The Fall of Terra #39: Question of Command


The unrest was becoming out of control.

It hadn’t started that way, of course, but it had degenerated quickly, the massive crowds jostling each other for first dibs into the Manhattan Island Spaceport.  But the Army were under orders to stop them entering.

The unit’s officer in charge at the gates couldn’t believe it.

The rich and famous were using the spaceport to escape the planet, but only a few had been spotted boarding each of the transports that subsequently left.  Each of those personal yachts and government craft could have fit at least two or three dozen civilians aboard each.

But they wouldn’t listen.

Each time a hover-vehicle arrived with flanks and outrider bodyguards, the Lieutenant insisted that the new arrivals take some of the waiting civilians with them.  But they outright refused, blasting away and jumping on their ships.

Each time he got a little angrier, and a little more downhearted that it wouldn’t happen to these people; they would all still be here when the asteroid hit.

He had heard that all government officials had been secretly evacuated before the news was released to the general public.  It made his blood boil at the thought of the public being left to rot, not to mention those in the services left behind as well.

“Another one, sir,” called his senior sergeant, a Beta Centauri native by the name of Jain.

This wasn’t his unit; but by the gods he would treat them as such.  He happened to be nearby and his superiors needed an officer.  Or so they told him.  He was starting to think that maybe it was just so they didn’t have to.

He briefly wondered if those same superiors were safely in orbit.

The thought made him sick, because he knew it was true.

Sergeant Jain waved the approaching limousine to a stop.  The crowd outside were getting louder, hurling abuse at the latest arrival and at the Army unit for assisting them.

The celebrity was an actor of some sort, though he somehow had the correct parliamentary permissions and paperwork.  Lieutenant Lenson Gardner sighed, and waved the Limousine through.  He felt physically ill at the sight of it, wondering what kind of ship the person inside would board and what space they would have.

The crowd surged forward after the limo, waving fists, some shouting even more abuse at the occupants.  Some of the soldiers under his temporary command were looking at each other with worried faces.

It wouldn’t take too much to set the civilians off.

A powder keg, the term was.

“Sir?” Sergeant Jain called.

Gardner looked up and saw the keg was about to be lit.

Mob mentality was starting to take hold.

Civilians were rushing another limousine, this time opening doors and smashing windows.  The driver and passenger were dragged screaming from the vehicle and left on the ground; their attackers jumped in and drove the limo straight towards the gates.

They were the weak link: this spaceport was old, protected by a massive set of forcefields and a high blast wall.  But the gates, on the north and south-east walls, were basic constructions, relics of a bygone era.

The limo roared and hummed, increasing speed at a terrifying rate.

“Aim low!” Gardner shouted.  “Disable, don’t destroy!”

They were reluctant.

He grabbed the plasma rifle from the nearest soldier, aimed for the hover-disks and squeezed the trigger.  The three-round burst ripped the hover disk off the front dorsal section and the limo dipped nose first.  It slammed into the ground, and the front-end crumpled, with a sickening crunch, sparks flying as its momentum carried it forward.

The occupants stepped out, dazed and confused, comforted by the very people they had nearly crashed into.  The crowd had gone quiet at the retort of the plasma sounds.  Now they turned to Gardner, unsure what to do now.

Gardner was about to threaten them all when a heavy freighter roared onto the spaceport’s landing field.

“Something you called in, sir?” asked Jain quietly.

Gardner shook his head.

“But who could-?”

He got his answer when a large cargo vehicle hovered far over the ground, out of their reach.  It was followed by another and another, identical models, all moving slow, as if laden down with heavy loads.

He frowned as they passed over the blast walls, the forcefield lowering for them.

He grabbed the comm unit.

“Unidentified cargo vehicles.  Halt and be recognised.”

“Negative,” came the smug reply.  “We have permission from Parliament under diplomatic terms.”

“I have hundreds of people needing to be evacuated,” he shouted for the benefit of those around him.  “Your ship has space for at least a thousand.”

“Negative, we have diplomatic materials from the Pembrari Embassy.”

Rage filled him and he thought about stamping on the comms unit.

Then he remembered the plasma rifle and handed the comms back to the specialist.

He looked at the crowd.

“Start pulling back towards the ships.  Sergeant, get everybody inside.”

“Sir?”

“Now.”

He pulled the rifle to his shoulder, aimed high, and blasted the cargo vehicles as he had done with the limo.  They shuddered and fell out of the sky, crashing with a bang somewhere out of sight in the landing field.

He looked back at the crowd.

They were frightened, unsure if he meant to stop the craft or worse.

Whilst they were still on the back foot, he took the opportunity as he could.

He pointed to four of the civilians nearest him.

“You, you, you, and you.  You just became leaders of the group; spread the word to file quietly and peacefully through the gates, we’ll start commandeering vessels.”

They looked at him dumb-founded.

“MOVE IT!” he snapped.

They flinched and turned to pass the message.

Sergeant Jain sidled up to him again.

“Nicely done, sir.”

“Thankyou, Sergeant,” he returned with a wry smile.  “Start with that freighter.”

“Yes, sir,” the sergeant replied, practically skipping away.

The mood was lifting.

He hoped it was enough.

He glanced at the sky, trying to see the approaching rock.

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