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Apocalypse Now

Interlude One

By David bar Elias


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Ceres Base, United Fleet Works
September 12, 2004

When First Contact had been made between the Federation and Earth, the members of the Triumvirate had only just begun sending the first probes into the Asteroid Belt; primarily for scouting out ideal strategic or valuable rocks to claim in the name of the Queen-Empress, Czar, or the Emperor.

Now, a sizable swath of the Belt was home to what had universally been called the Forge. Headquartered on Ceres, the Forge was a sprawling workshop, where mechanical derricks, robotic workers, and scores of workers from the Triumvirate, as well as from far afield as the NEU, Denmark, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Portugal, and Austria-Hungary busied themselves around the clock attempting to turn Federation merchant vessels into 21st century man-of-wars.

A casual observer flying over the belt would have noted the sparks, smelting, and the scout ships towing in asteroids valuable in minerals for disintegration.

Ceres was where the operation was headquartered. That was where the best ships designers in the world were now locked down.

The overall administrator of the project was Sir Robert Creighton Anderson. Anderson, the former Administrator of the Terran branch of the Argossy Project (which had been headquartered at the University of Oxford), was noted for his fierce temper and excellent motivational skills. As of late, his temper was even worse than usual; there had been several murders among the technicians (with some of the more competent ones being found dead, among the various nationalities), and nobody knew who to suspect. The Conservative Party side of Anderson was inclined to blame every non-Protestant in the Belt, but fortunately, his logical, Liberal oriented side always drew Anderson away from those conclusions.

Not far from Ceres, several large asteroids had been drawn together to form a sizable habitat for workmen rotated off of duty so the next batch could take their place; the workers were segregated by nationality.

In the Chinese section of the habitat, Jakob Bao Bien was returning from yet another gruelling shift on the star docks. Bien, the son of a Jewish immigrant father and a Han mother, scratched the whiskers on his aristocratic face; ten hours of work took a lot out of you. Fortunately, after several frustrating delays, the United Terran Ship Jewel of Empire was well on its way to completion. The heavy battleships Peter the Great, Shang-Kun, and George III were almost halfway done.

Bien was the foreman in the Chinese sector of the project; underneath his Life Suit his tunic and skullcap were plain black to signify his rank...the Jews and Muslims who had fled the Middle East in the dark days after World War II were prised by the Chinese government for their loyalty and technical skills.

But now, riding back to base on the shuttle Heart of Nanjing, Jakob Bao Bien only wanted to get some sleep in preparation for the next day...this was almost as bad as slavery, only he was getting incremental pay, at least.

The shuttle docked at Blue Dragon Port. After the ship was sealed off from the vacuum, and the air flooded back in, the 1,000 or so labourers were allowed to disembark, and stumble back to their barracks. As a foreman, Bao Bien got slightly nicer was what an Englishman or Russian would have called "Spartan," whatever that meant.

As Jakob Bao Bien walked towards the walking path that would take him to his slumber, Tsien Dai Pao, one of the prominent Chinese weapons designers stationed in the Forge, strode past the shuttle on his way to the command deck. As he did this, one of the 1,000 workmen filing out of the shuttle, a Malay by the name of Muhammed Monatir stepped out of the long snake of weary humans and began walking towards Tsien Dai Pao.

Monatir had needed little prodding from the mysterious stranger who had offered him the money; he bore a life-long hatred for the Chinese since he had first heard the tales of his grandfather's death as the head of a Malaysian speratist group at the hands of Chinese counter-terrorism agents. As an extremely gifted mechanical engineer at the University of Shang-Kun, Muhammed Monatir had spent half is life plotting the best way to wreak revenge on Beijing and its children.

Killing one of their prominent weapons designers was one way to do just that. He didn't have much to worry about-since he was stationed in the Forge, his wife and one child were safely settled on Chinese Luzon (in their arrogant way, the Han hogged the best slots in the solar refugee centres. And the resulting explosion would disguise his perpetration of the crime.

And so, clear headed, and with the money from the mysterious stranger, who had been dressed in those strangely coloured robes, safely in the family bank account (disguised as a sudden inheritance), Muhammed Monatir calmly walked up to Tsien Dai Pao and ignited the detonator (given to him by his mysterious friend) stuffed into his life suit, killing both himself and Pao (and Pao's aides) which would put Blue Dragon Port out of commission for two critical weeks.

Another day in the life of United Fleet Works.

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