Never So Few
My only wish is that I had been born a hundred years from now when some of this might become reality.
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.21f9 ]]>
“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.”]]>
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!1fff ]]>
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.21 ]]>