329 JR/2215 CE
Terra, Sol System, Terran Empire
North America, Region Six
"That's it, then." Aaron Johnson, commander of the Republic of Texas Militia, watched the messenger turn and jog away through the trees, then played the captured Imperial Information Service holorecording again. "The Appalachian Guard was the strongest Resistance group on the continent, and they just ceased to exist. It's only a matter of time before the Empire tracks us all down." Johnson leaned against a tree at the RTM base on a forested ridgetop in what used to be the Texas panhandle and buried his face in his hands.
"Come on, Johnson," said Finch. Always optimistic, Miles Finch, Johnson's second-in-command, usually managed to counter Johnson's pessimism. "It can't be that bad. You know how the Empire's propagandists inflate everything. They probably only killed two or three Guardsmen in a firefight and they're parading the bodies every chance they get."
"I saw their faces, Finch! I recognized them, I've met them. Hanley, Wierzbaski and Danner, the leaders of the Guard. They never went on missions at the same time together, never! They taught us that! The only way the Empire could have all three of those bodies at the same time is if they found and destroyed their base. I shook Danner's hand, I shared a canteen with Hanley, for God's sake I shared a bed with Sally Wierzbaski. The Guard is finished."
"You know they can fake images-"
"I know, and I can tell. Those weren't fake."
"Okay, assuming we can't coordinate with the Guard, we'll just have to find new allies."
"There are no more allies! We must be the last Resistance group in North America."
"If our messages got through to the Republic-"
"The Republic doesn't exist!" Johnson shouted. "The Empire destroyed them five years ago! There is no Space Patrol! The only starships belong to the Empire! No one is going to come swooping out of the clouds to rescue us! And no matter how hard we try, how long we fight, the Empire is too strong and in the end we will lose!"
"So what do you want?" Finch snapped. "One last suicide attack? Out in a blaze of glory?"
"At least that way we can take a few of the bastards with us."
"There's got to be another way. There's always another way."
"Against the Empire?"
"Yes! Remember that history book, the one Phuong found! The Americans beat the British Empire, a bunch of farmers beat the greatest military force of its time!"
"They had help from the French, and the French went under to Napoleon not much later. Every time a free man raises his head out of the mud, there's another Emperor waiting to cut it off. -Hey!" Johnson ran over to Betty, snatched the optic out of her hands. "How many times have I told you, we've got to save the batteries!"
"But look!" she protested, pointing down into the valley.
Johnson almost didn't, upset by the news of his comrades' deaths, his argument with Finch, and now at his own eight-year-old daughter. But basic human reflexes demanded that he cast his eyes in the direction the girl pointed.
And down in the valley ten kilometers away, something was there.
Johnson switched on the optic, focused on the distant object and zoomed in. "What it God's name-"
Betty said, "Papa, it's a ship!"
Finch had turned on his own optic. "It is a ship."
"Too small - it's a patrol boat," said Johnson. "Probably from the Imperial base at Corpus Christi. But I've never seen that design before."
Finch examined the distant vessel. "It's advanced, whatever it is. ...No insignia... all black, like- like it's supposed to operate in space without being observed. But that doesn't make sense...."
As the freedom fighters watched, a loading ramp lowered from the ship's side. Figures emerged, unloaded several crates, and carried them to the hidden cave beneath the twin oak trees. Finch and Johnson looked at each other, each silently asking, How do they know about the cave? Are we betrayed?
Finally the figures returned to their sleek, mysterious vessel. The ramp rose back into the hull and the whine of turbines carried softly up to the watchers in the hills. The craft lifted smoothly and accelerated eastward, climbing. Finch and Johnson locked their optics onto the ship and jumped a little in surprise as brilliant blue-white light erupted from its tail.
By the time their computer-stabilized optics - captured long ago in a raid on an Imperial supply base and, unknown to the Texans, based on Republic technology smuggled to Terra a century ago - lost contact with the ship, their rangefinders measured it as having left the atmosphere.
For a long time no one on the ridge spoke. Finally Finch dared to say, "The Empire doesn't have a ship that small that can reach orbit by itself."
Johnson was silent, staring into the sky.
Minutes later he came running back out, grinning like a madman. "Johnson!" He could barely keep his voice down. "Johnson, it's all right! Come and see!"
Finch practically dragged Johnson into the cave, hauled the old blanket closed over the opening, and switched on a light. "What were you saying about the Republic?"
There were thirty crates, ten long, ten square, and ten of different sizes and shapes. Finch flipped some open, and Johnson's jaw dropped.
The square crates held ammunition, twenty thousand rounds each of Terran Empire standard 4.6x31mm. Each long crate held ten Imperial-issue automatic rifles with four, forty-round magazines each, modified to accept bayonets, which the Empire believed obsolete - and the fire-control modules, with personal-security circuits that prevented the rifles from being fired by anyone without an Imperial-issue transmitter bracelet, had been replaced with simple, mechanical safety/selector arrangements. The other crates held food, medical supplies, communication devices, tools, clothing, explosives, and more. Inside the lid of each crate was painted, or affixed in cloth, the national flag of the Jeffersonian Republic or the outlawed Lone Star of Texas. Some of the Texan flags had black instead of blue on the hoist end - the men would not understand why until later.
Finch found a printed note in the first crate of food. Near-drooling around a mouthful of supercow jerky, he read it and, smiling even wider, handed it to Johnson:
Please accept this token of our esteem, and our deepest appreciation of your valiant efforts and grave sacrifices. More is on the way. Your struggle is not in vain, and the end is in sight. The Terran Empire has suffered great defeats at our hands and at yours. Sol is the last system in Imperial hands, and our forces are gathering for your final liberation. While you distract and weaken our common enemy from within, we shall destroy it from without. Watch the skies, and fight on!
Lieutenant Commander Juliet Dmitrieva
Commanding, DD09 JRS William Barrett Travis
8th Special Operations Group, Detached
4th Fleet, Jeffersonian Republic Navy
Major Clark Richardson
Commanding, 2nd Ranger Battalion, 2nd Mobile Infantry Regiment
Legio II, Jeffersonian Republic Marine Corps
Attached were two more pages, handwritten. Finch read each in turn and passed them on to Johnson. The first had notes from the same two Republic officers:
That was a form letter - there are Resistance groups all over Terra, especially in North America, but since my ship is named for one of your local heroes I thought I'd add a personal note, and tell you a few things you won't see on the Imperial Information Service.
For one thing, half the Imperial Navy doesn't exist anymore, while the Space Patrol was Federalized as the Republic Navy eight years ago - that's five of yours - and is stronger than ever. The Imperial occupation of New Israel was repulsed over four years ago - my ship, a 9,200-ton Gurkha-class destroyer, was built there by Steeltown Aerospace two years later. The Imperial colony at Nowy Kraków seceded from the Empire about the time the War started, and declared neutrality. Imperial capitol Nouveau Corsica surrendered three years ago without firing a shot; the Russian Star Empire at Kursk is about ready to come into the War on our side; and the Imperial outpost at Eyan was liberated five months ago. (Again that's all on our calendar - sorry, but it's the one I grew up with.)
You folks' work is of material benefit to the Republic. You keep right on raising hell down there; every ship and soldier the Empire has to divert from us makes our job that much easier, and brings your own freedom that much closer. I am authorized to tell you that Aaron Johnson, Miles Finch, Lisa Keller, Eunice Haskell, and Phuong Navapanthong have been granted Provisional Citizenship by the Jeffersonian Republic Department of Citizenship - documents should be in this shipment.
Congratulations, and God bless Texas! - J. Dmitrieva, LCDR, JRN
Whatever happens, keep those rifles! Your ancestors and mine let go of theirs two hundred years ago and got us all into this mess. If you ever give up your guns again I will personally hike from one corner of Texas to the other, KICKING EVERY ONE OF YOUR ASSES!
- C. Richardson, Maj., JRMC
The second page read:
Reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. Hey, Aaron! How's it hanging? Still got that cute little mole?
Johnson read the second page several times, not daring to believe. Finally, he folded it very carefully and slipped it into a pocket. He turned to Finch. "Miles?"
"Say you told me so."
"...I told you so, Aaron."
"...Thank you, Miles."