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City on a Hill


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His journey began at Hotel Monier, near Sinnamon Park, the large hotel glittering once again, his last time being there, most of the windows were blown out, and the building pockmarked by errant shells. The dawn was beginning to break over the horizon, the streetlamps still hummed however, the sun's rays hadn't broken the darkness enough. The last day he had been here, there had been no sun, just dark skies, filled with smoke, dark clouds hanging over the city making the entire city of Brisbane dim. His shoes lightly tapped on the pavement, among the others, as he walked along Monier Road, retracing his journey towards what would be his destiny.

The small group walked quietly, without a word, their eyes roving the quiet streets, the silence broken by a dog barking in a nearby yard, or a car honk in the distance. They had seen these streets in a much different time, shattered, burning, buildings falling around them, and the dead littering the streets. Almost two years ago, these streets had been those of hell, the Free Australian Movement had begun its final push to eliminate the Communist Australian government. It had been the last desperate gasp of a wounded animal that had tasted some defeat in the northern portions of the country, but had yet to put its full strength to the test. It had struck at the heart of the illegitimate Communist Australian government, to dethrone those that had oppressed them for too long, that had squandered this precious land.

Less then two years ago, he had been holding an assault rifle, leading his group of rebels towards the Coonan Street Bridge, in an effort to escape what had quickly turned into a trap. The ambitious plan to take Brisbane had started to cost the Free Australians, who had walked into what would become a double envelopment of their flanks. With the Chinese and Australian Free State attacking from the south and southeast, and the Caspians landing at airport, things would begin turning the other way, despite what was initially solid gains. It was his return to Coonan, it was a special day for him, for this nation, if such carnage could be called 'special', and as Robert Abel slowly walked along Monier Road, he could still remember what his senses had taken in as the final battle began.

The city he knew and loved was falling into shambles around him, buildings were wrecked, burning, and looted, sometimes their occupants caught in the crossfire and lying motionless on the streets at that time. The smells, oh, those terrible smells, even breathing through ones mouth would make you retch from the smell of death and destruction, the heavy humidity and amount of cordite made your mouth dry. The sounds, the screams of men, women... children, the scream of mortar rounds that flew back and forth, as the battle raged, the sounds of whistling munitions, whispering death they had called it. Eyes were filled with fire, with the rage of unbridled nationalism and the glint of the fires of the city reflecting in them. As he neared the end of Monier Road, a tear crept out the side of his right eye, and fell unhindered onto his suit jacket. In the distance, the sign for Oxley Street stood, upright and proud; on that day, it had been bent sideways and a shell had taken off the 'eet' on the end of the sign... on that day, it was believed that Oxley Street was the path out of the city, to new beginnings, to keep hope restored...

In some ways, it wasn't too far from the truth...

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As he looked up at the sign for Oxley Street, he looked back down the quiet streets of the Monier Road, the trees that had been burned and charred were whispering quietly in a predawn breeze. He smiled to himself slightly, so much more peaceful now, then back almost two years ago. Two years ago, the loud roar of fighters and bombers could be heard zipping by overhead. The whistling of their ordinance still could be heard, it would shatter his dreams and wake him in a cold sweat at times. He could remember looking towards the south, down Oxley Street, and seeing the flashes of napalm in the Forest Lake region, fighters dropping the tanks of horrifyingly effective substance.

The long curls of napalm explosions looped into the air before his eyes, he could remember halting his squad on this corner for a few minutes rest, the only rest they had gotten for almost twenty-four hours. He looked up at the dawn sky, and smiled at the hues of pink, purple, and red in the sky, that day, it had been dark, smoky, foreboding. As they rested, a Caspian fighter had zipped over, dropping a chaff munition, at first they had laughed and believed the aircraft to be dropping propaganda leaflets, but the pieces of aluminum foil were nothing but distractions against anti-air munitions and ground fire. His men and women had drank deeply from their bottles and canteens of water, some who had no water carrying apparatus collected water with their hands from a destroyed water hydrant, that was spewing the liquid into the air.

A line of shells exploded on a side street nearby, he could remember, and they had all dived for cover as the whistle of artillery shells blasted another home apart. As Robert looked over at a line of houses on the side street nearby, their windows were dark and quiet, but they had been restored, two years ago, they were nothing but matchsticks and splinters. He sighed softly to himself, looking at the small group around him of men and women, just looking around, they seemed aimless, but that was far from the real truth. They were far from being aimless, and as they walked onto Oxley Street, they could remember the explosions getting louder as they approached one of the escape routes north.

The maelstrom that was unfolding to their south was a telling sign that they knew that their only salvation was northwards, across the Brisbane, and hopefully into open country. The Free Australians could easily blend in with the population, especially once they split into small groups, but for now they were locked in the jaws of death in an urban environment. Many knew these streets well, and with that knowledge, they would make the foreigners and these communist puppets pay for their victory, but for every man or woman they killed, there were plenty more to take their place. They didn't have the luxury, as they were cut off from both supplies and any reinforcements outside the city.

What had become a steady walking pace through the streets became a jog towards the bridge that day, as the realization was beginning to set in for many that they might not get out. Robert remembered ordering his group of Free Australians forward at a faster pace when he encountered a runner who had come from the Coonan Street bridge. The man had a bandage around his head, and his face and hands were bloodstained, he had a pistol in one hand, and what looked like only one spare magazine left stuck into the waistband of his ripped and dirty cargo pants. He was a mess, and he croaked when he spoke, a telling sign that trouble lay ahead.

"You need to get north," he had told them, jogging by, "we got enemies that are moving to block the road north." He had then run by them, to get other units north to help fight the forces that were now closing in to cut their escape route. As Robert and his group began their walk up Oxley, a man jogged by, and for a moment Robert had caught a glimpse of that young face he had never seen again. The bloodstained bandage, the blackened and bloodied face, a look of desperation, of fear, but grim determination. The jogger paid him no heed, as he ran through their group, and Robert kept on walking. Oxley Street, the boulevard that led to the Coonan Street bridge, an avenue, for some, of destiny, for most others, it was the final stretch of life, a highway that would lead many to the afterlife...

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As they advanced up Oxley Street, his mind flashed back to that fateful day again, the area was littered with corpses, victims from the fighting for Brisbane. He looked to the side, looking at a stone wall that was used as a decoration for the front walkway for a relatively nice looking Victorian house. He remembered seeing a line of bodies there, slumped on the ground, blood and bullet holes covering the wall. An obvious execution of soldiers, by who, it was hard to tell, he couldn't look at the corpses of the dead, which had been torn apart by automatic rifle or machinegun fire. He remembered that none of them had weapons by their sides, just murdered, in cold blood, a few, who had miraculously survived the hail of bullets, had clearly been shot through the head at close range.

Tears flowed freely down his cheeks, as he looked at the wall, where the marks of bullets could clearly be seen. He stepped up to the wall, leaning over the tulips that now grew in the neatly kept and beautiful garden that lined the front of the wall. His fingers touched the bullet pockmarks, and shook his head, he looked at the others in his group, who knew the spot well. Robert remembered that scene very well, a Methodist Minister, who had joined his flock to fight, ignoring the carnage, holding the bible in one hand, his rifle next to him, he gently closed each of the executed soldiers' eyes, his fingers covered in blood. Robert remembered the minister looking up at him, "They gave themselves for a higher cause, now they are with a higher being for dedicating themselves to a higher cause." The minister had not flinched once, while an artillery barrage had landed near them, sending shrapnel and causing men and women to hug the cracked and destroyed pavement.

The street then had been a mass of burned out hulks of destroyed cars and covered with spent shell casings, it was clean now, and as Robert looked farther up the boulevard, he could see the bridge in the distance. It was their path to salvation that day, and now, it was a symbol, a symbol of hope and courage to keep doing what was right, to keep making choices to the bitter end. That day, Robert had made the choice to lead his small band of rebels to try to help his Free Australian comrades, it was a choice he made because it was the right thing to do. He remembered seeing that couriers' face, desperation and fear, but resolve, bloodstained and dirty, it was a face that he never saw again, but it was a face that haunted his dreams. This entire area haunted his dreams, night after night, for the choices he made here, would he have it any other way? No.

They began their walk again, the final stretch before reaching that bridge, a bridge that had to be crossed, a bridge that led many different directions. It was a bridge into what would become the future and this nation itself, it was the choices made on that fateful day that shaped the new history of Australia. It was time to remember that past, those choices made, and the people who made them. His shoes made a light tap on the pavement, as the group walked, a band of what at that time had been a hodgepodge of freedom fighters. A lawyer who led them, a couple secretaries, a minister, a factory worker, two waitresses, and a few students. It was a regular everyday people like this, that shaped the new Union, and now it was time to remember what they fought so hard to take, a history they had written with their own blood, a chronicle of choices made for the right reasons.

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Halfway up Oxley Street, the Coonan Street Bridge in the distance, the entire area turned into nothing but a wide open park, there were no buildings here anymore. Young trees dotted the area, the Communists had begun rebuilding the area, but the Union, once in power, completely demolished anything within five blocks south of the bridge. The area was nothing but peaceful trees and grass, the side streets were covered over, it was just a peaceful area, this was hallowed ground, it was a green monument to those who had fallen here, and all over Brisbane in the fight for a Free Australia. It was not by any means a sign of grandeur, it was a simple park, with benches, gravel paths, simple gardens.

Young trees dotted the entire landscape, many planted only recently, a tree was planted for every fallen member of the Free Australia Movement in the Battle of Brisbane, and as they walked through the green landscape, tears freely flowed amongst the whole group. They could remember the scream of bombs, shells, and wounded fighters everywhere as they advanced into this area. They could look to the right, and see the waters of the Brisbane, which had been stained red with blood that day, when the Communist Australians tried to mount an attack across the river. They had been mowed down by the work of an impromptu artillery commander, and the efforts of her hodgepodge of heavy weaponry and crews, who braved counter-battery fire from the Caspian lines to break the Communist attack, and break it did. The Communists had not set one foot on that side of the river, their corpses and craft mixed together like flotsam in the water of the Brisbane, the river carrying them to their maker.

He could remember seeing the desperation in their eyes, as they all found out their escape route north was cut by the stalwart Caspian forces, which stood their ground at Norman, now they were standing in their way again. A burning Caspian tank could be seen at the other end of the bridge, one of its crew could be seen desperately trying to crawl back to his lines, from Robert's vantage point in a building. As he observed the Caspian tanker, his legs askew, one at an awkward angle, probably broken, try to reach his lines, his comrades could were barely visible in a foxhole nearby. The tanker reached out to them, clearly losing blood from the streak left on the pavement, two of the Caspian soldiers, wearing elaborate skull-faced balaclavas began moving out to him. Gunfire dropped both of them, one was clearly dead, but the other, wounded, still dragged the tanker back to the lines, before being dropped by another burst of gunfire, the tanker making it to the safety of the lines.

It was acts of bravery that defined the day, and he remembered the ferocious barrage unleashed on the Caspian lines, as seen from his vantage point in a three story apartment building. As soon as the artillery fired, the Caspians responded with a ferocious barrage of their own, and as his team evacuated the upper levels of the apartment building, shells were shaking the entire ground, taking chunks out of the townhouses around them. Then, that glorious banner was risen on high, and as his squad seemed to tumble out the door of the apartment building, he watched a flag bearer unfurl that glorious banner, the flag of the Hanseatics, with that brilliant white quill at its center. They were going to make their attack over the bridge, this was the moment, and as they looked at the bridge, it was still pockmarked from bullets and shells, but stalwart as ever. It seemed like slow motion when that banner was unfurled, men, women, young and old seemed to stream from their hiding places against the storm, and charge into the maelstrom, their banner flying before them as they charged the bridge. It was a march to mortality, a march to destiny, a march that would be written in blood in the history books, as the Free Australian fighters leaped to take the fight across the bridge.

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The small group of old fighters slowly walked up onto the Coonan Street Bridge, they had put aside their rifles for pens, and their hodgepodge of uniforms for civilian button up shirts and dresses. Their shoes clicked on the pavement gently, that had been stained with the blood of hundreds as the charge had led them over the bridge. Their foes discharging shot and shell into their lines, that punched wide avenues in the packed forces, the attack struggled onwards, as they fired their own weapons, and their artillery tried their best to support their advance. Their banner fell many times, only to be picked up by another valiant bearer, the standard torn and holed, but still defiantly waving.

As the advance reached the north end of the bridge, Robert could remember seeing the Caspian jets pass overhead, and felt the flash of heat, heard the cacophony of explosions that shattered the buildings behind them. Screams of the dying could be heard, thunderous explosions filled the air, as they marched to mortality, the Caspian tanks discharging vicious anti-personnel rounds that shred the lines and the fighters who made up those lines. Robert could remember as they reached the north side of the bridge, their lines splintering in the face of an increasing maelstrom, that was only growing larger. The Caspians had brought up reinforcements, and it was clearly the end of the line, here and now, and as he looked around him, almost seemed like slow motion.

He stopped at the north end of the bridge, looking at that imagined scene, men and women together, struggling forward despite the storm of lead and steel they faced. He watched as some just collapsed, struck by the bullets that zipped around them, others held dying comrades, and wept openly, collapsing from veritable exhaustion and grief. He could remember the burst of pain in his back, which forced him to his knees, before falling face forward onto the pavement, as a shell exploded behind him. His eyes were still open, and he thought that this might be it, as he exhaled heavily, watching as the Free Australians slowly dropped their weapons around him, it was over. He could still see the wounded flagbearer nearby, the flag still halfway into the air, as the bearer held it up, his hands bloodstained, his breaths coming in pants as the life was leaving him. The crying of wounded and completely shattered Australians filled the air, he saw a young female rebel staring at him, as he heard voices, voices etched with accents, telling the rebels to drop their weapons.

The tears flowed freely down his cheeks, then, as he remembered as he watched soldiers in fatigues begin moving into the piles of wounded, dying, and those who had already passed on. The vivid recollection he remembered, was a soldier with a sergeants' stripes and a radio on his back approach the female rebel who was choking, blood coming out of her mouth, kneeling down in the carnage. The soldier, his blackened face streaked with tears, as he rolled the female onto her back, the grimace on his face becoming even more apparent, remorse, grief, respect, and sadness. Robert remembered that sergeant gently squeeze her hand, a tear falling onto the girls' bloodstained face, as the girl passed on, her eyes lifeless, the sergeant slowly eased her eyelids shut. Robert remembered croaking softly, his own tears running down his face as they did now, nearby a Caspian soldier was neatly and respectfully folding up the Hanseatic banner, caring for it as if it were a child.

He looked at the slowly gathering crowd of reporters and people in the small park on the north side of the bridge, they were separated by a barrier, and seemed to be watching the Governor General and his small band of old rebels stand on the bridge. He saw the sheet covered statue nearby, and he tried to choke back his tears. His eyes and face were wet and red, he could even smell that tiny salty smell that the tears made, drops of tears seemed to sparingly dot the pavement of the Coonan Street bridge. Almost two years ago, it had been a torrent, a river of blood, it was clean now, aside from the small dots of tears here and there.

He cleared his throat, and began walking slowly towards the crowd that was gathering for the early morning statement.

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Robert Abel stepped up to podium that was set up next to a sheet-covered monument that was set to be unveiled that morning, his face was still red and streaked with tears. He didn't care as he slowly surveyed the crowd, which had continued to grow, people walking into the park in small groups, a few police officers watched barriers, but no one pushed. Cameras and media focused in on the Governor General as he looked around the growing crowd, he adjusted the microphone slightly, the Southern Cross flag hung on the front of the podium, its Prussian blue deep and alluring. He began his speech, with no notes, as he looked around the crowd gathered before him, and some of his old comrades behind him. To his right, the Prime Minister stood in a flowery sundress, her hands clasped behind her back, her own eyes shining.

"Many years ago, a country of immigrants was founded in this city, immigrants who wanted a new life away from their shattered country. That country was built on dreams, it was dreams that defined it, hope that guided it, and hard work that built it. This country has seen many ups and many downs, we have seen governments come and go, demagogues and leaders worthy of sainthood rule and fall, war and peace thrash and heal the bonds of the people between one another. We have seen what power can do to some, we have seen the destruction of this city many times over, yet, once again, our people prevail again. Look at your city, fellow citizens, look at the old Hanseatic Parliament which has been masterfully rebuilt, the homes that once again reappear, despite their destruction over and over.

Two years ago, we could all look across the river at the fire brilliant in the sky as bombers torched our lands, as our brothers and sisters fell by the hundreds. They became one with this Earth, this country, their blood may not stain this hallowed ground now, but it has before, I say, never again. Never again shall our brothers and sisters have to take up arms against one another. This is a time for everyone of this continent, this nation, a nation under the constellation, a nation whose name bears the Southern Cross. Many people issue a wish upon the first star they see at night, I have myself, wishes, hopes, and dreams, was what this country was when we stormed across that bridge. We could never have believed our dreams, our wish for a better nation, a better continent, a better world, would come true now.

It was the people who came before myself and Prime Minister Whittaker," he continued, indicating the Prime Minister next to him, "That based this country on hopes, on dreams, leaders like the Lady Protector, Miss Tintagyl, of the first Hanseatic Government. Or Queen Hannah, both are critical figures of our past, people who guided this nation to be a true Pacific power, worthy of respect for its diplomatic aptitude and model of doing the right things for its people, and for this region. The Oceanic Union is a testament that this region is considered Oceanic and not some backwater of Southeast Asia. I was but a youngster in those days, but it left a profound impact on my life, we reached for the stars, we believed in wishes, and we made them come true. We fell into ruin, into desolation after the fall, but now, we live on yet again, their legacy will not be remembered by this Union, or by any government that may try to wrest control of our nation from the peoples grip.

To honor peace, and the prices of making wishes come true, we unveil this monument, to the people of this continent, who reached for hope, for freedom, for political equality against overwhelming odds." Robert turned to the side, as two government officials pulled the sheet from the covered statue. An iconic image was captured in bronze, a Caspian soldier, giving a warriors salute to a fallen Free Australian female fighter, gently pushing her eyes closed. Next to the Caspian soldier, a wounded Free Australian cradled her dying friends body in her arms, gently smoothing his hair, tears gently molded in streaks on her face. At the bottom, a placard read, 'Be at peace, Children of Australia; you learn to dream at a young age, and dreams have brought you far.'

Robert looked at Elisabeth Whittaker, who looked back at him, her eyes glistening, as he turned back to the crowd, clearing his throat again, trying to choke back tears. "It is with honor that I here and now, declare Australia reunified, and incorporate the two newest states of Northern Australia, and Western Australia, into our Union. I also reaffirm here and now, our commitments to regional economic and security matters in the Oceanic Region, Indian Ocean Rim, and Pacific Rim, for the good of these areas, and our nation. It is also a great honor, that I present the Duchess of Brisbane, Valeria Sangral, with her old position of honor, as Commandant of the Lillian Guards. As part of her appointment, we present the Duchess with the flag that flew with our forces during the assault on this bridge, as the Lillian Guards' official standard."

Valeria Sangral, former commander of the Lillian Guards, who had been standing farther back from the Governor General, was presented with the old standard, having been repaired by the Timuridians and their master weavers before its return to Australia. Robert smiled at Valeria, his eyes full of tears, as he then turned back to the crowd, "I say, my fellow citizens, into the future, reach for the stars, for this was a nation, born under a constellation." The cameras flashed as he slowly turned away from the crowd, and tears of both grief and happiness clouded his vision, as a loud cheer was issued.

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