That particular piece of Most Secret intelligence came to us a long time ago, although of course at that time very few people knew about it. But, by the time I graduated from the Space Academy and got my first commission, it was not so much common knowledge as a rallying cry: we know where you're hiding...

It was during that increasingly frantic period of divisive politics and inflammatory rhetoric and public posturing which led to the schism, and thence to the ensuing war. The power blocs condensed into two factions: the loyal Consolidationalists, led by the former US and European Union, and the rebel Expansionists, whose leaders mostly came from China and Africa. They were supported by most of those already living permanently in space, regardless of where in the world they originated from: the large corporations and multinational organisations that had long before moved their operations off-world, mainly for tax reasons.

The radical Expansionists vigorously objected to the official policy, as dictated by the might of the world governments, of conservation and consolidation: the closely-regulated and economical use of resources; the policing of birth control to ensure that the global population no longer increased; total and absolute respect for Gaia in all her forms.

These heretics demanded instead an increased pace of exploration and, increasingly, exploitation of the resources of the solar system, setting out crazy ideas like using materials from the asteroids to build large-scale habitats in space rather than sensibly using the bounty of the Belt to correct the evils of the past centuries of exploitation of planet Earth. They wanted to create more living space, rather than frugally using the spaces we already had. They insisted on a programme of exploration of the outer regions of the Solar System and even an interstellar mission to one or another of the nearby systems known to have potentially habitable planets.

All this was utter anathema to all right-thinking peoples, but it did not stop the rebels making a formal declaration of independence and setting up a so-called Interim Solar Government without even a base, a common meeting-place, anywhere on Earth. The ISG was immediately pronounced illegal and invalid and, after a short period of escalating threats and ignored ultimatums, the Expansionists were officially declared terrorists and pirates, and those few who remained fled Earth completely, or tried to: most were declared traitors and criminals, and arrested before they could escape. The lines had been drawn and a conflict long seen as inevitable had finally come to pass.

The military apparatus remained loyal to the formal governments and the United Nations, of course. The fleets of spaceships constructed for the air and space commands of various governments were the most well armed, or so it was supposed, although the martial capabilities were less one-sided than the military strategists had asserted.

The corporations supporting the rebels held their technical assets mainly in space - around Mars or on the Moons of Jupiter for the most part - and were all officially unarmed, by law. In practice, though, the combination of high-power machinery (the kind used for mining asteroids, for example, which is a far from subtle operation) and the manufacturing capability designed to fabricate all kinds of complex artefacts from high-tech metal alloys and engineering ceramics meant that the Expansionists rapidly extemporised some worryingly effective weaponry.

There had been some attempt to limit the availability of the most sophisticated technologies, once the risk of a full-scale rebellion had become clear, but this was generally ineffective; after all, cutting-edge research and development was largely in the hands of the multinationals - as it had been for last century or more - and most of the big corporations supported the Expansionists.

Since the beginning of commercial space exploitation, right the way back to the start of the twenty-first century, habitats and populated asteroids, as well as mining rights were officially leased by the corporations under licence from the world governments. But it slowly became clear that rather more asteroids were actually occupied, unofficially, by the multinationals, after a number of surprise attacks from unexpected quarters had decimated our exploratory patrols.

Naturally enough, the corporations had attempted to keep the locations of their bases secret, from the governments as well as from each other, being afraid that one of them would snitch to the authorities. Once the Expansionists started working more closely together, information on the deployment and capabilities of all of the rebel forces was brought together for the purposes of strategic planning.

Which was where we got our big break. We had a spy in the enemy camp, an agent in its most sensitive centre. She was a hero, a woman named Sandra Lim, who was attached to the Expansionists' military planning enclave. She was known to be a genius at strategy and war-gaming simulations, and came to note amongst the Expansionists High Command after masterminding several audacious raids against what were supposed to be secure locations, in one case, hitting a centre of operations on the far side of the Moon. It was only luck - at least, so we thought at first - that they had only targeted the smallest and least important of the munitions and propellant dumps.

Nevertheless, it was enough for Lim to gain the trust of the Expansionist factions, and became privy to more and more of their secrets. In a dramatic climax - widely fictionalised in many media - she was revealed to be a deep mole; the near-failures of the Expansionists assaults on the Moon and elsewhere were exposed as deliberate misdirection. She escaped in a cobbled-together single-ship bringing with her the vital intelligence: the disposition of every single one of the enemy's hidden bases, on the asteroids in the Belt and elsewhere.

This trove of vital information was treated with a great deal of caution, even outright suspicion, at first especially as some of the locations were only rather approximately defined. But the first few exploratory raids, hitting the closest and most precisely identified locations, were unparalleled martial successes, wiping out entire orbiting fortresses with only minimal ship losses.

Trust in the database grow rapidly with each success, marred only slightly when Lim was killed, assassinated most unexpectedly only a few days after her arrival, with the assassin also dying in a hail of bullets and laser bolts. Later still, Sandra Lim eventually became possibly the most posthumously decorated person on the planet.

In the years and decades that followed, more and more elaborate raids and, later, outright assaults were undertaken. Oh, there were setbacks, even routs, at the hands of the Expansionists, but our victories far outnumbered the defeats. The rebels attempted to move their bases, to establish a foothold on previously unoccupied rocks, but their attempts were detected; they were harried mercilessly, beaten back on every side, foiled at every turn.

But, in the information delivered by Hero Lim, every single piece of data was proven true, every single habitat and asteroid and spaceship now tracked down and destroyed and ticked off the list. Except one, which we had persistently failed to find - until, perhaps, today.

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