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With intention to go briefly through all points of agenda, consisting of establishing the communication lines, taking care of the food-poisoned, and decreasing of current level of chaos, Gromov had no time to deal with Akane. Still, he could not resist asking.
“Would you mind explaining yourself?”
She put on an innocent kitty face and answered with a question: “What do you mean, sir? Did I screw up?”
“Except for harassing the clerk from Ministry?”
“Oh, that one. You told them to shut up. It is not my fault she did not understand a very clear order. Nobody is nobody in my dictionary. What could she expect? That I’ll pat her back? But sir, I was really careful not to break her arm.”
Gromov stared, speechless. Not only because of her “Not my fault” attitude, but because the others, who gathered around did not perceive such an action as inappropriate. Who do they think we are? The desperados?
“I was hungry,” added Akane, like making a valid point. “Not my fault, you see?”
Lieutenant Schubert, who arrived at this moment, just nodded in agreement, and blurted: “That’s not certainly her fault she had nothing to eat, don’t you think, sir?”
“Are you implying that her lack of self-restrain comes from the fact I ate her dinner?”
“You ate my dinner? I was waiting all the time for it.”
Gromov carefully avoided answering that. He turned his attention to the MP officer: “Talking about the food, I’ve noticed you’ve detained the chef and hotel manager. Why?”
The MP scratched his head. He was a tall robust man with black skin, curly black hair and the grayish mustache under the large nose.
“Actually, sir, we’ve just followed the order of Colonel Steiner. At one o’clock, he came to us, talking about a battle alarm. He was hard to understand and frankly, we were sure he was drunk. From his words, we comprehended something about the sabotage. He seemed to think someone had poisoned us to undermine Space Forces authority. According to him, the hotel manager and the chef ruined his career and threatened the position of Minister of Defense.”
“Why would they have done that?”
“Colonel accused them to take a bribe from the opposition.”
“The Plantarians?”
“No, it seems he had the political opposition on mind. “
“The inner enemy, perhaps.”
“Yes, exactly. You know who they are, sir?”
The inner enemy was Steiner’s mantra. Whatever went wrong, the culprit behind was the mysterious inner enemy. Andrey Jerzinski and Heinrich Schubert knew it as well, because they grinned. Only MP stayed clueless.
“Pay it no heed,” said Gromov. “Do you know who had announced the highest level of battle alarm?”
“I believe it was Colonel Steiner. I heard him talking to communication wristband, giving that order. He repeated it several times before he collapsed. After few minutes, Major Sholto came downstairs but you saw his state. He could barely speak... Should we release them?”
MP pointed at the chef and manager.
“Guarding them with weapons would be far-stretched. Still, until we understand what happened, we have to keep them in the detention. Not only them, though, all the hotel personnel and guests are not allowed to leave this building, unless decided otherwise. Contact your superiors for further instructions. I cannot possibly tell you how to lead the investigation. For now, work under worst scenario, meaning the whole incident is the enemy diversion.”
“By the enemy, you are referring to the political opposition?”
“No, to the Plantarians or their agents.”
Nobody around accepted Gromov’s proclamation calmly. “Plantarians, sir? Are you serious?”
“We are at war,” said Gromov gravely. “The enemy is one big unknown. We cannot dismiss possibility of their involvement just because no such situation occurred before. Or would you rather work with Colonel’s theory of political struggle? For all we know, it might have been just regular food poisoning. Nonetheless, more than half of military personnel are out of action. Furthermore, biologic warfare belongs to specialties of aliens. With an attack above our heads…”
“What attack?” interjected Schubert. “We are under attack? How comes?”
Judging from their surprised faces, Gromov realized they did not consider possibility of incoming ambush at all. Only Andrey nodded, which was not that surprising as he had more experiences than the others did. Still, Gromov would expect better judgment from his peers.
“Under current level of uncertainty, we should expect the worst,” he started the explanation. “From what I’ve learned so far, I imagine the following: Colonel Steiner, being stricken by symptoms of intestinal flu, got a message from orbital station that the enemy had been detected. He probably went to wake up Major Sholto. After the realization they both were suffering from the same symptoms, he concluded the incoming enemy and the disease might have been related.
Sergeant Jerzinski told me that Colonel gave personal guarantees to the Minister that this summit won’t present any problem to the local safety. My opinion aside, the truth is there should be plenty of time to get on orbit, even with local stuff down on Earth. This is not the case anymore, apparently, since Steiner’s subordinates were decimated in numbers. Given his personality, I doubt he would announce battle alert just because of case of food poisoning. He likes to see himself as the man of steel. He had to come to the conclusion he needed all pilots, thus, he declared the highest level possible.”
“Great,” said Akane cheerfully, patting perplexed Schubert on the back. “So glad we will fight together, Lieutenant. I’ve heard you had no real action here for few years. Follow my lead and you won’t get another red number on your sleeve. Do you care to exchange our shirts, by the way? This one is still wet, though.”
While captain Chi was wondering why they would want to do that, Gromov just shook his head: “There is no time for fraternizing, Akane. We need Heinrich to contact the orbit station and confirm the status. Until then, we will go on under presumption we need to gather pilots and gunners, transport them to the space lift, and get ready for defending this perimeter. Understood?”
“Yes, sir.”
Blond Lieutenant left them to find a calmer place, putting his wristband nearer the mouth. Now, with nobody allowed to use the communication devices, he should have no problem to connect. Relieved, they saw him talking, which left Gromov with one worry less. That has changed as soon as Schubert came back.
“Bad news, Captain,” he said. “All your assumptions were correct. Major Milano, who is in charge of station, gave us twelve hours to get aboard. If we are late, it will be a massacre. Our radar system estimates more than one hundred space vessels. Their types are unclear, but according to characteristics, they expect Q-Field generator carrier amongst them.”
Hearing that, all pilots, standing nearby, exchanged disturbed looks. Akane blurted “Excellent! Not only we will fight together, we will even die together. What a day!”

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About the author

Pavel Morava

Bio: Born in the Czech Republic, Pavel Morava is not a native English speaker. Having been twenty-two years old, he published his first book, which did not become an international bestseller. After a few other attempts, Pavel Morava abandoned the literary career for over twenty years, during which period he has been focusing on processing of plastics, programming, and raising of children.
Recently, with more time at his disposal, he returned to the forgotten ambition, fighting a futile battle with English language, procrastination, and the tendency to give up too early.
Being vivid reader of not Anglo-Saxon origin, Pavel Morava was fortunate enough to experience books from different countries, including Czech, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese, French, German, and English. Such a vast literary variety heavily influenced his own work, which typically relies on an one-point-of-view narrative, consecutive storytelling, and elimination of unnecessary details.
Web novels and online publishing made him reevaluate his approach to style and building blocks of the text; the result should be, hopefully, lighter, shorter, and more intelligible for reading on electronic devices.

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