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Chapter 3

“Embrace your failings. Studiously avoid euphemism. Reverse your projections. Look up, not down. Criticize yourself. Find honest friends. Listen to the criticism. Take the outside view.”

- Aaron Swartz, Internet Freedom Fighter August 29, 2012


I was more than a little pissed. We’d been called back to join another squad outside Cedar Rapids, and the squad wasn’t there. Our uplink showed that they were 150 klicks northeast. Ever since most of the satellites came down, tech was spotty at best. Sure, we were better off than the grunts were fifty years ago, but that didn’t mean that SNAFU wasn’t still a thing.

The satellites came down - that sounds like it was nice and peaceful. They didn’t just land. They were either shot out of the sky or used as massive projectiles against soft targets. It wasn’t a pretty thing. Those weren’t stars you wanted to wish upon.

This was not a pretty war.

Simon doesn’t know, but I was there. I was at Boulder. Well, I was outside of Boulder - no one in the city made it out. We saw to that. So did Simon’s new family. So did the Chinese.

We were all a little guilty that day.

“Cap, what do you want us to do?”

My staff sergeant was getting antsy. He never liked to be in one place for too long; he’d had a lot of near misses under his belt. Plus, he didn’t like a Captain hanging out with his squad. Bad luck, he called it.

I’m not sure he was wrong.

“Sergeant Remmers, I’ll let you know as soon as I let you know,” I said, more tersely than I’d intended. Mo was a good sergeant. He watched after his squad with an eagle’s eye and a lion’s ferocity. He wanted to make sure that his boys and girls got home safe.

Mohammed wouldn’t have been welcome in the Eastern military, simply because of his name. Even though the jihadists had stopped thinking of the USA as relevant since the Great Division, the East still liked to play up their little propaganda pieces about Muslim terrorists. There hadn’t been an attack against either the USA or the UCSA in years - hell, there hadn’t even been any threats. They were focused on China now, gnawing on the heels of the new big dog.

I popped my head up from behind the wall we’d taken refuge behind. Nothing on IR, other than rabbits, no blips on any spectrum, really. We were alone. No one was in the farmhouse behind us either. From the looks of things, no one had been in there in years.

“Command, this is Captain Leeza Phifer, what are your orders?” I whispered into my implant.

No answer.

“Ok, Remmy, let’s go ahead and set up in the house. The diagnostics say the frame is in good shape, bones are solid. We need a place to bunk down. That’s as decent a place as any.” The good little soldier nodded and sent word down the line. We made sure to check our refractive cloaks before we moved. We’d be invisible to the naked eye, but only if we were fully covered. We had to hope that no one was looking for body heat.

I should have realized it was too much to hope for. I was usually good at threat assessment, both internal and external. After a 24 hour overland slog, I was tired. The pills can only do so much, sleep wasn’t completely replaceable yet. I’d gotten sloppy, and hadn’t recognized the trap until after it was sprung.

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