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Chapter Two

"So you see, it would be best to land our initial flotillas here, here, here and here," Terrick explain as he pointed to the map of Palma that shone on the digitized tabletop. He, Lusar, Marlowe, Dell, and two other Earthmen stood in a conference room aboard Noah, now back in cloaked orbit around Palma, planning strategy. Above and behind them, a visi-screen was filled with columns of numbers and symbols. "From there, we can send the 'cops out to most of the distinct settlements. This will both prevent their forces from organizing effective counter-attacks, as well as mask the location of origin of our forces."

Lusar nodded in approval. "Yes, this is the best way. By sending troops to every city, we can assure ourselves that we won't be surprised by any backup from regional forces. They won't be able to help each other out..."

"And since they won't know exactly where the robots are coming from, there's no way that they'll be able to find and eliminate the manufacturing bases," another Earthman chimed in.

The men, who had been leaning over the map, now stood upright. Smiles graced the faces of all but Dell.

"And what if your contacts underestimated the strength of their remaining army, Lusar?" he asked. "If they manage to rout the attacks, just how do you plan to occupy their cities? I see no contingency here to account for that. It seems that in your desire to get revenge on the rebels below, you've lost proper tactical considerations."

Marlowe, still smiling broadly, walked over to the old man and placed a hand on his shoulder. "We've already considered that, Dell, before you were invited to this briefing. Occupation is not our goal."

Dell carefully removed the hand from his shoulder. "I don't like being kept in the dark, Marlowe. Remember, although you were elected First Consul, you still have responsibilities to the Council." Dell narrowed his eyes, but the effect was effortlessly deflected by Marlowe.

"I have no intention of holding information from the Council, Dell... that is why you were invited here. Allow me to explain..."

Here the First Consul offered Dell a chair, and he and the others were seated. Marlowe walked to the back of the room, stood in front of the huge vis-screen, and faced his audience. "It is clear," he began, assuming a confidant, even dominating posture, "even though we will have an impressive element of surprise on our side, that we do not have the manpower to effectively occupy all the towns and villages that dot the planet below. Although our dear departed Lassic has convienently left us the means to manufacture a near-endless supply of robotcops, these machines cannot serve to administer governmental control. We have the means to suppress the people, but not to rule them.

"Twenty-five men cannot run an entire planetary government... nor could we do so even if we sent our mind-locked servants planet-side. There are just too many damn Palmans infesting the place... present company excepted, Lusar," he said with a nod. Lusar returned the gesture. Looking around the room at the faces gathered around him, Dell knew that they had all heard this speech before. It bothered him that all of this discussion had taken place behind closed doors, away from the Council. It bothered him a great deal, but he listened silently anyway. Marlowe went on.

"And so, as any rational, intelligent person might conclude, there is only one logical solution. If you cannot increase the size of the government, you must decrease the plurality of those whom are to be governed."

"Just what are you implying, Marlowe?" Dell questioned, heart pumping just slightly faster.

"Our aim will be nothing less than the radical reduction of the populace below... the initial waves of attack by our robotcops will not be intended to wrest control of the planet from the aliens, but rather, to kill as many as possible... civilian, military, or otherwise."

- - - - - - - - - -

By Palm, this is a mess! Odin thought harshly to himself. Currently the warrior-turned-commander-in-chief was watching troop exercises from an observation tower at a dilapidated military fort some miles north of Camineet. Just beyond the base, one could see the northern coastline, waves crashing thunderously upon the shore. Purple-hazed mountains loomed in the distance, far to the northeast.

Below him, Odin observed masses of troops desperately trying to manuever their way through makeshift obstacle courses, nearly all with zero success. Scurrying lieutenants and vice-sergeants crossed his vision, barking arcane military lingo at the befuddled infantrymen. For nearly a week these men had been residing at the base, new recruits eager to join the still decimated but recovering Palman army.

With a sigh, Odin climbed down from the tower and walked angrily to the officer headquarters building. Upon entry, everyone in the room stood sharply and saluted, but Odin merely waved his hand downward and grunted as he stormed into his private office, slamming the door behind himself. The officers exchanged nervous looks, then returned to their duties.

"I guess these new recruits aren't doing to well," one young lieutentant said quietly to the officer sitting behind him. "I wonder, were we ever that bad?" The only answer given was a short chuckle.

Not three months ago, most of the officers at the base, and around the world for that matter, had been nothing more than low-ranking grunts and technicians in King Lassic's army. But with the new government in place, and with much of Lassic's forces behind bars, Odin's command needed new officers, and it needed them quickly... and so promotions were handed out at a record pace. Even now, though, with a flood of new recruits eager to join, Palma's military force was shadow of its former self, both in skill and troop numbers.

Odin looked out the small porthole window in his office. In the distance, the sun was beginning to set, soon to be swallowed by the vast ocean. This is hopeless, he thought. We have no training, no experience, no discipline. About all we do have is drive. He paused and smiled slightly. And weapons. Lots of weapons.

Still, the toughest enemy that the Palman army had to face right now were street punks who preyed on citizens for money and food. Nothing they couldn't handle. But to a man who had been fighting as long as Odin, the next great battle was never too far away. And that thought sent fear drifting through his mind.

Suddenly Odin was thrown off his feet by the tremor of a tremendous explosion somewhere outside. Damn idiots! They've gone and blown up the ammo dump! Jumping to his feet, fuming, he strode to the door, ready to bite the head off of whatever incompetent soldier that had done it. The outer office was empty, the officers obviously having rushed outside. Another explosion rocked the compound; Odin quickened his pace and burst outside into the fading sunlight.

"What the devil..." he whispered, frozen in place. Smoke covered the training grounds, but the flash of blasters could clearly be seen. Soldiers were shouting everywhere, the the sound of firepower grew louder and louder. Odin looked around desperately as he unholstered his personal blaster. Just then one of his captains came running towards him through the smoke.

"Ferris, what the hell is..." He dodged instinctively as a plasma blast whizzed by his head, blowing a hole in the officers' building behind him.

"General! It's an attack! They're coming from of the ocean, the damn ocean!" Ferris screamed, grabbing Odin's arm and pulling him to a nearby troop carrier for cover. "Robotcops!"

"We destroyed all the robotcops!" shouted Odin. Ferris, ignoring him, raised his blaster and pointed it at the general's head. Odin ducked, and the blast tore by him, blowing a nearby robotcop to pieces not twenty feet away.

"I swear they came out of the ocean, hundreds of them! They were firing on us before we even knew they were there!" explained the captain.

Odin believed it. They had never posted lookouts in the camp, knowing that there was no one to attack them. Or so it was thought. "Casualties?"

"Heavy, real heavy!" Ferris told him, as another troop carrier nearby exploded, raining fiery shrapnel down over the field.

The warrior in Odin took over. "Get the men back, this battlefield is too uncontrolled! We need to lay down some kind of suppressing fire!"

"It's too late! They're everywhere! They broke formation as soon as they arrived! They're all over the place! We can't use the heavy guns without hitting our own men!"

Odin closed his eyes for a half-second and mouthed a silent obscenity. "Come on!" He bolted upward and began to run into the smoking battlefield. "Tell whoever you can find to fall back to the southside of the camp as quick as possible!" he yelled over his shoulder to Ferris. The captain watched as he disappeared into the smoke, then ran forward himself.

Odin was in constant motion. It was the only hope of staying alive as laser blasts criscrossed all around. Spinning and firing from the hip, he blew off the right leg of a nearby 'cop, causing it to crash to the ground. But Odin let loose two more shots, blasting its torso to pieces. The 'cops themselves were not particularly intimidating, being less than five feet tall. But they were relentless in their pursuit of their targets, and nothing short of destruction would halt their efforts.

But none of that entered Odin's mind as he blew away another, and another, ever on the move. He was as thoughtless as the 'cops, distinguishing only between friend and foe, pausing only to order his own troops away from the battlefield. Endless bodies littered the ground, Palman and robotcop alike. If he had to pull every damn one of his still-living troops back to saftey by hand, he'd do it. If he could survive that long.

- - - - - - - - - -

Miles away, in the capital city of Camineet, Queen Alis stood on a balcony of the modest magistrate estate that currently served as the headquarters of the Governing Council. The sun had just fallen below the horizon, and soon she would retire for the evening. But often she came out into the night air, to free her mind of the burdens of leadership, and to enjoy the starlit sky. The lights of Camineet shone below, a telling tribute to the strength of the people she now ruled. Would her father be proud of this city? Of her? And her mother, and Nero... all of them lost... she was the last of her family. Odin had become something of a surrogate big brother, yet still she often felt alone.

Washing these thoughts away, she turned and walked back into her bedroom, closing the balcony doors behind her. Her duties required that she rise with the dawn, and so she lay down upon her bed, pulling the covers snugly against herself, and began to drift off to sleep.

It was only an hour later that she was awakened by a furious pounding at her bedroom door. Sitting up quickly, she asked, "Who is it?"

"It's Nelson, your majesty! I must speak with you immediately! It's horrible, horrible!" Nelson Stromm, her closest aide, was not a man prone to exaggerations. Alis jumped out of bed, threw on a robe, and opened the door. Nelson stood there wringing his hands, a frightful look on his face. "Come! Come! We must hurry to the Council Room!"

As they ran down the hallway towards the stairs, Alis questioned him. "What's going on, Nelson? What is the matter?"

"We're being attacked, Alis! By robotcops! They're storming the city!" Alis had no words as they rushed down the stairs.

The Council Room was a flurry of activity. Advisors, local policemen, and frantic council members ran to and fro. Attendants manned numerous comm screens, each connected to various outposts throughout the city. As Alis and Nelson entered, Councilman Poller and a police captain met them. "Poller, tell me what's happening!" Alis commanded.

"Robotcops! They out there, firing on everyone! People are dying!" Alis saw that the diminutive man's descriptive powers would not be of much use at the moment, and turned to the captain.

"They blew through the city gates about ten minutes ago, and began firing on anyone within sight. They don't seem to be headed for any targets... they're just moving everywhere." The captain's calm tone indicated his veteran status. "We've begun to mobilize counter strikes, but are having only limited success. They're swarming all over like ants, and we're having to take them out one at a time. Our blasters work... but there are so many of them..."

"How many?" Alis questioned.

"Unknown. Estimates are in the hundreds, possibly over a thousand. Reports are scarce at this time. But it appears that more and more are pouring through the breach every minute."

Alis thought for a moment. "The outer wall? Can we cut them off?"

The captain shook his head. "The defense sensors are down. They've blown at least four separate breaks in the main wall. There's nothing we can do about it now."

"If the outer wall is... then Parolit--"

"...is being hit just as hard as we are. We've still got communications up with them, but our forces are stretched thin as it is. Communications with the spaceport have been lost."

"And the other cities? Scion?" Alis asked, desperation beginning to creep into her tone.

"We don't know. We lost contact with them just before the attack."

Who could be doing this? she thought. Lassic is dead... dead! "Can you get in touch with the camps? Have you heard from General Odin?"

A sigh escaped the captain's breath. "We've been sending out radio signals from the first moment. But we've not gotten any responses... from any of them."

Alis, Nelson, Poller, and the captain were all silent, contrasting the chaos in the room around them. The calm lasted only a few seconds. "All right. Nelson, get me a blaster. Captain, we're going out there."

"Out of the question!" Poller yelled.

"He's right, Alis!" agreed Nelson. "You're the queen... you can't risk your life so callously like that!"

"Callously!?!" Alis exploded. "People are dying out there!"

"Which is exactly why we need to keep you safe, your majesty," said Nelson. "You have a responsibility, a greater responsibility... you're their leader. You have to stay alive, or they'll lose all hope! You're too important to lose!"

Alis looked to the captain for help, but his sullen expression made it clear that he would offer her no refuge. Her eyes shot back and forth between the three men before her. "Very well," she conceded. In a moment, her resolve was redirected. "Captain, I need you to send out a party to Scion... have them take one of the transports. If Scion has any free men at all, tell them we need them immediately!"

"Yes ma'am," the captain said, dashing off.

Alis turned. "Poller! Send a message to Sirus! Inform him of everything that's happened!" Poller stood, casting his eyes downward. "What are you waiting for?"

"Our interplanetary broadcasters are down. They were set to be refurbished next week," he said faintly.

"Then get a party over to the spaceport and launch a shuttle!" Alis barked.

"The generator for the travelway has been blown... it isn't working..."

"Then walk, damn it! We need Sirus' help! Now!"

"Yes, your majesty." Poller quickly scurried away. As he did so, Alis walked to one of the comm operators seated in front of a screen. "What's the news, ensign?"

The young man turned to her, a frightened look on his face. "Not good, your majesty, not good..."

Alis closed her eyes again. Odin... where the hell are you?

- - - - - - - - - -

More than forty miles north of Camineet, along the coast, the smoke had cleared long ago. Robotcop carcasses covered the landscape. The sound of blasters, and screams, had long since faded. Forty-six men, officers and soldiers alike, stood in a line, silent, immobile. Some had their heads bowed, some looked to the night sky, still others had tears streaming down their cheeks.

Before them, laid out in row after row after row, were the bodies of their fallen comrades, each wrapped in whatever tattered material that could be found. There was no time to dig the graves, and not enough men to do the digging if there had been.

Nearly seven hundred and fifty men had lost their lives to the robotcop hordes that evening. To their credit, every last 'cop had been blown to pieces. But the price had been unfathomable.

No less vexing was the purpose behind the attack... it could only have been pure destruction. There were no Palman rebel leaders, no ultimatums, nothing.

That unknown frightened Odin more than the attack itself. If one force could do so much damage, so quickly... who could have been behind it?

The general nodded. Instantly, a torch was thrown, and a massive flame began to spread over the bodies. In less than a minute, each and every one was aflame.

A mercenary's burial, though Odin disgustingly. They deserve better. The warrior said a silent prayer, then spun to face his remaining men. "Alright, we're ready. Take whatever weapons and foodstuffs you can carry." The men scattered, finalized their loads, then formed up in marching lines. The last remaining transport, now loaded with the only salvageable heavy artillery in the camp, rumbled to life. It was too small to carry all the men, and so marching would be a necessity.

"Move out," Odin said calmly.

The lines surged forward, beginning the march south, followed by the transport. It would be nearly half a day before they would reach Camineet. With any luck, the attack on the northern training grounds would have been an isolated incident, but the warrior-veteran inside Odin told him otherwise. He prayed that there would be a Camineet to return to.

Almost surprisingly, he founds his thoughts drifting quickly to Myau, his friend and one-time partner. How odd it felt to have gone into battle without his trusted companion... it was almost... saddening. But at least Myau was safe. Whatever madman that had coordinated this attack had wanted to accomplish, it certainly couldn't have anything to do with a pride of Musk Cats hidden deep inside the Palman forests. When Myau had set his mind to not being found, no one would find him. Or his clan.

Images of Cats helplessly trying to resist a horde of laser-wielding 'cops flashed in his mind... and he quickly forced himself to concentrate on his own men. Once they returned to the capital, he would be responsible for protecting not only this decimated force, but the entire world.

He wondered if Alis' judgement in choosing him to be leader had been sound.

He would soon find out.

And so it was that the first day of The Great War had come and gone.

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