Chapter Thirty-four

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Kita, the Angels, and Ryan waited next to the door of Air Force Three. Outside on the tarmac of Edwards Air Force Base rain poured. Kita, Apocalypse, Sapper, Ryan, and Nemesis wore military parade uniforms. For the public event, the Angels turned their wings invisible.

"Umbrellas, Your Highnesses?" said Daisy to Apocalypse and Kita.

Apocalypse looked at Kita.

Pointing to the SEALs and operators standing in formation in the rain on the tarmac, Kita said, "If they're in the rain, we're in the rain."

Apocalypse nodded. "No thanks, Daisy."

From Daisy's sinking emotions, Kita gathered Daisy would be in the rain, too.

"What are the chances it would rain in Cali today?" said Nemesis.

"Remnants of a hurricane moving up from Baja Cali," said Apocalypse. "The aid package from Congress just crossed my desk."

"Just curious if someone is setting the mood." Nemesis nudged Kita.

Kita shrugged. "I can't make that kind of change inside the universe."

"You were by yourself for a while," said Apocalypse.

"The power of pageantry is something I learned early in my career, but I haven't left."

A thump signaled the stairs arrival.

The attendant opened the door, made sure the stairs were in the correct position, stepped into the rain, and saluted. "Your Highnesses."

"Everyone ready?" said Kita.

The other Angels nodded. Apocalypse stepped into the rain followed by Kita.

"How many times have you done this?" said Apocalypse to Kita as they descended the stairs.

"More than I can count."

"I've never done one this large before."

"Just remember, you set the tone. They want to see respect, dignity, and honor. These are your soldiers, but to each other, they are friends and comrades—people they trained and lived with, and if need be, die with. It's a special bond of loyalty that you need to recognize. To many, the bond to each other means more than the oath they took to serve you. And, as of today, you are no longer just their princess, but one of them. They'll expect you to understand and honor that bond."

"I went to West Point. I thought I was."

"You've joined a limited sorority of those that have seen combat. You wanted to prove to the military you are worthy of command. By serving in combat, you've shown you know how to handle the pressure and work as a team. You've proven you are one of them and that will gain you respect and loyalty no title can give you. I have images we can release showing you taking care of the wounded under fire. Wings removed, of course. No one will dare question your commitment and dedication to the Empire and the military."

"It seems a high price to pay."

"For victory, there is never a price too high, only those who lack the will to pay it. But, you must know the difference between paying for victory and squandering your forces."

Apocalypse led the Angels to the left of the formation of SEALs and ADT operators. Twenty yards away on the tarmac sat two C-5 Galaxies with their noses in the air. Inside rows of flag-draped coffins waited to be brought home.

The Angels and Ryan formed a line. A senior sergeant called the formation to attention, and the officers posted. A team of pallbearers, made of members of the different military branches, marched from the hangar, entered a C-5, picked up a coffin, and marched out of the plane. As the first foot touched the tarmac, Taps played, and the formation saluted the coffin as it went by.

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