Has it really been almost 20 Earth-years ago? Did we really drive the Rogons off? So much has happened since then. Here’s the official history by the council. Beyond that, what follows are the personal recollections of the colonists, the enemy, and others.
Colonist Diaries for Chapter:
As they made the walk up the ridge from the temporary landing field they crossed the road which looked down on the ruined center of Liberty Stuart spoke up. “Lt. could you give Commodore St. James and me some room?”
Taylor said not a word but moved over to start a conversation with Connor Benjamin. Looking back over her shoulder like she really wanted to be in this mix.
“Hunter,” said Andy, “you are going to catch some serious flak in this meeting. Just look around you and figure out why. The Civilians are not going to like you and they will not understand what happened. I am only going to ask one question. Could you have acted any sooner with a reasonable chance of success?”
The answer was oddly formal, “General Stuart, in my professional opinion, we went on our first viable chance! I haven’t had a chance to thank you for rescuing Guy Anselmo, I’m sure you have…debriefed him enough to realize just when I took over Command of the entire force; you might ask your council to count how many casualties you experienced after that date.”
Andy stared for several long minutes, “Good enough for me, now our problem is convincing our sheep. They are not going to understand why we of Strike Force are willing to go get your Families. They are not going to see that you got here the same way we did, you shot your way out from under tyrants. We are going to have a full link up with the caves so you and I will be facing the full colony.”
“Do you think that your young LT is good enough to sell a Special Ops Sneak Raid and what we are going to have to do to support her? Much as I hate it, the burden is going to fall on your people. If you can get past their immediate hate, I know how to get to Lester Reye. I have been saving it for 2 E-Years because I can only play it once. It will cause him to call for Elections and we don’t need that before the situation settles.”
Hunter took on a conspiratorial tone “Let’s not burn any bridges…I happen to have Richards Redmond’s personal database on what was known about those that were believed to be on the Mayflower. With the exception of Yourself those files are quite complete…I think most of your people have reasons of their own that could be used to persuade them to support a raid.”
Andy thought this over, they were almost to the doorway and would have to cut off this conversation ”Richard Redmond, curse his evil soul, would have more information than anyone of my career. Why not include me?” he asked.
“Just so,” said St James. “For you he didn’t need notes, let’s go inside.”
Andy stopped at the door and gestured, “After you Sir, get a drink fast!”
They quickly made their way through the entryway and two rooms and a short stairway later were in the underground briefing room which had been transformed with a bar in the corner. Jules Parker was handling the dispensing and keeping track of consumption. All of this was going to be needed to be paid for someday and though it might look like it was free that was far from the case. The stores at the First Inn were of course destroyed. Would this turn out like the American Revolution, a time when many a patriot ended up bankrupt due to the new governments failure to pay its bills? Even now the only thing which the government was not on the hook for was the bottle of Scotch, which Andy Stuart had put up.
“I know what you want Andy, but I don’t believe I know the gentleman with you,” Jules said.
There were a dozen colonists taking advantage of the few remaining minutes before the Executive Council meeting was to start; some standing some seated, and they all seemed to become quiet as soon as the two of them walked into the room.
“This could get ugly,” Andy thought before replying.
“Jules allow me to introduce Commodore Hunter St. James and LT Wendy Taylor. Commander and Intelligence Officer for the force that just shot the Rogons off of our ass. BTW have the twins driven Hanna crazy yet?”
“They are trying Andy, add in Ash and Kurt’s kids and she has her hands full. Of course a Grandmother just loves it no matter what she says.” Jules replied as he handed Andy a Triple Bourbon on the rocks. “And I believe you will be having the Scotch Commodore, what can I get you LT?”
“Make mine a Triple straight no ice please,” said St. James.
“I’ll pass for the moment,” said Taylor.
“Probably a good idea, to avoid our water until you can stay down here for a day or two,” Andy injected, “it has some interesting effects until you adapt to it. We had some people sleeping in the Rest Room on their first night of exposure. Your best bet is to get exposed by having ice in something 40 proof or better. You still get the Montezuma’s Revenge effect but it’s not as bad. Well let’s go find a seat so our Speaker can get started. BTW Hunter, you need not worry about bugs down here. I am sure you did scans of this place, you are inside that black hole that could not be penetrated. Nothing but filtered DC goes out of here any way but over a fiber optic interface.”
Lester’s dress and demeanor made him look every bit the mayor of a prosperous thriving community, as least one in farm country or on the frontier. He would start it out with a touch of fire and brimstone, then calm it down to a good hearted though harried neighbor. Once he would have been playing the role. Now it played him. At least he had a lectern and his gavel again. The essential tools of power, without which he felt naked.
A quick glance at the gathering and he located all those he had decided to call upon first in order to ensure the free and open democracy worked the way Andy and he decided it would. “But dammit! It was for their own good.” He knew it was true and hated himself the knowledge. One more search and he saw Bartlett standing against the wall near an entrance off to the side. His wife wasn’t with him. She had said she would sit this out, and wasn’t going to waste her time on a foregone conclusion. Well, foregone or not, time to get it moving.
Bang! Bang! And the session was underway. “My fellow Citizens, former Enemies, Spacers, and Guests,” the guest part was in reference to the two cold sleepers that Monroe and Natasi brought back with them. “We have won a great victory! Yes even for a former enemy commander such as Hunter St. James, the highest ranking surviving officer of those who would have enslaved us all, this was a victory. Because he, like we, got what he wanted and not what he had planned!”
Here Lester made a dramatic pause, this was being filmed by Laura Seaworth and at least the first part was fully scripted. “Freedom from the Rogon! But equally important, Freedom from the United Nations World Government!”
“Our Military forces have served our young Nation well, but now it is time to take these weighty matters off the shoulders of our warriors and place them in the hands of the people. Our first principle must always be Civilian Control of the Military!”
About two thirds of those present broke into a mild applause– for posterity that could be fixed on the sound track, but he had the numbers to carry the vote.
“We have three things we need to accomplish today. One, to ratify the terms of the truce General Stuart and Commodore St. James have entered into. Two, to authorize further military action; particularly a raid back to Earth. And three, to begin to decide the terms and conditions for accepting the former combatants and those still in cold sleep into our colony.”
“Before I open the floor to further debate, I would like to first invite General Stuart, and then Commodore St. James to make a few comments. Andy If you would go first?”
“Thank You, Les. I will ask Kara our Intelligence Officer to give a brief on our capabilities so that everyone actually knows what they are.”
Kara’s brief was an eye opener for more than just the newcomers. Almost no one in the colony outside of Strike Force knew that the System Drive included a Cloaking Mode. That had been a hard held secret since the first test flight. Coupled with the fact that the rail gun equipped vessels were going to discard the Flare gun in order to mount a second gun, making the Fighters as powerful as the Dancer had been in the first fight. Dr. Chandler had discovered a way to enter other space by projecting a energy pulse down the rail gun coils. There was a possibility that this newer less violent means of entry could reduce the harshest effects of BOD syndrome.”
“Thank you Kara. That fairly well covers capabilities. As to intents, we of the Military are Staffing plans to make a Covert raid on Earth. There are families and friends left behind there. Not to mention some resistance that lack the means to fight or flee. The plan we are contemplating is to try to get in and out totally unknown to either the Rogons or the UNWG.”
“Obviously we are no longer in a Defensive Engagement, thus the decision to actually attempt this raid is a Civilian decision. The Military has a duty to plan for everything, the Civil Government has to decide what we actually do.”
“Les, if there are no objections I would like to turn the floor over to Hunter St. James.”
Hunter expected the cold stares he received as he took the podium “I’d like to begin by thanking Council President Reye for his hospitality and General Stuart for the use of this fine facility. I’m glad Mr. Reye mentioned civilian control of the military because that is a subject that weighs heavy on the soul of a warrior.”
“History shows us many examples of soldiers who were lionized even though they brought their nations to utter destruction by following the orders of civilians and causes that were insane; Robert E. Lee and Isaroku Yamamoto to name two. History cast little praise for the general who takes matters into his own hands and disobeys orders.”
“I began my career some thirty years ago, absolutely dedicated to civilian control. Like many a soldier I found myself following civilian orders that were not to my liking. This occurred more and more until the UNWG decided to send me here. It become very hard to believe in civilian control of the military when that control wears the face of Richard Redmond. But I, like many others before me refused to see that following evil makes one evil.”
“Just before our war began a brave man pointed that out to me. That man was the first of us to rebel…Ambassador Trent Dickenson, and I believe you all saw his rebellion from start to finish.”
Through out the room facial expressions turned from stony calm to pale fear, as the memories returned. Several people abruptly made for the exits rather than loss their dignity by being sick in public.
Hunter waited a moment before continuing, ”I collected the few bones that were leftover of Ambassador Dickenson and have brought them here…I hope if we agree on nothing else you at least allow me to bury them on the world he gave his life trying to warn.”
Some of the faces now, both male and female were openly crying.
“But the death of that brave soul, was meant as a warning to us; It is not an easy thing to throw off Rogon chains. Let me show you something,” and with that Hunter removed a glass globe from his pocket and placed it on the podium, as if by magic a perfect image of a beautiful beach and three women appeared life size if front of the podium.
“This is my wife Sharon and our two daughters, these images were captured long after I left for your world, My Rogon Masters wanted to remind me of the price I would pay if I disobeyed.”
Everyone in the room was captivated by this the most perfect hologram they had ever seen; The smiling happy girls made everyone feel that same happiness, but the look on the face of the mother was different…it was the forced smile of someone with bad news trying not to frighten her children, the reason came as a sudden shock when the Rogon entered into view.
“That is the very same Rogon, I killed to earn my freedom, and the sacrifice I was prepared to make to regain my honor. When General Stuart offered to help me go back to Earth to save their lives and the lives of many others held as hostages, it was as if my life began anew.”
“This is a choice that you must make as free beings, fully informed. My position is obvious, for the basics of why we believe this will work and why we think it is in your best interests to approve this operation I will turn the presentation over to my Chief of Staff Lieutenant Wendy Taylor.”
There were no cold stares for the pretty young officer as she took the stage, “Let me first show you an aerial view of San Diego bay,” she began, a large high altitude image appeared on the screen. “Forgive me If I am explaining things that so many of you already know, but as you can see Coronado island occupies much of the western side of the bay. This island has been a military reservation for over 100 years although at one time about half the island was occupied by civilians. The causeway that runs along the western side of the bay was once continuous as well, both facts changed as a result of the US China War which I won’t bore you with details.”
“Currently the crater in the sea floor just south of the Island is spanned by a removable pontoon bridge. Coronado Island is an island of safety for the UN personal and dependents who live there. The entire southern California region is a vast sea of poverty, crime and often hostility to the UN.”
The people did not seem too bored by that so she went on “There is a sizable force of security personal on the island, our plan requires that we draw the guards away long enough to make our rescue attempt…If you will look at the southern end of the land bridge you will see an unusual cluster of buildings.”
Indeed there were a wide variety of strange towers and structures in that area.
“This is The UN Central cybernetics and communications base UNCCC for short, before you left UN communications were divided between this base and two large space stations in Earth orbit…however when the Rogons made their first approach to Earth they destroyed both satellites since then all UN Earth to space comm. traffic passes through this site in addition is the central hub of their computer net as well as the main data backup for the whole system.”
Again no one seemed lost, “It is our plan to stage a mortar attack on this base as a diversion to draw of the guards and while that’s happening we will snatch up the hostages…Now for some additional details.”
About 30 minutes later:
Connor Benjamin had been an enemy of the goonies for an awful long time. Now he was on the council and was not ready to leave the raid to others alone, “I have one more question, Miss Taylor, what will you do if any of your people are captured?”
Wendy was quick to answer, “Our security relies on the fact that we will be in Rogon ships and UN vehicles, our people will be wearing UN gear anyone who sees us will assume we are looking for the bad guys. Everyone landing on Earth will be current UN personnel.”
Connor stood up before speaking, “Well I can tell you one thing! You ain’t going without me!”
“Thats right Connor, but you are going to the belt with me not to Earth,” said Andy. “Wait before you sputter Connor. The intelligence we have compiled from the Lyon boy, the Dancer Crew, the sleepers from Palmtree and Ari; all tell us that the resistance has evacuated their non-combatants to a location in the belt.”
“That means mostly females who are not Jai Bejamins or Kat Jamos’s.” Predictably some wag cracked, “Or Fast Draw Mariana’s!” and another member of the peanut gallery quipped, gesturing towards Sinopa “Or our Queen of the Jungle!” Andy returned St. James’s puzzled look with a glance that clearly said, “I’ll explain later.”
“Yeah smart alecs; Connor who are those people going to trust. The SOCOM killing machine that took down 5488, the Butcher of Ceres or the man whose family was the political heart of the original resistance?”
Connor’s mouth moved for a full moment with no words actually coming out then, “Andy you Son of a-”
“Connor, kids in the room.”
Connor looked sheepish, “OK I’ll save it to later. But, you are right, I’m going to the belt.”
The last thing that Ari had expected was to be summoned to Ft. Stuart, nor to be directed to the Office of General Stuart by a Bot calling himself SFC Nug.
“Come in Cpl. If you drink the Bar is in the back right corner if not, the Coffee and Tea is in the back left corner. Pick your poison and have a seat.”
Ari bowed slightly to the General, then looked over the beverage choices. As he mused over the eclectic collection of home-brewed alcohols, he considered what he’d heard about the aftermath of the Company’s Tennessee operation: most of the troops got far too wasted on the fumes, even for the UNWG standards. Not wanted to be rendered impaired for the interrogation he knew was coming, Ari selected a variety of teas. Mentally grinning at the bloody murder his aunt – a tea aficionado – would have been screaming for the offense, he blended them together, and set the cup to steep on the edge of the General’s desk as he sat down.
“OK Cpl, what I have here is a massive contradiction staring at me in these records. On the one hand I have a massive career frack up, who just managed not to get clapped in irons or busted out; coupled with an intelligence that kept getting him sent to school after school. The pattern being you would manage to get busted out just before getting the rating but, not before you had time to learn the trade.
“Add that to Robert telling tales about how you got busted a couple of times for defending your troops but, never made a friend with any of them. Then there is Connor telling me about how the old Desert Warriors worked, never knew that even though I fought alongside one once.
“Then there is also this,” Andy said reaching into a drawer and pulling out Ari’s sidearm. It was in a new speed rig of a leather that Ari did not recognize. “IMI Jericho in .40 S&W, damn fine fine weapon. The Baby Eagle was as tough as they came and reliable as a rock; put it in .45 ACP and I would carry it. Thing is that it dammed sure ain’t UNWG issue and is a crime to carry because of the IMI markings. The rig is a gift from Jai Benjamin, she has better these days.
“Now, you may not know that I was an SFC when we launched Second Tehran out of Jerusalem and a full Bird Col when we took down asteroid 5488. I have seen, served with or Commanded every brand of Military Frack Up that ever existed. You strike me as only one of two types.
“You are either a deep cover Intelligence plant or the poor low level Op who got caught in a draft sweep trying to stay alive. In either case you have been using the borderline frack up cover to stay the hades out of leadership positions that might get you noticed. Take your sidearm and try to explain which you are.
Ari reached forward, taking the cup of tea rather than reaching for the sidearm. After taking a sip, he held the cup as if warming his hands. “Only two types, General? Surely there are other combinations you could think of.” He then help up his hand to forestall any reply. “My apologies. It comes naturally now, the casual insubordination to authority. Surely Abba would not have let me out of his tent without learning proper manners and deference – even if such civilized behavior would have me killed by those eben ahbés ruling and raping haEretz.”
He smiled, then looked the General in the eye. “Generaal, my father, my Abba, has been fighting the enemies of our people for as long as I was old enough to begin to understand. To outsiders, we are as one would expect; those expecting semi-literate Muslim Bedouin nomads, we are. Those expecting Israeli Bedu, staunch defenders of freedom, we are. Those rare few expecting us as we are, find us as Adonai would hope to, albeit wearing a guise that would fool those not looking beyond the obvious. After all,” he chuckled, “it’s not every Bedu tribe that recited the Sh’ma thrice daily. If you don’t know the language, you’d never know.”
Ari set the half-full cup on the desk, taking the holstered weapon from the other side. “I would not have taken this immediately; as you have said, I could have been a plant. I was very young when I saw how Abba treated one. It was quite a while before I could run the errands to the Shochet for cuts of steak and veal. I expected you may have had similar precautions taken.” He shoved the whole rig into an empty cargo pocket. “I appreciate the gift, and shall endeavor to repay the kindness.”
“I was sent, when I was of age, to the Netherlands, where Ema was raised. That is not in my ‘official’ dossier, nor my degrees in economics, as we worked to keep those out of sight of any overly inquisitive power-that-be. And, using Ema’s maiden name, none of the functionary schlemiels thought to put the two together. I then ended up in the UNWG forces for three reasons: the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was remiss in supplying recruits, Bedu, Philistine, and otherwise; Mossad needed another contact and information source ‘inside’ – so far as I could glean from Abba; and Abba thought it was a good idea, so long as I didn’t get caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Then again, the way Abba acted, he might very well have been the actual Mossad chief. Am I a ‘pool low level Op;’ perhaps, though only because I can read between the lines and know that I do not know much of the organization – by design. Am I ‘deep cover? Yes, absolutely. As for the rank… I did hold the rank of Technical Sergeant for all of,” he paused, calculating, “four months, twenty-seven days, three hours, and one really creative insult to a Captain that unfortunately understood Arabic.”
“About what I figured,” Andy grinned, “so what I need is a guy who can play a punishment detail carpenter going into Coronado North Housing to do some repair work. We are going to Covert Insert and Extract from Earth with some serious Precious Cargo. So are you ready to do some thing really stupid mashoo Benzona?”
Ari chuckled. “I do have to report in. It’s been years, and I really should see how Bubbie and Zaydeh are doing. Count me in – so long as I can do a long distance call at the very least. A personal visit would be better, though.”
Andy grinned, “I think we can get you that phone call at least. As a matter of fact, it might even help. What you need to do now is wander downstairs and find LTC Jai Benjamin, you have not met her so ask around. She will be the one pouring over maps of Coronado. She also has an Ingram we conned out of Hunter, it’s a lower profile that our CAW’s. Get out to the range and get qualified with it, get with Walt about a concealment rig for the Jericho. UN LT Benjamin is going to be your Escort Officer to do a little infiltration. Details to follow.
“Welcome to Alchibah and Strike Force. ”
“Todah rabah.” Ari stood, collecting his now-empty cup. “One last thing – I’d like to register a complaint about all of the pistol barrels my nose has been introduced to since arriving here.”
“Well Ari, do try not to show up in the Uniform of the assholes who are trying to shoot up the place and it might go easier. As a partial apology I will just say, consider what we were feeling about that time.
“On the other hand when you are not undercover from now on you will be wearing Black and Silver; if someone outside our group pulls a gun on you, don’t blink!”
He deposited the cup back with the tea service and stepped out of the office. “Oh, sorry, Generaal,” Ari turned, waived the barest of salutes, and wandered off.
Kat thought the wormhole was no fun. Ash had explained how the shield was going to interact, “He thought”; it was worse. The heat was higher yet not critical, the problem was that in cloak mode she had no idea who had made it or where they were.
The cloak obviously worked for they were by the observation shell the UNWG or the dammed Rogons had put up. She was drifting in at, to her a comfortable 2 G’s perceived; which was now 200 G’s real was someone else’s problem.
Finally she was far enough in system and in open space that she could drop cloak and shed heat. In mere moments four more MK V-A’s appeared to her Alchibah grade sensors. They had all made it, Kat looked at her right seat and asked, “You ready for it Connor?”
From the jump seat came the disgruntled voice of Connor Benjamin, “I should be going down there or Emon at least.”
Gaberial Benjamin rumbled from the right seat, “Brother one more time. No one goes down there that is on the UN watch list. Jai is clean, we are not and no we can’t take anymore space more than that absolutely necessary for crew. We are here to haul Belters home.”
Connor grumped, “Has Andy been coaching you on what to say?”
Gabe turned and beamed at him, “Of course, that and Histy!”
“Shooter to borrow a phrase of yours, I will be double dipped in shit. Our accounts are still there,” was Mariana’s stunned statement.
“Of course,” said Andy, “it’s a honey trap looking for activity. That’s why you have to make it look like the Resistance got in and stole it. This whole thing is supposed to look like it is a cover for this transaction.
“We wait till we are sure Ash is safe and ready to ride cover for you. 450 million New Credit’s moving have to get their attention, you know we could have stayed there and lived well?”
Mariana’s face was stunned, “Yes and died childless and in chains. I did not marry the man who would have stood for that! Nor did you marry a woman who would sit around a twiddle her thumbs all day.”
The communication system chimed on the new secure crypto channel, “Ready when you are Big Sis!”
Andy glanced across the cockpit, “When was the last time I told you I love you? Now go mess with the system and give us the first layer of cover. Got the shopping list ready?”
“Damn Skippy, this time I get me a full Level 5 Lab,” Mariana grinned.
Andy grinned, “Just don’t forget my Molecular Beam Epitaxy gear. Hell, send the rest of the dough to the resistance accounts. Hunter is due with those Dragon Heads in 10 minutes.”
Mariana began a frantic stream of keyboard commands tied into the System Economic Network. A fortune began to flow into dubious accounts that were linked to the Alliance of Free States, courtesy of Connor Benjamin. UNWG scanner Bots and some on shift Humans tried to interfere; they were stopped cold by the uber hacker Ashcroft Andrews. The entire UNWG security network went on alert 180 degrees away from where they were going.
Andy had sent a bank draft and a letter to a Private Investigator recommended by Connors friends. The reply was very promising:
Jason York is a “Person of Importance” to the Alliance of Free States. As such he is watched wherever he is. Expect confirmation of whereabouts in 4 to 8 hours.
Andy could live with that.
Shifting channels Andy spoke to Connor and Ari, “OK, Connor get through to the Alliance and see what they have for cleaner bank accounts than what we have. Ari see if your Abba has a clean account, we can send his group 30 million or so.
“Then Connor get on the belters channels and find out where we pick up the non-combatants Break; Larry you make it?”
“Yeah Andy, we are here but I am not taking the Galileo out of cloak till we are ready to make the pick up. We are big enough to be seen even out here.”
“Sounds good Larry, we have plenty of time. Let’s stay cool, get everything set up and have you on your way back in plenty of time for us to make Hunter’s schedule. We have a couple of days to kill anyway. Let the BOD shock wear off.”
UN Space Traffic Control
Quito Ecuador 17:00
The screen began flashing with two unknowns approaching high and from the south; a second later the icons changed identifying both intruders as Rogon Dragon ships.
The operator turned to the watch officer, “Shall I challenge them for Ident, and clearance?”
“Why bother? They won’t answer, and we won’t send interceptors against Rogons.” He looked at the course projection intersecting Mexico City, “Just more snakes going to the bullfights…turn off the alert.”
Dragonhead #10 Revenge
The Mexican coast was coming up fast in the viewport. Hunter St. James turned to the man in the medical assistance chair, who was also steering the ship, “Ok Guy, make your turn and take her as low as you can.”
“Aye Aye! My Capitan and thank you,” came the Spaniards gentle reply.
“Nonsense Lieutenant, no-one in the Navy has more low level flight time over Baja than you; just try not to kill too many fish.”
Jai Benjamin gave the Commodore a quizzical look.
Hunter St James explained, “I met Lieutenant Anselmo, when I did a tour as C.O. of the fighter wing at Luna base. I soon found out that Mr. Anselmo doesn’t like his head any further off the ground when he flies, then it is when he walks. Every time he flew down here, his bird would come back smeared with pasted fish.”
Guy was not bothered by his Captain’s joke. He was a man blessed by God with a new life. Guy loved to fly, and for all its 200 meter length and bulk, the Dragonhead flew just like a fighter.
The two ugly vessels raced up the Gulf of California barely a hundred meters above the water. When they reached Estrella, the ships crossed over land and flying just over the crest of the mountains, directly into the setting sun, soon came to rest in the surf by a desolate beach beneath towering cliffs, a little south of Ensenada.
The big cargo doors in the flat tail of each ship quickly disgorged two UN combat hovercraft, all of which were soon seen departing towards the North.
One of the aforementioned vehicles peeled off, and headed into the Ensenada docks, but the three others continued north at close to 200 kilometers an hour. It was not long before they made landfall and proceeded at a slower rate up the banks of the Tijuana River.
A couple kilometers inland the last in line briefly stopped beside an old rusted fence line, as it sped away to catch the others, it could be seen that three people now stood in the desolate bush. A more out of place group would be hard to imagine, as this trio consists of a man and women in UN Navy dress uniforms, and another man in the coverall of a UN mechanic.
Nothing was said as the man in coveralls removed tools from his bag and quickly cut away a section of fencing. All three walked across the empty zone that once had been a landing strip.
The rating on duty at the Diversity Beach service and support center’s motor pool did not expect any visitors tonight. He quickly put away the pictures he had been looking at when the man walked in “My god, it’s a full Captain” he thought, for in fact he had not seen a full Captain in years; his hastily executed salute was sloppy at best.
The Officer in question wanted a staff car and a utility vehicle and his charge codes were good, no one questions Political Directorate needs.
In the bush southwest of Diversity City
The three hover craft had settled into a grassy area next to a line of gnarly trees. Several scraggly looking youths had been occupying the field but took off running when they saw the armored hovercraft.
Lew DeWalt surveyed the field. “What do you think top sergeant…will those punks report us?” He asked the iron jawed older man.
“Right Major, they’ll run right to the cops and complain how the goonies ran them off their illegal drug crop.”
Both men had a brief chuckle, but there was little time for that.
“OK let’s get those one-twenties set up!” There was a flurry of activity as the men and women in UN combat armor got to work.
United Nations Central Cybernetics and Communications
The guard on duty at the main desk, raised his eyebrows when he saw the tall man in full dress uniform enter the lobby, “Wow a full Captain” He thought “Been a while since I’ve seen one of those, and look at all those ribbons.”
The Captain stopped at an authorization terminal and began entering passwords, the guard monitored the process on his screen, and everything was good… “Oh Political Directorate, so the uniform and ribbons were fake! Damn PD bastard!” The guard looked away as the man in question proceeded into the building.
Hunter St. James had been here years before, and the layout hadn’t changed much, he quickly found an alcove on the main gallery with a private terminal and set to work.
Removing from his briefcase a memory module he logged on, using one of Richard Redmond’s codes and began an automatic search and download program to pull all the files from the UN system that were on the must have list. All data on the Rogons, Rogon-tech, the resistance, and Alchibah, for starters.
He then inserted a program wafer and toggled the run key. Within seconds every computer on the UN secure net was sent a message:
ATTENTION ALL USERS A MANDATORY SYSTEM RESTORE AND UPGRADE WILL TAKE PLACE AT 21:00 ALL ACTIVE SYSTEMS WILL BEGIN BACKUP DATA TRANSFER
THIS EMERGENCY MEASURE IS TO PROTECT THE SYSTEM FROM THE ORION WORM.
“OK got some time to kill, let’s monitor local security comms,” he thought.
North Island Secure Housing Complex
The UN police officer on duty at the night gate was surprised to see the utility vehicle approach. Maintenance never made calls after dark; he’d have to check this one out.
The first surprise was the pretty young Ensign with the Shore Patrol arm band driving, he was about to ask for ID when the passenger spoke up.
“Hey Dean-O! Remember me? How’s about a big kiss meshogah?”
The lady officer was obviously, a little ticked. “So my charge is a friend of yours, officer?”
“No ma’am! That dirt bag used to work around here a few years ago, I know him, but he’s no friend of mine!”
This seemed to relax the lady a little, “Well that’s one good thing, now we have to make a repair run for some bitch with enough clout to get her doorknob replaced at 7 at night, so let’s get jumpin.”
Officer Dean snapped a crisp salute even though, being a civilian, he wasn’t required to. “Yes ma’am, proceed,” as they drove off he couldn’t decide if he felt sorry for her…or jealous of him.
Jaisa Benjamin was nervous as she knocked on the apartment door, “If I blow this, everything will be ruined.” She thought, “I’m a fighter jock not a spy.”
The door opened and an attractive woman with dishwater blond hair opened the door. If she was surprised to see a shore patrol officer and a handy man, she gave no indication. Jai spoke up, “Mrs. St James, I have an important message for you, can we please come in?”
Sharon St. James heart gave a little flutter, but no, this was not that message, she opened the door wide to admit her unexpected guests. If she was surprised to see the man take out a bug detector and begin scanning her apartment, again she said nothing.
Jai was quick to begin, “Ma’am I work for your husband…I have a message.”
Sharon cut her off, “My husband is an awful long way from here young lady…”
Jai interrupted. “No he’s not, he’s only a few miles from here, he gave me this,” and she opened her hand to reveal a strange object.
It was an ancient Chinese coin, the kind with a hole in it. Sharon took it and looked at it closely. Jai couldn’t wait. “He said to tell you…Cherry Blossom!”
Sharon stood frozen for a moment. “Excuse me please.” She walked to the doorway of the next room, where her twin daughters were lounging on the floor, watching tri-vee. “Girls! Evac Code Red… this is real…move!” she said in a voice that would do a drill sergeant proud. The girls jumped up and raced to their rooms.
Sharon St. James had followed her man many places, Belgium, The Moon, Ecuador even Mars, and Hunter had taught his family one thing…when the locals started acting up…be ready to run…fast! Sharon had a bag packed in her closet; she added a few items from her dresser and pocketed the 9mm automatic from under her pillow. She then rejoined Jaisa and Ari in the main room.
“When are we leaving?” she asked.
“Actually we have about an hour,” Jai answered. “But, well…I have a list,” Jai handed the paper over to the older woman.
Sharon looked it over quickly, “These are the expedition families,” she said. “OK this will take some doing, toughest first.” The two sisters entered the room wearing rugged clothes, hiking boots and carrying backpacks. “Girls go to aunt Carmen’s and run Evac Code Red on her and those kids…and if Carmen makes a fuss tell her it’s my orders!” The girls raced out the door.
“Now let’s see…I need Teresa DeWalt to get the new families together.” She reached for the phone “Honey why don’t you and your aide sit down and have a cup of tea?”
A few minutes later Sharon looked at Jai, “You’re one of the rebels aren’t you?”
Jaisa couldn’t lie to this woman “No Ma’am, not anymore, I am a citizen of Alchibah,” was all she could say.
But Sharon had another question, “Will my daughters like your world?”
Jai was on firmer ground with this one. “I think so…my little sisters love it…we’re free.”
Chula Vista Mexifornian Republic
The delivery van driving through the parking lot of Julio’s Mini Mart, barely stopped as the doors popped open and a large object thudded to the ground.
As the van sped away the man in the shotgun turret on top could see a crowd was already forming.
In this neighborhood, anything unusual was a cause for celebration, and this was better than most. A big piece of sewer pipe with a manhole cover welded to one end and a couple old fence poles for legs at the other. No-body knew what to do with it but everybody wanted to take it home. A couple fights soon broke out, and the children began a game trying to roll the thing around on its base.
The local police patrol soon had the scene under observation, but from a safe distance. These officers knew better than to get involved with something like this, especially when the warehouse across the street was the clubhouse for one of the most dangerous criminal gangs in North America.
United Nations Central Cybernetics and Communications
Explosions had begun to rock the base a few minutes before, it took the shocked security detail several minutes to realize they were being hit by heavy mortars, but once they did they immediately called for help.
Hunter St. James placed a hold on the security alert, a few quick modifications and out it went.
The security police on Coronado received orders to pull all officers from their posts and proceed to UNCCC, ASAP, to confront an approaching mob of looters. The bridge across the Coronado Crater was to be retracted behind them in order to secure the Island. Within a few minutes UN police cars began speeding over the bridge and down the causeway. By 19:45 the bridge was slowly swinging aside.
North Island Secure Housing Complex
The calls were all made; Jai and Sharon were finishing their tea when Ari’s scanner started beeping. “Someone’s tapping the phone now?” asked Jai.
“Hmmm…no, some one,s accessing the call logs, someone local… they’re on to us,” said Ari.
“Who? The police?” asked Sharon.
“No, the cops should be gone, but a third of the people living on this Island are UN civilian workers, probably some PD spies in the bunch. We gotta move, they’ll be here any minute.”
Sharon grabbed an old field jacket with commanders insignia on it. “We have to stop them before the families start to move, we can’t risk the children.”
They all left the apartment and started down the stairs. “Just let me handle this,” said Ari. “I’m a soldier and we train for this kinda thing.”
When they reached the lobby they could see two shapes approaching through the glass door.
“Sharon over there,” Jai pointed. “Make a call.” Beside the open doorway to the building managers office was a directory and a phone for visitors. Sharon made herself look busy, as the men opened the doors.
“Corporal! One more insolent word out of your mouth and you’ll be back in the brig so fast your shadow will rate flight pay!” Jai blasted the hapless handyman before pretending to notice the intruders, “Hey! Who the frack are you?”
The men wore dark suits and were obviously armed, one with a 3 barrel shotgun, and the other with a machine pistol. Both weapons were in hip level firing positions.
“We’re UN Political Directorate agents,” the talker said. “Now put your hands up and show some I.D.”
Ari’s hand was in his tool bag ready to pull out the Ingram 15. “Need a distraction” he thought “so I can make my move.”
“My hands are up and this is all the I.D. I need!” Said Jai, pointing to the SP arm band on her left arm.
“Great,” thought Ari. “Everyone’s a showoff.” The PD goons eyes shifted towards Sharon, Ari followed their gaze to see a man stepping out of the offices with a pistol in hand. Ari started to draw his Ingram.
Crack! Crack! The silenced rounds were loud enough from 2 foot away. Jai was standing with arm outstretched, and a small Stainless Steel .45 in her hand. Ari looked back at the goons.
It takes three eights of a second for a dead man to fall, one was almost to the floor, and the other was halfway there.
Ari glanced back at Sharon…Her left hand was gripping the wrist of the mysterious stranger, her right, held a small black automatic pressing into the man’s eye socket. His pistol was sliding across the floor.
Jai stood at raised pistol. Ari could see her holster was not empty, “Corporal” she began…
Ari interrupted, “Hey, so I blinked!”
Jai was all business. “We don’t have time to waste. Get their guns and Idents,” she ordered.
Sharon had released her prisoner. “Mr. Winters you shouldn’t work late so much. Now, if anyone ever finds out you were here…they will lock you up for the rest of your life, trying to make you tell them things you don’t know. Maybe you should go home.” The man scurried away.
Jai scanned the Idents into her wrist-comp. “We’ll send these to the boss,” she said. “Now let’s get moving.”
United Nations Central Cybernetics and Communications
Hunter got the message from Jaisa, “I can make this fit,” he thought.
For the last twenty minutes he had been sending messages to various locations throughout the UN network. In the weeks to come, investigators would find clues, a printout here, a pay voucher there, pieces to the puzzle of the disappearances on Coronado Island.
He began to work, when the police investigators examined the crime scene they would find messages on the phones of the dead. Messages from UN Political Directorate; Orders to kill Sharon St. James and the other expedition families; and a warning that UN Internal Affairs was on to the plot, and protecting the families.
Evidence of a conspiracy would emerge, not enough evidence to convict, just enough to turn the bureaucrats against each other.
In the air over the bay
The head of the San Diego SWAT team could see the fires from the UN base…about 20 buildings were ablaze, maybe another twenty smaller fires. He knew where he would put mortars to hit those targets. As the armored air car angled down towards the Tijuana River, he examined his low light monitor. “Well…well…” he said to his pilot. “It looks like some UN heavies are already sweeping the most likely site, try swinging back around towards Chula Vista. We’ll look there.”
North Island Secure Housing Complex
They came one family at a time, with Terry DeWalt driving one big group at the end, but they all came. Sharon checked off the last just as the two hovercraft could be seen approaching up Alameda Avenue. She turned to Jai Benjamin, “Except for old Mrs. Guyton, who’s passed, and Becky DeSantos who’s shacked up with a plumber in Del Mar, everyone’s here.”
When the ramps dropped, some UN troopers jumped off and headed for the infirmary.
“We need medical supplies,” explained Jai.
“Good thinking,” said Sharon “You!” she said pointing at Ari. “Walk over there to the commissary and open that door. All the babysitters, over here!” Sharon was waving in some of the young women not busy with children. “We need diapers, baby food, some paper towels…and pick up some wine, you got 10 minutes.”
There were blankets and foam pillows in the craft; they began settling the women with babies in first. Teresa DeWalt made an art of placing families like she was making a flower setting. The soldiers were coming back from the infirmary carrying packing case with a couple young nurses tagging along. The corporal in charge smiled sheepishly at Sharon. “They want to come along ma’am,” Sharon motioned them aboard.
Ari and his little bunch came back with 6 shopping carts full of stuff and began to unload them. “Push the carts on board and pull up the ramp, wherever we’re going, I’ll bet they need more shopping carts.”
Jaisa was grateful and impressed by how smooth everything had gone. “You can sit up on the command deck, if you like ma’am,” she said.
“Thank you, but I’ll ride in back with my people.” As the craft crossed the beach and began racing south, Sharon hugged her daughters close.
15 hours earlier
The young man sleeping in the chair shivered under the heavy blankets that covered him, a moment later he was awake and cast the blankets off, before standing up fully clothed. The room was small, and lit only by the light streaming in through the window. Garish light from a big neon billboard advertising something he was neither wealthy, nor degraded enough to purchase.
He looked out to the street, “Damn…snow again”, he said to himself. His boss would be mad because he expected Jace to come in early when it snowed, not that he paid any extra. Jace looked at the two teenage girls sleeping in the bed. “Girls that age shouldn’t have to sleep together,” he thought, but there was only one bed, and the twins were keeping each other warm, their sleeping faces, barely visible behind the fur edges of their new red parkas. Reno was an easy place to make a living; Jace worked two, three, sometimes four jobs to make ends meet. He just wished he could afford to pay for a little heat up here. Maybe he should cook up the rest of the beans and rice, so the girls would have something to eat before school. A little heat from the sterno would be nice.
The girls had been taken in by the Mormon school. The Mormons gave the girls their new parkas, school clothes, and fed them at school. Every once in a while when things got real tight, one of the Elders would show up and help Jace.
Jace knew the Mormons must be part of the resistance; they were helping because Jace’s parents had been part of the resistance too. The Elders never said a word about it, but Jace knew.
The picture on the table was of a pretty brown haired girl; Emily’s parents, the Parkers, must have been with the resistance too…”Fools! Dreamers and fools,” he thought, “all that talk about freedom, they threw away everything.”
They’d been rich, he didn’t know it then, but a home in Canoga Park was way beyond the means of most people. He and Emily had secretly gotten married; they were going to spend their lives together…until that day.
He’d been at school, when he got a call from his mother. “Grab your sisters and come home right away,” she’d said. “We’re going on a trip with the Parkers.”
But when Jace got home, his house was surrounded by police…UN police. He hid the girls with some neighbors, and they ran for awhile…but they got caught. 6 months in a detention center and then out on the street, with just one word, their parents were dead…dead fools.
He looked at the picture again; Jace had tried many times to forget her, once for almost 10 full seconds, but it was hopeless. After 5 years he still didn’t want to talk to other girls.
The phone rang…”It’s 5 o’clock nobody would call me at this time,” he thought. “Hello.”
“Is this Jason York?” a man’s voice asked.
“Yes,” Jace didn’t recognize the voice.
“Jason York, who used to live in Canoga Park?” the voice asked again.
“Yes that’s me.” Jace was getting a bad feeling.
“Did you once give a girl a memory chip necklace? A Toshiba Forget-me-not?”
Jace was angry. “Who are you? What do you want?”
The voice took on a fatherly tone, “Relax son, the girl got safely to where she was going, even though you couldn’t follow…until now, are you willing?”
The voice in Jace’s mind was screaming “No! No! No!” but it was the voice from his heart that answered “Yes, just tell me what to do.”
“Who is with you?” asked the phone.
“Just my sisters,” said Jace.
“And your parents?”
“No, they’re gone,” said Jace.
“Do you have traveling money?” was the next question. Jace’s hopes began to crumble, “No.”
“Be at the Butch Cassidy 2nd National Bank in Carson City when they open. Tell the manager who you are, he’ll have money and instructions, follow the instruction exactly.” And the phone went dead.
Mo’s Diner Diversity Beach Pier
They had taken the bullet train to San Diego, and then a tube car to Diversity Beach. They’d made it to this lousy little diner at the end of this crappy pier before sundown …just as instructed. They’d been waiting almost three hours now, and the place closes at 9…15 minutes from now. They had a meal…then desert… then ice cream, and now coffee. The twins were so sugared up, they were giggling and being silly.
“I’m a fool!” Jace thought. “A stupid dreamer just like my parents,”
There were men out on the pier…cruel looking men. Jace could probably out run them, or dive in the water and swim; but the twin girls in the new red coats and shiny school shoes wouldn’t outrun anyone. So Jace would have to fight and die for chasing a stupid dream.
The door opened and a man walked in, “It’s worse,” Jace thought.
The man was tall and wore some fancy uniform with the UN Logo prominent on his chest. The holster at his side contained the biggest pistol Jace had ever seen. At least the girls became silent because both of them were terrified of anyone in a UN uniform.
“Jason York,” he said, as he handed Jace a photo. The photo was of a pretty girl with long brown hair sitting in a chair, she held a baby in each arm and was smiling brightly. “They’re your children, Jace… are you ready to go meet them?”
The angry eyed men outside pretended not to watch as Jace and the girls followed the tall man with the gun, down a set of stairs to the water. A moment later, a strange craft approached and they were pulled inside. There was barely room, as the inside compartment was full of big men in UN combat gear, or almost, because suddenly the twins were surrounded by women in UN combat gear, hugging and comforting them. Jace ended up sitting on a crate in the packed little ship.
The soldiers were telling jokes and smiling, a few bottles of liquor were passing around. Jace had never seen happy soldiers before. Someone handed him a cigarette and lit it for him.
Jace took a long pull and closed his eyes, and then for the first time in all these years, he prayed to God, asking forgiveness for his loss of faith. It had taken a while, but God had sent an angel.
United Nations Central Cybernetics and Communications
The chief system administrator was puzzle by what he saw on his screen. Half the base was on fire and it had taken him 30 minutes to get through all the extra security, but the attack had not touched the network hub. He just couldn’t understand what this “Orion Worm” was supposed to be.
The upgrade and restore program was standard UN protocol; every computer was required to make an encrypted backup and then destroy all other restore points. The memory image tables along with the encryption keys were sent to UNCCC. Then at intervals every system would have its’ memory wiped and replaced by UNCCC, with verified image tables and keys that would clear the backup files of viruses.
But this program seemed to have a defrag/reformat command built in and he couldn’t trace the routing of the backup keys. And one other thing, it had Political Directorate written all over it.
Chula Vista Mexifornian Republic
Estevan Gonzales was a fourth generation San Diego cop and after 32 years on the force, he was the third highest ranking officer. So he didn’t care what the Chief, the Mayor, or any of those news clowns said. He knew his first job was to keep this mess from getting any worse.
It started when that fat ass from SWAT reported mortars set up in the Vista, after local patrols had already verified them as fakes. Then about 300 car loads of UN police had converged on the scene with orders to apprehend and interrogate all suspects.
So now a thousand plus goonie cops were surrounded by about a 100,000 rioting vatos, and screaming for help. There is just something in a man that when he see’s the police makes him want to rob the local grocery.
From his command vehicle at Broadway and H Street, Estevan could monitor the surveillance cameras and direct his officers around the edges to stop the spread. Over a million surveillance cameras protected the country and every public safety organization was equipped with a wide array of integrated voice, video, and data communication systems to give law enforcement the edge over the mob.
And spread it will if those stupid tri-vee reporters keep making up stupid police brutality stories and other lies. If it doesn’t stop soon, by morning the riots will be all the way to Sacramento.
And the only thing that can stop this quick is a Brigade of Peaceforcers. God, he hated to call in the UN heavies; he loved these people, but they’d gone a little too far and now they were gonna get stomped.
And the surveillance cameras, police radios, telephones tri-vees, and everything electronic went dead…everywhere.
UN Space Traffic Control
Quito Ecuador 21:00
Quito Control monitored all space traffic over the western hemisphere. Anything out of the ordinary would rise to the attention of the operators.
One operator was scrutinizing two small vessels making a nearly vertical descent towards Mexifornia. The transponders were from Luna Aluminum and Tin, but that made no sense.
Suddenly all screens went black! The watch officer tried to switch to the backup…but there was no backup. The World was blind.
40 All news channels all in homes all over North America
The average household in North America has the tri-vee on 12.7 hours a day. On this particular day 137 million people were watching some kind of live action coverage of the events in San Diego. Oddly enough, no one had mentioned that the buildings set on fire by anti-Rogon terrorists, were located on a UN base.
The system that delivered this vast array of entertainment, news, and culture to the masses, was itself quite simple. All the signals were beamed up to satellites in orbit and then relayed back down to local networks. This way a few monitoring computers could insure that the people didn’t receive any misinformation.
And then every station went off the air.
Luna City The Moon
Luna Pilot 05:00 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)
24 Rogon Battleships orbited the Moon, appearing on the radar like beads on a string. Each one followed the one ahead, by exactly 100 Kilometers…normally that was. This morning the 4th in line had pulled up and fallen back in orbit, to begin final approach with number 15.
The Rogons barely kept a minimum crew on board, but for some reason, had decided that the 15th ship needed some huge part from the 4th. And so this ponderous maneuver was taking place.
The controllers at Luna Pilot were nervous but not especially so. The Rogon vessels had excellent maneuvering drives and their autopilots responded instantly to every course and position update.
The final decel would take place when the two ships were 1000 meters apart and approach velocity was 100 meters/second. They would end up motionless relative to each other, at a distance of 500 meters.
And all systems failed.
The Rogons on board the converging ships didn’t realize until too late that something was wrong. In panic, the lower ship activated its main drive, which was exactly the worst thing to do.
Two 55 million ton ships collided at a hundred meters a second. The shock of impact killed every creature on board both ships, and then as they ground themselves into a single mass, began to pick up speed on a course to disaster.
Ensenada Mexico 21:15
The first hovercraft had been back for an hour, but it had only gone to pick up cargo shipped to an Ensenada warehouse. Cargo and hovercraft had already been loaded when the next two arrived.
As they pulled up on the sand, the ramps dropped, and soon women and children began pouring out. The crews began working to get the craft aboard.
Almost 90 civilians were gathered together beneath the tails of the big Rogon ships. Most had asked no questions when told to pack their most valuable possessions and get ready to move out. The Alchibah expedition families were a community within the greater military dependent population, and they trusted Sharon St. James as the wife of the senior officer. That was the way it had worked for centuries, but the Rogon ships had everyone frightened.
Jaisa Benjamin was trying to figure out how to get these scared people on board, when the last hovercraft came roaring up onto the beach and came to a stop in the flood light beams of the loading gate. When the ramp dropped, the first ones out were a shabbily dressed young man and two pretty girls in red coats and school uniforms underneath. As the three civilian led a procession of UN troops out of the craft, everyone’s attention was drawn to the girls as they walked up and stood directly in front of the St. James twins.
Two sets of twins of about the same age, stood and stared at each other in wide eyed amazement.
“It must come as a shock to find out you’re not the only person who keeps a spare around.” Sharon whirled at the sound of that voice and stepped into her husbands embrace. After a moment when she needed to breathe, she said, “I don’t know how you got here, and I don’t know where you’re going, but from now on we’re going together.”
Teresa DeWalt had let go of her son long enough for his sister Linda to give him a big hug. She looked around; not everyone was reunited with their loved ones here on the beach, but those who weren’t had figured out they soon would be.
“Well,” she thought. “Time to get this show on the road.” Terry put two fingers in her mouth and let out a shrill whistle. “You can do all that hugging and kissing when we’re on the ship, so start moving!”
Two Dragonhead’s rose from the Pacific and made course for deep space at max acceleration and no one even noticed.
Behind them the Murgo Point Orbital Defense Station and the UNCCC, disappeared in the appearance of a Nuclear Strike as four 5 CM .7C penetrators impacted the base rock of the two widely separated sites. The UNWG would spend 25 years and untold billions trying to detect Radiation that was not there.
Kat Jamos and Summer Pierce pulled out of their follow up runs and headed to rendezvous with the Task Force ships, as they watched Ghost and Reaper ravage the entire Clark Orbit. Laughing over the short comm Kat asked, “Any bets on them missing anything?”
“Nope,” Summer laughed, “geosynchronous is full of so much dust the UNWG don’t dare launch up there. Let’s catch up and go home!”
Screaming up out of geosynchronous orbit Reaper and Ghost were laughing as best you can under six G’s. “Let’s see them fix that fast,” said Ghost.
“Twenty years at least,” laughed Reaper, “remind me to buy Hunter a drink. I think I like his style!”
New York City
The building on 59th street had a magnificent view overlooking the East river. Richard Redmond’s apartment took up a quarter of the 42cnd floor. As he lounged in his hot tub his gaze swept out over the river and across Queens.
He was a big enough man to admit it when he made a mistake, at least that’s what he told himself, and going on the Alchibah expedition had not turned out well. His goal of ruling an entire planet as a king had proven impossible to bring about. All that was over; now he was back at the center of the World government where he belonged.
The Rogon conquest had been the best thing that could have happened to Richard Redmond. He was one of the first to realize that the resistance was doomed against Rogon power. And with the resistance would go the war mongering Neanderthals who ran the military. Before leaving for Alchibah he had pushed through a 75% cut in the military budget. Further cuts had occurred while he was gone.
The trip back to Earth in the Rogon ship had been awful. By the last 4 days he had been forced to live off of Rogon food. Someone had described Rogon ship fare as whale blubber dipped in goats blood, Richard Redmond was certain that was a charitable description.
But after returning to Earth this morning he had enjoyed a working lunch with the Secretary General, veal cutlets, lobster, chocolate covered truffles and escargot.
Cham Lo, was if anything, more of a fool than the last World leader. It had taken Redmond 2 hours to finally explain how the Alchibah expedition was a resounding success. The rebel’s town and homes had been destroyed, and the rebels themselves had been forced to hide in caves. The images would prove to the resistance that their hopes for support from Hamilton and his runaways were futile.
But the house of cards was about to topple.
Decades before it had been realized within the environmental movement that it was unfair that the rich paid the same rates for energy as the poor. And so progressive rates structures for electricity and fuels were introduced; to insure that justice was done, metering and billing had been taken over by the government. This had the added benefit of allowing for precise regulation of the electric distribution grid.
At 21:00 all the computers that relayed demand factors to the power plants stopped sending. Over 70% of North American power generation came from nuclear plants, either fission or fusion. When the safety computers controlling the reactors suddenly saw there was no demand the plants began automatic shutdown procedures.
The 20 some percent of the plants that were either hydroelectric geothermal of fuel driven could be switched to manual operation; but this was not permitted for nuclear plants and so the operators of the power grid had to begin shutting off power to selected customers. Public lighting and commercial users were turned off first but it didn’t take long before residential users began losing power.
Richard Redmond was surprised when the light in his apartment suddenly went out, as he climbed out of his tub he could see block after block of Queens going dark. He soon discovered that his secure communication systems were inoperative. This was intolerable! He would have to go to his office and get to the bottom of this.
The first problem he encountered was that the elevators in the building were not working, by the time he reached street level he was breathing quite hard. Normally he would have a limo take him the 15 blocks up town to Turtle Bay. But tonight he would be forced to take public transportation.
The famed New York City subway system had been augmented with thousands of miles of overhead trolleys. To use the system all that was necessary was to purchase a token at an automated ticket machine at any boarding station. This could be accomplished using cash or credit as long as one had a valid UN identity card. Richard Redmond was ready to fly into a rage when the machine was unable to verify his identity.
In fact of the almost 3 billion retail transactions that take place each day in North America, over 65 % require presentation and verification of ID
And The UN computers that handled verification were down.
The banking system in North America and Asia had its own communications systems independent of the United Nations but when the banks opened the next morning they would still be dependent on the UN identity verification system.
The central banks of Europe were not so lucky, When the UN secure net, purged itself over 19 and a half trillion new Euros simply disappeared
In North America over 400 million people were watching the tri-vee when all the stations went dead, if that wasn’t enough to make a citizen mad all long distance phone coverage and about 60 % of local service was out. Beginning about 10 minutes after 9, large areas began to lose electric power. The people were angry and they were coming out of their homes. As the streets filled with people, rumors of riots, and UN police going berserk, even Rogon ships bombing cities, spread like wildfire.
Richard Redmond had finally flagged down a passing UN police cruiser and demanded a ride to UN headquarters, the streets were beginning to fill up with disreputable looking persons.
UN headquarters was provided with power from the Emergency grid that powers hospitals and other critical facilities. It was a surprise to Richard Redmond that the information systems were non functional there as well. The building did have some very old “hard lines”; dedicated links to world capitals.
The information that was coming in was very bad. Europe and Africa were if anything, hit harder than North America’ all power and 97% of phone service was out, transportation systems were all halted. Air traffic all over the globe was grounded.
Most of the Worlds Ocean going cargo was on automated vessels. The majority of ships simply began to drift, some however continued under power waiting for the signals that would guide them into port, these ships would not be stopped until they ran into something solid.
The people of Europe were asleep when the systems failed, but in North America the people were out in the streets. When they began to discover they couldn’t purchase food or liquor, because their ID didn’t work… they just helped themselves. Looting quickly turned to vandalism and arson. Within hours the mobs fueled by anger and rage, began to move into areas where taxpayers lived, here they got a surprise.
The small numbers of people with connection to the resistance had spread the word of what was coming. Across America millions of illegal firearms were brought out of secret hiding places. It was a night of unprecedented human tragedy. The streets ran red with blood, the fires in the inner cities began to spread consuming block after block of homes and stores.
In the days to come the ranks of the resistance would swell 100 fold.
At UN headquarters they worked through the night trying to find out what happened. Little notice was paid to the hordes of rioters in the streets below, driven off again and again by the police.
A picture began to unfold of UN agencies fighting a war amongst themselves. Plots to gain favor with the Rogons, schemes to discredit the current leadership, and plans to turn the UN army and navy against their leaders, by murdering the hostage families. And something had gone terribly wrong.
Richard Redmond looked out over the East River at the flames of a thousand burning buildings, and he smiled. “Let the world burn” he thought. The time for weak leaders was gone, The Rogons would need a man with a fist of iron to rule for them, and Richard Redmond was that man. In the morning he would move into the Secretary Generals office. He would contact the Rogons and a new era would begin. The slaves would learn to fear and obey a real master. Absolute power would be his.
Kat was almost jubilant, “Thorn, Monroe’s going to transit in two minutes. I guess starting from the belt and three days before we did helped. Now all we have to do is wait for those Dragon Heads to get through. The Boss is adamant that he does not want them to have to fight anything with those family’s on board, they are the reason we did this in the first place.”
Summers voice was a little piquant, “I guess I’m not that good at math, I just can’t get these new acceleration rates through my head. I’m not sure which I’m more scared of; getting shot at or those new math classes we have to go through.”
It took Kat several long moments to reply and her breath indicated she had spent them laughing. “Summer, Calculus has never killed anyone; you just feel like it’s going to cause your head to explode. At least the initial instructors are going to be Ash and Andy. You don’t have to worry about your head decorating the wall from internal pressure until they bring down Hibbs or Chandler.”
“You are so kind,” was Thorn’s droll reply. “Speaking of our two man wrecking crew, where are they?”
“As they have G tolerance to spare, they decided to spend a little time in the belt on the way out. Seems they want some UNWG observation sat’s to bump into some rocks. Never waste a chance as Andy says.”
It was Thorn’s turn to laugh, “Would those rocks be about 5 CM in diameter, weigh about 40 pounds and be moving rather fast?”
“Why Summer, I think they did mention something about that!” Laughter filled the short comm link.
On Board the Galileo
Mariana Stuart was bone tired, the belters in the converted passenger area were in about the worst medical shape she had ever seen. For the first time she felt the true hate she held for the UNWG; these people had been denied the most basic of care in a deliberate and systematic basis. She had exhausted the entire field kit she had brought with her and needed more. Thank goodness they had dropped another larger set of supplies on the Deathfang on the way out.
She had railed and fought at the idea of not being by Andy’s side when they went for the Clark Orbit and the cover strike on Earth but, had she and Digger not been here, many would have not survived the 1 G perceived acceleration that they were using. At that moment Larry Monroe’s voice came over the loudspeakers, “Wormhole Transition in one minute, sit down and strap in. Deceleration starts as soon as we transit, we need to get to the Deathfang fast!”
Amen to that, thought Mariana.
Strike Force 6
“OK Ghost, see anything else worth our time?”
Ash’s laugh was infectious at worst, “Not a damn thing I can see. From here we can make the wormhole one day behind Thorn and Wildcat with 30 minutes on at 4 G perceived and 30 off at 1 G. Piece of cake for us.”
“Sounds good, time to go home. I wonder how much destruction our respective twins have caused?”
“What, with Hanna there to kick their butts. They know what will happen if they mess with MeMaw Hanna, the roof will fall on them.”
“And that stopped us when Ash?”
“Don’t know about you Andy but, my Grandma wasn’t carrying a .357 Ruger clone on her hip.”
“OK Ash, wanta bet on the over/under on bootprints on their butts?”
“No way Cuz. Flight plan coming over on burst, even with our genes this is not going to be fun.”
“I don’t really care at this point Ash, I just want to go home. You have no idea how tired I am!”
On Board the Deathfang
Tracking had just screamed “Acquisition” when Capt. Monroe’s voice came over the comm. “Deathfang, Galileo we are on decel to vector match. Be advised that we are on a 100 G real limit. Dr. Stuart has threatened to ventilate me if I subject these people to more than 1 G perceived.”
Wendy Taylor’s calm controlled voice replied from the Bridge, “Galileo, we will begin accel to assist, anything coming behind you will have no problem.”
“Thank you very much Deathfang, I don’t think the Dragonhead’s are more than 12 hours behind us. They were gaining all the way out.”
One hour later the Galileo was tractored on board the Deathfang.
12 Hours 30 Minutes Later
“Deathfang, Revenge, two to dock. Be advised we have all Task Force family’s still alive on board.”
LT. Anselmo heard the cheering over the voice of LT. Taylor in the microphone, “Roger Revenge, prepare for tractor lock! Welcome Home.”
Hunter St. James stood at the ramp entrance waiting for it to come down with Sharon by his side. As the ramp struck the deck she heard the six gongs and the announcement “Task Force Alchibah Arriving” and watched her husband Salute the Bay, “Permission to Come Aboard Sir?”
By tradition the most Junior Ensign saluted and replied, “Permission Granted and Welcome Home Sir.”
Sharon turned to Hunter, “These people don’t just obey you, they love you. You can see it in their faces!”
Jai Benjamin walked up, “Commodore now that we are back in Alchibah space, do you mind if I change Uniforms? I just don’t feel comfortable in LT. Taylors.”
Hunter had to grin, “Why not at all Miss Benjamin, I can understand and thank you.”
Jai gave him a curious look, “No problem Sir, once I saw those girls the game was over. They were coming home!”
The man Sharon knew as Ari came up and asked, “Ma’am, this Pup did not blink. What happened back there?”
“Cpl., I have no more idea than you do. I think the gun came from nowhere or from up her sleeve. I am really not sure which. I am just supremely happy she was on our side!”
Hunter St. James stared, “Should I ask?”
Sharon beamed, “No, the girls were not there and I should ask where you got that Young Lady from….. Lest I suddenly feel a need to get very jealous.” The grin on her face spoke volumes to the people around her and she could see them start to relax.
Hunter turned and gave Sharon a long matching grin. “She is here on Direct Orders from the Guy we are waiting on now and if you think I am going to do anything stupid, you should meet her fiancee. He may be even scarier than her. The survivors of the battle for the Mayflower think she’s pretty damn scary, that’s for certain.”
Over the 1MC “Deathfang, Wildcat and Thorn ready to dock. Be advised the Boss was 11 hours behind and closing.”
10 Hours 45 minutes later
“Deathfang, Reaper and Ghost ready to dock; Ghost is inboard.”
“Roger Reaper, prepare for tractor lock.”
Ash Andrews dropped the ramp and saluted the deck, “Permission to come aboard Sir.”
A very nervous looking Ensign replied with a salute, “Permission Granted Sir.”
Then the main event occurred. The last MK V-A was tractored in and dropped the hatch ramp. A tall figure stood in the door and announced with a salute, “Permission to come aboard Sir?”
The nervous young Ensign replied, “Permission Granted Sir.” Then the six gongs sounded again and the 1MC blared, “Strike Force Alchibah Arriving.”
Hunter St. James strode to the dock as he heard from Sharon behind him, “But that man is supposed to be dead!”
Then from three female voices behind her, “Not hardly, tell our bruises!”
“Andy, nice to have you aboard.”
On the viewscreen in the Bridge Wendy Taylor watched as the two tall, powerful men clasped hands. The only thing that came to mind was some poetry that her Grandmother had taught her from an old writer named Kipling.
East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
Though they come from the ends of the earth!
“Glad to be here Hunter. That reminds me you guys need a place to stay. I just happen to have a spare three bedroom place. Let’s head home and turn on the drinking light Hunter!”
Sharon felt another female in Black and Silver brush by her and run up to hug the man she knew had to be Andrew Stuart. As she watched she thought, “Odd, how did Dr. Mariana Kearns get here?”
Alchibah - Southern Spring - Year Two:
Shintok; elron-A was relieved the winter was finally over. Along with his broodmates argo, huk and teth, he found the long winter spent underground, sleeping and dreaming but for a day or so every month, when he got up to eat and eliminate accumulated metabolic waste byproducts, extremely unsatisfying. On balance he was glad he lived but worried that as more time went by without contact with others of his race that his opinion on that matter might change. His broodmates seemed happy enough.
For a week after the SwiftStrike left in such a hurry leaving them stranded all of them felt complete and total despair. They had their weapons and the skimmers, and a mostly empty continent, so no matter what, with food of all types so plentiful, in the short term they would eat. But they couldn’t plan on holding out, stopping capture or worse, if the Humans, or even the Soessossins made an issue of their presence. And if they tried to hold the ponies to their proper place they were sure to be noticed and dealt with sooner rather than later. It was the accursed and hated Guardians that indirectly provided the reason they still lived.
A robot, a certain R. JP, located them several days after the SwiftStrike departed and left them stranded. In their distraught condition they did not point a weapon in its direction as it approached. All the robot did was drop off some communications equipment and demonstrate its use. The robot left heading towards the sea. Using the com gear some days later a deal was struck.
When the Guardians banned any kind of advanced technology on South Alchibah the Rogons were granted a reprieve, of sorts. The Humans in North Alchibah wanted and needed the mineral wealth from around the Crater Lake and the Human Leviticans had no desire to aid them in acquiring it. The Rogon’s might not know much about much, but they did know about extracting mineral wealth from a new and to them hostile planet. So that was the basis of the deal: In return for operating the mines and overseeing as many Soessossins as they could enlist to help start and work them, elron and his broodmates would live.
All things considered it wasn’t a bad deal, but it was so much worse than elron, as a Rogon, would normally expect or experience, that he had no words to express his frustration. Even to think about what he felt compelled to do, figure out a way to get off this planet and back to his people on the Rogoss caused him no end of internal conflict. His broodmates always agreed with whatever he said when he talked about the situation at hand but they seemed for the most part very happy with it, not understanding at all the ridiculous nature of their position and wealth.
When not working at the mines they spent hour upon pleasant hour, watching the few percentage points of gold and other non radioactive minerals they kept skimming of the top build up in the storerooms in their underground home. With out a thing to spend any of it on but low tech trinkets the amounts were staggering, and utterly meaningless.
None of the Human Leviticans ever came to the mine diggings other than to mark their own share. Ten percent of whatever came out went to the church as a prerequisite for doing business, the rest went to pay for labor where another the percent was given to the church. That money was used to trade with North Alchibah for whatever they desired, the Humans never seemed to want anything but low tech.. Often ornamental items for the churches they were now having built. Sometimes hand tools and cloth and building supplies.
The Soessossins doing the actual mining were a mix of religious and not. After a time all those in the not category seemed to migrate to the other side. To elron the whole thing was a bunch of nonsense but something he had to put up with. They were all pretty sharp and hard workers to boot; those eating meat almost as large and strong as a Rogon,. He often remembered how good they had tasted, cooked or raw, the memory was delicious, but he had to purge the thought as quickly as it occurred. A lot of meat in South Alchibah but none of it was Soessossin anymore.
And yes, they were getting rich, as rich as the highest Broodmaster, but without females and descendants, or much of anything they hadn’t already purchased to spend the profits on, there didn’t seem any practical reason to care about a storeroom full of gold. He made himself a vow to do anything required to get off planet; even go to the north continent and work for the Humans if that would make it possible. He would not tell his broodmates about this decision, the part about working for the Human, until and unless he had a chance to make it become real.
Shintok; elron-A was not certain he would join with the Humans, and if he did it would only be a temporary measure, but he saw no other way to get off planet again and perpetuate his family line. The Humans had the kind of spacecraft that could manage that if he could ever get hold of one. What his broodmates didn’t know would cause them no harm and they couldn’t reveal, so he spent a lot of time dreaming, working on a plan, and waiting for a break.
Alchibah - Northern Summer - Year Two:
“I’ve done it Judith, told the other council members I resign and will not stand for reelection.”
“How did they take it dear?”
“Well, nobody cried but they all understood. It’s hard to imagine how far we’ve come in the last year. We have spent so much time just getting by and I spent too much time worrying that my initial involvement with Jack the Blade would come back to haunt me. It still could but I don’t really think so, too much water under the bridge. He’s dead and Burt Buchanan too; there was a truly evil man, but some how we survived and so did most of the rest of us.”
“Any idea who is going to run to take your place?”
“Don’t know and don’t particularly care. Our farm came through pretty well. Sure, we slaughtered and ate almost all of the older animals but we have a little breeding stock left and enough of the new births lived that we will be busy enough. We can always go out and get some more unicows and alchelos but we are owed a lot of tube time so we can get more of the real human cows going as well. And the pigs are doing better than just fine.”
“You know what I really worry about–don’t you Les?”
“I am afraid I do dear, but I think we have lost him, Mike isn’t going to come home again to stay after he marries the Seaworth girl.”
“What do you think he will do?”
“If I had to bet on it I’d say he is going to stay in the reserves and go off and work for Bartlett and Fortson. That march they made after the shuttle crash last year was his defining moment. Even more so than the fight against the Rogon. Now with it agreed we need to spread out and not just add on to Liberty City his experience in the wilderness will pay him back over and over again.”
Les had been writing up his notes from the days work and the lack of response to his last statement caused him to look over at his wife. She was sitting quietly knitting something for a small child and a tear was sliding down her cheek from a corner of one eye. Les said nothing else and continued with his data entry.
All that Les predicted did come to pass. Mike did spend the early part of the summer getting the farm back into shape but right after the wedding he and Laura, along with a few dozen of the new arrivals went eastwards a couple of hundred miles into the heartland of the continent and on the shore of a large inland lake began laying the groundwork for a new city.
Fortson went out to supervise for the month and he took the portable sawmill out with him. That one unlike the large new permanent high capacity ‘Bartlett and Fortson’ mill at Liberty was still owned by the colony as a whole. When Joe returned to Liberty City Gene Washburn came out to finish Mike’s training and shortly Mike and Laura were left in charge of the mill.
By virtue of being original colonists, Mike and Laura each had a bot of their own. Mike called his R. Fletcher after one of the two Nash bots that that were destroyed when Karl died in the ruins of the First Inn. A long way from the ocean they were, but the lakeshore would have to do. Laura had her own bot, R.Pops, and she never lacked for something to keep it busy.
The township labor pool still had thirty unassigned bots but they were spoken for and as the children of the founders grew older, there would come a time when that pool would be no more. A dozen got sent out to help set up the new town but there was still so much work left to do in rebuilding Liberty City that most were working on that. And the town was getting rebuilt and surprisingly rapidly. The new Township Hall, along with Hanna and Jules’ First Inn and the Church, were already completed. Very close, near exact, copies of the originals and that was something to be glad about and a remembrance for all who had worked so hard on the originals.
The rest of the town, laid out with the same plot plan was considerably different. The construction materials were the same, timber and stone, but even with what had been destroyed what was on the UN Colony Ship and brought back from the raid on Earth gave them a higher tech base than they had started with that first year. All except for the robots.
There were some robots that came along with the newbies but they were all a much simpler model, without the AI enhancements Hamilton had paid for. The kind that any well to do person on Earth might have owned. They helped a lot but without even a hint of initiative, they took constant supervision and except for the most basic jobs, like weeding, loading and unloading production equipment, and the like, could be more trouble then they were worth. There had been some grumbling and unavoidable jealousy between the two groups and Les was becoming more and more certain there always would be. Human nature doesn’t change with distance from Earth.
“Who are you knitting for these days Jude?” Judith unlike a few of the older women had turned down the option of having more children naturally and they hadn’t even volunteered to take one of the first from the incubators. Too many wanted that chance and it wouldn’t have been right to use his position as Council President.
“Why am I not surprised you had to ask Lester?” his wife said but not disagreeably. Even with all of the work to do to keep the farm going she had been very cheerful the last couple of weeks. “It’s for Mike and Laura. They haven’t said anything yet, but I knew as soon as I saw her last week. We are about to become grandparents.”
Alchibah: Southern Winter - The Second Year
From out of the wilderness came the Serpent,
and the tribe of the Serpent was powerful,
and the venom of the Serpent was strong.
As was prophesized: We met them on a great plain.
And left their bones to rot.
I shall speak for my son, and in his own words,
as they were spoken to me,
and as he spoke to the Almighty.
“I have taken over the day to day direction of my people. For I now call the Leviticans my people. Ever since my father Jedediah withdrew so completely from normal society and took to leaving his studies only for high priestly duties, I have taken over from him. I know though, that we are the chosen of the Lord, and that I lead only by His grace, and I struggle to remain humble in His sight.”
“During the winter we live along the coast where the warm ocean currents moderate the temperature. My mother Miriam takes care of the domestic needs of our section of the camp. Hosham, of the Agorah, handles the details for the ever so much larger native encampment. Life is pleasant and the days are temperate, but it is much, much, colder, even a few dozens miles inland around the Crater Lake’, which is where the four remaining Rogons must live and are restricted to.”
“Sister Helen now attends to me and my needs for we have wed. The Agora brought her back from whence the Rogons left her when they fled from the Lords’ judgment. Father gave his blessing; with her husband dead there could be no shame, and thus it was fitting. My wife is even quieter than before her first husband’s death, but after all she has been through her faith is unshakeable. She is several years older than I, and perhaps for that reason I find her a calming influence.”
“Not calming at all times by any means. She was already with child when she returned to us, and gave birth to a son five months later, a boy we named Seth. She is with child again, for we have both accepted, and I have learned the meaning and spiritual nature of Gods commandment to be fruitful and multiply.”
“Sister Martha stays at the Crater Lake and lives alone. She is in overall charge of mining operations and handles most dealings with those in the North. Outwardly she adheres to the faith, but I can sense she no longer holds it in her heart. I pray for her and make sure she gets copies of all of my sermons delivered by Soessossin or my sister Ruth, for we have given up all forms of electronic communication. I fear that Ruth is influenced over much by Sister Martha, but this she may outgrow, and there is no other woman near her age that she might talk to.”
“By insisting we maintain our simple life on this continent the Guardians were acting as an agent of the Lord.”
“The Rogons take care of keeping the simple equipment at the mines operating and they are quite useless when it comes to deciding such things as scheduling or expansion. The Llamas are being trained in these matters and soon I hope the Rogons will not be needed for anything. I at first tried to show them the Truth in order to save their souls, but it seems quite hopeless. Perhaps in time.”
“Of Soessossins, only the most devout are permitted to work at the mines for the temptation to evil is much greater there than in the countryside and the wilderness where the Word of God is more plainly heard.”
“We do not as yet have all of the tribes on a firm path to salvation. The Yelsig are still holding out in mass. I think it is by virtue of their former direct relation to the Guardians that pride will not admit has ended. And of the Guardians, we have not seen nor heard anything. They may be well and truly gone.”
“In time it is inevitable, that all on this planet embrace the true faith, and the Kingdom of God must encompass all men. I shall devote the rest of my life to making it so.”
And my tears did water the desert,
and bring forth the desert bloom,
and even, I sayeth, cause rivers to overflow their banks.
When I wept in ecstasy; a witness to Aaron’s faith,
I was at peace.
Onboard the Deathfang Inbound to Alchibah
The party had started, Official or Unofficial; it was in full swing. Two disparate Military Forces were coming together in the best possible terms.
Strike Force was asking, “You slipped what past those idiots?” and Task Force was asking, “You blew up What?” Both sides slowly realizing that their respective Commanders had been working from one ornate and simple battle plan.
Sharon St. James had circulated like the Commanders Wife she was, regaling Task Force personnel with what she was starting to think of as the “Legend Of Jai Benjamin” as often as possible. Letting them know that Stuart had sent his best could not hurt. She paused to have her wine glass refilled as she listened to Guy Anselmo describe his first meeting with Strike Force.
“I was already out cold when they pulled me in and I thought the first gal was hard, then this LTC comes out and asks me if I was going to do anything stupid. She hated us and had as cold-blooded killers eyes as I had ever seen but, she was not going to be the one to break the rules.
“Then she goes down and shoots the Political Directorate off of the Commodores wife. Can I stay here please?”
Sharon laughed as she turned back into the press and spotted the one face she wanted to talk to, “Dr Kearns, oh I mean Stuart. Sorry I just now saw the name tape.”
“Hunter, you need to let me go down first in the MK-V’s and take the York kids with me. We will land at the temp. field up by the Fort, then move the temp. transponders down to the main field where you will have room. Take us about 15 minutes and there will be one MK-V on the main field.
“Be ready for me to ask you to delay slightly so the crowd can move down there.”
Hunter stared quizzically then said, “OK, I can do that but why?”
“Because, you just brought the key to the heart of Alchibah.” Grinned Andy, “And I know how to sell it.”
Five Hours Later
The MK-V’s came in in stack formation, Natasi and Glenda had peeled for the Mayflower right after Launch, so four came in and settled to the ground in perfect diamond formation.
Andy and Mariana Stuart piled out of the first bird and immediately ran for the second bird. They went up the ramp as LTC Jai Benjamin came off the ramp. “Hanna, did you get them here?” She asked in her best Parade Ground voice.
Emily walked up and said, “Yes Jai we are here what’s so important?” Jai just turned and yelled, “Come Here Turkey!”
The scruffily dressed male figure shuffled down the ramp until Emily could see his face, the scream of “JACE” almost deafened people close to her.
As the two figures grasped each other, Mariana and Andy came down the ramp piggy backing two young ladies whose clothes and foot gear were clearly not ready for Alchibah. “JJ,” said Andy, “these are your Nieces or Cousins or however you count relationships. Anyway they are Jace’s little Sisters, I think that makes them Family.”
As the cluster moved away Hanna came up and as the tears rolled from her eyes asked the question that everyone wanted to know, “How did you do that Andy?”
Andy shifted to that carrying Command Voice, “I didn’t Hanna, Hunter did. He did not order someone to do it, He did not ask someone to do it. He went and did it himself.”
30 Minutes Later, Main Landing Field
Guy Anselmo guided Revenge down toward the marked landing zone, it seemed to be surrounded by what the Colonists called Jumpers. “Sir, are we going to be attacked?”
Hunter St. James was grinning in relief, “Major DeWalt, if you can find anyone in this crowd who can manage to pay for a drink tonight; please send them to me. They have a Career in Intelligence in front of them. Sharon, what did Andy sell these people?”
His wife grinned, “According to Mariana, it was going to be nothing but the bare truth. Funny how that works around people like you two!”
Alchibah Bay View
Spring, The Third Year
The building looked like a giant grey caterpillar half buried in the ground. The Colonials called them bubbles and hundreds had been set up at the end of the first winter when housing was in such short supply and it was still too early to cut timber.
On the Mayflower, slag left over from refining metals, had been heated to form glass and then foamed with nitrogen. The bubble sections had been cast in microgravity and then assembled on the planet, doors and windows were cut and the result was a strong though ugly, multi-use structure. Most families eventually built more conventional homes and the bubbles were put to other uses.
Hunter St James emerged from the door of one of the two such buildings on Bay View, his freehold. He had spent the afternoon inside helping Sharon cut up, and preserve all manor of sea creatures she had collected on her last dive. Sharon had filled the bubble with aquariums full of Alchiban sea life and a large and growing collection of specimens.
Her work to date had resulted in many discoveries beneficial to the colony. The latest was a dye-like compound in one of the sea plants, that apparently could cause dead or damaged Human nerve tissue to regenerate.
As He walked toward the main house he glanced back towards the forest at the other bubble, which served as a barn. There was nothing to be concerned about, and if there were, the two Labrador Retrievers accompanying him, Canis Major, and Canis Minor, would have noticed first.
A large war-bot stood motionless near the barn. An 8 ton torso on 3 meter legs, the War-bots weren’t much good for performing labor but unlike the GE-3’s brought on the Mayflower; war-bots could actively protect the human settlements. This one had killed a rumbler a couple weeks back, destroyed it really, a 25mm Oerlikon gun tears a rumbler up pretty good. For smaller pests like Slizzards the war-bot was equipped with a Rogon style plasma cannon. Each settlement had at least 2 of the hulking machines.
The main house was a rambling structure built of hand fitted natural stone and giant hewn timbers topped by a peaked roof of red tile. The girls had done much of the stone work. Wearing powered exoskeletons his teenage daughters had no trouble fitting the half ton rocks together like a puzzle, to form massive walls. The York twins had proven equally adept, as the two sets of twins happily competed with one another. Wearing an “exo” a teenage girl could do more work than any robot,
Hunter truly felt he had the most beautiful home on Alchibah. The sea crest settlement hugged the coast a hundred miles south of Liberty city. Nestled on a broad shelf between the ocean and the 1000 meter ridge that paralleled the coast, there were dozens of freeholds overlooking the ocean, and even more in the valley just over the crest. Jace and Emily York, had a farm nearby, where they raised turkeys, rabbits and little York’s, Guy and Carmen Anselmo were just a few miles further where they had by now the most children of any family on the planet.
Hunter sat on his porch and reached for a bottle out of the handy cooler. A gift from Andy Stuart; the whiskey was getting better each year.
A hundred yards of lawn gently sloped down to the edge of the cliffs, and the ocean beyond. Hunter and Sharon had planted trees on the lawn; Earth trees genetically modified to thrive on this different world. The beach below had been the source for most of the boulders that were used to build the house. Now the cleared beach was used to park the big aluminum “Mike” boat, with Sharon’s mini-sub on board.
As the sun dropped below the top of the mountain a shadow swept over the farm, the line of last sunlight racing east as the sun approached the true horizon. Across the darkening waters the straight edge of the eastern horizon was broke in several spots by distant islands. The waters in between, while not a true bay, enjoyed some shelter from the open ocean, and were now, as usual calm and peaceful.
In the winter all that changed; storms sent tremendous waves crashing against the 100 meter cliffs, but as winter set in, the pack ice prevented much wave action and the seas became calm again. In the bay, pack ice drifting in melted as a result of the heat produced by geothermal vents on the sea floor, these helped to moderate the temperature of the coastal estates. That same warm water attracted the Alchibah Sea monsters, larger than the pliosaurs of Earths Jurassic period, the 40 meter leviathans could often be seen leaping and cavorting in the open water.
It was in the early days of last winter when he began having dreams… dreams of a battle in space. Nightmare visions of being on an unrecognizable alien space craft. The crew around him were strange, but impossible to make out. It had taken Hunter many nights to realize that in his dream, he too was an impossible alien. By mid winter, he could take it no more. It was no problem finding volunteers to take out a dragonhead and go chasing after his dream.
The alien ship had been partially crushed when it impacted the asteriod in orbit around the gas giant Alchibah IV, and there it had waited for untold thousands of years. Hunter and the crew had spent a week studying the ice bound ship before heading home. There would be many trips back to the wreck and someday its secrets would be revealed, but for Hunter St James the bad dreams had stopped.
So much had happened these last few years, building Bay View and the new settlements, new families and projects, for so many, new lives. Several trips had been made back to Earth. Trade with the resistance was going great.
News from Earth was pretty grim; the best estimates put the death toll after the UNWG collapse at over 1 billion. Some parts of Earth had fallen back to the darks ages. The UN had become far more tyrannical than before, but there were large geographical areas where the resistance was in open control. The belt and Mars were free of Earth control and the Rogons didn’t seem to mind. Still billions live as slaves and it will be years before we can finally drive the Rogons away, then without the Rogons, the UN will fall and freedom will return.
Stars were beginning to be visible through the darkening sky. The dogs had run off, but were now returning with Sharon close behind. This had become a daily tradition, so there was no need for words, as she sat down and leaned against her man.
Tonight was more magical than most because the full moon Oliver was rising, as if, from the sea, much brighter than the Moon of Earth.
The silvery rays of moonlight caught the flowering trees in the most amazing way. Hunter and Sharon quietly enjoyed it all knowing it was a gift from God; the sea, the sky, the moon, and the cherry blossoms.
Alchibah - Northern Spring - Year Three:
Janie and I were relaxing on the quarterdeck of our schooner the Bluenose. Winter had broken very early this year and it was quite warm already. Our two oldest children, Tammy and Karl, were happily underfoot, and whenever we weren’t watching them ran off to play in the ships rigging. It would be another year before we would let them go aloft without a safety belt and lanyard. They both complained but to no avail, and we kept videos of the complaints and of the slips and falls. These might prove good ammunition to keep them in line in a few more years, but more likely not.
The Jeep and EmyCee took care of all the sail duties and just now, in the light breeze, we were making little more than steerage under a single foremast topsail. We weren’t in any kind of hurry, but would be in a couple of hours unless the breeze kicked up as predicted. I would have sent the bots down below to crank us along a little faster if Janie hadn’t said, “You do that Bart I will be going down to help them. They need to get the sun and fresh air too.”
It didn’t make any sense to me but I loved her for the thought.
We never spent a lot of time talking about the past, too many things to worry about in dealing with the future, but today was an exception as it was the third anniversary of our arrival, we called it ‘Landing Day’ and it was one of two holidays we introduced to our Alchibah calendar based on our experiences here. The other, ‘Victory Day’, was in honor of our fight for freedom from the Rogon/UNWG and in memory of those who lost their lives in the process.
We were heading up river and were going to tie off at the Liberty dock in time for a full day of celebration, food, fireworks, and friends. I had been thinking about the cold rough trip down to South Alchibah just after the Rogons left us.
When the Guardians threatened us over technical aid and interference in the South, it seemed using the Bluenose to go and pick up the Jeep and RoDan was our only option. That was a voyage to remember… Janie interrupted my thoughts and started to reminisce herself for a change. I paid attention without saying much, admiring the view, scenery and Janie both, when not watching the kids.
“I was so glad when they came back from Earth without any casualties,” Janie said. “But I worry that all of the real hard edged fear we all felt at that time is somehow being softened, almost forgotten, and we will fail to remember it the way it was but instead how we glorify it. I guess choosing to forget is a more natural strategy. Who wants to remember the ultimate horror of war, the things that keep so many of us awake at night, and causes others to go marching without any thought to the sound of the drums.
“The fear is lost on this new generation. Fighting for the right is one thing, something that needs to be done, at all times and in all places. But if you have never felt the fear,—fighting for glory, for what we call honor, for esteem and the respect of the regiment, can become a stand in for only fighting as a last resort, when all else has failed.
“Should fighting always be a last resort? I can think of no reason why not. So long as the alternatives are known and the cost of not fighting to resisting oppression, is considered. But, the battle we fought, righteous and necessary as it was, happened without us doing anything to bring it upon ourselves. It was forced on us and we did what had to be done.
“Now, with so much left to do here, lifetimes won’t be enough, there are already people who want to go through the second wormhole and see what’s on the other side.
“I am all in favor of doing what we can to guard the gates but I just don’t see a need to take a chance on inviting problems.”
“For now I have to agree with you Babe, but sometime down the road we are going to have to go and see what’s out there. The danger we don’t know about can kill us just as dead and a hell of a lot faster than the danger we are aware of. But enough worry for today, it’s good to be out on the water and even better we get a chance to talk about the past and remember old friends.”
“Speaking of old friends both the Neilson brothers are going to be in town and I want to talk to Lars about chartering out the Bluenose. She needs to be worked and you and I never seem to find the time.”
“There aren’t many who have the time or can afford to charter her Bart.”
“Sure. I know that Babe, I just want to give a few people the chance to enjoy the ride. Someday we’ll want to redo or replace the Bluenose and it’s good advertisement for Pam and the boatyard. Lot of small craft on the blocks and there’s always maintenance but she needs something big to keep her from dwelling on the past like we are now!”
“I intend to get with Hanna, Kara, and Mariana, and loosen that woman up a bit. With the ration of marriageable women to men as lopsided as it is she needs to start enjoying herself more and that is one way isn‘t it darling.” My dear wife did have a way with priorities.
“Hold that thought Janie! The wind is finally picking up and it’s time I got busy. Jeep!! Lets get up some sail!”
Half an hour later we tied up at the dock and went ashore. The people doing the rope handling were mostly new to the job but it wasn’t all that difficult so no problem. We could have tied off without any help. It was good to see that unlike last years try at a celebration, when the animosity was still running high, the majority of the people from the Earth ships pitched in with a will and not just to operate booths and make some extra credit from the preparations. Sure they did that but were participating in the festivities and enjoying them as well.
The long Alchibah year was changing the way we thought about holidays and the way we scheduled them. Traditional Earth types, such as Christmas and Easter, we arraigned to have twice in an Alchibah year or at the same time, close as we could figure, when they would be celebrated on Earth. Alchibah specific dates we would keep to the Alchibah calendar. Due to being infrequent they seemed extra important and special. I liked that.
We would work it all out in the long run, and planned on having a lot of years to make it work.
Les Reye came out of retirement for one day and delivered a speech that was perfect in tone hitting all the right notes. Later in the evening, a bunch of us gathered at Hanna’s and just enjoyed ourselves, talking, drinking, and watching the fireworks, as Alchibah itself cooperated with one of the most spectacular auroras we’d seen all year. It was a night to remember.
Alchibah, Stuart Compound, Spring Year Three.
I was sitting with my feet up in the first pair of boots that had not hurt my feet since the famous party when we first set down after The Raid. The Universe has no idea of the grief I have taken from Mariana walking up to take a swallow of my drink, getting one sniff of booze and throwing up on my boots. That was a hell of a way to announce that she was pregnant with our second set of twins.
At least it had sparked the research into the effects of Quickheal. Turns out that if you have two shots and you are Female, you are going to have twins. If you get three shots even if you were already pregnant, you are going to have explosive growth of the kids in the last two weeks. Alchibah giveth but, she puts problems in the way also.
At least we can now do adequate research unlike the early days when it was survive or else. The accounts of the deaths on Earth are frighting but, they are systemic to the fall of a totalitarian regime. Would we have done what we did knowing the result? What choice did we have?
At least the troops who participated have nothing on their souls, that burden lies on two people and two people only. General Andrew Stuart and Commodore Hunter St. James, for we were the Commanders who built that Battle Plan. Even we had underestimated the incompetence of the UNWG for the death toll had exceeded our worst case estimate. In fact we think that the UNWG used the excuse to eliminate some classed as “Undesirable”.
At least in the Alliance of Free States or the Free States Alliance depending on who said it; the death count had been low to non-existent depending on the region. Proof of the incompetence of a totalitarian state. Still those deaths were going to live on mine and Hunter’s souls. We send as much aid as we can but, even with our advantages we must be discrete. The idea was to stay hidden after all.
We have the Molecular Beam Epitaxy rigs running up in the spin axis of Mayflower, Hibbs and Chandler can smell money even if they are eggheads. We will turn out copies of the array in around 60 days. After that our computer capability will expand by leaps and bounds. Steel and precision tools plants are running full speed and they are pouring out civilian needs. For once the military needs take back seat. Even at that we will start construction of the first home built space ship next year. Ash is gloating over that.
War and the Military are definitely back burner now. Expansion, growth and exploration are the order of the day. Sharon St. James has Mariana and the Lab staff running doing micro-biology for her as she does the work in the sea that Kara and Summer are doing on the land.
I am happy just building things for a change and the habit we developed of backing anyone who had a viable business idea is paying off. This place is developing a buzzing economy and anyone who can’t find something to do just is not looking. There are a couple of female Marines from Hunter’s crowd who have a booming daycare business and they don’t plan on going back to fighting. Good for them!
If someone had asked me a few years back what my idea of heaven was, the answer would have looked a lot like this!
Galbraith Lyon strode into the underground bunker obviously confused. “Sure and dammed Rafe, what be going on?”
“Well first Gal, you can drop the dammed Brogue. I know that you speak clear common English.’
“Sorry Rafe,” Galbraith replied, “the act becomes the person sometimes. What do we have?”
Rafael Scott grinned back. “Hell and Damnation it seems. Everything is down save for the old Ham Radio operators and they are telling a tale beyond belief. They claim the UNCCC and Point Murgo are holes in the ground; also we have lost contact with every Geosynchronous satellite that you would care to name. The UNWG Security Conformation Service is gone. Not just down but gone. It seems that the Hammer of God has landed on the UNWG and if the last messages are to be believed, we are a 100 Million richer.
“Not to mention that five minutes after the communications blackout started, we got this message from somewhere out in the belt on a old Morse Code Amateur Cypher.”
“Emerald Isle Pass to the Lion from Green Mountain
‘The Bairns have fled, The Angel watches over.
Their Hurts shall be healed for the Magic is upon them.
The Butcher and the Reaper are drinking buddies.
The Clan never Named, shall never Fall.’
This site will burst encrypted in two days on Relay 1; Freedom Lives!
Rafe leaned back and asked, “Why in the hell was he being so cryptic and then stick his name there in the clear?”
The man called “The Lion” just leaned back and grinned. “Because Connor Benjamin does not care who in Hell knows he sent that. The question is what does the rest mean, I have one guess. The Green Mountain reference means Gabriel and Kathryn made it.”
“I can fill in the Reaper, my last tour before I blew out the knee was with the SSEAL’s. I worked for a COL Andrew Stuart call sign Reaper, his partner was a blackballed MD call sign Magic. I think Kearns was her last name. I know they retired rather than go UNWG, think Hamilton might have recruited them?”
“Well Rafe, that would surmise that the reported deaths of those two would have to be a lie; especially as they were married by that time. You don’t mean the UNWG would lie to us do you?”
Rafe’s only reply was an extended finger salute.
“Sean, dig into that database and find out who the Commander of the Alchibah Expedition was.”
Sean O’Malley went to work on his definitely non-networked computer and had the answer in less than two minutes. “Commodore Hunter St. James Lion, more commonly called the Butcher of Ceres.”
“Well, “Lion said, “we know who did what but, do they have any idea the damage they have done? They have no way of knowing the changes in the Security System the the UNWG has put in since they left. Dear God but people are going to die!”
“Gal,” Rafe asked, “did they not have to fight the battle they knew? Look at what they hit, nothing that anyone would deny was a Military Target!”
“Yes Son, but they have no idea how the UNWG has tied the Civilian side up since they left. This is going to be far worse than I bet you they guessed at! Not to mention that Security will use this as an excuse to ‘Eliminate Undesirables’.”
“Boss, can’t we use that also to hide a bunch of people and claim they are dead?”
“Might work Sean, start digging up a plan.”
Mariana decided to stop by Hanna’s for a drink on the way home from the Lab. With two sets of Twins running around and a third set on the way it was the only place she could find a few minutes of piece and quiet. At the Bar she grinned at Hanna, “Bless the world for the effects of quick heal and make it a double please and make it Andy’s latest, I am not a masochist like the guys.”
Hanna just grinned as she built the drink, “You may not be but I think Kat is wondering about herself!”
Mariana turned to the room and saw what Hanna had alluded to. Kathryn Jamos sat in what was obviously a very strained conversation with Lewis DeWalt from the newcomers. The strain was obvious to anyone who knew them both. She watched as Lew stood and left the room and knew she had to stick her nose in. Walking over to Kat’s table she asked in her best jab a friend tone, “So what’s biting at your butt Bitch?”
She was stunned when Kat replied, “Sit down, I need someone to talk to you asshole.”
Mariana in disbelief just pulled up the chair Lew had just left and sat down; raised her glass and waited.
After a long moment Kat raised hers and began to talk. “Bitch, do you know how lucky you were to find Andy, do you ever worry about him dying; No Way. Just as Gabe does not fear for Elana or Ash for JoAnn. Hell, even Jai has John who will go down in the face of Hell itself. That Kid DeWalt has gotten to me and I admit it. Mariana I am afraid to love him.
“You of all people know how many I have lost, I can not open my heart to someone I am afraid can’t handle the load!”
Mariana could only stare and gasp, Kat was in Hell itself and could see no way out. “Have you thought about waiting a bit and seeing what He can do? Maybe He is just good enough to open up to. You have a History of being fairly closed after all. It would be easy for your friends to tell him to chill for a while.”
Kat’s face showed the strain She was under, “That’s the problem, I don’t want to. You have no idea how He has gotten to me. In the old days I used to laugh about you and Andy. Know now that I know how it felt but, I am scared. We are going back into the fire and you know it, I can’t live with constant fear. I will pass on love to avoid that!”
Mariana carefully considered her reply as she stared over Kat’s shoulder and saw the drawn face of Lew DeWalt in the doorway. “Kat, why don’t you just give it some time. Hell I waited five years. You can give it a couple of months. Lew might surprise you!”
* * * * * * * * * *
Andy was setting going over production data when SFC Nug came into the room. “Sir, we have someone here with a strange request!”
Lewis DeWalt strode into the room and locked into a perfect Parade Ground stance, “General Stuart, I wish to challenge the Alchibah Special Forces Q-course.”
“Boy,” Andy asked, “do you have any idea what you are asking for?”
“Yes Sir, I do and I feel I have no choice. I am at a do or die point Sir.”
“Would this happen to have anything to do with Gunnery Sergeant Jamos Major?”
“That might be surmised Sir!”
“OK, if you want to go through Hell and fail; I am not going to deny you. Right of Challenge has been recognized for years. Understand that I will cut you no slack?”
DeWalt grimaced, “Yes Sir. I understand I get no slack at all!”
“We will come find you on the morning of the challenge, you get no warning. God Help your Soul Son.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Ash sat and waited quietly for the sleeping figure to awake. When he did he reached for his gun as a reflex. Ash grabbed his wrist and drawled, “That ain’t smart Son.”
Lew stopped in his tracks as he recognized the voice, anyone who flew anything on Alchibah knew the voice of the Ghost. “So what do I owe this visit to?” Lew asked in his best controlled tone.
“Because you have in Honor bitten off more than you can chew, Pup. I have looked at your file and you are good but, what you are fixing to wade into just flat ain’t in any Peaceforce Training POI I ever read. Spec Ops is a whole different world and the difference could get you flunked or dead. I am here to introduce you to the one person who might have the ability to fix that. We can not train you in public for a challenge but, some of us don’t want to see you fail as it might break a friend of ours heart. So you get to meet the living breathing epitome of what a one-on-one training program means.
“Lewis DeWalt meet John Pierce call sign Scythe. I can go no farther, what happens from here on is up to you two. Just understand that Scythe was trained by the best there is. He is quite familiar with the care and feeding of a budding and eager Spec Ops candidate. He learned it the hard way. If you don’t frack up your Challenge might just happen when John here thinks you are ready.
“Make up your mind, is She worth it? Because the suck starts now!”
* * * * * * * * * *
“Wake up Asshole,” the voice bellowed in his ear, Lew tried to move and was stopped by a hand that was like a force of nature. Lewis DeWalt knew he was in the grasp of MCPO Gabriel Benjamin. Now two hours later he was here naked in the middle of an unknown environment with two pieces of paper.
One said, “Survive,” the other was a set of coordinates. That had a tag labeled Clothes. Carefully following the directions he moved to the location, ten minutes of careful searching found the cache. It contained a set of clothes, an empty canteen and a strange single bladed ax with a skinning knife type blade as a back side. A note contained directions to his next point and the following admonition:
Welcome to a test of everything you are and wish to be. This will not be impossible but will at times seem to be. It will be as hard as we can make it for a reason. You will face terrain and predators of a frontier planet. You will also face obstacles designed to test your brain, stamina, awareness and skills. You face nature and Man as you will in real combat. Somewhere if you survive you will find weapons more advanced. Red Magazines are lethal and Yellow Magazines are blanks. Scythe says good luck.
“Andy he has a pack of Vargs on his tail, what do you want to do? His first real weapons cache is several hours away.”
“Well Gabe, how did he do with the bear pit at the swamp bottleneck?”
“He found it no problem, dropped him a tree for a bridge and was out of there in thirty minutes.”
“OK, take Ash with you and let three of the pack through. If he can’t handle three with a bow and an ax he’s gonna flunk anyway.”
“Damn that’s cold Boss!”
“Yes, but very necessary. Shit Gabe I want this kid to make it but, we can not give it away. He is the first from Task Force to try it and the town is abuzz with the rumor that this Q-course is going on. You and I know that sometime we are going to have to look Kat in the eye and swear he did not get it cheap. Beyond that consider how important this is to the total force. This will prove that there are no favorites. You get put where you do the best, period.
“We are 75% Reserve now and I damn sure mean to keep it that way. This kid will be proof that that works. Gabe, I am tired of fighting for a good long time; I just am not dumb enough to think we are through fighting.”
“So Professor Stuart, when do we fight again?”
“When someone shoots at us or creates a situation so intolerable that we can stand aside no longer. Is there any other reason to fight Gabe?”
Gabe’s reply was indirect as he spoke into his wrist comp, “Ash, saddle up; we gotta go snipe some Varg.”
Lew could not figure out why his directions told him to stop here until he took a long thinking look at his surroundings. The cliff face was almost all flint, from that realization to a fire took about five minutes. Varg was not the greatest meat in the universe but, it beat nothing. Not only that but the light from the fire showed the location of a cache. Lew lovingly caressed the shape of an Alchibah CAW and two Red mags along with three Yellow mags. “I guess we are gonna play now!”
He could have been asleep no more that two hours when the sharp report of a .338 followed by the splat of a paint round woke him up. As Lew scanned his surroundings the form of Connor Benjamin appeared in his chameleons with one hand waving in that universal “Move it Out” motion. Lew guessed that was all the rest he was going to get.
Thirty hours later a tired and beaten Lew DeWalt dug up his last cache and read the note contained therein. “Cross the Line on the Ridge though Hell and Heaven stand Between.”
Lewis reached out with senses that he had not known that he had, Situational Awareness could be honed to a fine edge in even the most normal person; his was now a jangling, screaming alarm system. For the first time in his life felt true fear. Hell was coming for him from up on that ridge.
At the top of the crest Gabriel sighed and said, “I’ll go stalk him.”
The silence was broken by Andy Stuart, “No, Kat deserves no less; I will be his Hound. And if He fails, I will be the one to fail him. He deserves no less.”
In his hide DeWalt felt the threat begin to move, even though the ridge line was back lit by the rising sun he saw no movement. His brain raced, “Magic is out, she’s too pregnant. Angel started this, so it’s probably not him. Ghost, maybe; then his mind froze in alarm; Dear God, it’s the Reaper himself. OK, odds of winning outright, none. Chance of hiding out till he sweeps by me, best chance. Find a place to hide idiot!”
Andy was in his chameleons sweeping down the ridge to the early spring swamp. At least DeWalt had not tried the dumb move of trying to win outright. They had almost caught Jai Benjamin that way, right up until she ducked and covered proving that that move had been a fake all along. He found a trail that had been covered well to someone who was not yet completely familiar with Alchibah and followed it. He was flat dumbfounded when it stopped. “Damn Boy learns fast,” he thought. He started using the optics and picked the trail back up, less than a hundred yards away it disappeared again. “Did I mention the Boy learns fast,” he thought again. Where the hell was Sinopa when he needed her?
He reached out with that other sense and felt for DeWalt, there he was less than 50 yards away. Sunk in the ice cold muck with a breathing tube in his mouth. Pulling his spotter scope and scanning the area he felt he found him. It was so small, just the bare two inches of his tube sticking above the muck.
“OK Andy, could anyone beside you or Sinopa find him?” The only fair answer was no! Andy stood and deliberately walked twenty yards down slope then found a stick on the ground. Deliberately steeping on it producing a loud snap, he broke right fast and silent. Keying up the sub-vocal mic,
“Magic, he’s behind me. Dumb shit has guts for sure.”
“Reaper, Magic; how are you sure?”
“I cheated. No way a Normal could have found him, I had to let him by shit, he’s too good not to.”
“Reaper, Angel: I have to ask. How good is he?”
“Gabe, I cheated hard. I think maybe Wildcat or Magic might have found him – they would have been cheating to do it though. Hell, Sin and Chavez would have had a time of it.”
“Reaper, Magic; you realize that you have to beat that Honor Code into our kids don’t you?’
“Magic, Reaper; please don’t remind me. Set it up this guy’s going to make it.”
Dripping muck and shivering Lew crawled up the ridge line inches at a time. His eyes always focused on the military crest. Suddenly a pair of boots landed in front of his nose and the Parade Ground voice of MCPO Gabriel Benjamin roared out, “Stand Up Academy Boy and look behind You!”
DeWalt stood shakily and turned, behind him was a white line on the ground he had not even seen, even though the chalk from it decorated his knees and elbows. Behind that line stood the figure of General Andrew Stuart.
“Stare at that line Candidate, for no one who has ever failed to cross it has ever worn this Patch and as you live and breath you must never allow anyone to do so. Tag him Master Chief!”
Lew felt himself spun and the right hand from Hell exploded into his left chest. As he hit the ground he heard a chorus of, “Welcome Nug!”
Looking down he saw the Patch upon his chest. Marina Stuart knelt down awkwardly and said, “I could have had Kurt come to do the post-mission Medical. But, this one is personal. I know why you did this and where you want it to go. Just remember, if you break her heart; don’t worry about Andy, Gabe or any other Male. You worry about me. Kat is the Sister I never had. Think about it Son!”
Andy was sitting in the den of Stuart House with a breakfast in front of him when Lew stumbled out from the Guest Room / Medical Holding Room. “Damn Tools, it really is possible for a human to sleep for 48 straight hours. Dig in there’s plenty here, Mariana was checking on you.”
Lew stopped in his tracks, “Tools, who the hell hung that on me!”
Andy just had to laugh, “Well you don’t get to pick your first call sign, it gets hung on you. There are a couple of us who remember the DeWalt brand.”
Lew snorted, “I just wish I had been remotely related to that very distant branch of the Family. I know it’s breakfast but, do you have any booze around here. I think I deserve one as a jump start.”
“Back Corner Tools, if you wear that Patch you never have to pay for booze here. Unless Mariana flags you for Medical reasons and the Green flag is up for you. Ready to hear the second reason I wanted to see that Patch on you?”
“Yeah, I know the first reason. Cripes, I did not know the whole gang was so hung on Kat. I am afraid Magic is going to shoot me if we have a fight.”
“Nope, that ain’t gonna happen. Tools you should be around for some of our fights. Leave Kat in the dirt because you are an asshole and you might need to start looking over your shoulder. Of course there is always the fact that a flat out asshole would not be sitting where you are.”
Lew sat over his drink for a long pause, “You found me didn’t you?”
Andy likewise paused over his coffee, “Yeah and only two and a half people in the Universe we know could have. Sinopa and I for sure, Chavez maybe. But we were out there to evaluate, not destroy. You are good never doubt it. So good that Ash wants you to finish getting your Deep Space Wings and take over as the XO of Assault Squadron. Lord knows we need a good one as Jai and John seem hell bent on populating Alchibah all by themselves. The current XO don’t cut it and I can not convince Hunter to take it.” Andy said grinning over his cup.
“Yeah Right,” Lew laughed, “OK, I am in for that. Just I need some time to figure out my private life!”
“Oh Hell,” Andy laughed, “I figure you have around 15 years. Take your time, Kat is probably going to slow you down a bit. Hell. You thought your Q-Course was tough!
“But, here is where I find out how honest you are. In your considered Military Opinion, how should the First Battle of Alchibah have come out?”
“With all due respect General, we should have kicked your ass! You only had one ship that could even scratch the paint on Deathfang, the F-91’s were heads up with your MK-IVs and outnumbered you. Without the interference from the PD and the Dumb Ass Rogon’s we would have won.”
“Precisely Major, that is why here is your background task no matter what your real job is. What do we need to do to stop the next threat? Anyone around here who has any kind of Staff experience is going to be thinking about that. You figure out what we need and I will build it. My greatest fear is something I have not thought of!”
The next morning Lew walked into the dining room at Hanna’s Place. The Black and Silver uniform was still stiff and new. The gleaming patch upon his chest drew stares from the room. At another table Andy, Mariana, Ash and JoAnn frantically started typing on wrist comps as the pool began building. He walked to the table where Kathryn Jamos sat slumped over her breakfast. “OK Kat, what else do I have to do?”
Kat’s jaw looked like it was trying to hit the table as the contents of her fork fell back to the plate, followed loudly by the fork. Mariana almost convulsed as she watched Kat’s mouth move repeatedly without a sound.
The room suddenly became deathly quiet as Lew turned towards Hanna, “If you don’t mind, I’ll have what she’s having,” as he eased his obviously sore body into the chair opposite Kat.
As one of the Palmtree arrivals who had found a job at Hanna’s, came out with the plate and mug he slowly leaned back. A devilish grin came over his face, “The ball’s in your court woman!”
For Kat it seemed like a lifetime before she could make her mind work, she and the other females had made many jokes about bad proposals but here was one in her face. She knew one thing, Lew had gone through hell for her.
Part of her was scared but for the first time it was not fear of loss, it was fear of inadequacy. What if she was not worth what he had done? She could only think of a line from JoAnn, “Sometimes it just comes down to do you love him, if so frack it and go for it.”
“Ah…….Ah…….Ah……,” Kat grabbed a swallow of her coffee wishing for something stronger. “I guess we have a wedding to plan.”
From the Clan Stuart table came the voice of Ash Andrews, “And the winner at 4 minutes and 26 seconds is…… Awww Dammit, Hanna Parker.”
Most of the room turned to see Hanna’s victory dance behind the bar, “Reception is on me,” she whooped.
Thus ends the first novel of the Ex-Earth series. My thanks to all the participants. While I have not had the time to pursue the second book, some of my collaborators have been doing some fine writing of their own. Here are their web sites:
My only wish is that I had been born a hundred years from now when some of this might become reality.