Prelude

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... and yet Arthur Wallman never knew the events as they occurred, closer to the truth than anyone before him as he was.


***


"Steady now. Steady. There she goes. Commander, we have a shuttle drop. Estimated time to surface is thirty seven standard minutes."

Launch reports were coming in from all shuttle bays. They had dropped the last two hundred shuttles in less than a minute. Almost perfect. Rear Admiral Hirotaka Ashakawa smiled. He was running a well trained crew on the TSS Indomitable. Better trained than the one on the flagship, the Shieldbreaker, but Dimitri Panopilis, his fellow commander would never agree to that of course.


***


Lieutenant Erwin Radovic checked his com unit one last time. Everything was in order. They shuttle dropped.

"Listen up now! This is what we've trained for. Secure perimeter first. Equipment shuttle will come in with body walkers and drop tanks. Drop tanks are parachuted one klick from touchdown. Equipment shuttle lands within perimeter so you have exactly one seven five seconds to take a position one fifty meters from touchdown. Any questions?"

They were all silent.

"Good! Goldberger, you're first. Remember, climb your body walker and wait until the next man is inside the equipment shuttle before taking your position again. Clear?"

"Clear sir!"


***


Captain Vivian McAdams, acting commander of Theta 47, glared at the holo screen. The station was far from ready to be used as an orbital station, but the mining plant was the only thing big enough to use, and the TSS Shieldbreaker had towed it to geostationary orbit. Now she was responsible for making sure the thrusters kept it there during the conversion from mining plant to orbital station.

Since the arrival of the carriers it had been used as a supply depot, and all unused space was filled with food, spare parts, munitions, power cells and other items the ground forces could need. Those troops were on their way down now, and she was ordered to follow the deployment of an affair she considered foolhardy. She gave the screen a second glare.

At least her quarters were in order now, and in a couple of weeks the mag train between the docking cradle in the center of the disk and the living quarters at the rim would be converted to carrying humans not wearing pressure suits.

Vivian sat back in her chair and waited for reports to come from planet side. There wouldn't be any for another twenty minutes, and she idly wondered if she dared to take a nap. She decided against it and set the primary com channel to watch shuttle 27. Her only son was on that shuttle.


***


John McAdams read the data in disbelief. "Lieutenant, problems."

"What is it?"

"Hull's heating up, sir."

"Check it again! Shields shouldn't have any problems at this altitude."

John obeyed. He set the sensors to display data from the shields only. It only took a couple of seconds. There were no readings.

"Sir, I don't understand, it's as if there are no shields."

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