With the invasion of China and the move of the starships into actual construction, Rachel's role as a key player in things had came to an end and she had found herself somewhat surplus to requirements in reality. Oh, the politicians had been somewhat less agreeable to that idea than she had been, but she'd danced circles around them and left the military on her terms. They had no need for her in reality so it had been rather less difficult than it could have been.
And with her leaving the military she had moved into a different line of work. Her mind now tapped out as a source of scientific information, she had moved into a more ordinary line of work for a Jedi, taking Dawn with her: aid work. She had joined aid workers looking to bring relief to the ravaged quarters of the world that had been left in the wake of the terrible wars that had been fought as constituents of the Third World War, itself a part of the greater First Interplanetary War.
It had been challenging, especially in the parts of the world that came down on the side of the aliens, but it had also been satisfying in a way very different from that of successfully deploying new weapon systems or winning battles. It had been a long time since she'd simply helped people and it felt good. Very good. For once, there were no losers from her work. Just winners. People who'd needed her help and received it. Sure, using her healing powers sometimes left her exhausted and cranky, but seeing a mother's expression when their child's poisoned lungs start functioning normally again made it all worthwhile.
Dawn had taken to it after a while too. It had been hard on her at first, seeing how bad things could be outside of the safety granted by American power, but she'd gotten over it and had helped many, many people along the way. Her raw power allowed her to accomplish much when she put her mind to it and she had put her mind to healing and helping. That had made it all worthwhile in Rachel's book. Dawn had needed that. She'd needed to see that a Jedi's work isn't always about beating the bad guys.
Of course, beating the bad guys was still important. And that was what Dawn had done. Rachel'd been separated from her, working her mojo in a different African village at the time, when a gang of thugs with assault rifles tried to steal the essential supplies that Dawn had helped deliver there. Dawn had stopped them. She had stood there, in front of a gang of armed men half-crazed with hunger and fear, and she'd sent them running without leaving a single corpse on the ground.
Rachel had promoted her to Jedi Knight that evening. She'd needed no further convincing of her apprentice's worth. It had been the single proudest moment of her life and she was fairly sure that Mrs. Summers had felt similarly when she got the word.
But all good things have to come to an end. With the war over and the starships, presumably, ready, Rachel had been recalled to America in a manner she couldn't just ignore as she had already done several times with previous attempts to drag her back to doing whatever the government wanted.
* * * * *
The plane touched down with barely a jolt to be felt by the passengers within. Another example of her research at work, thought Rachel, though luxury airliners had hardly been her aim at the time. There weren't actually many people on board with her. A few dignitaries, a few higher-ups in the aid organisations who'd been given a ride back home for free. Not much else.
When she disembarked from the plane, she was greeted by the United Nations Secretary of Defence and a handful of armoured soldiers that she presumed were acting as escorts. And it really did feel quite strange to even think those words, even for someone who had supported the creation of a single world government. The United Nations, the original incarnation, had been killed in its bed by the sneak attacks that had started the Third World War and for a long time it had looked as if that was it. And then came the New York Conference and it was back, after a fashion, as a one world government.
Conspiracy theorists worldwide were probably going nuts over that.
He didn't look overly happy to see her, she had to say. There was a distinct chill in the look he was sending her way.
“You've made quite the pain of yourself,” he said. “And I see that your apprentice hasn't returned with you.”
“Dawn's a Jedi Knight now. She makes her own decisions.”
“Well I can't say I'm a fan of her decision-making then,” he said. “This isn't the time for this.”
“Do you really want to get into this in public?” she asked. “I'm sure the press would love it ever so much, but you? Not so sure.”
He looked like he'd swallowed a lemon as he contemplated that possibility but he nodded his agreement quickly enough.
* * * * *
They ended up in your standard meeting room, complete with mass-produced yet still expensive as hell table and chairs set and an overhead projector. They sat on opposite sides of the table and then they picked up.
“Really,” he said. “It seems rather churlish to decline a request to join the UNNS given everything that's happened and is still happening. We didn't ask her to sign up in a random fit of whimsy, you know. We had very good reasons.”
“I'm sure you did,” said Rachel. “And I'm just as sure that Dawn had very good reasons for not accepting a position in the fighter corps.”
“I'd be interested to hear those reasons, but, from my perspective, it seems rather unlikely that they'd outweigh the fleet's requirements for the attack on Mars.”
“I'm sure you can work out at least part of them,” said Rachel. “If you've read the files on Jedi psychology, you know that war isn't exactly the best environment for us if we can avoid it. You also know that Dawn's still fairly young and that she's spent enough time on military bases and around battles to not have a romanticised image of what it means to be in the forces. You should also know that she's doing a great deal of good out there. You have all the pieces you need to put it together.”
“Yes, yes,” he said. “She's happily playing the good samaritan and doesn't particularly want to join the war effort when she can help so many where she is without having to get her hands dirty. It's understandable but there are few people who actually want to go to war when it comes down to it. War is a dirty, messy, unpleasant business and the after-effects of taking part in it are just as bad. But still they come, because it's absolutely necessary that they do so. Doesn't she see that?”
“Not really,” said Rachel. “And I can't say I disagree with her. The war is over. Sure, there's still one last battle left, but it's going to be no more difficult than dropping the bomb on Nagasaki or Hiroshima was. You're not going to need Jedi for it any more than you'd need a Jedi to push the big red button to launch a general nuclear strike.”
He shook his head at her. “The final battle still remains,” he said. “You might be right in that we can't lose, but we'll still take losses. Your apprentice's skills are such that they'd reduce said losses. And that's all the reason I need for wanting her in a cockpit when the battle starts.”
“She's not even an experienced pilot, you know. Sure, she has talent – more than I've ever seen in a pilot, to be honest – but that doesn't mean she can just step in and save the day.”
“Perhaps not but the morale boost the fighter wing would get from her mere presence would make up for any deficiencies in her technique.”
Ah, there was the real reason. Morale, not quite. But just having her there. Yes, that was it. His motivation. He wanted a Jedi inside his sphere of political influence. Typical. “I really don't think that's necessary,” said Rachel. “Morale must already be sky-high. We've won almost every battle we've taken part in for the last, oh, two and a half years or thereabouts.”
“Ninety percent of the battles fought over the last two years have been messy, prolonged anti-insurgency operations that have left the men walking through an ankle deep layer of blood and gore. Rooting out the remaining aliens hasn't been easy, you know. They might be lousy at strategy but they're hell on wheels when it comes to making life difficult for people. That isn't good for morale.”
“I rather doubt that your fighter pilots and warship crews have been partaking of the slaughter,” said Rachel. “It's rather outside their remit unless the aliens managed to get into one of their bases.”
“Word still filters through,” he countered. “Friendships between the difference branches aren't that rare. And you'd be surprised at the places that the aliens can worm their way into given half a chance, the sneaky bastards.”
“Not really,” said Rachel. “I've had experience.” She thought it'd be best if she didn't mention that he was full of shit and that security measures had been in place at every military base in the world to keep aliens out for years. “I was the one who dealt with the Ethereal who'd taken control of France's government, remember, and I was X-COM too. I have experience.”
“Yes, of course. I apologise. Still, my point stands. The years since China surrendered have been messy. Having a Jedi on our team would be a good antidote for that little issue.”
Rachel leaned back in her chair and just looked at him for a moment before replying. “I think you over-estimate the problem,” she said. “There's nothing so good for morale as victory and we have achieved that time and time again. A little fuss along the way is barely even going to dent the morale of an army that has achieved total victory over all of its enemies. Add to that the fact that this battle cannot possibly be lost and I fail to see the need for any special measures.”
“That's where we differ. I prefer to take no risks, not on something this important.”
“War is one long serious of risks. This is a particularly minor one. It isn't worth quibbling over.”
“Hmm. And you don't think that Ms. Summers has a duty to humanity in this case?”
“An interesting point of view.”
“She's superfluous to requirements. I see no reason why she should feel any duty to make up the numbers when she can be easily replaced.”
“There are many who would take exception to that. They would see it as favouritism that she would be spared.”
“And there are even more who wouldn't. Remember what she is doing now: the work of a dozen nurses. The public would be rather unlikely to come down against her, I think. Nurses have a special place in the hearts of many and they're rarely given a hard time in the media.”
“She isn't actually a nurse.”
“She's close enough.”
“Hmm. And what about you?”
“What about me? You want me involved in this battle?”
“You are the only real experienced officer we have when it comes to space warfare, even if the circumstances of that experience are somewhat, ah, dubious.”
“You don't need me,” said Rachel. “My presence would be meaningless. Actually, it would be counter-productive. Your officers need practice. They'll get it from this turkey shoot of a battle.”
“I would feel more comfortably with your presence there to keep things on an even keel if anything goes wrong,” he said. “I'm not quite as totally confident about this battle as you are, Brigadier. This is new to us. We can't predict with as much certainty as we'd like.”
Rachel shook her head. “You may as well pit the legions of Rome against the regiments of Britain for all the chance the aliens have here,” she said. “That's how great the disparity is. My presence is not needed.”
If he'd looked like he'd swallowed a lemon before, he looked like he'd swallowed a whole basketful then. It amused her. And Vrook would be proud. She'd done exactly what he would want her to do. Which kinda tempted her to turn around and change her mind, but no. Best not to tempt fate.
* * * * *
Rachel wound up watching the battle through a telescope, much like the rest of humanity who were in the right parts of the world for that to work. And she was right. The battle was a cakewalk. The fleet swatted the alien defence fleet aside like a grown man fighting his way through a gang of small children and then proceeded to destroy the alien installations on Mars.
On the 17th October 2004 the First Interplanetary War came to an end with the destruction of the alien fleet and the total destruction of all alien installations on Mars, both above and below ground, in a massive planetary bombardment. It was a day of riotous celebration across the globe.
Of course, it wasn't the end of humanity's issues with aliens, or even humanity's issues with the Ethereals and their empire, but that is a story for another time.