did.”

Jack shook his head.  “You’re talking inside job, aren’t you?  Government cover up and everything?”

Charles raised both hands in protest.  “I am just saying the facts we have do not make sense.  And I intend to find some that do.”

Jack blinked and gave Charles a long look.  “Do you really think you have the resources to do that?”

Charles didn’t hesitate.  “I know I do.”

Jack held Charles’ gaze for several seconds before looking away.  He stepped back, waving his hands in dismissal.  “This is crazy!  Those were Shang missiles.  The Shang fired them.  Hell, we’ve both been face to face with a Shang fleet that practically bragged over having hit us!”

Charles smiled.  “Yes, Jack.  The Shang bombarded Washington D.C. to kill our leaders, and the Shang destroyed Yosemite Yards to cripple our industry.  I am not questioning that.  What I will find out is who killed Los Angeles, who killed International Falls, and who killed your family.  The Shang?  Or someone else?”

A shiver ran down Jack’s spine and somehow he couldn’t just blame that on the cold.  Those were truly important questions.  He looked Charles in the eyes and the older man nodded.  Charles meant every word.  Jack looked at Tom who inclined his head towards Charles.  Jack looked back to Charles and sighed.  “Fine.  I’ll keep an open mind.  But I hope you don’t mind if I keep killing Shang?”

Charles laughed.  “Actually, I think I have to insist on that.”

Jack gave Charles one of his best salutes.  “Yes Sir.”