Chapter 2 - War Is Always Uncivilized

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GEA Special Forces Battleship Odysseus

"Sir, we have an incoming message from Professor Wu Li of Colony C0018."

Col. Theo Alexandrov leaned forward in the captain's chair. "Put it on the screen."

The face of a middle-aged Asian man appeared before him. His white lab coat was disheveled, streaked with soot, and his straight gray hair constantly fell into his face, no matter how many times he tried to tuck it back. "Col. Alexandrov, as leader of the Jade colony, I demand to know why you're attacking us."

"Just following orders," Theo replied, holding up his hands and shrugging as to indicate it was out of his control. As commander of the Global Earth Alliance's Special Forces, he'd led the last three conquests of independent colonies deemed a threat to the GEA's ruling council. The Jade Colony was no different.

A wave of red crept into the professor's cheeks. "And your orders were to attack innocent civilians? Do you have any idea how many lives have already been lost?"

Theo maintained his cool mask of composure even though he inwardly grimaced. Innocent lives would always be lost during war, but it was up to people like him to ensure that number was as small as possible. "I do. So far, we've retrieved forty-nine of the deceased, but I will update you should that number change."

The professor blinked several times in surprise. "You've actually counted them?"

"Yes." He counted every life lost in every battle he participated in. Once mankind saw the true toll of war, there could there be peace. And he wanted to be the one who brought peace to all. "Forgive me for having to take such drastic measures, but I purposely chose that quadrant because it gave me the most direct path to the factory and would keep the destruction to a minimum."

Anger flashed in the professor's eyes, and his voice turned into a low growl. "So you admit to sacrificing innocent civilians to get what you want?"

"Lives that could have been spared had you agreed to our terms six months ago." He tightened his voice until it was saber sharp as he peered directly into the camera. "You knew what we wanted."

The professor's upper lip curled into a snarl. "I did, but I never suspected you to be so uncivilized as to take it."

Theo rankled at the insult. War was always uncivilized, but he prided himself on using force only when absolutely necessary. He drew in a long breath through his nose and held it until his intellect overwhelmed his emotions. "Our terms are still the same. Surrender to us, and there will be no more casualties."

"Is that you speaking? Or your stepfather?"

Theo gripped the arms of the captain's chair, his knuckles blanching under the pressure. Too many people believed him to be an agent of his stepfather, Duke Fabrizio de Carrara, leader of the Global Earth Alliance. But he had his own mission, his own plans, his own vision for the future. He'd play along with his stepfather's plans until he could stage his coup. "You invited us here once you became involved with Project Ragnarok."

The professor's mouth hung open in a perfect circle for a split second before he recovered his composure. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Theo laughed like a cat who'd just cornered a mouse. "Don't play innocent, Professor Wu. I've read the communications our intelligence forces have intercepted. You're as much to blame for the lives lost today as I am."

The faintest of quivers that shook Professor Wu's chin became almost imperceptible once he lifted his chin higher to resume his defiant posture. "If I surrender, will you allow the civilian ships waiting in the port to leave unscathed?"

Theo rose from his chair. "Civilian ships?"

The professor nodded before switching the video feed. Now the screen showed lines of people pushing and shoving to get on board the waiting shuttles. Panic drained their faces of any color, and the cries of the children drowned out any conversations he might've heard.

Theo pinched the bridge of his nose to hide those images from his already troubled conscience. "I will allow them to pass provided you agree to the terms set forth sixth months ago. Colony C0018 will fall under the dominion of the Global Earth Alliance, and we shall henceforth control all manufactured exports."

Professor Wu blinked in slow motion, his face a mask of stoicism, before replying with a heavy nod. "For my people, I will agree to your demands."

"Then I shall be on board soon to accept your surrender." Theo ended the call and turned to the lieutenant standing beside him. "Scan every ship that leaves the colony. If any of them seem suspicious, alert me."

Despite his show of concern for his people, Professor Wu had been playing a dangerous game. Over the past two years, the GEA Intelligence Coalition had been gathering evidence on something called Project Ragnarok, an organized attack meant to cripple the Global Earth Alliance. Although the details were sketchy, the latest correspondence he'd received suggested that the leaders were close to launching the plan.

And Theo had been tasked with stopping them.

"Please place the bodies we've recovered on my shuttle so I may return them to their families when I meet with Professor Wu," he continued. It was a small penance for the destruction he'd caused, and his conscience would breathe easier for it.

He was about to board his shuttle when the communications officer halted him. "Sir, there's a call from His Excellency."

Theo suppressed his groan. Open defiance of his stepfather would only inspire mutiny among his men. "Put him through."

Three seconds later, the scowling face of Duke de Carrara filled the video screen. His dark eyes glared down at Theo. "Have you completed your mission?"

Instead of answering him, Theo made a show of bowing with a flourish. "Greetings, Your Excellency."

"Enough with the theatrics, Theo," the duke barked back. "Has Wu surrendered or not?"

"I was just preparing to leave for the colony and accept his surrender when you called." And if I'd been any quicker, I might have avoided your call.

The duke's bushy white brows drew closer together, and his voice rumbled with irritation. "Then stop playing around and do it. Count Orlav needed those microprocessors two weeks ago."

The call cut off as abruptly as it came, leaving Theo without a chance to respond. He gnashed his teeth and drew in another deep breath to quell his rage. It took him less than twenty minutes from the first blast of his ship's laser cannon to get Wu to surrender. Such battle strategy should've been applauded. Instead, his stepfather reprimanded him like a lazy child. And in front of his crew, too.

If he'd any say, this battle would've been avoided. Or, at least, postponed until he could confront Wu and the other rebel leaders involved in Project Ragnarok, preferably through a covert mission instead of a garish show of force. But the Minister of Defense claimed he needed the Jade Colony's latest microprocessors for his next evolution of mobile combat suits now. Which means once again, I'm forced to be the bad guy and get that asinine nobleman with no military experience what he wants.

Bit by bit, his temper cooled, and he refocused his thoughts on the finish line rather than the hurdle in front of him. I'll play their game for now, but once all of my pieces are in place, I'll show them the error of their ways.

Several blasts of light from the port side of the colony yanked Theo from his bitter thoughts. He braced for impact, expecting a volley of missiles. But the visual confirmed they were nothing more than the civilian transport shuttles the professor had mentioned.

Another lieutenant scanned each of the ships as soon as they came within range. "All packed with organic life forms. No evidence of any weapons systems," he reported.

Theo finally allowed a grin to form on his face. "Wu is upholding his end of the bargain, and so shall I. Hold your fire, and let them pass."

He just hoped that once he arrived at the colony, Wu hadn't destroyed his files on Project Ragnarok.

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