"Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, no matter what name it is called." ~ John Stuart Mill
Minerva, Chapter 28
Lamas Bordak ran through the department store, knocking over racks of clothes. The siren had been wailing for a full thirty seconds, and she still hadn't found her six-year-old.
' Midi ! Midi !'
Lamas finally spotted her son crouched in a corner, sitting on the floor and hugging his knees to his chest.
'[Midi , we have to go now!]' she yelled, yanking him off the ground.
When the two burst outside, they were horrified to see throngs of people racing through the street. The air raid siren was quite unbearable, but far worse were the scores of missiles streaming overhead. The distant bursts of light and low rumbles reminded Midi of a fireworks show, but even he sensed that something was very wrong.
'[Come, Midi !]' Lamas yelled, finally picking her child up and carrying him.
Lamas spotted a familiar beacon and headed for the inviting purple glow. She knew that cheaper shelters were available in the outer sections of the neighborhood, but this was no time for frugality. Lamas gladly paid her steep admittance fee (small children were free) and entered the cramped bomb shelter.
Once inside, Lamas picked a spot on a bench near some old women, who were also Lotosian. As the minutes passed, Lamas began to regret her hasty decision. Romar had reassured her time and again that the Americans would never bomb the '[floating ghetto]' (as he called it). After all, he would always point out, there were missile defenses protecting the buildings in Minerva, but nothing like that out here. Lamas had always thought this to be a rather silly argument; there were spas in Minerva too, but that was because the people there were rich, not because they had more aches and pains.
In any event, if none of the missiles hit the largely Lotosian neighborhood, Lamas knew her husband would be furious at her frivolous expense. She felt ashamed of her emotional reaction, and did not look forward to telling her husband what she had done as he hobbled around the small apartment. The family had been so close to saving up for a new prosthetic leg for Romar, but then the tightened blockade had made it too risky. There was no telling how much higher the cost of living would go, and Romar would never jeopardize his son's future to fix an old war injury.
* * *
'Thirty-two reported hits, sixteen confirmed,' the operator informed Peckard.
'Any of ours?' Peckard asked. So long as the missiles hit property insured by other companies, or not at all, then so much the better. But far too many were getting through for Peckard's liking; a few lucky strikes could cost the Trust millions of ounces.
'Six Trust items reported, two confirmed,' a different operator said.
'Which?' Peckard asked, feeling queasy. He sincerely hoped it wasn't an apartment building: at a thousand ounces per person, that could add up quickly.
'The Callahan Bridge and a GemStar warehouse,' the operator answered.
Peckard exhaled. The bridge wouldn't be too bad; no one would have been on it, and it had been designed for the easy replacement of damaged sections. The warehouse also wasn't a problem; anything valuable would've been moved into hardened bunkers.
'What's the status on the bombers?' Peckard asked. Now that the Trust's Defender model had held up for a good hour, knocking down hundreds of incoming cruise missiles, Peckard's only worry was the Stealth aircraft.
'Still on their runways,' a third operator said. 'Oh wait, it looks like they're getting ready to move.' Alerted by the apparent spike in temperature, the operator quickly trained another of the Trust's satellites on the U.S.-controlled airfield for an independent reading.
* * *
'Lord, if you get me through this,' Tom Flanagan bargained, 'I swear, I'll become a pacifist.'
Flanagan's eyes scanned the horizon, even though he knew it was pointless. He kept trying to comfort himself. Objectively, there should have been nothing to worry about: The boys in HQ knew exactly where the bombers were, and all he had to do was get close enough to squeeze off all his Interceptors, then turn hard and get the hell out of there.
Flanagan vowed that this time, he would be more prudent with his earnings. He decided that even if he and every other pilot got home without a scratch, taking on F-117s was the sort of thing you should only do once in your life. Yes sir, if and when Flanagan made it back, he'd take the penalty and immediately retire.
* * *
'A hit!' the operator squealed, then regained his professional composure. 'That's confirmed, we definitely have a splash,' he said after a moment.
Peckard clenched his right fist in satisfaction, then finally allowed himself to relax. Even if the rest of the bombers made it through, it didn't matter in the grand scheme: The Trust had just survived what should have been a crippling bombardment of cruise missiles, and had now even destroyed a Stealth bomber.
Peckard smiled. There was definitely a new force in global affairs.