Chapter 27

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The sun set for the last time over the city of New York. It produced an ugly blotch of orange across the overcast sky, peeking from between the horizon and the bottom of the cloud deck, a slit of brilliant yellow. The waves shimmered with light. As did the skyscrapers, standing behind their dikes and storm walls.

Very few of the city's residents saw this dazzling arrangement as it graced their windows. They were, for the most part, far too busy. There was no doubt a few who did see this last sunset, but even they couldn't grasp its importance.

Far to the west, five aircraft shrieked through the air above the Midwestern badlands. They were sleek triangles, their fuselages painted with a dynamic image of the sky behind them. Each exuded behind it a stream of translucent plasma.

The aircraft were troop carriers, flying due east with a small invasion force in tow. They would land in less than an hour and deploy fifty soldiers each. Ten other identical squadrons were converging on the same point, bearing firepower well known on this old, tired world.

The Mississippi Administrative District was governed from this city. For some centuries, it was the grandest of all cities, and its ancient grandeur was perhaps the district's greatest pride. Were it to fall to UDS forces, the separatist forces would fall apart, would surrender if only to get back their precious jewel. It was unusual, then, that the squadron was flying to a point just north of the city.

The city itself would be pleasantly surprised to learn of the marching army come morning, but first, it needed to sleep. As the sun dipped below the horizon, it plunged into concealing darkness, the sky dimly lit with the shine of civilization. Beyond the pale of clouds lay yet more artificial light, a spinning galaxy of satellites. One of the multitudinous points of light was the Lionsgate Space Station. The view from the station was less than perfect, what with the cloud cover obscuring the grandeur of Earth's surface. Furthermore, the sweep of night was nibbling at the smaller details, chewing away at the tiny triangles of mountain and cloud.

In the hub of the space station, floating in nil gravity, two men watched the world glide by. They were emaciated, with atrophied limbs and long faces. Neither was capable of venturing deeper into the space station, where centripetal acceleration might cause them to collapse under their own meager weight.

Each man wore a trimmed business suit, one blue, one black. Otherwise, they were nearly indistinguishable. The black-suited one now spoke.

"How is the war going from your side?"

"Badly. Ah, what of it? Sobering, perhaps, in the fashion of a classical tragedy."

"Truly a masterpiece of emotional manipulation. It brings tears to my eyes. That, of course, is the mark of a great script. The author must become convinced of its solidity, he must feel the words in his hands become flowing pictures. Only then is the piece worthy."

"Very well put, sir. I commend your skill, and hope to one day match it."

"Not if I have anything to say about it, you won't. Unfortunate really, what a playwright must do in these times, to become a master."

"And what is that?"

The man in the black suit regarded his inferior with sad eyes. "How old are you?"

"A hundred and forty-three."

"I am nearly twice that. It is the only way, you see, to truly grasp the pen that is the world. To write the story of everything, one must first avoid death."

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