Operation Starfold 7

Armando Morales, Director of SSI Sporades, glanced up as the warning chime came down from the ceiling, followed by StarCen’s high-pitched voice. As one of a handful of highly placed bureaucrats considered important enough to be warned of planetary emergencies, Morales recognized the sound. And the chime indicated this was not a drill. He stopped what he was doing and gave StarCen his undivided attention.

She said, “Sporades is under attack. The Diego Fleet is in the solar system.”

The AI piped in a graphical representation of the battle on his office holo.

He watched as chunks of star exploded around an image of Sporades while ships from both fleets jockeyed for position, teleporting in random patterns every second.

Then the skeletal cubes went to work. Over the next few seconds, he watched in amazement as the Starfold constructs turned the tide of battle. One after the other, enemy ships were obliterated in whole or in part.

Moments later, the Republicans retreated.

He held his breath. By his rough estimate, he just witnessed the destruction of at least two dozen ships, most of them enemy ships.

“This certainly changes things,” he said to himself.

His mind raced with possibilities. Somewhere, someone once said to never let an opportunity go to waste. Or maybe it was something along the lines of, “In every crisis there is opportunity.”

Something like that.

He looked up at the ceiling and said, “StarCen?”

“Yes, Director Morales?”

“Prepare to crack down on all dissidents. I want every loose thread tied up. Have our forces arrest anybody remotely suspicious of sedition.”

“Will do, Director Morales.”

“Also, StarCen . . . execute Order 1151.”

-+-

Cedric Buchner walked into the command hut on the island of Patmos.

Patmos, named after the famous Roman prison island in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Greece. Patmos, where the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation.

Patmos here on Sporades, the planet itself named after a Greek archipelago, served as a reeducation camp for those not sufficiently attuned to League doctrine.

Buchner, in his mid-50s, was one of the camp guards tasked with indoctrinating subjects with government orthodoxy. He also evaluated whether their minds and ways of thinking were truly changed before allowing them back into society after sufficient reeducation.

He stood about five foot ten, or 178 centimeters, with nondescript brown hair and eyes.

Recently he had stopped shaving, and he was growing a beard. It still looked scraggly at the moment, and had not yet filled in around his face. No one seemed to mind, though, and there were no rules against facial hair on the island.

Most importantly, his boss Jay Duhring did not seem to mind.

Duhring sat in a chair behind a desk in the simple hut, leaning back with his hands clasped behind his head.

He said, “This is the life, isn’t it Ced?”

Buchner smiled. This was the same greeting Duhring had given him every day since he started working on Patmos a few years ago.

And in many ways, if one did not the mind the isolation, lack of creature comforts, and dealing with political malcontents every day, the job really was a nice one.

Evidently, sometime before Buchner came to work here, they used to offer a neural connection to the quantum matrix. Only one, though. It was supposed to be for employee use only. However, some enterprising prisoner figured out how to hack into the camp’s node.

After that, no more live connection with the outside world. The camp shifted to a non-transmitting communication center, mostly monitored by Duhring. It remained here in the command hut, his de facto office.

The unit dinged while the two men shared their morning greetings, and a written message appeared on the holo floating above it.

Duhring’s face dropped. He said, “Eleven . . . 51? Oh . . .”

His dropped to a whisper as several profanities slipped out.

“What is it?” Buchner asked. “What is 1151?”

Duhring looked at him with a haunted expression on his face.

He said, “It’s a global emergency declaration. Probably something to do with the war. We are hereby ordered to eliminate all political prisoners. That includes anyone interred in reeducation camps.”

Buchner’s mouth dropped open.

He said, “They can’t . . . Tetrarch Billings would never do that!”

“This doesn’t come from him,” Duhring said. “We’re technically under SSI. That’s where this comes from. It’s being sent out to all detainment centers. Including prisons and reeducation camps.”

He stood up, getting ahold of himself. He stared back at Buchner who still wore a look of astonishment on his face.

Duhring said, “I’ve got to open the weapons cabinet. Where are the prisoners?”

“They’re on work detail. Wait, Jay . . . you’re not seriously going to do this, are you? We can’t just murder the prisoners in cold blood.”

“It comes with the job, Ced. Or did forget what you signed up for?”

Duhring walked around the desk and over to the secure metal weapons closet against one of the walls in the room. He placed his palm on the scanner and the door swished open, displaying several fully charged blasters mounted on racks.

He grabbed one and turned to look back at Buchner.

“Can I count on you, Ced? Are you going to do your job?”

Buchner mumbled, “Yes.”

But he did not look happy about it.

In the distance, they heard the rumble from an explosion on the other end of the island.

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