Camp Gideon was built upon the biggest rock overlooking the Red Plains, half a continent away from the capital. The only man-made structure for a thousand kilometres in any direction.
Terraforming had been completed on St. Aloysius decades ago, but vegetation was only just starting to appear this far from the domes. The camp leaders had begun to wonder if they might have to rename the Red Plains in another generation or so.
It was founded as a summer camp destination, a place where Christian Youth could come together to strengthen their ties through group activities and bible study.
But since the official end of the civil war and the rise of the Order, its original mission had taken a darker turn.
Now the obstacle course ended with a firing range and arts and crafts had been replaced with a bomb-making course.
The Oversight of the camp, a broad-chested bear of a man named Father Bob McCarlin, rose at 5:45 a.m. sharp to ready himself for the morning bugle call. Rain, hale or shine Father McCarlin rose to wash, shave and dress himself to rouse his camp to action, even on a day like this, where the youths in his care were out on their second day of a four-day bivouac out in the mountains, camp staff had to be up and to their stations on time. They had a long day of maintenance, administration and prayer ahead of them.
Father McCarlin emerged from his cabin clean shaven and his fatigues pressed and ordered to the same military standard they had been during the war. His cabin was a prefabricated one-bedroom cell with all the modern amenities. It was his only nod to luxury and one he only granted to himself due to his role as caretaker for the entire camp during the rest of the school year. Camp staff were housed in a communal barracks and the kids camped in permanent tents with their troop leaders.
Father McCarlin took in the silence of the hills for a moment before marching purposely towards the parade grounds in the middle of the camp.
He reached his position beside the flag pole, took a deep breath and rose the bugle to his lips.
The bullet penetrated his temple and exploded out the other side of his head before he could exhale.
“Go.” A voice yelled from the edge of camp and a dozen figures in black fatigues threw off their camouflage blankets and rushed onto the grounds. They reached the first barracks without challenge, attached a charge to the door and melted it into a pile of superheated slag before tossing a string of fragmentation grenade inside.
The blast drowned out the screams and the assaulters split into two groups, the first rushed inside and started putting a burst into everything human-shaped they could find, while the second group rushed the second barracks.
But that explosion worked better than the bugle ever would. When the second group was almost at the walls the camp staff threw open the windows and unleashed a hail of bullets at the figures.
Some had the time to drop to their bellies and return fire, but the three figures at the front took the brunt of the fire and were all but torn to shreds.
The first group in the ravaged barracks copied their enemy’s move and opened up the windows to give their comrades covering fire. The assaulters on the ground crawled desperately to the relative safety of the barracks’ left side.
Over even the roar of that much gunfire the sound of a heavy speeder’s engines announced its arrival and a Federation Troop carrier dropped right out of the sky and onto the parade grounds.
The rush of hot air spewing from its thrusters forced a pause in the gunfire as both sides diverted their attention to this new threat.
The Order and their attackers had barely enough time to notice that the Troop carrier had been hastily repainted before the door gunner turned his weapon towards the bunkers and opened fire.
A guided tear-gas rocket shot nimbly through the open window of the furtherest barracks and air-burst its payload throughout the entire room. A second and third rocket did the same to the other barracks while armoured troops leapt from the carrier and rushed the black-clad soldiers outside the second bunker.
The armoured soldier in the lead shouldered his canister rifle and fired at the first assaulter to reach cover. Before the figure could react a ball of glop the size of a soccer-ball exploded from the canister and splashed over his torso before hardening like plaster in the next instant. The figure tried to force his arm to move, being trapped only by the edges of the glop where it was brittle, but a second canister was shot at his arm and covered his hand and most of his rifle.
The assaulter’s companions turned to return fire but were soon overwhelmed by the next three armoured soldiers behind the leader. Without missing a step these soldiers rushed the first barracks while their comrades poured into the second and third.
The armoured troop carrier deployed landing gear and lowered its leading ramps, by the time the pilot shut off the speeder’s engines the entire camp had fallen silent.
Theresa’s wrists itched where the armoured troops had cable-tied her arms together. Anyone who hadn’t been covered in glop had been paralysed through nanohacking, then everyone was bound and lead into the camp’s assembly hall, her assault team and the Order’s survivors alike.
The soldiers surrounding them were wearing marine infantry combat armour, also painted blue.
“Who the hell are they?” She heard someone whisper. “Are they the feds?”
“Only if the feds have started painting their ships blue.” Someone else muttered.
“They’re going to kill us.” Someone from the other side of the room shrieked. “They’re going to slaughter us like lambs.”
A woman’s voice cut through the the entire room as she took her place by the pulpit up on the stage.
“If we were going to kill you, we would have waited for Free Aloysius to do it for us.”
The woman opened up her helmet and looked out at the assembled insurgents with her own eyes.
She was young-looking and of Asian descent, her hair in a neat pageboy cut. Theresa recognised Zheng Hua immediately.
“Then we would wait for them to think they’d won and slaughter them on their way out. We have not done that. We rushed into the middle of their attack because we wanted everyone alive.”
“What are you going to do with us?” Theresa demanded.
“Your team will be taken away from here and dropped off at another location of your choosing. Your dead will be brought with you. The Order will be left here to tend to their own dead. In the meantime the Black Mask Society are calling for a cease-fire between both parties. We’re holding a summit between all of the major insurgency movements on this planet and we cannot have anymore bad blood between you than there already is. Both of your sides have been at each other’s throats since the war and you’ve gotten nowhere, but look at us.”
She gestured towards the armoured soldiers around them. “Even a year ago, the mere possibility that the Black Mask Society could humble not one, but two insurgent movements in the one day would not have occurred to any of you. This is what we have been able to achieve in one year, imagine what we could do a year from now. Meanwhile the Order continues to firebomb train stations and kill their own citizens and Free Aloysius mutters amongst their spies and gives the feds a headache here and there. In the last twelves months, the biggest attacks you’ve launched were the apostate lynchings in February and this very attack here today. Your greatest achievements, wasted on each other.”
Zheng Hua brought her fist down on the pulpit beside her and the loud bang sent a ripple through the crowd.
“All we are asking is that we take the fight back to the real enemy. We are leaving invitations to our summit with both parties. I urge you to press the issue with your commanders. We can stand against the Federation and we can free this planet from their tyranny. But that can only be done together or not at all. I’m going to leave you all to think about that.”
Another armour soldier marched into the room and stood to attention. From across the room he called out. “Bodies have been loaded. Engines are spooled up and ready.”
Zheng Hua nodded at him, then turned to the Free Aloysius side of the room.
“It is time to go. Anyone who needs help to stand please ask the society foot soldier nearest you.”