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Dodds nodded and focused on the remains of his breakfast, intent on getting the food down. Perhaps having it in his belly would cheer and calm him. Dodds looked in the direction Enrique indicated, seeing a man sitting opposite a woman, picking at his breakfast. Ah, yes. PJ Burgess, one of the pilots the Knights had been stationed at Mendelah with.

Despite the drinking that had been going on that night, Dodds remembered it quite clearly. PJ had been wittering on about what seemed like nothing more than conspiracy stories and tabloid scaremongering nonsense, only for it to all turn out to be true. PJ and his wingmates had later been assigned to Leviathan for Operation Menelaus.

Ian Barclay had been the first of that group to be killed in action, putting his life on the line for the defence of Griffin. Dodds wasn't sure what had happened to Katherine Strickland, their wing commander. He hadn't seen her in years. Now, it looked like PJ was the only member of the Steel Bulls left. A shame no one had paid more attention to him. He then saw PJ's companion slam down her knife and fork before getting up, turning her back on him and walking away without looking back.

PJ's eyes sank to his plate, letting his own cutlery slip from his hands. They had plainly been bickering, perhaps blaming one another for past failures. PJ turned in Dodds' direction and gave only a sombre nod of acknowledgement. The sequence pretty much summed up the mood of the rest of the messdeck, as far as Dodds was concerned. Tensions were high and everyone was starting to blame each other. Dodds saw Omar Wyatt, the ship's head of security, take a seat alongside the three. He looked as tired as always, as though he had barely slept in weeks. Most likely, he hadn't. No, I came looking for you to let you know that, as per the captain's instructions, we'll shortly be commencing jump to Kethlan.

So, here it was. They were finally heading to the Seat of the Emperor. Dodds felt his chest tighten, accompanied by a sudden urge to leave the table and find a spot in which to hide. He looked at Enrique and Chaz. Both appeared a little unsettled by Wyatt's confirmation, even though they had known this was the plan all along.

Dodds steeled himself, and tried to think positively about the move. I think Liu was hoping that Parks might be fit to make the decision before our scheduled departure, but the good doctor bumped the rest period up to two days, and has forbidden him from making any sort of executive decision until he's taken a good look at him and can clear him for duty.

Well, of course I do know how — it's those damned machines. They'll keep you going no matter what. He was one of the better off ones, too. The security chief choked down the toast he had been chewing and tapped the small device affixed to his ear. Wyatt swore. You'll be briefed yourselves when you get down there. We can't jump until you're in position. Don't be too long. I got here early for that! Dodds saw a man grabbing another man by the throat.

The attacker was furious, the other quite surprised by the reaction. From what Dodds could tell, one had decided to help himself to the other's breakfast. Not a good idea in most circumstances, worse still under these. There were onlookers poised to defend either side. Wyatt let out an audible sigh. They watched him head over and ask the two men to let go of one another, but the first punch was thrown.

Wyatt was heard to request backup, before he thrust himself between them, doing what he could to separate them until assistance arrived. The intervention seemed only to make things worse; two more joined in the struggle. There was a crash as people tumbled onto the table, knocking the food — the cause of the fight — onto the floor. Additional security came running into the messdeck only moments later. Dodds finished what was on his plate. Dodds watched Chaz scale the ladder to his ATAF, as he himself waited to be called forward to his own to prep for takeoff.

He cast an eye over the body of the black-armoured craft. Over the years it had finally gained those dings and scratches common to many of the navy's starfighters, permanent mementoes of active service. The scratches here, though, were still few and far between — most likely caused by being shifted around flight decks and undergoing maintenance, rather than having been earned on the field.

He had never once seen his shield strength dip into single digits, not at Alba, not at Temper, and not even during Black Widow. A miracle they had lived beyond that day. He did so, ascending the ladder and starting to affix his helmet. As he worked through the pre-launch safety checks and brought the system online, Dodds thought of what might have been. Though the ATAF remained as powerful as ever — one of the few remaining effective armaments in the CSN's now-limited arsenal — its true purpose had been left unfulfilled.

With the TSBs destroyed, the fighters had been left unable to carry out their original purpose of journeying into Imperial territory and detonating the bombs in the cores of those five select stars. Griffin had been holding position in Atlante for the past day or so now. The star here, the only subgiant of the five that had been selected, had been one of the targets for Operation Sudarberg. Had Sudarberg been accomplished, would he have found himself here anyway? Would Atlante have been his star to destroy? How different would things have been then? Well, he'd be dead for a start.

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There would be no coming back from that one. The stars were said to go nova within minutes of the bomb detonating, their core instantly collapsed and their energy parcelled up and flung all around Imperial space, like a cluster bomb. Not all of it would be captured, though, the rest dispersing into the immediate space around, cooking the very system it had been home to and anything that happened to be there at the time.

Including the ATAF and its pilot. No amount of shielding could withstand the energy that would have been released in those moments, and no amount of speed could help him to escape the range of the blast.

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Even if the ATAFs had possessed jump capability, he had been told that the conduit would be unable to save him. It would've become unstable the moment it was engulfed by the supernova, collapsing in on him, and either crushing him down to the size of a pinhead or ripping him apart by the very molecules that embodied him. Would it have been worth it? He recalled Parks' warning back at Mythos, all those years ago — that an all out war against the Pandoran forces would be totally unwinnable.

By the looks of things, he'd been completely right.


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Dodds could hardly believe it. There had been attempts to rebuild the TSBs, but the Great Panic and the continued invasion of the Independent systems had made the task unachievable. There had been too much infighting, lack of cooperation between splintering nations, and finally a total refusal to allow the Confederation a monopoly on building the bombs. Hand all the power to Helios? Absolutely not. What would be the long-term implications of giving the Confederation both? Yes, the Enemy might well be defeated and the war might be won, but would the Confederacy then become an enemy of an altogether different sort?

It always came down to the ever present, inescapable problem — politics. No matter how much you hated it, it was always there. The Pandorans had never suffered such problems. They worked like ants, as one cohesive unit, always with one clear goal and purpose in mind. Please echo.

Dodds realised that he had been idling on the pre-launch safety screens, lost in his own thoughts. He glanced over the results of the start-up sequence on his screen, seeing only the familiar green check marks next to each of the system tests. Will taxi you into position. Dodds took a grip on the stick as he was moved to the catapult and given the clearance to launch. Perhaps in Kethlan they would finally find that glimmer of hope they were all searching for.

He thought over what he would say to Zackaria should he meet the man there. One word stuck out more than the others. Parks stirred at the voice, but didn't yet feel willing to move. He opened his eyes just enough to focus on the small clock that rested by his bedside. Four blue digital figures shone back at him. He had slept straight through, deeply too, the mental and physical demands of the past few days having clearly caught up with him. Thirteen hours. He'd never slept that long in his life, and even now he didn't feel as though he'd had enough.

His eyes closed again. A female voice. Could it be? He pulled himself up and looked towards the figure that he could just make out in the dark of his room.

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It certainly looked like Sima, if a little taller than he expected. Perhaps it was just the gloom and the angle that made her appear so. But what was she doing here?

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Shouldn't she be commanding Amarok , overseeing the defence of Confederation space? She was holding something in her hand that was giving off a soft illumination. It looked like an electronic tablet. Yes, of course it was. Sima wouldn't abandon her post to come out here, just to see him. They both knew their duties better than that.

He shook the sleep from his system and made an effort to sit up. The light level in the room rose, though perhaps a little too fast for his liking, causing him to squint as his eyes adjusted. Still, at least the lights and voice activation were working. That was a good sign. Weathers picked up on the irritation in his voice, and hurried on.

He has decided to run with your suggestion of heading out with the White Knights in the lead. It's all been quiet. That made Parks uneasy. Since entering Imperial space, he had expected much more resistance than they had encountered so far. Were they being led into yet another trap? Would they arrive at Kethlan only to meet a force that they were simply under-equipped to deal with? After all, they were but four vessels: Griffin ; the two frigates, Colonel K and Agent 57 ; and one lander, the Goon Sunrise. And he wasn't sure that Agent 57 would be much use, not with the damage it had sustained during that last encounter.

How many fighters do we have available? He liked to shave every couple of days, but he hadn't done so for over two weeks now. It was time for it to go; he'd become quite conscious of it lately and it was starting to become itchy. Have the standby pilots launch as well.


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That'll bring us up to seven. Suggest it. He kept forgetting that he was only able to act within an advisory role, until Tunstall gave him the all-clear. Good God, that was quite enough. Right now what he needed was a shower and shave, and he'd be ready to return to duty. He felt his stomach rumble. Food would also be a good idea. He'd deal with that shortly. Unfortunately, security have had to confine some of the more violent offenders to the brig. Parks sighed. They couldn't keep losing crew like this. What's the status of the fleet? Agent 57 has managed to improve its weaponry and shielding and is fully committed to any offensive action that might need to be taken.

The fleet is as ready for jump as it can be. I'll be taking breakfast here and will return to the bridge after that Send him up here immediately, and make sure they bring a pot of strong coffee with breakfast. Weathers acknowledged him and was proceeding. He figured that since potentially we could be out here for another few weeks, it was either rationing or jump back to Confederation space.

Not even bacon? Weathers tapped away at her tablet. On second thought, maybe he'd have to check the food situation sooner. I'll meet you on the bridge soon. Weathers was again leaving, before a second pause. From the tone, this heralded a personal discussion, not something professional. He gestured for her to continue. He's all I have left, all I've ever really had. I know that's a lot to ask and we need every capable hand we can spare, but I'm not sure how I'd feel if he were killed down there.

Her eyes were pleading, clearly hoping that Parks would tell her that he would deny her son permission to head to the Imperial capital city, probably the most dangerous place in the entire galaxy right now. Unfortunately, he could make no such promises. We've all lost a lot of those close to us, some even seeing their whole families die before their very eyes while they were charged with protecting them. It's difficult for me to start making exceptions at this stage. He's a remarkable soldier and marksman for his age, too, so his skills will without doubt be wanted down there.

I understand. That brought a small smile to Weathers' face, despite her not being as reassured as she had hoped to be. Excellent, Parks thought to himself as she departed, enough time for that shower and a shave. The beard took longer to remove than he had anticipated, and once he was done he found the person staring back at him from the mirror a little unrecognisable — almost as if it wasn't really him.

He had only had the beard for two weeks, yet it felt like years. Had those grey strands, some now in the wash basin, been growing a while or only made an appearance in the past few days? He glimpsed a figure clothed in the naval blues of the CSN, standing behind him in the mirror. A fleeting glance it had been, yet it still caused him to spin around to see who was standing there. No one. He knew in the back of his mind whom he expected — Storm or Hawke. Both men were dead, but their ghosts seemed to accompany him wherever he went. He would sometimes sense a weight at the end of his bed as he tried to sleep, as though someone were sitting there, always to find nothing.

That would be the guilt. Breakfast arrived as he finished up, though Tunstall was clearly running late. Parks sat himself down at his desk, powering up the console there and opening up his personal messages. A new one from Sima. He read it as he ate his toast and eggs.

Though her message spoke only of the dispiriting state of the allies' attempt to hold the ever-shrinking line against the Pandoran army, he still found comfort in her words. She concluded the message, as always, with a whimsical thought about the house they would share together after the end of the war. She had now decided she wanted a place with five bedrooms, so that they could have space for guests, as well as for when their adopted boy and girl grew too old to share.

There would also be space for some yet to be chosen hobby that either she or Parks might take up. The thought made him smile. He would reply later that he wanted a place closer to a park, rather than a beach, so he could walk the dog. Breakfast finished, he dressed, then continued to wait for the doctor. An incident must've been holding him up. Had one of the scuffles been a little more serious than first thought? He looked over the messages from the past few days, checking to see if there were any outstanding items that demanded his attention.

He heard the jump countdown commence, before Griffin started for Kethlan. Liu had clearly chosen to give the go-ahead without him, most likely prompted to do so by Weathers. Nothing in the message inbox demanded Parks' immediate attention. He scanned the older messages, scrolling back to a year ago and seeing the series of communications from David Turner. They had been regular messages, one a day, on some occasions, two. The content varied wildly in length, but always had one thing in common, a simple instruction. He looked through some other messages, to the instructions attached to those —.

Algebraic chess notation. Parks scrolled back through a few more messages, finally coming to the start of the thread. But if you're going to find him, you'll need to train yourself for the task. I therefore propose a game of chess. Parks had always hated chess. The pieces, the thought process, the need for intricate deliberation that went into every single move. It had always proved extremely frustrating. He had always felt stupid whilst playing the game, even more so when the inevitable defeat came.

But Turner had already set it up, taking command of the black pieces and sending over his first move. Since the Democrats gained political ground last November, the single payer or Medicare-for-All idea has been floated as a potential platform issue for the Democratic Party. And the same is true for Republicans, Libertarians, etc.

This is important now, more than ever. We need to hold ourselves and those who serve us more accountable by having a better understanding of the issues ourselves. I am not a fan of the single payer system. Nor am I a fan of Republican efforts to destabilize the Affordable Care Act without offering up a replacement. I like the simplicity of it. We know that administrative costs in health care are out of control. Having one payer would simplify both the administrative and financial transactions involved in health care. Everyone gets the same coverage. That elevates the access to care for lower income individuals.

Given the income divide in America, this approach to health care delivery may seem more fair than what we have today. Or even centralizing a lot of it. I want the government to look out for Americans too. These are two differing philosophies about the role of government which are not specific to health care. A pure, single payer system where the government is the only payer is basically the model used in Canada. While everything is covered, there are major problems with the effectiveness of the Canadian health care system.

Plenty has been written about the long wait times for health care in Canada. Twenty weeks. Almost half a year. Canadians agree that these long wait times are having an adverse impact on patient outcomes. It does not make a pure single payer system look all that appealing. By the way, there are more people living in California than there are in Canada.

This size issue is a critical factor because there are major administrative challenges in taking what seem to be good ideas from other smaller countries and bringing them here, to the United States. One of the arguments for a single payer system is that it works so well in Europe. Their outcomes are better than ours. European nations spend less money per capita than we do. Also true. However, the largest country in Europe is Germany. Germany is about one quarter the size of the United States. European countries are, right now, somewhat homogeneous and culturally distinct.

One of the best health systems in the world in terms of low cost and high outcomes is Japan. They have one of the highest life expectancies and lowest obesity rates of any other country and they spend less than half of what we do on health care per capita. That sets the stage for an efficient and effective health care system. Now consider America. The US covers tropical regions, arctic areas, coastal shorelines, the plains, mountainous territory…so there are lifestyle issues associated with each of these places that impact what people eat, what kind of work they do, how much and what types of exercise they get, etc.

We erode the soil by keeping our rows spaced out to minimize pest infestations, which allows sunlight to dry our our valuable topsoil and rains to wash it away. And we poison our water supplies by using harsh chemical pesticides and herbicides as well as fertilizers which seeps into rivers, lakes and our communities groundwater. Sadly, as Janine notes in her book, this isn't working:.

There's a better way. Janine, as well as folks all over the country, suggests a system called polyculture "poly" meaning many, and if we remember, "culture" means species. This ensemble of cultures would be modeled on whatever natural system used to thrive in our lands. For the farm basket of America, this would be Midwestern prairies. You want me to get my food from prairies? I know, it sounds weird, but if done right, prairies can actually provide more food per acre than we currently grow, use little to no fertilizer, leverage diversity to thwart off pest infestation and shade to overwhelm unwanted weeds and best of all, it survives each year, sustainably, without the need to plant new crops.

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That's great and all, but, I eat food, not flowers! Well, the word " prairie " is only used to name the model we're after. It could, through the same concept, also work for jungles or forests. Prairies grow upwards of species which would be a hassle for farming. To tackle this, some fine folks at a place called "The Land Institute", studied the way prairies work. They looked at their composition and why those compositions worked and set out to find an ensemble of perennial plants that could work like a prairie.

The problem was that conventional thinking posited that perennials were perennials for the fact that they don't seed as much and spend most of their energy below ground building roots to last the winter. This, in fact, turned out to be false. There were some perennials that could bridge both worlds and given years of domestication, these perennials would be bred and chosen for their seed yield. Slowly but surely, "The Land Institute" and others assembled their orchestra of seeds and built test farms around the country. Though the tests were successful, we sadly don't see many of these farms around much today.