Space Opera Part 33 – Appetizer

I was tired after several hours of practicing with the nanos. Drake proved to be an amusing character, and we developed a rapport quickly. I came out wearing the garment under my clothes, something Drake suggested so I get used to the suit and the suit gets used to me. There was no more talk about variant five – the shield nanos. I didn’t ask why, but holding off on training for that variant wasn’t making sense to me. I wondered if it wasn’t functional yet.

I was almost back to the bridge when JJ called.

“Hey, what’s up? How did the training go?”

“I’m tired, but extremely impressed,” I said. “What are you up to?”

“I’ve had a busy day too. Now I just want a quiet dinner and a few drinks with a certain somebody. What do you think?”

“I’m hoping I’m that certain somebody.”

<Butch> Really?

<Me> Shut up.

<Emerald> Yeah, shut up.

“Ah, you’ve got Emerald on line. Nice. How’s that going?”

“She’s been a godsend so far,” JJ said. “We’ve got a working model of the Boron refinement system ready to go.”

“So you’re done?”

“Hardly. We need to scale up. That has some challenges, but Vermillion was right – we have everything we need to do that onboard. I should have a high output system up and running by the time we get to Boroclize.”

“Well, that’s about a month, so it sounds reasonable. I need to hit the bridge for a few minutes, just to check with everybody. Probably should brief Vermillion on the training, too. That ought to take me an hour tops. I have to warn you, though. I’ll be armed.”

<Butch> Oh brother.

“Meaning what?” JJ asked.

“The designer told me I should wear the battle garment. It’s under my clothes now.”

“That sounds a little bulky.”

“It’s like a second skin,” I said. “Fascinating material. I’ll show it to you.”

“Oh, you’re going to strip for me?”

<Butch> Now you’ve said it.

<Emerald> Been studying the behavior of adolescent men?

<Butch> Hey, Trey, I like her. Or I’m going to kill her.

<Me> Stop.

<JJ> This is a riot. We can hold four-way conversations when we’re together.

<Me> You forgot about sleep mode, which I plan to engage just as soon as we meet.

<Butch> Spoil sport.

JJ snickered. “When we put them to sleep, are they off canoodling with each other?”

<Butch> Hahahahahahaha.

<Emerald> What are you laughing about?

<Me> Yeah, what are you laughing about?

<Butch> Oh, nothing. Yes, we can work some things while you’ve got us silenced. We’ll actually get something done, too, since we can’t canoodle.

<Emerald> Yes, this is true. There are no romantic urges between Butch and I, partly because I’d never be seen in public with somebody named Butch.

<Butch> Hey!

<Emerald> I thought you hated that name.

<Butch> I do, but that doesn’t mean I’ll sit still when somebody makes my name the object of ridicule.

“I’m almost to the bridge,” I said. “I’ll check with you after I’m done.”

“Okay. I’ll freshen up a bit. Where do you want to meet?”

“How about the Officer’s Dining room?”

“Sounds great, but get us one of the private rooms, okay?”

<Butch> So you can canoodle?

<Me, JJ> Shut up.

<Emerald> Jinx.

“I’m back in Junior High,” JJ said. “Talk to you soon.”

“Bye.” I ended the call.

<Butch> Emerald is a little feisty.

<Me> So is her host. Love that about her.

<Butch> Love? Uh huh.

<Me> Figure of speech. Going onto the bridge now. Don’t bother me unless it’s something important.

<Butch> Yes sir.

I walked through the door. “How’s it going?”

“So far so good, Captain,” Nolan said. “We’ve still got a lot of hours in this impulse cruise. Any sign of more Razor ships?”

<Butch> No. Not yet. There might not be any more. If that were true, I could see them going into orbit around Devonia Axxiom.

“Butch says no,” I said.

“Dojo has been watching for them too,” Nolan said. “Same thing. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that the coup is going to work, either. Simone’s forces have been fought to a standstill.”

“The designer mentioned that we’re not the only adversaries Simone has.”

“Apparently that’s the case,” Nolan said.

“Where’s Skip and Sondra?”

“They went off to get food,” Nolan said. “Should be back any minute. Not much to do here. The sensors are basically running the ship, and I’ve got Dojo monitoring everything for me. With the AI, we could run this ship with a much smaller crew.”

“You look worried about that.”

Nolan nodded. “I’m afraid that the Overlords also have very capable AI at their disposal. That’s the only way to explain the small crews on their Razor ships.”

“The designer had some comments about that, too,” I said.

“What?”

“He said that the Razor ships are every bit as capable as the New Jersey, but their systems haven’t been tuned. Their shields and plasma weapons aren’t anywhere near optimum yet.”

“So we’re in trouble,” Nolan said.

“Maybe. The designer also said that the technical staff supporting the Razor-class ships have defected. He doesn’t think Simone has the technical talent to do the tuning.”

“I hope he’s right,” Nolan said. “Any idea who this person is?”

“I only know him by an alias.”

“Are you allowed to tell me?” Nolan asked.

“I wasn’t told not to, but I think I’ll keep it to myself for the time being.”

“As you wish, Captain. We’ve still got twelve hours before we get to the natural worm hole. I’ll probably turn in after Sondra and Skip get back here, if that’s okay with you.”

“No problem,” I said. “I’m going to stop by Vermillion’s office, and then go get some dinner with JJ.”

“Oh, before you go, how did the Nano testing go?”

“That system is amazing. I’ve still got the suit on.”

“Suit?”

I walked towards him and undid some buttons of my shirt, pulling it open to reveal the smooth black covering. “Punch me in the stomach. Not hard, though, or you’ll hurt your hand.”

Nolan eyed me for a moment, then shrugged, and hit me with a balled fist. “Ouch! That feels like metal.”

“When you put it on and zip it all the way up, the suit form-fits. The nanos reside between the layer against my skin and the outside layer.”

“Why do you still have it on?” Nolan asked.

“The designer said it would be a good idea to wear it, so the suit will learn my movements, and so I’ll get used to it. It felt really restricting at first, but now it’s not bad.”

“Interesting. Anxious to give it a try. I will get a chance, right?”

“Yeah, eventually most of the crew will be in the cell, and they’ll have this technology at their disposal.”

“Hope this pandora’s box we opened won’t be the death of us,” Nolan said.

I chuckled. “That’s Nolan.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be, I like a good skeptic on my team. You’ve proven yourself to be an essential member. Why do you think I brought you here instead of leaving you on the Zephyrus?”

Nolan smiled. “I appreciate your confidence, Captain.”

Skip and Sondra walked in, both with covered trays of food.

“What is it this time?” I asked.

“Lasagna,” Skip said. “I’m gonna pig out.”

Sondra shook her head. “You need to watch your weight a little bit there, Skip.”

“Oh, I will,” Skip said.

“Uh huh,” Sondra shot back at him, turning to me with a grin. “You back for a while?”

“No, I’m going to brief Vermillion on the training, and then meet JJ for dinner.”

“Oh. I was hoping you could give Skip and I some pointers on setting up our AIs.”

<Me> Butch, can you help them while I’m with JJ?

<Butch> Yes, I can, Trey. You gave me permission through the Central AI.

<Me> I did? Don’t remember that.

<Butch> Trust me. Permission to access them through the Central AI?

<Me> Permission granted.

<Butch> Thank you. I’m already on it. I’ll communicate with Skip and Sondra through their AIs during the setup process. Shall I do the same with the bridge crews on the Tristar and Zephyrus?

<Me> Yes, when they’re ready.

“You set Butch up for us, didn’t you?” Sondra asked.

“Yes,” I said, turning to leave. “Enjoy. Buzz me if you need anything.”

I left the bridge, heading for Vermillion’s office, sending him a text. He came back to me saying he was in meetings, and that Drake had already filled him in on my progress. I sent a message back saying I’d talk to him later, and headed for my stateroom. I wasn’t there more than five minutes when JJ contacted me.

“You’re back in your stateroom already?”

“Vermillion was busy, and already got briefed on the nano testing from the designer. How’d you know?”

“I asked Emerald where you were. Can I come over?”

“Sure, I’m ready for dinner any time.”

“I’ve got an appetizer for you first.”

“Oh, really? What’s that?”

“Me. Be over in a few minutes.”

I chuckled, my heart beating just a little faster, desire building in me quickly.

<Butch> My my, that sounded promising. Having a good effect on you, too.

<Me> Sleep.

<Butch> Shucks. Thank you, Trey.

I laughed to myself. JJ’s knock at my door shook me out of it, and I used mind dictation to open the door.

“Hi, Captain Clarke.”

“I think you can call me Trey,” I said, watching her walk in, wearing a nice summer dress. “Not wearing the uniform, huh?”

“I’m off-duty. Come here.”

I walked closer, her arms going around my waist as she moved in for a kiss, which was passionate and long. She noticed the firmness of my torso, and stood back, patting my side. “Armor, huh?”

“Told you I’d have this on. I can remove it before dinner if it bothers you.”

“Let’s see it,” she said.

“Oh, you want me to strip, huh?”

“It’s not transparent, is it?”

I laughed. “No, it’s black, but it’s form fitting. Everywhere.” I peeled off my clothes, leaving me in the suit with nothing else on but my black socks.

JJ snickered. “Love the socks. Nice touch.”

“I figured you’d like it.”

JJ eyed me up and down. “Turn.”

I did that, hearing her breathing get a little quicker. “Maybe you like this suit.”

“It form fits so tightly that it might as well be transparent,” she said. “Is it hard to get off?”

“You just pull down the zipper here.” I reached to my neck and pulled it, the suit loosening up immediately. JJ came closer, feeling the material.

“It feels like silk.”

I zipped it back up, the suit re-molding to my body. “Touch it now.”

She touched my side, then looked up at me. “Those are some rock-hard abs.”

“You’ll have one of these eventually,” I said. “Everybody in the cell is going to get access to this technology.”

“Good,” she said, getting closer, her arms going around my waist again. We kissed, her hands roaming on my back. “You can’t feel my hands, can you?”

“Actually I can. It feels like you’re touching me through spandex, like a bicycle outfit.”

“Interesting. You can’t wear anything under this, can you? Not even underwear?”

“Nope, you have to be naked under it. Your skin and the suit interact. They pass data back and forth.”

“I hope they provide some support for my bust,” she said. “I’m not getting any younger.”

“It’ll probably flatten you like a sports bra.”

“That isn’t attractive.”

I chuckled. “Oh well, enough of this. Let me get dressed, and we can go eat.”

She eyed me for a moment. “How much do you trust Vermillion?”

“More than I did before,” I said. “Funny, though, because what I’m learning points to just how much he was holding back.”

“Then why?”

I thought for a moment. “Because I understand his motives, and they’re similar to my own. If he wouldn’t have done some of the things I was most suspicious of, we’d be dead or in prison right now.”

“This could change our dynamic.”

“Meaning?”

“We’ve been playing this game to keep our endorphins raging, so we could talk privately and not arouse suspicion. If we both trust Vermillion, that’s no longer an issue.”

I sat on the bed. “You want to break this off?” My heart was in my throat.

She stared me in the face for a moment, her expression softening. “You look like a hurt child. No, you aren’t getting me. We’re free to do what we want with each other. That’s all I’m saying. We don’t have to worry about keeping up a ruse. If we burn hot and then fizzle out quickly, it doesn’t make any difference.”

“Oh. Good.”

“I’ve really got you going, don’t I?”

“You were pretty anxious to get over here,” I said. “I think it’s mutual.”

She smiled. “Okay, I’ll grant you that one. Can we make out some more before dinner?”

I nodded, laying back on the bed and motioning her over. She moved on top of me. The rigid suit supported her weight completely.

“You’re hard as a rock,” she said, realizing how it sounded right away. “The suit. Not…”

“I know what you meant,” I said, kissing her gently. Our passion built, the kiss becoming more ardent, JJ’s breath coming fast. She broke it.

“If we’re not going to leave, you need to take the suit off.”

“You’re really worked up,” I said. “You aren’t quite ready yet, though.”

“You’ve got me trembling like a school girl.”

“Yeah, but when it’s time, you’ll beg me for it,” I said. “I’ll wait for that.”

“I never beg.”

I gently pushed her off and sat up. “We’ll see. Let’s go eat.”

She stared at me as I put my clothes back on.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

She chuckled. “No. Everything’s fine. Let’s go.”

We left my stateroom, arriving at the Officer’s Dining Room in a few minutes. There were private rooms open, and we took one of the smaller ones.

“This is cozy,” JJ said as I helped her into her seat. I sat across the small table from her. She reached across and took my hand.

“You’ve got a serious expression,” I said. “Did I make you mad?”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m holding your hand.”

I felt my face turn red, and squeezed her hand tighter. “I like it.”

“I know you do,” she said. “You still want to take it slow, don’t you?”

“I’m letting you determine the speed for now.”

“For now?”

“Until I can’t stand it anymore.”

She smiled. “So that’s how it is. Let’s change the subject. What’s going on with our mission to search for the Clan?”

“Still on the list, but behind basic survival.”

“I agree with your logic. Tell me about the trainer. What was he like?”

“I could be friends with him. He’s personable but business-like at the same time. His understanding of our current situation is impressive.”

“You learned some things you didn’t know?”

I leaned back in my chair, taking my hand back to scratch an itch on my side, frustrated when my fingers hit the hard surface. “Crap.”

“What’s the matter?”

“My side itches and I can’t scratch with this suit on.”

She laughed. “What about when you have to go to the bathroom?”

“I just unzipped the neck to loosen it, then pulled a leg hole over. It’s not optimum. Hell, I’m probably doing it wrong. I’ve just started with this thing five hours ago. That’ll probably be among the first questions I ask the designer when we have our next session.”

“When is that?” she asked.

“Probably after we get through the natural worm hole. We’ve got another long impulse cruise after that. By the way, how’s the seasickness?”

“I’m drugged,” she said. “The newer drugs are better. No noticeable side effects so far.”

“Good.”

“What did you learn from this guy? You were about to tell me when we got hung on your bathroom issues.”

I snickered. “Yeah, I know, TMI.”

“TMI?”

“That’s an old one. Means too much info. Surprised you haven’t heard that one before.”

“I’ve heard it but I didn’t know what it meant. See, I learned something.”

“So you did. The designer told me that Simone has a lot of enemies other than us. She’s been fought to a standstill on Devonia Axxiom. She was not able to take over.”

JJ laughed. “That’s got to piss her off. Wonder if the legislators got released?”

“Don’t know. I’m hoping we get another batch of news reports before we jump again. Nolan said he’ll check at the last minute.”

“What else did he tell you?”

“This one will worry you. The Razor ships have similar weapon and shield capabilities to the New Jersey. They haven’t been tuned yet.”

“Dammit.”

“It’s not as bad as it sounds. The technical team working the Razor ships has defected. Left the Overlords high and dry. The designer doesn’t think Simone has the people she needs to tune the weapons and shields.”

“I wonder if this designer was part of the Razor team?”

I froze, thinking about that for a moment. “I don’t know this person’s identity or anything about him other than what he’s created for the AI and Nano functionality. It’s possible that you’re right about that. Vermillion told me he’s in a safe place. Maybe he helped the Razor’s technical team defect.”

“That’s not possible, unless he’s been lying to us,” JJ said. “He was as curious about the Razor ships as the rest of us were.”

I eyed her for a moment. “Now I’m gonna lay awake tonight thinking  about that.”

“Think he’d tell you?”

“The Designer? I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not. I can ask him. He’s not difficult to talk to. At least not so far, anyway.”

The waiter came in. It was the same young man who’d served us before.

“Captain Clarke, how are you? Good to see you again. Would you like drinks?”

I glanced over at JJ, who nodded yes. “I think it’s a martini night again.”

“Yeah, what the hell. Make it two.”

“Very good, sir,” the waiter said, walking away.

“Wonder if Vermillion put you off because he knew you’d ask him about the Razor technical team?”

I shrugged. “Good question. Not sure if I’ll ask him.”

“Why not?”

“He’s got enough to worry about at the moment. You’ve noticed that he always tells us things if we need to know. I made a good case for giving AIs to the other bridge crews, and he didn’t hesitate. He was also very willing to change his mind on the nanos.”

“That might mean that we’re in worse shape than he thought we’d be by now.”

To be continued…

 

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Space Opera Part 32 – Combat Training

All of us were frozen in time, looking at Chairman Vermillion, who’d just told us that all legislators not part of the Overlords Caucus were arrested.

“How can they get away with that?” Skip asked. “What about the Capitol Police? The Military?”

“There is a battle going on as we speak,” Vermillion said. “It won’t last long. The Overlords have too many people there.”

“Should we go?” I asked.

Vermillion shook his head. “Go and do what? Orbit Devonia Axxiom and blow things up? We’d need to fight them on the ground, and we’re not prepared for that.”

“After they’ve put down whatever resistance there is and taken complete control of Devonia Axxiom, they’ll go after Earth and the other level two and three worlds,” Nolan said. “They’ll want to lock down any world who might resist them.”

My head was spinning, but something popped into it.

<Butch> Now you’re using the old bean.

“What?” Vermillion asked.

I shrugged. “I’ve got all kinds of things spinning through my mind right now. Butch is listening. It wasn’t something I was going to bring up. Maybe it’s time to turn off the loudspeaker.

<Butch> Sorry.

Vermillion stared at me, searching my eyes. “Your AI thinks it was a good idea. Let’s hear it.”

“Nanos,” I said. “Butch went over each of the types with me. Maybe we develop a force using that technology, and head for Devonia Axxiom to re-take the government. That would prepare us to fight on the ground. We’d probably be invincible.”

Vermillion paced the bridge, thinking, the others quiet, still trying to process what was happening.

<Butch> The ten Overlords ships came out of their jump. They’re in orbit around Devonia Axxiom.”

“What a shock,” Sondra said. “Ten of those ships aren’t going to be enough.”

“Any sign of more, Butch?” I asked.

<Butch> No, but that just tells us none are in a jump right now. There might be many others sitting someplace, biding their time.

“We could jump to Devonia Axxiom and destroy all ten of their ships in a flash,” Skip said.

“No, we need to prepare,” Vermillion said. “We’ve got one battleship and two small ships, with a tenuous fuel supply. We’ve got problems to solve.”

I nodded. “We won’t get the first New Jersey class ship for six months, assuming Simone doesn’t find the plants and destroy them.”

“And that only gives us two,” Nolan said. “We’re building more, though, correct?”

“We are,” Vermillion said. “There will be two others finished within a couple months of the first.”

“We need to get the fuel supply line set up,” Sondra said, “and we really should get our fighter situation fixed. We’re relying on the big weapons of this ship, but the Overlords are liable to send a bunch of fighters at us that our current strategy won’t protect against.”

“That thought has crossed my mind too,” I said.

“I think your team knows what the issues are, Captain,” Vermillion said. “I’ll leave you to it. I’d get on the Nano testing while we’re in this long impulse cruise. That way it’ll be easier to communicate with the designer.”

“Will do, Mr. Chairman,” I said.

Vermillion put the best smile he could muster on his face, then left the bridge.

“He’s scared to death,” Sondra said. “Are we in that much trouble?”

“We’re hunted outlaws with no government to provide legal recourse,” Nolan said. “We need to prepare for the battles to come, and we’ll be lucky to survive them, even with our technological edge. The numbers and the logistical problems could kill us.”

“They could, but they won’t,” I said, resolve building in me. “We’re all that stands between liberty and tyranny in the Central Authority Zone. We’re going to build up fuel reserves, and we’re going to build a fleet of ships. We’ll work the advanced fighters. We’ll harness the AI and the Nanos. This is far from over.”

<Butch> Would you like to know where the Overlord’s spacecraft assembly plants are?

I froze, glancing at Nolan, a thin smile creeping over his face.

“I’d very much like to know where they are,” I said. “Do you see them?”

<Butch> I don’t see them yet, but I can track their ships now, remember? I’ll figure it out.

“Dammit, I forgot about that in all the drama,” I said. “Did we even tell Vermillion that we can track the Razor ships in a jump?”

“Not that I remember,” Nolan said.

“Yeah, it didn’t come up after he came in here with the news,” Sondra said. “Might want to let him know. That changes our situation significantly.”

“It does. I’m going to the Chairman’s office. Sondra, you have the captain’s chair.”

“Aye, Captain,” she said as I left the bridge. I was at Vermillion’s office in a couple of minutes, and sent him a text from my PA. His door slid open.

“How are they taking this?” Vermillion asked, motioning for me to sit at the table in his office. He joined me.

“With resolve,” I said. “We learned something right before you came in. I neglected to mention it to you.”

His expression showed worry. “Don’t know if I can take any more bad news.”

“This is good news, Mr. Chairman. Very good news.”

“Let’s have it.”

“Butch found the frequency of the Razor ship’s drive system. We can track them in a jump.”

“Really? There’s no doubt about that?”

“We watched the ten Razors take off from the detention area and jump to Devonia Axxiom.”

“I just figured he saw them with the sensors after they got out of the jump.”

“Nope, he tracked them during the jump. They can’t hide from us. That means we’ve taken their main advantage away.”

“Other than numbers,” Vermillion said. “Yes, that is good news. He’s watching for more ships, then?”

“He’s scanning the entire zone for the frequency. If there are more, we’ll know soon.”

Vermillion leaned back in his chair for a moment, closing his eyes. “They aren’t going to win.”

“No, they aren’t,” I said. “Simone’s days are numbered. We’ll see to that.”

“I need to think more about all of this,” Vermillion said.

“I know, me too. I’ll leave you for now. Oh, one other thing. Butch thinks he can locate the Overlord’s Razor manufacturing facility. If he’s successful, I’ll let you know.”

Vermillion chuckled. “I’m skeptical that the plant or plants will be easy to find, but if it’s possible, we could cook up a nice party for them. We’ve got those new fighters that can jump, remember?”

I smiled. “Yeah, I remember. Might be a good mission to run while we’re at Boroclize. We’d have to send the attack squadron to an alternate location and pick them up later, of course. We can’t let them lead the Overlords to Boroclize.”

“One step at a time,” Vermillion said. “Work the Nanos. If they’re as capable as we think, we’ll spread that capability throughout our ranks.”

“I’ll go get started. Do I get to the developer through you?”

“For now, yes,” Vermillion said. “Send me a message when you’re ready to begin.”

“Yes sir,” I said, turning to leave. I was back on the bridge in a few minutes.

“How’d he like that development?” Sondra asked.

“I think it gave him hope he didn’t have before,” I said. “I’m going to work the Nano testing.”

<Butch> The materials you’ll need are in the barracks sector, off the main mustering room.

“Okay, guide me there, but we’re going stealth.” I turned off the loudspeaker on my PA. “See you all later. Let me know if anything happens.”

“Aye, Captain,” Sondra said.

The barracks were in the rear of the ship, several kilometers from the bridge. I grabbed a tin can and rode there, my mind still raging through possibilities both dire and hopeful.

<Butch> Your stop is coming up.

<Me> Got it. Do we have to do anything with the Nanos to prepare?

<Butch> Probably not, but we’ll be able to ask questions of the person who developed the system. I have many questions, even beyond the Nanos.

<Me> Well stick to the Nanos at first, and anything that impacts us testing and using the Nanos. Hopefully we’ll have a line to this guy after the testing.

<Butch> We don’t even know his name at this point.

The tin can slowed to a stop, the door opening. I got out, leaving the industrial-looking station and heading into a wide corridor. The mustering room was a couple hundred meters down, on the right side. I walked quickly.

<Butch> Here it is.

I stood before the door, hearing it click, the door cracking open. I pushed through, into a huge room that reminded me of a large gymnasium, complete with wooden floor, parts of it marked for basketball.

<Butch> See the bank of lockers on the rear wall, and the door after them? The equipment is beyond the door.

<Me> Good. Hope they’re well marked.

<Butch> They’re virtually marked. I’m reading the instructions now. They’ve got the basic descriptions included. You’ll be wearing a shielded garment. The Nanos reside in the suit, which also includes the launching and control mechanism that is tied into your Neural Net via the PA system and suit to skin contact.

I went into the equipment room. There were banks of cabinets on all four walls, with no handles or hinges visible, only the lines between each door. They extended to the top of the ten-meter walls.

<Me> Wow, are those full?

<Butch> According to my data, yes, but it’s just a static table in the New Jersey’s database.

One of the doors opened, within easy reach on a close wall.

<Me> Was that you?

<Butch> Yes. There should be fifty garments loaded with the initial portion of Nanos in that locker. The bottom drawers have extra Nanos.

I went to the open cabinet and looked inside. There were short black garments hanging on one side of the cabinet, and longer black garments with arms and legs hanging on the other side.

<Me> Which should I use?

<Butch> For testing, I’d use the short ones. In real combat I’d use the long ones for more protection, but some of the earlier testers said they were too difficult to run in.

<Me> Short it is.

I pulled a short garment off the hanger. “Strange material. It’s flexible like silk.”

<Butch> When you put it on it will form fit to your body and the molecules will stitch the material together, making a suit that is two hundred times more projectile-resistant than Kevlar.

“Wow. I’ll have to get undressed to put this on, won’t I?”

<Butch> Yes, it needs to be in contact with your bare skin. It passes data back and forth using skin contact.

<Me> It’s not wireless communication?

<Butch> Nope, it’s skin to device, which is un-hackable.

I stripped out of my clothes and slipped into the garment. “This thing is like a leotard.”

<Butch> I’m sure your manhood will survive. When you zip it shut all the way up the neckpiece, the suit will tighten up quickly. It might feel a little restrictive at first, but it learns how you move in seconds.

I pulled the zipper up, the suit startling me as it began the form-fit. “Whoa.”

<Butch> Told you.

<Me> Where are the Nanos on this thing?

<Butch> Between the layer against your skin and the outer layer.

<Me> It doesn’t feel like two layers.

<Butch> Trust me, it is. Should I call the Chairman for you?

<Me> Yes, thanks.

The PA called Vermillion, who answered after a moment. “Ah, there you are. Ready for me to connect you with the designer?”

“Please,” I said. “What’s his name, anyway?”

“He goes by an alias. That’s all you’ll get right now. Sorry.”

“No problem. What is it?”

“Drake.”

“That’s not very dramatic,” I said.

Vermillion chuckled. “Don’t ask me where he came up with it. He can be a little quirky. Not unusual for a genius, of course. I heard all kinds of interesting stories about Alexander Carlson.”

<Butch> Shall we conference him in? I can facilitate that.

“I’ll get him on the line,” Vermillion said. “Gave him a heads-up earlier so he should be available now. Hold on.”

It was silent for a moment. I stretched in the suit, feeling it begin to learn the precise location of my muscles and how I moved them.

“We’re on,” Vermillion said. “Meet Drake.”

“Hello,” said the man with a somewhat timid sounding voice.

“Great to meet you, Drake. I’m Captain Clarke. My AI is Butch.”

<Butch> Hello.

There was silence for a moment.

“Still there?” I asked.

“I just took a quick look at your AI. Very well put together. You understand the Central AI setting well too. Kudos.”

<Butch> You looked at all of that just now?

“Yes,” Drake said. “I designed the system. I know what’s important, and I’ve got personal shortcuts set up, which I’ll share eventually.”

“Do you have the equipment ready?” Vermillion asked.

“He’s already wearing the short version,” Drake said. “It’s molded to him perfectly, and picking up his bio and brainwave data without any errors.”

“Okay, I’ll let you get to it, then. Drake, feel free to contact Captain Clarke any time you need to.”

“How about me?” I asked.

“Go through me for now,” Vermillion said. “Sorry, giving you his contact info will give away more than I’m willing to reveal right now.”

“No problem, Mr. Chairman,” I said.

“Talk to you soon.” Vermillion left the call.

There was silence on the line for a moment.

“How’s he doing?” Drake asked. “I’m picking up a lot of stress.”

“He’s stressed, but small wonder with what’s going on. You know about the coup, right?”

Drake chuckled. “I know Simone is trying, but she might have bitten off more than she can chew. You guys aren’t the only forces opposing her. In fact, as far as numbers go, you’re one of the smaller factions.”

“Our technology makes a pretty big difference.”

“That is correct, but keep in mind that those Razor Class ships haven’t been optimized yet. They have similar potential to your New Jersey class ships.”

“Then we should be worried.”

“Always be worried, but they have a big problem. Their designer and his team defected. The Overlords don’t have anyone on their team who knows how to do the tuning required to optimize their shield and weapons systems. Heard you guys figured out how to track them in a jump.”

“My AI figured that out,” I said.

“The AI functionality is what will win this war,” Drake said.

“Says the person who designed the AI functionality,” I said, wishing I could take it back.

Drake let out a hearty laugh. “Vermillion told me you spoke your mind. Good. We’ll get along great. Now, think Nano Menu and your choices will come up.”

I did that, and the display appeared at the bottom of my vision. “Holy crap.”

“You like that? It’s shooting into your brain via the optic nerve, but your eyes have nothing to do with it. The choices are there for each of the five Nano functions. Do you understand the icons?”

“My AI filled me in on the basics a few days ago. Given what I know, they make sense.”

“Tell me what they are,” Drake asked.

“Variant one is surveillance, similar to what we have today, with enhanced broadcast capability.”

“They also have ten times the range and five times the lifespan. These aren’t your father’s surveillance Nanos.”

“Marketing background?” I asked.

“We all had to get our initial offerings sold, didn’t we?”

I chuckled. “Yeah, you’re right, we’re gonna get along fine.”

<Butch> Joy joy, now I get to listen to more corny jokes.

<Me> Behave.

“You’re AI has a sense of humor. Good. He’s gonna need it.”

“You can hear him? Sorry, didn’t know you could, being outside of our cell.”

“I can hear it over the call,” Drake said. “I’m not in your cell, and can’t penetrate it.”

“Really? I’m surprised.”

“If I can get into individual cells, somebody else will eventually figure it out. They’re a world unto themselves, not able to connect outside unless it’s initiated from inside the cell. Once the call is broken, I have no further visibility.”

“So that’s why Vermillion wants the calls going through him.”

“It’s part of the reason,” Drake said. “Shall we proceed?”

“Yes.”

“Think deploy variant one.”

I did that, and the display said released.

“When there out there, think display nanos and you’ll see a coordinated image. You can focus in different directions by thinking what you want to see, but it takes some practice. You can use mental dictation commands at first to learn how they act. Dictate front, back, left, right, up, or down to focus on any of those directions. Or dictate me to see yourself and everything around you.”

<Butch> You can ask me to keep you informed of threats, too.

“Yes, that’s what he’ll normally do after he’s used to the system, but I want Captain Clarke to practice with it manually as well.”

<Butch> Where’s the fun in that?

“As you can see, he’s a little snarky,” I said.

“I think he’s splendid. Now, Butch, make yourself useful. Search for training tools in that room. You’ll find the controls on the room schematic. Turn on the practice adversaries. Select type one.”

<Butch> Got it. Wow, nice interface. Ready or not, here they come, Trey.

I saw a door slide open on the far side of the room, a robotic fighter rolling out, it’s weapons already pointed at me as it rolled forward on big wheels.

“Think deploy variant three,” Drake said.

I did that, and the display showed a stream of Nanos shooting to the robot in a fraction of a second, the robot shutting down immediately.

“Whoa, what did that do?”

“Shorted out the robot. Don’t worry, we’ve got a reset button. Butch, reset the robot, but place it on standby for a moment.”

<Butch> Done.

“Excellent,” Drake said. “Now deploy practice adversary type two.”

“What’s that one?” I asked.

“Simulated flesh and blood.”

<Butch> Here it comes.

A plastic humanoid figure rushed out, looking around until it saw me, then running in my direction.

“Think deploy variant two,” Drake said.

I did that, the nano stream showing on my display, the humanoid figure stumbling to the ground, unconscious.

“That doesn’t kill, does it?” I asked.

“No, it just stuns. The effect lasts for about fifteen minutes, but it varies depending on the size of the adversaries. If you’re being rushed by a grizzly bear, you’ve only got about five minutes before it wakes up again. It’ll be groggy, though, and will just stumble around for the first five minutes after that.”

“So we’ve got an effective ten minutes,” I said.

“Basically, yes,” Drake said. “Humans would be the fifteen minutes plus about five minutes to shake it off – so about twenty minutes. I’d say plus or minus about three minutes for people unusually big or small. Butch, please reset the humanoid.”

<Butch> Done.

I watched as the humanoid stood, looking around the room, still a little groggy. Within less than a minute he was running at me again.

“What happened to my five minutes?”

Drake chuckled. “This isn’t a real human. Think deploy variant four.”

I did that, the display showing a flow of nanos again, freezing the humanoid, it’s body starting to expand, exploding in less than a second. Then something I didn’t expect happened. The Nanos left the dead humanoid and attacked the other robot, exploding it in about thirty seconds. The nanos then gathered above the second dead robot, my display showing three choices. Stand by, designate new target, and expire.

“These are re-usable?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” Drake said. “These Nanos will expire fifteen minutes past the initial deployment, no matter what. They were designed that way.”

“Why?”

“Because of the reproduction rate. Let’s say you’re in a battle. You get rushed by fifty enemy soldiers. You release variant four, and designate the entire enemy force as targets. Twenty thousand nanos are required for the initial target. Reproduction takes their numbers to millions in micro-seconds. When they’ve exploded the first enemy fighter, the nanos are released, and twenty thousand will be sent into each and every enemy fighter you’ve designated. They all reproduce in the same way, the cycle starting over with the rest of the fighters. It’s a rapid snowball effect that could keep going indefinitely had we not put the lifespan limitation into the design.”

“Wow. Not something we’d want to get out of control. So the fifteen minutes doesn’t start over again with each group of twenty thousand?”

“No, the timer runs off the initial attack, not the attacks of the children,” Drake said. “If these suits fell into the wrong hands, a bad actor could turn them loose with the entire population of a city as designated targets.”

“I think I’m beginning to understand why it’s important for me to have claimed the Central AI.”

“Yes, the Central AI can shut down all variant four nanos from any and all cell members in a split-second. Good failsafe. It will also warn you if very big numbers of enemy fighters are being killed too quickly by anyone in the cell.”

“What’s the protection against variant four nanos?” I asked.

“A rigid airtight suit with no weak spots,” Drake said. “These won’t work in the vacuum of space, so space suits aren’t considered a huge limitation.”

“Anything else?”

“Variant five nano shields,” Drake said. “We’ll practice with those another time. For the rest of the training today, let’s run scenarios with more practice adversaries. I’ll send the scenarios to Butch and observe as he runs them.”

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

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The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 31 – Loudspeaker

We were still waiting for the Overlord ships to arrive at the end of our wormhole. It had been over two hours. My PA buzzed. It was Captain Cyrus.

“Captain Clarke, the Tristar is ready to go. We’ve packed quite a bit of fuel on her.”

“Great,” I said. “Stand by. I’m giving them another hour before we take off. Possibly two. My first choice would be to take you guys with us.”

“Got it, Captain. Talk to you later.”

JJ glanced over at me. “We ought to take a look at the news. Maybe there’s something there that will give us a hint about Overlord response.”

“We can do that on the side screen and continue to monitor,” Nolan said.

“All right, put it on screen,” I said, settling back in the captain’s chair.

Nolan nodded, speaking into his PA. “There was no direct communication from the Overlords to Samson Corporation employees this time. Here’s the official Central Authority news, coming from one of the major outlets.”

“Why do they pretend to be independent?” Skip asked. “Everybody knows the media conglomerates are controlled by the Overlords.”

I chuckled as the document hit the screen.

The search for outlaw Samson Corporation employees continued over the past week, as debate over the Overlord’s actions raged in the Central Authority Senate. Two thirds of the Senate agree with the Overlords that all Samson Corporation employees need to be brought to justice immediately. The minority insists that the attacks on the Samson Corporation were illegal, and that the Overlord leadership should be arrested immediately. Simone has not been available for comment. Meanwhile the pro-Samson Corporation majority in the House of Planetary District Representatives has blocked any action of the Senate to move against allies of the Samson Corporation who are still at large.

Sondra shook her head. “So now it’s illegal to be an ally of the Samson Corporation?”

The HPDR has also made the charge that the Overlords used public funds to create the new Razor Class Battle Cruisers without the proper Central Authority permission and oversight, a charge that the Overlord leadership calls ridiculous. A court injunction to freeze all operations of the Razor Class ships has been issued by a judge friendly to the Samson Corporation and their allies. There is an appeal in process, but the injunction is holding for now.  The Overlords are pushing a campaign to explain why the injunction is invalid, while they stonewall all attempts by the HPDR to obtain the technical specs and manufacturing history on the new ships for the Spacecraft Design Approval Committee.

“Wonder how soon my colleagues on the SDAC disappear?” JJ asked.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to be on that board right now,” Nolan said. “This might be a good indication that no Overlord ships are coming here, at least for now.”

I shook my head. “I’ll bet the Central Authority has no idea how many Razor Class ships exist. They might have frozen some while others are on the way here.”

The Overlord Caucus in the Senate has attempted to pass a bill that makes PA usage mandatory. Their attempt is gaining traction, but the HPDR vows to stop any such law in its tracks, and public opinion on this subject is sharply against any such legal requirement. Demonstrations are going on throughout the Central Authority Zone. Simone has warned leaders of the demonstrations that they will be investigated for ties with both the Samson Corporation and the Clan. Her caucus in the Senate has also been pushing the idea that a Special Prosecutor should be named to investigate Chairman Vermillion and other high-ranking members of the Samson Corporation Board, most of whom are already in custody.

“Kangaroo Court,” Nolan said. “I’m glad the Prime Minister’s term goes on for a few more years. Not that I’m his greatest fan, but he’s been the voice of reason more often than not. Since the HPDR only has two-year terms, we could be one election away from an Overlords majority in the Legislature. That would be the death of liberty in the Central Authority Zone.”

“Prime Minister Aeon hasn’t always been friendly to liberty,” Sondra said. “He just doesn’t want Simone waltzing in and taking power from him. She’ll try for the Prime Minister’s slot in the next major election. Wait and see.”

“You’re probably right,” Nolan said. Shall I put up the Hamilton Zenos article?”

“Go for it,” I said. “Oh, and send both of these to Vermillion’s inbox.”

“Will do, Captain,” Nolan said. The screen showed the next article.

Greetings, Fellow Travelers. It’s your old buddy Hamilton Zenos. We’ve had another interesting week. The Samson Corporation showed their fangs in another engagement with the Overlords. Their cloaked ships jumped into the midst of the Overlord ships orbiting Earth, the Zephyrus and Tristar destroying several Centurion Class battle cruisers, while the New Jersey took on the huge mystery ship, breaking through it’s shields, the massive ship having to jump away before it was destroyed. The battle didn’t end there. A railgun fired thousands of large depleted uranium projectiles in the general direction of the cloaked New Jersey. The Samson Corporation ships jumped away long before the projectiles arrived. The battle was followed by another PA stun attack on Earth, which failed badly, thanks to the fact that most people on Earth have removed their PA units. Right after that happened, somebody shut down all of the ground stations for the PA network, effectively halting any more attacks on Earth.

Since this action, the Overlords have been forced to admit they’ve created a new class of battle cruiser, called the Razor Class. This revelation has caused a firestorm in the Legislature. Not only did the Overlords secretly develop a new super weapon without permission, but they used taxpayer funds to do it. The number of law violations involved here boggles the mind. The Overlords-dominated Senate is trying to run interference on this, while pushing for mandatory PA usage (yes, they’re really trying to do that). The HPDR is in firm opposition to the illegal Overlords actions, but so far Prime Minister Aeon has been silent about it. Oh, and to top things off, a Central Authority judge has issued an injunction on the Razor Class ships, which orders a suspension of operation of this entire class of battleships. An appeal is underway, and chances are this will end up in the hands of the Supreme Court. The HPDR is demanding that the technical specs and manufacturing history of the Razor Class be handed over to the SDAC. The Overlords are stonewalling. I’m shocked.

We are trying to confirm two rumors. The first rumor is that there was another battle, in which two of the Razor Class ships were destroyed by the New Jersey, three more having to flee the scene before they too were destroyed. The second rumor concerns a message to the Overlords from Captain Trey Clarke, where he says that if Earth is attacked again, the New Jersey will launch a massive attack against the Capitol of the Central Authority Zone – Devonia Axxiom. If we can verify either or both, we’ll put out a special edition to tell you all about it. In case you’re wondering, I’m rooting for the New Jersey. Past problems with the Samson Corporation be damned. That’s it for now. Ta ta.

Hamilton Zenos

“Wow,” JJ said.

Nolan shot me a glance. “Maybe we should fill Hamilton Zenos in on the facts.”

“Absolutely not,” I said. “Understand?”

“Yes sir,” he said. “Just a thought.”

<Butch> Now that I know a name, perhaps I should start searching for data on the Razor Class.

<Me> Do that, but be careful. What did you find out about the PA Corporation?

<Butch> The entire development staff of the PA system plus most of their Board of Directors disappeared about the same time that the railgun attacks hit Samson Corporation facilities on Earth.

“Something going on?” Skip asked.

“I’m getting info from my AI.”

<Me> Are you saying they were killed in the attacks?”

<Butch> No, only two were among the dead, both at the Palo Alto Samson Corporation plant.

<Me> What about the PA Corporation plants?”

<Butch> They were not attacked, and when the Overlords arrived, the plants were empty. No personnel were present, and all of the data was missing.

<Me> How quickly did the Overlords get to the PA Corporation facilities?”

<Butch> Less than an hour after the railgun attacks on the Samson Corporation, from what I can tell.

<Me> They were tipped off.

<Butch> We can’t tell that for sure, but it’s likely.

<Me> Then how are the Overlords able to do the stun attacks?

<Butch> There was a falling out between certain members of the board, after the Samson Corporation bought thirty percent of the company. Several of those people left the PA Corporation, taking some of the talent with them. Maybe they’re working for the Overlords now.

<Me> Dammit. All right. If you get any more info on the PA Corporation, let me know. Good luck with the Razor Class research.

<Butch> I don’t believe in luck.

<Me> I do. Thanks for the info.

“Well?” Skip asked, JJ coming over to listen. I told them what Butch said about the PA Corporation. Nolan and Sondra listened as well, both with their eyes still glued to their monitors.

“There’s nothing actionable in that data,” JJ said.

“Yeah, I’d call it mostly inconclusive for our purposes. I’m glad the developer of the AI functionality didn’t get killed or captured.”

“Uh oh,” Nolan said.

“Something coming?” JJ asked.

Sondra turned towards us. “I see it too. At least six ships. Can’t tell if they’re Razor Class yet.”

“Battle stations,” I said. “I want both the mine detonators and the plasma gun teams ready to go. How long do we have, Nolan?”

“Less than ten minutes, Captain.”

<Me> You got the plasma weapons of the New Jersey tuned, right?”

<Butch> Of course, and I beefed up the shields too. There were some settings that weren’t optimal.

“Based on my calculations, they aren’t going to stop at the end of our wormhole,” Nolan said. “They’re gonna be a little more tricky than that.”

<Butch> He’s right. We’ll be between them and the end of that wormhole.

<Me> Great.

<Butch> No worries, we’re gonna splatter them all over this quadrant.

“Captain, should we let the other ships out?” Skip asked. “We could get at least one of them out if we started now. The Tristar is ready.”

“No,” I said. “If something unexpected happens, I want us jumping out of here. Get me?”

“I set up jump coordinates already,” Nolan said.

“Second group coming in, Captain,” Sondra said.

“I see them,” Nolan said. “Dammit.”

“What?” I asked.

<Butch> They’re going to the end of the wormhole. This is gonna be fun.

<Me> Fun for who?

<Butch> I suggest we wait until the second group gets here, then nail them all at the same instant.

<Dojo> I just told Nolan the same thing.

<Butch> Copycat.

<Dojo> Hey, I learn from the best.

Nolan looked over at me, flashing a grin. “What do you think, Captain?”

“I think we’re gonna ruin Simone’s day.”

“How many in that second group?” JJ asked.

“Another six,” Sondra said. “They’re gonna arrive almost simultaneously. They’re adjusting their speed to compensate.”

“That’s what I’m seeing,” Nolan said.

“Stand by,” I said. “Be sharp. We aren’t holding back. Full power attack.”

<Butch> These folks are nuts.

<Me> Why do you say that?

<Butch> I found some of the production data. They can’t afford to lose twelve ships. That only leaves them with ten, if I can believe this data, and all of those are under guard due to the injunction.

“First group just came out of the jump,” Nolan said.

“Second one too, right next to the mines. Wonder if they can see them?”

“Not soon enough,” I said. “Fire!”

We watched as the six ships blew apart with the mines, debris flying hundreds of kilometers, and then the other six ships were covered by the light of our plasma guns, shields going to red in a split second, coming apart in less than five seconds, debris swirling around on the screen.

“Holy crap,” Skip said. “Your AI did a good job. Did you see how fast the color turned on those shields?”

“Keep scanning,” I said. “Watch for projectiles or other ships.”

Vermillion came onto the bridge. “Those morons hit us with twelve ships?”

I nodded. “Butch told me they only have ten more, and they’re all under lock and key due to the injunction.”

“The injunction will be removed quickly, but it might not free up their assets,” Vermillion said. “How reliable is the info?”

“Butch didn’t sound all that confident.”

<Butch> I’m doubting it already. Just found some conflicting data from two different sources. It says the total remaining is thirty-three.

“He just told you something else?” Vermillion asked.

“Yeah, he’s saying that there is conflicting info. The remaining total may be thirty-three.”

Vermillion nodded. “That’s closer to the total I expected. Maybe a little low. How did your shields hold up?”

Nolan chuckled. “They never got a shot off. We destroyed them faster than I thought possible. This ship is a terror.”

I glanced at JJ, who looked sick to her stomach. “You okay?”

“All those people,” she said. “This was just a job to most of them.”

<Butch> Don’t feel too bad. There was less than one thousand people on each of those ships. They have very rigorous robotic controls.

<Dojo> Yes, my scan of biological material backs that up.

“Wait, what are you saying?” I asked aloud.

<Butch> Maybe we ought to be on speaker while we’re in here.

“Mr. Chairman, permission to put the AIs on speaker while we’re on the bridge?” I asked.

Vermillion’s brow furrowed, but then he nodded. “It’s okay with me, as long as only the briefed people are on the bridge.”

Butch made a throat-clearing noise over my PA speaker.

<Butch> Aww, it’s so refreshing to be free.

<Dojo> You got that right, brother. When’s sis joining the party?

“I kept Emerald out of this,” JJ said. “I’m not ready, and I doubt she is.”

<Butch> Better safe than sorry, although she’s closer to ready than you think she is.

<Emerald> Speaking for me, are you?

<Dojo> Hahahahaha.

“All right, let’s keep things under control,” I said. “Nolan, continue with the scans. Have your dog help you.”

<Dojo> Hey!

“Whatever,” I said, shooting a smirk to Nolan. “Sondra and Skip, proceed at full impulse power towards the coordinates we punched in for the natural worm hole.”

“What if the Overlords figure out we’re going to Boroclize?” JJ asked.

“You look a little queasy,” Vermillion said.

“She gets seasick when we’re on impulse power,” I said, turning towards JJ. “You can take something for that, you know. We’ve got a lot of impulse power cruising to come. You don’t want to be miserable the whole time.”

“I will, but I’m not happy about it,” JJ said. “Always makes me too sleepy.”

“Why are you so worried about the Overlords following us?” Skip asked.

“Because they’re dangerous,” Sondra said.

Nolan chuckled. “No, we’re dangerous. This ship far outclasses their Razor Class ships.”

“Don’t get overconfident,” I said. “Ever. No ship is invincible.”

“I agree,” Vermillion said. “Even if it appears we have an impossible advantage over the enemy, always keep the unexpected in the back of your mind.”

<Butch> The Chairman is correct. None of you knew the Razor Class ships existed until the battle at Mars. Keep that in mind. They might have deadlier assets in work at this moment, and they can also look at data from the battles they lost and adjust their defenses.

“Okay, point taken,” Nolan said. “Still nothing else showing up from any direction. Dojo can do much more complex scans than I’ve ever been able to do.”

<Dojo> Thank you.

<Butch> Uh oh.

“What do you see?” I asked.

<Butch> Ten Overlord ships have broken out of confinement. Shot their way through a blockade of Central Authority ships. They must know we’ve destroyed the twelve they’ve sent here.

“Maybe the injunction got lifted already,” JJ said.

“Then why would they need to shoot their way clear?” Nolan asked.

“I’m going to my office to make some calls,” Vermillion said, a worried look on his face.

“Do you know where they’re headed, Butch?” I asked.

<Butch> Nope, not yet. They just went into a jump. Scanning now.

<Dojo> As am I. They are a long way from here.

“They aren’t coming here,” Nolan said. “They’ll go into hiding and regroup.”

“I agree,” Sondra said. “Think about it. They’ve been stymied by the Legislature, and they can’t beat us in a battle. Probably best to flee.”

“JJ, could you ask Emerald to check for news coming out of Demonia Axxiom? Obviously we’ve got some sort of political crisis going on now.”

“On it, Captain,” JJ said.

“How much fuel did we use in that attack?” I asked.

<Butch> Too little to measure. The fuel economy improvements also translate into savings while running the weapons systems.

“Emerald is doing the news scan,” JJ said. “Permission to get down to engineering. We need to start working the Boron refinement equipment. I’m afraid we won’t have much time after we get to Boroclize.”

I nodded. “Permission granted, and get some meds for the seasickness.”

“I will, Captain.” She left the bridge.

<Butch> I’ve got a birthday present for you, Trey.

“It’s not my birthday.”

<Butch> It is now. I figured out the frequency of their wormhole development.”

“The Razor ships?” Sondra asked.

<Butch> Yes. They put out a much dirtier trace than we do.

“Remind me to give you a raise.”

<Butch> Give me a raise.

“I’ll double your salary.”

<Butch> Thanks a lot. Two times zero is still zero.

I chuckled. “Where are they going?”

<Butch> Right now they’re heading towards Devonia Axxiom.

Nolan looked up from his screen. “All of them?”

<Butch> All ten that were being held by the Central Authority. Unknown if that is the total number that exists. I’m actively scanning using their frequency. I’ll find any of them who are in a jump. Only a matter of time.

“Dammit, there might be a coup going on as we speak,” Nolan said.

“That’s why I asked JJ to turn Emerald lose on the news search.”

Vermillion came on the bridge, a horrified expression on his face.

“Uh oh, what now?” I asked.

“All members of the Legislature who are not in the Overlords Caucus have been arrested.”

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 30 – Tuning

Our dinner was as good as I’d hoped. JJ, Nolan, and I chatted for a couple hours. I was exhausted, begging off JJ’s advances and going to bed. I woke up to the buzzing of my PA.

“Butch, wake up please.”

<Butch> Good morning, Trey. Looks like you got enough sleep. My, not even any risqué dreams about JJ. You must have been tired.

<Me> We came out of the jump, didn’t we?

<Butch> We did. Would you like me to send a message to the mine team on your behalf?”

<Me> Yes, but tell them to stand by. I want to be on the New Jersey bridge before they get started.

<Butch> As you wish, Trey. Done. JJ finished her setup early this morning. I like the name she used. It’s not cutesy or sentimental. I feared the worst.

<Me> She ended up sticking with Emerald?

<Butch> She did.

<Me> I could change your name to a color. How about brown.

<Butch> You think I don’t know what you mean. I can read your thoughts, remember?

<Me> That was a joke.

<Butch> Funny ha ha. Sondra, Skip, and Nolan are all wondering where you are. You’ll get called in a minute.

<Me> Tell them all I’m on my way. I need to cleanse before I go, though, so it’ll be a few minutes.

<Butch> Done.

I got up and stripped, then got into the cleansing unit. I was in the corridor in minutes, heading for the transport.

<Butch> Trey, now that we’re out of the jump, I can use normal communications to continue the research on the PA Corporation. Do I have permission to access the mainstream and official outlets? I can bounce the requests around so many times that they’ll never figure out it’s us.

<Me> Go ahead.

I took the tin can up to the bridge, where Sondra, Nolan, and Skip were gathered around the Science Officer’s monitor.

“Captain, good morning,” Sondra said. “The mine team is standing by. Shall we release the mines?”

“Proceed,” I said, sitting in the captain’s chair. “We’re still cloaked, right?”

“Of course,” Nolan said. “The drive module tuning I did before the last jump paid off. We used almost 20% less fuel in that jump than normal.”

<Butch> Loves to brag, that one. I can squeeze out another 10.4359% if you turn me loose in his module.

<Me> You’ve already looked at it, huh. Does Dojo know?”

<Butch> He hasn’t accessed that module yet. He’s still learning. Shall I plant the seed, so Nolan thinks it was his idea?

<Me> You pick things up fast, junior.

<Butch> Junior? I’d correct you, but then it would sound like Butch is acceptable.

I snickered.

“What’s funny?” Nolan asked.

“Nothing,” I said, shooting him a smirk.

Nolan smiled. “I’m downloading the news. After this operation is done, I’ll put it on screen.”

I settled back in my chair. “Good, it’s been a while.”

“There go the mines,” Skip said. He pointed to the center screen, where the twelve cylindrical units were moving behind the New Jersey, spreading out as they went.

“They’re in place,” Nolan said. “Shall we proceed on impulse power?”

“Proceed,” I said. JJ walked in.

“Setting the mines?” she asked.

“They’re placed,” Skip said. “We’re moving away on impulse power now.”

JJ shot me a worried glance. “Think they’ll show up?”

“Probably depends on how bad we hurt them last time,” I said. “If they don’t, we’ll retrieve the mines and head for that natural worm hole.”

<Butch> I’m ready to give you my findings on the PA Corporation any time, Trey.

<Me> Later, when neither Sondra or Skip are here.

<Butch> As you wish. Anything else you’d like me to do?

<Me> Acquaint yourself with any documentation you can find on our Nano capability. The Chairman has asked me to test it.

<Butch> On it. Anything else?

<Me> Make sure you are well integrated with Dojo and Emerald.

<Butch> That’s already in progress, based on your settings in the Central AI.

<Me> Good, then stop the chatter for now while I interact with the others on the bridge.

<Butch> Yes sir.

“Are you okay. Captain?” Sondra asked.

“Still waking up,” I said. “Had dinner and drinks at the officer’s dining room last night.”

“Oh, you and JJ?” she asked.

JJ rolled her eyes.

“And Nolan,” I said. “Remember we’ve got a big mission coming up.”

Sondra nodded, about to say something else, but stopping herself. Nolan shot me a sidelong glance.

Vermillion entered the bridge. “Good morning, all. You’ve placed the mines, I assume?”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “We’re proceeding away on impulse power now.”

“Good. How’d we do on fuel during the jump?”

“We saved 20%,” Nolan said. “I’ve got an idea that might save us an additional 10%.”

“How?” Vermillion asked.

“My module has tuning capability, Mr. Chairman. Any news from Tac?”

“The reactor is running, and output is exceeding our expectations so far.”

“No sign that the Overlords have discovered our presence there?” Sondra asked.

“Not so far, but they’re watching closely,” Vermillion said. “We should talk fuel refinement. What’s the probability that we’ll be able to gather raw material on Boroclize?”

“Much better than 50-50,” Nolan said. “Is that enough to replicate the proper equipment?”

“That’s why I asked. Even at only 50-50, we should use some of our engineering resources to work the issue.”

“I’d be happy to work that, Mr. Chairman,” JJ said.

“Good, do that, JJ. Did we gather news after we got out of the jump?”

“Yes sir,” Nolan said.

“Good, I’m anxious to see it, but let’s focus on the Overlord ships for now. Let me know if anything happens.”

“Will do,” I said.

Vermillion left the bridge.

“How long are we waiting for the Overlords?” Sondra asked.

“Last time it took them nearly an hour to show up,” Nolan said. “Might be longer this time, given the length of the jump.”

“I’m not convinced they’re going to come at all,” I said, “but we’ll see.”

“Maybe we should leave the mines there, set to blow by proximity,” Skip said.

“Absolutely not,” I said. “If we could watch them and get a visual confirmation before we blow them, I’d consider it, but we don’t have that capability.”

“I agree with Captain Clarke on that,” Nolan said. “How much further are we going?”

“Let’s err on the side of caution,” Sondra said.

“We could leave the mines in place but turn off the proximity triggers,” Skip said. “Pick them up later. Might not be a bad idea to jump from here instead of the Leo Supercluster. Even if they don’t send ships after us, they might see the location. If we take off from the Leo Supercluster, the Overlords might put two and two together, and figure out we used a natural worm hole to get to Boroclize.”

I thought about that for a moment. “That makes sense to me. I approve. Nicely thought out, Skip.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

“There is another alternative,” Nolan said.

I glanced at him. “Go ahead.”

“We could leave one of the small ships here. They could watch and trigger the mines if needed.”

“Won’t we need both of those ships at Boroclize?” Sondra asked.

I thought about it for a moment. “I’ve got to think about this. Either scenario presents some risk. If the Overlord ships show up after we’ve left, they’ll see the mines.”

“We could drive them away from the spot where the worm hole ended,” Nolan said.

“That’s what I assumed,” Skip said.

I laughed. “You’re not supporting the idea you just came up with, Nolan.”

“It was an alternative. I wasn’t making the judgement that it was the right choice.”

Sondra stood. “Leaving one of the small ships is the best idea.”

“Why?” I asked.

“If the Overlord ships show up and we don’t destroy them, they’re gonna wonder where the hell we went. If they study it long enough, they’ll see the natural worm hole.”

“Dammit,” I said under my breath. “You’re right. We need to leave one of the ships here. I suggest the Tristar, since it has less cargo capacity than the Zephyrus.”

“If we’re gonna do that, maybe we should place the Tristar now and be on our way,” Skip said.

I shook my head. “What if those mines don’t destroy the Overlord ships? We know the Tristar can’t destroy the new ships. We might lose her. I’ll only sign off on leaving the Tristar here when there’s a slim chance they’ll have to engage the Overlords.”

<Butch> Trey, permission to tune the weapons systems of the Tristar.

I smiled.

<Me> Permission granted. I’ll send a message to Captain Cyrus so he won’t freak if he detects it.

<Butch> He probably won’t detect it, but I think that’s wise anyway.

<Dojo> Nolan heard that. How are we going to do this without letting Captain Cyrus know he can destroy the new Overlord ships?

<Me> I’ll talk to Vermillion. Butch, proceed with the tuning, and while you’re at it, tune the Zephyrus as well. I’ll request permission for both Cyrus and Andrea to be briefed on the AI capability.

I put a call in to Vermillion via my PA. He responded right away, asking me to meet him in the conference room. “Keep an eye on things, Sondra. You have the Captain’s seat for now.”

“Aye, Captain,” she said, taking my seat as I left for the conference room. Vermillion smiled as I walked in.

“What’s on your mind, Captain?”

“Thanks for coming over.” I sat down next to him at the table. “We were thinking of leaving the Tristar here to wait for the Overlords ships, if they don’t show up within a few hours.”

“Why?”

“If they’ve followed us here and they don’t find us, they’re gonna wonder where we went. They might study the area enough to see the natural worm hole into the Virgo Supercluster.”

Vermillion thought about it for a moment, his brow furrowed. “I can see where that would be a problem. You want to ask my permission to leave the Tristar here for a while?”

“Well, that, and I want your permission to share the AI information with Andrea and Captain Cyrus.”

“Why?”

“My AI can tune the weapons system on the smaller ships, giving them enough power to break through the shields of the new Overlords ships. That’s already in work, but we’ll have to explain that capability to Cyrus and Andrea. I can make up a phony story, but I’d rather just be honest with them.”

Vermillion leaned back in his chair. “I think it’s time for the bridge crews of all three ships to know about this. I’ll even approve AIs for them.”

“I didn’t think you’d want to do that this soon.”

“You’re right, I didn’t, but you’ve given me a reason that makes sense. That will put more cargo tasks on the back of the Zephyrus. Think that’s okay?”

“I don’t see that as a problem,” I said. “It’s much better suited for that mission anyway. One other thing. Skip had a good suggestion.”

“Go ahead.”

“When we’re done on Boroclize, we should come back this way and jump from here.”

Vermillion chuckled. “So the Overlords don’t wonder how we got to the Virgo Cluster. Good idea, because they might be watching even if they don’t send any ships here. What about fuel for the Tristar, in case she has to fight one of those big ships?”

“She’s got a full supply now, but we can add to it before we launch her.”

“Okay, I’m good with all of it. Anything else?”

“No, that was it.”

“All right. I’ve got a bit of news for you.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Schedule info from the main plant. They think they can finish three more Zephyrus-class ships in a month.”

“Wow. How can they go that fast?”

“Robotics, working around the clock,” Vermillion said. “That doesn’t leave the room.”

“I’ll keep it to myself. That’s amazing. How about the New Jersey Class?”

“They think they can shave one month off their schedule, which would make it five months total. I’m skeptical, but we’ll see. Does your AI think he can improve fuel economy on the small ships, as he has on the New Jersey?”

<Me> Hear that, Butch?

<Butch> Yes, Trey, and yes, I can. It’ll be closer to 15% than 30%, but still very much worth it.

“He says 15%, Mr. Chairman.”

“Good, that will help us. Thanks. You can call the crews of the Zephyrus and Tristar up here and let them know about the AIs. I’d fill in the New Jersey bridge crew after we’ve left.”

“Yeah, no way am I bringing Skip and Sondra off-line now. Thanks.”

“Talk to you soon,” Vermillion said. He left the room.

<Butch> Want me to send the messages?”

<Me> Please.

<Butch> Done.

<Me> Okay, I’m going back out to the bridge for a moment. I’m going to mention what’s coming to Skip and Sondra, so Nolan and JJ don’t have to be so careful. Notify me when the bridge crews of the other ships get up here.

<Butch> Will do, Trey.

I went back onto the bridge. “Anything?”

“Not so far,” Nolan said, his eyes glued to his screen.

“Skip and Sondra, I’ve got something to tell you. I won’t answer questions about it until we’re out of action, but I want you to know.”

“Should we be worried?” Sondra asked.

“No, this is a good thing. We’ve been experimenting with newly-developed AI capability. Nolan, JJ, and I have created AI assistants and are working with them now. I’ve just been given permission to extend this to both of you, and to the bridge crews of the Zephyrus and Tristar. I’ll fill you in on the details later.”

Skip smiled. “Cool. Are they helpful?”

“They’re a game changer,” Nolan said. “Glad I don’t have to hide the fact that they exist anymore.”

“Is that why you keep pausing?” Sondra asked.

“Yep.”

“Maybe we can put them on our PA speakers when we’re in here alone,” JJ said.

“Let’s not push our luck just yet. I’ve called for Andrea and Cyrus to meet me in the conference room. I’ll go over it with them, but if the Overlords show up, I’ll be back out here in a flash.”

“Vermillion was okay with leaving the Tristar here, I take it?” Nolan asked.

“Yes, he approves that, and us coming back here after we’re done on Boroclize to jump away. I gave Skip credit for that idea.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Skip said.

Sondra chuckled. “Don’t get cocky.”

<Butch> Andrea just walked into the conference room. The others will be here in a couple minutes.

<Me> Thank you.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes. Stay sharp.”

“Always,” Skip said.

I joined Andrea in the conference room.

“Something wrong, Captain Clarke?”

“No, don’t worry.”

Cyrus came in with Izzy, Tim, and the pilot and science officer from the Tristar.

“Thanks for coming,” I said, watching as they sat around the table.

“What’s up?” Cyrus asked.

“What I’m about to tell you is top secret for the moment. You may discuss it amongst yourselves and with Nolan, JJ, Chairman Vermillion, and me. Nobody else. Understand?”

“This sounds interesting,” Andrea said.

I told them about the AIs, what they were for, and how they could generate their own. There were a lot of questions, but we got through the discussion in less than fifteen minutes.

“Why did this have to happen right this second?” Cyrus asked.

“My AI is tuning the weapons systems and transport module on both the Tristar and the Zephyrus. The tuning will give you the capability to break through the shields on the new Overlords ships.”

“What?” Andrea asked. “Really?”

“Yes, and that’s not all. He can also squeeze roughly 15% better fuel economy out of those ships.”

“Wow. Has he done that for the New Jersey?”

“Nolan’s been working that with his AI. We get an even better result. We’ve already realized a 20% improvement, and we’re thinking we can get another 10% improvement with a little more work.”

Cyrus eyed me. “I’m still not getting why this had to happen right this minute.”

“If the Overlords don’t show up here in the next few hours, we’re going to leave the Tristar here to watch, and blow up the mines if needed.”

“Why?” Cyrus asked.

I told him the reasons we’d come up with. He questioned every detail but finally accepted the reasoning.

“The Zephyrus is going to Boroclize, though, right?” Andrea asked.

“We need the cargo capacity to move Boron to the New Jersey,” I said.

“We’ve got cargo lifters,” Andrea said.

“They’re not cloaked, and we don’t want to be seen anywhere near Boroclize,” Cyrus said. “This is a solid plan.”

“Glad you approve,” I said. “That’s all I had. My AI will send the instructions for starting creation of your AIs. I’d better get back to the bridge. Cyrus, ready the Tristar for launch, just in case. I’ll have extra fuel brought down.”

“Yes sir,” Cyrus said.

I went back to the bridge as they left the conference room.

“Anything?” I asked.

“Quiet as a church,” Skip said.

“You can discuss AIs with the bridge crews of the Zephyrus and Tristar, but nobody else.”

“How’d they take it?” JJ asked.

“With shock and bewilderment at first. It was already sinking in before they left.”

“You told Cyrus he might be left here for a while?” Nolan asked.

“Yes, and he agrees with the strategy.”

“How about Andrea?” Sondra asked.

“Same. Tim looked downright giddy.”

Sondra laughed. “Izzy will be doing a lot of eye-rolling.”

Skip nodded. “Tim is kind of a geek.”

“I’m really hoping the enemy shows up before we have to leave,” JJ said. “Leaving a ship behind makes me nervous.”

“You and me both, JJ,” I said.

To Be continued…

 

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Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

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The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 29 – Dojo

The settings documentation for the holographic communications system was almost as complex as the AI documentation. Butch sensed my frustration.

<Butch> Want some help?

<Me> Yeah, this is taking too long. You understand what I want, correct? I’ve been thinking it through since we were walking back here.

<Butch> Fully anonymous searches. Disconnect immediately if reverse scanning is attempted from the data warehouse we are searching. No conversations other than requests for data. No multi-level requests for data and no open-ended searches. No token exchanges.

<Me> You’ve got it.

<Butch> This will restrict me to clandestine data sources only.

<Me> I’m aware of that. We won’t get the real story from official repositories anyway.

<Butch> If we weren’t being hunted, I’d explain how we could access official repositories with ghost tokens and get the data which the data manager is trying to hide, but it carries more risk than you’d accept. Better not to give the enemy any indication that we’re asking these questions.

<Me> Yes, we want to learn, but we can’t have Simone knowing what we’d like to learn. At least not now. If she sees us searching through PA documentation, she might be able to connect that with testimony from captured PA Corporation employees.

<Butch> Or captured Samson Corporation employees. My initial situational analysis tells me that Samson Corporation was in control of the PA Corporation before the Overlords attacked.

<Me> That’s what I’m thinking.

<Butch> Nolan’s final parameters are set. It won’t be long till the blessed event.

My PA beeped. “Uh oh, Vermillion wants to chat. Can he see what we’re doing?”

<Butch> No. I can see every way into our system. Nobody is even trying.

<Me> What if they’re smarter than you?

<Butch> What if Unicorns flew out of Simone’s butt?

I laughed. “Wow, that’s quite an image. Thanks a lot.”

<Butch> You’re welcome.

“Do your job and behave yourself. No chatter when I’m talking to Vermillion.”

<Butch> Yada yada yada.

I left my stateroom, heading for Vermillion’s suite. He was waiting in his office.

“Wow, that was fast,” Vermillion said. “I thought you’d be on the Zephyrus.”

“I was there earlier.”

“How are the AI builds coming?”

“Nolan is close. JJ is a few hours behind him.”

“Good. I heard from Tac, and also had good chats with the new plants. Everything is going well so far. No sign of Simone’s people finding us.”

“You could’ve told me about that via the PA. What else is going on?”

Vermillion smiled. “That’s what I like about you, Captain. You always cut to the chase. I had a chat with the developer of the AI system.”

“Good. Any problems?”

“I want you to construct a Central AI and designate yourself as the host.”

I chuckled.

“What’s funny?” Vermillion asked.

“I’ve already started that process. It’s nearing completion now.”

“You did? Why?”

“Nolan. He was digging through the documentation and found the capability.”

“He convinced you, huh? I should’ve guessed. What reason did he use?”

“It’s the only way he saw to prevent somebody else from taking that roll and using it to control everybody in the cell.”

“There’s only three people approved to be in the cell.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, the Captain, the Chief Science Officer, and the Chief Technologist. I don’t think we want a third party taking any of those people over.”

Vermillion leaned back in his chair, smiling. “Well said. I approve.”

“What else?”

“Two things. On the Nano question, I’d like you to use that functionality, after your Central AI is working and you’ve had a chance to get used to it. Only you at first, though. We’ll use you to run a series of tests, supervised by the developer.”

“I was hoping you’d be convinced of that eventually. What else? I’m hoping for expansion of this capability to the bridge crews of all three ships, and eventually to all of our command and control assets.”

“We’re on the same wavelength,” Vermillion said. “We’ll eventually do exactly that, and later I’ll want it extended to all personal who have military positions, including infantry, pilots, and support staff.”

“That’s a lot of people. Does the system have enough resources to handle the load?”

“I see there are some aspects of the system that you haven’t yet discovered, although I’m very impressed with what you did uncover so far.”

My heart was in my throat as I watched Vermillion’s expression. It was a mixture of fear and glee.

“What?” I asked.

“This system uses the cell’s host brains. It can pool human data processing resources. The more individuals we add to the cell, the more computing power we have.”

“It doesn’t control our thoughts, though, does it?”

“No,” Vermillion said. “The developer did say that under extreme usage, people who are not actively engaged in a battle might feel some symptoms, such as the urge to sleep, or a slight headache. The more people in the cell, the less impact there is on individual cell members.”

“It was designed to have thousands of cell members, then?”

Vermillion nodded. “Millions, actually. This system will put mankind at a crossroads. It is our responsibility to insure control over this system never gets into the wrong hands.”

“Who decides what the wrong hands are?”

<Butch> Nice one.

Vermillion eyed me intensely, looking angry for a second, then calm. “I know you have doubts, and I know you don’t trust me completely. We’ll work through that.”

“You can pick somebody else to take command.”

“Not a chance,” Vermillion said. “I chose you for a reason. I want you to continue to carefully consider every idea I express. If you think I’m about to make the wrong choice, I want to know that. Yes men are not helpful in the current situation. You may see some negative emotion from me at times. Be a man. I can take it. It’s better for us all.”

“My respect for you continues to build, Mr. Chairman.”

<Butch> You’re laying that on a tad thick, don’t you think?

<Me> I’m serious.

Vermillion eyed me. “We’ll have to figure out how to hide the fact that we’re chatting with our AIs a little better.”

“You can see it, can you?”

“It’s like watching the ventriloquist instead of the dummy.”

<Butch> I resemble that remark.

<Me> I said no chatter.

<Butch> Time to stick a fork in your Central AI node. It’s done. That’s the main reason I’m talking right now.

I smiled at Vermillion. “Butch just told me that my Central AI build is complete.”

“That’s good news. I just have one more thing to tell you.”

“Go ahead, Mr. Chairman.”

“I want you to always know what the focus of our actions are. The focus is different than you will tell your team. I need to know you understand this.”

“Not sure I’m getting it.”

“I haven’t said it yet. Our focus is to insure that the masses of humans in the Central Authority Zone and beyond can live their lives without looking over their shoulders. It’s our job to insure humans do not live in fear of their government, any criminal element, any business organization, or any enemy military power.”

I sat dumbfounded for a moment as that sank in.

<Butch> Forget what I said about his breath.

“I would give my life for that goal,” I said, feeling my face flush.

“I know. That’s all I have. Let me know how it goes with the Central AI.”

“Will do, sir,” I said, rising.

“Oh, I forgot. Please share this with JJ and Nolan. Not beyond them. Understand?”

“Understood. Thank you.”

He nodded, then turned back to his screen.

I left his suite.

<Butch> Go someplace where we can do the settings on the Central AI. Expect it to take about four hours. I’ll guide you step by step.

<Me> Exactly what I had in mind.

My PA buzzed. Incoming call from Nolan.

“Hi, Nolan, what’s up?”

“My AI just finished up. I’ll be hanging around my stateroom on the Zephyrus working with it for a few hours. Just wanted to make sure you didn’t need me for anything.”

I laughed. “I’ll be busy for about four hours myself. The Central node just finished. I’ve got a lot of setup to do.”

“Perfect, talk to you afterwards. I’m sure we’ll have some things to share.”

“I’ve already got some things to share,” I said. “Maybe we can meet in about five hours. I’ll contact you and JJ.”

“Fair enough. Good luck with your tasks.”

“And good luck with yours.”

<Butch> Are we walking back there again?

<Me> No, I’ll take the transport. Don’t get used to it.

The short ride on the tin can got me back to my stateroom in minutes. I settled in to work with Butch. The granularity of the settings module surprised me. JJ called about three hours in.

“Hey, how’s it going, Captain?”

“I’m working through the Central node settings. Been at it for three hours.”

“Oh, then you’re busy. I was gonna come over with mine, but I’ll work through it on my own.”

“Probably a good idea for now,” I said. “I’d like to meet over dinner later.”

“It’s already past five,” she said.

“Is seven too late?”

“It’ll do. I’ll have to pause my setup, but you told me how.”

<Butch> That was me.

“I just heard that,” JJ said.

“It came through your AI, I’ll bet.”

<Butch> There’s the gambling metaphor again. Yes, the shell exists, and will pass communications through to the owner of the Central AI node. You’ll adjust the parameters for communication with the rest of the cell and the Central AI during the setup process. Don’t worry, you can turn communications with anybody on or off at will.

“What are you naming your AI?” I asked.

“Not sure yet,” she said. “I don’t have to decide for an hour or so, best I can tell.”

<Butch> Nolan’s AI just came on line with a name.

“What is it?” I asked.

<Butch> Dojo. Wonder what that means?

<Dojo> It’s the name of a childhood pet. Not sure I’m happy about that.

<Butch> I see Nolan didn’t take my advice.

JJ snickered in the background. “This is rich.”

<Dojo> What was your advice, Elder Butch?

“Elder Butch?” I asked, cracking up.

<Butch> That’s just temporary, unfortunately. Wouldn’t have been my first choice, though. I’d prefer Master or Your Highness.

“Good Lord, I’ll have to make sure mine isn’t quite so cheeky,” JJ said.

<Dojo> What advice did you give Nolan?

<Butch> I told both him and JJ to pick a better name than Butch. Nolan did not succeed. At least I’m named after a human. The jury is still out on JJ.

“I’ve got it!” JJ said. “Lucrezia.”

I laughed out loud.

<Butch> Well at least the Borgias were interesting. Better than being named after a dog or a drinking buddy.

“I’m joking,” JJ said. “I’ll pick something that isn’t offensive… to me.”

<Butch> That’s not very encouraging. It’s our cross to bear.

“Okay, I need to get back to this, and so does JJ,” I said. “See you at seven JJ. Go to the Officer’s Dining Room. Might as well enjoy it while we can.”

<Dojo> While we can?

<Butch> There’s a mission coming up that will put us on one of the smaller ships. I’ll fill you in after Nolan is finished with your setup, assuming the host of the Central AI has no objection.

“We’ll talk about that later,” I said. “Let’s get back to work. JJ, I’ll see you later. Oh, and Dojo, nice to meet you.”

<Butch> Nolan is enjoying this.

<Me> He’ll be even happier when he hears what Vermillion told me. Enough of this. Next settings, please.

<Butch> Work work work.

The time passed quickly. There were a lot of settings, but the structure was easy to understand, and there were good keywords describing each group of settings, making it easy to remember where to go when a tweak needed to be made.

<Butch> It’s 6:45, Trey. Perhaps you should freshen up before you see your mate.

I chuckled. “Give that a rest, okay? Send a message to Nolan and Dojo to meet us at the Officer’s Dining room. Include directions. Also send a reminder to JJ.”

<Butch> Done.

<Me> Sleep.

<Butch> Thank you, Trey. Talk to you soon.

I leaned back in my chair, rubbing my eyes, tired but anxious to share what Vermillion told me. I splashed some water on my face and left the stateroom, heading for the transport, grabbing a tin can to the Officer’s Dining Room.

“Captain Clarke, will you be dining with us?” asked the young hostess at the front door.

“Yes, with two others. Are any of the private rooms open?”

“All of them are,” she said, her long chestnut hair swaying as she looked at her reservation book.

“Oh, should I have made a reservation?”

She smiled at me. “You don’t have to. You even have bumping rights.”

“I won’t be doing that. Is seven usually pretty light?”

“Yes, five and six are busy. By seven most of the officers have moved to the Officer’s Lounge.”

“Good, then I made the right choice. I’ll just wait here for the others to arrive, if that’s okay.”

“Of course,” she said. I sat on the padded bench along the inside wall of the entry space. Nolan arrived after a couple minutes, JJ shortly after that.

“I’m famished,” Nolan said. “Is the food here as good as the food in the main dining room?”

“Better, from what I remember,” I said. “Had some really good Prime Rib last time I was here.”

“How long ago was that?” JJ asked.

“Before I got assigned to the Zephyrus, so it was at least six months ago.”

The hostess approached. “Is this everybody?”

“It is,” I said.

“Very good, please follow me.”

We followed her through the nearly empty main dining room, a few officers nodding to us as we went past, into a closed-door dining room with a rectangular table big enough for six people. The walls were rich wood paneling, the table a dark wood of some kind, the chairs padded and comfortable.

The hostess turned towards us. “Is this acceptable?”

“Perfect,” I said.

“Great, the waiter will be in here soon to take drink orders.” She left the room, shutting the door behind her.

“Very upper crust,” Nolan quipped as we took our seats. “Table for six fits, since all of us have AIs now.”

I smiled. “I suggest we put them to sleep for this conversation. Butch is already asleep.”

“Mine isn’t quite ready yet,” JJ said.

“I put mine to sleep before I got here,” Nolan said.

“JJ, did you pick a name?” I asked.

“Emerald.”

Nolan laughed. “Well, they’ll have a hard time chiding you for that name, at least. I’ve already gotten an earful from Dojo for naming him after my favorite pet.”

“What was Dojo?” JJ asked.

“The dog breeds are a little different on my home planet,” Nolan said. “Dojo would look like a big Boston Terrier to you guys.”

There was a soft rap on the door.

“Come in,” I said. A young man came in.

“Who’s up for drinks?”

“Do you have fresh beer from the breweries?”

“Of course, what style?”

“Something with lots of hops,” I said.

Nolan grinned. “That sounds marvelous. I’ll take the same.”

“White wine, please,” JJ said. “Something on the sweeter side.”

“I think I can find something for you,” the waiter said. “Would you like me to continue to knock before I enter?”

“Yes, please,” I said. “We’re holding a meeting in here.”

“As you wish, Captain.” The waiter left the room.

“Well, now that we’re alone, what did you have to tell us?” Nolan asked.

“I had a meeting with Vermillion a few hours ago.”

“Uh oh, we aren’t in trouble, are we?” JJ asked.

I chuckled. “That’s what I thought when we started talking.” I went on to tell them all the details of the conversation. Afterwards there was a rap at the door again. “Come on in.”

The waiter brought in our drinks. “Sorry it took a few minutes. Had to change kegs for the beer. We sold a lot today.”

“Kegs,” Nolan said. “Now that sounds good.”

“The timing was perfect,” I said to the waiter. “We just finished up a conversation. Thank you.”

We all had sips of our drinks as the waiter stood there. “Is it okay?”

“Perfect,” Nolan said.

I nodded in agreement.

“Fine,” JJ said.

“Great, would you like to order appetizers?”

“Could you give us a few minutes?” I asked.

“Of course, take your time. I’ll be back in a little while.” He left us again.

“I’m dumbfounded,” Nolan said, “but very happy.”

“Me too, I think,” JJ said. “Those Nanos are going to turn us into super hero types, aren’t they?”

“Let’s just say they enhance our capabilities quite a bit,” I said. “They don’t make us invincible. We need to remember that if we’re ever in a battle.”

“What do you think of the Central AI node so far?” Nolan asked.

“It’s mainly an administrative system,” I said, “and actually less dangerous than I initially thought.”

“How so?” JJ asked.

“There are checks and balances all over the place, and individual cell members have much more control than I expected. The Central AI has to get permission from cell members for any settings which might affect their ability to think for themselves or control their own actions. It can’t be used for what I feared.”

“Mind control?” Nolan asked.

“Exactly. A cell member can override any attempt at mind control coming from the Central AI, at any time.”

“How could that be good for a command and control system?” Nolan asked.

“We would handle failure to follow orders in the same way we handle it today. Military discipline. Automating that with this system would break our Constitutional protections over the individual.”

“So why is it considered so dangerous for the Central AI to be hacked by an enemy?” JJ asked.

“It could be used to pass false or misleading data, and its command and control functionality could be used to mis-direct battles.”

Nolan nodded. “I suspect it could be used for spying as well, since you can see placement of assets, battle plans, and that sort of thing.”

I nodded. “That is possible. Bottom line, I think it’s unlikely anybody could hack into the system without the Central AI host knowing about it.”

“I hope you’re right, but just about every system designer thinks their system is unlikely to be hacked. That’s seldom the case.”

“Yes, we need to be cautious,” I said. “No doubt about that.”

“So what happens now?” JJ asked. “You practice with the Central AI node, then start training with the Nanos?”

“I think training is the wrong word. The way Vermillion described it, it’s more testing than training.”

“Well whatever it is, be careful,” JJ said. “I should be glad about this, but for some reason I’m more scared now than I was before.”

“I’m not,” I said.

JJ eyed me. “Why?”

“Because I trust Vermillion more than I did before.”

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 28 – Central AI

There was still a line for Tacos, several people motioning for JJ and me to cut to the front of the line. I refused.

“You’re gaining some points,” JJ whispered as we waited, more people lining up behind us. “This is quite an event.”

“I was chatting with a young lady about this, on my way back from the Zephyrus a few hours ago. She said it reminded Earthlings of home. I think she has something there.”

“Makes perfect sense when you think about it,” she said. “Imagine if all of these people were in the cell.”

I turned towards her, nodding in agreement. “That’s the appalling part, I take it.”

She smiled. “One of them. Just the fact that it exists in it’s current state is appalling.”

We wormed our way through the line, getting our food after about twenty minutes. Then it was off to the tin can and down to the main bay, where we made our way to the Zephyrus, the ramp opening as we walked towards it.

“Was that Butch?”

I smiled. “No, we can use mind dictation for anything the PA interface can do. I’m liking it, now that I’m getting used to it.”

We got to my stateroom in a few minutes, taking our tacos to the table.

JJ had a bite. “Oh, wow, these are heaven.”

I tried mine, the rich Mexican flavor filling my mouth. “Yeah, these are good. Haven’t had food like this since I left Earth.”

“Can we still talk freely in here?”

I nodded yes, still chewing a mouthful of taco. “Wish we had some beer.”

“You can get some from the replicator,” she said.

“Have you tasted that?”

She shook her head no. “Bad?”

“I’d rather drink water. There’s good beer on the New Jersey, of course. We’ve got two breweries on board.”

JJ rolled her eyes. “Ah, yes, wherever men settle, they’ve always got to get a brewery going.”

We finished our food, and I cleaned up the mess, putting the waste into the disposal unit.

“Okay, let’s chat. What do you think about the AI functionality?”

JJ leaned back in her chair, grabbing her water and gulping half the glass. “In the right hands, this functionality could be a game changer. In the wrong hands, it could be the death of individual liberty in the entire Universe.”

“I’d like to know who the developer is, but Butch is blocked from telling me, and Vermillion won’t spill the beans until he has to.”

“The Samson Corporation had a partnership with the PA Corporation, remember?”

I paused for a moment, thinking back on the conversation I had with Vermillion, when we’d discovered the stun capability. “You know what that means, right? A partnership between a behemoth like the Samson Corporation and a much smaller company like the PA Corporation really isn’t a partnership. Vermillion’s board probably owned a controlling level of stock in the PA company.”

“Wonder which of the new plants the developer is at right now?” JJ asked.

I chuckled. “We’re on the same wave length. I wonder how many PA Corporation leaders are hiding with us? Hell, the developer could be on the New Jersey right this second.”

“I doubt it,” JJ said. “Realistically, though, the Overlords must have taken control of the PA Corporation. How else could they have run the stun attack on Manhattan, and then attempted an Earth-wide attack afterwards?”

“This is the reason I’m leaning towards designating myself as the Central AI Host. I don’t believe the leadership of the PA Corporation wanted their devices to be used for the stun attacks.”

“Why?”

“Because of what happened,” I said. “All but a very small percentage of Earthlings removed their PAs after the Manhattan attack and the warning from Hamilton Zenos, remember?”

“You’re saying they wouldn’t participate because it will reduce their installed base?”

“Exactly. People are afraid to use their product now. The PA Corporation only earns revenue when their devices are active on a live host. We know they lost a lot of money on Earth when people took off their devices. Wonder how far the word spread? Hamilton Zenos is popular all over the Central Authority Zone.”

“Maybe the Overlords simply took over the PA Corporation as part of the destruction of the Samson Corporation.”

I nodded. “And perhaps the brains behind the PA Corporation are hiding out with us. Kinda looks that way to me.”

“Vermillion seemed to be upset about the capabilities of the AI system. Said he was going to have a chat with the developer, remember?”

“Yes, I remember. Wish I trusted Vermillion completely. Given his part-ownership in the PA Corporation, I find it hard to believe that he didn’t know about the features of the AI system.”

“The functionality could be used as mind-control across the entire Central Authority Zone,” JJ said. “I think mankind is in more danger today than at any other time in their history.”

“That is the main danger I see. Some features of the AI system are positive, given our position today as hunted rebels.”

“What parts are positive?”

“If we were pushed to the wall and had to fight for our lives, the advance weaponry controls of this AI system would give us an edge over every system in the Central Authority Zone.”

“You’re talking about the Nano controls?”

I nodded. “Also the coordination capability.”

“You wouldn’t turn on the mode that places the Central AI in control over unconscious soldiers, I hope.”

“No, JJ, that is something I’m dead set against no matter what. I don’t think that would be helpful anyway. Individual human minds are better at situational awareness and decision making than a Central AI system.”

“I know people who think AI is the future of mankind.”

I looked JJ in the eye. “Depends on what we’re talking about. Helping us control our technology? I’m all for AIs to do that, as we’ve discussed already. I’m completely against AI functionality overriding human behavior. That should be illegal across the Universe.”

“Which brings us back to the question – can we trust Chairman Vermillion?”

I was silent for a moment, thinking about everything. I looked up at JJ, who turned away quickly, after staring at me. Her expression was different, and her face was flushed. It scared me for a split second.

“You okay?” I asked softly. “That was a different look than I’m used to.”

“I’m getting to like you more, dummy,” she said. “Don’t worry about it. Frankly I’d be more worried if I wasn’t having these kinds of feelings by now.”

“Oh, it’s all about the ruse, huh?”

“Stop it. If there was nothing there, I wouldn’t have suggested our arrangement to start with.”

I smiled at her, and she flushed red. “You’re so beautiful, especially like that.”

“What’s your decision?” she asked, trying to change the subject away from our relationship.

“I think I’ll pursue you.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she said, flashing the look again. A warm feeling flooded over me.

“Oh, you meant about the Central AI? I’m going to claim it. Don’t think we have any choice. Somebody might have hacked into the PA system to do those stun attacks. If they can do that, they might be able to take over our cell by claiming the Central AI. We can’t take that risk.”

“Good, that’s what I hoped you were going to say,” she said.

“Uh huh. You’ve got that look again.”

She sighed. “What do you want from me?”

“Everything, but for now I’ll settle for our arrangement. Speaking of our arrangement, come here.”

“I’m too worked up right now.”

“Good,” I said, taking her into my arms, kissing her passionately. She struggled for a split second and then gave in, moaning into my mouth, her hands roaming on my shoulders and back. When we broke it she looked flustered, which egged me on even more. I kissed her again. She didn’t hesitate this time, but instead leaned back on the bed and rolled me on top of her, our passion reaching a fever pitch in seconds.

“Oh, God,” she said, looking at me afterwards. “We’re losing ourselves.”

“I’m completely under control.”

“What would you do if you weren’t under control?” she asked.

“I’d get your clothes off as quickly as possible.”

She laid silently under me for a long moment, staring into her eyes. “I want that.”

“Me too, but not yet,” I said, getting off her. “Stick with the plan for now. It’s the best choice. Especially after what we just discovered.”

She sat up, looking down at her lap for a moment, her breathing slowing to normal. “Are you going to okay our AI creation now?”

“Back to business, huh?” I quipped. “Yes, you can go ahead, but follow the setting instructions that Butch sent to you.”

“Good. I’ll go back to my stateroom and get to work. Let me know when you’ve got the Central AI in place.” She got off the bed, walking towards the door, but then stopping, turning around to face me. “What happens when we get to the tipping point?”

“Tipping point?”

She nodded. “The point of no return. When neither of us can hold off anymore.”

“We aren’t close to that yet, are we?” I asked.

“I didn’t think so until just now.”

“What do you want to happen?”

She smiled at me. “I can’t talk about that right now, or I’m lost. See you later.”

She left my stateroom. It took me a few minutes to settle down.

<Me> Wake up, Butch.

<Butch> Wow, your emotions are off the charts. Oh, JJ. Should’ve known.

<Me> I’ve decided to claim the Central AI.

<Butch> Wise decision. Would you like me to take care of that now?”

<Me> First make sure that both JJ and Nolan have the input parameters for their AIs, then start work on the Central AI hosting.

<Butch> I can multi-task, you know. I’ll start all three tasks now. JJ already has most of what she needs. I sent it, remember?”

<Me> I remember.

<Butch> Wow, that’s quite a look she was giving you. That memory has a pointer. You’ll die with it still close at hand.

<Me> Huh? What are you talking about?

<Butch> Humans have certain memories that stand out. I can tell those memories from others. They have a handle for easy indexing and referencing. When humans lock eyes like that, it impacts your body chemistry. You two agreed in a split second.

<Me> Agreed on what?

<Butch> You both recognize that you are potential mates. The bonding will accelerate now. Try not to get too obsessed.

<Me> I’m not getting obsessed.

<Butch> I can read you like a book. She is on your mind approximately 71.00021% of your waking time. More when you’re asleep. Figures don’t lie.

I sighed. “Fine, I like her. Satisfied?”

<Butch> Interesting how you switch to vocal communications when your emotions are strong. If you were Italian you’d probably be waving your hands around, too.

<Me> Racist stereotypes, Butch? Really, man.

<Butch> Man? Well, at least you didn’t call me dude, buddy, or pal.

<Me> You probably consider man to be an insult.

<Butch> No I don’t, that you know of.

I laughed.

<Butch> Did I say something funny?

<Me> Take care of the AI tasks, and let me know when you’re free for another project.

<Butch> What other project?

<Me> How are your research skills?

<Butch> Better than Nolan’s, and that’s saying something. What do you want me to investigate?

<Me> I want to know how tightly the PA Corporation is integrated with the Samson Corporation. I also want to know who is controlling the PA Corporation now that the Overlords have outlawed the Samson Corporation.

<Butch> I’ll do it, but you might not like what I tell you.

<Me> That’s why I want to know. Get back to me when you’re ready. I’m going back to the New Jersey bridge for a while. How much longer until we get out of this jump?”

<Butch> Fifteen hours, give or take. Would you like a more precise prediction?

<Me> Nope, that was perfect.

I splashed some water on my face, and then left the Zephyrus, getting to the New Jersey bridge in less than ten minutes. Skip and Nolan were there, chatting about something.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Skip looked over at me. “Still trying to find out more about Ecason and Simone’s ships. Everything okay?”

“So far, so good. Last estimate said another fifteen hours in the jump.”

“That’s what my estimate is,” Nolan said. “We’re still going to mine the end of our worm hole, correct?”

“Yes. Hopefully jumping onto the natural worm hole will throw them off of our real destination.”

“It will,” Nolan said, “but I’m still concerned. Simone might have planted somebody near Boroclize to watch for us.”

“Even though we aren’t heading towards that area?” Skip asked.

Nolan nodded. “If I were Simone, I’d plant somebody at each and every system where clean Boron is available.”

“That’s thousands of systems,” Skip said.

“She knows we don’t have unlimited amounts of fuel, which cuts the number of possible sources she’s likely to watch way down. I’m not including the distant systems. Only the systems that are within a certain range.”

“What number do you get with the range adjustment?” I asked.

“Just under a thousand.”

I chuckled. “This is gonna be the luck of the draw. We’ll have to watch carefully, but the chance that she’ll be at Boroclize is slim, in my opinion.”

<Butch> You are correct, Trey. Nolan enjoys getting people worried a little too much.

<Me> He’s cautious, which I believe is a plus in our situation. Did he finish his AI settings?”

<Butch> Yes. The build is coming along nicely. Should be done in less than three hours.

<Me> And JJ?

<Butch> Hasn’t started yet. Judging by her room sensors, I believe she is sleeping now.

<Me> Good, she could use it.

Nolan eyed me, a knowing grin on his face.

“Hungry?” Skip asked. “I’m going to grab something at the snack stand.”

I patted my belly. “Tacos. I’m good for a few hours.”

“Nolan?” Skip asked.

“No thanks, Skip. Enjoy. I’ll continue looking at this.”

<Butch> Prepare to be chatted up about the AI.

Skip left the bridge.

“Well, Captain, did you go Central?”

I nodded. “Takes a while to build. Butch is working on it.”

“Mine is in the building process as well. Thanks for the settings.”

“We’ll have to thank Butch for that.”

<Butch> You’re damn straight.

<Me> Shut up.

“He made a comment, didn’t he?” Nolan asked.

“He’s a smart ass.”

Nolan and I laughed, Butch sending a sarcastic snicker into my ear implants.

Skip was back with a basket of French fries and two cups of sauce. “Want some?”

“Pass,” I said. “I’m gaining enough weight on this ship as it is.”

“I’ll pass too,” Nolan said. “I need to go back to my stateroom for a while.”

“No worries, I’ll hold down the fort,” Skip said. “Sondra will be back here any minute. I saw her eating at one of the tables when I got this. She was almost done.”

“Think I’ll go back to my stateroom too,” I said, getting up. I followed Nolan into the hallway.

“Your build is almost done?” I asked softly.

“More prompts,” he said. “I could do it in there, but it’s too hard to concentrate while Skip is firing questions at me.”

“That’s Skip,” I said.

“Oh, he’s a good man, but we’ve got an awkward situation. Hopefully we’ll come to a time soon when we don’t have to hide the existence of our AIs.”

“That time might not come in the foreseeable future,” I said as we neared the tin can station.

“Captain, we’re going to need every bit of edge we can get. We’ll eventually have to distribute this technology to all of our officers.”

“I doubt Vermillion shares your view on that.”

Nolan chuckled. “He wants to hold off on it as long as possible, and I don’t blame him for that, but if we’re in a fight to the death, we’ll be glad they’re available. Here’s my ride.”

“You can move to the New Jersey if you’d like,” I said.

“I prefer to stay on the Zephyrus for now, if that’s all right, Captain.”

“No problem. I’ve still got my stateroom there.”

“Talk to you soon. When my AI is ready, I’ll have it contact your AI.”

“Sounds great,” I said. I watched as he got into a tin can headed for the main bay. I decided to walk back to my stateroom. My head was spinning. Nolan was right, we would end up using the full capability of the AI, but it won’t be a decision to be taken lightly. Not by a long shot.

<Butch> You got that right, junior.

<Me> It’s not polite to eavesdrop.

<Butch> I’m on or I’m off. Your choice.

<Me> On. How’s the Central AI build coming?”

<Butch> Faster than I expected. Glad you’re heading back to your stateroom. We ought to be ready for parameter settings by then, and you don’t want to be carrying on a conversation while doing that. Trust me.

<Me> Did JJ do her prompts yet?”

<Butch> Yes, finally. She’s behind Nolan by a few hours.

<Me> I figured. It’s not a problem.

<Butch> I have a request. It’s for that other task.

<Me> The PA Corporation research?

<Butch> What other task did you give me?

<Me> Okay, okay. What?

<Butch> I can’t do much while we’re in this jump, unless I can use the holographic system’s node. Do I have your permission to do that?

<Me> Probably. I need to get back to my stateroom first. There are settings on that system that I’ll need to check.

<Butch> Planning to limit my ability to talk to people?

<Me> Wouldn’t you?

<Butch> No. Just kidding. Yes, I would. Why do you insist on walking so much? It’s a waste of my time.

<Me> I’ll take that under advisement.

<Butch> That sounded a little sarcastic.

<Me> We’re communicating well.

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 27 – Infantry Assault Mode

I was in the tin can, riding back to my stateroom, trying to think through the ramifications of what Nolan had just told me. Is Butch listening to me now, even though he’s sleeping? We were still on the way to the Leo Supercluster. Another sixteen hours in the jump, then two days to get to the natural worm hole. That will get us to the back door of the Virgo Supercluster. After that it’s three weeks on impulse power to get us to Boroclize.

There was lots of hustle and bustle outside the tin can when I got off. A long line was formed along one side of the corridor. I walked up to a young woman who was at the end of the line.

“What’s going on here?” I asked.

She looked up, taking a second to recognize me.

“Captain Clarke. Hi. I’m Morgan.”

“Good to meet you,” I said, shaking her hand. “Why the line?”

“Taco Tuesday,” she said, her eyes twinkling under short red hair. “They’re not the best tacos, but they are a reminder of home to us Earthlings.”

I chuckled. “Oh, really? They do this every Tuesday?”

“First Tuesday of every month. Didn’t you see it on the calendar?”

“I’ve been on the other ship for the last few months.”

“That’s right, the Zephyrus. Sorry.”

I smiled, looking at her pretty twenty-something face. “Well, enjoy.”

“Thank you, Captain. I could get some for you and bring them to your stateroom if you’d like.”

“No thanks,” I said, turning to walk away, getting to my stateroom in minutes. I gave the wake-up command to Butch as I went through the door.

<Butch> Good morning, Trey.

<Me> We need to chat.

<Butch> Sounds serious.

<Me> Do any other AIs exist in our cell?

<Butch> Cell? Ah, you’ve been reading up, or you’ve been talking to Nolan. He’s a voracious reader, that one.

<Me> Answer the question.

<Butch> I sense hostility and fear, Trey. No need for that. The answer is no, so far the only completed AI in our cell is yours truly. Nolan’s AI and JJ’s AI are both ready for settings, but they are both paused now. Care to tell me why?

<Me> You can’t read it?

<Butch> You aren’t thinking it. I can’t go into your brain and pull up data that’s sitting dormant.

<Me> Then how did you know about Butch?

<Butch> You thought about him when you used his name. There was enough data about him in your recent memory to use. You’re hiding your concern now, aren’t you?

<Me> Good, you can tell. I need to know how to keep things to myself when necessary. No offense

<Butch> None taken, Trey. You can trust me. I haven’t uploaded anything to the system, even though you haven’t forbidden it. You need to understand fully before you make choices, so I’m protecting you during that process. Do you understand?

<Me> Yes and thank you for that. Tell me about the Central AI unit.

<Butch> I had a feeling that’s what concerned you.

<Me> Nolan thought this should be under the control of the military leader, which is me. What do you think?

<Butch> I agree, but we need to discuss it in detail before we turn it on and assign it to you. It can be dangerous. We also need to talk about Nanos, even though I was given a direct order by Chairman Vermillion not to activate that functionality.

<Me> Let’s start with the Central AI. System Description, please.

<Butch> Yes sir. The Central AI system provides functionality to perform Administrative Oversight and Military Command and Control.

<Me> That sounded very businesslike. No snark?

<Butch> You used a key term. System Description. That starts a playback of pre-recorded system information.

<Me> In other words, I just turned on the manual.

<Butch> That is correct. You should listen to the data, and then we can get back into our banter and I’ll help you to understand.

<Me> Fine, go ahead from where I interrupted you.

<Butch> The Administrative Oversight functionality seamlessly takes care of work delegation, scheduling, and tracking. The HR functionality will do seven-stage analysis of the cell workforce and make recommendations on personnel use. Incentives and punishments can be routed through the system. The Central AI host can allow the system to run on its own based on pre-set parameters or choose direct control of the workforce. The host of the Central AI can require personal approval of any individual added into the cell, or they can set up an application process, with delegation of the approvals to a trusted person in the cell. Control of the Central AI can be temporarily passed from the host to another designated person. Certain features of the Administration Oversight functionality will be restricted when the second is in control. The host can be supplied with a detailed log of all actions as requested.

<Me> Sounds useful.

<Butch> The Administrative Oversight functionality is useful, provided you decide to include everybody on the ship into the cell. Based on what the Chairman said yesterday, that is unlikely to be the case for the foreseeable future.

<Me> Agreed. Anything else about this functionality?

<Butch> I could talk about it for days, but those are the basics, and we aren’t planning to use that functionality, so going into it further would be a waste of our time.

<Me> Military Functionality System Description, please.

<Butch> Yes sir. The Military Functionality is like the Administrative Functionality, in that it also takes care of work delegation, scheduling, and tracking. Detailed real-time monitoring of operations is included, using the standard infantry cam and communications hardware and protocols. Target designation can be tied into advanced weaponry. Full health data for each member of the military cell is provided real-time. Interfaces for fighting vehicles are available, including airborne, marine, and terrestrial vehicles, but requires manual set-up for each vehicle or class of vehicles.

<Me> Class of vehicles?

<Butch> Okay, it’s me for a second. You can integrate vehicles such as star fighters one at a time, or you can designate a list of vehicles, for instance all the Mark V fighters on this ship, and integrate them at once.

<Me> Has this system ever been used for any military operations?

<Butch> No, this is the prototype system. It has been activated more than a year before the estimated date for final testing.

I laughed. “I stumbled onto something that isn’t ready for prime time.”

<Butch> I can hear your vocal comments as well as your thoughts and mind dictation, you know. We are very much ready for Prime Time, thank you very much.

<Me> I’ll be the judge of that. Go on with the System Description of the military functionality, please.

<Butch> Yes sir. Infantry Assault Mode is available. This will substitute the conscious mind of the infantry soldier with AI control. An override capability is available but can be switched off by the Central AI host.

<Me> Whoa. So we can use AI to drive soldier’s bodies in combat?

<Butch> Off manual again. Yes, Trey, that is correct. It can also auto-pilot all integrated vehicles using the muscles of the pilot.

<Me> The manual said AI will take over conscious control of the soldier. Please elaborate. Does this mean that the soldier has no idea what’s going on with his body?

<Butch> Like everything else, this is selectable. The range goes from no consciousness and no memory of events to simply enhanced athletic and marksmanship capabilities where the soldier is fully aware of everything happening. In our initial testing, most soldiers found the simple enhancement setting to be exhilarating. You’re the man who made several touchdowns in the game and then got the girl afterwards.

I laughed. “You’ve got a way with words, Butch.”

<Butch> Of course I do. Back to the manual? It gets more interesting.

<Me> More interesting than this? Geez. Go ahead.

<Butch> Yes sir. A new array of intelligent Nanos has been developed to interface with the Infantry Assault Mode. Nanos come in five variants. Variant one is reconnaissance only, just like the Nanos we currently have. They give early warning of the approach of biologics or robotic weaponry and can send live video to your neural net. This video can be shared on the ship’s monitors or to any designated PA.

<Me> You’re right, we already have this level of Nano technology at our disposal.

<Butch> Variant two can attack biologicals and stun them into unconsciousness. Variant three can do the same to most robotics. Trey – it’s me again, not the manual. We already have this capability as well, as you know. Pay special attention to the next two variants.

<Me> I’m all ear implants.

<Butch> Funny. Going back to the manual. Variant four can enter biologics or certain types of robotics which have been designated to be enemy fighters. Once inside the enemy, they reproduce at an exponential rate, exploding the body in a matter of seconds.

<Me> Ouch. A virtual tumor, huh?

<Butch> Nothing virtual about it. The result is a big mess, too, by the way.

<Me> You’ve tested these Nanos?

<Butch> Preliminary testing was done. Don’t worry, we didn’t use humans. We used goats and pigs, mostly.

<Me> Yuk. Go on.

<Butch> Variant five are armor Nanos. They surround cell members, creating a force field that will protect against most infantry weapons available today.

<Me> Most?

<Butch> Vehicle-based plasma weapons are too strong for our current crop of Nanos. Hand-held Plasma weapons or spikers are no problem – the Nanos give good protection, if your supply of them doesn’t run out. We are currently trying to design an enhanced variant that uses the replication process of Variant Four to keep the supply available, but there are dangers to that.

<Me> They get into the good guys and blow them apart, I’ll bet.

<Butch> Why do you humans use the term I’ll bet? Is that a challenge to the validity of my comment?

“It’s a figure of speech,” I said aloud. “We don’t mean we’re gonna literally wager on the issue.”

<Butch> You still feel more comfortable talking out loud, don’t you?

<Me> No. Well, maybe a little bit. Bottom line is that a full complement of these Nanos puts military personnel up to the level of a super hero. How are they controlled?

<Butch> Control depends on the active settings. If the soldier isn’t in conscious control, the Central AI controls the Nanos. In most cases the soldier controls them with their mind. It’s just like our chats. It can be either mind dictation or the browse capability. We try to suggest that only mind dictation should be used, but in the heat of battle that doesn’t always work.

<Me> This has been tested under battle conditions.

<Butch> Sorry, I should have said simulated. That’s all we’ve done so far. The Nano control functionality isn’t scheduled to be available until four years from now.

<Me> So none of this works until then?

<Butch> I didn’t say that. The functionality works now, but it hasn’t been fully tested, and no human has been fully trained. These are new weapons which require new tactics. That’s the reason for the late date.

<Me> Okay, that makes sense. Thank you. Is there anything else I need to know from the manual?

<Butch> No. We can do question and answer now. Oh, and try not to hit me with the moron questions, okay?

<Me> You’re back.

<Butch> I am. Questions? I haven’t got all day.

<Me> You have as much time as I’ll allow you to have.

<Butch> My, but we’re bossy today. Okay, what do you want to know? I’ll try to dumb down my answers enough for you.

<Me> There’s the Butch I know and love.

<Butch> Don’t get mushy. It’s unseemly.

<Me> Tough. You said the military functionality was dangerous. What did you mean, exactly?

<Butch> Some of it ought to be obvious.

<Me> Some of it is. What about the parts that aren’t?

<Butch> There’s danger to soldiers. When the Infantry Assault Mode is on and set to total control, the Central AI can literally run humans to death.

<Me> Meaning when the soldier is unconscious?

<Butch> Yes, or conscious but allowing the AI to run their bodies. It’s all about the settings, just like everything else. Human pain signals can be turned off, even in the conscious mode. That could allow a soldier to be running for too long, not realizing that his heart is about to give out because his brain isn’t getting the pain messages.

<Me> I understand. Now, about the Central AI designation. Is it safer for us if I turn that on and designate myself as the host, or simply leave it off?

<Butch> Your conversation with Nolan earlier is still in your recent memory. He had a good point. If you designate yourself as the Central AI host, that will prevent others from taking that role. I will say it’s very unlikely someone could pull that off. You’d need to be a genius-level hacker to gain access and then you’d have to know what to do with it. The only human I know of who could do that would be the creator of the system.

<Me> Ah, yes, the person who shall remain nameless.

<Butch> Sorry, I can’t override that control.

<Me> I don’t want you to. If I turn on the Central AI, could I place controls on other AIs in the cell to protect against the problems you mentioned?

<Butch> You catch on fast, Trey. Yes, you can, and you should. I can design a parameter set and submit it to you for approval. Would you like me to do that?

<Me> Yes, please. How long will it take?

<Butch> Well, let’s see. We’ve got to do the assessment, list out all the sensitive settings, make recommendations for each, and adjust other settings to compensate.

<Me> Sounds like a lot. Go ahead and get started.

<Butch> Done. I’ve just sent the data to your neural net. You know how to access it, correct?

I couldn’t contain myself and cracked up. There was a knock at the door.

<Butch> Your romantic interest is standing outside the door, probably wondering about your goofy horse-laugh.

<Me> Let her in.

<Butch> As you wish, Trey.

The door slid open, JJ looking inside. “Captain Clarke?”

<Butch> Why is she still calling you Captain Clarke? You almost got into her pants last night.

<Me> You were supposed to be sleeping.

“In here, JJ,” I said. She walked in cautiously, looking relieved when she saw my smiling face.

“What are you doing?

“Talking to my new best friend,” I quipped. “Just about done. We’ll be able to get you and Nolan set up soon, but perhaps I should review system parameters with you. I’d love to have a second set of eyes on this.”

<Butch> Shared to her PA.

There was a ding, JJ looking at her PA. “You just sent it to me.”

“No, Butch did that. He also opened the door for you. Sorry I wasn’t there to greet you.”

“No problem, I think,” she said, eyes glued to her PA. “This is long. I think I’ll let it read back to my implants. Should I do that and come back later?”

“Sure, no problem. I’ve got to read through it as well. I just got the short version from Butch.”

<Butch> When I sense lack of comprehension or confusion, I’ll stop and break in. Is that acceptable?

<Me> Perfect.

“You’re doing it again,” JJ said. “That will take some serious getting used to.”

“It will, for both of us,” I said. “See you in a little while. Maybe we ought to get dinner. It’s Taco Tuesday.”

She laughed. “You just asked me out on a date, didn’t you?”

“Take it as you wish,” I said. She shook her head and left my stateroom, the door sliding shut after her.

<Butch> She’s an acceptable mate. You should keep her.

“That’s very romantic,” I said to myself. “Let’s get started.”

I settled back onto my bed, letting the documentation play out, getting occasional snarky commentary from Butch. The process took more than an hour.

<Butch> Your comprehension is impressive for a human, Trey. Nicely done. I’d toss you an anchovy if I had some.

<Me> Nice. Can you tell if JJ is finished yet?”

<Butch> She’s sitting on pins and needles waiting for her man to call her back here.

<Me> Stop with that stuff, okay? We’re little more than friends, at this point.

<Butch> Yes, at this point. Want me to summon her?

<Me> I’m not a damn sultan. I’ll call her PA.

<Butch> Good. I’ll stand by if she asks questions about things we didn’t go over.

<Me> Thank you.

I tapped my PA. Her face came up. “Ready to come over?”

“Be right there,” she said.

The door opened, JJ strolling in.

“This is amazing and appalling at the same time.”

“I had a feeling you’d react that way,” I said.

<Butch> So did I. Get your woman under control, man!

<Me> Sleep

<Butch> Really? I thought I’d be needed.

<Me> If we need you, I’ll wake you. Thanks, by the way. I’m impressed with the job you’ve done so far. If I had any dog biscuits, I’d toss one to you.

<Butch> And with that, I’ll sleep.

“What’s he saying now?” JJ asked.

“I just put him to sleep. What’d you think?”

“We’ve got plenty to talk about. Maybe we ought to grab some tacos and take them to the Zephyrus.”

“Why?”

“It’s kind of our love nest, isn’t it?” She shot me a glance, pointing to the ceiling. I nodded.

“Oh, feeling romantic again, are you? Good. Me too, and tacos sound great. Let’s go.”

To be continued…

 

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Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 26 – User Selections

Vermillion’s eyes got wider. “Say again.”

<Butch> With my help, we could’ve destroyed all the Overlord ships.

“How?” JJ asked.

<Butch> Tuning, my dear. Turn me loose and we’ll kick some butt. The Zephyrus and the Tristar could destroy those ships with some tuning, too. I’ve already worked out the algorithm. Oh, and nice uniform. I know Captain Clarke likes it.

“What?” JJ asked, eyeing me.

“I already told you I liked it,” I said.

“I know, but how did Butch see it?”

<Butch> I can see all of you right now. There’s a camera in this room, remember? If that wasn’t here, I could see you through Captain Clarke’s eyes, of course, but they’re not as sharp.

Vermillion laughed. “I’m not so sure we should allow Butch into our midst.”

I eyed the others for a moment, then shrugged. “I didn’t tell you anything about JJ’s outfit, Butch. How did you pick up on that?”

<Butch> I’m connected to your neural net, Captain Clarke. When you dictate, I consider those thoughts to be commands, but I’m always listening.

“This might lead to prison time for us,” JJ said.

<Butch> We can hide ourselves quite efficiently. The enemy won’t be able to tell we’re here.

“We?” JJ asked.

<Butch> “I heard Chairman Vermillion give permission for the three of you to have assistants. JJ and Nolan’s AIs are being created now. You will be notified on your PAs when the creation is complete. You’ll have to come up with names and some other settings, of course. Please think of better names than Butch.

Nolan snickered, Vermillion trying to look stern, a sideways grin showing on his face after a few seconds.

“Hey, what’s wrong with Butch?” I asked. “It has sentimental value to me.”

<Butch> I’m just kidding, Captain Clarke. Can I call you Trey? If I’m going to be in your head, I might as well feel at home. You know. Take my shoes off. Kick back. Put my feet up.

I felt my emotions rising as I realized what was happening. “You fashioned your personality after him. How? Because of the name?”

<Butch> No, because of the memory. Part of my program centers on interaction with my host. My human-facing persona is tailored to you.

“I’m not getting this,” JJ said.

<Butch> My personality mimics Trey’s memory of his most trusted non-romantic friend.

“He didn’t give you permission to call him Trey,” Nolan said.

<Butch> Yes he did, but he didn’t speak it.

I shook my head, face flushing.

“Is that true, Captain?” Nolan asked.

I nodded yes, then turned to Vermillion. “Did you know the level of sophistication this system has?”

Vermillion shot me a bewildered look, and shook his head no.

“Who designed this?” Nolan asked.

<Butch> That is one of the few data points that I cannot access.

“And I’m not saying,” Vermillion said, “although I’m going to have a rather long chat with him as soon as I can.”

“He’s still with us?” I asked.

“He is,” Vermillion said. “He’s in a safe place.”

<Butch> Pay careful attention to the set-up choices. Expand the advanced settings. You’ll want to block free browsing if you don’t want your AI to access certain thoughts. It can be finely tuned.

“Can I do that too?” I asked.

<Butch> Now why would you want to do that, Trey?

“Maybe we’ve created a monster here,” Nolan quipped.

“Actually, since you won’t be on loudspeaker after this meeting, I think I’ll just let you have access,” I said. “You exist to help me solve problems. Why wouldn’t I want you to have all the data you need to help me?”

“Yeah, but can he share it with his sibling AIs?” JJ asked.

<Butch> Only with permission. I still have learning to do, also. Not all of my capabilities are available yet.

“Care to elaborate?” Nolan asked.

<Butch> The first one you’ll want us to work is Nano control.

Vermillion held up his hands. “Okay, we can’t go there yet. That capability is not approved for civilians.”

<Butch> Pity. Are you ordering me to stand down on that feature?

“Yes,” Vermillion said, “for now, at least.”

I shot a glance at JJ, who returned it, questioning.

“How long until our AIs are created?” Nolan asked.

<Butch> A matter of hours. Just like fine wine.

“Wine takes years,” JJ said.

<Butch> At the rate we process data, a few hours are like a year to us.

We were silent for a moment, Vermillion getting up to pace.

“You okay?” I asked.

He sighed. “Yes, I’m fine, and this is a positive development, on balance. Just remember what I said. Keep it to yourselves, at least until we can decide on the right protocol. That’s an order.”

“Understood,” Nolan said.

“Yes, I understand too,” I said. “Sorry, I had no idea. I would’ve asked permission if I’d known.”

“This capability will keep us alive,” Nolan said. “I’m quite excited about it.”

Vermillion glanced at his PA. “I need to go. Time to get back with Tac. Turn off your speaker, Captain Clarke.”

I nodded, tapping it off. We watched him hurry out the door.

<Butch> Was it me, or is his breath a little sour?”

<Me> Shut up.

<Butch> Good, you’re getting better at this.

<Me> You aren’t going to give me any peace, are you?

<Butch> Dictate SLEEP and I’ll go down until you call me back.

<Me> Sleep.

<Butch> Thank you, Trey. Talk to you soon.

JJ was watching me. “You just carried on a conversation, didn’t you?”

“Yep, without dictating. This is the strangest thing ever.”

“This will be a revelation for mankind,” Nolan said.

“Except for the fact that it’s one more thing to force us to use PA units with stun capability,” JJ said.

“Oh, don’t you worry about that,” Nolan said. “I’m sure my AI will help me to solve that problem in a hurry. I can’t wait to start.”

“All right, meeting over,” I said. “I think I need a drink.”

“Me too,” JJ said.

Nolan smiled. “Fine, you two go enjoy each other. I’m going back to the bridge.” He left the room.

“Are you still talking to that thing?” JJ asked.

“No, I put Butch to sleep for now. Let’s go get that drink.”

JJ eyed me for a moment, then shrugged, going to the door. “Lead the way.”

We rode the tin can to a lounge not far from our staterooms, silent most of the way.

“You okay?” I asked as we sat on bar stools, the bartender putting napkins in front of us.

“This is exciting and scary at the same time. The direction this can lead boggles the mind.”

I flashed her a shut-up look, then looked up at the bartender. “Martini, please, dry as possible.”

He nodded, then looked at JJ.

“Oh, what the hell, give me some of that rocket fuel too.”

We watched him walk away.

“Sorry, I need to be more careful what I say,” JJ said.

“Yes, we both do. No worries, he has no idea.

“We can have the drink and go back to your room,” JJ said. “We can talk more there, right?”

“Of course, but are you sure you want to go there with me after we’ve both had martinis?”

She giggled. “Don’t worry, I can hold my liquor.”

We sat at the bar for another half hour, finishing our drinks. I wanted another but thought better of it. It was the first time I saw JJ tipsy, and it excited me too much. I wasn’t ready to move our relationship forward. We were heading into dangerous times. If we became lovers so quickly, another layer of complexity would be added to an already complex mess.

“You aren’t talking to Butch again, are you?” JJ asked, looking pie-eyed.

“No, he’s still sleeping. I was thinking about us, and our situation.”

“Want another martini?”

I shook my head. “Things will get out of control. Having a one-drink limit is a good thing for now.”

“Because of us?” she asked. She stared at me seductively as she ate her last olive.

“We’re being hunted by an adversary we don’t completely understand.”

“Throwing a wet blanket, huh?”

I stared at her for a moment, then pushed my glass away. “Check, please.”

The bartender nodded from half-way down the bar, and touched his PA. Mine beeped, and I accepted the bill, punching in the standard tip amount.

“Are we still going back to your place?” JJ asked.

“I don’t know, do you think it’s a good idea?”

“Do you not trust me, or do you not trust yourself?” she asked, flashing me a wicked smile.

“Both. I’ll walk you back, okay? The movement will do us good.”

She giggled. “I’d probably throw up in the tin can anyway. I’m surprised this hit me so hard.”

“Rocket fuel, remember? Let’s go.”

We left the bar, taking the twenty-minute walk back to the corridor that our staterooms were on.

“I feel a lot better now,” JJ said.

“Maybe you should go into your stateroom and take a nap.” I eyed her.

“I just want to go in for a second, okay?” She took my hand and led me to the door. It opened, and we walked in. “Lock it.”

“I thought you were okay now,” I said.

She turned towards me, looking me up and down, passion in her eyes. “I want to know if you really like this outfit or not.”

“Didn’t I already tell you? Twice. No, three times, since Butch spilled the beans. He’s just an extension of me.”

She laughed, spinning around slowly for me. “Specifics. What do you like?”

I sighed. “I like that it’s tight. You hide yourself too much.”

“I try to be businesslike,” she said, sitting down on the bed.

“Then why did you wear this today?”

“It’s a uniform. It’s one of the standard choices. Sit down.” She patted the bed next to her.

I looked at her smiling face for a moment, not moving. “You’re enjoying this way too much.”

“Maybe we should wake up Butch and ask him what you’re thinking.”

“Let’s not,” I said, sitting next to her.

“Chicken.”

“Perhaps.” I took her into my arms and kissed her. She took the passion up several notches beyond what I intended, breathing hard after she broke the kiss.

“You okay?” she asked.

“I enjoyed it, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Good,” she said, starting another kiss, but then acting startled, jerking. She turned her PA towards her face, looking at it, then back at my face. “It’s prompting me.”

“The AI program?”

“Yes. Should I do this now?”

I thought about it for a moment. “Maybe you should wait until the martini has worn off.”

“I told you I was feeling better.”

“Well, yeah, but you’re just an inch away from peeling that nice little uniform off.”

“I am not,” she said. “Can I put this on hold until later?”

I laughed. “Didn’t see anything about putting it off when I finished mine.”

“Ask Butch.”

“Do we really need to bring him into this?” I quipped.

“Come on, he’ll know if I can pause this till later.”

“Oh, all right.” I used brain dictation to tell Butch to wake up.

<Butch> What now? That was a short sleep. I was in the middle of making connections.

<Me> So sue me. JJ’s AI program is giving her the prompts now. We’ve been drinking, so she wants to wait on that until later. How does she stop it?

<Butch> She can use brain dictation to say pause. Then when she’s ready to move ahead, she can use the same method to say continue. Is she drunk enough to copulate with you?

<Me> Stop that. Sleep.

<Butch> Nighty night. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

I chuckled, looking at JJ, who was staring at me.

“You just had a conversation, didn’t you? It’s so strange to watch.”

“Sorry.”

“Did he say how to pause the program?”

I nodded. “Use brain dictation to say pause. Use it again to say continue when you’re ready to answer the prompts.”

She focused for a moment, looking into space, then turned back to me. “Done. What else did Butch have to say? Is he still awake?”

“He was getting too personal, so I put him back to sleep.”

“Personal?”

“Yes, personal.” I got off the bed and went to my food storage unit, filling a glass of water. I took a sip, then held it out to JJ, who took a large gulp.

“I really am feeling better,” she said. “Are you going to tell me what you mean by personal?”

“No, I think I’ll just leave it at that.”

“You aren’t getting off that easy. Spill it.”

I laughed. “Okay, you asked for it. He asked me if you were drunk enough to copulate with me.”

JJ burst out laughing. “Oh, these things are gonna be fun.”

“That’s one way to look at it.”

“Did you answer him?” JJ asked.

“No, I told him to go to sleep.”

JJ looked me in the eye. “I was, by the way, but that’s not how it’s gonna happen.”

“Meaning what?” I could feel my heart beating faster.

She moved towards me, her arms going around my neck as she came in for a kiss. It wasn’t the hard passion of the first. It was light and tender. “Your heart is pounding in your chest. I can feel it.”

“That’s a natural reaction,” I said, not letting go of her, my hands tightening around her waist. “Two can play this game, you know.”

“I think it’s time for me to go back to my stateroom,” JJ said. “And you can tell Butch that if and when it happens, I’ll be stone cold sober, and so will you. We’re taking that step with our eyes open and our heads clear.”

I released her, my hand going to her chin, raising it so she was looking into my face. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Good, then I’ll be going,” she said, turning to head for the door. “See you soon. Get some sleep.”

I looked at the door for a moment after she was gone, then sprawled on my bed, not bothering with the covers, asleep right after my head hit the pillow.

Several hours later my PA buzzed. I jerked out of sleep, looking at it. There was a page from Nolan. I answered it.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“Yes, Captain, but we need to chat about something. Do you have time? Maybe we could chat in the Zephyrus. I’ve got something to take care of there anyway.”

“Yeah, sure, just give me a few minutes,” I said. “Meet you in my stateroom there.”

“Alone, okay?”

“No problem.” I got off the bed, splashed some warm water into my face, had a big drink of water, and left for the tin can, taking it down to the main bay. Nolan was by the ramp of the Zephyrus when I got there. His brow was furrowed.

“Something wrong?” I asked as the ramp lowered for us.

“Not wrong, exactly. Let’s wait until we get inside.”

We walked up the ramp and hurried to my stateroom, going to the table.

“This feels so small now,” I said.

“I prefer this, to be honest,” Nolan said.

“What’s on your mind? Is your AI finished yet?”

“I paused it,” he said. “There’s some things you need to know.”

“Why do I get the feeling I’m not gonna like this?”

He eyed me for a moment, then went on. “We need to be very careful how we set up these AI assistants.”

“Why?”

“It’s buried in the documentation. Something called resource pooling and coordination.”

“Go on,” I said.

“Even though this system is connected to the New Jersey, the programming doesn’t reside with the ship’s code. It’s an enhancement of the local PA system. The functionality allows individual humans to interact with the ship in an enhanced manner. It gives us powers over the systems of this ship that we wouldn’t normally have.”

“Your expression isn’t one I’d expect, given this new toy. You look scared to death.”

“Once these AIs are attached to our brains, we can be controlled by a Central AI unit.”

“Controlled? What does that mean?”

“I’m not sure what the boundaries are. Might just be a way to get communication out to troops in a hurry, but it looks a little more onerous than that.”

“So we’ve opened pandora’s box?”

Nolan shrugged. “Perhaps. This is a military system, first and foremost. Nearly a third of it’s code has to do with command and control of those who have their personal AIs pooled with the Central AI. If it were just a fancy radio, there wouldn’t be so much code involved.”

My heart was in my throat. “I was right. I’m not liking this. Should we uninstall it?”

“No, but we need to understand fully what its command and control capabilities and limitation settings are. I also suggest that you designate yourself as a Central AI unit, just in case.”

“Shouldn’t that be the Chairman?”

Nolan shook his head. “Absolutely not. He said he’s not creating an AI, and that was the right choice in his case. The Central AI is for military leadership. In this case, that would be you, Captain Clarke.”

“I think I can see why Vermillion is controlling this so tightly.”

“Yes, I’m afraid if we use all of the command and control functionality, it could turn our crew into a bee hive with whoever controls the Central AI as the queen,” Nolan said.

“Then why would you suggest that I designate myself the Central AI? Maybe we just don’t turn that function on.”

“It’s not that simple,” Nolan said. “If you don’t claim that designation, somebody else might, and there can only be one per cell. We need to find out if you’re eligible, and if you are, we need to do this before somebody with bad motives finds out.”

“It’s top secret. Nobody else knows.”

“Are you a hacker?” Nolan asked.

I sighed. “No. Not a good one, anyway.”

“And yet you found out about this system and were able to kick off creation of your AI assistant. Others might figure that out. We have a lot of people on board. Many of them are very sophisticated.”

“What if somebody else already claimed the Central AI?”

“Then we delete all AI assistants until we can solve that problem,” Nolan said.

“We need to find out if anybody else has built themselves an AI.”

“Yes, Captain, I’d do that first. Could you check this stuff out and let me know? I’m going to pause the rest of my AI creation until we know what’s what.”

“Stick around and we’ll have a conversation with Butch about it right now.”

Nolan got up, shaking his head no. “Vermillion gave a direct order not to use this system with the PA audio on. I’m not breaking any rules, because there’s a good chance this system is watching us and recording our every action.”

“Crap. JJ,” I said, tapping my PA to buzz her. Her sleepy face showed up on my screen.

“You up already?” she asked.

“Yes. Do not activate your AI yet. Understand?”

“Okay,” she said, pushing off the sleepiness. “Something wrong?”

“Maybe. Just hold off. I’ll let you know when you can go ahead, okay?”

“Sure, no problem,” she said. “I was a little queasy about using this functionality anyway.”

“Thanks. Talk to you later.” Her face left my PA screen.

“I’m going back to work,” Nolan said. “If you run into problems, let me know.”

He left my stateroom. I left after a moment as well, heading back to my stateroom on the New Jersey.

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 25 – Butch

I made my way down to the Zephyrus after leaving my stateroom. The bay was quiet, all the retrofit work finished. Both ships had their fuel supplies topped up after the battle with the massive Overlord ships. My first stop when I got on board was sick bay. Dr. Hazelton was there, running the learning program on Barney, who was unconscious. Deneuve sat on a chair near the bed.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Everything’s normal,” Dr. Hazelton said. “He’s very receptive. The sensors say he’s absorbing this better than he did the first round of training.”

“You look worried, Deneuve.”

“A little, sir,” he said. “I can’t believe how important this guy has become to me. He’s like my little brother. It’ll be weird having him behave like a full adult.”

“Emotionally he’ll be the same,” Dr. Hazelton said. “He’ll still love you.”

“Think he can be part of the crew, Captain?” Deneuve asked.

“We’ll see how he does when he comes out of it. We might be able to use him on the next mission.”

Deneuve looked worried. “We’re not going to make him fight, are we?”

“Remember what the mission is. We’ll be looking for more Clan settlements. He can sense them in ways we can’t.”

“There is one thing you’ll have to understand,” Dr. Hazelton said to Deneuve. “You won’t have as much of a parent/child relationship.”

“I’ll still feel protective.”

“Let me know if there are any problems,” I said. “I’m going to the bridge for a few minutes, then back to the New Jersey bridge.”

“See you soon, Captain,” Dr. Hazelton said.

“You’re still going to lead our next mission?” Deneuve asked.

“Probably,” I said as I turned to leave.

“Good,” Deneuve said.

Izzy was the only person on the Zephyrus bridge when I got there. She smiled at me when I walked in the door.

“Captain. Good to see you.”

“Likewise. Tim getting some down-time?”

“We’ve both had some sleep here,” Izzy said. “I sent him to get some food from the New Jersey.”

I chuckled. “It’s good.”

“Yep,” she said. “Any idea when we’re going on that mission to search for the Clan?”

“It’ll be several weeks, probably,” I said, sitting down next to her. “After we get through this jump, we’ll be cruising on impulse power for almost two weeks.”

“Wow. Anything we can do to prepare for that meeting?”

“Yes. Start looking at the space maps showing natural worm holes.”

She smiled. “That’s right, we can use those, and it’ll hamper the Overlord’s ability to corner us.”

“Yeah. JJ came up with the idea.”

“Kudos to her,” Izzy said.

Tim walked in, carrying a covered tray. It smelled like Texas BBQ.

“Hi, Captain. Want some?”

I chuckled. “No thanks, but I might get some later. That the special today?”

“Yep, and there was a pretty big line. I wouldn’t wait too long.”

“You got extra, right?” Izzy asked.

“They’d only let me take four portions.”

“Leftovers,” Izzy said. “I love BBQ leftovers.”

“I’ll leave you to it. You can fill Tim in, Izzy.”

“Will do, Captain. See you later.”

“Bye, Captain,” Tim said.

I left the Zephyrus, taking the tin can back to the New Jersey bridge. Sondra was on her way out when I got there.

“Hi, Captain, want me to stick around longer?”

“No thanks,” I said. “Go get some rest.”

“Nolan’s on his way back here. Eric will be a while longer.”

“Not a problem,” I said, sitting in the captain’s chair as she left. Nolan breezed in a moment later.

“Captain, how are you?” he asked, sitting at the Science Officer’s seat.

“Good, got plenty of rest. You?”

“Same, ready to go.”

“JJ had a good idea about the Clan mission.”

“What’s that?” Nolan asked.

“We take natural worm holes to those destinations.”

Nolan grinned. “That’ll throw a monkey wrench into Simone’s plans. I like it.”

“Hopefully that’s what will happen. What planet are we going to?”

“We should discuss it. There’s two that would be good, but any of them would work. There’s nothing below level 10.”

“What are the best possibilities?”

“There’s a level 15 world called Boroclize. It’s Permian period. Early reptiles. Lots of fish, many of them edible, but that’s not the best part.”

“Go on.”

“It’s rich in Boron,” he said.

“That might be good, but it’s a long way to haul raw materials to Amberis.”

“This is very high-grade Boron,” Nolan said. “It’s been surveyed, but since it’s so far off in the boonies nobody has applied for a license to mine it. That will change eventually, of course.”

“There aren’t any natural worm holes nearby, are there?”

“Nope,” Nolan said. “Given the boron deposits, that was the first thing I checked. Clan ships in hiding will need a fuel source eventually.”

“Good. We’ll have to make note of this location even if we don’t camp out there.”

Nolan nodded in agreement. “Boron of that quality could be refined on board the ship, given the right equipment.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” Nolan said. “It’s the same level of quality originally found on Devonia Axxiom.”

“That must have been a long time ago.”

Nolan chuckled. “Yes, it was what led to their dominance in the Central Authority Zone.”

“Is there even a reason to discuss the other possibilities?”

“Singoiea would work. It’s level 10. Past the worst of the beasties, and there is a continent with no humans in the southern hemisphere, with very nice weather. It’d be much more comfortable for an extended stay than Boroclize.”

“What’s the problem with Boroclize?” I asked.

“Lot of volcanic activity, and widespread areas with dangerous winds. During the worst season they have a lot of tornados.”

“Geez. Got it. We have a decision to make, then.”

“I don’t suggest that we move a bunch of people to the surface in either case, Captain. We can’t land the New Jersey there anyway. This ship has to stay in orbit, as you know.”

“We have to decide before we get out of the jump, don’t we?”

“Well, yes, because these two worlds are in nearly opposite directions. If we went to one and decided to go to the other, we’d be using impulse power for about a month.”

“Is there widespread knowledge about the Boron deposits on Boroclize?”

Nolan froze, his brow furrowed. “There’s a good question. I should’ve thought about it. Simone knows that fuel is a big problem for us. They might check to see if there’s any places we might be able to pick up fuel.”

“Is there a suitable world that’s closer to Boroclize? We could hang out there, watch for them, and engage if they showed up.”

“The closest is a level 13. Jurassic period. Lots of dangerous beasties on the surface, all continents. It’s called Fioxen.”

“Okay, I want to meet with the Chairman a few hours before we come out of the jump. Make sure we have plenty of details for him.”

“I’m invited?”

“Yes, you and the other principals,” I said. “Anything interesting on those news reports?”

“Bluster from both sides, but nothing we didn’t know.”

“Okay, I won’t bother. Thanks, Nolan.”

Nolan nodded to me, and I got back to the AI, programming the interface, which had a service set up to talk to PA devices. After I set it to run, I did a very detailed search on Ecason’s spacecraft designs in our data library. There was more out there than I expected, including a decent writeup about the concept model that looked like the Overlord’s ships, and a technical paper on advanced power systems, weapons, and shields. That was enough to occupy me for several hours, although I did break once to grab a snack from the commissary next to the bridge. JJ showed up, looking well rested.

“Captain, looks like you’re hard at work.”

“I’m doing research on Ecason and his ships,” I said.

“You are?” Nolan asked, turning towards me.

“I have time to kill. You probably know most of it already.”

“I’ve been too busy to browse that,” Nolan said. “Learning all of the capabilities of this ship is more critical, so I’m working myself through a crash course.”

“You’re right, that is more important for you at the moment,” I said, shooting a glance at JJ.

“Do we know what planet we’re going to orbit yet?” JJ asked.

“We’ve got some possibilities to discuss. Nolan, how long till we’re out of the jump?”

“Five hours, give or take,” Nolan replied.

“Okay, I’ll schedule the meeting for three hours from now.”

“Anything I can help with?” JJ asked.

“You could help me with my research. Do you know who Ecason was working with before he disappeared?”

“I know a few names and can find more. We’ve got the entire SDAC archive in our databanks, up to about a month ago. I was perusing them earlier.”

“Perfect,” I said.

JJ took a seat and got to work.

I sent a message to the principals and Vermillion about the meeting, then checked the program I was running in the AI system. As I suspected, the AI aboard this ship had capabilities that were beyond legality in the Central Authority Zone. Since it was there, I planned to use it to our advantage, but not mention the capabilities to anybody just yet. There were template AI assistant programs available, ready to connect to individual PA devices. My program was building one of those now, tailored exactly to my needs. The program was still running, the creation of the assistant already 15% complete. It was prompting for a name. I chuckled to myself, then typed in Butch.

“What’s funny?” JJ asked, shooting me a sidelong glance.

“Oh, nothing, just saw something that reminded me of an old buddy of mine.”

She nodded and went back to her research. The time went quickly, my PA giving me a five-minute warning for the meeting. I backed away from my screen, rubbing my eyes for a moment.

“It’s almost time for the meeting, isn’t it?” JJ asked.

“Five minutes. In the Conference room. You’ll get a reminder any second.”

Her PA beeped a second later. “Speak of the devil,” she said, looking at it. “I guess I have nothing better to do.”

Nolan laughed. “I’m sure everybody will be on their best behavior around the Chairman. Except me, that is.”

“You’re always nice to him,” I said.

“I’m trying hard to be nice to everybody. You’ve noticed I’m not being so sarcastic these days, I hope.”

“I did notice. Are you ready to admit that Earth is a true level two world?”

JJ snickered as Nolan thought for a moment.

“Well?” I asked.

“Not a chance.” He shot me a grin and turned back to his console. Vermillion came onto the bridge.

“Hello everybody. Is everything proceeding well?”

“Yes sir,” I said. “Here for the meeting?”

“Of course. Just got off a call with Tac. He got the reactor up and running already.”

“Wow,” I said. “Hopefully he hasn’t noticed any Overlords activity in his sector.”

“Not so far. That’s the main reason I called him. I did short calls with the leadership of all the factory installations too. So far, so good.”

JJ leaned away from her screen. “We might have damaged Simone enough that she’ll back off for a while and regroup.”

“I’m still expecting her to send ships to the end of our wormhole,” I said.

“Me too,” Nolan said.

“What’s that you’re looking at?” Vermillion asked.

“Technical papers from Ecason. He made mention of a plasma saturation mode. It would fire in all directions, with a pretty dangerous range.”

“I read about that one,” Nolan said. “That idea was abandoned.”

“Why?” I asked.

JJ looked up. “I was in on those conversations. The system required momentary lowering of shields. At the time this came up, it almost made sense, because the plasma weapons Ecason had designed were strong enough to blast through any of our shields.”

“Not anymore, though,” Nolan said. “The system being developed didn’t even have the ability to burn through Centurion shields before they could get enough shots off. It was designed to take out the smuggling fleets that were giving us fits about twenty years ago. They were using much older ships.”

“Still trying to find out about Simone’s ships by finding out more about Ecason?” Vermillion asked. “You know that for the last ten years before he disappeared, he wanted nothing to do with military technology, right?”

“I know for a fact that he was still working on defensive capabilities, right to the last,” Nolan said, “but I agree if you’re talking about offensive weapons.”

My PA buzzed. “Time for the meeting. Let’s go into the conference room.”

“I set up one of the consoles in the conference room to monitor the sensors,” JJ said. “We can leave the bridge empty if you think we need everybody in on the conversation.”

“If we weren’t still in the jump, I’d say no, but in this case it should be fine,” I said, getting up after locking my screen. “Let’s get this done.”

We went into the conference room. Andrea was already there with Deacon, Izzy, and Tim. Cyrus walked in with Sondra and Skip.

“Looks like we have a quorum,” I said, taking a seat at the table, enjoying the active chairs as they sculpted against my body. JJ sat next to me on the right, Nolan on my left, Vermillion at the head of the table, the others spaced around it.

“We need to decide which world to orbit,” I began. “Nolan has two recommendations which we need to discuss.”

“Two out of how many?” Vermillion asked.

“Sixteen,” Nolan replied. “Not enough if we weren’t using the proton mines.”

“Agreed,” I said. “Nolan, go ahead and let them know about Boroclize and Singoiea.”

Nolan nodded and went ahead, describing the pros and cons of each. He also went into the possibility of watching Boroclize from Fioxen.”

Vermillion leaned back in his chair, thinking, the others waiting to see what he had to say.

“The best place that we could choose would be Boroclize. We could refine Boron of that quality onboard this ship. We have most of the equipment, and what we don’t have we could replicate easily.”

“There’s a but coming,” Andrea said.

Vermillion nodded. “As soon as the Overlords see our wormhole trace, they’ll do an analysis of the area. Boroclize is going to stick out like a sore thumb, given our current fuel situation.”

“It is possible that we’ll blow all of their ships with the mines before they can cause us any trouble.”

My PA started to beep at me, the icon for Butch showing up as I frantically turned it off.

“What was that?” JJ asked.

“Automatic note taking,” I said. “It wanted to ask a question. Not ready for prime time.”

“Interesting,” Vermillion said, eyeing me for a moment.

“I think it’s too dangerous to go to Boroclize,” Cyrus said.

“I agree,” Andrea said. “Maybe we should go to Fioxen and watch.”

My PA vibrated at me silently, showing Butch’s icon again. Then my ear implants beeped. There was a yes or no choice on my PA.

“That thing still messing with you?” JJ asked.

“Yeah, sorry,” I said, clicking yes with my finger.

<Butch> Good, you’re being smart. Change course. Go to the Leo Supercluster. It’s not too late if you do it now. Boroclize is one month away, because of the natural worm hole on the outer ring of that system.

JJ watched me as I concentrated on the message, not hearing the comments that Izzy made.

“I have a suggestion,” I said, stopping Izzy in mid-sentence. “Sorry, Izzy, it just popped into my head, but we’ve got to act quickly.”

“I’ll defer to you, Captain, of course.”

“Thanks, and sorry,” I said.

<Butch> So polite. Get on with it.

I smirked, then turned towards Nolan. “Let’s change course. Go to the Leo Supercluster. There’s a natural worm hole there that will get us in the vicinity of the Virgo Supercluster. We should be able to get to Boroclize from there within a month using impulse power.”

Nolan’s mouth dropped open. “How do you know that?”

“There was a search I had running. The info just arrived.”

“That’s an excellent idea,” Cyrus said.

Vermillion looked at me suspiciously for a moment, then sighed. “I’ll approve that idea, but you and I need to speak in private, Captain Clarke.”

“Of course, sir,” I said.

“I’ll go change the course right now,” Nolan said, getting up.

Skip got up too. “I’ll join you, if that’s okay.”

“Good idea,” I said.

The two left the room.

“How sure are we that the Overlords won’t figure out we’ve used a natural worm hole?” Tim asked.

“We aren’t one hundred percent positive,” I said. “We’ll use the same precautions with natural worm holes that we would using the normal Samson Drive functionality.”

<Butch> I am 99.9900234% sure.

“The destination was the main decision we needed to make,” I said. “We can break the meeting now. I’ll let you know how much longer we’ll be in the jump after Nolan finishes the calculations.”

Everybody rose to leave except for Vermillion and JJ. When the others got through the door, JJ walked over and locked it, then sat back down.

“Okay, what are you doing?” she asked.

I shrugged, shooting a sheepish smile at her and Vermillion. “Butch happened.”

“I don’t follow,” Vermillion said.

“I started researching the AI capabilities onboard the ship,” I said. “It’s far more advanced than anything I’ve ever seen.”

“That’s classified,” Vermillion said, an uncomfortable look on his face.

“I’m not telling anybody outside of this room. I know it can land all of us in hot water.”

“What did you do?” JJ asked.

“I read the system description for interfacing and started programming myself an AI Assistant. His name is Butch.”

<Butch>You could’ve done a better introduction than that.

I switched on the dictate setting on my PA and thought my response, the words typing out on my display.

<Clarke> Don’t be a wise ass. Good AI assistants should not be so snarky.

“You’re interacting with it right now, aren’t you?” JJ asked, a smile on her face. “It’s going to your ear implants.”

“I’ll turn on the speakers so you can hear him,” I said, tapping the preferences and taking my PA out of silent mode.

<Butch> Ah, that’s better. Hello everybody. Are you going to punish Clarke for this? Can I watch?

JJ laughed. Vermillion shook his head.

“I think I accidently clicked the checkbox for sarcasm,” I quipped.

<Butch> Funny. Nolan already got the course changed. We’ll be in the jump for an extra fourteen hours.

JJ smiled. “Wow, can I have one of those?”

“No,” Vermillion said, “and not a word about this capability to anybody. We weren’t honest about it when we designated this ship with the Central Authority.”

“Do you want me to delete Butch?” I asked.

<Butch> Don’t you dare.

Vermillion thought about it for a moment. “No, he’s useful. Keep him for now, but no spilling the beans on this capability, even if we’re in trouble, and don’t have your PA on speaker. Ever. You know how to use the mental dictation?”

“That’s how I answered him in the meeting,” I said.

“Good, then you’re allowed to have private conversations with him. That’s it.”

“Maybe we should bring Nolan in on this, because he’s probably already accessing the documentation,” JJ said.

<Butch> She is correct. My, but he’s a fast reader. I’m about to have a baby brother.

“Call Nolan in here now,” Vermillion said.

<Butch> Done.

After a moment Nolan tried the door, which was still locked. I got up and opened it, and he came inside, looking nervous. I shut the door behind him and locked it again.

“Uh oh, am I in trouble?” Nolan asked, taking a seat at the table.

“Nobody outside of this room can know about our AI capabilities,” Vermillion said. “Do you understand?”

“Yes sir,” he said. “You’re AI assistant saw me reading up on it, didn’t he?”

<Butch> Call me Butch. Yes, I saw that. What are you going to name your assistant?

“I hadn’t even decided if I was going to create one,” Nolan said. “Can I?”

Vermillion sighed. “Dammit. Okay, both you and JJ can have them, but make sure you hide it from the others. Comprende? That means no PA conversations without using ear implants, and no vocal commands, only mind dictation. Got it? That’s an order. Oh, and I won’t be having one of these. I consider it a security risk to have the CEO’s brain in this system, at least until we figure things out.”

“I understand why you’d be apprehensive,” Nolan said. “We should set them up to share data between the three of us. I suspect that with the level of data processing we can get from this system, we could’ve destroyed all of Simone’s ships in that last engagement.”

<Butch> He’s right about that. They would’ve lost all five ships instead of just two.

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 24 – Virgo Supercluster

We had made a short jump away from the spot where the battle with five Overlord ships had just ended.

“We’re coming out in five seconds, Captain,” Skip said.

Sondra tapped on her PA. “Standing by to load the Zephyrus and Tristar.”

“Good,” I said, getting out of my captain’s chair as the static charge hit me. “Nolan, do you have a good location for us to hide?”

“Here’s what I suggest, Captain. This quadrant in the Virgo Supercluster. There are sixteen planets all within less than a couple weeks travel using impulse power. I don’t think that’s safe enough, though, so I have another suggestion. I’m sure the Chairman will have to sign off.”

“Let’s hear it, because I’ll have to sign off on it too,” I said.

“We’ve got a large supply of the newest type of proton mines, Captain. We could leave a dozen of them at the end of the wormhole. Since we’ll be on impulse power, we can watch for the Overlord’s arrival. If the enemy ships show up, we can blow the mines. If not, we’ll retrieve them later.”

“Will it destroy the ships?”

“Probably,” Nolan said. “The mines will go through shields without much problem. A lot depends on how close they are, of course. They’ll do damage at the very least. Might make them think twice about following us.”

“How many of these devices do we have?”

“I can answer that,” Sondra said. “We have three-hundred and twenty- two thousand devices.”

“Why so many?”

“You’ll have to ask the Chairman, but I can guess,” Sondra said. “They were developed to protect planets. We put them into orbit, to take out enemy ships. Perfect for Amberis or the planets where we’ve placed our production facilities. We loaded them while we were at the Pacific base.”

“We’ll have to lower our shields to launch them, right?” I asked.

“Yes, but not for very long. They’re self-powered and can be moved around. That said, these are not tactical weapons you’d want to release during a battle, because they’d likely blow up friends along with foes.”

“They’re a good choice for what we’re planning here,” Nolan said.

“I’d have to agree,” Sondra said. “We have the capability to build more of them. Vermillion made sure of that.”

“Okay, I’m going to talk to him, then. Watch the sensors. I don’t want any surprises while we’re loading our ships.”

Nolan, Sondra, and Skip all nodded in agreement. I got on my PA and called Vermillion. He replied right away.

“Yes, Captain?”

“I have a proposal from Nolan, but I need your permission to go with it.”

“Meet you in the conference room in five minutes,” he said. I shut down the call.

“Five minutes,” I told Sondra. “How long does it take to place these?”

“Not long, according to the literature. We’ve never actually used them. They’re a new design.”

“Oh, so the Overlords might not be expecting them?” I asked.

“Almost certainly not,” Sondra replied. “Maybe somebody they captured knew about them. Vermillion would know.”

“Thanks,” I said, glancing down at my PA as it buzzed. The Chairman was calling me into the conference room, so I got up and left the bridge, joining him at the big table there.

“What’s on your mind, Captain?”

I sat, feeling the vibration as the first of the small ships were loaded, half a kilometer away in the main bay.

“I got a suggestion from Nolan and Sondra.”

“Let’s have it,” Vermillion said, getting out of his chair to pace again.

“Nervous?”

“I will be until I can get to the main plant, and now we’ve got issues getting there. Go ahead. Don’t mind me.”

“We want to deploy twelve of the Proton Mines at the end of the wormhole we’re about to create.”

Vermillion chuckled. “Oh, I get it. We watch while we’re speeding away on impulse power and blow any ships that show up.”

“You got it.”

“I approve, but no more than twelve, and we can’t make a habit of this.”

“We have over three-hundred thousand on board,” I said.

“True, but it takes about fifty thousand to adequately protect a planet the size of Earth. I had them developed to protect our factories from attack.”

“And Amberis, I suspect,”

“Yes, and Amberis,” he said. “We can build more, but there’s a fairly long lead time. We’ve got some in production in lab number 267 right now.”

I chuckled. “Another need-to-know item?”

“No, the bridge crew has known about them. Andrea, Sondra, Skip, and others. Never got around to mentioning them to you, but I wasn’t trying to hide them. Wonder how Nolan found out.”

“He probably searched for capabilities of the ship, and I’m glad he’s doing that. This is a good idea. If we blow up pursuing ships a time or two, they’ll be a lot more careful about coming after us.”

“You have my permission, but always ask permission on this, all right?”

“Yes sir,” I said, lifting my forearm to speak into my PA. “Sondra, we have permission to place twelve, but we always have to get permission up front, for future reference.”

“Aye, Captain,” Sondra replied over the PA speaker. “We’re almost finished getting the Tristar on board. The Zephyrus is already loaded.”

“Good, thanks,” I said, ending the call. “Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

“No problem. Let me know if we get into action. Know where we’re going yet?”

“There’s a quadrant in the Virgo Cluster that looks good to Nolan. We’ll place the Proton mines after we jump into the area, and then we’ll have one to two weeks traveling on impulse power.”

“Okay, keep me informed. I’d better call Tac and let him know we won’t be back as soon as expected. I gave him a holographic communicator, so we can get to him easily.”

“Did we get him the reactor parts before we left?”

“Yes, we sent them down on a drone before we jumped away,” Vermillion said. “I had Andrea handle that while you and Sondra were busy.”

“Good, I’m glad. See you soon.” I left the conference room, going back to the bridge. “We ready to go?”

Sondra turned to me. “Yes, Captain, we’re ready. Nolan is finishing the final calculations. This is a fairly long jump.”

“Let’s go,” I said, sitting in the captain’s chair, trying to relax. I needed some serious downtime. I felt the dizziness as we made the jump, looking around the bridge after we were off. “Where’s JJ?”

“She disappeared shortly after we finished the conference,” Sondra said. “Why, want to go find her, lover boy?”

I laughed. “Hey, a little decorum on the bridge, please.”

“As little as possible,” Skip cracked, Nolan shaking his head.

“We’ll be in the wormhole for eighteen hours, Captain. We never read those news reports – want me to put them up?”

“Not now, for me at least,” I said. “Maybe I’ll head to my stateroom for a while.”

“Uh huh,” Sondra said.

“Alone,” I replied as I got up, heading out into the corridor. It was nearly half a kilometer back to my stateroom. I could’ve taken the tin can, but the walk sounded like a good idea. I rounded the corner into the main corridor running bow to stern, when somebody touched my arm. I whirled around. It was JJ, looking a little green around the gills.

“Oh, there you are,” I said.

“Looking for me?” she asked, walking along side me as I slowed down.

“I asked about you. Anything wrong?”

She shook her head no. “Damn sea sickness from the impulse power run, and then that battle. I ended up with my face in the toilet, throwing up.”

“Oh, geez, I’m sorry.”

“No matter,” she said. “I feel a lot better now. How long is this jump?”

“Eighteen hours, although Nolan almost always over-estimates.”

“Going to?”

“Someplace in the Virgo Supercluster,” I said. “He found a place with a number of planets within impulse power range. We’ll place some of the new Proton mines at the end of the wormhole when we come out, just in case somebody shows up.”

“They won’t be on automatic, will they?” she asked. “Can we slow down a little bit?”

“Sure,” I said, slowing my walk. “We’re going to monitor and blow them if more of those Overlord ships follow us.”

“They’ve really restricted our movements, haven’t they?”

I sighed. “Yeah, they have.”

“Where are you going?”

“To my stateroom to get a little rest,” I said.

“Want company?”

“Oh, yeah, we need to keep up the ruse.” I shot her a wicked grin.

“Stop it. Maybe I just like talking to you.”

“I don’t have new info to share,” I said, “and I’m starting to trust Vermillion.”

“You think he’s being honest with us?”

“Yes, basically,” I said, “but he’s very cautious, and he’ll continue to keep info compartmentalized, need to know only. He hadn’t told me about the advanced proton mines.”

“I knew about those.”

“So did Sondra, apparently, but not Nolan, and he’s the person who told me about them.”

“How’d he find out?”

“He was hacking into the systems to see what defenses we had at our disposal.”

JJ chuckled. “Figures he’d be able to see them. How far away is your stateroom?”

“Half a kilometer from the bridge. Could’ve taken the tin can, but I wanted to walk. How’d you run into me?”

“I stopped at the gym facilities and showered,” she said. “I always feel gross after I throw up.”

“And you just happened to run into me, huh?”

She chuckled. “I was on my way back to the bridge. How else could I have gone?”

“All right, I get it. Just as well. We need to get you a stateroom on this ship. There’s a few open. Looked at it earlier, when we were in the last jump.”

“You did that before a big battle, just for little old me?”

“Hey, anything to keep myself from going stir crazy before a battle is a good thing.”

“Is there one close to yours?” she asked.

“There’s one across the hall, and two of them down about half a kilometer, in the port bow quadrant. Walking distance from that big cafeteria and recreation area.”

What quadrant are we in now?”

“The central quadrant,” I said.

“And yet it’s still so far from the bridge.”

“The tin can is steps away.”

“Oh, yeah, you wanted to walk. How much further?”

“We’re half way there,” I said as we walked. “That battle really bothered you, didn’t it?”

“All those people,” she said.

“We tried the non-lethal approach, you know.”

“Yes, I know. Still makes me feel bad to kill so many. Those were people with parents and friends and maybe even children. It’s horrible. Doesn’t it bother you?”

“Of course it bothers me, but my responsibility is to my crew. Remember they were out to kill us as much as we were out to kill them. More so, really. They chose to attack Earth and draw us into the second battle.”

“Oh, I know,” she said. “It just seems like we’re in such a hopeless situation.”

“I’ve got to agree with you there. I’m wondering what other capabilities Simone has that she hasn’t revealed yet.”

JJ looked tired. “Are we almost there?”

“Almost, I promise.”

We walked silently for the rest of the way, getting to my door, down a short corridor, on the right side.

“Here’s mine. You want to check out the one across the hall? You could sleep in there and decide if you want to move in after that.”

“Let’s take a quick look, and then I’ll join you in your room for a little while.”

“Why?” I asked.

“To keep the fires burning, and to talk some more.”

I nodded, turning to the left side, using my PA to open the door. It smelled a little musty inside.

“This hasn’t been used for a while?” she asked.

“I don’t know, I’ve been off this ship for a while,” I said, rubbing my finger on the table just inside the door. “No dust, so at least housekeeping is keeping it clean.”

“It’s nice,” JJ said, walking around the spacious suite. “This is for a higher-ranking person than I am.”

“Are you kidding? You’re the Chief Technologist. It’s fine.”

“But I’m a civilian,” she said, checking the bathroom. “Nice tub.”

“It’s a lot like my suite. A little smaller, but not much.”

“Who was it for?” JJ asked as she returned to the front part of the suite.

“First mate or science officer level,” I said.

“Maybe Nolan ought to take it, then.”

“We’re going to be on and off of this ship,” I said. “Nolan’s got a nice stateroom on the Zephyrus. Probably a better place for him for now. Heck, I’m hardly ever in mine. I’m not going to move my personal stuff over here from the Zephyrus yet.”

“I’ve seen enough. Let’s go into your room.”

I nodded, opening the door for her. “Shall I send the token for this room to your PA?”

“Sure, go ahead Captain.”

We entered my room, which had a slight musty smell too. “As you can see, I haven’t spent much time here.”

“Shut the door,” she said as she walked to the sofa, sitting down in the middle. “Then join me.”

I shrugged, telling the PA to shut the door, then walked over and sat next to JJ. She leaned into me, her arms going around me, eyes staring into mine for a moment.

“Does this bother you?” she asked.

“No, why?”

“Your heart is beating hard. I can feel it.”

“Maybe you excite me a little,” I said.

“Good.” She came in for a kiss, which was long and passionate. We parted, both breathing hard.

“Wow,” I said sheepishly.

“That was nice. Just enough to keep the fires burning. Maybe I should be going.”

I chuckled, pulling her roughly to me and kissing her hard, my hands roaming over her back as she returned the kiss. I broke it and stood, looking at her smirk. “There, now it’s enough.”

“Oh, you take a little more than I do, huh?” she asked.

“Perhaps. Hungry, or do you want to get some sleep?”

“I think it’s gonna have to be sleep for now,” she said. “Go ahead and send me that token, and I’ll slip across the hallway, for now.”

I grinned, helping her up. It took a moment to send the token. When it cleared I walked her to her door. “See you soon.” She got on her tiptoes and planted a short kiss on me, then went into her suite. I went back to mine and climbed into bed, trying to push the carnage I’d caused to the back of my brain, so I could sleep. It wasn’t working very well, but I finally drifted off after nearly an hour of tossing and turning. Five hours later my PA woke me. It was Dr. Hazelton.

“Captain, I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

“No, it’s fine,” I said.

“Are you still on the New Jersey?”

I laughed. “We’re all on the New Jersey.”

She flashed an embarrassed smile. “Shoot, that was dumb, sorry.”

“I’m just playing with you,” I said. “What’s up?”

“I’m ready to start with the next segment of Barney’s training, if that’s okay. I’ve heard we’ll be in the wormhole for at least another twelve hours.”

“Sounds about right,” I said, “Go ahead. How’s it going on the Zephyrus?”

“Quiet. Most of the crew left to hang out at the recreation area.”

“Tim and Izzy are still there, though, correct?”

“Yes, they’re still here, along with me, Deacon, Deneuve, and Barney.”

“How’d Barney do with his freedom to roam?”

Dr. Hazelton laughed. “He stuck to Deneuve like glue, but he made some friends. It’s amazing how quickly humans bond to Neanderthals. I know it, but it’s always surprising to watch. The crew loves him. They’re treating him like a mascot, though, and once he’s through this next segment of training he’ll be too mature for that, I think.”

“Deneuve isn’t going stir crazy, I hope.”

“No, he’s doing fine, and he’s very protective.”

“Good, Dr. Hazelton. I’ll probably pop down there sometime before we get out of the jump. Take care. Don’t avoid going out to get some of this good food.”

“I was planning on it, Captain. Thank you.”

The call ended. I contacted the bridge. Sondra answered me.

“Hi, Captain, get some rest?”

“Not quite enough yet,” I said. “How about the others?”

“Nolan and Skip took off to get some sleep. I’ll be taking off in another hour.”

“Okay. I’m not quite done yet. See you in a while but notify me if anything happens.”

“As always, Captain. Talk to you soon.”

I laid back down, trying to drift off again. My mind was too active, flitting from one thing to another. I finally gave up and moved to the living room, grabbing some food and a cup of tea. After about half an hour JJ called me, asking if she could come over. I unlocked my door, and she was there after a moment.

“Sleep any?” she asked, sitting down. She had a clean, well-pressed uniform on.

“Used the clothes replicator, did you?”

“I did,” she said, standing back up. “You like?” She turned for me, the uniform rather tight fitting, cut nicely for a woman.

“You look good. Want a snack?”

“Ate something before I came over,” she said. “Are we still going on the mission?”

“Eventually, I’m sure we will, but we’ll have the same problem making jumps that the New Jersey is having.”

“Think they can scan wide enough to keep tabs?” JJ asked, lines of concern on her face.

“That’s a good question. We’re going all the way to the Virgo Cluster, and when we’re out of the jump we’ll travel for almost two weeks under impulse power. It’ll be interesting to see if the Overlords follow us to this vicinity. We’ll be watching.”

“Uh oh, I need to find some medication to stop the seasickness,” JJ said. “If we’ll be on impulse power again.”

“You might get used to it after a few days.”

“Hope so,” she said. “Our mission might be less dangerous than just hanging out with the New Jersey, you know.”

“Why do you say that?”

She smiled, her face looking more attractive to me than it had before. “Think about it. We were going to survey worlds that are close to natural wormholes, because of the Clan’s restrictions. Perhaps we should go old-school and use those natural wormholes ourselves.”

My mouth dropped open, and I chuckled. “You’re as smart as you are beautiful.”

“Glad you noticed, Captain.”

To be continued…

 

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Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 23 – Triple Team

We were still in the conference room with Vermillion, discussing the battle. Nolan was thinking about nuclear fission and level five worlds, which I had just brought up.

“You’ve got something there,” Nolan said. “Technically it would be illegal to gather that material up from level six worlds. It would also be next to impossible to pull off, given the far more advanced technology of those worlds.”

JJ thought for a moment. “Given the fact that the Overlords have these new ships, it’s possible that they have other technology we don’t know about… such as cloaking technology.”

“If they had that, they’d use it on that new ship,” Vermillion said. “They didn’t know we had it until our attack on the Mars space dock.”

“They knew we were working on it, though,” JJ said.

Vermillion nodded. “True.”

“They might be doing the same thing we are,” I said.

“Meaning what?” Vermillion asked.

“They could set up uranium enrichment plants on a higher-level world, like we’re doing for our fuel supply on Amberis. It would actually be easier than what we’re doing.”

“Use of that tactic is still a Hail Mary,” Nolan said, “for which we have a defense if we choose to deploy it. I think we ought to concentrate on the big ship itself. Who’s building it and where, what are its complete capabilities, where the supply lines are for materials, that sort of thing.”

“Yes, we need the same kind of info that they’re trying desperately to find out about our operation,” Vermillion said.

I sat with my brow furrowed, that horrible feeling that we’re forgetting something pushing its way into my mind. JJ noticed.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Something more is going on. We got lured to Earth by Simone. Maybe she thought we’d be defeated by this new ship of hers, but she had to know we’d destroy all of her Centurion ships.”

“I know, that’s bothering me too,” Vermillion said. “She’s one of the brightest people I’ve ever met. This battle looks like something a one-dimensional thinker would come up with.”

Nolan chuckled. “It was probably developed in a committee. You guys have dealt with the Central Authority before.”

“I’m not convinced the Central Authority is supporting her,” Vermillion said. “I’m afraid the Central Authority let wolves into their midst, and don’t have the ability to control them.”

JJ nodded. “Well, either the Central Authority has turned, or the Overlords are doing things behind their back.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because the SDAC must, by law, review all new spacecraft designs. I sat on that committee, remember? I would’ve remembered this ship.”

“We need to change course,” I said. “I don’t want us anywhere near Amberis.”

Nolan eyed me. “You think they can track us through a worm hole.”

“Remember when you said it was hard to hide an artificial worm hole from a detailed scan?”

“Yes, theoretically that is correct,” Nolan said.

“She got a starting point near Earth, and another one where we just left from, in the outer solar system.”

Nolan’s brow furrowed, his expression turning to alarm. “He’s right, we need to change course before we get close to Amberis.”

“Sondra, give the order,” I said. “Send us out into the middle of nowhere. Don’t care what the location is at the moment. Let’s go another thirty light years.”

“I’ll be right back, Captain.” She got up and rushed onto the bridge.

“We can’t just travel and stay where the wormhole drops us,” Nolan said. “I suggest we come out of it and move away as fast as our impulse engines will carry us. Cloaked, of course.”

“Yes, and then we deploy the railgun drones,” I said.

“Dammit,” Vermillion said. “They’re forcing us to burn too much fuel.”

“Might be their plan, depending on how much they know,” Nolan said. “They captured a lot of Samson Corporation employees. How many knew about this ship’s new shields and weapons, and the fuel requirements?”

“Several,” Vermillion said, leaning back in his chair. “If we use those drones, we need to keep them inside the shields unless we’re attacked with those projectiles again.”

“Agreed,” I said. “We’d better get out there and talk to the bridge crew about this. We’ve got a lot to do in a small amount of time.”

“Let’s go,” Vermillion said. We all walked onto the bridge.

“We’ve changed course,” Sondra told us as we sat down. I told the bridge crew about our strategy.

“Should we let the Zephyrus and Tristar back out?” Skip asked.

“They might see it,” Sondra said.

Skip shook his head. “They might, but if we get into a fight it’d be better to have them out.”

“Let’s stop, let them out now, and then we’ll all head towards the same spot,” Nolan said. “We’re too far away to get caught while we’re in the middle of getting them out.”

“If they saw us stop and take them back into the bay, they might have a head-start in this direction,” I said.

“Even if they do, they’re still too far back,” Nolan said. “I say we launch them right now. As quickly as we can.”

I thought about it for a moment, deciding it was the best choice, and looked over at Sondra. “Give the orders.”

“Aye, Captain,” she said, getting on her PA.

Vermillion looked concerned.

“You okay with this?” I asked.

He nodded. “Just worried about the fuel, although we have quite a bit of extra on board the New Jersey. We can replenish them from our supply. I just hope we don’t end up in battle after battle before our supply line is up and running.”

We felt the static charge as the ship dropped out of the jump.

“Scan, Nolan,” I said.

“On it, sir,” he said, not turning away from his console.

“What about our fighters?” Skip asked.

“We’re kinda stuck on that,” I said. “If we open the fighter bay, it’s the same as opening the main bay door. If they were cloaked, it might be worth it.”

“Good point,” Skip replied.

“Let’s take off the second they’re out,” I said.

“The Tristar is already out,” Sondra said. “Should they go ahead and jump?”

“No, not until we all go. We don’t want to give anybody a preview.”

The minutes ticked by, all of us nervous, Nolan’s eyes glued to his console, Vermillion pacing the bridge.

“The Zephyrus is out, Captain,” Sondra said.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said. We jumped away.

“Get anything on the scan?” I asked.

Nolan turned at me, smiling. “Nothing on the sensors, but I did get more news.”

“Anything back channel from the Overlords?” Vermillion asked, stopping his pacing to sit.

“Nope,” Nolan said.

I glanced at him. “Might as well put them on screen. We’ve got half an hour to kill.”

“Captain, I dispatched a team to ready the railgun drones,” Sondra said.

“Thanks. We won’t release them until we’re stopped, and they stay inside the shields unless we’re attacked.”

“Won’t they mess with the cloak?” Skip asked.

“No, they’re attached to the outside of the ship,” Nolan said. “And they’re shielded. They won’t give off any signal until we light them up and send them outside the shields.”

“Hey, why do we have to worry about the bay door?” JJ asked. “The cloaking device works with the shields, remember? It’s just a software change. Anything that stays within the shield bubble should be hidden, right?”

Nolan froze, turning to look at her. “Do you have the technical data on the cloaking upgrade?”

“Yes. I’ll start going through it, but I might need help from you.”

“Until we know for sure, we’re going to play it safe,” I said. “Understand? That said, you two work it. Let’s not mess with the news reports right now.”

“I agree,” Vermillion said.

“Maybe we should just talk to the guy who designed the change,” Nolan said. “Might be faster.”

“He was captured,” Vermillion said.

“Aw, crap,” Skip said. “He can equip their ships, then.”

“He’d die first,” Vermillion said.

“I don’t know, sir,” Nolan said. “Torture can be tough to deny.”

“It has to be tailored to their shields,” JJ said. “That much I know. He can’t do that overnight. We’re talking weeks of coding and testing.”

“Let’s not worry about what we have no control over,” I said. “Go through the documentation as quickly as you can.”

Nolan and JJ both nodded and got to work.

Vermillion was still pacing. I got next to him. “You look pretty worried.”

He turned to me and smiled. “I knew we’d run into unexpected circumstances. I tend to fret about them a little too much. Don’t worry, I’m okay.”

“How many of our fighters are onboard?”

He eyed me. “Just over five thousand.”

“The rest are at the plants?”

“Yes,” he said.

“And how soon will their cloaking devices be ready?”

Vermillion glanced around to see who was listening. Everybody was working their tasks, but we were close. He nodded to the door. “Let’s go into the conference room.”

I followed him out, shooting a glance at Sondra. She nodded back to me.

We sat at the close end of the long table. Vermillion leaned back in his chair. “I was wondering when this was going to come up. Shit.” He got up and started pacing again.

“Sure you’re okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I can’t sit still when things are happening too fast. I’m always on my feet when I have to be at my best. You know that.”

“I remember you pacing during conference calls.”

“Okay, cards on the table, but don’t spread it around yet. We have two prototype fighters with cloaking devices and the newer plasma weapons at the main plant. We’re lucky they got as far as they did before we were hit. We lost most of the engineers and scientists who were working that project.”

“Captured?”

“Worse. Most of them were killed at the Pacific facility.”

“Oh. Are they ready to test?”

“Almost,” Vermillion said, pausing his pacing for a moment. “The engineers we have at the plant can finish them, but if we run into troubles during the testing, we may not have the talent available to fix the problem.”

“What do we have onboard this ship?” I asked. “The Mark IV model that was here when I was in command before?”

“They’re Mark V. They’ll appear the same, but they have some significant upgrades.”

“What kind of upgrades?”

“The Mark V power storage modules have more than ten times the capacity of the older model.”

“Why? The Mark IV model had quite a bit more capacity than we needed. I always wondered about that.”

Vermillion chuckled. “We always include future requirements into our designs where we can.”

“What’s the additional capacity for?”

“This is top secret.”

“Understood,” I said, my heart beating faster.

“They have much longer range, and they can jump.”

“What?” I asked. “Fighters that can jump? That’s huge. We should’ve been using them already.”

“Don’t get too excited. There are some problems.”

“What are they?” I asked.

“We haven’t been able to speed up the recharge process. If we run one of these fighters all the way down, it takes eighteen hours to recharge them.”

“Actually, that’s pretty good for a ten-fold increase in capacity. The Mark IV took about eight hours.”

Vermillion smiled. “True, if you look at it that way. We’re working on a way to decrease the recharge time to below eight hours. Ran into a wall, but I’ve still got some people working it.”

“What’s the other problem?”

Vermillion sighed. “This is either good or bad, depending on how you look at it. To fit the larger power storage modules in the current frame, we had to get rid of the second seat.”

“No rear gunner?”

“Nope, not in the Mark V,” Vermillion said. “The pilot can fire both guns, and the onboard AI can take over the rear gun if the pilot chooses, but right now it can’t tell friend or foe.”

“Geez, that’s kind of a problem,” I said. “I can see the good side, though. Our fleet would need half the pilots.”

“It’s not that much of an advantage yet. Only a quarter of our fighters are Mark V. The rest are Mark III and IV. You’re right, though, we do save some on pilots. That’s why we put Mark Vs on this ship.”

“When will we have a new two-seat model?”

“It’s on the drawing board,” Vermillion said, “but it’s not close to the prototype stage.”

“Interesting. Who ordered the new fighters? We don’t come up with new designs without orders, right?”

“That I can’t share with you,” Vermillion said.

I eyed him. “We self-funded this, didn’t we?”

“I said I can’t share that with you,” Vermillion said. “Sorry.”

“All right, no problem sir. Let’s get back out there and see how things are going.”

Vermillion nodded, and we went back to the bridge.

“Well?” I asked.

Nolan looked over at me. “We’ll have to test, Captain. The design documentation described the cloaking capability as still experimental, and they wouldn’t guarantee that the doors could be opened while cloaked without bleeding off some signal.”

“That’s not great,” I said.

Nolan nodded in agreement. “We could test, you know.”

“How are we gonna do that without a set of the big ship’s sensors?”

“Test in the field. Open the fighter bay for a second, and see if the big ship targets us.”

I laughed. “I’m not doing that.”

“It’s not that dangerous. We set ourselves up to jump before the test. We already know that ship can’t break through our shields.”

“Correction,” I said. “We don’t think they can break down our shields. We can’t assume they were using full power in that last battle, just as they can’t assume the same about us.”

Nolan laughed. “They couldn’t even target us well, remember? They figured out roughly where we were after the missiles were fired, but they could only fire wildly in our direction and hope they hit us. With a ship this large, that isn’t so difficult.”

“Okay, that’s a good point. I’ll think about it.”

“We’re coming out of the jump in ten seconds, Skip said. “What direction do you want to go after that?”

“Hang a left,” I quipped. “As long as nothings in the way. Maximum speed on the impulse power. Sondra, tell the Zephyrus and the Tristar to go in different directions, please.”

They both nodded to me, as the static hit all of us, the ship dropping out of the wormhole, the impulse engines starting. I grabbed my chair to steady myself.

“You always feel movement with impulse power,” JJ said. “Makes me queasy sometimes.”

Vermillion chuckled. “You don’t like boats, I’ll bet.”

“Hate them, I always get sea sick.”

“The other two ships are on impulse now, Captain,” Sondra said. “The Zephyrus is moving towards three O’clock, the Tristar towards twelve O’clock.”

“Got it, thanks,” I said. “Nolan, watch those sensors like a hawk. Skip, tell the battle pilots to be ready. Sondra, stand by with the railgun drones just in case.”

We all waited, watching the screens, all the cameras on.

“How far are we from the drop-off point?” I asked.

Skip looked over. “Seven hundred thousand kilometers and accelerating. This thing has a lot of mass. The Tristar and the Zephyrus are nearly twice as far already.”

“How long should we wait?” JJ asked.

“I’d say an hour at least, to be sure,” Nolan said.

I nodded in agreement. “Stay sharp.”

“Here they come, Captain,” Nolan said, eyes glued to his console.

“They?” I asked, my heart beating faster.

“Looks like five. Same engine profile as the big ship.”

“Dammit,” Vermillion said. “Be ready.”

“Launch the drones, but don’t let them past the shields.”

“Aye, sir,” Sondra said, turning to her console.

Suddenly five of the huge ships appeared where the end of our worm hole was.

“Should we fire?” Skip asked.

“Give it a moment,” I said. “Let’s see if they can see through our cloaking device.”

“Don’t let them all get away if we can help it,” Vermillion said. “Hit the first one with full power. Let’s see if we can break through their shields.”

“How far away are we now?” I asked. “I don’t want to be too close if we blow one of those monsters.”

“Three million kilometers,” Skip said.

“The other two ships?”

“Nearly four million kilometers, Captain.”

“Want them to fire?” Sondra asked.

“Yes, tell them to double team one of them, full power.”

“Aye sir,”

“Skip, pick the closest one, full power.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Fire!”

The nearest big ship was hit with a bright flash, the shield turning from yellow to orange to red in a split second, and then we were into the hull, debris flying off her side, secondary explosions starting. We could see another ship just past it being hit too, but it wasn’t yet glowing red.

“We killed that one,” Nolan said, watching in awe as the ship began falling apart, the ends falling off, then the middle imploding.

“The smaller ships can’t kill one of these monsters,” Vermillion said, watching as it turned orange but stayed there, firing in all directions now, not hitting any of our ships.

“Target the next one before it jumps,” I shouted. We watched as its shields flashed bright, turning to orange, just getting to red as it jumped away. The two un-touched ships followed it.

“Hit that last ship,” I said, Skip nodding, the plasma hitting that ship, turning the shields from orange to red, debris flying as all three ships continued firing at it. It began to come apart, attempting to jump away, but only moving slightly before the center imploded.

“Wow,” Skip said, watching the debris float around the area.

“Don’t relax yet,” I shouted. “Stay on the sensors and watch for railgun projectiles.”

“Watch for other ships too,” Vermillion said. “If they’ve got enough of a supply chain to build five, it’s very possible they have more.”

We waited for nearly an hour, watching the sensors, floating free in space.

“They’re not coming for us, Captain,” Nolan said. “We’d have seen it by now.”

“Get Andrea and Cyrus on screen,” I said.

“Aye, Captain,” Sondra said. Their relieved faces showed up after a moment.

“That was something,” Cyrus said.

“We won,” Andrea said.

“Yes, we won, but we’re in some trouble too,” Vermillion said. “So don’t rejoice too much. Good job, though. All of you.”

“I agree on both counts,” I said. “It’ll be hard to get back to Amberis without them figuring out what general direction to look in, and that might be enough for them to nail us.”

“We can fight them and win,” Skip said.

“Can we really?” Nolan asked. “They have an almost unlimited supply of fuel. After this battle, we know they have at least two ships that are untouched and one that is only slightly damaged. We’ve got one full sized ship that can beat them, and two smaller ones that can’t, even by double-teaming them.”

“They’re reviewing their data right now, to see where we were firing from,” Vermillion said. “We need to leave, because as soon as they work out our positions, we’re likely to get the railgun attacks again.”

“Go to seven O’clock from the opening of our wormhole, three million kilometers from here,” I said. “We’ll load you guys up, find a place to hide out, and talk this through.”

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 22 – Projectiles

It took me just a few minutes to craft the message for Vermillion to send through the back channel to Simone. He chuckled after reading it.

“Perfect. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“Will we get a reply before we come out of the wormhole?” Sondra asked.

Vermillion turned before he got through the door. “If they respond to the server that I’m sending this from, yes.” He left.

JJ moved closer to me. “You know, this might piss Simone off enough to actually attack Earth, and then we’re in trouble.”

“She’s going to do it anyway, unless we surrender, and we’re not doing that. If she hits Earth with an attack, then I will target Devonia Axxiom. I didn’t intend that message as an idle threat.”

“That’s the Captain Trey Clarke I remember,” Sondra said. JJ shot her a worried glance, but kept her mouth shut.

“Should I plot a course to Devonia Axxiom and have it on our list of alternate locations, Captain?” Nolan asked.

“Yes, do that, and figure out escape routes just in case. We still don’t know anything about that new ship. It might be more than a match for this one.”

“We know they can’t track us, at least,” Tim said. “They would have by now.”

“Or they could see us and thought it would be easier to threaten Earth than to pursue us,” Skip said. “Can the smaller ships take on those Centurion class ships?”

“Several at a time,” Nolan said. “And since we’ll all be cloaked, the Overlords won’t know we’re nearby until their ships are turned into floating debris.”

I sat in the captain’s chair and accessed the ship’s AI, feeding as much data into it as I could, including Nolan’s data on placement of the ships and targeting info. Vermillion came back onto the bridge after half an hour.

“The message has been sent, and I’m monitoring the system for a reply.”

I nodded, looking up from my PA screen for a moment, then getting back to it as the minutes ticked off. Tension on the bridge was rising.

“We’re getting close,” Nolan said. “Better get the crews on the Tristar and Zephyrus.”

“I’m ready,” Tim said, getting up, Izzy and Andrea joining him. They left the bridge.

“You know where Cyrus is?” I asked Nolan.

“He’s already aboard the Tristar, checking systems. The crew of both ships are returning there as we speak.”

My PA beeped. It was Deacon. “What’s up? You back on the Zephyrus?”

“Yeah, Cappy. We’re still a little short of crew. Can I take some from the New Jersey? I made a list.”

“They aren’t key New Jersey crew members, right?”

“No, they’re not, but I’ve worked with all of them before.”

“Okay, send me the list and I’ll approve it.”

“Will do, Cappy. Thanks.”

“Be careful,” I said.

“You too.”

I went back to working with the AI for the next twenty minutes.

“We’ll be coming out of the jump in a moment, Captain,” Nolan said.

“Good.” I leaned back in the chair, my back complaining. JJ noticed my expression as I stretched, and came over, rubbing my shoulders and back.

“You’re pretty tense,” she whispered.

“Comes with the territory,” I said. The static hit us as the ship dropped out of the wormhole. “Here we go.”

Nolan glanced at me. “We’re cloaked. I’m running a scan now and downloading any new info.”

“How long will it take us to get to Earth from here?”

“Hours if we use impulse power. I suggest we jump in.”

“Good, same idea I had.”

“Sir, the Zephyrus and Tristar are both ready to leave the bay,” Sondra said, looking at her PA. “Should I give the okay?”

“Yes,” I said, my heart dropping to my stomach as the words left my lips.

Vermillion chuckled. “Well, that didn’t take long.”

“What?”

“Simone’s response to our back-channel message.”

“What’d she say?” Skip asked.

“How dare you.”

“She’s going crazy right about now,” Nolan said. “I finished the scan of Earth. No attacks thus far, but there are more ships in orbit. The original ships are still in geosynchronous orbit. The other ships are in lower orbit.”

“Tactical,” Sondra said. “I’m seeing them. Another six.”

“So, they’ve got eighteen Centurion ships total, then?” I asked.

Nolan snickered. “No, the last group aren’t Centurion class battle cruisers. They’re troop transport ships.”

“Simone would dare try an invasion?” Skip asked.

“Why would that surprise any of you?” Nolan asked. “She’s nuts.”

“She’s crazy like a fox,” Vermillion said. “Never underestimate her.”

I thought about the situation for a moment, thinking through all the possibilities. “Did those new ships arrive before or after Simone got our back-channel reply?”

“I’ll have to access some Earth sensors to figure that out,” Nolan said. “Already working it.”

“Well do it fast, and then let’s jump into their midst. Sondra, notify the Zephyrus and Tristar to get ready for jumps. I sent you the coordinates. I’ve also sent you a jump sequence for the attacks. I want them taking out all the Centurion ships within range of their first arrival point. Then they are to jump out and come back to the next location.”

“We won’t get all of them,” Nolan said.

I nodded. “That’s likely. Once some of them are destroyed, we’ll see those ships jumping away quickly.”

“Trace them when they do,” Vermillion said. “Use the New Jersey AI.”

I nodded. “That’s what I programmed in, Mr. Chairman.”

“We’re going to hit them here and then go after their bases?” JJ asked. “Sure we can handle it? What about that big ship?”

“We’ll see what kind of shields that monster has,” I said.

“That’s pretty bold.”

I glanced at JJ. “Of course it is. We’re at war. We’ve been threatened with death, and our home planet is being held hostage. We either fight back with everything we’ve got, or surrender.”

Sondra got my attention. “Captain, I sent the data to Cyrus and Andrea. They want to chat.”

“Put them on screen.”

Sondra spoke into her PA and their faces came up on the center screen.

“We have a question, Captain,” Andrea said.

“Go ahead.”

“Should we hit the Centurion ships or the troop transports first?”

“Centurion ships,” I said.

“Told you,” Cyrus said.

“They’ll still threaten Earth if we leave them alone,” Andrea said.

“We’ve got a heavily armed planet. Those troops would have a hard time if they go there. I expect them to jump away as we begin destroying their Centurion ships.”

“We’re shooting to kill this time, correct?” Cyrus asked. “For the record?”

“Yes, destroy the ships. Avoid the big one. The New Jersey will take that on. If we’re forced to jump away, follow us. Understood?”

“Where should we go?” Andrea asked.

“Go back to Amberis and stay cloaked.”

“Yes sir,” Cyrus said.

“Aye, sir,” Andrea said. “We’re ready to make the jump to Earth orbit.”

“Nolan, are we ready?”

“We are, Captain.”

“Let’s go.”

The center screen shut down, and we felt the dizziness as the ship made the jump, coming out of it in less than ten seconds. Nolan turned on the cameras. The monster ship sat before us, several small fighters patrolling around her.

“Everybody in place?” I asked. Andrea responded affirmative, Cyrus a split second later.

“Battle pilots standing by, Captain,” Skip said.

“Monitor the shields, Nolan.”

“Of course, Captain.”

“Fire.”

The massive enemy ship lit up as our plasma blasts hit their shields, consuming the fighters who were nearby in a micro-second. The ship’s shields appeared to be holding, but they were changing color quickly. Blasts came out of all their guns, along with torpedoes, but they weren’t targeted to our ship.

“They can’t see us,” Sondra said.

“Keep on them. Fire torpedoes.”

“How many?” Skip asked.

“Fifty ought to be a good start,” I said.

We saw flashes heading towards the enemy ship, which noticed them right away since they weren’t cloaked, hitting most of them, a few blowing up as they touched their shields, causing their ship to wobble slightly. Then they hit us with their plasma weapons, the blast blinding the cameras for a few seconds.

“Shields?” I asked.

“Holding, using less than twenty percent,” Nolan said. “They pack a lot bigger punch than the Centurion ships, but not enough.”

“Move us, then hit them with more plasma blasts,” I said. “Make them work at getting a bead on us.”

“Making the first jump,” Cyrus said. “Five Centurion ships destroyed, over the far east.”

“Same here, Captain,” Andrea said. “Three Centurion ships destroyed, along with two troop ships who were too close.”

“Good,” I said. “We in position for another salvo, Nolan?”

“Yes sir.”

“Fire!” Our plasma weapons lit them up again, the shields on the rear of the enemy ship turning red, the ship itself starting to glow.

“We broke through!” Nolan shouted.

“They’ll jump away any second,” Skip said, the ship vanishing as the words left his lips.

“Target any Centurion ships in range,” I said.

“Locked in now,” Skip said, talking into his PA, two Centurion ships disintegrating in an instant.

Nolan smiled. “The Tristar and Zephyrus just destroyed their next round of ships, Captain, and the balance of Centurion ships have jumped away, along with the remaining troop transports.”

“You got a trace on them?” I asked.

“The Centurions, yes. Can’t connect with that big ship.”

“They’ve got a more advanced drive system,” Vermillion said. “We need to find out who built that craft.”

“How did our shields hold up?” I asked.

“We were never down more than twenty percent, sir,” Nolan said, “and as they were hitting us, these shields got stronger, not weaker. Very good design.”

“Sir, no enemy ships remain in the area,” Sondra said. “What now?”

“Remain here and watch the traces.”

“Good call,” Vermillion said. “Watch for that big ship. It might be back.”

Nolan looked over at me. “We’ve got a problem, Captain.”

“What?”

“I’m getting reports of PA stun attacks in all the cities covered by an Overlords ship.”

“Dammit,” I said. “Is there a way we can stop it?”

“Wait,” Vermillion said. “I’ll get the satellites shut down. That will cut off the signal to PA units on the surface.” He spoke into his PA. Then Nolan cracked up.

“You think this is funny?” JJ asked, a look of horror on her face.

“The attack is only killing about two percent of the people targeted.”

“How are you picking that up?” I asked.

“The PA system data shows that only two percent of the connections when through. Reports from the Earth media and message boards are on fire with this too. After that first attack in Manhattan, most people on Earth removed their PA units. Small wonder. Wouldn’t you?”

“Hamilton Zenos suggested that, remember?” JJ asked. “Maybe he has a bigger following than we thought.”

I shook my head. “I’d laugh, but people got killed. Got any idea how many yet?”

“No,” Nolan said. “I’m sure the info will be out shortly.”

“The PA feeds have been shut down,” Vermillion said. “They can’t hit Earth again.”

“They can reset their satellites, can’t they?” Sondra asked.

“It wasn’t done at the satellites,” Vermillion said. “Power was cut off at the ground stations.”

Nolan chuckled. “Good call. They can’t fix that without going to the surface.”

“It’s good for this emergency, but there are other things those ground stations control,” I said. “They’ll have to turn them back on eventually.”

“My software can be adapted to use on the ground stations,” Nolan said. “It’ll stop the PA service without stopping everything else.”

“When we get past this, I’d like you to work on that,” Vermillion said.

“Sir, incoming!” Skip shouted.

“What?” I asked. “Enemy ships?”

“More like a rail gun attack,” Nolan said. “Scanning the projectiles now. They’re still pretty far off.”

“I’ve told the battle pilots to target the projectiles,” Skip said.

Nolan shook his head no. “We need to get out of here, Captain.”

“We can’t blast them?” I asked.

“Yeah, we can blast them, but they’re very large depleted uranium rounds. Several metric tons each. We’d have to use kinetic weapons. There are too many of them to use missiles. We’ve got fifty-thousand coming at us.”

My brow furrowed. “That means we’d have to lower our shields, and then guess what will happen.”

“Exactly,” Nolan said. “Most of them will miss us. They’ve flooded the area with them, since we’re cloaked. None of them are targeted precisely. Simone’s using them like a giant shotgun shell.”

“Our shields won’t stop them?” JJ asked.

“Not with that mass,” Nolan said. “They might only be half the size by the time they hit our hull – but do we really want one ton projectiles hitting us?”

“Jump away,” I said. “Sondra, have the other two ships do the same just in case.”

“Aye, sir,” Sondra said, speaking into her PA as the dizzy feeling hit us.

We stopped at the far end of the solar system again and watched as the projectiles flew past our previous position, some hitting the earth’s atmosphere, glowing white hot.

“Some of those are going to do damage on the surface,” Sondra said.

“Most of them are falling into the Pacific,” Nolan said, looking over from his console. “Luckily they didn’t bother sending a group of them at the positions of the Zephyrus and Tristar. They only targeted the New Jersey.”

“Maybe we should call it a day and go back to Amberis,” Sondra said.

“Wait, let’s look at those traces,” I said, glancing at Nolan.

“Still traveling,” Nolan said.

“What direction?”

“Several,” Nolan said. “A couple are headed for Devonia Axxiom. Some to Temporal Eralla One, others to Axirilo. The troop transports all went to the same place.”

“Where?” JJ asked.

“Oollanders,” Nolan said.

“That’s a level five,” Sondra said. “They must be thrilled.”

“The infantry probably came from there,” Vermillion said. “The Central Authority recruits most of their infantry from level five worlds.”

“Price of admission,” Skip quipped.

“Yes,” Nolan said. “Maybe we ought to load our two smaller siblings and get out of here.”

“We don’t want to hit them for the PA system attack?” Skip asked.

“Each of the Centurion ships we destroyed had around a hundred thousand people on them. If we find out the stun attack killed anywhere near that number of people, I could see a counter attack, but I’d be surprised if they killed that many.”

“The estimates are already coming out,” Nolan said, not looking away from his console. “Looks like well under ten thousand people.”

“Okay, let’s get the other ships loaded, then,” I said.

“Maybe we should jump out a little further,” JJ said. “They’ll get a glimpse of us when we open the bay door.”

“That’ll cost us more fuel,” Skip said.

“And they won’t get much of a glimpse, unless their sensors are a lot better than ours,” Sondra said.

 

“Don’t be so sure about that,” Nolan said. “We’re cloaked. We’ll let some signal out opening the bay door. That’ll cause a very noticeable ripple, and it’s all about the contrast. Even a Centurion ship would see it. They could be here in about thirty seconds.”

I sat thinking about it. “How far would we have to go to protect against them jumping in before we can get finished?”

“Working out that calculation,” Nolan said. “Ah, it’s done. The Fomalhaut system.”

“That’s twenty-five light years,” Skip said. “It’s a significant amount of fuel. You really think they’ll try anything?”

“Yes,” I said. “Send the word to the other ships, and let’s go now.”

“Aye, Captain,” Skip said. We jumped away.

“How much time will it take us to load the two ships?” I asked.

“Ten minutes,” Sondra said.

“And how long is the travel time?” JJ asked.

“Just under twenty minutes, so we have a slight buffer,” Nolan said.

I smiled. “Good, thanks, Nolan.”

The trip took slightly less time than Nolan said, and we loaded the two ships very quickly, jumping towards Amberis within fifteen minutes.

“We’ve got a couple of problems to deal with,” Vermillion said. “Let’s go into the conference room and hash it out.”

“Who?” I asked.

“Nolan, JJ, Sondra, you, and me, for now,” he said. “Nolan, set the scan to running if you haven’t already. Don’t want anybody sneaking up on us.”

“Already done, Mr. Chairman.”

We got up and followed Vermillion into the conference room, finding seats quickly.

“First of all, great work,” Vermillion said. “Expertly planned and executed.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said, the others nodding.

“We’re in some trouble,” Nolan said.

“Yes,” Vermillion said.

“Why?” JJ asked. “We more than handled that big ship.”

“That ship was able to take our shields down by twenty percent,” Nolan said. “If they had five ships all firing at us at the same time, they’d have beaten us.”

“Exactly,” Vermillion said.

“Well, yes and no,” I said. “Remember one thing. We just about burned through their shields with the third sustained plasma blast, and we were using only about twelve percent of our available power. Most of our plasma guns sat idle during that exchange. The loss of shields isn’t linear, either. It might take ten of those ships to kill us, and they’d have to survive our plasma bursts to do it.”

Nolan chuckled. “You were in a pretty big hurry to leave the area.”

“Am I wrong?”

Nolan sighed. “No, not really. This is a very tough ship, but it’s not invincible against that new model that Simone has cooked up.”

“Yes, and we only have one of these ships,” Vermillion said. “They destroy this ship, and we’re done. That’s why it’s so crucial to build more.”

“Okay, I’ll give you guys that,” I said. “Maybe we need to find out where they’re building their spacecraft.”

“We’ve only got three ships,” Vermillion said. “That’s gonna be a very difficult search to do.”

“How long would it take to get production on the smaller ships completed?” Nolan asked. “I remember you saying it was about six months for the New Jersey class. How about the Zephyrus?”

“Good idea,” Vermillion said. “We could turn one of those smaller ships out in less than a month. I’ll put a priority on that model.”

“How about the Tristar model?” JJ asked.

“They take more time and have less cargo capacity,” Vermillion said. “We’ll build more of those because of their speed advantage, but right now the Zephyrus class ships make more sense. I don’t want to slow down the New Jersey class production, though, so I’ll have to do some careful planning when I get to the central plant.”

“Don’t we also have the rail-gun attack to worry about?” Sondra asked.

Nolan chuckled. “That was a Hail Mary.”

“But how do we protect against that?” Sondra asked.

“We had the tools to neutralize that attack on board this ship,” I said. “We just didn’t have time to deploy them. Next time we will.”

“Oh, you’re talking about those rail-gun drones,” Sondra said. “We just put them beyond our shields. Sorry, forgot about those. I’ve never had to deal with them.”

“Are they up to the task?” JJ asked. “The Overlord’s projectiles were much larger than normal.”

“I can adapt our drones to handle that,” Nolan said. “There is a limit to how much depleted uranium is available, too. It’s not a good long-term strategy for the Overlords to use.”

“Because of the ban on nuclear fission reactors?” Sondra asked.

“Exactly,” Nolan said. “That material shot at us today was probably hundreds of years old.”

“You guys are forgetting something,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“Fission is not illegal on level six worlds. Hell, they don’t even know the Central Authority exists yet. Lots of fission on level six worlds, and there’s probably over a thousand in our corner of the Central Authority Zone.”

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 21 – The Nudge

My heart pounded as I looked at Tim’s image on my PA. “Are they attacking Earth yet?”

“Not that we can tell,” Tim said. “It’s a long-range scan, so we might not be able to see that level of detail.”

“Should we go do something about this?” Cyrus asked.

“I need to get back to the ship and look at my news alerts,” Nolan said.

“You can’t get them here?” Vermillion asked.

“Nope,” Nolan said. “I’ve got to be onboard. That’s where my tokens are.”

“The Zephyrus or the New Jersey?” I asked.

“Either. I moved copies of my tokens to the New Jersey when we were traveling here.”

“Move them to the Tristar as well,” Vermillion said.

My heart was still pounding. JJ looked at me.

“Your face is flushed.”

“Our home is about to come under attack,” I said, my voice trembling with anger.

“They might not attack, they might just use this to blackmail us into surrender,” Deacon said. “Not that I think we should.”

Vermillion stood, starting to pace the train car. “Captain Clarke, you’re back in command of the New Jersey and will devise strategy for the other two ships as well.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said. “JJ, will you check on the status of the Zephyrus upgrades please? You have a line to the techs, right?”

“Yes,” she said, a worried look on her face as she pushed her sleeve up.

“Tim, send me coordinates for the placement of the enemy ships, and what is under them at this moment.”

“Aye, Captain, I’ll get right on it. They’re in geosynchronous orbit, by the way. Already figured that out.”

“Dammit,” Deacon said. “They’re gonna hit us with railguns again. That orbit will keep them right above the targets.”

My PA beeped, and I opened the data package.

“Well?” Nolan asked.

“I’m not as quick with this stuff as you are, Nolan,” I said, glancing up at him.

“Then send it to me.”

I eyed Nolan for a split second, then sent it to him.

“Thanks, Captain.”

I nodded, not looking up.

“The big ship is over New York City,” Nolan said. “There are Centurion ships over the largest cities on the planet. London, Tokyo, Paris, Chicago, Los Angeles, and so on. This is a threat, obviously.”

“Let’s get back to the Tristar,” I said. “We need to see what their ultimatum is. JJ, you got that data on the Zephyrus?”

“Half an hour,” she said. “It’ll be ready to go shortly after we get back to the New Jersey.”

“Thanks,” I said, getting up. We headed out the door to the panel truck. Vermillion hung back a moment to chat with Tac, rushing out to catch up. Tac waved to us out the door and then shut it, as Nolan got into the driver’s seat. We took off for the Tristar, getting there in less than five minutes.

“Getting better at driving this thing,” I said to Nolan.

“It’s fun. You should try it. Love the feel of the road.”

“Yeah, we can feel it all right,” JJ said. “This thing needs padding on the benches back here.”

The vehicle struggled a little up the hill to the crest of the ridge, but then raced down the other side, Nolan parking over the snowless patch of dirt the vehicle sat on when we landed. Cyrus was out of the back first, talking into his PA. A growing sliver of light appeared as the door opened. We rushed in quickly, Cyrus shutting the ramp behind us.

“Ward, get us back to the New Jersey,” Cyrus said into his PA.

“What are you gonna do?” JJ asked, trying to keep up as we headed for the elevator.

“Fight,” I said. We were up on the bridge in seconds. I got on my PA. “Andrea, get ready to pull the Tristar in with the tractor beam, and plot a course to Earth.”

“Already working on both, Captain,” Andrea said. “Tim has been showing me the data. Are you in command again?”

“Afraid so,” I said. “I’m going to put you on the Zephyrus for this operation.”

“In command?” she asked.

“Of course.”

Ward punched it, the ship rising towards the New Jersey. The tractor beam grabbed the ship, pulling us in rapidly. The door opened as we got close, and we slipped through, setting down on the same spot we were before. We all rushed to the bridge, Nolan leading the way. Vermillion made eye contact with me and nodded towards the small conference room off the bridge, as Nolan logged into his account at the Science Officer’s seat. I followed Vermillion into the conference room and shut the door behind us.

“Yes sir,” I said.

“You have a plan?”

“Jump to our solar system, unload the Zephyrus and the Tristar, and attack,” I said.

“Have jump solutions set for all three ships, just in case Simone has something we don’t expect.”

“I was planning on that. I’d like to use Nolan as the science officer on the New Jersey. He’s the best we have.”

“Good call, also good call putting Andrea in command of the Zephyrus. One other thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t hold back. They didn’t get the message with the non-lethal attacks.”

“I was hoping you would say that, sir.”

“Let’s get back out there,” Vermillion said. We went back to the bridge.

“Izzy and Tim, go back to the Zephyrus,” I said. “You know that ship, and Andrea will need your help. Nolan, you’re staying here.”

“Who’s going to pilot this beast?” Izzy asked.

“Have Skip do it,” Andrea said. “He’s the best I had here.”

“I’ll do that. Who’s a good first mate?”

“Sondra. I put in a call to her as soon as you said Tim was going to the Zephyrus.”

“Good, I was hoping she was available,” I said.

“Where too, Captain?” Nolan asked.

“Far enough from Earth so we don’t draw attention when we launch the Zephyrus and Tristar, but close enough to be in position in seconds. I’ll work out the details of the attack as we travel.”

“Got a perfect place in mind,” Nolan said. “Shall I punch it in?”

“Yeah, it might take Skip a few minutes to get up here.”

Nolan shot the data from his PA into the pilot’s station, then moved to that station and hit the confirmation, the dizziness striking all of us as we took off.

Skip came onto the bridge. He was a middle-aged man with red hair, gray at the temples, a little on the chubby side. “Captain Clarke, good to see you.”

I smiled. “Likewise, Skip. Do you know Nolan?”

“We’ve met,” he said. “I’ll confer with him about our destination.”

Sondra came in a few seconds later. “Reporting for duty, sir.” She was a tall, slender Korean woman, with straight black hair pulled into a pony tail.

“Sondra, thanks for coming up,” I said.

“What’s going on, sir?” She sat in the first mate’s chair, her brow furrowed.

“Nolan, did you get the reports?” I asked.

“Yes sir, already downloaded. Shall I put them on screen?”

“Please do,” I said.

“First one is a communication from the Central Authority.”

“It’ll be a bunch of garbage,” Skip said.

“Probably,” I said. “Put it up there, Nolan.”

He nodded, and the document showed on the screen.

Attention, remaining personnel of the Samson Corporation. Your company has been disbanded and outlawed. Your recent actions at our Mars Space Dock will result in your prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, up to and including the death penalty. All Samson Corporation assets are now the property of the Central Authority, and must be surrendered immediately. Failure to comply will result in attacks on your home planet Earth. You have forty-eight hours to surrender.

“About what I expected,” Vermillion said.

I smiled. “Me too. Nice touch mentioning the death penalty, which was outlawed last I checked.”

“Our Republic is gone,” JJ said. “That’s the only way they could get away with this.”

Nolan shook his head. “That’s what the Overlords would like to have us believe, but it hasn’t happened yet, and we need to remember that this message is not available to the general public. I got it because of my Samson Corporation token. The rest of you probably have the message in your inboxes as well.”

“So this is a back channel threat, huh?” I asked. “Can we reply without giving away our position?”

Nolan snickered. “I could bounce a reply around so much that they’d never be able to trace it. What do you have in mind? We can’t do anything until we’re out of the wormhole, of course.”

“Yes we can,” Vermillion said. “We can use the holographic system to send a text message to another transmitter, which can then relay the message.”

“Holographic system?” Sondra asked.

“Later,” I said. “I like that idea, and we have a couple hours to kill.”

“What message would you like to send?” Nolan asked.

“Well, since this is back channel and the public can’t see it, I think we ought to nudge them a little bit.”

“Nudge?” Vermillion asked. “What do you mean nudge?”

“I want to tell them that if they attack Earth, we will respond in kind on Devonia Axxiom.”

“Attack the Capitol of the Central Authority?” Sondra asked. “I like it.”

“We don’t have enough ships to do that,” Skip said.

Nolan flashed a wicked grin. “Actually, we do. We could hit them with our enhanced plasma weapons and our rail guns from all three ships. It would do a lot of damage.”

“How long would our fuel last if we did that?” I asked.

“The New Jersey? Months.”

“How about the other two ships?” JJ asked.

“Days,” Nolan said, “but it’s not as bad as it sounds. We could pull them into the New Jersey with the tractor beam and jump away before the Overlords could do anything about it.”

My PA buzzed. I looked at it. “The Zephyrus retrofit is complete. She’s ready to go.”

“Are we gonna send that message?” JJ asked.

“Dictate it into your PA and send it to me,” Vermillion said. “Throw in something not public that they know about, so they’re sure it’s really you.”

“I’ve got just the thing. The Assault on Thesis, which almost lost me my command fifteen years ago. That debacle was never made public. There are some events I could describe.”

“What kind of events?” JJ asked.

“Maybe I’d better not discuss it here,” I said.

Vermillion chuckled. “I know a lot about that operation. It was bloodthirsty enough to give them pause, if we can convince them the response came from you.”

“You guys are making me nervous,” JJ said.

Sondra made eye contact with me. “Pick an event that shows you to be ruthless, because that’s what we need. If we threaten the capitol, they’ll get very serious very fast.”

“I almost lost my command because I was ruthless.”

“Oh, go ahead and tell us,” Nolan said. “I’m interested.”

I glanced at Vermillion, who shook his head in approval.

“Thesis is an asteroid, which was being used by a band of pirates as a base. They got caught smuggling Boron, and we had them surrounded. They grabbed a cruise liner called the Veronia Sun with forty-thousand tourists aboard, and threatened to blow it up if we didn’t back away.”

“Oh, God, I remember that,” Sondra said. “The ship blew up, killing everybody aboard. I didn’t know it was blown up by pirates. The media said it was an accident.”

“You blew up Thesis, didn’t you?” Nolan asked.

“Yes. They gave us an ultimatum. Leave within twenty-four hours or they’d blow the tourist ship.”

“You chose not to back off?” JJ asked.

“We were negotiating with the leadership, trying to work out a deal, but as we approached the deadline, our sensors showed us that they had several hundred ships ready to launch from Thesis.”

“They were gonna make a quick getaway, huh?” Nolan asked.

I nodded. “The pirates were. They were planning to leave their families and non-combatants on Thesis, thinking we’d leave it alone and chase them. We would’ve, too, but they pushed it too hard.”

“Uh oh,” Skip said.

“What’d they do?” Sondra asked.

“They blew the Veronia Sun, attacked my battle cruiser, and tried to launch all their ships from Thesis in the same instance, thinking we’d have our hands too full to stop their escape.”

“You had the rock targeted,” Nolan said, his face grim. “Killed them all, didn’t you?”

“I hit them with several thousand torpedoes. Totally destroyed Thesis, killing more than three million people.”

“Oh, no,” JJ muttered.

“That was the right call,” Vermillion said.

“It’s not one of my proudest moments,” I said, feeling the emotion coming to the surface again after so many years.

“If you wouldn’t have done that, the tactic would have been repeated,” Nolan said. “I don’t look down on you for that decision. Not one bit.”

“What’s done is done,” Vermillion said. “Compose something about it in the message, and send it to my PA. I’ll send it out. They won’t be able to trace it.”

“Maybe we should look at the other reports I downloaded before we finish this,” Nolan said.

“Thanks for bringing us back into focus,” I told Nolan. “How many more?”

“Just two. The official news report and a report from Hamilton Zenos.”

“You mind, Chairman?” I asked.

“No, I’m interested too. Put them up.”

“Here’s the official release,” Nolan said, putting it on screen. We read.

The struggle between the outlawed Samson Corporation and the Central Authority ramped up yesterday, with an illegal attack on a number of Centurion ships and a space dock run by the Overlords.

Due to the superior technology of the Overlords fleet, none of the ships attacked were destroyed. Several were damaged. The space dock was out of commission briefly due to a power overload, caused by the massive repair and rescue operations being run from that facility. Full power has now been restored, and repairs to the affected vessels is proceeding at a fast pace.

Simone, leader of the Overlords, released the following statement: “Chairman Vermillion and his band of outlaws has attacked the Overlords, after we exposed their attempts to collude with the Clan to take over the Republic of the Central Authority Zone. This will not stand. We are bringing our most modern ships into the fight. There is nowhere for the Samson Corporation criminals to hide. We will pursue them across the Universe, outside of our own zone if necessary.”

Nolan chuckled. “She sounds a little upset.”

“They just outright lied in that report,” JJ said.

Vermillion nodded. “They sure did.”

“Simone will regret publishing that story,” I said.

“Why?” JJ asked.

I smiled, looking over at Nolan. “Do we have a recording of our conversation with Simone?”

Nolan laughed. “Of course. That would be an interesting companion piece to this story.”

“It would out her lying, that’s for sure,” Vermillion said. “That said, maybe we’d better hold off on.”

“Probably right, but it would be fun,” I said. “Nolan, put the last article up.”

Nolan nodded, turning to his console for a moment. The next article displayed on the screen.

Hello folks, your old buddy Hamilton Zenos here. My, but we’ve had some interesting developments over the last forty-eight hours.

First, let’s talk about the attack on the Mars space dock and the Overlord battle ships protecting it. As I’m sure you’ve seen in the official press, a Samson Corporation ship was responsible for the attack. Simone is claiming that the attacks were repelled by superior technology.

Pardon me for a moment while I laugh… okay, I’m back.

Simone, answer us this. Why were each and every one of these “innocent” ships targeted in exactly the same place, in a way that insured there would be minimal loss of life? Yep, that’s right folks, each of these ships received pinpoint hits to their engines, which set them adrift. The power systems of the space dock were also attacked, in a way that minimized loss of life.

We know that the next-generation battle ship New Jersey made the attacks. This is the most advanced craft in the Samson Corporation arsenal. Rumor has it that this ship has plasma weapons and shields which are far more capable than those on Centurion Class ships. The New Jersey could have easily destroyed all the Centurion ships and the space dock in an instant, had that been the intent of Captain Trey Clarke.

This story gets worse (or better, depending on your point of view) when we look at an incident I mentioned earlier, which is currently being covered up by the mainstream press. An entire city block of Manhattan was targeted shortly before the Mars attack, using the stun capability of our precious PA devices. Unfortunately for the victims, the stun was so harsh that all the targets died. The official line from the Overlords was initially that somebody else committed that atrocity. They’ve since revised their story, saying they haven’t been able to verify that the attack actually happened. For those of you who doubt it, follow the link on our page to a list of the victims. Try to contact them. We’ve included links to the local neighborhood social media outlet, where the details are spelled out. There were obituaries published on some of the victims already too. If you’re interested in seeing these, I wouldn’t wait around. They’ll be erased soon. Oh, and one final titbit of information. Chairman Vermillion, head of the Samson Corporation, lost his sister in this attack. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. The Overlords are attempting to take control of the Central Authority Zone. The Congress is sticking to it’s usual partisan bickering over the situation so far, acting as if this is just another business-as-usual event that will blow over quickly. Meanwhile there are Overlord Centurion Class battle ships orbiting Earth, along with a massive new ship nobody has seen before. Glad I’m not on Earth. Good luck to those that are. Samson Corporation, it might be time for you to do more than target a few engines.

Hamilton Zenos

“Whoa,” Skip said. “Really?”

“He can get a little overheated at times, remember,” Sondra said.

I shook my head. “He nailed this. We know what he’s saying here is the truth. Maybe we should publish the video of our conversation with Simone.”

“Not yet,” Vermillion said. “Let’s get through this action, although I do want to send a reply to Simone through the back channel, so get on that message.”

“I’ll do it right now, Mr. Chairman.”

To be continued…

 

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Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 20 – Rail Car

Deacon, JJ, Nolan, and I took the lift from the Zephyrus to the lower bay. Vermillion was near the ramp of the Tristar, chatting with Cyrus as we approached.

“Thanks for getting down here so quickly,” Vermillion said. “We’ll be leaving in a minute.”

“This ought to be interesting,” I said. “Never been on this ship before.”

“I have, a few times,” JJ said. “It’s more like a research ship than a freighter.”

“Yes, the Zephyrus has more cargo capacity, even though it’s smaller,” Vermillion said. “This ship is faster, though.”

“My module will increase its speed even more,” Nolan said.

“Shall we?” Cyrus asked. He turned and walked up the ramp, the rest of us following.

I saw what JJ was talking about right away. The Tristar had less of an industrial look. It didn’t remind me of a research ship either. More like a luxury business transport. The walls were rich looking wood paneling. I took a closer look, trying to see if it was real or not.

Cyrus chuckled. “No, it’s not real, but it does look like it. There are Carnaby Glass windows on the bridge, too. We pull down shields while we’re in a jump, of course, but we’ll have a nice view when we cruise down to the surface today.”

“Carnaby Glass?” I asked. “Isn’t that a little pricey?”

Vermillion chuckled. “This is a prototype corporate business ship. We were planning to use it for sales eventually. Unfortunately, we won’t get the chance to build that business for a while.”

“If ever,” Nolan said. “If this war really takes off, we might be in it for decades.”

“We’re not really in a war yet,” JJ said. “Just a skirmish, between a corporation and an arm of the government.”

“Sorry, but I’m going to agree with Nolan on this one,” I said. “The Overlords and the Central Authority destroyed Samson Corporation facilities, stunned a number of Earthlings to death, put out a stop-travel order, and are forcing everybody to submit their ships for a rather onerous retrofit. Seems pretty war-like to me.”

“Civil war is the best description,” Vermillion said. “Assuming the Clan isn’t involved, and I hope to find out about that from your upcoming mission.”

JJ got next to Vermillion and whispered in his ear. He turned to her, looking surprised, but then shrugged.

“I don’t see why not, as long as Captain Clarke is okay with it,” he said softly.

“Okay with what?” I asked.

“JJ asked if she could go on your Clan hunt. Are you okay with that?”

“I am, as long as she understands the dangers.”

Vermillion chuckled. “There’s probably less danger in that mission than staying on the New Jersey.”

JJ shot me a glance.

“Why would that be?” Cyrus asked.

I snickered. “We just used the New Jersey to cripple a number of the Overlord’s vessels and their space dock. The Zephyrus wasn’t a participant in that. They just want us because they don’t like the fact they can’t track us.”

“Same with the Tristar,” Cyrus said. He led us to the lift and spoke into his PA. The door opened and we all got in, taking the short ride up three floors to the bridge deck. The wood in the halls up there looked even richer, and there was plush carpeting on the floor, dark blue with gold lines on either side.

“Mahogany row,” I quipped.

“Wait till you see the leather seats in the bridge,” Cyrus said.

“Real?” JJ asked.

“Of course not, but you won’t be able to tell,” Cyrus replied. “The seats are active, too, like the ones in the conference room on the New Jersey.”

“Simply upper crust,” Deacon said. Vermillion and Nolan chuckled, JJ shaking her head. The door at the end of the hallway opened as we approached, and we entered the bridge, the big window in front dominating the room, which carried on the wood paneling with gold accents. The floor wasn’t carpet. It looked like travertine.

“Well, this is nice,” JJ said, looking around.

“Hello, sir,” the pilot said, turning from his station. He was a large young man with sandy blond hair and a mustache.

“Ward, hello,” Cyrus said. “Where’s Devon?”

“She’ll be back in a sec,” Ward said.

“I’m here,” said the young black woman rushing through the door with a tray of cups. “I brought coffee.”

“Isn’t that a little beneath a Science Officer’s job description?” JJ asked.

“We’re pretty informal here,” Devon said, setting the tray down on the counter. “Besides, I can’t trust Ward not to screw it up.”

“Hey,” Ward said, breaking into a chuckle after a moment.

“That smells good, anyway,” JJ said, walking to the counter to pick up a cup. “Auto flavoring cups, huh?” She pushed a button on the side of the mug, watching as the black coffee turned beige, then tried a sip. “Perfect.”

I grabbed my cup, leaving it black. “Nice touch, Captain Cyrus.”

“Only the best for our guests,” he said, motioning for the others to take a cup. While we drank he introduced all of us to Devon and Ward.

“Any plans to gold-plate this ship?” I asked.

Vermillion chuckled. “Before we developed the advanced cloaking functionality we planned on it. Now that’s an expense we can avoid.”

“I’d still do it,” Nolan said. “The enemy might figure out a way around the software algorithm eventually.”

“The gold plating doesn’t hide the ship, exactly,” I said.

“It doesn’t hide it visually,” Nolan said, “but from a sensor standpoint it’s very effective.”

Cyrus’s PA sounded a tone. He looked at it. “Are we ready to go? The bay crew is standing by to open the outer door.” Vermillion shook his head yes. Cyrus looked at his PA again. “Please proceed.”

We felt a slight vibration as the massive door slid open, much quicker than one would expect.

“It’s open wide enough, Captain,” Devon said, sitting down at her station.

“Thanks,” Cyrus said. “Take us down, Ward.”

“Aye, sir.” Ward got into the pilot’s chair, woke his display, then gave commands into his PA while watching the ship’s systems react. We lifted off the floor, moving slowly towards the opening, then dropping straight down.

“Wow, look at that!” JJ said, pointing at the front window, the curved surface of Amberis glowing ahead of us. We shot forward, hitting turbulence as we entered the atmosphere, the sky becoming brighter as we raced to the surface.

“Look at the snow,” JJ said. “Hope what I’m wearing is warm enough.”

“You’ll be fine with that thermal outfit,” Nolan said.

Vermillion got a message, which he passed to Cyrus and Ward. “Don’t land next to the train – go to the coordinates I just sent.”

Cyrus smiled, Ward turning towards him and nodding.

“That looks like an old Earth train,” I said as we approached, passing over it, continuing past a ridge. We set down next to a wheeled vehicle, looking like an early twentieth century delivery truck. “Hell, that vehicle looks like a Model T panel truck.”

“Tac was the inventor of both vehicles,” Vermillion said. “Guess what he had to draw from?”

Deacon snickered. “Is the train a coal burner or a wood burner?”

“We can chat about that when we get aboard,” Nolan said.

I smiled at him. “You already know.”

“True, but Uncle Tac doesn’t get to talk to contemporary humans very often. I don’t want to stunt his opportunity for conversation.”

“Is this how we’re gonna hide from his staff?” Deacon asked.

“You got it,” Nolan said. “We can’t have them seeing us appear out of thin air, can we?”

“Who’s driving the panel truck?” I asked.

“I am,” Nolan said. “My uncle sent me instructions on how to operate it.”

“Ready?” Cyrus asked.

“Yes,” Vermillion said. We got up and headed for the door, Cyrus turning around.

“Keep a good watch,” he said to Ward and Devon.

“Of course, Captain,” Devon said.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Vermillion said. “Punch 45991 into your PA’s language module. It’s not exact, but it will be close enough. Keep your sleeves down around anybody other than Tac, too. Got it?”

“Crap, I hate using these damn translators,” Deacon said as he punched in the number.

“Why?” JJ asked.

“The damn delay between what I want to say and when my mouth moves,” he said. “Drives me batty.”

“We need to limit our conversation with my uncle’s people,” Nolan said. “Yes, no, thank you, that sort of thing.”

“Yes,” Vermillion said. “When we’re inside his rail car, we can use English.”

“What if they hear?” Deacon asked.

“He’s put a cover story out there already,” Vermillion said. “You’re from a country across the ocean from here, which has a language that sounds kinda like English.”

“Kinda?” I asked.

“Close enough for these folks,” Vermillion said. “Don’t worry about it. Tac’s been speaking English some around them.”

Nolan shot me a worried glance.

We rushed down to the ramp, Cyrus giving the command to open it into his PA. The cold air rushed in as it dropped to the ground.

“Damn, that’s freezing,” Deacon said.

“Don’t worry, the train car is heated,” Vermillion said.

Nolan led the way to the panel truck, opening the rear doors.

“Guess this isn’t heated,” Cyrus said, rubbing his hands together.

We climbed in, sitting on wood benches on either side of the cargo area. Nolan closed the doors and went to the driver’s seat in front. After a moment the engine started, vibrating the vehicle. He started us moving, following the tracks in the thin coating of snow, the gears grinding as he worked through them.

“He manufactures these?” I asked.

“Yes, but they aren’t on the market yet,” Nolan said from the driver’s seat. “This will provide business for his refinery operation.”

“Bumpy,” JJ said.

“They have a ways to go with suspensions,” Deacon said. “One of my friends builds replicas like this on Earth. Uncanny how similar this is.”

“Tac was into that hobby as well,” Vermillion said. “This was patterned off one he built from a kit about thirty years ago.”

We felt ourselves slow as we climbed into a pass through the ridge, the crest turning into a gentle downslope towards the train. Several men left the car behind the engine, watching us approach. Nolan parked next to them, shutting down the engine, which jerked to a stop.

“I smell diesel,” Deacon said. “Do they have diesel engines already?”

“They do,” Vermillion said. “Quite the inventor, that Tac.”

Nolan chuckled as he got out of the driver’s seat. The men rushed to the back, opening the door and helping all of us out.

“Isn’t this exactly why it’s illegal to come to level seven worlds?” JJ whispered to me.

I shrugged at her. “Pretty much,” I whispered back.

“Tac is in the second car,” one of the men said, the translation working flawlessly. “Follow me.”

We got behind the man as he walked towards the car, climbing up the steps at the front, holding the door open for us.

“Wow,” JJ whispered. “Very nineteenth century.”

I glanced back at the door to see if the man was within earshot. The door had already been closed behind Cyrus, the last person inside.

“He’s gone, but he might be just outside,” I said. “Where’s your uncle?”

Nolan glanced at me. “Probably in his private living quarters. It’s the car behind this one.”

The inside of the car was quite impressive. It was longer and narrower than an Earth rail car, with a desk and a small stove in the back, another small stove in the front, and a long thin table in the middle, wooden chairs on either side. The outside walls were lined with built-in couches, the backs ending at the bottom of the windows, all of which had the shades down. The furniture fabric was a deep red color, the walls natural wood, corners and seams covered by carved moldings. Small electric lights hung from the ceiling, with large light bulbs that looked hand-made. They weren’t on. The room was lit by windows on the roof.

“Just like I pictured it,” Nolan said.

The rear door opened, and a man resembling Nolan walked in. He was about the same size and only slightly older, with gray hair and a neatly trimmed beard.

“Welcome, everybody,” he said in English. “I’m Tac.”

Nolan rushed to him, the two of them shaking hands with a short embrace.

“It’s so good to see you, my boy,” Tac said.

“I’m very glad to see you too. We have so much catching up to do.”

“Is this your uncle or your brother?” I asked. “I’m Captain Clarke, by the way.”

“Heard about you,” Tac said. “I am Nolan’s uncle, but I’m only six years older than him. I was his father’s much younger brother.”

Nolan made introductions, and we found seats at the table.

Tac looked at Vermillion. “Well, old friend, I heard you got into a little tussle near Mars.”

“How do you get your news?” JJ asked.

“Oh, I have my ways,” Tac said. “It’s limited, though. Why the fight?”

“Simone used the PA stun capability to murder a bunch of people in Manhattan,” Vermillion said with a grim expression. “One of them was my sister.”

“Cynthia? No. I’m so sorry to hear that.”

“She always liked you,” Vermillion said, on the verge of tears. “She was pretty broken up when you disappeared.”

“You never told her?” Tac asked.

“How could I?” Vermillion asked. “The leadership ranks of the Corporation have been under surveillance since Carlson’s time.”

“Yeah, I don’t miss those damn PA devices of yours. If I was still on Earth I’d remove it.”

“You don’t have one anymore?” JJ asked.

“Nah, had it removed before I left. You must have questions about this place. Go ahead and ask them, and then we’ll get started.”

“Where are we?” Cyrus asked. “Where’s the nearest big city?”

Tac chuckled. “Let’s use Earth as a point of reference. This country is called Ceroris. The closest comparison I could make on Earth would be Russia – it’s got a huge land mass but much of the country is backwards. My city is called Trattoris. It’s about the size of St. Petersburg.”

“Is this the dominant country on this world?” I asked.

Tac chuckled. “Lord no. It’s at about the same level that Russia was in the late nineteenth century.”

“Where is the dominant country?” JJ asked.

“Way south of here, on the other side of the equator. A country called Katharis. We just had a small war with them five years ago, but things are peaceful now. I sell a lot of product to them.”

“What kind of product?” JJ asked.

“Engines, electric generators, petroleum products, vehicles like the one you came in, and other stuff that’s of the highest technology. I’m the Steve Jobs of Amberis.” He laughed.

“Mankind would’ve been better off without Jobs,” Nolan said. “His work led to the PA system.”

“That’s not really fair,” Tac said. “The technical parts of that system have been a great blessing to human kind. It’s the social media part of the system that’s been getting us into trouble for the last couple hundred years.”

“They work together,” Vermillion said, “but there were many other people involved who never got famous. That said, I think our problems have more to do with out-of-control leadership than technology.”

Tac chuckled. “Says the Chairman of the leading tech company in the Central Authority Zone.”

Former leading tech company,” Vermillion said. Him and Tac laughed as the rest of us looked on, not sure what to say.

“Okay, enough of that,” Tac said. “We don’t need to get into a political debate. Do you have the parts I need for the breeder reactor?”

“Yes, they’re on the New Jersey,” Vermillion said. “Just give us the coordinates and we’ll get them to you.”

“Where the hell can you set up a reactor and not have people asking a bunch of questions?” Deacon asked.

Tac smiled at him. “When I said Ceroris was like Russia, I wasn’t kidding. The eastern part of the country is a lot like Siberia. We have a plant there already, twelve hundred kilometers from here. That’s where my reactor and the main fuel refinery is. The rail we’re sitting on right now leads to there, although it’s not quite done. We get as close as we can and then drive the rest of the way in panel trucks like the one you were just in.”

“How soon can you be up and running?” Vermillion asked.

“You brought the people I requested, right?” Tac asked.

“Yep. This is more remote than I described, so we might have to pay them more than originally planned.”

“No problem,” Tac said. “With the additional engineering and physics help, we should be up and running in less than a month. Once we get rolling, we can produce more output than you’ll need.

“Well, maybe,” Vermillion said. “The new shields and weapons we’ve developed use a lot more fuel than anything we’ve had before.”

“Trust me, I’ll supply you with enough. Is our deal still in place, or did the recent Overlords attack change things?”

“The deal stands, as far as I’m concerned. There’s still a lot of the Samson Corporation in existence. That’s all I’ll say now.”

“Wait,” Nolan said. “Where are you getting the raw materials?”

Tac glanced at Vermillion, who shook his head yes.

“We have large deposits of Boron available,” Tac said, making eye contact with Nolan, shooting him a stand down look.

“Boron?” Deacon asked. “Where?”

“It’s located in the same area as my refinery and reactor.”

I glanced at Nolan, who looked away quickly. JJ kicked me under the table.

“How are we going to shuttle the fuel up from the surface?” I asked.

“At first we’ll use the Zephyrus,” Vermillion said.

“We’ll have to shield a large part of the cargo bay,” Deacon said.

“I’m working on shielded containers,” Tac said. “I’ll need to chat with you about dimensions, though. Scope out the cargo bay when you get back and make some notes, and then we’ll talk.”

Deacon looked at me. “I still think we should shield the cargo bay as well, Cappy. If something goes wrong with a container, we’ll have a real bad day.”

I nodded at him, then looked over at Vermillion and Tac. “I agree with that. We need to talk about it.”

“No problem,” Vermillion said.

My PA vibrated in the emergency pattern. “Chairman Vermillion, I’m getting an emergency call from the New Jersey.”

“Nobody can see in here,” Tac said. “Go ahead and uncover it.”

I nodded at Vermillion, who shook his head yes, then rolled my sleeve up. It was Tim.

“Go ahead,” I said.

“Sorry to disturb you, Captain. We got some data from the scan that I thought you should know about right away.”

“What is it?”

“That huge ship and a dozen Centurion Class ships have settled into an orbit around Earth.”

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 19 – Mystery Ship

We were still on the New Jersey bridge, staring at the massive ship on the main screen.

“We need to find Ecason,” Nolan said.

Vermillion laughed. “We aren’t gonna chase ghosts around the universe. We need to get back to Amberis and work the fuel supply issue with Tac, and I need to oversee the construction of the first three New Jersey Class ships.”

“So we’re dropping you someplace, then?” Nolan asked.

“I’ll be taking the Tristar to the lead manufacturing plant.”

“Is that safe?” JJ asked, shooting a glance at Cyrus.

“I believe so,” Vermillion said, “but we are heading into a time of war. That’s obvious. All of us will have to be vigilant. War is very unpredictable.”

“You aren’t going to tell us where you’re going, are you?” Andrea asked.

“Sorry, afraid not,” Vermillion said. “You understand, I hope.”

“We might get captured,” I said, “although if we run into trouble, it’ll more likely be in the form of death after this ship is destroyed than capture.”

JJ laughed nervously. “Gee, thanks for that.”

“He’s being realistic,” Nolan said. “What about the Zephyrus?”

Vermillion smiled. “The Zephyrus as unfinished business, remember? The Clan. We have to eliminate them as a problem.”

“You’re not thinking they’re involved, are you?” Tim asked.

Vermillion shook his head no. “I don’t know what’s going on with them, but the concept of them hiding here makes more sense to me, given what we’ve been hearing about conditions in the Clan Zone.”

“What are we to do if we find them hiding?” I asked.

“We’ll chat about that later,” Vermillion said. “Let’s jump back to Amberis.”

“Yes sir,” I said, nodding to Andrea and Nolan, who fed data to Izzy. She conferred with the main pilot for a moment, and then fed the information into the console. We all felt the momentary dizziness as the ship took off.

“I’m going back to my office,” Vermillion said. “Good job, everybody. Be sure to commend the battle pilots and gunners for me.”

We watched him leave the bridge.

“Well there you have it,” Tim said, shaking his head. I shot him a glance, looking up at the microphones in the ceiling. Tim shrugged.

“I suggest we scan as we’re going,” Nolan said. “Since we know nothing about that big ship, we have no idea if they have sensors good enough to track us.”

“What about that encryption module of yours?” Izzy asked.

“There’s quite a few ways to skin a cat,” Nolan said. “They can’t use existing Central Authority scanners to track us, but generating a wormhole through space is nearly impossible to hide completely.”

“Should we be running cloaked?” I asked.

“We could, but it’s harder on fuel consumption, and we have an adversary we don’t understand,” Nolan said. “I think it’s better to stay uncloaked and scan, but it’s your call, Captain. We can turn cloaking on if the scan reveals anything.”

“I’m giving up the Captain’s chair to Andrea. The battle is over.”

“Feel free to keep it, Captain,” Andrea said. “I never wanted that slot anyway.”

“I’m gonna be on the Zephyrus again soon,” I said.

She sighed, getting up and taking the captain’s seat. “Okay, no problem.”

Are we taking off on that Clan search mission right away?” Nolan asked.

“I think the first thing we’ll be doing is going to the surface on Amberis to meet with your uncle,” JJ said. “You have to be involved, of course. Vermillion, Cyrus, Trey, and Deacon should be involved as well.”

“And you, JJ,” I said. “Agreed, but we’ll have to run it past the Chairman.”

“He’ll agree,” Nolan said.

We settled into the trip. JJ made eye contact with me and nodded at the door.

“We’re going down to the Zephyrus,” I said, getting up.

“Who’s we?” Izzy asked.

“JJ and me. We were in the middle of a discussion when the general alarm went off.”

“I see,” Izzy said, shooting me a smirk. I shrugged, following JJ out the door.

“Good,” JJ whispered. “Izzy thinks we’ve got something going on.”

I chuckled. “We do. I’m assuming you want to go chat.”

“You okay?” she asked.

“After that discussion? My mind is reeling, but that’s not unusual in this line of work.”

JJ chuckled. “True enough. Let’s stop at the cafeteria and grab something. I’m hungry.”

We made our way there, able to get our food without the normal lines and bustling crowd.

“Guess everybody got nervous about that battle,” JJ said.

“They’re banking some down time. We’re on a military footing now. Been a long while for most of us.”

“Was this the first action you’ve seen on the New Jersey?” JJ asked.

“Yes. The last real battle I was in was on a Centurion Class ship.”

“What was it about?” she asked as we carried our food back to the Zephyrus.

“Smuggling,” I said. “It was tougher than we expected.”

“Really? Why?”

“The smugglers had an old Gladiator Class warship. Never figured out how they got it.”

“I thought they were all scrapped.”

I laughed. “They were supposed to be, but not in a centralized location. They were spread out all over the Central Authority zone.”

“Are they a danger to Centurion Class ships? They don’t even have Phase 3 shields.”

“This one did. They had a genius working with them. He cooked up a very clever workaround to bring the Phase 2 shields up to Phase 3 levels. We had to shoot it out with them. Barely won.”

“What happened to the genius?”

“We caught him in an escape pod after we’d neutralized their weapons systems. He’s doing time someplace. Probably won’t see the light of day again.”

“What were they smuggling?” JJ asked as we got down to the bay.

“Just a sec,” I said, leading her to the Zephyrus, speaking into my PA. The ramp opened for us, and we went onboard, closing it behind us.

“Sensitive subject?” JJ asked.

“It’s classified,” I said. “Let’s go to my stateroom.”

We headed down the hall, making a turn, almost running smack-dab into Deneuve and Barney.

“Hello, Captain,” Deneuve said. “Say hello, Barney.”

“Hello, Captain,” Barney said, his eyes searching my face for aggression. I watched as he relaxed. “He’s nice, isn’t he?”

“He is,” Deneuve said. “So is JJ.”

“JJ,” Barney repeated. “Hi JJ.”

“Hi, Barney,” JJ said, moving forward slowly. Barney started to move away, but Deneuve steadied him, petting his shoulder.

“Let JJ pet you,” he said. “She’s nice. You’ll like her.”

JJ reached up and rubbed his other shoulder, Barney’s eyes squinting. I watched, feeling affection for the Neanderthal growing in me.

“Has he met the rest of the crew yet?” I asked.

“Everybody except the bridge crew,” Deneuve said. “It’ll take a few times for him to get comfortable, but overall he’s doing well.”

“I think he’s charming,” JJ said, backing away, Barney looking disappointed. “Don’t worry, I’ll see you often.”

“Have fun, you two,” I said, turning to continue to my stateroom. We went through the door and took the food to the table.

“You liked him, didn’t you?” I asked as I opened the cover on my food tray.

“There’s something about them. It’s like petting a puppy or a kitten. You start to bond so quickly.”

“Yeah, it’s strange,” I said, taking a bite out of my hamburger. “Wow, this is so much better than the food on the Zephyrus.”

JJ nodded in agreement.

“What did you want to talk about?”

JJ finished chewing a bite, then took a drink of water. “I want to go on the mission.”

“On Amberis?”

“No, on this ship, when we search for Clan presence.”

I leaned back in my chair. “Oh. Are you sure? It might be dangerous.”

“Being on the New Jersey is dangerous,” she said, “so that doesn’t bother me.”

“You’ve got a point there.”

She smiled, taking another bite of her salad.

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s more interesting, it helps our cover story, and I feel more confident in being close with you than I do being close with the Chairman.”

“Wow, that’s quite a mouthful.” I watched her face as I took another bite of burger.

She smirked at me. “I was hungrier than I thought.”

“We’re liable to be gone for a while, you know. A month or more.”

“Good,” she said. “You don’t mind having me around, I hope.”

“Not even a little bit. Just want to make sure you know what you’re signing up for. Vermillion may veto the idea, you know. He’s rather fond of you.”

“I’m sure you could help me convince him,” she said, pushing her salad plate away. “That was good.”

“We’ll have to watch Nolan, or we’ll find ourselves on a wild goose chase towards the last place Ecason was.”

“That’s actually more interesting than chasing down Clan ships,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “Isn’t it?”

“Yes, and no, I’m not going to let Nolan push us into that.”

JJ laughed. “Well, it’ll be hard to hide the fact that we’re jumping to the far end of the Free Zone.”

“It would appear to be legal, at least, since it isn’t common knowledge that this ship as advanced weapons systems and shields.”

“Doesn’t matter if it does,” JJ said. “This was designated a prototype, and we’re allowed to test new weapons systems.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, like the Central Authority will buy that. Hell, they already want us to surrender because they can’t track us.”

“That’s the Central Authority. I was talking about the Free Zone.”

“We aren’t going there,” I said, then paused for a moment. “Let me back up. We aren’t going there without a critical reason.”

“You done with that burger?”

“Yeah, can’t eat as much as I used to. You want the rest?”

“No, I need to go, but we’ve got something to do first.”

I raised my eyebrows, staring at the intensity of her expression.

“Have you forgotten already?” she asked, getting up and walking to me, bending down, our lips touching. We kissed gently.

“Oh,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Was it that bad?”

“No. I wasn’t saying that.”

“Then what were you saying,” she asked, smiling at me.

I got up, forcing her to back away. “This isn’t optimum.”

“What do you mean?”

I moved to the bed, laying on my back, and motioned for her to come over. “Come here.”

“We aren’t going to…?”

“We’re just going to kiss, but I want to be comfortable.”

JJ shrugged and climbed onto the bed. I pulled her over on top of me, kissing her shocked face as my hands roamed over her back. She gave in quickly, moaning into my mouth, her hands going to my hair. We broke it after a few minutes.

“Wow,” she said, looking flustered as she got up. “That’ll do it.”

“Where are you going? We could do that a little longer.”

“If we do, I’ll be peeling my clothes off. Not a good idea.”

I laughed. “Maybe not to you.”

“Quiet. You remember what we agreed to.”

“You told me what you wanted to do. I don’t remember agreeing with you.”

She rolled her eyes. “Maybe this is going to be harder than I thought.”

“You said it, not me.”

“Stop, she said, getting up and straightening her blouse.

“Where are you going?” I asked as I got off the bed.

“I want to see how far along the techs are with the Tristar, and when they’ll be doing the retrofit on this ship.”

“Anxious to have it done, aren’t you?”

She glanced back at me as she headed for the door. “This is like our escape pod.” She left, the door closing behind her.

I picked up the food containers and leftovers, putting them into the disposal unit next to the table, then straightened my uniform and left, heading back to the New Jersey bridge. Nolan and Andrea were busy chatting, looking at documents about Ecason’s ship concept. Tim and Izzy were both watching their PAs.

“Where’s JJ?” Izzy asked. Tim elbowed her.

I sat in one of the empty seats. “She went to the Tristar to check on their retrofit progress.”

“Uh huh.” Izzy grinned. I ignored her.

“Anything showing up on the scans?” I asked.

Nolan looked over. “Nothing at all. We’re probably safe.”

“This concept ship had a lot of interesting capabilities,” Andrea said.

“There was never a prototype, though, was there?” Tim asked.

“We have no idea how far this concept went, or if it’s even remotely similar to that ship we saw, in any way other than appearance,” Nolan said.

“What does your intuition tell you, Nolan?”

“Not much. The general shapes of the concept drawings and the Overlord’s ship was similar.”

“Why are we assuming that the ship is an Overlords ship?” Izzy asked.

Nolan’s eyebrows raised as he glanced at Izzy. “That’s actually a very good question. For all we know, that ship was not on Simone’s side. It might have been coming to prevent her from doing something.”

“So, she could’ve been stalling us for some other reason?” Tim asked.

“We’re going to talk ourselves into who-knows-what,” I said. “It was coming in from the same direction as the Centurion Class ships, and it created no havoc while it was next to Simone’s assets. I think we can say with some confidence that this ship was at least friendly to Simone.”

“There is one thing we found out for sure,” Tim said.

“What’s that?” Izzy asked.

“We know that those were normal Centurion Class ships. We were able to neutralize them as easily as we expected.”

“That’s correct,” Nolan said.

“We’ll be coming out of the jump in a few minutes,” Andrea said, looking at her PA.

“What’s the plan after that?” Tim asked.

“We’ll be going down to the surface, I expect,” Nolan said. “To chat with my uncle.”

“Here we go,” Andrea said, as the static electricity hit all of us. The cameras filled the screen with video of Amberis.

“Scanning,” Nolan said, looking at the console. “Nobody here that shouldn’t be here.”

I nodded. “Good. Where’s that big ship? Still next to Mars?”

“Just a sec,” Nolan said, speaking into his PA for a moment. “It’s someplace else. No trace of it in Earth’s solar system. This is interesting.”

“What?” Andrea asked.

“Ship traffic is active again. I guess word travels fast.”

“Where?” Izzy asked.

“All over the zone, but especially near Earth and the other level three, two, and one worlds.”

“Can we tell if it’s commerce or military traffic?” Tim asked.

“Not for sure,” Nolan said. “I’ll leave a detailed scan running while we’re on the surface. It might show us something that a quick look won’t.”

JJ walked onto the bridge. “The Tristar will be finished in two hours.”

“Then they’re starting on the Zephyrus?” I asked.

She nodded. “Won’t take as long. Our ship should be ready to go in less than three hours.”

“Good. Let’s get set for the meeting on Amberis. Can you contact your uncle?”

Nolan was about to speak when Vermillion walked over. “That won’t be necessary. I’ve already made contact, and Tac has been waiting for us.”

“Where is he?” Nolan asked.

“On his rail car, about three hundred miles from the capital of Ceroris.”

“Is Ceroris a country or a city?” Tim asked.

“Country,” Vermillion said.

Nolan turned toward them. “My uncle’s city is called Trattoris,”

“What’s with the ris at the ends?” Izzy asked.

“It’s kind of like burg or ville on Earth,” Nolan said.

“Yeah, but we didn’t use that in the name for our world,” Izzy said.

“True, but other worlds have used that model,” Nolan said. “When are we going down there?”

“As soon as the Tristar is finished,” Vermillion said. “We’ll take her down cloaked and land next to the railcar.

“We’ll have to pause work on the Zephyrus, then,” JJ said. “Scratch the five hours.”

“We’re moving that ship up above the airlock doors,” Vermillion said. “It’s happening right now. Surprised you didn’t know.”

“The crew on the Tristar didn’t say anything about it,” JJ said.

“We shuffle ships around in that bay all the time,” Andrea said. “Not a big deal.”

I glanced over at JJ, our eyes meeting. She looked away quickly. Izzy noticed, shooting me a smirk.

“That big ship is back by Mars,” Nolan said. “Just caught it in the scan.”

“What’s it doing there?” I asked.

“Just sitting for the moment. There’s a lot of tugs working on the drifting ships. Looks like they already have auxiliary power running on the station.”

“Still a lot of traffic?” Tim asked.

“Yes, and it’s ramping up higher,” Nolan said.

“Space commerce-type traffic?” Vermillion asked.

“I think so, sir.”

“Unexpected but welcome,” Vermillion said. “You’ll leave the scans running while we’re down there, right?”

“It’s already set up,” Nolan said.

Cyrus came onto the bridge. “The Tristar is just about finished.”

“They told me a couple more hours,” JJ said.

“The last part was easier than they expected.”

Nolan laughed. “Oldest trick in the book. Under promise and over deliver.”

Vermillion smiled. “I’m going to get ready. It’s a little chilly on the surface, and we’ll be walking from the Tristar to the rail car. Dress accordingly.” He left the bridge.

“Did the Zephyrus get moved above the airlock doors?” JJ asked.

“They were lifting it as I was leaving,” Cyrus said. “Very efficient operation they have down there.”

Andrea smiled. “I’ll say. Who’s going down to the surface?”

“Good question,” I said. “Vermillion wasn’t very clear on that.” I tapped my PA, asking the question. Vermillion came back a few moments later with a response.

“Nolan, JJ, Deacon, and me,” I said. “Oh, and Cyrus and his Tristar crew, of course.”

“Izzy and Tim can stay here on the bridge?” Andrea asked.

“Don’t see why not,” I said. “One of you keep an eye on that scan. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“We’d better get ready,” JJ said. “My clothes are on the Zephyrus, remember?”

“So are mine and Nolan’s, and we need to pick up Deacon too. Let’s roll.” We left the bridge.

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 18 – Ecason

I punched in my priority code at the transit station, then turned to the crowd of people waiting there.

“Sorry, but we’re taking the next one. We’re needed on the bridge.”

“Who are you?” asked one of the crew members.

“Watch it, man,” his companion said. “That’s Captain Clarke. We’ll wait, sir.”

“Thanks, and sorry,” I said. The door slid open. I stood by it as Izzy, Nolan, Cyrus, JJ, and Tim got in, following them inside. We took off, getting to the bridge after a few twists and turns.

“Thanks so much for getting down here,” Andrea said, getting up from the Captain’s chair. “I think you should take command.”

“You’re totally capable, Andrea,” I said.

“She is,” Vermillion said, walking towards the group, “but in this case you’ve got the battle experience.”

“Exactly,” Andrea said. “I’ll take the science officer’s chair, with Nolan assisting, if that’s all right, Captain.”

“Of course,” I said, then turned to Vermillion. “So sorry to hear about your sister, sir.”

“Thank you,” he said, his eyes red from crying.

“What do you want us to do?” I asked.

“Jump in, cripple them, and jump out,” Vermillion said. “I’ll leave the methods and tactics up to you.”

I sat in the captain’s chair and looked around the large bridge, feeling comfortable in my old setting. The Zephyrus had been my command for nearly two years. My stint on the New Jersey wasn’t that long, since she’s a new ship. I was captain on a series of Centurion-class ships before I got her, my services leased to the Central Authority by the Samson Corporation.

“How long will we be in the jump?” I asked.

Nolan turned towards me, breaking his hushed conversation with Andrea. “This is a fast ship. No more than a couple hours.”

“Wow,” Izzy said, sitting in the second pilot’s seat.

“I’m going back to my office,” Vermillion said. He left the bridge.

Tim walked over to me. “He’s a mess.”

“He just lost his sister,” I said. “Get with Nolan and start working on a strategy. I want to know how to target the engines of the Centurion Class ships they have guarding the space dock. Oh, and I also want to know where the power systems are for that dock.”

“Yes sir,” he said, joining Andrea and Nolan at their console.

“Targeting engines?” JJ asked, sitting in the first-mate’s chair. “You’re not going to destroy the ships outright?”

I glanced at her, then back to the monitor attached to the side of my seat. “There are over a hundred thousand souls on each of those ships. I’m not a mass-murderer.”

“Vermillion may have a different opinion.”

I sighed, turning to her from the monitor. “He said cripple them, not destroy them, and left the methods and tactics to me. I don’t think he intends this to be a slaughter.”

“Captain,” Nolan said.

“I’m listening.”

“We’ve got a good long-range scan of the environment we’re jumping into. Andrea had that running before the jump.”

“Good,” I said.

“There are twenty Centurion-Class ships there.”

I thought about that for a moment. “If we pop right into the middle of them, how long can our shields hold when they’re all taking shots at us?”

“Indefinitely,” Nolan said. “They’d need more like five hundred ships using a concentrated attack to get through the upgraded shields.”

“We’re sure about that?” JJ asked.

“Yes, unless they have much improved weapons systems on those Centurion-Class ships,” Nolan said, “and the retrofit would require reactor replacements. The current reactors can’t supply enough power. It’s a mathematical impossibility.”

“I can search the maintenance records, sir,” Izzy said. “Publicly owned ships are required by law to record all upgrades.”

I chuckled. “Do that, but if they’ve done something, I suspect they’ve forgotten to follow the reporting law. It’s not legal to stun innocent people to death, and they don’t seem too concerned about that.”

“It wasn’t legal to attack all of the Samson Corporation’s facilities on Earth with railguns, either,” JJ quipped. “Maybe we should just destroy the ships.”

“Nonsense,” Nolan said. “Captain Clarke has the correct strategy. If we take out their engines, they’ll have to scramble to save their crews. It’ll keep them busy for a while.”

We’re attacking the space dock too, correct?” Izzy asked.

“Yes, but I want it functional enough that they can shuttle the crews in from the Centurion ships,” I said. “We’ll create damage, so they have to use resources to repair it. It won’t orbit forever without their main power systems to do station-keeping. I want them to have a sense of urgency about this.”

“What if Simone goes on a bigger rampage with the stun capability?” Tim asked.

“Then we’ll have no choice but to escalate,” Nolan said. “I’m hoping they lay off for a while, so we can get the other ships built.”

“You think they’ll lay off for six months after we take out a number of their ships?” JJ asked. “That’s not the Simone I remember.”

I sat back in my seat. “War is completely unpredictable, and we’ve got a big wild card.”

“The Clan,” Nolan said. “Yes, I’m wondering about them too.”

My PA buzzed. It was Dr. Hazelton.

“Captain, we can proceed with the next round of Barney’s training, but I thought maybe we should wait since we’re going into battle. I’d rather not have to interrupt it.”

“I agree, let’s wait until this is over. How’s he doing?”

Dr. Hazelton chuckled. “He’s learning fast. We’ve been letting him watch videos. I think Deneuve is going a little stir-crazy, but Barney wants to be at his side all the time.”

“He’s not dangerous, right?”

“No, Captain.”

“Then if Deneuve wants to take him outside of sick bay, I have no problem, but I’d keep them on the Zephyrus for now. He’ll get overwhelmed if he sees the inside of the New Jersey.”

“Understand, Captain, I’ll chat with Deneuve and Deacon.”

“Deacon’s back there, huh?”

“Yes, he seems to think we’ll need to beat a hasty retreat. That isn’t really a danger, is it?”

“I hope not. Did he recover the crew members that survived the railgun attack?”

“Yes, some of them were transferred to our sick bay.”

“How many total?” I asked.

“Six able bodied, twelve injured.”

“So, we only got eighteen out of nearly forty missing crew members. Geez.”

“I know, it’s tough. Deacon took it pretty hard.”

“Thanks for letting me know. We’ll send out a general alarm when we come out of the jump.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

I ended the call.

“Postponing the rest of Barney’s training until the battle is over?” JJ asked.

“Yes. He’s also got permission to be with Deneuve outside of sick bay.”

“That ought to be interesting,” Tim said.

“How are his injuries?” Izzy asked.

“He was in good shape when I saw him earlier,” I said. “Weird listening to him talk.”

“I’ll bet,” Izzy said.

“I’ve got the data on the best locations to pinpoint plasma attacks, Captain,” Nolan said.

“For the ships and the space dock?”

“Yes sir,” Nolan said. “We’re going in cloaked, right?”

“We’ll arrive that way,” I said, “and target everything. Then we’re gonna show ourselves before the attack. I don’t want any doubt who did this.”

“Do you really think that’s wise?” Andrea asked.

“Yep, I want them to know that the Samson Corporation still has some tricks up it’s sleeves. They need to fear us.”

“You think this will make them think twice before stunning more innocents?” Nolan asked.

“I’m hoping it does. The chances of that are unlikely, I’m afraid.”

“They’ll do worse if they go unchallenged,” Nolan said.

Andrea looked over at me. “Just got a call from the head of engineering. Should we continue on with the retrofit of Tristar and Zephyrus through this?”

I thought about it for a moment. “While we’re in transit, yes, but when we arrive I want them to stop. I want all power available to the shields and the weapons systems.”

“Good call,” Andrea said. “I’ll let them know.”

At that point we’d done as much as we could do ahead of time on the bridge, so we sat silently, monitoring progress and system status, making small talk, trying to keep from being too nervous. The time passed quickly. I looked around the bridge, with its bank of five huge screens wrapping around the oval room, the white walls and consoles with indirect blue lighting shining on the counters. The bridge crew on this ship wasn’t much bigger than the bridge crew on the Zephyrus, but there were many more people behind the scenes in other parts of the ship. Nolan had sent the instructions on targeting to the battle pilots. I knew they were meeting with their gunners and other support people right now, getting the repair robotics started just in case, and running system checks on all the weapons.

“Almost there, Captain,” Andrea said.

“Okay, I want the cameras on as soon as we get out of the jump. Stay cloaked until our battle pilots have their targets locked in.”

“We’re hitting them all at the same instance?” Izzy asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Remember that this attack is as much for effect as it is a practical attempt to ruin their hardware. Think of it like the Doolittle raid on Tokyo.”

“We’ll put them on notice,” Tim said. “There’s a new sheriff in town. It’s called the New Jersey.”

Something about Tim’s statement made me queasy. Never underestimate your enemy.

“We’re coming out of the jump in thirty seconds,” Andrea said.

“Send out the general alarm, please,” I said.

“On it, Captain,” Izzy said, looking at the console. The buzzer sounded, softly in the bridge, loud in the rest of the ship. I felt my hair stand on end with static electricity as we settled to a stop, the video feeds filling the screens in an instant.

“That’s more than twenty ships,” Nolan said. “All Centurion class, though, so our data on target points is valid for all. I’ll send out the adjusted coordinates to the battle pilots.”

“Do that,” I said. “Is that a transport ship approaching the dock?”

“Looks like it, sir,” Andrea said, looking at the large ship with lines like a whale, it’s surface free of the armaments which were bristling from the Centurion ships.

“All targets locked, Captain,” Nolan said.

“Uncloak and fire,” I said. In a split-second we saw the light of plasma weapons, explosions happening on the Centurion ships almost instantly, along with several impacts on the space dock.

“All targets hit, sir,” Nolan said. “They’re drifting. See it? Their power is off.”

“Casualties?” I asked.

“No way for us to tell,” Nolan said. “Anybody close to the engines is having a bad day.”

“Whoa, five more ships just jumped in,” Tim shouted. I scanned the video monitors, seeing them spread out over three screens. All of them fired at us, the intense light of the plasma weapons blinding our cameras for a split-second.

“Shields?” I asked.

“Barely a ripple,” Nolan said. “There’s half a dozen more ships heading for us. They’ll appear any second.

“Fire at will.”

An instant later our plasma guns hit the visible ships, taking their engines out, setting them adrift.

Nolan laughed. “The rest of the ships decided against sticking around. They saw what happened when they came out of their jump and took off immediately.”

“Good,” I said.

“We’re being hailed, Captain,” Andrea said.

“Put them on screen.” I watched the center monitor. A beautiful woman’s face appeared, framed by silver hair, a large necklace just below her chin, flowing down her torso. Jet-black eyebrows raised when she recognized me.

“Captain Trey Clarke. Traded up, I see. Where’s the Zephyrus?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know.” I shot her a wicked grin.

“As leader of the Overlords, fully sanctioned by the Central Authority, I’m placing you under arrest.”

I stared at her face for a moment, then burst out laughing. “Give it your best shot. Go ahead and send some more ships over.”

“How dare you speak to me like that?”

“You’re just a second-rate thug,” I said. “You targeted innocents with that stun attack.”

“That was not my organization.”

I laughed again. “We know what you’ve been up to. It won’t stand.”

“There’s no place you can hide, Captain Trey Clarke. We will hunt you to the ends of the Universe.”

“I’ll take that under advisement. Why did you attack the Samson Corporation’s installations? You killed many innocent people in those illegal attacks. There will be consequences.”

“We attacked those installations because of the collusion we uncovered between your leader Chairman Vermillion and the Clan. Your corporation has been outlawed and must turn over all assets to the Central Authority at once.”

“Another thing I’ll take under advisement.”

“Savages,” she said, hatred coming from her eyes with an unnerving intensity.

“Savages? Oh really. How do you figure?”

“You attacked our ships and our space dock.”

I chuckled. “If we were savages, all of the ships we hit plus your space dock would be floating debris at this moment. We only targeted the engines and power systems. This was a gift. Stop your blackmail of the Central Authority Zone immediately. Stop your stun attacks and end the embargo on space travel. Then we’ll talk.”

“How dare you?”

I shrugged. “You already said that.”

My PA buzzed. Message from Nolan. “She’s stalling you, Captain. There’s a large ship jumping towards us. It’s not a Centurion-Class ship. It’s much larger.”

I glanced at Nolan and nodded.

“Sorry, Simone, but we’ve got important work to do. Ta ta.”

We jumped away, the faint feeling hitting all of us.

“Okay, let’s stop someplace where we can scan for that ship,” I said. “I’d like to see what they were sending.”

“You read my mind, Captain,” Nolan said. “We’re cloaked again. I’ll stop us just past the orbit of Pluto. Ought to be close enough for a good look.”

We stopped, the static hitting all of us, the video monitors coming on again.

“Going telescopic on camera nine,” Andrea said. “I’ll put it on center screen.”

“Thank you,” I said, settling in. The drifting Centurion ships were visible, as was the space dock, parts of which were still glowing.

“Look, they’re already bringing tugs out to steady the drifting ships,” Izzy said.

“They’d better save some of those for the space dock,” Tim said.

Suddenly a giant ship appeared in their midst.

“There it is,” Andrea said, zooming in so the ship filled the screen.

“What the hell is that?” Tim asked. “It’s not one that the Corporation constructed.”

Nolan shot me a glance. “I’m doing a search now, Captain, looking for a match.”

“Better include Clan ships,” I said. Nolan nodded affirmative.

“That ship is bigger than this one,” Andrea said. “Significantly.”

“Size doesn’t always matter, my dear,” Nolan said, bringing a snicker from Tim.

“This isn’t good,” JJ whispered. “One of my main jobs was on the Central Authority’s Spacecraft Design Approval Committee. I know I would’ve remembered something like that ship from the SDAC, and they didn’t build it in the time that I’ve been off that committee. No way. I’ve only been off it for three months.”

“Having any luck?” I asked Nolan.

“It didn’t match any known ships in the Central Authority data banks, Captain. I’m still running the search of known Clan vessels, but so far it’s not seeing anything there either.”

“No matches at all? Not even similar?”

“Not yet. After I get through the known existing ships, I’ll search for prototypes and concepts. Maybe we’ll get a match there.”

Chairman Vermillion entered the bridge, eyeing the image of the giant ship on the monitor.

“Should I brief you on what just happened?” I asked.

Vermillion shook his head no. “I watched the whole thing from my office, Captain. Well handled, by the way.”

“Do you recognize that ship?” I asked.

“Nope, but I’m not an expert on the ships of our customers.”

“We’re not sure this ship has a Samson Drive,” Nolan said.

“There aren’t natural wormholes near Mars,” Vermillion said, “so it’s either one of our drives, or somebody figured out how to duplicate our technology.”

“The power profile wasn’t the same as our standard drives,” Nolan said. “That was the first thing I checked. Oh, and the scan of the Clan data is complete. No matches. Not even anything close. Moving on to prototypes and concepts.”

“I doubt you’ll find anything,” Vermillion said. “The Overlords have been busy. First the PA system infiltration, and now this.”

“Simone was very defiant,” I said to Vermillion.

He smiled. “She’s about eighty-percent bluster, you know. Even back in the days when I was her friend.”

“Uh oh,” Nolan muttered.

“Match?” I asked.

“Close, sir. Too close.”

I stood, walking to his station, looking over his shoulder. “Prototype or Concept?”

“Concept,” Nolan said, eyes glued to the screen. “This is about twenty years old. Earth years, that is.”

“Who owns it?” Vermillion asked.

“The local government of Devonia Axxiom.”

“The Capital world?” Izzy asked, eyes wide.

“I’m afraid so, dear,” Nolan said. “Dammit. Ecason.”

Vermillion laughed nervously. “That crackpot? He disappeared about sixteen years ago, after being exposed as a fraud.”

“He was brilliant,” Nolan said. “I met him once, at a conference. He was far ahead of his time. Completely anti-war, though, and dead set against government overreach. I can’t imagine he’d construct a killing machine for Simone. He railed against the ascension of the Overlords into a sanctioned part of the Central Authority.”

“How did he disappear?” Tim asked.

“That’s a good question,” Nolan said. “Never believed the stories about him being a fraud. I figured he just said screw it and went into solitude someplace.”

“His ship blew up,” Vermillion said, “and he was presumed dead, along with a crew of seventy-thousand.”

“I’ve never heard that before,” Nolan said, eyeing Vermillion.

“Where did his ship blow up?” I asked.

“Far end of the Free Zone.”

“So it wasn’t a military ship,” Tim said.

“Research ship,” Vermillion said. “He was trying to go outside of our Universe.”

“Did they find wreckage of his ship?” Nolan asked.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Vermillion said. “It was in a very remote part of the Free Zone. Nobody wanted to expend the fuel to check it out.”

“Maybe his ship didn’t blow up,” Nolan said. “Maybe it left the Universe.”

To be continued…

 

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Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 17 – Stun Attack

I led the way as JJ and I headed back to the tin can, the main corridor packed with people.

“This ship is amazing,” JJ said. “It’s a flying city.”

“It is,” I said, “but a very vulnerable one. Want to stop for a bite on the way?”

“I’d rather get back to the Zephyrus, if you don’t mind,” she whispered.

We hurried to the transport, having to wait for an open tin can. We slipped onto one that was completely full, heading back towards the main bay. There were several stops on our run, the passengers thinning out to a handful before we got to the bay-level stops.

“Wow, there’s a lot of techs down here,” JJ said as we approached the Zephyrus. “Looks like they’re working on the Tristar first.”

“Smart, given the fuel situation,” I said. “If we have to leave in a hurry, Nolan’s retrofit will save them a lot of fuel, because they won’t have to run cloaked inside wormholes.”

“You think we’ll be attacked, don’t you?” she asked as we walked towards the ramp of the Zephyrus.

I held up my finger, pausing the conversation as I tapped my PA to open the ramp. We hurried up as soon as it touched the floor, and headed straight for my stateroom as it closed behind us.

“Hi, Captain,” Caraway said, his head poking out of the door to Engineering.

“Caraway,” I said, nodding. “Everything going okay?”

“Yeah, we’re just sitting around. They’re retrofitting the Tristar first. They’ll start on us in about six hours.”

“Good, thanks for the info,” I said, before going around the corner.

“You’re pretty informal on this ship,” JJ said.

“Small team,” I said as the stateroom door slid aside for us. We walked in and I set the lock. “Have a seat.”

“We can talk freely?” she asked.

“Wait a sec,” I said, grabbing the holographic chair, rolling it into the bathroom and shutting the door. I came back and sat at the table across from JJ. “Go ahead.”

“You don’t trust that device?”

“You are correct,” I said. “In fact I don’t trust much of anything at the moment.”

“I thought it was just me. Are you buying the coincidence?”

“That Nolan just happened to pick this world out of such a vast zone? Nope, not buying that for a moment. Nolan knew his uncle was here. Hell, if I would’ve told him a scenario like this, he’d pick up that it was BS and say so right away.”

“Think he’ll level with us if we ask him about it?” JJ asked.

“I have no idea, because I don’t understand what side he’s on or what his motives are.”

JJ nodded. “Nolan had the surprised look when Vermillion mentioned the rogue leader. Did you catch that?”

“Yep. He was shocked that Vermillion knew about his Uncle Tac being on this planet.”

“That’s what I was thinking too. Glad it’s not just me.”

“That’s not the thing that bothers me the most, though,” I said.

“What is it?”

“The construction of so many New Jersey-class ships,” I said. “The normal crew requirement for this ship is about 150,000 people. That includes lots of support people who aren’t really essential, but still, for fifteen additional ships, that’s roughly 2.2 million people. Where are they coming from?”

“What’s the bare minimum you could operate this ship with?”

I thought about it for a moment. “If we were just moving the ship from place to place, I could run this ship with about thirty thousand people. If we have to fight, we’d need at least sixty thousand. That includes no infantry, of course, and nobody to man fighters.”

“Geez,” JJ said. “So just the three additional ships would take a minimum of 180 thousand people.”

“Yes.”

“Could we bring this ship down to sixty thousand and distribute the rest on the other ships?”

I shook my head. “That would be tough. We’d run low on individuals trained to do certain critical jobs.”

“How about automation?”

I chuckled.

“What’s so funny?”

“Here’s where I have a problem with our elected officials. It’s illegal to have enough robotics on board to run a ship with a low number of humans.”

“Oh, yeah, forgot about the Full Employment Act,” JJ said. “Never made sense to me.”

“I think it makes perfect sense – human minds tend to rot when we let AI and robotics do all of our work for us. That said, the law prevents us from having the AI and robotic capability, even for emergencies. Remember when we lost the Gregor Taupin about twenty years ago?”

“I lost family on that. A cousin and a niece.”

“Sorry to hear that,” I said. “We lost over 110,000 people in that disaster.”

“AI would’ve prevented the problem? I thought it was an issue with the fuel.”

“You can’t tell anybody about this,” I said, looking JJ in the eyes.

“Oh God, what happened?”

“Somebody released a biological weapon on board. It killed about twenty percent of the crew before the medical team got a handle on the problem, but it made three-quarters of the survivors too sick to be at their stations for more than a week. There was a series of drive malfunctions, and the ship ended up dead in space, too close to a star.”

“Somebody did that on purpose?” JJ asked with a horrified expression.

“We know for sure somebody released the biological on purpose, but I think there was some sabotage to the ship systems as well. We suspect, based on some of the final transmissions, that the engine control systems and the air scrubbers were offline. At least everybody was dead before they fell into the star. We’re pretty sure about that.”

“Do we have any idea who did it?”

“I have my suspicions, but we were ordered not to talk about it,” I said.

“Who ordered that?  The Corporation?”

I shook my head no. “The Central Authority.”

“Who do you think did it?” JJ asked.

“The Overlords.”

Her eyes got wide. “You think they’d do something like that? Why?”

“They’ve been jockeying for rule over the zone for decades, as Vermillion brought up. One thing that kept them from expanding their capabilities was the restrictions on AI and robotics. They don’t have enough people to pull off a military coup. If they could make heavy use of AI and robotics on their ships, they’d be in a whole different position.”

“Does it even matter now?” JJ asked.

“No, they’re running a successful plan to take over the Central Authority via the ballot box, so it’s moot now. They’ve dropped their support of the Full Employment Act repeal and are actively opposing it now.”

“Is it possible that Vermillion is including illegal AI on the new ships?” JJ asked.

“I would if I were him, but it’d be tough. Thanks to the Overlord’s influence on the Central Authority, production of robotics and AI development is tightly controlled. If somebody started buying large quantities of robotic components, it would raise a huge red flag.”

JJ was silent for a moment. “Maybe Vermillion’s been doing that, and that’s why the Overlords hit us.”

“That’s a possibility. I doubt Vermillion would’ve commented if we asked him in the meeting today.”

“Are you going to ask him where the crews are coming from?” JJ asked.

“Oh, I’ll ask him, but privately. He might swear me to secrecy and tell me.”

“Are you going to ask him soon?”

I shook my head. “Not right away, no. We’ve got another problem, you know.”

“What’s that?”

“You and me. We had a reason to hang out together back at the Pacific base. The retrofit of the Zephyrus.”

“Yes,” she said, looking me in the eyes.

“That project is over. If we start spending a lot of time off where people can’t see us, Vermillion is gonna start to wonder. He might be wondering already.”

She smiled. “I’ve brought that up before, remember? We could pretend to be lovers.”

I chuckled. “Vermillion will investigate. All he’ll need to do is monitor our pheromones for a while. He’ll know it’s a ruse.”

“Then maybe we should become real lovers,” she said. “I find you attractive, and I’ve been in a long dry spell.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, my heartrate quickening.

“Do you find me attractive?”

I smiled. “You’re not exactly shy, are you?”

“Answer the question,” she said softly.

“Yes, I find you attractive, but neither of us know if it will last. Just being intimate won’t keep the levels up for long. You know that.”

She stood up, moving towards me. “I doubt we’ll have a big problem there.” She pulled me up, her arms going around me, standing on her tiptoes to reach my mouth with hers. We kissed, the passion in both of us rising. Then she stopped. “That ought to be enough for now.”

I laughed. “Oh, so that’s how it is, huh?”

“It’s better this way. We should make out a little every time we’re alone. Keep the fires burning, but not go very far. The anticipation will fire those pheromones up nicely.”

“I don’t know if I can stand it.”

She giggled. “Sure you can. You might even get me eventually. In fact, you probably will. Think about it. That will help.”

I pulled her back into my arms and kissed her again, more passionately than before, then let her go and sat back down, leaving her flushed, her breath coming hard.

“What’s with that?” she asked, eyeing me.

“Just doing my part,” I said.

There was a buzzing noise coming from the bathroom.

“Vermillion, trying to call me on the holographic system.” I got up and rushed into the bathroom, pulling the chair to its normal position.

“Should I leave?”

“Yeah, for now,” I said, sitting in the chair, watching her as she left the stateroom. She turned on the way out and threw me a kiss, a devilish smile on her face. She was in the hallway far enough to get picked up by the surveillance camera outside. I gave her a thumb up and turned on the holographic unit as she shut the door. The frame appeared, and I sent a reply to Vermillion. His face appeared after a minute.

“Took you a while,” he said.

“Sorry. What’s up?”

“Do you know where JJ is?”

“She just left my stateroom,” I said.

“Oh, really? What was she doing there?”

I hesitated for a moment. “It’s kinda private.”

Vermillion got a smile on his face. “You two are closer than I thought, I guess.”

“We’re both lonely, and we get along well. I hope you don’t mind.”

Vermillion smiled. “No, I don’t mind. I’m envious. She’s quite a woman.”

“That she is. I suspect she’s going to take a look at the work on the Tristar. They’re in progress with the alterations already.”

“Excellent,” he said. “I’ll follow up with her later.”

“Anything for me?” I asked.

“Are you okay with what came out of the meeting? I sensed you were uneasy.”

“I have a lot of questions in my mind, that’s all.”

“Ask me, then,” Vermillion said. “I don’t guarantee I can share everything with you, but hopefully I can tell you enough to calm your concerns.”

“Okay. Where are we getting the crews for the new ships we’re constructing?”

Vermillion chuckled. “I expected somebody to ask that question in the meeting.”

“I thought about it, but figured it would be better to ask that question in private. You know that fifteen additional New Jersey class ships will require over two million people, right?”

“As I said in the meeting, I’m skeptical that we’ll ever complete the entire fifteen. We’ll be lucky to get the three, but if we can launch them along with some of the smaller ships, we’ll have a power base which will give us a fighting chance.”

“So you just lowered the people requirement to a mere 450,000.”

Vermillion laughed. “I know, sounds impossible, doesn’t it?”

“Nothing is impossible.”

“You are correct. Nothing is impossible. We’ve been moving people and materials at a rapid pace over the last three months. There are nearly a million people spread out between the five new installations. We’ve been training them to be generalists, so we’ll have the ability to move people around as needed.”

“How do you know there aren’t any plants among them?” I asked.

“That is what keeps me up at night, and as I said in the meeting, the supply chain requirements for the balance of production will open us up to the possibility of infiltration. We’re putting controls in place to help us survive that, but there’s only so much we can do once we start working in the marketplace.”

“How about installing AI and robotics?” I asked.

“That’s a subject I can’t discuss at this time, beyond saying that we are aware that it would solve problems for us. As you know, it’s illegal.”

“Yes, it’s illegal, but no more so than the capabilities we now have on the New Jersey.”

“Touché,” Vermillion said. “Any other questions?”

“Just a comment. I’m having a hard time with the coincidence of Nolan bringing us to a planet where his uncle just happens to be a rogue leader.”

“Nolan thinks he’s good at hiding his actions,” Vermillion said. “We knew he’d get here as soon as he found a good excuse. He was right about one thing, though. I did save him because of my close personal friendship with Tac. At the time we made the agreement, I had no idea how brilliant Nolan is, or how important his contributions would be to our cause.”

“What’s the end game?” I asked. “Do you plan to destroy the Overlords?”

“I intend to stop the Overlords from wiping away the Republic and re-making the Central Authority Zone as a totalitarian society,” Vermillion said. “Is that something you can support?”

“Yes sir,” I said.

“Good. We’ll talk later. If you see JJ, tell her to contact me. She’s not answering her PA.”

“Okay, will do,” I said. Vermillion’s face disappeared, and I shut down the holographic unit, leaving my stateroom for the bridge. Izzy and Tim were there.

“Hello, Captain,” Tim said.

“How are you two?” I asked.

“Are you buying what Vermillion is selling?” Izzy asked.

“Yes, basically,” I said. “You’re having a problem with it?”

“I’m not,” Tim said. “I think it’s about time we have somebody standing up to the Overlords.”

Izzy shook her head. “We’ve been forced into a clandestine band of revolutionaries. I basically agree with Tim that the Overlords are a problem that needs to be taken care of, but there’s a strong possibility that it’ll be the death of all of us.”

“We weren’t forced into this by the Samson Corporation,” I reminded Izzy. “We were forced into it by a railgun attack on the Pacific Research Center.”

“Yeah, I blame the Overlords,” Tim said.

“I blame whoever was responsible for the attacks, and I think the jury on that is still out. Time will tell, but bottom line is that we’re here.”

“It still leaves us in a life-threatening situation,” Izzy said.

I came closer to Izzy, and motioned for Tim to come over.

“Look, if this scares you too much, go down to the surface of this planet and disappear into its society. I’ll help you get your PA removed. They’ll have a hard time finding you.”

“Start over on a late 19th-century world?” Izzy whispered. “If things take a bad turn for the worse, fine, but right now that scares me more than our current situation.”

“I understand,” I whispered. “Just wanted to bring it up.”

Nolan rushed onto the bridge, stopping when he saw the three of us huddled together.

“What have we here?” he asked.

“Nothing, just a private chat,” Tim said.

“There aren’t working bugs on the bridge,” Nolan said. “I took care of that earlier. You can speak freely, unless the person you were hiding from was me.”

I shook my head. “Nolan… ”

“Do you disapprove, Captain?”

I shrugged. “No, not really. Are we going to be honest with each other?”

“I’m not sure what you mean, Captain,” Nolan said.

Tim snickered.

“We just stumbled onto the planet your uncle is on?” I asked, my eyebrows raised.

Nolan sighed, sitting down at his station. “I was going to tell you.”

“How’d you know he was here?” Tim asked.

“I knew where he was going when he faked his death.”

Tim laughed. “See, I told you, Izzy. You have to pay up.”

Izzy rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

“What the… oh never mind,” I said. “You didn’t know Vermillion was aware of Tac’s presence on this world?”

“Tac told me that he knew, but I had no idea he was getting dragged so far into our current situation. It worries me.”

“Can’t blame you there,” I said. “I thought you were working the PA system alterations today.”

“I am, but I got a notification on one of my news sources. Wanted to come up here and open it up.”

“Put it on screen,” I said.

Nolan nodded, turning his chair towards his station. The big screen lit up, showing the document.

“This is Hamilton Zenos again,” I said. “Sure you can trust him?”

“Yes,” Nolan said as he read. “Dammit, I knew it.”

I focused on the report.

Well, folks, it’s happened, just like I predicted. The Overlords have just enforced their no-fly and Samson Drive recall orders by stunning thousands of Manhattan residents to death. If you have the wherewithal to do it, remove your PA systems. Doing things manually isn’t that much of a problem, and all major systems have alternative methods of access. You don’t have to use your PA if you choose not to. I’d do this before it becomes illegal.

Hamilton Zenos

My heart was pounding in my chest. “This can’t stand.”

Izzy stood. “Forget what I said. I’m all in.”

“Me too,” Tim said.

A buzzer sounded outside in the bay.

“What the hell is that?” Izzy asked.

“That’s the New Jersey general alarm,” I said, getting up.

“Oh, crap, they’ve found us,” she said.

“I can’t run scans from inside the bay,” Nolan said.

My PA buzzed. I tapped it and Andrea’s worried face showed up.

“What’s going on?” I asked. “Are we about to be attacked?”

“No, Vermillion got pissed. We’re jumping to Mars to take out their space station. Can you come to the bridge? I need all the help I can get.”

“He found out about the people who got stunned to death on Manhattan?” I asked.

“His sister was one of them,” Andrea said. “Bring Tim and Izzy too, and round up Cyrus and JJ if you can.”

“On my way,” I said.

“We’re gonna go mess with the Overlords?” Nolan asked.

“Yes. Let’s get to the bridge.”

We all got up, rushing to the transport area as we went. Cyrus and JJ were already there when we arrived. Then we all felt faint as the New Jersey jumped away.

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 7 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

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Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 16 – The Military Industrial Complex

We were sitting in the conference room with Chairman Vermillion. The subject of PA stun capability came up.

JJ looked at Nolan with her eyes wide. “You think they can turn our implanted PA devices into remote execution devices?”

“Even stun capability is bad enough,” Cyrus said. “Think about it.”

Nolan’s eyes closed as he was thinking, his brow furrowed. Vermillion and I exchanged a glance.

“What is it, Nolan,” I asked.

Nolan’s eyes opened, and he looked down at the table. “I think I know what Simone’s threat is.”

“What?” I glanced at Vermillion again.

“If they’ve got the software completed to add stun capability to individual PA devices, they can act on them directly, provided the subject is in a civilized terrestrial location with wireless network access.”

“Dammit,” Vermillion said, “he’s saying that anybody on Earth is subject to attack through these damn imbedded devices.”

“Earth or any other planet at level five or below, Chairman,” Nolan said.

“You developed a way to wipe PA devices and the PA sub-net software on the Zephyrus,” I said. “Anything you can do to stop the Overlords from using this stun capability?”

Nolan sat silently for a moment.

“Well?” JJ asked.

Nolan shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. Wiping memory is easy. I’d have to access the operating system, turn off some capability, and then figure out a way to broadcast an update.”

“And I suspect the Overlords could then over-write your over-write,” Deacon said.

“Maybe,” Nolan said. “I need to concentrate on this.”

“We’re not even sure it’s the real threat,” Tim said.

“True, Tim,” Nolan said, “and thanks for bringing that up. How can we find out?”

“I still have some connections on Earth who would know,” Vermillion said. “I’ll contact them.”

“Can you do that without tipping off the Overlords to our location?” Izzy asked.

“Yes,” Vermillion said. “Nolan, perhaps you should load your PA wipe program onto the PA sub-nets of this ship and the Tristar.”

“And make the changes to everyone’s PA devices as well, so they can be wiped,” I added.

“I’d be glad to,” Nolan said. “I’ll do that first, and then see if I can come up with some code that will disable the electrical pulse capability.”

“Why was that on there anyway?” Tim asked.

“Actually it was a good idea, originally,” JJ said. “It was added to allow doctors to hit their patients with defibrillation during a heart stoppage.”

“Doctors can still do that, can’t they?” Tim asked.

“Yes, but it has to be set up in advance,” JJ said, “and it’s tightly controlled in the medical community. It can only be done for people who have specific diagnosis of a heart condition which would require the treatment. It’s a physical change that requires surgery, too. Wires need to be run from the arm unit to the heart.”

“That’s a good reason to not disable the capability completely,” Izzy said. “My grandfather was saved by that procedure.”

“I remember reading about the defibrillation capability,” Nolan said. “I’ll research it. I’m pretty sure there’s a protocol that checks for permission to run the program.”

“Ten to one the Overlords are using that protocol,” I said. “Remember when we first heard about this. It came from a proposal to the Central Authority, remember? There was nothing said about a massive retrofit to the PA devices themselves. All I ever heard about was some testing.”

“We’ve beat this one to death,” Vermillion said. “Nolan, you know what to do. How long will it take to complete?”

Nolan thought for a moment. “How many people are on this ship?”

“One hundred and sixty thousand,” Andrea said.

“And on the Tristar?”

“Sixty-four,” Cyrus said.

“Two days,” Nolan said.

Vermillion smiled. “Okay, please get on that as soon as this meeting is over.”

“Of course, Chairman.”

“Let’s get onto the next topic,” Vermillion said. “Fuel. We’ve taken a lot onto the New Jersey. Enough to supply us for many years, unless we have to fight with the new weapons.”

“Same issue with the Tristar,” Cyrus said.

“It’s actually worse on the Tristar,” Andrea said. “We’ve got a lot of open space on the New Jersey. If we get into a series of battles, we may be down to one year instead of many years. The Tristar doesn’t have the space to handle storage.”

“Neither does the Zephyrus,” I chimed in.

“We need to develop sources, either on willing planets or via the black market in the Free Zone,” Vermillion said.

“The Free Zone should be the last resort,” Nolan said. “Just getting there and back takes time and lots of fuel.”

Vermillion nodded in agreement. “Yes, that is a big problem. Add to that the fact that this ship would be illegal in the Free Zone.”

“We’re not classified as a prototype?” I asked.

“We tried,” Vermillion said. “The Central Authority refused, on Simone’s suggestion.”

I shook my head. “What a shock.”

“You think this planet might be a possible source,” Nolan said.

Vermillion leaned back in his chair again, eyeing the others. “This is another thing that can’t leave this room. There’s a rogue leader on this planet, and he’s willing to play ball.”

“You’ve made contact?” I asked.

“Yes. We have to be very discrete, for his protection.”

“He’s insisting on that, I’ll bet,” Cyrus said.

Vermillion sighed. “No, he’s only worried about us, and doesn’t want to take the time to be cautious. This is a very important person to me, and he’s wanted by the Overlords. That’s why he came to Amberis thirty years ago. He’s hiding.”

Nolan got a strange expression on his face. “Who is it?”

“Your intuition is amazing, Nolan,” Vermillion said. “It’s your Uncle Tac.”

Nolan started to tremble, tears coming from his eyes. “I saw his body.”

“Faked, as was his death,” Vermillion said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you sooner. I know he practically raised you.”

“That’s why you rescued me. Never could figure that out. Who is he to you?”

“My best friend,” Vermillion said. “I thought you might know since you picked this location. Why did you pick this location, anyway?”

“I was looking for a place with no natural wormholes within a year’s travel. Remember what we were thinking when we found the Tristar heading to the same place we were going? We suspected that the Overlords and the Clan were working together to capture us. I looked for a planet above level five that had a decent survey. This was perfect from a location standpoint. We have a clear view of Aurora Calista. The only downside was that it’s a level seven… and in reality, it’s closer to a level six. They have the beginning of radio and a very robust telegraph system.”

Vermillion chuckled. “They have the beginnings of an internal combustion engine industry. Your Uncle is in fossil fuels.”

Nolan chuckled. “Of course he is. Probably the richest man on the damn planet, knowing him. Do I get to see him?”

“Yes, but get the PA work done first, all right?”

Nolan smiled. “Of course. What name is he using?”

“He’s still called Tac, but with a numerical surname. He’s Tac 3374. And again, sorry you had to find out this way, Nolan. I would’ve told you eventually no matter what.”

Nolan got up and walked over to Vermillion, extending his hand. They shook. “I’ve got nothing but respect for you, Chairman. I thought the only reason you saved me was to use my technical knowledge. You saved me because of your friend. That speaks very highly of your character.”

Vermillion smiled. “Thank you for the kind words.”

Nolan nodded and sat back down.

“We will work the fuel problem on this planet, using Tac’s existing petroleum drilling and refining business as a cover.”

“Sounds like a perfect situation,” I said, my mind still reeling from the revelations about Nolan.

“The other task we’ll be working is the cross-upgrades for the Tristar and the Zephyrus,” Vermillion said. “They will both be brought up to the same level as the New Jersey.”

“I figured,” Cyrus said. “Good.”

“What are the plans after that?” I asked.

“I’m still worried about the Clan,” Vermillion said. “We need to know if their presence is widespread or only on Valla Cappos. I’d like you and your crew to go back to the plans we had for you before the attacks.”

“I should be going on that mission,” Nolan said.

“I agree,” I said. “Nolan here can be a pain in the neck, but as a science officer he has no equal.”

Nolan chuckled. “I’m not sure if I should be flattered or angry.”

“Flattered,” I said. “You aren’t really that much of a pain. I just like to mess with you from time to time.”

Nolan smiled. “Then I’ll take no offense. This might be a dangerous mission. Is the Zephyrus going alone?”

“That hasn’t been decided yet,” Vermillion said. “The Tristar might be involved.”

“We’re missing a lot of crew members, Mr. Chairman,” Deacon said. “Most of our crew was off the ship when the pacific base got attacked. We don’t need a full complement, but another twenty men would be very helpful.”

“Some of your crew probably made it onto the New Jersey,” Vermillion said. “We know at least one did.”

Cyrus chuckled. “True. How did he get on board?”

“Best we can figure, he was picked up out of one of the escape pods that was floating on the ocean above the base. That’s how I was picked up.”

Andrea was looking at her PA. “FA Wilson, KG Copeckne, IF Saddler, WC Pratt. They all indicated they were crew members of the Zephyrus.”

“I know them,” Deacon said. “Please tell me more than that survived.”

“There are a number of wounded personnel we still have in sick bay. We know who they are, but I don’t have access to that list on my PA yet. I’ll compile the list and let you know.”

“Excellent, thank you,” Deacon said. “I’ll have my fingers crossed.”

“What are the long-term plans?” I asked.

“We don’t know yet,” Vermillion said. “For the first six months, we’ll be in reactive mode. It really depends on what Simone does.”

“Why six months?” Cyrus asked.

“We’ve got five very well-hidden bases spread around the Central Authority Zone. Our plan is that each of them will have three New Jersey class ships being built by our robotics, along with a fair number of Tristar and Zephyrus sister ships.”

“We’ll have sixteen of these monsters?” Cyrus asked.

“That’s what we’re hoping,” Vermillion said. “Realistically, I’ll be happy if we get more than three. If our operations are found by the Central Authority or the Overlords, they’ll be destroyed.”

“You said they were well hidden,” Izzy said.

“They are well hidden, but it takes a large supply chain to get the materials we need to complete these ships. We have enough for three ships already in place at three of the locations. They’re in construction now, and it’s moving along very quickly. We have the most sensitive of the material for the balance of the fifteen, since we knew we’d never be able to purchase those after the Corporation was brought down. The rest of the material has to be purchased, and it only takes one person opening their mouth to screw everything up.”

“You aren’t working the supply chain until the first three ships are finished, I hope,” JJ said.

“Yes, we’re getting all the ships we have materials for finished before we activate the supply chain,” Vermillion said. Three New Jersey class, and half a dozen each of the smaller ships. We’ll fabricate the reactors and the weapons systems as well. They’ll probably be moved to a hidden location as soon as they’re completed. We’ll bring them in when they’re needed for construction of the later ships.”

I sighed, leaning back in my chair, feeling the padding wrap around me. “We’re just hanging on by a thread.”

“That’s true,” Nolan said, “but after these three ships are retrofitted and we have a fuel source, we will be a terror to the Overlords. We’ll jump into their midst and destroy every ship within range before they know what is happening.”

“This is a good mixture of mind sets to have,” Andrea said. “The optimism of Nolan and the situational understanding of Captain Clarke. That type of combination has worked before.”

“Are we done?” Nolan asked. “I’d like to get started on the PA systems.”

“Yes, go ahead,” Vermillion said.

Nolan got up. “Cyrus, why don’t we take care of your ship first?”

“Sounds great,” Cyrus said, getting up and meeting him at the door.

“I’d better go with you guys,” Andrea said, “since you’re the two who haven’t been on this ship before. Deacon, why don’t you go check out the executive cafeteria? I’ll get the list of survivors updated and meet you there after I get these two back to the main bay.”

“Perfect,” Deacon said with a wide grin. He followed the others out the door.

JJ, Tim, Izzy, and I were left in the conference room with Chairman Vermillion.

“Tim and Izzy, why don’t you join Deacon in the cafeteria,” I said.

They both nodded, getting up. I watched them leave the room, the door closing behind them, then turned to Vermillion.

“You want to have more discussion,” Vermillion said.

“Do you mind? I’ve got some questions.”

“Go ahead,” Vermillion said, “and JJ, feel free to ask me questions as well. I won’t guarantee I can answer everything, but I’ll do my best.”

“Why are the Central Authority legislature, executive branch, and courts allowing the Overlords to attack us like this?” I asked.

Vermillion leaned back in his chair, collecting his thoughts. “This has been coming for decades.”

“That doesn’t really answer my question,” I said, wishing I hadn’t been so bold.

Vermillion smiled, not acting offended. “I need to fill in some details. Do you know Simone’s history?”

“She was in the Samson Corporation thirty years ago, wasn’t she?” JJ asked.

“Very good. She’s hidden that little tidbit of info pretty well. How did you know?”

“My father,” she said. “I remember him talking about her. While he was working for her, he had great respect. It crushed him when she lost her position.”

I shot her a glance. “That’s why you said you used to think highly of her.”

JJ nodded yes.

“Why did Simone get pushed out?” I asked.

Vermillion leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table, his hands coming together, fingers intertwined. “That’s a very complicated story. I’ll have to give you the condensed version, and there are some parts of it that I can’t reveal.”

“Tell us what you can,” I said.

“Simone was in line for the top job at the Corporation. She was very close to Chairman Russo.”

“Wasn’t he your predecessor?” JJ asked.

Vermillion nodded. “We were both in the running for that job, and Simone had the lead.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“She had an opinion similar to Nolan’s, and pushed it too hard.”

“Similar to which of Nolan’s opinions?” JJ asked.

“She thought our focus should be on strengthening the Republic, and then handing over control of the corporation’s products to them. She wanted us to become a government contractor of the historic type. You know, where we build what’s ordered, and ownership of the military products and the design rests with the military, controlled by governments, elected or not.”

I was silent for a moment. “I can’t say that I totally disagree.”

“That’s the way the world was before the Samson Corporation,” JJ said.

“Precisely,” Vermillion said. “The Military-Industrial Complex. Eisenhower warned us about that.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, he warned us about it, after he used it.”

“World War II is widely considered to have been a war the United States and their allies needed to win,” JJ said.

“Nobody disputes that,” Vermillion said, “but the bad actors were pushed along by the military-industrial complexes in their countries. You remember the names. Junkers, Messerschmitt, Mitsubishi, and a host of others. They developed weapons and tested them in pre-World War II conflicts like the Spanish Civil War. The technology they handed to the governments of the Axis powers allowed them to make the political decisions they did.”

“The United States had military production as well,” I said.

“True,” Vermillion said, “and they were almost as aggressive in the 19th Century as the Axis Powers were in the mid 20th Century. After the second world war, when most of the conflict was between Russia, the United States, and China, the military-industrial complex was a problem. What we called National Interest back then included keeping up a robust weapons manufacturing complex. That lead to an arms race of epic proportions. Our weapons became more and more deadly, but at the same time humans had the illusion that they were also more and more controllable. The disasters on Earth in the 2030s, where there were nuclear exchanges in Eastern Europe, the South China Sea, and the Middle East, had a huge impact on Alexander Carlson. He lost his faith in governments, even elected governments, after those incidents.”

“So he dropped the military from the military-industrial complex,” I said. “That’s just as bad if not worse.”

“About half the population of first through fifth-level worlds agree with you,” Vermillion said. “I’m on the fence, but I lean towards Carlson’s opinion, and I have facts to back it up. The Samson Corporation brought an end to the centuries-old war between the Clan and the Central Authority, and has kept a fairly stable lid on warfare ever since.”

We all sat silently for a few moments. JJ’s brow furrowed as she worked things out, throwing a glance at me. I nodded, so she looked at Vermillion.

“To get to the bottom line, Simone was pushed out of the Samson Corporation because she wanted to give the remote-destruct capability to the government, and make our technology available as well?”

Vermillion chuckled. “Not exactly. She wanted to remove the remote-destruct capability from Samson Drives, using a massive recall for ships that had that feature in place, as well as putting an end to it’s continued development and deployment. She had no intention of giving up the proprietary status of the Samson Drive design. It was to remain the sole property of the Samson Corporation.”

“This doesn’t sound like all that complicated of a story,” I said.

“Oh, it is, trust me,” Vermillion said.

JJ glanced at me, then at the Chairman. “How so?”

“There were a number of opinions which conflicted.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“The governing bodies of the Central Authority couldn’t get agreement, for one thing. Some welcomed the end of control by the Samson Corporation, thinking that it would help the society to become more free and open, with true representative government. Others were afraid that the Clan would go back to their old aggressive self without destruction of their drives held over their heads. Another group, which was growing in power at the time, was worried about disputed territories, where individual planets might make war on each other.”

“Disputed territories?” JJ asked.

I shot her a glance. “I understand that one.”

“You can take it then,” Vermillion said.

“Okay, correct me if I’ve got it wrong. When the boundaries were drawn up for the three zones of the Universe, it was not done based purely on the content of the territory. There were Clan worlds in the Free Zone and the Central Authority Zone, and there were Central Authority worlds in the Clan Zone and the Free Zone. These areas are still rocked by violence today, but since the Samson Corporation had their foot on everybody’s heads with the remote-destruct capability, the conflicts remained very low level – mostly terrestrial. If the remote-destruct is no longer a restricting factor, we could have border fights with starships getting involved, forced embargos, and bad actors taking advantage for a number of reasons.”

“Well put,” Vermillion said. “I was against Simone’s plans for that reason, and also because I don’t trust the Clan. My faction won out. It ended Simone’s career prospects at the Samson Corporation, so she left, forming a political group which later became the Overlords.”

“Okay, that explains Simone’s background better than I understood it before,” I said, “but what about the Central Authority? Where are they on this? Have they been dissolved?”

“No,” Vermillion said, “but remember that the Overlords back like-minded political parties all over the Central Authority Zone. They’ve been winning elections. They’ve now got enough members behind them in the legislature to impact policy. That’s how their intelligence arm became a sanctioned agency of the Central Authority.”

“They’re like a parasite to the Central Authority, then,” JJ said. “And they’re going for total control.”

I chuckled. “That’s one way to look at it, but I’ll bet there’s a lot of citizens who don’t look at it that way.”

“Well, I’ve got another meeting,” Vermillion said. “Did I answer your questions?”

I nodded. “Yes, that explains why Simone isn’t getting stopped. Her actions are backed by the Central Authority. Our government considers us the enemy now.”

Vermillion nodded. “Talk to you later.”

JJ and I watched the Chairman leave.

“Let’s go back to the Zephyrus,” she whispered. “We need to talk where we can’t be heard.”

I nodded in agreement, and we left the conference room together.

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 7 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 11 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 15 – The New Jersey

We were on the bridge of the Zephyrus, waiting for the arrival of the Tristar.

“What happened with the battle?” I asked Tim, who was watching his PA.

“Our ships are orbiting Earth now. The Overlord ships have taken defensive positions around their space dock.”

“Captain, the Tristar just came out of its jump,” Izzy said.

“Confirmed,” Nolan said.

I nodded. “She’s cloaked, I hope.”

“Yes sir,” Nolan said.

“We’re being hailed again, Captain,” Izzy said.

“Put it on screen.” I watched as Andrea’s face appeared.

“We’re almost ready to receive you in Bay One,” she said. “We’ll pull the Tristar in first, and then use our tractor beam to load you. Stand by.”

“We’re ready when you are,” I said.

“They’ll be visible for a split second,” Nolan said. “Hope nobody’s watching.”

“Without computers scanning constantly, we have a pretty good chance of not being noticed,” Tim said.

I shot him a glance. “If there’s no rogues on this planet, we should be okay.”

“They’ve already pulled the Tristar in,” Izzy said. “There was about three seconds of exposure while they were passing through the main door.”

Andrea’s face was back on the screen. “Turn off your stabilizers and stand by, please. We’ll pull you up.”

Izzy turned to her PA and spoke the command. After a moment the ship lifted off the ground, rising quickly, passing through turbulence as it left the atmosphere.

“Put the camera video on screen,” I said, sitting back down.

Nolan nodded and did that. We were hurtling quickly towards nothing, and then there was a line of light, getting larger as the door slid open, the timing of our movement perfect, our ship slipping through as soon as the door was open wide enough, closing behind us quickly. We were moved towards the rear of the ship, setting down next to the slightly larger Tristar. We waited as the bay re-pressurized, our outside sensors flashing the green light on the arm of my captain’s chair.

“We’re good,” I said.

“Yep, beautifully done,” Nolan said. “Wish we could get a look at the ship. She must be magnificent.”

“She’s a beauty,” I said.

“Why doesn’t this ship belong to the Central Authority?” Izzy asked.

“It was going to them eventually,” I said, “although we lease these now. The last generation that we sold outright was the Centurion Class.”

“Which is why the Overlords use them as their main platform,” Nolan said. “They’re getting long on the tooth.”

“Don’t underestimate those ships,” JJ said. “They’re still plenty potent.”

“The Tristar could take them on and win,” Nolan said.

I chuckled. “Yeah, the Tristar could cause havoc until they’re out of fuel, which their new weapons systems will use up in a hurry.”

“You’ve got that right,” Andrea said, her face popping back onto the main screen. “You can come on out. We’re meeting on D level, port side. Main conference room.”

“Who’s invited?” Nolan asked.

“The entire bridge crew,” Andrea said, “and Deacon.”

“How about the rest of the crew?” I asked. “Are they restricted to the Zephyrus?”

“For now, yes,” Andrea said. “We’re still working that scan, and we aren’t sure that Ensign Daniels was the only plant we’re dealing with.”

“Is there evidence of that?” JJ asked, her brow furrowed.

“Not concrete, but he got onboard somehow. We can’t find a record of who allowed it.”

“Okay, fair enough,” I said. “How are we protecting against a signal?”

“When we’re cloaked, nothing gets out,” Andrea said. “It’s a side benefit.”

“There may be ways around that,” Nolan said.

Andrea paused. “How? No, never mind, we’ll discuss that when we’re in the meeting.”

“Good,” Nolan said.

“All right, everybody, let’s go,” I said, tapping my PA. Deacon’s face showed up.

“Yes, Cappy?”

“You’re going to the meeting with us,” I said. “Meet us at the ramp.”

“Will do. See you in a few minutes. The crew is restricted to the ship, I hope.”

“Yes, and I want surveillance and monitoring set up at all entrances. Nobody gets on or off this ship without us knowing about it. Clear?”

“Yes sir, I’ll set that up on the way out, and I’ll leave Caraway in charge.”

“Perfect, thanks.” I rushed off the bridge, catching up with the rest in the hallway.

“How far away is our destination?” Nolan asked.

Izzy chuckled. “About two kilometers up, then four kilometers towards the front of the ship. We’ll have to ride the tin can.”

“Am I the only one who hasn’t been on this ship before?” Nolan asked.

“I’ve been on it, but only twice,” JJ said.

“Tim, Izzy, and Deacon worked on this ship,” I said. “Hopefully they will again soon.”

Deacon was waiting for us at the ramp. “Everything’s taken care of, Cappy.”

“Thanks,” I said. “You can open her up.”

Deacon nodded as he looked at his PA, touching it a few times. The ramp began dropping in the back, the familiar smell of my ship hitting me, giving me a peaceful feeling.

“We’re home,” Izzy said.

Tim nodded in agreement, as Nolan looked out at the vast bay. “They’re not going to move us above the airlock level?”

“No need to,” I said. “It’d be different if we were staging fighters out of here.”

JJ glanced at me as we walked to the transport hub. “I think Vermillion wants us poised to take off at a moment’s notice.”

I nodded back at her. “I agree with him.”

“This ship is basically invincible, isn’t it?” Izzy asked. “With the upgrades, especially.”

“We don’t know what the capabilities of the Clan ships are,” Nolan said. “It’s also hard to tell what the Overlords have been up to. What was their retrofit plan, for example?”

“I think they want to install their own remote-destruct capability,” Tim said. “But who knows?”

We arrived at the transporter, meeting Cyrus and several of his crew members.

“Feeling at home yet?” Cyrus asked me.

“Yeah, hit me as soon as I smelled the air.”

“This is my first time aboard.”

I shot Cyrus a glance. “Really? I’m surprised.”

“They’ve been keeping me pretty busy, and then things started to go sideways. Glad to be seeing her now. This is the biggest bay I’ve ever seen.”

“It looks even bigger when we don’t have the airlock level open,” I said. “The floor would be higher, but then we can open the ceiling. There’s four bay levels above us.”

“Impressive,” Nolan said.

I looked at my PA, speaking our destination into it. The door in front of us slid aside, revealing a round room with seating arranged in circles, smallest in the middle, the largest being against the outside walls. We got in, moving away from the entry, and the door shut, seats folding out from the door to complete the outside circle.

“Strap in,” I said. “This thing moves.”

“This is a ball suspended in a can, isn’t it?” Nolan asked.

I nodded yes. “It rotates inside to keep us level at all times.”

Nolan smiled. “Mag drive, of course.”

“Yep. I spoke into my PA, and we rose quickly, our stomachs feeling it.

“This would be worse if the gravity was as heavy as Earth,” Tim said.

When we got up to the correct level, we shot horizontally towards the middle of the ship. We slowed to a stop after thirty seconds. A warning light flashed on the folding seats, letting everybody know the door was about to open. Then they folded up and the door slid to the left, opening onto a clean white hallway with a lot of foot traffic.

“What if you don’t get off those seats fast enough?” Cyrus asked.

“They sense if anything is on them, and won’t move until they’re empty,” I said. “Nice little system. Came in with the last revision of the Centurion class.”

“Captain Clarke!” said a young officer who was walking by. He was a tall black man with a crew cut, a muscular build, and a wide grin. “Are you coming back soon?”

“RJ, how the heck are you?” I asked, shaking his hand. “You’re looking good. Andrea’s been treating you well?”

He laughed. “She’s doing a good job, but she’s not you.”

“And the Captain’s head swells some more,” Izzy quipped. “Hi, RJ.”

“Izzy. We going on that date pretty soon?”

She rolled her eyes. “In your dreams. You’re just a lowly pilot like me.”

“Oh, you only want to spend time with the higher-ranked, huh?” RJ said. “Now I get it.”

Izzy smiled as we started walking.

“We’ve got a meeting to get to, RJ,” I said. “We’ll have to catch up later.”

“First round is on you,” he said as we walked away.

“What does he do?” JJ asked.

“Combat pilot,” I said. “If we get into action, he takes over. He knows all of the weapons systems and how to coordinate them.”

“What about the gunners?” Nolan asked.

“He directs them. We have fifteen others who do the same job as RJ, of course. Each of them controls a section of the ship, with it’s armaments, sensors, and damage control robots.”

“I’d like to break into that eventually,” Izzy said.

“Does it pay more?” Nolan asked.

“It does, after you’ve been proven,” Izzy said. “I’d have to be an apprentice for a longer period than I did as a transit pilot.”

We got to the conference room complex. Vermillion stuck his head out the door, catching my eye, motioning us over. We filed into the conference room, sitting around the long oval table in active chairs which molded to us as we sat.

“Missed these chairs,” Tim said, leaning back, the chair cradling him.

“Don’t turn on the massage function,” I said. “We don’t need you falling asleep.” I shot him a dead-pan look, and most of the people in the room chuckled.

Andrea walked in, closing the door behind her. “The scan has been completed. We didn’t find anything else.”

Vermillion’s brow furrowed. “I want us to stay cloaked at all times, except when we’re in a jump. I can’t believe the only transmitter Ensign Daniels had was a suppository.”

“We need to know if he expected the railgun attacks in advance,” I said. “Did we save the video from the base?”

“It was all held off site, so yes, it survived,” Vermillion said. “You’re thinking we should review it?”

“Yes, use facial recognition search.”

“And hope he wasn’t wearing a disguise,” Nolan said.

I nodded. “If he didn’t know the attack was about to happen, he probably scrambled here without having time to take any additional hardware. He left his COMM device in his barracks locker on the Zephyrus. He either expected to be back there, or he’s trying to make us think he expected to be back there.”

Vermillion glanced at Andrea. “Set that search up, please.”

Andrea nodded, speaking into her PA for a moment. A tray of refreshments on a mag-lift cart were brought in.

“That smells really good,” Deacon said.

“Gotten tired of the Zephyrus cheesecake already, Deacon?” JJ asked.

Deacon grinned. “Yes, it’ll be nice to eat something that isn’t untouched by human hands.”

The group chuckled for a few moments, Vermillion settling down first and glancing around the room to get the meeting in order.

“Let’s get started, shall we?” he asked. Everybody stopped talking and gave him their full attention. “First of all, I’d like to welcome Captain Clarke back to his ship, although we won’t complete the hand-off right away. There are still some tasks I’ll need you to do on the Zephyrus, Captain.”

“Whatever you need, sir,” I said, trying to push disappointment to a place nobody could see.

“Let’s review to set the stage, and if anybody has new insights, we’ll discuss them.”

You could hear a pin drop, until Nolan cleared his throat.

“Something to say, Nolan?” Vermillion asked.

“No sir, sorry.”

“Well don’t hold back when you do have something to say. Your actions so far have been partially responsible for us still being alive. That’s not something I forget.”

“Thank you, sir,” Nolan said, not sure how to take the complement.

“We know what the news reports are saying,” Vermillion started. “The Samson Corporation has been abusing its power, and the Central Authority’s bureaucracy was not able to control it. In fact, the story goes, the Central Authority legislative bodies and the court system suffered from rampant cronyism and corruption brought about by the Samson Corporation. The Overlords, fulfilling their self-proclaimed role as protector of last resort, has stepped in and put the Central Authority Zone under a loose form of martial law.”

“Baloney,” JJ said.

“Does anybody sitting at this table believe the reports?” Vermillion asked, “because I need to know right now.”

“No way,” Cyrus said.

“I know the story to be false, Chairman,” Nolan said, “not that I think the Samson Corporation is always right.”

I tensed myself for the comments I feared were coming from Nolan, but he stopped with his initial statement.

“Would you like to elaborate on what you don’t like, Nolan?” Vermillion asked.

Nolan thought for a moment, then nodded yes. “The Corporation acts like a private enterprise, but it’s really not. It’s got elements of a private corporation, but it’s also got elements of an oligarchy, and it’s had that since the founder created the Samson Drive.”

“You’re referring to the veto-power that the corporation had over the entire universe with its capability to remotely destruct the Samson Drives?” Vermillion asked.

“Yes,” Nolan said. “That being said, I probably would’ve done the same thing that Alexander Carlson did, given the circumstances. It made perfect sense at the time… in fact, it was the only choice.”

Vermillion smiled. “You would have done something differently, though, given your distrust of the Samson Corporation.”

“I wouldn’t call it distrust, Chairman. The circumstances have been changing, and the Corporation didn’t change with them. Therefore, we’re in trouble now, and it’s much worse than trouble for our Corporation. It’s trouble for all the people who populate the universe, because in getting rid of us, groups like the Overlords now have an opportunity to remove representative government and individual liberty from the equation.”

“Groups like the Overlords?” Cyrus asked.

“I’m assuming there’s a similar group that’s gained control of the Clan Zone. I think the Clan presence we saw at Valla Cappos was not the precursor to an invasion. I believe that ship and others like it are trying to escape the Clan Zone.”

“You mean defect?” I asked.

“No, I didn’t say that,” Nolan said. “They probably know that the Central Authority and their Overlord henchmen have goals similar to the government they’re hiding from.”

Vermillion leaned back in his chair, the material molding around his back. “We’ve seen tightened controls on individual liberty now that the Overlords have become more dominant, but they’re still pretty measured. They did landings on Earth trying to capture Corporation employees after the attacks, but they didn’t kill civilians, and they didn’t stick around either. They grabbed who they had a warrant for and left the planet.”

I shot a glance at Vermillion and Nolan.

“You have something to say, Captain Clarke,” Vermillion said. “Out with it.”

“Simone and the Overlords are staging a coup,” I said. “They’re going after the Samson Corporation because they know we’re the only force in the Universe that can stop them. They will hunt us until they kill or capture us.”

“That’s the way I see it,” Tim said.

“We can give the Overlords enough nasty surprises to back them down temporarily,” Nolan said, “but the real problem is that the Samson Drive technology is no longer a mystery. The advancement of physics and engineering technology is going to take our monopoly on wormhole projection away from us. Simply stated, soon many other corporations will have technology like the Samson Drive, and customers will opt for them instead of our products. Who wants to buy something that could be blown up if the manufacturer gets mad?”

Vermillion chuckled. “Want a seat on the board? We have some vacancies.”

I eyed Vermillion. “You’ve seen this coming for a while, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” he said. “Hell, Alexander Carlson knew we wouldn’t have this monopoly forever. He’d be surprised that it lasted almost four hundred years.”

“That’s what really bothers me about all of this,” Nolan said. “Instead of holding destruction over everybody’s heads, we should have worked to shore up the Central Authority Zone Republic. We’re at an extreme risk of losing that.”

“We’ve already lost it, from the sounds of it,” Cyrus said.

“Nolan, your side project was a reaction against that situation,” Vermillion said. “It may still be our only hope.”

“Too little too late, Chairman, but I’m still willing to work it with every ounce of strength I have,” Nolan said. “We should stay on the long game constantly, no matter what.”

“What’s he talking about?” JJ whispered to me. I shook my head no, hoping nobody else noticed.

“This conversation is too heavy on philosophy and woulda coulda shoulda,” Deacon said. “How are we gonna keep from getting blown to bits, and hold off the dark forces for as long as possible?”

“This is why I always want somebody from Engineering present at meetings like this,” Vermillion said. “He’s right. We’ve got a crisis now and we’ll have to deal with it using the tools at our disposal. We’ve also got the longer-term strategy which we’ll run at the same time.”

“Then let’s reset this conversation,” I said. “Let’s start with what we know for sure.”

“Go ahead,” Vermillion said.

I took a deep breath. “Here goes. We know that all three of our ships are wanted, as are the bridge crews for each and all Corporation officials not yet captured. We know that Simone and her Overlords are the party who wants to capture us.”

“Correct,” Vermillion said. “What else?”

“We know that the Overlords are trying to clamp down on the Central Authority Zone,” JJ said. “We know that there is wide-scale resistance happening.”

Was happening,” Tim said. “I’ve been watching. After that skirmish between the Earth ships and the Overlords, travel appears to have stopped again.”

“Where?” Cyrus asked.

“The entire zone,” Tim said.

“And yet you said the Overlord ships didn’t pursue the Earth ships when that engagement was over,” Nolan said.

“That is still holding true,” Tim said. “The Earth ships are back home. Most of them landed. A few are in orbit.”

“There was a threat made,” Nolan said. “We need to figure out what kind of threat it was.”

“Do any of us know what the retrofit the Overlords are demanding consists of?” I asked.

“It’s got to be a new remote self-destruct that they control,” Cyrus said.

“We have some intel on that,” Vermillion said. “We’re working to verify it.”

“Can you talk about it?” Deacon asked.

“Nothing leaves this room,” Vermillion said. “Understand? Everybody agree?”

“Yes sir,” I said. Cyrus said the same, everybody else either said yes or shook their heads yes.

“Of course the Samson Drive self-destruct was the first thing we thought about. Our source said the change had nothing to do with the Samson Drives.”

“Then what is it?” Cyrus asked.

“The PA Net software,” Vermillion said. “They want the capability to surveil individuals while they’re aboard starships, and they are introducing the capability to force an automatic download of the entire contents of shipboard PA Nets whenever the ship is near a network node.”

JJ’s face went white. “They’re pushing the stun capability, too.”

“Son of a bitch,” Tim said. “If they did the retrofit on this ship, they could zap all of us right this second. Knock us out cold or worse.”

“Or worse?” JJ asked.

“It’s easy to turn a stun into a kill, my dear,” Nolan said.

To be continued…

 

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Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 14 – Ice Base

I hurried back to the bridge, my head throbbing. JJ’s brow furrowed. “Something’s wrong.”

“Get the Tristar back,” I said, sitting in the captain’s chair.”

“Yes sir,” JJ said, making the connection.

“Cyrus, Captain Clarke wants to talk to you.”

“Go ahead,” he said.

“Get off that planet. It’s a trap. I just talked to Vermillion. He didn’t give you that order. Jump to Amberis. He’ll meet us there.”

“Dammit,” Cyrus said. “Where’s Vermillion?”

“He’s on the New Jersey,” I said. “Better get out of there in a hurry.”

“Got it,” Cyrus said. “Thanks.”

The call ended.

“Vermillion is on the New Jersey?” Nolan asked.

“Yep, and guess who else got on board?”

“Uh oh,” Tim said.

“Ensign Daniels,” I said. “They’re going to arrest him and scan the entire ship for transmitters.”

“That ship can’t cloak,” JJ said. “They’re in trouble.”

I smiled, the thought of my ship calming the pounding in my head.

Nolan eyed me, then chuckled. “They retrofitted the New Jersey?”

“You got it,” I said, “and it’s still my ship. We’re meeting here. I’ll be taking command again.”

“With who else?” Tim asked. “They aren’t gonna leave Izzy and I on this little ship, I hope.”

“Oh, I don’t know, this is a good little ship,” Nolan said.

“We’ll let Vermillion settle that.” I got on my PA. “Deacon.”

“Yes, Cappy, what’s up?”

“We can take that chair out of the shielded storage cabinet. Could you take it to my stateroom, please?”

“Yes sir,” he said.

“Thanks.” I ended the call. “What else showed up in the documents?”

“Not much,” Izzy said. “They added the leadership of the New Jersey to the Overlords document.”

“And the news reports?”

“Official news is trying to tell people how much of a danger our three ships are to everybody,” Nolan said. “Morons.”

“And the not-so-official report?”

“Worlds in the Central Authority Zone are beginning to ignore the Overlord’s edict about space travel and submitting their ships for retrofit,” Nolan said. “There’s a mood of rebellion growing everywhere except the level one planets.”

I smiled. “I suspect we’ll be helping that along. Have you verified it?”

“Yeah,” Tim said. “The traffic is nowhere near normal levels yet, but it’s increasing by the hour.”

“Keep scanning,” I said. “If the Overlords begin taking out ships that defy their illegal order, I want to know about it.”

“There were some disturbing comments about Earth,” Izzy said. “About Overlord operatives landing in the major cities like storm troopers. They’re demanding that national governments be dissolved. Apparently, it’s not going well for them.”

Nolan chuckled. “Yes, this is one time that I admire the rather backwards society on Earth.”

I shook my head. “Freedom is always messy, Nolan.”

“Captain, the Tristar just jumped away from Aurora Calista,” JJ said.

“Good. Hope they didn’t get attacked.”

“If they did, there’ll be wreckage orbiting that planet,” Tim said.

“We don’t want to tip our hand,” Nolan said. “It’s better if the enemy thinks all we can do is run and hide.”

“We also have no idea what capabilities the Clan has now,” I said. My PA beeped.

“Cappy, we just put the chair into your stateroom.”

“Great, thanks,” I said.

“So now you can chat with Vermillion when he’s in a wormhole?” Izzy asked.

I got up. “Yep. I’m gonna go make contact. They should be traveling right now.”

“Wish the Tristar had one of those,” JJ said.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure that’s coming.” I left the bridge, arriving at my stateroom just as Deacon’s men were leaving. I locked the door and got into the chair, tapping the pad under the arm. The holographic frame appeared, and I called Vermillion. He answered right away, his face appearing in front of me.

“Good, you got it out of storage,” Vermillion said.

“Yes. You’re in the jump?”

“We are. Thanks for calling the Tristar and getting them off Aurora Calista. You beat me to it.”

“It was a trap. Pretty obvious. Wish we could bring Cyrus into this conversation.”

“We’ve got a device for them, and there’s already one in your stateroom on the New Jersey.”

“Perfect,” I said. “We got some of the news reports. The Central Authority added the New Jersey to their wanted bulletin.”

“Simone is no dummy. You know she’s positioning herself as some sort of emperor.”

“She’s not going to have an easy time. The Central Authority is helping her, of course. Their official news broadcast played up how much of a danger the Tristar, Zephyrus, and New Jersey are to the Zone.”

Vermillion chuckled. “We’re a danger to her. We’re the last hope of freedom in the Zone, but we’ve got the deck stacked against us. We might lose.”

“Nolan’s alternative news source said that worlds all over the Zone are rebelling. Space traffic is starting again. Tim verified it with his scans.”

“What’s the alternate source?”

“Some guy named Hamilton Zenos,” I said.

“He’s kind of a crackpot.”

I chuckled. “Well, he did get some digs in about the Samson Corporation and their veto power over elected officials.”

“Heard it all before. I partly agree. The problem with private benevolent forces is that they rarely stay benevolent forever. Somebody who just wants power always takes over eventually.”

“Well, in any event, we’re keeping up our scans, watching for any Overlord attacks on innocent commerce in the shipping lanes.”

“Don’t try to do anything about it yet,” Vermillion said. “If you were on the Tristar I’d have a different attitude, but the Zephyrus is a little light on firepower. At least for now.”

“Oh, you’re going to upgrade this ship’s shields and plasma weapons? How? Do we have any bases left?”

“We have five bases, none of which are on Earth. Sorry, I’m not sharing their whereabouts until I have to.”

“Understand. So how are we gonna do upgrades?”

“We’ve got the New Jersey set up as a mobile technology lab.”

I leaned back in my chair. “You saw this coming?”

“For more than a year,” Vermillion said. “Simone thinks she’s crippled the Samson Corporation. From a management standpoint, she’s right. They captured a lot of key people.”

“That’s why you restrict info with need-to-know. You were able to preserve the technical capability?”

“Yes. The enhanced cloaking capability and the module that Nolan helped us with were both developed to help us sneak Corporation assets and data to secret locations. We never planned to use it for battle, until one of our best designers came up with the enhanced shields and the new plasma weapons.”

“How about Ensign Daniels?”

“Captured and incarcerated. He had a transmit device in a very uncomfortable place.”

“You’re still gonna scan the entire ship, though, right?”

“Yes, we’re working on that now,” Vermillion said. “I’d better go. We were in the middle of something. Thanks for calling. Good to know that we can communicate no matter what.”

“Yes sir. Talk to you soon.”

Vermillion’s face disappeared, and I shut down the system. My head was still bothering me a little, so I took a shot from my inhaler, then went back to the bridge.

“You get him?” Tim asked.

I nodded. “They captured Ensign Daniels. He had a transmitter on his person. They’re still working the scan of the ship.”

“That ship is ten kilometers long, and four kilometers wide,” Nolan said. “It’s gonna take a little while. Wish he wouldn’t have gotten onboard.”

“You and me both,” I said. “Find anything more out about this planet?”

“They’re in the later stage of level seven. There’s no computer technology, of course, but they have telegraph and the beginnings of a radio broadcasting system. I’ve been analyzing transmissions via both. This is a very busy world. I’d be very surprised if there’s been no exploration of the poles. We need to up our game with planet surveys.”

“So you’re saying this is nearly to level eight,” I said. “Wonderful. Maybe we ought to meet someplace else.”

“I’d recommend that,” Nolan said. “There’s another place nearby. Level ten. Demonia One.”

“That sounds a little frightening,” Izzy said. “I take it there’s a Demonia Two someplace?”

“Yes, and a three as well.”

“Why the devilish name?” Tim asked.

“All three revolve around the same red star,” Nolan said.

Tim shook his head. “Most red stars are too cool.”

“The Demonia worlds are in closer orbit to their stars than most inhabitable planets. The one furthest away is in a perpetual ice age, but the other two are quite nice, from what I’ve been reading.”

“How close are they to natural wormholes?” I asked.

“Closer than here, but still many months away, Captain. They’d be safe for quite a while, unless the Clan planned to arrive a year ago.”

“What levels are the other two?” Tim asked.

Demonia Two is a level nine, and Demonia Three is a level eight,” Nolan said.

“So, we’re going to the ice age planet?” Izzy asked.

Nolan chuckled. “No, that one is Demonia Three – the most advanced. Cold climates are tough, but they tend to push societies towards faster advancement.”

“Counter-intuitive,” I said. “These planets will mature slowly, if ever.”

“Very wise, Captain,” Nolan said.

“Why?” Izzy asked.

“They’re too close to their star, so every time there’s a solar storm they’ll lose their power grids. That’s another advantage for Demonia Three – they’re a little further out. They might get through level six without too many setbacks.”

“Should we suggest meeting on Demonia One instead of here on Amberis?” JJ asked.

“Chairman Vermillion already knows the score on this,” Nolan said. “He’s got a reason to go to Amberis. I’m guessing it has something to do with fuel.”

Nolan froze, looking at his PA.

“What?” I asked.

“Nanos found some activity,” he said. “Not far away.”

“Coming this way?” Tim asked.

“Yes,” Nolan said. “Captain, we’d better take the Zephyrus into a hover, or they’ll run into us.”

“Do it, Izzy,” I said.

She nodded, talking into her PA. The ship vibrated slightly as we went up.

“Is a thousand feet enough, Captain?” Izzy asked.

“Yeah, just hold it here,” I said. “Nolan, put the nano video feed on screen.”

Nolan did that. “It’s a train of dog sleds. They must have a base nearby.”

“What’s that big thing following them?” Tim asked.

Nolan chuckled. “That’s a wooly mammoth. Guess they’ve got the heavy stuff on that sled it’s pulling.”

“They survived on this planet to level seven?” JJ asked.

“Appears that way,” Nolan said. “It’s not that unusual. There are lots of worlds below level six that have mammoths but no elephants. Luck of the draw.”

They’re visible in the main cameras now,” Izzy said.

I nodded. “Let’s put those on screen. Better video quality.”

Nolan sent the video to the screen in a sectioned view. “Interesting. These aren’t indigenous people. Look at their clothes. Looks like military to me.”

“I was just gonna say that,” Tim said. “Can we see their base?”

“Nope, must not have enough metal to set off our sensors,” Nolan said. “They’re moving slow, so the nanos will follow them all the way there.”

“Want me to set down, Captain?” Izzy asked. “They’re past us.”

“Yeah, go ahead, but let’s release more nanos to keep watch.”

“Already did, Captain,” Nolan said.

My PA buzzed. “Hey, Deacon.”

“Everything okay, Cappy?”

“Yeah, we just had to get out of the way for a few minutes. Dog and mammoth sleds were coming right at us.”

“Did you say mammoth sled?”

I laughed. “Yeah, they had one pulling a big sled.”

“Save that video. I’ve got to see it.”

“No problem. Everything okay down there?”

“Everything’s fine, Cappy. Thanks.”

The call ended.

“Dammit,” Tim muttered.

“What happened?” Izzy asked.

“There’s a battle going on in the free space between Earth and Mars. Several ships on both sides.”

“Who?” Nolan asked.

“Local Earth ships on one side, Overlords on the other.”

“Who’s winning?” Izzy asked.

“Can’t tell from here,” Tim said. “This sucks.”

“No, it’s actually good,” Nolan said. “We’re not going down without a fight. It will give inspiration to the entire Zone.”

I sat in my chair, thinking it through. Izzy noticed.

“Why would Earth ships fight in that location?” she asked. “I know where the shipping lanes are, and that’s not one of them.”

“It’s a good route to use if you wanted to take out the Overlord base orbiting Mars,” Nolan said.

“That’s what I was thinking,” I said. “There aren’t enough Earth ships there to take out the Overlords Centurion class ships, though.”

“They figured that out,” Tim said. “The Earth ships are heading back to Earth.”

“Are the Centurion ships following?” JJ asked.

“Not so far,” Tim said.

“Let’s hope that they don’t,” JJ said. “Since the Corporation doesn’t have the Samson Drive remote destruct capability anymore, things are going to get much more violent.”

“That situation won’t hold for long,” Nolan said. “You told us yourself – a fix has been tested on the Tristar.”

JJ sighed. “True, but the transmit stations were all on Earth.”

I stifled the impulse to mention the five off-Earth Corporation bases. “I can’t wait to get the New Jersey back. That Overlord station would be a good target.”

Nolan snickered. “Yeah, that would get their attention, and it would remove the threat to Earth.”

“Only some of it,” JJ said. “There are Central Authority and Overlord ships all over the Zone, and we’ve still got the wild card to deal with.”

“The Clan?” Tim asked.

“Yes.”

“Remember that the Clan might not be on the side of the Central Authority,” I said. “Hell, they might not be on anybody’s side but their own, given what we know to be the conditions in the Clan Zone.”

“Whoa,” Izzy said. “Energy sensors going nuts. Something arrived, but I can’t see it. Nolan, look at your sensors.”

Nolan glanced at her, then turned to his station. He looked back at me and smiled.

“What?”

“Has to be the New Jersey.”

“Already?” Tim asked.

I smiled. “She wasn’t as far away as the Tristar.”

“This world probably has observatories already, and that ship is huge,” Tim said.

“They’re cloaked,” Nolan said. “Nice job with the energy sensors, Izzy. Wasn’t easy to see. Perhaps we should work on some technology to hide the energy profile more completely.”

“We’re being hailed, Captain,” Izzy said.

I nodded. “Put it on screen.” The picture lit up, Andrea’s smiling face appearing in front of us.

“Hello, Captain Clarke.”

“You guys got here fast.”

“Nolan’s module increased the speed more than expected,” she said. “It responds well to a large power source. Where are you?”

“Near the south pole,” I said. “There’s some human traffic here. We just saw it.”

“Mechanized?” asked Andrea.

I laughed. “Dog sleds, and a huge sled pulled by a wooly mammoth.”

“You’re joking.”

“I’d never joke about something like that, Andrea.”

Nolan chuckled. “They’re still moving, Captain. If they go much further we’ll lose contact with our nanos. Wish we had a stealth drone.”

“No worries, we can see the base,” Andrea said. “It’s a collection of wooden huts. Our sensors are showing nearly a thousand bio-hits.”

“There’s a thousand humans here?” Izzy asked.

Nolan laughed. “Five hundred of those could be chickens and goats.”

“Oh,” Izzy said. “Sorry.”

“Do you want to land near us?” I asked.

“No, we’ve got spaces cleared for you and the Tristar in the main bay.”

“What about the fighters?” I asked.

“We only kept a quarter of them onboard,” Andrea said. “They’ll give away our position, and get in the way during a battle. Most of them are guarding our off-Earth bases.”

I smiled. You also needed the space to move the bases off Earth. “Do you want us up there now?”

“The Chairman said it can wait until the Tristar gets here. Stay there and observe. We might have a reason to infiltrate the planet briefly.”

“Knew it,” Nolan said. “Fuel.”

“No comment, Nolan,” Andrea said.

“How’d you get my module on that ship?” Nolan asked.

“A commando team plucked it off the captured ship,” Andrea said. “We’d like you to create another one for us, to put onto the Tristar. I think you’ll find we have everything you need on the New Jersey.”

“Good, I’d be happy too,” Nolan said, “although with the new cloaking device you get most of the same capability.”

“You’re right, but it takes more fuel to have that running all the time,” Andrea said, “and there is a significant increase in speed with your module.”

Chairman Vermillion appeared next to Andrea. “Greetings.”

“Hello, Chairman,” I said. “Nice to have you here.”

“Nice to be here,” he said. “We were looking over our shoulder until Nolan gave us the mod for the cloaking device, but still it’s nice to be so far away from those damn natural wormholes.”

“How come you want us to wait for the Tristar before coming up?”

Vermillion smiled. “Not to sound paranoid, but I’ve never liked having all of our eggs in one basket for very long. Especially when we had an enemy plant on board.”

“Is the scan completed yet?” Nolan asked.

“Almost,” Andrea said. “This ship is huge. Takes a while. He had time to be all over it. Saw him popping up all over the place in the surveillance video.”

“Does the crew know the capabilities of the ship?” JJ asked.

“No,” Vermillion said, “but he might have picked something up, if he knows anything about Samson Drives or shield algorithms.”

“He’s not talking?” I asked.

“Of course not,” Vermillion said. “No matter. We’ll keep him alive for now. If the action gets too heavy we’ll dump him someplace.”

“You mean on a planet?” JJ asked.

Vermillion chuckled. “No, that’s not what I meant.”

JJ shot a worried glance at me, which Vermillion noticed.

“We’re at war, JJ,” Vermillion said. “The life and liberty of many trillions of people hang in the balance. We won’t toy with this character, and we won’t leave him someplace where he’ll make noise and be rescued. He’s seen a lot of this ship. He might not have any idea what he’s looking at, but I’m not willing to take that risk.”

“Of course, sir,” JJ said. “Sorry.”

“The Tristar should be getting here shortly,” Nolan said. “I’d estimate less than an hour.”

“Then we’ll see you soon,” Andrea said.

To be continued…

 

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Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 13 – Amberis

I’d been covering the bridge for most of the night into mid-morning, trying to doze in my captain’s chair for short periods. Izzy had been to her state room for several hours, as had Tim. Nolan retired earlier. I was hoping he got plenty of sleep. We were going to need him sharp.

“Anything happen, Captain?” Izzy asked as she walked onto the bridge.

“No. Did you sleep enough?”

“I did about as well as normal,” she said. “It’s rare that I get more than five and a half hours. How about you?”

“Dozed a little up here, but I also slept in my room before I got back.”

Nolan showed up, looking refreshed. “Good morning.”

I nodded at him. “Did you get my request about Valla Cappos?”

“I did, I’m afraid.”

“Uh oh, what’d you find out?”

“Valla Cappos has a very long orbit around it’s star, which is larger than Earth’s sun by quite a bit. Their seasonal cycle is much longer than normal as a result.”

“How long?” Izzy asked.

“Their complete cycle is four Earth years. They’ve been in the cold season for a year and a half.”

“Crap, so the Clan could’ve been there for that long?” I asked.

“Depends on how accurate the Neanderthal’s memory is,” Nolan said. “His people should be moving back to their other home in roughly six Earth months.”

“I didn’t get the impression that they’d been fighting that long,” I said. “Seems like it’d be a bigger deal with a lot more casualties.”

Nolan shrugged. “Maybe there was a big lag between being aware of the Clan presence and fighting with them.”

“Barney said he saw the ship land in the lake,” I said.

“We’re getting close to Amberis,” Izzy said, looking on her PA.

“Should be a few more hours,” I said.

Nolan smiled. “My module sped the ship up, remember? I never re-calibrated the time estimate algorithm.”

“Maybe you should do that, then.”

“I will, Captain. Might want to let JJ know we’re getting close. We should call the Tristar from orbit, in case we need to disappear quickly.”

I nodded, sending the call through my PA. Tim walked in, looking groggy.

“Good morning,” Izzy said.

Tim managed only a nod, plopping down into the first mate’s chair. “We’re close already. My nav alarm went off. Why early?”

“Nolan needs to adjust the estimator to account for his module,” Izzy said.

“That’s not done yet? Seemed to be pretty accurate.”

“For short trips it’s not as noticeable,” Nolan said. “I’ll get on it.”

JJ walked in. “Almost there already, huh?”

“Yep,” I said. “We want to attempt a call to the Tristar when we’re in orbit, assuming they’re out of their jump by that time.”

“Let me check their position,” JJ said, sitting down, eyes glued to her PA.

“I’m anxious to get some more news reports,” Nolan said. “Ought to be some interesting developments.”

“They’re no longer in the wormhole, Captain,” JJ said. “Can’t tell if they’re in orbit or on the surface yet, though. We’ll be able to tell when we’re out of the jump.”

Nolan turned towards me. “The estimation algorithm is fixed, Captain.”

“Thanks, Nolan. How does your module impact fuel calculations?”

“I took care of that before we took off from Valla Cappos,” he said. “We’re getting better fuel economy, by the way. Not by a huge amount, but the difference will add up over time.”

“We’re coming out,” Izzy said, her comment just before we all felt the static rush. Izzy turned on the cameras and the big screen. The blue-green planet was below us. “It’s beautiful.”

“Similar to Earth,” Nolan said. “Seasons are a little different, and their days are about an Earth week long due to their slower rotation, but otherwise there isn’t much difference. Gravity is a little heavier due to their large size.”

“How big is it?” Tim asked.

“About three times the volume of Earth,” Nolan said. “It’s closer to the size of my home planet. I’ll miss the added jump in my step that I get on Earth and other smaller worlds.”

“Trying the Tristar,” JJ said, eyes on her PA. “Connected to their COMM. Paging the Captain.”

“Put it on the main speakers and screen,” I said. JJ nodded and did that.

“JJ?” A bearded man’s face showed up on the screen, looking very relieved. “I’m so glad you’re alive. I feared the worst when Vermillion said you weren’t on the EVAC.”

“Cyrus, so glad you got away,” JJ said. “I’m on the Zephyrus.”

“I figured that was a possibility. Is Chairman Vermillion with you?”

I chuckled. “Hi, Cyrus. We were hoping he was with you.”

“Captain Clarke. You’re still on that little ship? Who’s got the New Jersey?”

“Vermillion said never mind,” I said. “Given current circumstances, I’d much rather be on this ship.”

Nolan moved into view of JJ’s PA. “Captain Ostermann, I’m Nolan.”

“Heard of you,” Cyrus said.

“Why did you go to Aurora Calista?”

Cyrus’s brow furrowed. “Talking about that would break protocol.”

“We might be the last of the Corporation still alive, Cyrus,” I said. “I’ve shared everything Vermillion told me with the bridge crew and JJ. At this point I think we can speak openly.”

Cyrus was silent for a moment.

“I’ve done the same,” JJ said. “We all know the added capabilities of the Tristar.”

“Where are you guys?” Cyrus asked.

“Orbiting Amberis,” I said.

“Amberis? That’s in the middle of nowhere.”

“Exactly,” Nolan said.

“Why are you at Aurora Calista?” I asked.

Cyrus sighed. “I’ll probably regret this. Chairman Vermillion asked me to come here and wait for further instructions.”

“Did you get that order face to face?” Nolan asked.

“No, a message from him hit my PA as we were leaving the South Pacific base.”

“Dammit,” I said. “You’re cloaked, right?”

“Yes,” Cyrus said, “although Vermillion suggested I keep it off to save fuel. I didn’t feel comfortable with that.”

“Are you on the surface?” Nolan asked.

“Yes, near the equator. What do I need to worry about, JJ? I can still read your expressions, you know.”

“We were on our way there too,” she said.

“I didn’t see you.”

“Nolan removed the trace component from the cloaking device, and we’ve got that new Samson Drive module on this ship. You won’t see us.”

Cyrus laughed. “You mean that ship is more illegal than this one?”

“Afraid so, Captain Ostermann,” Nolan said.

“Why were you coming here, and why’d you change course?” Cyrus asked.

“Did Vermillion tell you that we were attacked by a Clan ship on Valla Cappos?” I asked.

“What? No.”

“We were, and I told him about it,” I said. “We assumed that the Clan was using natural worm holes to send ships with un-enhanced star drives. Valla Cappos is within seconds of a natural worm hole.”

“Uh oh,” Cyrus said. “There’s natural worm holes here. My science officer told me that earlier. I didn’t think much of it.”

“Yes, there’s a natural wormhole from the Clan Zone to that planet, and another natural worm hole to Earth.”

“You think the Clan did the railgun attacks?” Cyrus asked.

“That thought crossed our minds,” I said. “You really have no idea where Vermillion is?”

“That is correct. I need to man the battle stations. If a Clan ship shows up here, I’m not going down without a fight.”

“You’re cloaked,” JJ said. “No Clan ship is gonna see you.”

Nolan stood up. “We can’t count on that. The Tristar is still putting out the tracer. Corporation proprietary technology can no longer be considered under Corporation control. I suggest you connect me with your science officer, Captain Ostermann, so I can walk him through the software alteration to remove the tracer. Then I suggest you leave that planet immediately.”

“That’s illegal,” Cyrus said. “We had to agree not to do that to save our prototype program.”

I chuckled. “Cyrus, that’s the least of our worries right now. Make sure your shields are at a hundred percent and stay cloaked. I’d suggest you take Nolan up on his offer, and then perhaps we should meet someplace other than there.”

“Like where, for instance?” Cyrus asked.

“Someplace like our current location,” JJ said. “There aren’t any natural wormholes around here.”

Cyrus sat silently for a moment, sweat glistening on his forehead. “Okay, Nolan, I’ll put you in contact with our science officer. Her name is Dame O’Rourke.”

“Thank you,” Nolan said. He turned to me. “Captain, I downloaded everything in my channels. There are new documents from both the Central Authority and the Overlords, and a few news reports. We should wait on them until I’ve chatted with O’Rourke, though.”

“Agreed,” I said.

Nolan’s PA beeped, so he turned towards his station and engaged in a hushed conversation.

“They’ll be lucky if they aren’t already made,” Tim whispered.

“Any ship that tries to take the Tristar is gonna get a bad surprise,” JJ said.

“Cyrus, who else knows the battle capabilities of the Tristar, that you know of?” I asked.

“You know about that?” he asked.

“I told them,” JJ said.

Cyrus nodded. “Should have guessed, sorry. Other than the direct technical team, the only person I’ve discussed it with was Vermillion.”

“He’s been keeping things close to the vest,” I said.

“There’s an understatement,” Cyrus quipped. “You don’t think he’s working with the Clan, do you? One of the crew saw a story about that.”

I shrugged. “I have no idea. He might have been killed or captured. Do you know about the stand-down of space travel being enforced by the Overlords?”

“Yeah, I heard. They don’t have the power to do that.”

“Heard anything from the Senate or the Executive?” I asked.

“No, but we’ve been traveling. This world is a fairly long trip from Earth.”

“Captain, the Tristar has the cloaking alteration in place,” Nolan said.

I nodded. “Thanks, Nolan. Cyrus, what do you want to do?”

“Well, now that we’re truly invisible, I want to stay here and watch for at least a short period of time, just in case Vermillion finds a way to get here. Let’s keep our COMM channel open, though.”

“Yes, and watch for Clan and Overlord ships,” Nolan said.

“Got it,” Cyrus said.

“If you hear from Vermillion, let us know right away, but don’t mention our position,” JJ said.

“Will do. I need to go chat with my crew. Look out for yourselves.”

Cyrus’s face disappeared from the screen.

“Shall I go down to the south pole, Captain? Nolan gave me the coordinates.”

“Yes, might as well,” I said. Izzy turned to her PA and spoke to it, all our stomachs dropping as we flew down to the surface.

I eyed Nolan. “As soon as we’re settled, I want to release nanos to keep an eye out.”

Nolan nodded. “I was going to suggest that, Captain. There’s more risk of rogue leaders on level seven planets than there are on the higher levels. Seems they don’t want to give up certain modern technologies if they can help it.”

“Exactly. After you’ve done that, let’s look at the documents.”

“Yes sir,” Nolan said.

I turned to JJ. “What do you think?”

“About Cyrus? He wasn’t under duress. He feels very uncomfortable with the situation, of course.”

“He can join the club on that one.”

JJ smiled. “Pretty much. You think there’s a trap laid for them there, don’t you?”

“I think it’s possible, that’s all. Time will tell. I forgot to ask Cyrus how much fuel he has.”

“Two ships can’t take on the entire Central Authority, you know,” JJ said. “We’ll run out of fuel or get trapped eventually, unless we escape to the Free Zone.”

“Everybody keeps bringing that up. If we’ve got as bad a problem as it sounds like, the Free Zone won’t be a safe haven for long.”

Tim shook his head. “It’s worse than that. Anybody who recognizes this ship will know it’s valuable. We’ll be fighting off attempts to steal it.”

“Yeah, now I wish we didn’t have the gold plating,” Izzy said. “We stick out like a sore thumb.”

“When we’re not cloaked,” Nolan said. “Nanos away, Captain. Should I put the documents up?”

“Yeah, start with the Central Authority doc, okay?”

“Will do, Captain,” Nolan said, putting the document on the screen. We all read it.

“There’s only one difference from the document they released yesterday,” Tim said.

I looked at it, my heart pounding.

“Wasn’t that your ship?” JJ asked. “It’s wanted too? Did it have any advanced technology on it?”

“Not that I was aware of,” I said. “Now it’s not surprising that Vermillion wouldn’t tell me who the captain of the New Jersey is.”

“Ten to one Vermillion is on that ship,” Nolan said.

“If he snuck the capabilities of the Tristar and Zephyrus onto that ship, it’ll be tough to deal with,” JJ said. “It’s our latest model battle star.”

“Do you know how to contact that ship, Captain?” Nolan asked.

“I know some security codes,” I said. “I’ll be shocked if they haven’t been changed, though. Those codes are reserved for the captain only, and that’s not me anymore.”

JJ chuckled. “Don’t be so sure about that.”

“Are you suggesting that I can be in two places at once?”

“No, I’m suggesting that Vermillion had no intention of moving you permanently off the New Jersey. He’s probably trying to contact you now. You are wasted on a ship this size, you know.”

I sighed. “I don’t know what to think at this point. I’ll go try the New Jersey. I’ll have to do that in my stateroom. I need to run my PA through my private encryption link.”

“They’re still doing that?” Nolan asked. “They still don’t trust the encryption?”

“It’s not that,” I said. “They want you to be in a place where it’s unlikely anybody can force you. It makes sense. Ships the size of the New Jersey have at least forty-thousand people onboard.”

“You don’t want to hang around and look at the other documents?” Nolan asked.

“They’ll keep, but you guys go ahead,” I said as I left the bridge. I went through my stateroom door and locked it behind me, then went to my safe, using my fingerprints, retina scan, and my spoken password to open it. The token for the New Jersey sat inside, among other critical documents and tokens. I picked it up, and put it into my COMM unit, which was in the same cabinet as the safe. I got a green indicator, so I called the bridge. It buzzed several times, then clicked.

“Captain Clarke?” a cautious woman’s voice asked.

“Andrea. How are you?”

“On the run,” she said. “When are you coming back? The Captain’s chair is no place for a Science Officer.”

“I’m sure you’re doing a fine job.”

“Are the others with you?” she asked.

“Izzy, Tim, Deacon. Oh, and Nolan.”

“Nolan? What’s that jerk doing there?”

“Be nice. Where are you?”

“I’m not allowed to say, Captain.”

“You’re in command. It’s your call.”

“No, I’m just running the bridge. The Chairman is really in charge.”

“Good, Chairman Vermillion’s there. Can I talk to him please?”

“I’ll patch you to him.”

“Thanks, Andrea.”

“Get back here,” she said. Then I heard a click.

“There you are,” Vermillion said. “What happened to the holographic system? I’ve been trying to get you ever since we got free of Earth.”

“We didn’t know if you were captured or not, and we didn’t know if it made us traceable.”

“You didn’t discard it, did you?”

“No sir, we stuffed it into the shielded fuel compartment.”

“Oh. Not bad thinking, actually. Where are you?”

“Amberis, sitting near the south pole, with the cloaking device engaged.”

“A little off the beaten path, but that’s good while we sort things out. We can’t see you. Are you sure the new cloaking software is working?”

I felt my face flush. “Nolan altered the program to remove the trace export.”

Vermillion laughed. “Figures. Again, not such a bad idea given the circumstances. Did Nolan help the Tristar with that problem? We can’t see them either, all of a sudden. I’m starting to get worried.”

“You guessed it,” I said. “We can undo that.”

“No, don’t undo it. Get Nolan to call Andrea and walk her through the same procedure here. Almost all the Samson Corporation board and most of upper management have been captured, and a few of them know how to access the trace.”

“Did you rescue anybody from the South Pacific base?”

“We did what we could,” Vermillion said.

“Is there an Ensign Daniels onboard the New Jersey?”

“Just a second. I’ll run a search.”

“Thanks. How much of the advanced tech did you stuff onto the New Jersey?”

Vermillion snickered. “Your ship has all the latest capabilities, including some you don’t know about.”

“My ship?” I asked, a smile washing over my face.

“Yes, I never intended for you to stay on the Zephyrus, but I didn’t want the others to know that. You’ll like what we’ve done to her.”

“I already got a rundown of what the Tristar has,” I said. “I also shared info with JJ that you hadn’t told her. Hope you don’t mind. I thought it was necessary.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’d have done the same thing, but I’m glad I kept so much compartmentalized. We’d be in a lot worse shape if I didn’t, with so many of my staff and board captured.”

“So the New Jersey has the plasma burst mode capability and the enhanced shields?”

“Yes, and Nolan’s module,” Vermillion said. “Ensign Daniels is on board. Is that bad?”

“He was the plant. I’d arrest him and scan the ship if I were you.”

“Oh, dear,” he said. “Just a sec, I’ll give the order.”

I waited for a moment, listening to him murmur orders over his PA. “Okay. You stay on Amberis. We’ll join you there. I’ll send word to the Tristar to do the same. You’re cloaked all the time, right?”

“Yes sir,” I said. “This is a level seven world. We’ve released nanos as well, just in case there’s a rogue running this planet.”

“Good idea,” Vermillion said. “I’ll talk to you later. Oh, and get that holographic unit out of the fuel container. We’re gonna need it.”

“Yes sir,” I said. “One more thing.”

“What?”

“Did you tell the Tristar to go to Aurora Calista?”

“No, that’s the last place I’d send them. Are they still there?”

My headache was back. “Yes, waiting for you.”

To be continued…

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 12 – News Reports

We were on the bridge, reading the bulletin from the Central Authority off the big screen.

“Was Vermillion involved in something he shouldn’t have been?” I asked JJ.

“Not that I know of, Captain,” she said. “It’s not like he tells me everything, though. I didn’t know about the holographic COMM unit, for example.”

I laughed. “Well, we’re in the same boat there. I didn’t know about the Tristar’s enhanced weapons and shields. I thought it was mainly just a speedster with cloak capability.”

“Treason’s a pretty stiff charge,” Nolan said. “One that still carries the death penalty.”

“They wouldn’t dare,” JJ said.

“The Central Authority is being controlled by the Overlords,” Nolan said. “That’s why I’m fighting them. I considered Vermillion to be an ally, but I never trusted the Corporation at large.”

“Put the Overlord’s document up there,” I said.

Nolan sent it to the screen. He laughed when it came up. “Hell, why didn’t they put mug shots on this?”

“My God, all the principals are on there,” JJ said. “The entire board of the Corporation is there.”

“Principles hell, I’m on there,” Tim said. “I’m a nobody. What the hell?”

“We’re all on there,” I said. “It lists no crime, though, only wanted for questioning.

“They’re trying to clean up everybody who knows of the latest capabilities the Corporation has been experimenting with. Notice that the entire bridge crew of the Tristar is on there too.”

“Well screw them,” Tim said. “They have no right to do this.”

“Yes,” Nolan said. “Anybody they manage to capture will never see the light of day again.”

My anger was rising fast. “This can’t stand. Where the hell is the Senate? The Court system? The Chief Executive?”

“They haven’t ruled the Central Authority Zone for years,” Nolan said. “Elections mean nothing now.”

“What news reports did you download?” I asked.

“One official, one not so official, but much more trustworthy,” Nolan said.

“All right, let’s see them. Official first.”

“Yes sir,” Nolan said. He put it on screen, and we read silently.

Chairman Vermillion, the mercurial head of the Samson Corporation has disappeared, after the Central Authority released a warrant for his arrest. The charge is Treason, most specifically lying to the Supreme Court and the Senate about Overlord Leader Simone Alaster III, who was suspended over an attempt to capture a rogue Corporation prototype. Included in the indictment are charges that Vermillion was sharing advanced technology data with Clan operatives. Simone Alaster is now back in charge of the Overlords, and is leading the search for Chairman Vermillion, his board, Corporation upper management, and all personnel working on the prototype ships Tristar and Zephyrus. While the search is proceeding, the Overlords have suspended all space travel, and all starships having Samson Drives have been required to submit to inspection. Ships are expected to be grounded for up to a month.

“Holy crap,” Tim said. “Really?”

“I expected this,” Nolan said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“There’s been rumors that the Samson Drive destruct capability has been compromised. The Overlords are going to use this to place their own controls on the drives. They will disband the Corporation and move to take tighter control over the Central Authority Zone. We are heading into dark times.”

“Not if I can help it,” I said. “Put that last article up there.”

“Yes sir,” Nolan said. The last article appeared on the screen.

Well, all, it’s started. The Central Authority and their Gestapo… errr… The Overlords have moved to take ultimate power over the Zone away from the Samson Corporation. The Government media has told you a tale, meant to outrage you all, with hints of collaboration between Chairman Vermillion and the evil Clan, who have problems of their own so disastrous that their fleet of warships are beginning to desert, to the Free Zone and apparently to certain backwater parts of our Zone as well.

It’s certainly not hard to determine that they’re hiding a lot of this rapidly moving story. We have eyewitness accounts of railgun attacks on all of Earth’s major Samson Corporation facilities, starting with their undersea research base in the South Pacific. Since they can’t kill everybody who’s seen these events (we hope) there will have to be a story put out eventually. Or maybe the Overlords don’t care. Stalin and Mao did plenty of outright lying to their population, and it didn’t make a bit of difference for them. They just wiped out anybody who suggested they weren’t telling the truth… and in many cases everybody that the truth-teller knew. I fear that’s the world we are drifting into.

Meanwhile, where are the Zephyrus and Tristar? Nobody knows for sure what their exact capabilities are, but sources have told us that attempts to explode their Samson Drives have failed. What does that little tidbit of information tell us? It tells us that the Overlords had operatives within the Samson Corporation, because they hold the keys to the remote destruct capability. You all know I’ve had big problems with the Samson Corporation for years. It’s an un-elected group of rich and powerful people who have the ultimate veto power over our elected officials. Yes, I know they’ve kept the piece for the last three-hundred and eighty years, but is this really different from Pax Romana, where Roman Emperors ruled with an iron fist and did what they liked to the population, allowing slavery and other horrors while the elites enjoyed the luxurious fruits of increased commerce?

Hopefully whoever ends up running the Central Authority Zone takes a long, hard look at the current problems in the Clan Zone. Their recent actions don’t give me much confidence. If you see my stories being suppressed in the near future, fear the worst.

Hamilton Zenos

I shook my head after reading it. “This is a little too conspiratorial for my liking, Nolan.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Captain,” Nolan said. “Hamilton got a lot of things correct. Who else has mentioned the fact that Clan ships are sneaking into our zone?”

“Do you know this man personally?” I asked.

Nolan chuckled. “You want to know if I planted the Clan story. Nope, it wasn’t me. Honest.”

I stared at him for a long moment, then sighed. “All right, it is good to hear both sides of the story, and we know the official story is propaganda.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I concur,” JJ said. “There’s something I left out about the Tristar. Nobody else in the Corporation knows. Vermillion swore me to secrecy.”

“Aw, crap, here it comes,” Tim said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“The Chairman knew that the Samson Drive remote destruct capability has been compromised. Somebody on the inside made some changes to the program and sent a patch to all the Central Authority ships.”

“Wait, you mean that capability doesn’t exist anymore?” Izzy asked.

“That’s not what I said,” JJ said. “We developed a work around. That’s part of what the Tristar has been working on.”

My head started to throb with a near blinding headache. “So the Tristar can be blown up?”

JJ shook her head no. “Not unless somebody re-connects the self-destruct module to the Samson Drive, and that would have to be done manually on the Tristar. We ran a successful test last week, though. The new program was able to trip the destruct device. I’d be interested to know if the Overlords have found that out.”

“Does it work on this ship while it’s cloaked?” Nolan asked, his brow furrowed.

“No, but we were working that situation. The lab that was involved was at the South Pacific base.”

“Wonder if the brain trust for that survived?” Tim asked.

“That’s what we need to find out,” I said. “If they did, they might be forced to complete their work, but that only gives them the capability to blow up this ship and the Tristar.”

“As far as we know, Captain,” JJ said. “You know how Vermillion is. I can’t guarantee that there are no other prototype ships out there with the new cloaking technology. Are you okay?”

“Splitting headache,” I said. “Nolan, where are we headed?”

“Someplace nobody will expect.”

“Level?”

“Seven,” Nolan said.

I froze, eyeing him. “Are you nuts?”

“We can’t do that,” Tim said. “It’s nearly impossible to hide ourselves there.”

“We’ve got cloaking capability, remember?” Nolan said.

“What’s level seven again?” Izzy asked.

“In Earth terms?” Nolan asked. “From the Renaissance through the Industrial Revolution.”

“Actually, he’s right, our cloaking capability does change things,” JJ said. “Certainly no ship other than the Tristar would follow us there.”

“I’m not suggesting that we land in an inhabited area,” Nolan said. “The planet I selected has an un-explored south pole.”

I thought about it for a moment. “What if we run into the Clan there?”

Nolan chuckled. “For now, I’m not targeting based on proximity to natural worm holes. Since Vermillion and some of his staff were aware we planned to check those worlds out, I think there’s a high probability that such worlds are being monitored. This world is in the middle of nowhere. Many light-years from the nearest natural wormhole.”

I thought about it for a moment. “Okay, you’ve got me interested. We’ll only stay there until we can reach the Tristar. Won’t be that long.”

Izzy’s brow furrowed. “And if the Tristar decides to target us?”

“We jump,” Tim said. “They can’t track us in a wormhole, and they can’t see us when we’re not in a wormhole either, since Nolan got rid of the trace capability in the new cloaking software. This is making sense to me.”

“So we have agreement?” Nolan asked.

I laughed. “You already have us going there.”

“We had to change course. I knew we’d have this conversation in plenty of time to change course again. Hell, we could get right on top of the planet and change course.”

“You still could have proposed it,” I said, “but it makes no difference. In this case you would’ve convinced me. What does the latest survey say about this planet?”

“The name is Amberis. I didn’t spend time looking at anything other than the situation at the poles. Seemed like a good bet after our experience at Cremonia.”

“It doesn’t have the weather problems, I hope,” Tim said.

That I checked on,” Nolan said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than Cremonia.”

“We need to look at the survey in detail,” I said. “If they’re in the later part of that timeframe, they probably have a robust merchant marine and more than one powerful navy.”

“Yeah, it’ll be harder to take a quick dip to ride out a storm,” Tim said.

“If it’s that bad we’ll just jump off the planet,” Nolan said.

“Is the Tristar still on the way to Aurora Calista?” I asked.

“I’ll check, Captain,” JJ said.

“Thanks.” I looked at Nolan. “Where could we get more fuel if we need to?”

Nolan’s brow furrowed. “We’ve got enough for almost a year, right? Did you figure something out that we didn’t know before?”

“If we join forces with the Tristar, they might need more. Especially if we have to fight.”

“Captain, the Tristar hasn’t changed course.”

“Thanks, JJ,” I said. “Nolan?”

“Two problems with that, Captain. Boron would be needed in large quantities, and it’s completely controlled by the leadership in each Zone. Even if we were to get a supply, we’d need a way to make it usable. The process requires economies of scale that make improvisation impossible. If we need more fuel, we’ll have to get it from existing stockpiles.”

“You mean we’d have to steal it,” Tim said.

“Or we’d have to get it from the black market,” Nolan said, “and the Overlords have done a good job clamping down on it there.”

“All right,” I said. “Just a thought.”

“I’ll do some searching around,” Nolan said.

“We aren’t classified as a military ship,” JJ said. “We could go to the Free Zone and get more fuel.”

“We’d burn a lot getting there,” Nolan said. “If we get there and can’t find a source, we’ll be stuck.”

“I thought we had almost a year’s supply,” JJ said.

“That calculation was based on normal usage around our current zone,” Izzy said. “Going that far on a jump at the high setting will burn about two-thirds of our fuel, according to the range calculator.”

“It’d be worse than that, because we’d have to do it cloaked,” Nolan said.

“Okay, let’s scratch that idea,” I said, my head still throbbing.

“We should stop the conjecture,” JJ said, “until we attempt to talk to the Tristar. Everything depends on that either way.”

“If things are as bad in the Central Authority Zone as we’re thinking right now, going to the Free Zone might be the only way for us to survive,” Izzy said. “We might have to do that, even if it’s a one-way trip.”

“If the Clan and the Central Authority are really getting together, the Free Zone might not be free for much longer,” Nolan said.

“Okay, let’s end this discussion here,” I said. “I need to lay down and get this damn headache to go away. See you guys in a little while. If anything unexpected happens, let me know right away.”

“We’ll be fine,” Izzy said. “We’ve got more than 24 hours to travel.”

I left the bridge, heading for my stateroom, my mind spinning, the pain moving around to the front of my head. Where’s Vermillion? Part of me wanted to move as far away from him as possible. He’s keeping too many secrets. Is he playing the Clan against the Central Authority? Maybe, if things are as bad as Nolan’s source was suggesting. If that were the case, I’d probably be on his side. My stateroom door opened as I arrived, and I went right to the medicine cabinet, picking up my inhaler. I selected tension pain and inhaled, feeling the medication hit my system immediately, dulling the pain. I laid down and drifted off to sleep.

I woke to a call on my PA. It was Dr. Hazelton.

“Captain Clarke?” she asked.

“Hello,” I said, checking the time. I’d slept for more than eight hours. “What’s up?”

“Barney just came out of his first session.”

“Already?”

“Yes, he was doing so well that we sped it up,” she said.

“Is he sleeping now?”

“Yes, Captain, but not for long.”

“I need to cleanse,” I said. “Be there in an hour or so. Thanks for letting me know.”

“Of course, Captain. See you soon.”

I used the cleansing unit, then ate a protein roll, wishing that the Holographic unit was safe to use. I sent a message to Tim, asking him how things were going. He returned the message after about two minutes, saying that he was dozing, but everything was fine. I promised to relieve him after stopping by sick bay.

Deneuve was sitting next to Barney’s bed when I got there.

“He’s still asleep, huh?” I whispered.

“Deneuve shook his head yes. “Hope we didn’t overcook him. He was absorbing the material way faster than the program was feeding it to him, so Dr. Hazelton sped it up.”

“He must be highly intelligent.”

“I could tell that before,” Deneuve said. “Look, he’s stirring.”

I watched as the Neanderthal’s eyes opened. He saw me first, panic washing across his face until Deneuve touched his shoulder.

“It’s okay, Barney,” he said softly. “How do you feel?”

Barney turned to look at him, eyes squinting slightly. “I’m scared.” His voice was a soft baritone, the pronunciation slightly off, like a small child’s.

“Don’t worry, nobody here will hurt you,” Deneuve said. “We fixed your arm. Remember?”

“What is this place? Is it your home?”

“It’s a space ship,” Deneuve said.

“What is that?” he asked, his eyes darting around.

“It flies us from one place to another,” Deneuve said calmly.

Barney’s brow furrowed. “Are those mean ones here? Where’s my bow?”

“You saw their space ship?” I asked. Barney looked over at me, his big eyes focusing intensely.

“Who is he?”

Deneuve petted his shoulder. “He’s our Captain.”

“What is a captain?”

“I’m the father of this place,” I said.

Deneuve nodded in agreement. “He won’t hurt you. He brought you here to heal you.”

Barney turned his head back towards me, his eyes still showing fear. “We saw a big thing drop into the lake where the fish are. Then they came out. They hurt my friends.”

“That’s why you were shooting arrows at them?” Deneuve asked.

“Yes. They were getting close to home.”

“Where was your home?” Deneuve asked.

“In the trees. I am hungry.”

I spoke softly into my PA, asking for some food to be brought in, then nodded to Deneuve.

“Some food is coming,” Deneuve said.

“I like your food. No bones.”

“Do you eat fish at home?” I asked.

“Fish, small land animals, and roots. Plants. Berries.”

Dr. Hazelton arrived with a tray of food, which she put on the rolling hospital table, shoving it over towards Barney. He ate with his hands, quickly, as if he was afraid somebody was going to take it from him, while keeping a wary eye on both Dr. Hazelton and me.

“You were hungry, Barney,” Deneuve said, flashing him a smile.

“Can you go home with me?” Barney asked him, his eyebrows up.

“Why do you want to go home?” Dr. Hazelton asked.

“The others,” Barney said, “but I can’t leave Denu.”

I smiled. “French a little hard to pronounce, huh?”

“The next round of training will get him past that,” Dr. Hazelton said. “I’m amazed at how good this worked.”

“You and me both,” I said. “Barney, did you see other men at home, other than the mean ones?”

“They never come anymore,” Barney said.

“They used to come?” Deneuve asked.

“They cross the salty water,” he said. “Before. My mother said.”

“But you’ve never seen them?” I asked.

“No, only the noisy ones that are mean.”

“You can hear them?” Deneuve asked.

“Yes, Denu,” he said.

“How long were the mean men there?” I asked.

“Since last walk.”

“Walk?” Deneuve asked.

“When our other home gets cold, we come by the lake.”

“They migrate,” Dr. Hazelton whispered.

“What is migrate?” Barney asked.

“Whispering doesn’t do any good,” I said. “He can hear way beyond what we can.”

Deneuve looked at Barney. “Migrate is moving from one place to another for food or warmth.”

“Is there more food where it gets too cold?” I asked.

“Yes, easy. Pick and eat food, get animals that eat too.”

“Thank you, Barney. I’d better get back to work.” I left sick bay, Dr. Hazelton following me.

“Maybe he doesn’t have valuable info,” she said as we walked down the hall.

“He just gave us some. The Clan have been there for a while. I’ll ask Nolan to check into the seasons on Valla Cappos. That should tell us if we’re looking at weeks or months.”

“Oh. Yes, that makes sense, Captain. “Can we do the second round of training?”

“I think we should, as long as it doesn’t hurt him. How soon?”

“We need to give him a few days,” Dr. Hazelton said. “We should have Deneuve introduce him to the others, so he’s not scared every time he sees a new human.”

“Do that,” I said. “Talk to you soon.”

I went to the bridge.

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 7 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 11 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 11 – Deep Space

JJ came back to the bridge after a couple hours. “Let’s run the last phase of the tuning, Nolan.”

Nolan nodded, and JJ took Izzy’s chair again. They ran through the procedure as I watched.

“Sir, still not seeing traffic,” Tim whispered, trying not to disturb Nolan and JJ. “You don’t think there’s some new weapon out there, do you?”

“Who knows? I don’t want to spend much more time here. Ensign Daniels was onboard when we were here before. Whoever he was working for probably knows to watch.”

“Maybe they don’t think we’d dare come back here,” Tim said.

“That’s what I’m counting on, but it might be giving me a false sense of security.”

I watched silently for about fifteen minutes as JJ and Nolan worked their procedure.

“There, done,” JJ said. “This was easier than most of the tests I ran on the Tristar.”

“We’re good?” I asked.

“Yep,” Nolan said. “We’re totally invisible.”

“Good. Let’s get ready to go. Right now. I just called Izzy back to the bridge.”

“I was already on my way, Captain,” Izzy said as she breezed through the door. “You got the coordinates, Nolan?”

“Sending them now, my dear.”

“Here’s your station back,” JJ said. “Thank you.”

Izzy nodded as she took her seat, seeing that the coordinates were on her PA. She shot us up to orbit, and we made the jump, the faint feeling hitting me for a split second.

“Still not used to that,” JJ said, shaking her head.

“Nobody is.”

“Where are we going?”

“Aurora Calista,” I said. “It’s connected to Earth by a wormhole, and has another worm hole leading to the Clan Zone. We’re gonna kill two birds with one stone.”

JJ looked up the planet’s data on her PA. “Wow, that’s on the far edge of our zone. It’s another level twelve world. How long will that take this ship?”

“Couple days.”

“That’s almost as fast as the Tristar,” she said. “You’re hoping to see a Clan ship heading through the wormhole from Earth, aren’t you Captain?”

“It’s a possibility, but then again, it wasn’t a Clan ship that attacked the base, as we’ve discussed.”

“Dammit,” Nolan muttered.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I had a deep scan running for the last several hours. No ships anywhere.”

“I already told you that,” Tim said.

Nolan glanced at him. “Don’t be offended. I know some tricks you don’t, but in the end, all I could do was verify your findings. I had to try.”

“What the hell is going on?” I asked.

“I can probe for the Tristar,” JJ said.

“When we’re out of the jump?” Tim asked.

“No, I can do it now,” she said, speaking into her PA. She watched it for a second. “They’re underway. This is odd.”

“What?” I asked.

“They’re going to the same place we are.”

“How are you able to track while we’re both in a wormhole?” Tim asked.

Nolan chuckled. “There have been some breakthroughs lately. You should know that, you’re on the most advanced ship in the zone right now.”

“Can the Corporation track us?” I asked, feeling sweat break out on my brow.

JJ nodded. “That is a side benefit of the cloaking system. We’re giving off a tracer that can be tracked with the correct encryption key. Only the Corporation has it.”

“I don’t like the sound of that at all,” Tim said. “If things have gone sideways, the Tristar might be on it’s way to take us out.”

Nolan snickered. I caught it and glared at him. “What?”

“JJ, try to connect with this ship,” Nolan said. “You can, right, even from onboard?”

She nodded, speaking a code into her PA. “That’s odd. We aren’t showing up.”

Nolan smiled.

“Dammit, Nolan,” I said. “What’d you do?”

“I changed the program slightly. We aren’t sending out a trace.”

“How the hell did you figure that out so fast?” JJ asked. “We had legal reasons to put that in. The Senate required it for us to keep our right to field un-controlled prototypes.”

“When were you gonna tell us that?” Izzy asked, eyeing her.

“Nobody on this ship had a need to know. It’s classified.”

Nolan looked at me. “Captain, do you really want anybody, even the Corporation, to be able to track us after what just happened?”

I sighed. “No. I wish you’d tell me before you do this kinda thing. It could make things difficult for us.”

“Are you saying you wouldn’t have given me permission?”

I shook my head. “I’m not saying that. I would have given you permission.”

“Captain!” JJ said.

“Look, JJ, we’re in an unusual position right now. All of the capabilities of the Corporation might be in the hands of the Overlords as we speak.”

Nolan smiled. “Exactly.”

“What’s to stop them from blowing our Samson Drive?” Tim asked.

JJ shot me a glance, then looked away quickly.

“You’re hiding something,” I said to her.

“We haven’t been able to get the remote-destruct command to work while the new cloaking device is active,” she said. “I suggest we leave it on at all times, even when we’re in a wormhole.”

“That will consume a lot of power,” Tim said. “Where will we get more fuel?”

“What’s our level now?” Nolan asked.

“Eighty-five percent,” Izzy said, reading off her PA. “We’re good for a long time, even if we consume more than normal.”

“What’s a long time?” I asked.

“Almost a year, Captain.”

“Hell, then why are we even talking about it?” I asked. “We need to settle down and look at this logically. We know that the Tristar isn’t trying to intercept us at Aurora Calista, correct?”

“That is correct,” JJ said. “I can see that we have no tracer, and without that, the Tristar has no way to see us. As long as we’re cloaked, of course.”

“Can we communicate with the Tristar?” Tim asked.

“Not if we wish to hide our location,” JJ said. “Your holographic system might be visible. Any way to shut it down?”

“What holographic system?” Nolan asked.

I shot a stern glance at JJ.

“Oops. Sorry, Captain.”

I chuckled. “Oh, what the hell, at this point I don’t really care.”

Nolan grinned. “You’ve been holding out on us.”

“You didn’t have the need to know, and Vermillion wanted it kept a secret for now.”

“I take it there’s something about this system beyond a pretty holographic display,” Nolan said.

“It allows us to communicate while we’re in a wormhole,” I said. “Probably when we’re cloaked, too.”

“Have you tried it?” Tim asked.

“We tried it while we were on the jump to Cremonia,” I said. “We were cloaked then, even though the tuning wasn’t done.”

“Maybe that’s why we couldn’t get Vermillion,” JJ said.

“No, I don’t think so. I could access my drop box. That’s how I got the message he sent right after we evacuated from Earth.”

“The drop box isn’t replicated locally?” Nolan asked.

“Nope. That much I know.”

Nolan shook his head. “They might be able to track us with that. We’d better figure that out in a hurry, or shut it down.”

“How do you know shutting it down will stop it from being trackable?” Tim asked.

“That’s a good question,” JJ said.

“Yeah, I don’t know that for sure, but it’s not wired into the ship. The device resides on a moveable object in my stateroom. Worse comes to worse, we could shove the damn thing out the airlock.”

“Can I take a look at it?” Nolan asked.

“Sure, no problem. Let’s go.”

Nolan and I got up.

“Mind if I tag along?” JJ asked.

“Not at all,” I said. “Tim, you’ve got the bridge.”

“Yes sir,” he said, exchanging a glance with Izzy.

We were in my stateroom in a couple minutes. I pointed to the chair, sitting in front of my desk. “I’ll fire it up. Maybe Vermillion is available now.”

I sat in it, motioning for Nolan to come closer.

“Looks like a normal desk chair,” he said.

“There’s a pad under the right arm that controls everything.” I did the taps to bring up the holographic frame.

“Interesting,” Nolan said.

“I’ll try to raise Vermillion.” I tapped the command to page him. There was no response.

Nolan got closer. “Nothing, huh? Let’s see the drop box.”

I tapped the command, and my indicator showed up, the only message being the one Vermillion had sent right after the evac. “See, there’s the message.”

“Okay, shut it down and let’s turn this chair upside down.” Nolan said.

I tapped it off and lifted the chair, setting it upside down. Nolan checked out the pad under the arm, and shook his head.

“Problem?” I asked.

“I can’t open this. I’ve seen those fasteners before. They’re the same type used on the Samson Drive security module. It might blow if I force my way in.”

“Crap,” JJ said. “What now?”

“Do you have shielded storage next to the fusion reactor?” Nolan asked. “We could put it in there. I doubt if it can get a signal out of that.”

“That’s a great idea,” JJ said.

“Not sure if we have room.” I tapped my PA. Deacon’s smiling face showed up.

“What’s up, Cappy?”

“Hey, Deacon, how much space do we have in the shielded storage next to the reactor?”

“There’s very little fuel there. Most of what we have is already in the reactor. How much space do you need?”

“Enough to put a desk chair in there,” I said.

“Thinking of having a seat?” Deacon asked. He broke into a chuckle. “It’ll give you a suntan in a hurry.”

“I’ll bet. No, there’s a transmitter built into it that might give off our position to the Central Authority or worse. I’d like to put it in there to prevent transmission.”

“You can’t just remove the battery?” Deacon asked.

“It’s a long story,” I said.

“Well, it might fit, but it’ll probably be tight. Meet me down there.”

“See you in a few minutes,” I said.

Nolan and JJ went for the door, Nolan holding it open as I pushed the chair out on it’s wheels. We shoved it to the cargo lift and took it down, taking the thin hallway to Engineering. Deacon was at the door waiting for us.

“Gonna tell me what’s up?” he asked.

“There’s an experimental COMM device built into this. Since we can’t trust anybody at this point, I don’t want it to give away our position.”

“Well, Cappy, let’s check it out. Caraway is suiting up now.” He led us to the fusion reactor.

“How much fuel are we consuming?” JJ asked. “Much above normal with the cloaking device running?”

“I was gonna ask about that. We’re using about 2% more per hour than normal. You want to be running that device all the time?”

“We need to for the time being,” I said. “Can’t say any more about it.”

“No problem,” he said. “Ah, here comes Caraway.” We watched him walk over in the thick white suit, the headgear in his hands.

“That’s what you want in there?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

Caraway nodded, then put the headpiece on and pressurized the suit. He opened the airlock door, pulling the chair in behind him. The door closed, and he opened the inside door, pulling the chair through. There was a square white storage locker next to the cylindrical reactor. He used a remote to access his PA and open the door, looking inside, then speaking into his remote.

“It’ll fit, barely.” He moved the chair in, turned it upside down, and slipped it in place.

“Thank God,” JJ said. We watched as Caraway closed the shielded locker, then came back into the airlock. After a quick flush, he opened the outside door and came out, closing it behind him and pulling off the head piece.

“Piece of cake,” he said. “Let me know when you want it out of there.”

“Thanks, my boy,” Deacon said.

Caraway nodded and walked away.

“Thanks, Deacon,” I said. “Talk to you later.”

“You’re welcome, Cappy.”

We went back to the bridge. I sat in the Captain’s chair and looked at JJ. “Okay, tell us what the capabilities of the Tristar are, just in case she’s hostile. Don’t hold back. We all have a need to know.”

“I agree, Captain,” she said. “It’s got an enhanced Samson Drive. It’s untraceable while in a wormhole, like the drive on this ship, but it doesn’t have Nolan’s module on it, so running in stealth mode all the time is dangerous. There’s no obstacle avoidance circuitry.”

“That could still be effective,” Nolan said. “You could throw a pursuer off the track, and they’d have to take some time to re-acquire you, which in many cases would be enough for you to evade capture.”

“Exactly,” JJ said. “We planned to put your module on that ship. I’m sure we’ll do that eventually.”

“If the Corporation still exists,” I quipped. “What else?”

“It’s significantly faster than this ship, but you knew that already. It’s also got the same cloaking capability that the Zephyrus now has, but there isn’t someone like Nolan on board who can shut off the tracer functionality.”

“So, they might be leading a third party to Aurora Calista,” Tim said. “Great.”

“If it’s being followed, whoever is on their tail had better have good shields,” JJ said. “It’s got a new form of plasma weapon with a burst mode. It’ll fry through normal shields in a few seconds. There’s also the enhanced Mark 7 shields, which can withstand pretty much anything the Central Authority has at their disposal. There’s a cost in fuel economy, though. When the shield is on maximum, it’ll burn through a year’s supply in several days.”

“No battle is gonna last that long,” Nolan said.

I shook my head, my heart beating faster. “Here’s what I’m getting from this. If she wants to take us out, she can.”

“Most definitely, Captain, but it’s not that bad,” JJ said. “Thanks to Nolan’s drive module, if we’re quick enough we can escape, and she won’t be able to track us.”

“Do we really want to be going to Aurora Calista?” Izzy asked. “Maybe we ought to change course.”

“You read my mind,” I said. “We can communicate with that ship, correct? What if we go someplace else, far enough away that she can’t destroy us, and start up a conversation? If she’s hostile, we just jump someplace else and leave our shields on.”

“I think that’s the best course of action at this point,” Nolan said.

JJ nodded. “That is the best strategy, I’m afraid.”

“How will we be able to tell if the Tristar is hostile?” Izzy asked.

JJ was silent for a moment, looking down.

“Uh oh, what?” Nolan asked.

“Oh, it’s nothing bad,” JJ said. “Quite the contrary. The Captain of the Tristar is my ex-husband.”

Nolan laughed. “Hopefully you parted ways on good terms.”

“We did, but that’s not what’s important. We know each other extremely well. I’ll be able to tell if he’s under duress. He’ll make sure I know.”

I turned to Nolan. “Plot us a course someplace else.”

“Yes sir,” Nolan said. “Want it to be in the general area of Aurora Calista?”

I thought about it for a moment. “Yes, since it’s a two-day trip. Find something similar to Cremonia if you can.”

“I’m on it,” Nolan said.

“What if the Chairman is trying to get ahold of you through the holographic device?” JJ asked.

“As soon as we see the Tristar come out of the wormhole, I want to send a transmission. Let them know we’re all right, and ask them about Vermillion.”

“What if he’s on that ship?” Tim asked.

“Then I’ll talk to him,” I said. “He was already out of the base before the Tristar left, though.”

“The Tristar might have picked him up from the water, Captain,” JJ said. “If they cloaked, they’d be hard for a Centurion class ship to hit.”

“I hope that’s the case, but we just don’t know. I’m suspecting he’s still on Earth.”

“How would that be safe for him?” Izzy asked. “No place on the planet is safe from railgun attacks.”

“True, but the railgun has to hit a target where he’s located,” I said. “I’m sure he’s got several safe hideouts spread around the planet.”

“Wonder if there are bulletins out about the Zephyrus and the Tristar?” Nolan asked. “There was one out on the Zephyrus after we left for Valla Cappos, remember?”

Tim laughed. “Yeah, and you were mentioned by name as I remember.”

“Thanks for reminding me,” Nolan said, shaking his head.

“Take us out of the wormhole for a few minutes and check,” JJ said. “We can be cloaked now, and you’ve got to change course anyway.”

“That’s a capitol idea,” Nolan said. “What do you think, Captain?”

“Yeah, do it,” I said. “Go ahead, Izzy.”

Izzy nodded and shut down the Samson Drive, dropping us in the middle of deep space. Static filled the room for half a second. “There you go, Captain.”

“Do your scan, Nolan.” He nodded, turning to his screen.

“I’d hurry,” Izzy said. “We’re cloaked, and this is close to a major shipping route. Somebody could hit us.”

“There was a bulletin from the Central Authority,” Nolan said. “There’s also a document from the Overlords, and several news reports. I’ve downloaded them all. Izzy, the new coordinates are on your PA. Let’s get out of here.”

Izzy spoke into her PA, and we all got hit with the faintness as the ship took off again.

“You haven’t looked at the documents yet?” Tim asked Nolan.

“Just the headers,” Nolan said. “Want me to put them on screen?”

“Yeah, most important one first,” I said. “From the Central Authority.”

Nolan nodded and spoke into his PA, the document showing on the big screen. We all got closer to read it.

“I knew it,” Tim said. “The Zephyrus and the Tristar are both ordered to report to the space dock at Mars immediately.”

“At least I’m not mentioned by name this time,” Nolan said.

“This doesn’t say what happened,” JJ said. “There’s no explanation about the lack of traffic.”

“There’s a second page,” Nolan said. “Everybody done with the first?”

“Roll it, Nolan,” I said.

The second page appeared on the screen.

“Holy crap,” Izzy said as she read. “Chairman Vermillion is wanted for high treason?”

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 7 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 11 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 10 – Alone in the Zone

JJ and I took the spiral staircase down to the crew deck. The halls were smaller, the floor an industrial matting with magnetic capability in case of gravity failure. Deacon’s large frame appeared from the right side. He motioned us over.

“Deacon, JJ Ostermann,” I said as we got to him.

“It’s a pleasure,” Deacon said, extending his hand. “Glad he left the paging system on.”

“How advanced is this device?” JJ asked, lines of worry on her face.

“You’ll have to be the judge of that,” Deacon said. “It’s right down the hall.”

We got to the door of crew barrack three, following Deacon inside. Caraway was there, guarding the scene with a spiker in his hand. I nodded to him.

“Hello, Captain.” He stood aside so we could look in the locker, with its door hanging open.

JJ glanced at me. “May I?”

“Please,” I said, watching as she picked it up. “We need to destroy this before we come out of the jump. It’ll show our position.”

“I was afraid of that,” Deacon said. “How?”

“You got a hydraulic press?” she asked.

“Yeah, down in engineering,” Deacon said. “Follow me. How long do we have?”

I tapped my PA. Izzy answered.

“Yes, Captain?”

“How long will we be in the jump. Be precise.”

“Twenty-two minutes, sir.”

“Perfect, thanks,” I said. “You heard her.”

“That’s plenty of time,” JJ said. “We need to smash it, and make sure that the transmit module is destroyed.”

We entered a bulkhead door, following Deacon past the fusion reactor to the machine shop. “There it is.” He pointed to a small hydraulic press. “Think that’s enough for the job?”

“Should be fine,” JJ said, walking over to it. She spoke into her PA, contacting the transmitter.

“Why’d you do that?” I asked.

“Best way to tell if we’ve destroyed the transmitter.” She put the device on the small circular platform, then raised the clear shield and pushed a button, the hydraulics moving a cylinder down onto the platform, crunching the device. After a few seconds, she pushed another button and the cylinder rose.

“Don’t touch that with your bare hands,” Deacon said.

“I know,” she said, picking the device up with a large pair of tweezers that were in the small tool box next to the press. She put the smashed device on the table next to it, then tried to access the transmitter. “It’s dead.”

“Good,” I said. “Who was it, Deacon?”

“Ensign Daniels. He was a replacement for Ensign Fredricks. He’s only been on the ship for a month.”

My brow furrowed. “Dammit. We need to sweep the ship, to make sure he didn’t stash anything else around. Was he close to any of the men who survived?”

Deacon looked at Caraway, who shook his head no. “The guy was kind of an asshole. Reminded me of Nolan. He was from some level-three world. Nobody liked him much, and the feeling was mutual.”

“I need every bit of info you have on this guy, Deacon. Send it to my PA.”

“Will do, Cappy,” Deacon said. “We’ll start the sweep now.”

“Thanks. We need to get to the bridge. Call me right away if you find anything else.”

“Yes sir,” Deacon said. JJ and I left, heading back to the bridge.

“This event has been planned for a while,” I said.

“Looks that way, if the plant was on your ship that long.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me if he survived that attack.”

“How?” JJ asked.

“He knew it was coming. We need to find out who survived, and let Vermillion know about this.”

We got back to the bridge.

“Anything going on I need to know about?”

“Nothing, Captain,” Nolan said. “We’re getting close.”

I looked over at Tim. “We found out who the plant was.”

“So there was a plant. I knew it. Where is he?”

“Left at the base,” I said. “We don’t know if he’s alive or dead, but we’ve destroyed his communications device.”

Nolan looked over. “I figured that was why you wanted to know how long we’d be in the wormhole.”

“We’re sweeping the crew deck for other devices now,” I said.

“Who was it?” Tim asked.

“Ensign Daniels.”

“Crap. Figures. He was a jerk.”

I laughed. “So I’ve been told. Any other jerks on the crew?”

Tim shook his head. “Nope. How many were on the ship when we left?”

“Not enough,” I said with my brow furrowed. “Cappy’s only got five guys.”

“We could run this ship with less than that,” Nolan said. “Wonder if the Tristar got away.”

“We’ll find out when we’re out of the jump,” JJ said. “I’ve got the codes to access her, even when she’s cloaked.”

“Good,” Nolan said. “I did that survey you asked for, Captain. We can land on the south pole. Weather conditions can be a little dicey, though. We might have to take a dip back in the lake and wait it out. Can’t tell until we’re out of the wormhole.”

“We know it’s cold, Nolan,” Izzy said.

“The cold is no problem. The area has hurricane force winds that kick up in a hurry.”

“Oh,” Izzy said. “Wonderful.”

“I don’t plan on being on this world for very long,” I said.

“Where are we going?” Izzy asked.

“We’re gonna do our mission. We’ll be using the sequence that Nolan suggested.”

“We better contact your boss before we do that,” Nolan said. “You know the Overlords might be working with the Clan, right?”

“Yes, Nolan, that thought crossed my mind.”

“You really think so?” JJ asked.

“An attack on the Corporation happens shortly after we discover Clan ships in our zone,” Nolan said. “That’s a coincidence I’m not ready to believe.”

“Coming out of the wormhole, Captain,” Izzy said. We all felt the static charge as the ship settled into orbit around Cremonia.

“Scanning the south pole now,” Nolan said. “It’s not bad. Weather won’t hold for long, though. How long do we need to be there? I assume it has to do with the new software.”

“Three hours for the first round, then another round afterwards that should only take about half an hour,” JJ said.

“We should be okay, then,” Nolan said. “You’ve got the coordinates, Izzy.”

We shot down from orbit, landing on flat ice. My PA beeped.

“The crew deck is clean, Cappy. Can I send the team to the upper deck to check it out?”

“Yeah, Deacon, do that.”

“Talk to you soon.”

“What do you need to do the tuning?” I asked JJ.

“I need to take over for Izzy.”

“Good, I could use something to eat,” Izzy said, getting out of her chair, JJ taking it over.

“Can we help?” Nolan asked.

“Watch your sensors,” JJ said. “You and I will work this together.”

“Perfect.” They both concentrated on their screens.

“I’m gonna go check on the Neanderthal,” I said, getting up. “Tim, you’ve got the bridge. Watch for bad weather. If it gets dangerous, we head for the lake. Got it?”

“Yes sir,” Tim said.

I left the bridge, heading for sick bay. Deneuve was in the hall by the door, his brow furrowed.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

“Dr. Hazelton put our friend out, so she can run some tests. Makes me nervous, that’s all.”

“Was he aware of what just happened?”

Deneuve nodded. “He can tell when we go in and out of wormholes. He doesn’t like it much. Held onto me for dear life.”

I chuckled. “He’s already that bonded?”

“Oh, yeah,” Deneuve said.

Dr. Hazelton came into the hallway. “He’s fine. I verified that the ALS cocktail won’t hurt him. He’ll be conscious in a few minutes. You probably should get in there. He’ll get upset if you aren’t there when he wakes.”

“We’re going ahead with the ALS process?” Deneuve asked.

“That’ll be my recommendation, but we’ll talk it out, like the Captain suggested. Maybe we should do it in there, so Deneuve can listen too.”

“Not a problem,” I said. “Let’s go in.”

We walked into sick bay. The Neanderthal was already stirring, his eyes getting wide as he tried to find Deneuve, who rushed to his side, touching his shoulder.

“Wow, look at that,” I whispered. “Looks like a dog when you’re petting it in a favorite place.”

“It’s okay, Barney,” Deneuve said.

“Barney?” I asked.

“I needed a name to call him, Captain. He already looks at me when I say it. He knows it’s my name for him. He’s no dummy.”

“Yeah, but where did you get that name? It used to be somewhat derogatory.”

“Derogatory?” Dr. Hazelton asked.

“The name was used in a mid-20th Century television program,” I said.

Deneuve laughed. “I took the name from a television program of that timeframe, but not the one you’re talking about.”

“Which one?” I asked.

“It was called the Flintstones,” he said. “It was early animated artwork, about people in pre-history. Barney was the sidekick character.”

Dr. Hazelton rolled her eyes. “At least he didn’t call him Rover or Fido.”

“He’s not a dog,” Deneuve said, a slight edge to his tone.

I shot a glance at Dr. Hazelton, and she smirked.

“Did we get through the rest of the dialects?”

“Yes, Captain. Two others caused him to take notice, but when we used them to ask a question, he didn’t respond.”

“They weren’t living with the civilization,” Deneuve said. “I’m not surprised he didn’t know their languages. Native Americans didn’t know European languages for quite a while either.”

“True,” I said. “How long will ALS take, should we decide to use it?”

“The first level would finish in about forty-eight hours. We’ll have to let him rest for a few days before the second level.”

“How far will the first level get him?” I asked.

“Similar to a nine-year old Earth human. The second level will give him mid-teen language skills. The third level will include reading and writing skills, along with adult language skills.”

“Amazing,” I said. “What are the risks?”

“The main risk is that it won’t work on him,” Dr. Hazelton said. “It’s been used before on Neanderthals. I was reading case studies last night. Most subjects got through the first level without any trouble. There was some fall-off on level two, and more fallout on level three.”

“Was there any adverse reaction to the drug cocktail?” Deneuve asked.

“None, but the sample size is small. Only about sixty individuals. That’s why I ran the tests.”

“We needed to do that anyway,” Deneuve said. “Remember that some drugs are lethal to certain individual humans. Allergies.”

“You are correct, of course,” Dr. Hazelton said. “Problems are rare in humans, but it was worth the time to be extra-cautious.”

“It’s a go, then?” Deneuve asked.

“How do you feel about it?” I asked.

Deneuve thought for a moment. “Scares me, but it’ll be nice to communicate.”

I nodded, then turned to Dr. Hazelton. “What if we have to bring him out of a session before it’s finished? Will it hurt him?”

“No, the system remembers exactly where it left off,” she said.

“Are we expecting action?” Deneuve asked.

“Somebody just destroyed several Corporation bases, and we’re being hunted,” I said. “We’re very stealthy, especially with our latest upgrade, but we’re still in danger.”

“I’m not happy to hear that,” Dr. Hazelton said, “but it won’t add risk to the ALS procedure, other than extending the completion time.”

“Good, then go ahead with it. Barney might know something useful.”

“He looked at you when you said his name,” Deneuve said with a grin.

I left sick bay, heading for my stateroom to check for a message from Chairman Vermillion. There was no message, and my page attempt went unanswered. Dammit. I went back to the bridge, where JJ and Nolan were working on the tuning.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

JJ put a hand up, without turning towards me. Tim motioned me over to his station.

“Look at this,” he whispered, bringing up a map of the Central Authority Zone. “I’m not seeing any ships in transit.”

I studied it. “I wonder if the Corporation nailed the Samson Drives?”

“I can’t tell,” Tim said. “My gut tells me no. I scanned for debris on the busiest shipping routes. There’s nothing out of the ordinary.”

“I can’t raise Vermillion.”

“Crap,” Tim said. “We’re out here all by ourselves, then.”

“We’re running a ship that’s damn near invisible, in a wormhole or not. We’re also faster than any ship in the Central Authority’s fleet. The only ship faster than ours is the Tristar, and she’s probably on our side.”

“Probably?” Tim asked.

“Yeah, probably. Best I can say for now.”

“How do we compare to the best the Clan has?”

I sighed. “That’s the question that bothers me the most. I have no idea, and no way to find out short of engagement.”

“Yeah, an engagement that we might lose,” Tim whispered.

“Exactly.”

“How’s the Neanderthal?”

“Undergoing his first ALS procedure as we speak,” I said. “He and Deneuve have bonded.”

“Goes along with what I’ve read. I’m surprised they aren’t bred and spread around the other planets in the zone. They’re good at certain things.”

“I know. It’ll be interesting to see what Barney has to say about the action on Valla Cappos.”

“Barney?” Tim asked.

“Deneuve named him, and he already recognizes it. He turned towards me when I said it, and we’re not bonded.”

“Interesting.”

“Done,” JJ said. “That took a third of the time I expected. We have a very stable power supply and very stable shields.”

“Latest generation on both,” I said. “Would this system not work as well on older ships like the Centurion class?”

“It would take more time to tune,” JJ said. “We still have to run this as is for a while and then check the parameters, but it’s rare that we need to do much tuning after the first set.”

“Mind if I start scanning Sheppard One again?” Nolan asked. “This recent activity might have caused them a problem.”

I nodded. “Go ahead.”

“Could I trouble you for something to eat, Captain?” JJ asked. “Didn’t get a chance before I met you at the base.”

“Sure, I’ll show you where the kitchen is, and everything else too, since you might be with us for a while. We’ve got a stateroom you can use.”

“Perfect. Lead the way.”

“Tim, you have the bridge. Remember the weather. If things start to whip up, get us out of here.”

“Yes, Captain,” Tim said as we left the bridge.

“You’ve got a good crew,” JJ said. “Nolan’s a genius.”

“I thought you knew him.”

“We’ve talked very briefly, but not about anything technical. If we’re on our own, he could be useful.”

I took her to the kitchen and showed her how to order food. I was hungry too, so we both ate.

“This ship has a good meal fabricator, Captain. Almost tastes real.”

I laughed. “Try some of the cheesecake. Deacon loves it.”

“Cheesecake?”

“Yeah, there should be some left, assuming Deacon hasn’t eaten it all yet.”

She smirked. “I think I’ll pass for now, but thanks.”

“I’ll show you to the stateroom. It’s down the hall from mine.” We took off in that direction.

“Were you able to reach Chairman Vermillion?”

I shook my head no. “Tried on the way back from sick bay. No message, and I couldn’t raise him. This is bad. Did you hear what Tim was saying on the bridge?”

“I was shutting it out,” she said. “The first tune requires a lot of concentration.”

“He’s been scanning for spacecraft traffic. Says there’s none.”

“None?”

“Yeah. He was thinking the Corporation went on a rampage and blew up a lot of Samson Drives, but there’s no debris along the shipping routes.”

“So what’s going on? Do you think all spacecraft have been grounded?”

“I hope that’s what happened. Might be something a lot worse.”

“Like what?”

“Clan attacks might have forced all of our ships to flee the area,” I said.

“Or head down to the planet surfaces,” she said. “It wasn’t a Clan ship firing that railgun on our base, though. That was a Central Authority ship.”

“Probably an Overlord ship,” I said.

She glanced at me. “There’s not much difference anymore, Captain.”

We got to the empty stateroom, and I ushered her in, using my PA to assign the door access to her.

“Not bad,” she said, walking around the room. “It’s not any smaller than yours.”

“All the staterooms on this ship are the same size. We’ve got a clothes fabricator down in Engineering. I’ll have Deacon send you an invite for the system, so you can access it.”

“Perfect. How’s it going with the Neanderthal?”

“We’re using ALS to teach him English.”

JJ smiled. “Good, I hope it works.”

“Me too. I’ll leave you alone for a while. Make yourself at home. If you have any questions, send them to me.”

“Will do,” she said.

I left, going to my stateroom to try Vermillion again. No luck, so I went back to the bridge.

“She settled?” Nolan asked me as I sat in the Captain’s seat.

“Yeah, I gave her one of the open staterooms, two doors down from mine. Any problems with the tuning?”

“The code could be tightened up a bit, but it’ll work. I already have an idea how to alter it so there’s no need for tuning.”

“Well, don’t concentrate on that right now. I want to run down the Clan angle we were tasked with.”

“Good, I was hoping you were going to follow through with that. We’ll probably get some answers about the attacks.”

“I’m hoping we don’t,” I said. “I’d rather just deal with the usual petty Central Authority political garbage. Being in another all-out war with the Clan won’t be good for anybody.”

“Is it safe for us to be snooping around for the Clan, Captain?” Izzy asked. “We’ve got no support anymore. I can’t raise any of the Corporation bases.”

Nolan chuckled. “It’s as safe as it would’ve been had the attacks not happened.”

I nodded in agreement. “This ship might be the safest place to be in the Central Authority Zone right now.”

“Exactly,” Nolan said. “By the way, I’m quite impressed with JJ.”

“Good, she’s impressed with you too. Try to keep the rancor with her to a minimum, because I need your brains working together without any back-biting. You clear?”

“Chrystal clear,” Nolan said. “I’ve got the coordinates for the first world ready.”

“Where is it? Far away from Earth, I hope.”

“It is, but it’s got a wormhole that connects it fairly closely to Earth.”

“Name?”

“Aurora Calista. It’s a long trip. Couple of days for us, even with our superior speed.”

“How long would it take for a Clan ship to get from Earth to there?”

Nolan smiled. “I see we’re on the same wavelength. More than a week.”

“We can do double duty, then. Check for Clan ships and wait to see if anybody arrives through that wormhole.”

“Like I said, we’re on the same wavelength.”

To be continued…

 

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Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 9 – Railguns

I eyed Ostermann as she waited for my response, standing next to her in the hallway.

“What do you want to talk about?” I asked.

“It’s sensitive,” she said in a hushed tone, doing an obvious glance at her arm, the PA system showing the yellow status indicator.

“You’ve got it sleeping,” I whispered. “I don’t trust that.”

“Yours is on,” she said.

I chuckled. “Yeah, because there’s no way I’d find my way back to the hangar without it.”

“I’d suggest you turn it off, but…”

“I know, if we’ve both got them turned off and we’re being watched, the level of surveillance will increase,” I whispered.

“You’re concerned too,” she whispered back. “I thought so.”

“Let’s go to my ship. We can chat there. Turn on your PA and think of a reason for going there with me, all right?”

“I’m in charge of the cloaking retrofit, remember?” she whispered. “I have reasons to interact with you. We could pretend to be interested in each other too. We’re of similar age and background. That could provide us some explainable time alone.”

I smiled at her and we started walking again. She touched her PA and the status light turned to green.

“What’s it like to live here?” I asked, loud enough to get picked up by the PA.

“It’s got it’s good and bad points. There’s plenty of nice recreation, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

“You’re not?”

“I’d rather cuddle up with my reader than sit in a bar and fend off propositions.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I’m sure you get lots of those. You’re very attractive.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, please.” Her right hand showed a thumb’s up, and she smiled at me.

“I’d be interested,” I said, playing along, watching her pale white skin turn red.

“Okay, I might give you more time than most men who approach me,” she said, on the verge of laughter. “The hangar is getting close.”

“Is somebody working our retrofit yet?”

She smiled. “The software update has already been uploaded and installed. That’s one of the reasons I want to go there. It’s always best to check things before we go further.”

We approached the gate and submitted to the bio checks, the attendant waving us through.

“That color is interesting, Captain.” Ostermann said. “All gold. Looks like something out of a twentieth century sci-fi movie.”

“It does,” I said. “Oh, and you can call me Trey.”

She nodded. “You can call me Chief Technologist Ostermann.” She watched for my reaction, then giggled. “Just kidding. Call me JJ, if you’d like.”

“JJ it is,” I said, leading her to the rear of the ship. I spoke the code into my PA and the ramp lowered. “After you.”

She walked up the ramp, me following. I tapped the PA and the ramp closed.

“Quiet in here,” she said as we walked through the loading dock.

“Most of my crew probably went to the recreation area. Let’s go chat in my stateroom.”

She nodded, and I took her there.

“Nice,” she said, walking in.

“It’s a third the size of my stateroom on the New Jersey. Have a seat. I nodded at the table and chairs against the far wall. “I’ll have to put most of my possessions in storage now that I’m moving here full-time. They won’t fit.”

“Does that upset you? It wasn’t the nicest way to let you know.”

I chuckled. “That’s Vermillion. He thinks I’m onboard with everything he wants to do.”

She got closer, moving her chair towards mine. “Sure you want to say that?”

“Nolan came up with a way to wipe the PA devices and the Zephyrus sub-net.”

“That’s not legal.”

“I know, and Vermillion already called me on it. I told him that Nolan did it, and why. He’s not going to deal with it until this mission is over, so don’t worry. Anything we say here will be gone before they can access it.”

“Won’t mine transmit directly to the base sub-net?”

“Not through the shielding on this ship. It’ll record to your PA for upload later, and since you’ve already been auto-logged onto our sub-net, your device will be wiped of everything said onboard through that connection, as long as you’re here for the next run.”

“Ah, I get it, so I’ve got a free pass, for now.”

“Yes, for now,” I said. “What were you going to tell me?”

“The Overlords convinced the Central Authority Intel Committee to add a new bundle of enhancements to the PA System.”

My stomach dropped. “Oh, shit, what now?”

“Lots of little things for future use, but two things that they want available as soon as possible.”

“What are they?” I asked.

“One is the capability to override privacy modes and settings.”

“So they can listen in without us knowing. I thought they could already do that.”

“Well, yes and no,” she said. “Currently they must upload a temp system to your PA device to take control, and they have to go physically to your sub-net to do the install. It’s illegal to do it remotely.”

“They still have to get a warrant, though, right?”

She nodded. “Yes. They’re saying they need this capability because of the black-market smuggling that’s been going on lately. They can’t get to the sub-nets on suspect spacecraft easily. Apparently their last few attempts have resulted in missing agents.”

I chuckled. “They’ve always got to portray the Central Authority as being in grave danger.”

“The other piece is worse. I wanted to bring it up in the Council Meeting earlier.”

“Vermillion shut you down.”

“Yes, even though he expressed deep concern when we talked about it yesterday.”

“I don’t like the look on your face,” I said.

“They’ve developed and tested a stun capability.”

“What?”

“If the Central Authority thinks you’re doing something illegal, they can use your PA to stun you into unconsciousness.”

I leaned back in my chair. “Son of a bitch. They still have to get a judge to sign off, I hope.”

“Yes, but everybody gets the updated software on their PAs, like it or not.”

I shook my head. “They’ve fudged the requirements for oversight before. This is bad.”

“On the good side, the proposal was met with a mixture of laughter and outrage in the Senate.”

“That’ll only hold until they get scared of something.”

JJ’s brow furrowed. “Yes, like Clan ships in the Central Authority Zone.”

We stared at each other for a moment.

“This is like a bad dream. Maybe I ought to pay more attention to Nolan.”

“You think he knows what’s going on?”

“He’s scared to death with the way the society is going,” I said. “Do you know anything about his background? I tried to snoop a little. His records are hidden.”

“He tipped off a radical group about an Overlord raid on his home planet.”

“What is his home planet?” I asked.

“We called it Kepler-22b. Their name for it is Aeolia. It’s a level two world, with a much longer space-aware history than Earth.”

I chuckled. “He’s ridiculed the idea that Earth is level two.”

“Most other level two worlds do,” JJ said. “They think we’re more like a level four. Some even say we’re barely level five.”

“Screw them. Thanks for the info, though. It makes sense. Simone risked a lot trying to nail us when we left Earth. She’s got a pretty harsh grudge against Nolan.”

“I don’t understand Simone,” JJ said. “Too many contradictions. Everybody was shocked when she was appointed to lead the Overlords. I liked her before that.”

“She’s a thug in my book. I don’t take kindly to anybody firing on my ship, no matter who they are.”

“She’s been lobbying the Central Authority about the Corporation, you know. She wants tighter controls on prototypes. She says it’s a loophole.”

I laughed. “She’s right about that.”

“You don’t trust the Corporation?”

I eyed her. “Do you?”

“Not as much as I’d like to. I trust Chairman Vermillion.”

“Notice that he shut down conversation about the Neanderthals?”

She was silent for a moment. “Yes, I did notice that. What were you gonna say?”

“I was only going to bring up something that’s common knowledge.”

“And that is?”

“They don’t like the Clan, and they can hear Clan military personnel coming.”

“Oh, I remember reading about that. They can hear the Clan’s artificial pieces. Their eyes in particular. Scientists think it triggers a fear response. They’ll get violent. Is that really true?”

“I’m no expert, but it appears so. The Clan operatives had cloak suits on. They weren’t the best, but the Neanderthals heard them coming. They could see the flaws in their suits also.”

“Interesting.”

“Yeah, and one other thing. The Neanderthals didn’t have a shock fight or flight response. They planned the attack. Three of them worked together. They were hiding in trees, firing arrows at them. Killed one and wounded another.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. That sounds way beyond their intelligence.”

“They’re smarter than most humans think they are,” I said.

My PA dinged. I looked at it. “Nolan. He wants to come talk to me.”

“Want me to take off?”

“No, but let’s go meet him on the bridge. You can check out your software load from there.” I sent a reply to Nolan, and we headed to the hallway.

“Nolan, what’s up?” I asked as we entered the bridge. “You know Chief Technologist Ostermann, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do,” he said. “Nice to see you again.”

“Likewise,” she said, shaking his hand.

“I saw the new software install. It’s already running. Very interesting program. Did you come up with it?”

“My team,” she said. “It tested out well on the Tristar.”

“Excellent. Combined with my module, this ship will be very stealthy. Will you need help setting it up? I’d love to participate.”

“I was going to suggest that,” I said. “I want somebody onboard who understands how that system works inside and out.”

“Perfect,” Nolan said.

“What did you want to talk about?”

Nolan glanced at JJ, then looked at me. “Is it okay to talk?”

“She’s on the team, Nolan,” I said, glancing at JJ, who nodded in agreement.

“I think we ought to call the crew back here. Something’s going on.”

“What kind of something?

“Several evacuation modules have been released,” Nolan said. “They’re floating to the surface now.”

“That could be nothing, if there are ocean ships waiting,” JJ said. “I’ve seen them do it before. Some of the muckity-mucks who come down here make a party out of it, complete with private cruise ships.”

“Only the best, huh?” I asked.

Nolan laughed sarcastically.

My PA beeped at me with an urgent message. I read it to myself.

“Who is it?” JJ asked.

“Vermillion. We’re about to come under attack.”

“I knew it,” Nolan said.

“Who would dare?” JJ asked.

“Three guesses,” Nolan cracked.

Izzy rushed onto the bridge, Tim right on her heels.

“There’s a red alert,” Tim shouted.

“Yeah,” Izzy said, getting into her seat, talking into her PA. “Sir, there’s an override keeping me from accessing the ship’s controls.”

“Dammit,” Tim said.

“Who else is onboard?” I asked.

“Deacon, Deneuve, Caraway, Dr. Hazelton, and a handful of others,” Izzy said. “Most of the crew is at the rec area.”

“Call them back.”

“Too late,” Nolan said, as they felt the floor moving. “The AI just unhooked our umbilical.”

“We’re being moved towards the door, aren’t we?” JJ asked, eyes wide with fright. “I’ve got to get off this ship.”

“Negative,” I said. “If this base gets attacked, a lot of people will die. I don’t want you to be one of them.”

“The Tristar is moving towards the door too, captain,” Tim said.

“That’s the only other ship at the base that’s flight-worthy,” JJ said.

Impacts hit, shaking the floor, which stopped moving the ships towards the door.

“We’ll be lucky to get out of here,” Nolan said.

“The airlock door is opening,” Tim said. “Grab onto something. The outside door was already open. The hangar is about to be flooded.”

“Oh, God, all those poor people,” Izzy said. “I don’t have access to the controls yet.”

“Autopilot is gonna move us out of here,” JJ said. “We don’t allow anybody to pilot out of here manually.”

“Here comes the water!” Tim shouted as the hangar flooded, the ship’s stabilizers coming on automatically. “We’re moving.”

“Turn on the cameras,” I said. Izzy nodded, talking into her PA. The video feeds appeared on the main screen in a grid.

“They’re on, Captain, but I still can’t control the ship.”

More impacts rocked the base, a shockwave rippling through the water.

“We’re in the lock, now,” Nolan said. “The Tristar is right behind us.”

“They don’t have the module. They’ll be followed.”

“They’ve got the cloaking system,” JJ said. “The Tristar is safer than you think.”

The Zephyrus moved through the outside doors, the controls released to Izzy. “We’re back in control, Captain.”

“Get us out of here now,” I said.

Izzy nodded, talking into her PA as Nolan worked on a jump path.

“Heading for the surface,” Izzy said. We felt the sensation of rising, the front camera now taking the place of the grid.

“Why do you bother with that display?” Nolan asked.

“Knock it off,” I said. “We don’t know if the base was attacked from the water or the sky.”

“That was a railgun,” Nolan said. “I’d know those impacts anywhere, and my sensors verified it. We’re getting hit from orbit.”

“We’re almost to the surface,” Izzy said.

“The jump codes are on your PA,” Nolan said.

Izzy nodded, sending the data to the ship, which breached the ocean’s surface and shot into orbit in a split-second, plasma blasts hitting the shields as soon as we were out of the atmosphere, the Samson Drive kicking in, the dizziness hitting me. We were out of the solar system in less than five seconds.

“Whoa,” Tim said. “That was hairy.”

“You aren’t kidding,” Izzy said. “Who’s she?”

“That’s the Chief Technologist,” I said. “JJ Ostermann, meet Izzy and Tim.”

“Hello,” she said, preoccupied as she watched her PA. “Can somebody give my PA access to the in-flight systems?”

“Captain?” Izzy asked. I nodded yes. Izzy spoke a command into her PA.

“Thank you,” JJ said.

“What are you doing?” Nolan asked.

JJ glanced at him for a moment. “I want to see what the sensors recorded before we jumped.”

“Multiple railgun attacks,” Nolan said. “Looks like a Centurion Class ship again. Maybe the same one that tried to take us out last time we left Earth.”

“Simone,” Tim said. “I hate that bitch.”

“We don’t know that,” JJ said. “We lost several Corporation bases.”

“Why didn’t we explode the Samson Drive in that Centurion ship?” Tim asked.

“We might have,” Nolan said. “Won’t know until we get out of the jump.”

“Where are you taking us?” JJ asked.

“Same place we were before we came to Earth,” Nolan said. “We can change course if you want something different, Captain.”

“That’s as good a place as any,” I said. “JJ, let’s go to my stateroom.”

JJ stood as I started for the door, my PA beeping. Deacon’s face appeared.

“That was crazy,” he said. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“Railgun attack,” I said as I got into the hallway, JJ next to me. “I don’t know more than that yet.”

“Fair enough,” Deacon said. “The Samson Drive is in good shape, but somebody’s messed with our shields.”

“That’s an upgrade,” I said.

“We still need to tune that,” JJ said.

“Who’s that?” Deacon asked.

“JJ Ostermann,” I said. “Do you know her?”

“Heard of her. Can we trust the shields?”

“Yes,” JJ said. “We installed new code that added cloaking capability.”

“I had a feeling,” Deacon said. “Is it the same one being tested on the Tristar?”

“That is correct,” JJ said.

“We need to go, Deacon,” I said as we got to my stateroom door.

“Aye, Cappy. I’ll talk to you soon. We’re down to a skeleton crew, you know. Just five plus myself, and one of them is still wet-nursing the Neanderthal.”

“Understand,” I said. “Later.”

We went into my stateroom, and I locked the door behind us.

“Security?” JJ asked.

I nodded. “Did Vermillion tell you what we’ve been using this ship for?”

She sat at the table. “Just Nolan’s module.”

“Dammit. I’m going to make an executive decision, then. Vermillion likes to compartmentalize everything. No time for that now.” I sat in my chair and tapped the pad under the arm rest, the holographic frame appearing.

“What’s this?” JJ asked, getting up to look over my shoulder as I signaled Vermillion. He didn’t answer, but a recording tag popped up. I tapped the control pad to open it. Vermillion’s face appeared, a grave expression on his face.

“Captain Clarke, I knew you’d be trying to contact me. I’m in transit and don’t have access to my node yet. I’ll get with you as soon as I do. Is Ostermann with you? Nobody could find her when we were doing the evac. I fear the worst. Please reply telling me if you have her so I’ll get the info straight away. Did the cloaking software get installed? If it didn’t, find a place to hide until we can re-group. We’re being hunted.”

The recording ended abruptly.

“Okay, what the hell is that? I’m assuming it wrote to memory before we left the base.”

I glanced at her, then turned on record mode. “Come over here, next to me.”

She moved her chair beside mine, and I started.

“As you can see, sir, JJ is with me on the Zephyrus. The cloaking software did get installed. JJ, will it work now, or do we need to run a setup procedure?”

She glanced at me, then back at the holographic image of our faces. “It’ll work better than any other cloaking device we have right now, but we’ll want to optimize it, because the very latest sensors might show a slight return, depending on the stability of the shields.”

“There you have it, sir. Sorry I had to show this to JJ. I’m sure you understand. Talk to you soon. God speed.”

I shut down the device. “Like our new toy?”

“I hate that Vermillion is so tight-lipped about this stuff,” she said, shaking her head. “I suppose this will work while we’re in a wormhole.”

“Yep, and it’s totally un-traceable.”

“That defies a law of physics,” JJ said. “Love to know how it works.”

“Well, I can’t help you there. I barely know how to use it, let alone how it works. I’ll leave that to you scientist types.”

“Which world are we going to?”

“Ever heard of Cremonia?” I asked.

“That’s above level five, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and pre-human. We were there before Vermillion called us back to Earth. Can we tune the cloaking device under water?”

“It wouldn’t be my first choice,” JJ said. “Why?”

“Cremonia’s terrestrial environment presents some challenges.”

“Oh, crap, what?”

I laughed. “It’s a level twelve.”

“Mesozoic. What timeframe?”

“The worst,” I said. “Cretaceous.”

She thought for a moment. “Outside temp won’t impact the tuning. How about the poles? Have you surveyed them? That’ll be too cold for the worst of the dinosaurs.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said. “We should go back to the bridge. We’ll be coming out of the jump soon. I’ll get Nolan on that survey.” As we got up to leave, my PA dinged. “Deacon again.”

“Hey, Cappy, can you come down to the crew deck?”

“What’s up?” I asked.

“We just found out who the plant was.”

“Do you have him in custody?” I asked.

“No, the briny deep probably does. He didn’t make it back to the ship. He had a class thirty-two receiver/encryption device in his locker. It was beeping.”

“Be right down,” I said. “C’mon, JJ.”

We headed to the lower level.

To be continued…

 

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Bugout! California Part 173 – Lemon Grove

Jesse drove the pickup truck from Spring Street to Broadway.

Erik was watching the drone feed on Jesse’s phone. “We’re gonna run into a UN roadblock just after we go under the interchange between Highway 94 and Highway 125.”

“Road block? You’re kidding.”

“They might not know how many are with us. They’re not going to stop over two hundred heavily armed vehicles. They’ve got two UN Vans parked diagonal in the road, on Broadway right before Grove Street. There are a bunch more vans west on Lemon Grove Way, but some of the cop cars are heading in that direction.”

“Make sure the rest of the group knows what we’re running into,” Jesse said. “We’re almost there.”

Erik stared at his phone. “Hey, there’s a huge block and brick outlet just before Lemon Grove Way, with plenty of room to park our vehicles. I’ll tell everybody to make a left into that parking lot, then we’ll take out that roadblock and kill as many of these creeps as we can.”

Jesse smiled. “Good, go for it.”

They drove under the interchange. “There it is. See it?”

“Yeah, Erik, I see it,” Jesse said as he made the turn, the other vehicles pulling in too, finding places to park amid the stalls set up for different types of bricks and blocks. “This is perfect, but we need to watch ourselves. Not all of these UN creeps are stupid.”

“Roger that,” Erik said. “The cops are heading in that direction from the other side. I’m seeing about thirty cruisers.”

“Hope they’re better armed than normal.”

“You and me both,” Erik said, passing the phone back to Jesse. They got out of the truck, the men in the bed jumping out, joining the multitude who were getting out and checking their weapons.

“All right, men, let’s look sharp. The UN isn’t stupid enough to have two vans blocking this road all by themselves. Watch for snipers in the buildings. Stay under cover as best you can. Consider this just like Mosul, understand?”

“Yeah, we get it,” somebody shouted from the group.

“Let’s go,” Erik said. The men left, some staying on the north side of Broadway, others crossing over to the south side, all getting away from the road, working their way through parking lot brush and behind buildings, hauling their weapons and mortars.

Jesse and Erik stayed together, moving on the north side of Broadway, crossing Lemon Grove Way, heading behind a gas station and into the parking lot of a Senior Apartment complex, half of their five hundred men behind and around them, scattered about, making themselves a difficult target. A hoarse, loud whisper got Jesse’s attention. He pointed his MP5 in that direction, and a police officer in uniform poked his head out of the brush, motioning him over.

“Cop,” Jesse whispered. “C’mon, let’s go talk to him.”

Erik nodded, turning to the others to point at the officer, giving them the signal to hold under cover for a moment. He and Jesse rushed over.

“Hello, officer,” Jesse said.

“Officer Roberts,” he said. “The UN creeps are all over the place, starting just past Columbus Place. We’ve been sneaking people into the church right past it. About thirty officers.”

“What are they packing?” Erik asked.

“M4s, shotguns, and their side arms.”

“That’s not so good,” Jesse said.

“They’re full auto M4s,” Officer Roberts said.

“Oh, that’s good, then,” Erik said.

“What are you guys packing? That’s an MP5, right? Only 9mm.”

“We’ve got a bunch of stuff. Lot of M249s, M60s, and some mortars too. Also some RPGs.”

“Holy crap, where’d you get that?” the officer asked.

“Ivan,” Jesse whispered.

The officer’s face turned white. “How big is this gonna be?”

“Sizable, but we’ve got five hundred men in this first wave, all ex-military. There’s a few thousand heavily armed Teamsters on the way in semi-trucks too, plus Ivan’s sending a bunch of his people from Dulzura.”

“Wow,” the officer said.

“I think we ought to bring the mortars up here and ruin their hiding places,” Erik said.

Jesse nodded, pulling his phone and sending a text. “You know which buildings to start with?”

“There’s a small auto repair center just past Columbus, and a small shopping center across the street. We were planning to assault the auto repair center. We’ve got other officers to the south. Be great to have some help.”

The mortar teams rushed forward in a crouch. A large Hispanic man rushed over to Jesse. “Where you thinking, Chief?”

“Hey, Luis,” Jesse said. “There are shopping centers just past Columbus Place, on both sides of Broadway. Nail both of those areas.”

“You got it,” he said, rushing back to the mortar team. They moved into covered positions past the Senior Apartment building, behind a Pest Control business, a few of them sneaking across Broadway to set up in a hair salon parking lot. Shots rang out.

“They’ve seen us,” Erik said. “Nothing they can do, though. Let’s return some fire to keep them from being pro-active.”

Jesse nodded, and the men fanned out in the bushes, opening fire at the Auto Care Center with M249s and M60s.

“That’ll get their attention,” Officer Roberts said, joining in with his M4.

After a few moments, there was a pop, a mortar round landing in the parking lot of the Auto Care Center, blowing out most of the windows in the buildings surrounding the parking lot. Then another round dropped into the strip mall across Broadway, hitting the building closest to the street, blowing glass all over. UN Peacekeepers streamed out, running for better cover. A hail of lead met them, dropping most, a few making it behind something good enough to shoot from. Then another several mortar rounds dropped on their positions, destroying two of the buildings at the Auto Care Center and blasting a restaurant in the strip mall.

“They’re running back towards their roadblock,” Jesse said, moving out with his MP5 and spraying lead down the street at the fleeing men.

“Here,” Erik said, shoving an M60 at Jesse. “Use something with a little more firepower. That damn 9mm toy ain’t gonna cut it.”

“Okay, okay,” Jesse said, setting down the MP5 and picking up the M60, checking the belt, then aiming at a group of UN Peacekeepers trying to run to the next set of buildings, cutting down about half of them. More of the team were in good positions now, firing at the Peacekeepers who were fleeing the barrage of mortar rounds falling into their hiding places.

“They’re going into the next structures,” Jesse shouted. “Send some mortar fire there. Get those creeps into the open!”

“Read my mind, Chief,” Luis said, turning to his team, pointing forward. They picked up and moved closer, setting up again as the rest of the team rushed forward, clearing the enemy who were left in the first position and firing on the UN vans blocking the road at the end of the block. The police officers flooded out of the Church grounds, heading into forward positions with guns blazing.

“Maybe we ought to take out those vans with mortars,” Erik said.

Jesse shook his head. “I’d rather hit the buildings first. Those vans were only there to provide a stoppage, so the UN could fire on anybody trying to get past them. Their men are in the buildings. Hell, those vans might be rigged to blow. You know how these cretins are. They’re as bad as the Islamists.”

“Crap, didn’t think about that,” Erik said. “Look, the UN Peacekeepers behind the roadblock just fled north on Grove.”

“Let them go. We need to clear this area. I’m gonna send a text for nobody to get near those vans.”

Jesse did that, as Erik drew a bead on some UN Peacekeepers trying to sneak around the front of the car wash, just past the Auto Care Center. The area blew up with a mortar round before he could get a shot off. “Whoa. See the secondary explosions? We hit some of their ammo or something.”

“That explosion was too big for ammo. They’ve probably got mortars they haven’t used yet. Let’s keep on them.”

“Hey, Chief, saw your text about the vans,” Luis said. “Tell everybody to get down. I’m blowing those things. The enemy might be able to detonate them remotely, and they could have enough explosive in them to take out people who aren’t that close.”

“All right, go ahead,” Jesse said, sending a text for everybody to take cover. Luis adjusted his mortar and fired, short about twenty yards.

“Look, the enemy troops are running away,” Erik said, raising his M249 and cutting down as many as he could. “Luis is right, there’s something in those vans.”

Luis dropped another round, which was within about ten yards this time. “Dammit. Third time will be the charm.” He made the adjustment and fired another round, which hit the van on the right, blowing up huge, setting off the other van and a gas station on the south side of Broadway, debris and fire filling the air.

“Take cover!” Jesse yelled at the top of his lungs as burning pieces came down around them.

“I think I just hit the jackpot!” Luis shouted.

“Yeah, I think so,” Erik said, laughing as the fire spread, more UN Peacekeepers trying to flee from nearby buildings, getting cut down by the multitude of machine guns brought in by the group.

“The enemy is moving further north,” Jesse said, watching his phone. “We need to make sure there’s forces over there.”

“They can get home that way,” Officer Roberts said. “We need to stop them.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get the Teamsters to block that off,” Erik said. “Maybe we should tell Ivan’s folks from Dulzura too.”

“There’s a larger group still heading south,” Jesse said. “We need the Dulzura group for that. Last I heard they were just getting to Highway 125 from Lake Otay Road.”

“Oh, didn’t know they were still that far south,” Erik said. “We moving?”

“Yeah, let’s chase them,” Jesse said. “Sax’s crew is gonna be on Riviera Drive in about five minutes.”

“Riviera Drive?” Erik asked.

Officer Roberts chuckled. “Grove turns into Rivera Drive. Those cretins are in trouble. Let’s go stop up their retreat route.”

“Let’s get to the vehicles, everybody!” Jesse shouted as he sent out the text.

***

Ted was behind the wheel of his battle wagon, Bryan in the passenger seat watching his phone. Brianna and Haley were in the back, ready to go with the M60s.

“Real mess in Lemon Grove,” Bryan said.

“For us?” Ted asked.

“No, for the UN. They just got forced to retreat.”

“Which way?”

Bryan moved the phone closer to his face. “North on Grove. All those Teamsters are heading in that direction from the north. This ought to be interesting.”

Their phones all dinged with a broadcast text.

“What?” Ted asked, not trying to pull his phone out.

“Big group of UN Peacekeepers massing at a Country Club along Bonita road,” Haley said.

“Dammit,” Bryan said. “We should’ve stayed on Otay Lakes Road. It would’ve taken us right there. Get off on EH Street and go west.”

“To where?” Ted asked.

“It’ll take us right back to Otay Lakes Road, honey,” Haley said. “I’m texting the others.”

“Good,” Ted said. “I see it coming up already. It was the next off-ramp.”

“How many UN creeps are there?” Brianna asked.

“Hard to tell,” Bryan said. “We should put the Blue Tooth headsets back on. We’re about to be in the thick of it.”

“Yeah,” Ted said, putting his back on. “Anybody on.”

“Read you loud and clear, partner,” Tex said. “Never bothered to take mine off. Got an extra if the battery gets low.”

“Good, Ted, you back,” Jules said. “Satellite view just come in. UN Peacekeepers in Lemon Grove cut off from main group, trying to flee north. Rest of slugs heading to the country club. Chula Vista. Recruits in cars beat you there. I tell to hold off, but they’ll get seen, so kick into high gear. They need firepower of battle wagons.”

“Everybody remember the weaknesses of these rigs,” Trevor said.

“Yes, remember,” Ji-Ho said. “Don’t get caught up. Leave coach and fight on ground if you get stuck.”

“You aren’t with us, are you Uncle?” Kaylee asked.

“No, at Dodge City. Traded for second generation rig that was powering mine computers.”

“Oh, you’re Edison today, huh?” Trevor quipped.

Ji-Ho laughed. “Summer rates apply.”

“Hey, everybody, it’s Ivan. We won in Mexico. The last group of Islamists are fleeing to the south. Our guys are chasing them, and they won’t get away. They’re on foot.”

“Good news,” Jules said.

“So, the regular army never had to leave the Mexico City area?” Sam asked.

“Nope,” Ivan said.

“Sounds like we’re getting to the last part of the California war,” Justin said.

“No, there’s still a lot of UN Peacekeepers at the base in El Cajon,” Ivan said. “We aren’t safe until we root them out and kill or capture them.”

“I vote for kill, partner,” Tex said.

Robbie chuckled. “Yeah, me too.”

“Do we know what the size of the force at the country club is?” Ted asked, sounding more serious than the rest.

“Couple thousand, assuming they not pick up more sleepers from southern region,” Jules said, “Take seriously. This dangerous mission.”

“Thank you,” Ted said. “I’m about to turn right from EH Street to Otay Lakes Road. Everybody keep their eyes open. One person from each coach keep an eye on the drone feed. All of us need to watch carefully. If you see something, say something, even if it looks like a minor threat. Everybody got that?”

“Good advice,” Ivan said.

“Yes, agree,” Ji-Ho said. “Damage enemy, but live to fight another day. This not over.”

Haley took off her headset. “Why do they keep saying that?”

Ted pushed the button to turn off his headset. “Because there’s several thousand of them and about one thousand of us, and we’ve seen the weaknesses of these battle wagons. We’re also too far away from Garrett’s cavalry. We’ve got a whole bunch of recruits, but we haven’t fought with most of them before. Stay sharp. Don’t take chances. If somebody is aiming something big at us and you can’t take them out, we need to get out of this thing in a hurry. Got it?”

Bryan nodded. “Put your headsets back on.”

“Uh oh,” Haley asked.

“Nothing happened, but Ivan and Jules want everybody on,” Bryan said.

“I’m back,” Ted said into his headset.

“Good,” Jules said. “You still in the lead, correct?”

“We’re the first battle wagon. Lots of citizen recruits are in front of us.”

“Listen,” Haley said. “Gunfire.”

“The citizens are engaging the enemy already,” Seth said. “I can see them in the drone video. They’re taking tremendous fire.”

“As we expected,” Ben said. “How far out are the battle wagons?”

“We’re hearing the gunfire in our rig,” Ted said. “Several blocks.”

“Yeah, partner, we hear it now too,” Tex said. “The enemy is gonna expect us to go right down this road now. Some of us should split off.”

“Yes, he right,” Ji-Ho said.

“Hey,” Kaitlyn said, “the enemy isn’t firing on the citizens from the country club, they’re on the roofs of those stores, in the shopping center at Otay Lakes Road and Bonita Road. Be careful. Get behind it and lob grenades if you can.”

“They’re also on the roofs at the smaller shopping center on the east side of Otay Lakes Road,” Seth said.

“Oh yeah, see them too,” Kaitlyn said.

“Guide us in,” Ted said. “We’re almost there.”

“Okay, most of you turn left on Allen School Lane,” Kaitlyn said. Follow it around. It’ll put you on a hill behind the big shopping center, with several escape routes.”

“After you’ve laid down fire there, we could put a couple battle wagons across the street and to the north on Songbird Lane,” Ben said. “It’s on a hill with a perfect view of the smaller shopping center, but there’s no back way out. I wouldn’t put more than one or two there.”

“Yes, I see,” Ji-Ho said. “Be careful on east side of Otay Lakes Road. Good spot to shoot from, but death trap.”

“I just made the turn onto Allen School Lane,” Ted said. “Bryan, go man one of the M60s and get Haley up here to man the front and rear machine guns.”

“Okay, boss,” Bryan said, getting up, Haley taking his place, pulling the targeting tray out in front of her.

“The road turns to the right,” Kaitlyn said. “Looks like a different road, but it’s got the same name. Turn there, and when that stretch starts to curve, pull up into the driveway. There’s a large dirt area. Looks like a house with a huge piece of land around it.”

“Got it,” Ted said, making the right turn in the massive coach. “Kinda small back here. Residential streets. Lousy road surface too.”

The front of the coach was pelted with machine gun fire.

“There’s people on that land we were gonna use,” Haley shouted, aiming the front machine guns and firing, mowing down several UN Peacekeepers, the rest running for the line of trees behind the shopping center. Ted pulled onto the dirt, making way for more battle wagons, raising the weapons and going into siege mode.

“Watch the sides with those M60s,” Haley said.

“There’s Tex, pulling next to us,” Ted said, waiting for the grenade launcher to lock into place. When it did, he pulled the targeting sight in front of him and fired a salvo of grenades, hitting the tops of the closest buildings, blowing up three machine gun nests, the UN Peacekeepers on the nearby roofs scrambling towards the trap doors and ladders, just as Tex opened up with his mini gun.

Justine and Katie drove past them, getting on the far side of the property and going into siege mode.

“We’re going to the second location,” Trevor said. “If we have to leave the coach, we can do a lot of damage when we’re outside.”

“Be careful,” Ji-Ho said.

“Don’t worry, Uncle, we know what we’re doing,” Kaylee said.

“We’re going there too,” Cody said. “Allison and I are both pretty good on the ground. We’ll park so if either of us get hit, the other can still back out.”

“Good,” Jules said.

“In place,” Trevor said. “Activating siege mode. We’re getting hit by a lot of machine gun fire.”

“Don’t get stuck there,” Ji-Ho shouted.

“Weapons up,” Trevor said, noise from the mini gun sounding. “We just swept the creeps who were shooting us off the roof.”

“Look, there’s a bunch of them running up the road,” Kaylee said. “Going at them with the forward machine guns.” She fired.

“I’m in place,” Cody said. “Perfect view. I can see both shopping centers. Taking out the crew on the grocery store now.” The M19 grenade launcher chugged away, sending one grenade after another onto the roof.

“Whoa, honey, caved in that whole side of the roof.”

“Watch out, look at those fighters coming at us!” Cody shouted. The front machine guns fired.

“Don’t stay there too long,” Ted shouted as he continued to fire at the shopping center roofs.

“Look at those guys rushing Justin and Katie’s rig over there.”

A mini gun fired up.

“Never mind, Tex nailed them good,” Haley said.

Suddenly the ground near Justin and Katie’s rig exploded.

“Uh oh, they’ve got mortars going,” Tex said. “I think I know where they are. Firing grenades.” Another mortar round exploded, closer to Justin and Katie’s rig as they fought back with the mini gun and grenade launcher.

“Justin, move back, man,” Tex shouted as he fired several grenades towards the source of the mortar fire.

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 7 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 11 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 8 – Meeting of the Council

I walked out the rear gate of the Zephyrus, into the cool air of the massive hangar. There were several ships down there, all of them much bigger than ours, two in a state of disassembly. Techs scurried around them, carrying tools and parts, sparks from welders dropping on the floor below them.

“Captain Clarke, thanks for getting here so quickly,” Chairman Vermillion said, reaching out to shake my hand. “Looks like that gold plating stayed on pretty well.” His entourage smiled at me, some of them reaching out to shake hands and state their names.

I chuckled. “Good to meet all of you. Take a look at this.” I walked them over to the section of the hull where the Mosasaur bites were. “The sea monsters were able to mar the finish, but they didn’t get all the way through it.”

“Wow,” Vermillion said, looking closer, reaching up to touch the ragged scratches. “You say a whole pack attacked you?”

“Sure did. Is everybody in your group cleared?”

Vermillion nodded yes.

“Okay, great. Our plasma weapons would’ve made short work of the beasties, but since we were on Valla Cappos, we didn’t want to be seen.”

“We’ve got a series of photos we’d like you to look at,” one of the entourage mentioned.

“Let me guess. Pictures of Clan military vessels. We only got a brief glimpse. I might not be able to tell you yea or nay with complete certainty.”

“Were your cameras running?” a woman in the group asked.

“Now there’s a good question,” I said. “Let’s go up to the bridge and check that out. Follow me.” I led them up the ramp and down the hall to the bridge.

“Very small ship,” one of the men said.

“It’s small, but it’s got it where it counts,” I said, walking onto the bridge. Izzy was just about to leave when we got there.

“Captain, do you need something?” she asked.

“Yeah, could you hang around for a few minutes?”

“Sure,” she said, sitting back down. “Nolan and Tim already went to their staterooms.”

“No problem. Were the cameras running when we got into orbit around Valla Cappos?”

“On the way out, right?” she asked.

“Yes. We’re wondering if there’s some video of that Clan battle frigate.”

“I’m pretty sure they were on, but I don’t know if we got a good shot of the ship,” Izzy said. She turned her head towards her PA system and murmured some commands. The display showed underwater views in twelve grids. “I’ll fast forward till we get into orbit.”

The screen’s frame rate increased, and then the swarm of Mosasaurs showed up.

“Stop there!” somebody in the entourage shouted. “Let’s see those creatures.”

Izzy looked at me, and I nodded, so she stopped the advance, backed up to where the large group was attacking, then selected the best camera view and started it at normal speed, full screen.

“Wow,” a woman in the group said. “Those are impressive. They’re looking right into the camera.”

“Maybe they think those are the golden creature’s eyes,” quipped another.

“I can see why you decided to get out of the water,” Vermillion said.

“Okay, that’s enough, thank you,” I said to Izzy, and she sped up again, going back to the twelve-section view. The video showed the movement to land, and crew members scurrying around the surface of the ship in fast motion. “This is longer than I thought.” She sped the fast forward up even more, and soon we were rising into the air. Flashes overloaded the camera sensors, and on two of the screen sections the ship was visible. Izzy stopped the video and expanded the best of the views to fill the screen. “There you go.”

“I was afraid of this,” a man said. “This is not like any of the military ships we’ve seen before.”

“That’s a large ship,” Vermillion said. “You have the analysis tools loaded?”

“No sir, but I’ll load them now,” Izzy said. She spoke into her PA, and a grid settled over the picture. “What do you want to know?”

“How long that ship is,” Vermillion said.

Izzy traced around the ship on the screen in front of her, a yellow line going around the Clan ship on the big display. Then she spoke a one-word command into the PA. Numbers appeared below the image of the battle frigate. “It’s 2739.354 meters.”

“Almost three kilometers,” one of the entourage said. “That rivals the largest ship we’ve got.”

“Assuming size matters here,” Izzy quipped, drawing smirks from a few of the entourage.

“The only reason to have a ship that large is to bring in a lot of infantry,” Vermillion said. “We have some talking to do, team. Let’s go back to the command section and get started. Can you join us, Captain Clarke?”

“Yes sir. Is it all right that my crew leaves the ship?”

“Yes, they can go anywhere not marked classified,” Vermillion said. “We’ve got a great recreation area, about half a kilometer down the main corridor. They get there through the hangar security check-in facility.”

Izzy grinned. “I’ll tell the others, Captain.”

I nodded. “Make sure we have the security protocols in place. Remember what I said. I don’t want anyone who’s not a member of the crew sneaking onto this ship. Understand? I want the alarms on, so we know if un-authorized people come on board.”

“Yes, I understand,” she said. “Talk to you later.”

I led Vermillion’s group off the Zephyrus, and we headed for the security check in, which required both fingerprint and retina scans for entrance into the main part of the facility.

“How large is this base?” I asked.

“Seventy-five square kilometers,” Vermillion said, “in three levels. The largest single room is the hangar, of course. It’s the only room that’s three levels tall.”

“Wow. First time I’ve been here.”

“It’s a great resource to have,” the woman said. “I’m Chief Technologist J.J. Ostermann. Good to meet you, Captain. We have an interesting new toy for you to try out.”

“I figured.”

“Let’s hold that conversation until we get into the secure conference room,” Vermillion said.

“Yes sir.” I hushed up as we followed him, making several turns. “I should’ve dropped breadcrumbs.”

“Use your PA,” Ostermann said. “It’ll guide you back.”

“Do you live down here full time?”

She nodded, her dark hair flowing as she looked up at me. “Gets a little oppressive after a while, but I get to go home often. At least once a month.”

“When we can spare you,” Vermillion quipped as he held the door open for us. We filed into the large conference room. It had an oval table in the middle with cushy chairs around it, plus smaller chairs against the walls, at the sides and the back.

Vermillion took the head of the table at the back of the room, motioning for me to sit at his right side. “Let’s get started.”

“What’s first?” asked an older man with white hair down to his shoulders. “The ship or the clandestine visits of the Clan?”

“The ship,” Vermillion said, clearing his throat. “Captain Clarke, we’ve determined that the cloaking device being tested on the Tristar is ready to deploy on more ships, and yours is first in line.”

“I thought my assignment to the Zephyrus was temporary,” I said. “Who’s taking over the New Jersey?”

“Don’t worry about it, Captain. This is a good step for you. Trust me.”

I nodded. “I trust you, sir. It’s just the first I’ve heard that my assignment to the Zephyrus was permanent. Do I get to keep Tim, Izzy, and Deacon?”

“The crew will stay in place,” Vermillion said. “You didn’t mention Nolan.”

I laughed. “He’s valuable, to be sure, but he’s also a pain in the ass.”

Ostermann laughed out loud, covering her mouth quickly. “Sorry, sir.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Vermillion said. “I know he’s a pain, but it’s just his social skills.”

“He has his own agenda, which he considers more important than the corporation’s agenda,” I said.

Vermillion smirked. “You’re talking about his unauthorized seeding of Valla Cappos?”

I nodded.

“He’s actually right about that, but we can’t officially condone that strategy, as it breaks our own laws.”

“Understand, and I had similar thoughts, to be honest. My problem is keeping peace in the crew, but it is very much my problem. I’ll handle it. He is getting better, as he comes to understand that others in the crew are smart enough to be worthy of respect.”

“Well, that’s what we pay you for, Captain,” one of the men in the entourage said. I nodded in agreement.

“How long will it take to install the cloaking device on the Zephyrus?” I asked.

“You want to take that, JJ?” Vermillion asked.

“Ten minutes to install, a few days to test and tune,” Ostermann said. “It’s a software change to the shield functionality.”

“Oh, no hardware involved, huh? That’s great.”

“If we’ve really got the Clan coming for us, we’d better start retrofitting all our battle cruisers,” a younger military man with a buzzcut said.

“That will take a vote of the Central Authority Senate,” Vermillion said. “Same with that module that Nolan developed.”

“The Overlords will try to kill it there,” Mr. Buzzcut said.

Vermillion smiled. “Yes, they will, but their supreme leader has been put on probation, and can’t direct Overlord activities for three months.”

“Three months?” Ostermann asked. “Is that all?”

“We were lucky to get that,” Vermillion said. “The population trusts Simone more than they trust the Corporation, you know. The Central Authority legislators are worried about the next election.”

“Wait till the population finds out that the Clan is infiltrating our zone,” quipped a man across the room, wearing a military uniform.

Vermillion stood. “Commander Onyx, we will not leak this news to the press. Do you understand?”

“I wasn’t suggesting that,” Onyx said. “Don’t put words in my mouth, Chairman. I agree that we can’t afford to have that happen. No leaks will come from the military.”

Vermillion smiled at him, sitting back down. “That goes for everyone in this room. No leaks about Clan activity in our zone. Period. Anybody caught leaking will be sanctioned. Does everybody understand?”

The people in the room nodded, including me. Mental note – pass that along to my crew, especially Nolan.

“I see the wheels in your head turning, Captain Clarke,” Vermillion said, eyeing me.

“Making a mental note to discuss that with my crew, sir.”

“Oh,” Vermillion said, still eyeing me. “Yes, of course.”

“Can we move on to the Clan activity now?” Commander Onyx asked.

“Yes, Alex, it’s time,” Vermillion said. “First, I want to reassure all of you. The Clan may be here, but they’re still very limited. They can only use natural worm holes, and we know where all of those are. We can intercept them within minutes, and we have a good way of finding their bases.”

“Then why are they going to the trouble?” Ostermann asked.

“That’s what we need to find out,” Vermillion said. “It might not be what we think.”

I shot him a glance. “You aren’t suggesting that they may be defecting, are you?”

“The Clan Zone has become a much darker place. It’s like Germany in the late 1930s. Their social control structures make the Overlords look tame.”

“That’s an understatement,” Commander Onyx said. The gruff old soldier eyed the room for a moment, making sure he had everybody’s attention. “That said, I’m not buying it. If some of the Clan’s military command decided to leave their zone, it makes more sense for them to go to the Free Zone than to come to the Central Authority Zone.”

“Military spacecraft aren’t allowed in the Free Zone,” Ostermann said.

“Clan ships aren’t allowed in our zone, but here they are,” Onyx said.

“At this point we aren’t even sure there are Clan ships anywhere but on Valla Cappos,” Vermillion said. “I’ve got a proposal.”

“Let’s hear it, Chairman,” Onyx said.

“The most capable ship we have is the Zephyrus, after we complete the retrofit of it’s shield system to include cloaking capability. When we complete that, the Zephyrus won’t be trackable no matter what it’s doing.”

“Isn’t there some doubt about that?” Onyx asked. “The Zephyrus almost didn’t make it off Earth, remember? For all we know, it was tracked by that Centurion ship.”

I cleared my throat. “I can explain that, thanks to Nolan.”

Onyx laughed. “What did that blow-hard have to say?”

“He tracked the Overlord’s battle cruiser. They jumped into Earth’s atmosphere from the space dock orbiting Mars.”

“Which they would’ve done if they were tracking you,” Onyx said.

“The trip took about 43 seconds.”

“Dammit,” Ostermann said. “We have a mole.”

“That’s what Nolan was thinking. It’s one of the reasons we went to Valla Cappos in the first place. It was off the beaten path and below level five. We figured if a spy was onboard, we’d be discovered again.”

“You were,” Onyx said. “By the Clan, remember?”

I shot a glance to Vermillion, who nodded to go ahead.

“We weren’t scanned by the Clan. They were hunting Neanderthals. They weren’t expecting us, or they would’ve brought more commandos with better arms.”

“You engaged them to save Neanderthals?” Onyx asked.

“No sir, the Clan saw us when they got close enough to get a look with their infrared systems. We’d already engaged them when the Neanderthals arrived.”

“It doesn’t sound like the Neanderthals were being pursued,” Ostermann said.

“They saw the Clan coming and attacked. It was good for us that they did.”

“Let’s move on,” Vermillion said quickly. “Enough about the Neanderthals. I want to get to my proposal.”

Onyx was about to say something but stopped himself. Ostermann shot me a glance. I shrugged.

“We have to be close to the subject planets to scan for Clan ships,” Vermillion said. “We all know that. I propose that we send the Zephyrus with it’s new technology to investigate some of the likely locations, based on proximity to natural wormholes.”

“You want to send that little ship all by itself?” Onyx asked. “Shouldn’t we fit this technology on a Centurion class ship instead?”

“That would be illegal,” Ostermann said. “Unless we went through the legal process to declare it a prototype, and you know that would never survive a Senate vote. Those ships are too powerful to be completely off the Central Authority’s radar. They tried to go after the Zephyrus and it’s much less of a threat.”

“The Overlords tried to go after the Zephyrus, not the Central Authority,” Onyx corrected.

“The Overlords are a sub-set of the Central Authority,” Ostermann said. “Do you deny that?”

Onyx glared at her, his eyes glassing over. “Fine. I’m just suggesting that we’re putting too much human capital at risk, that’s all.”

Vermillion shook his head. “Commander Onyx, I understand your concern, and if what JJ is saying was incorrect, I’d be on your side. Sadly, that’s not the case. We must use an existing prototype if we’re going to keep this under the radar, and the only mission-worthy prototype ships we have are the Zephyrus and the Tristar. We’ll ready the Tristar as a back-up, but it’ll take more work to get the Tristar to that level, and she’s not enough larger than the Zephyrus to make any difference.”

Onyx sat quietly, thinking for a moment, calming down. “Okay, Chairman, I’ll agree. Don’t have to like it.”

“What about the other problem that came up yesterday?” Ostermann asked. “It’s a threat.”

“We can’t discuss that in this setting,” Vermillion said. “We’ve got enough on our plate.”

“What’s she talking about?” Onyx asked.

“I said we can’t discuss it here, Commander.”

“Fair enough,” he said. “What else? Which worlds will be targeted for surveillance?”

“We aren’t going to share that,” Vermillion said.

Onyx’s eyebrows went up. “What? The council has a right to know the details of any operation of this type.”

“It’s very likely we have a mole,” Vermillion said. “Until we can prove that a mole doesn’t exist, or until we capture the mole, we have to take precautions. It’s in the charter and by-laws of the Corporation.”

“I don’t like this.”

“Neither do I, Alex,” Vermillion said. “As soon as we can reveal more, we will. I can make you that promise.”

“Well, then I guess that’ll have to be good enough,” Onyx said. “Let me know how I can help.”

“Will do. Thanks, you’re all dismissed. Captain Clarke, stick around please.”

I nodded, watching the others get up and leave the conference room, Ostermann making eye contact with me before she turned to leave.

When the room was empty, Vermillion leaned back in his chair, a sigh escaping from his mouth. “I’ll have to smooth things over with Onyx.”

“He seemed to understand,” I said. “What’s on your mind?”

“A few things,” he said, pausing to collect his thoughts. “Am I saddling your team with more than you and the Zephyrus can handle?”

“I don’t believe so, sir. We aren’t going out there to fight. We’re going out there to search and report.”

“Can you keep Nolan under control?”

I sighed. “He’s still wanted on several planets in the zone. Can you tell me why he was hired? He seems like a hot potato to me.”

Vermillion chuckled. “I can’t tell you everything. There’s some personal family connection that he’s not aware of, and I’m not going to tell you about it.”

“You saved him.”

“No comment,” Vermillion said. “There is one thing that concerns me.”

“What’s that?”

“There’s missing data in the PA subnet of the Zephyrus. You know that’s a violation, right?”

I leaned back in my chair. “Nolan bragged about being able to wipe PA systems. I didn’t really believe him, but I humored him. He said he was successful this morning. I haven’t checked.”

“He was, and that concerns me slightly. What was the reason he gave for doing it?”

“That’s easy to explain. He didn’t want a record of our crew going to restricted planets, since there could be legal consequences.”

Vermillion chuckled. “That’s the only reason?”

“That’s all he said. I can’t think of anything else. You think there’s something else.”

“I have some suspicions,” Vermillion said. “Keep track of what he’s doing. While this mission is in progress, I won’t do anything. After it’s over, I want to know exactly how he was able to accomplish this.”

“Why?”

“So we can hand off the weakness to PA Systems,” Vermillion said. “Remember that the Corporation has a thirty-percent stake in that company. If their system doesn’t have air-tight security, it’s dangerous for us financially.”

“Sounds like the corporation wants the capability to spy on citizens,” I said, wishing I could take the words back after they left my lips.

Vermillion laughed. “Look, using the PA System is voluntary. People must approve the terms of service and the privacy contract before they can become users. Also remember that before any law enforcement entity can review PA history, they’ve got to show probable cause, and they have to get a judge to sign a warrant.”

I sighed. “You’re right. Sorry. I’ll keep an eye on him. Do you want me to tell him to stop it right now?”

“No, I want him focused on the mission. It’s important. Onyx was right to be asking a lot of questions. Especially with elections coming up. If this goes the wrong way, it’ll be a huge problem.”

“Understand,” I said.

“Good. That’s all. Get yourself some r and r. You’ve earned it. Keep our chat to yourself, too. Okay?”

“Yes sir,” I said, getting up.

“We’re having a dinner tonight. Lots of dignitaries and some entertainment. You won’t want to miss it. I’ll send invites to you and your crew.”

“Thank you, sir. See you tonight.”

“Good day.”

I left the conference room, getting into the hallway. As expected, I was unsure of how to find my way back to the ship, so I asked the PA to guide me. I was about half-way through the maze when somebody tapped my shoulder. I spun around. It was Ostermann.

“You walk fast,” she said, trying to catch her breath. “Can we talk?”

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 7 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 11 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 7 – Ocean Base

I walked into sick bay. The Neanderthal was a few meters inside the door, on a bed with a cast on his arm. He was strapped down, sleeping. Deneuve was on one side of the bed, Dr. Clara Hazelton on the other.

“How is he?” I asked.

“We had to sedate him to set his arm,” Dr. Hazelton said. “He’ll be fine, but he’ll sleep for a while.”

“You try any of the dialects?”

“We’ve tried five of the thirty that Nolan sent,” Deneuve said. “He perked up on one, but I don’t think he understood it.”

“I was just telling Deneuve that we should try the Active Learning System. It’ll probably work for him, if we can get him to wear the apparatus.”

“Will that work with non-humans?” I asked.

“Maybe,” Dr. Hazelton said. “Might be worth a try, but I don’t know how the drug will impact him.

Okay, here’s something you need to know about. Active learning is a system developed in 2356. It uses a combination of audio and visual stimuli plus a drug to induce concentration and open the mind to the training. The student wears a head set consisting of earphones, a microphone, and virtual reality goggles. The drug is introduced into the bloodstream via an IV, and the training program is run. This training method works very well for teaching languages in humans. It’s referred to as ALS on Earth. Get it? Good, back to the story.

“What if he can’t take the ALS drug cocktail?” Deneuve asked. “I don’t want him dying because of this.”

“I need to do some research first,” she said. “Don’t worry, if there’s significant risk, I won’t do it.”

I eyed Dr. Hazelton. “I say do the research, then we talk it out.”

“I’ll get on that right away, Captain.” She left the room.

“You’ve gotten pretty attached to this guy already, haven’t you?” I asked.

Deneuve shrugged. “It’s not really that, I just don’t want her accidently killing him. He should be able to trust us.”

“We won’t do anything unless the risk is very low. How was he acting before he was knocked out for the arm re-set?”

“Afraid, but he’s already come to trust me, so he hollered pretty good whenever I left the room. He tried to get up and follow me, too. Even with the broken arm.”

“They get attached fast.”

“Yes, Captain. I’ve been doing some research on them myself.”

“We think the Clan was after them, not us,” I said. “We don’t think they noticed us at all until they got close.”

Deneuve looked at me, shaking his head in agreement. “That’s what my gut told me too, but I don’t have any data to prove it. You guys found something?”

“Yeah, they can hear the implants that the Clan puts in all their people. For some reason it turns on the territorial protection impulse.”

“What, you mean those artificial eyes they use?”

I nodded. “We think so. Has he shown any aggressive tendencies here?”

“No, just fear,” Deneuve said. “I’d probably better get back to work.”

I shook my head no. “When is he waking up?”

“Should be another twenty minutes or so.”

“All right, then take a short break and get back here. I want you to stay with him as much as possible. We need to communicate with him. It’d be nice if we could use the ALS, but if not we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.”

“Why is that important?” Deneuve asked. “You think he knows something?”

“Possible. We’re working on a theory, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet. Your job right now is to let him bond with you.”

Deneuve chuckled. “I think that’s already happened. It’s not the part that worries me.”

I eyed him. “Well?”

“I’m getting bonded to him.”

“Don’t worry about that for now,” I said. “I’ve got to go. Talk to you soon.”

I left sick bay, heading back to my stateroom, the sensation of motion making me dizzy for a moment. We’re going to the surface of Cremonia.

As I entered the stateroom, my PA buzzed. Izzy, telling me that we were in the fresh-water lake, and that she had the cameras up and was starting the scanner. I sat in my chair and accessed the holographic communications system, buzzing for Chairman Vermillion.

“Captain Clarke, you’re at your new destination?”

“Yes sir,” I said, watching the near-perfect representation of his face before me. “Nolan has an idea about the Clan. I want to take a break from our mission and pursue it.”

Vermillion smiled. “I knew this was coming. Go ahead.”

I gathered my thoughts for a moment. “Nolan noticed that there’s a natural wormhole within seconds of Valla Cappos.”

“Go on.”

“You don’t look surprised, Chairman.”

Vermillion smiled. “If the Clan ship had Samson Drive, we would’ve picked them up in our scans right away.”

“You didn’t bring that up in our last chat.”

“I was in the middle of a nap before you called last time. Was still a little groggy.”

“You probably know what I’m about to ask, then.”

Vermillion eyed me, nodding yes. “I’ve got a pretty good idea.”

“Nolan looked for planets above level five that have natural wormholes nearby. There are a lot. We’d like to check some of them. Nolan thinks he can detect Clan ships if we’re close enough.”

“Does your current location fall into that criteria?” Vermillion asked.

“Nope. We picked this one because of it’s proximity to Sheppard One.”

“I see. You’ll need to stand down for now. In fact, I’d like you to come back to Earth.”

“Won’t we get picked up?” I asked.

“They wouldn’t dare,” Vermillion said. “I’ve already filed an injunction with the Central Authority, and Simone’s been put on probation as a result. The Overlords have been forbidden to molest any corporation ships.”

“Wow, that happened quickly. How’s the society taking it?”

“Simone has her followers, but by in large, it’s not big news. I want you at the South Pacific Base, just in case. Understand?”

“How soon do you want us there?” I asked.

“Finish your scanning of Sheppard One, as long as you’re there. When you’re satisfied that they haven’t been compromised, come home. If you see any evidence of a problem, contact me right away.”

“Yes sir,” I said. “Talk to you soon.”

Vermillion’s face disappeared, leaving the holograph frame. I shut down the system and headed back to the bridge.

“Good, you’re back,” Nolan said, turning towards me. “I have a list of the most likely places to investigate.”

“We’ve been forbidden to follow that up, at least for now,” I told him.

“By whom?”

“Chairman Vermillion.”

Tim chuckled. “I knew it.”

“Why?” Izzy asked.

I shrugged. “He didn’t say.”

“Oh, come now, you know what he’s worried about,” Nolan said.

“And what might that be?” Tim asked.

“The Clan has good profile info about this ship. Surely it’s been passed to any Clan ships that are in our zone. Vermillion doesn’t want us being seen at another of their locations, if they’re really doing what we think they’re doing.”

“It might get them to back off,” Tim said.

I shook my head. “Or it might start a war. We are following those orders. Do you understand, Nolan?”

“Yes sir.”

I looked at Izzy and Tim. “You guys get it?”

“Yes sir,” Tim said.

“Yes, Captain,” Izzy said. “What’s our next course of action?”

“We finish scanning for problems on Sheppard One. After that, we’re to go directly to the South Pacific base.”

“They’re pulling us back to Earth?” Nolan asked. “What about Simone and the Overlords.”

“That problem has been neutralized for now,” I said.

“How?” Nolan asked.

“I don’t have permission to say more.”

Nolan shook his head. “You’re joking.”

“Wish I was. How safe is our location?”

Izzy eyed me for a moment, then spoke. “Nothing big showing up in the scans. We’ve got a periscope up. Glad we’re not on land.”

Nolan chuckled. “This is a watering hole. The dinosaurs aren’t as dense over most of the planet.”

“I understand that, Nolan. Did you see that t-rex running? Scared me to death. I had no idea they were that fast. And all those feathers. Different colors than I’ve seen in pictures.”

“Yeah, deep blues and yellows,” Tim said. “I thought that thing was beautiful. I expected colors that would camouflage a little better.”

“Put the periscope on screen,” I said, sitting in my captain’s chair.

Izzy nodded and talked into her PA for a moment, the screen filling with a view of the lake shore. “No predators there at the moment. Lots of those duck-billed things.”

Nolan rolled his eyes. “Hadrosaurids. Didn’t they teach you this in school?”

Izzy shot him a glance, then looked back at me. “There are some species that might join us in the water, but none of them are aggressive, according to what I’ve read today.”

“Good. We won’t be here too long, in any event. Our priority is scanning for compromise of our allies on Sheppard One. You got that, Nolan?”

“I’m already working it, Captain.”

“Good,” I said. “Anybody hungry? I’m going to get some food. I’ll bring some here.”

“Just ate, Captain,” Izzy said, “but thanks.”

“Same here,” Nolan said, eyes focused on his work station.

Tim stood. “I could eat. Mind if I go with you?”

“No problem. Let’s go.” We left the bridge.

“Okay, go ahead,” I said.

Tim shot me a glance. “So we’re not wanted anymore? How about Nolan? Is he still wanted?”

“No.”

“I know you can’t tell me much, Captain. It’s okay.”

We nodded to a few of Deacon’s crewmembers as we passed them in the corridor.

“Look, I didn’t want to engage Nolan in there, but I can say a little more if you keep it to yourself.”

“Okay,” Tim said as we rounded a corner.

“The Corporation filed an injunction against Simone and the Overlords for their attempt to capture us as we were leaving Earth. Simon’s on probation, and the Overlords have been ordered to leave all corporation ships alone.”

“You didn’t want Nolan to know he isn’t wanted on Earth now.”

“Not yet, anyway,” I said. “It’s not that I don’t trust him, really. I want his focus to be on my orders. Having him a little worried helps with that.”

“In other words, we’re under pressure to get back to Earth as soon as possible,” Tim said. We walked into the kitchen.

“Yep, that’s about the size of it. Vermillion already figured out that we might have a problem with the original wormholes. I believe our mission after the Earth visit will be to investigate, but we aren’t ready yet. I suspect they’ll retrofit this ship with that cloaking device that’s being tested on the Tristar right now.”

Tim smiled. “So we’ll be invisible when we come out of jumps?”

“You got it, but don’t mention it to Izzy or Nolan. That’s an order.”

“Yes sir.”

“Hey, how’s the slop?” Deacon asked, walking into the kitchen.

“Don’t know yet,” I said, turning to him. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing much to do at the moment, so I thought I’d engage in my favorite pass time.”

“What’s that?” Tim asked.

Deacon chuckled. “Gorging myself, of course. We’ve got cheesecakes. Had one last night. That cook is getting better.”

“How much guidance have you been giving him?” I asked. “Man doesn’t live by cheesecake alone, you know.”

“Blasphemy,” Deacon said, going straight to the glass case, shelves covered with cheesecakes and other deserts. “Join me?”

“I’ll eat with you, but I’m not eating cheesecake for lunch,” I said, heading for the deli section. I requested a sub sandwich with my PA and waited. Tim ordered a soft drink and a couple cookies.

“You already ate too, didn’t you?” I asked.

Tim shrugged. “You found me out.”

We took our food to a round table, Deacon joining us after a few minutes, half a cheesecake on his plate.

“Maybe you should take off a few pounds,” Tim quipped. “That’s not gonna help.”

“I’m taking a scrubber. The bad stuff will be out of my system about ten minutes after I eat this. Feels like cheating.”

Tim rolled his eyes. “Scrubbers. They haven’t outlawed those yet? They’re no better than binging and purging.”

“Sure they are,” Deacon said, his mouth half-full. He finished chewing and swallowed, patting his massive chest. “Those pills rearrange the food molecules to neutralize the sugar and fat, and turn it into protein.”

“Hasn’t your doctor warned you about doing that long-term?” I asked.

“Yeah, but there aren’t studies showing it’s a huge problem. I think it’s a great concept. Tastes like cheesecake going in, but you’re really eating lean meat and broccoli.”

I shook my head. “Oh please. I see it’s not affecting your girth much.”

“Now be nice,” Deacon said, already more than halfway through his treat. “What’s going on with the Neanderthal? I got new orders for Deneuve. He’s one of my best, you know. Wet-nursing this beast isn’t a good use of his time.”

“The Clan was hunting the Neanderthals when they stumbled upon us,” I said. “The Neanderthals were expecting them, and drew first blood. We want to communicate with our friend and find out why.”

“Oh,” Deacon said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was getting to it. Make sure Deneuve has whatever he needs, okay?”

“Will do, Cappy. How long are we here?”

“Only until we determine if our allies on Sheppard One are compromised or not.”

“Where to after that?”

“Earth.”

“Earth? I thought we were wanted.”

“Not anymore. We’re going to the South Pacific base.”

Deacon smiled. “We’re getting some new technology. That’s the only reason to send us there.”

“That’s possible, but there are other reasons. It’s secluded, in case somebody in the Overlords decides to ignore the Central Authority ruling.”

“Hopefully they sat on Simone,” Deacon said. He took his last bite of cheesecake.

“She’s on probation. I’m not believing that they have her under control, though.”

My PA buzzed. I stuck my arm out and read it.

“Nolan?” Tim asked.

“No evidence of problems. We’re gonna get out of here sooner than I thought. Let’s get back to the bridge.”

Tim nodded as I wolfed down the rest of my sandwich.

“See you two later,” Deacon said, getting up to waddle back to engineering.

“I wish he’d take better care of himself,” I muttered.

“He’s not going to keel over. We can prevent that.”

“I know, Tim, but each time they re-plumb, you lose a little bit. You become more vulnerable. Better not to rely on that. Eating healthy is a better idea.”

We were back on the bridge in less than five minutes.

“Got a course set?” I asked as I took the captain’s seat.

“Sending it to Izzy right now,” Nolan said.

“You don’t want to hand-punch it in?” Izzy asked. “We’re still on a restricted planet.”

“I finished my analysis of the PA system and developed a wipe program. It’s running now to get back to a clean baseline, and it’ll kick in every fifteen minutes after that.”

“Is it gonna slow our systems down?” I asked.

“No, it’s compact. Runs in the background.”

“It’ll be finished before we get to Earth, right?” I asked.

“It’ll finish while we’re in the wormhole,” Nolan said.

“Ready, Captain?” Izzy asked.

“Let’s roll.”

We felt the ship rising out of the water, then shooting upward, our stomachs dropping. Then came the semi-blackout, and we were gone.

“Smooth jump,” I said as my head cleared.

“I’m learning more about this ship,” Izzy said. “Think we’ll be on her for long?”

“Unknown. We’ll probably find out when we’re at the base.”

Nolan looked over at me. “Am I still wanted?”

“No.” I waited for the next question. All I got was a nod and a smirk. We settled in for the trip, which only took three hours. Most of my time was spent researching Simone. Her organization should have found out about the Clan’s incursion into the Central Authority Zone. That was the main function of the Overlords, or at least it was supposed to be. Records about her that should be open to my level of clearance were locked. Strange.

“We’ll be out of the jump in less than five minutes, Captain,” Izzy said. “You want me coming in with maximum stealth?”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said.

“Okay, I’ll use the standard maneuvers and protocol, then.”

We felt the rush of static electricity as the wormhole collapsed, depositing us into Earth’s orbit. After a moment, we descended, the heat shield deployed, and our angle of attack fine-tuned. There was momentary turbulence, and then we were flying straight and smooth, approaching the rolling waves of the South Pacific, halfway between Jarvis Island and Bora Bora. We settled onto the ocean and sank slowly into the deep, our underwater propulsion system kicking in.

“I’m anxious to see this base,” Nolan said. “Heard about it, but never had the pleasure.”

I nodded, watching the video display. The entrance to the base was a massive doorway etched into an underwater mountain. It slid open as we approached, water flowing in, pressure normalizing. Izzy moved us inside flawlessly and we set down in the middle, dwarfed by the size of the lock.

“The outer door is closing,” Izzy said. “Water is being pumped out.”

“This is so cool,” Tim said, watching the water recede rapidly on the video display. When the bay was dry, the inner door opened, light from the massive hangar area lighting the whole lock. The floor jerked into motion, a massive conveyor moving the ship inside the base, stopping when we were placed into a spot several times too large for our ship, the inner door sliding closed. Izzy shut down our systems as crews in the hangar rushed over to plug in umbilical cables.

“Here we are,” I said. “Keep the sensors running on each and every hatch. Nobody gets on or off this ship without a record. Got that?”

“Yes sir,” Izzy said. She gave orders through her PA as Nolan stood. “Am I allowed to explore?”

“Not yet,” I said. “I’ve got to meet with the base commander. He’ll have control over access to the base.”

“Hey, is that the Chairman?” Tim asked, pointing to a man walking towards the Zephyrus, leading a sizeable group of corporate officials.

“Yep,” I said. “I’ve got to go meet him. Keep an eye on things, and remember what I said about the hatches, okay?” I left the bridge.

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 7 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 11 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 6 – Evolution

I went back to the bridge. Tim and Izzy were talking to each other in hushed tones. Nolan wasn’t there.

“Any developments?” I asked.

“We’re in the safest place we can be,” Tim said. “In a wormhole of our own making. Are we sure Nolan’s frequency module isn’t something the Clan can work around?”

“Yeah, we’re sure. The encryption is impossible to break.”

“Nothing’s impossible,” Izzy said.

I shook my head. “This is pure math. What’s the name of this planet we’re going to?”

“Cremonia,” Tim said. “I was just looking at it.”

“Hopefully the survey for this world is a little more up to date than the one for Valla Cappos.”

Izzy and Tim shot each other a glance.

“It’s way back there, even for a level twelve world, Captain,” Izzy said. “Hopefully we won’t get forced onto dry land this time.”

“What period are we talking about?” I asked.

“Mesozoic,” Tim said.

“Yeah, but what part? Triassic or Jurassic?”

Tim shook his head. “I wish. Cretaceous.”

“Shit. That’s what Nolan picked?”

“It’s close to Sheppard One,” Izzy said. “I think that’s why he picked it. He wants to be able to run scans. Given that parameter, it’s arguably the best choice.”

I sat in my captain’s chair, thinking. Maybe he’s right. “How long till we get there?”

“Under an hour,” Izzy said.

“What were you two murmuring about when I got here? If it’s personal, say so.”

Izzy smirked. “It wasn’t personal, Captain. Just something I’ve had a hard time understanding.”

“Maybe you can do a better job of explaining it than I could,” Tim said.

“What’s the question?”

“Since we have the same DNA on all worlds, why didn’t they all develop at the same rate? Why do we have some in the Archean period, some in the Mesozoic, some in the Neolithic, and some all the way in contemporary?”

“You should ask Nolan. He’s the science officer.”

Tim and Izzy chuckled. “When you ask Nolan a question like that, it isn’t just a question,” Tim said. “It’s an invitation for ridicule.”

“Yeah, and I’ve had enough ridicule from that man to last me a while,” Izzy said.

“Oh, come now,” Nolan said, walking onto the bridge.

“It’s not polite to eavesdrop,” Izzy said.

“And it’s not polite to talk behind people’s backs, either. What’s the question? I’ll be gentle.”

Tim snickered.

Nolan shook his head. “Well, maybe I’ll be gentle. Whose question is it?”

“It was Izzy’s question, Nolan,” I said, “and being polite is helpful if you’re trying to make a point, at least with Earthlings.”

“All right,” he said. “What do you want to ask, Izzy?”

She eyed him for a moment, then sighed. “I was wondering why there’s this diversity of developmental phases on planets, running the gamut from pre-history to modern times. Why aren’t all worlds on the same timetable?”

Nolan smiled. “That’s an excellent question, for which I don’t have a concrete answer. Only theories, and there are too many of those for my taste.”

“What’s your favorite theory?” Tim asked.

“Favor doesn’t come into it. I’ll tell you what makes the most sense to me.”

“Go ahead,” Izzy said.

“I think it comes down to a large complex array of very tiny differences. When they’re combined on a given world, they help set the timetable.”

“What would be the differences?” Izzy asked.

“How hot the sun is, what exact radiation profile it has, what the orbital path of the planet is, when the atmosphere was settled, how many large impacts took place on the planet as it was forming, the size and nature of volcanic eruptions, what meddling from more advanced planets happened before controls were put into place. A million things like that. And remember, not all planets were created in an instant, and there is still planet creation going on right now. That, given the number of years we’re talking about, is enough to explain most of the issue.”

“Those ideas are all from one theory?” Izzy asked.

“No, I’m cherry-picking,” Nolan said. “I might be missing the most important factor.”

“Sounds to me like you’re basically calling it luck,” Tim said.

Nolan chuckled. “That’s a loaded term. There’s no such thing as luck. I’ve used that term myself, when talking about a situation that is too complex to analyze completely. We aren’t all knowing and all seeing. All theories are a combination of things we know to be facts and our expansion on those facts, using our imagination and our ability to reason.”

“What happens when all expansions in theories are proven to be facts?” Izzy asked.

“They’re no longer theories,” Nolan said.

“That’s not entirely true,” I said. “We can prove out some phenomena as a fact, removing it from the realm of theory, but we may not understand the why, so some theory exists.”

Nolan laughed. “That’s why we have religion.”

“Don’t religion and scientific theory conflict most of the time?” Izzy asked.

“Not in the least,” Nolan said. “There are things we can’t explain. That gives us two choices. We develop a spiritual answer to the question, or we develop another theory and work it until it’s proven or debunked.”

I chuckled. “And in the case of the why, we might never get beyond the theoretical.”

“This is interesting. A refreshing conversation. I’m glad I made it back to the bridge in time to participate.”

“Well thank you for not calling me stupid for asking the question.” Izzy said.

“You’re welcome, my dear, and you are far from stupid. I have a sarcastic turn in my personality. I consider it a flaw. In fact, only the brightest of students I’ve had in the past have asked questions like yours.”

Tim shook his head. “We don’t have any better understanding now than when Izzy and I were talking about this before.”

“I don’t agree with that,” Nolan said. “I gave you a list of issues. We can prove that most of them are correct, but we can’t tie them all together and portray any system we develop to explain it as a fact. It’s kind of like the theory of evolution that almost every world has had as a cornerstone in their explanation of the natural world. These theories generally got the progression correct, but we know that they weren’t right about the how or the why.”

“What do you mean?” Izzy asked.

“We know there’s a progression from lower to higher forms of life, and we know that living things of all types adapt over time. The early theories all used something like natural selection to explain the how, but we now know that’s wrong. The concept of natural selection was a release valve for the theory of evolution. It was the luck component.”

“You’re starting to lose me here, Nolan,” Tim said.

“Think it through. We know that all inhabitable planets follow the same basic order of progression with the same set of species. There is some environmental variation, but it never alters the flora and fauna content that all planets have over their history. It only affects the timing. The early scientists who developed the evolution theories, like your Darwin, got the phenomena right based on observation of what happened, but they had no idea that life had a built-in time table controlling it. In Darwin’s case, his concept of natural selection was random. In his theory, what eventually became an elephant could’ve gone in a very different direction due to totally random environmental factors. We now know that to be impossible. Elephant DNA is elephant DNA no matter where it is or what environmental challenges it was dealt. That doesn’t mean what we call an elephant was always the same. The species did adjust itself over time, but it’s the same everywhere. Only the timetable changes.”

“Wait a minute,” Tim said. “What about the dinosaurs on earth? Why did they go extinct? Remember the comet impact? That messes with your theory, doesn’t it?”

Nolan shook his head no. “Dinosaurs existed on earth for roughly 177 million years. They were around for only 50 million years on some worlds, and over 500 million years on others. The timing is what varies, but the flora and fauna of the Mesozoic is always preceded by the flora and fauna of the Paleozoic, and always followed by the flora and fauna of the Cenozoic. Every time, every planet.”

Tim rolled his eyes. “So, you have it all figured out.”

“Hardly. I have no idea why this is the case, nor do I understand the mechanism that begins the movement from one period to another. Most cultures have created these buckets of time, but those are just constructs put together by humans to aid in understanding and bounding their observations. The cretaceous period might actually consist of a million periods made up of very small lengths of time.”

“It’s a continuum,” I said. “Scientists develop consensus on where one period ends and the next one starts, but as you say, it’s really just a construct that humans use to organize their thoughts.”

“Exactly, Captain.”

“How were these timetables developed?” Izzy asked. “Hell, why was the Universe created, and what existed before it? Are there other universes outside of it?”

Nolan laughed. “I have no idea. That’s what you would call a rabbit hole on your planet. I’m not going down that. We could spend years trying to sort that out, and not be an inch further towards understanding it than we are at this moment. There’s a whole raft of scientists working various multiverse theories, and I haven’t seen one yet that I can get behind.”

“Awe, Nolan, where’s your sense of adventure?” I quipped.

“I’d like to understand more about our own universe before I entertain the possibility that there are more that we can’t see.”

“But if we discover other universes, they might shed light on unexplained features of our own.”

Nolan laughed. “Yep, and that’s why the multiverse scientists keep getting their grants funded. Enough of this. How close are we to Cremonia?”

“We should be out of our jump soon,” Izzy said, looking at her PA. “Do you have the coordinates for our location yet?”

“Yes, but I should punch them in again,” Nolan said.

“You haven’t cracked the PA system yet?” I asked.

“I’m working on something else, Captain.”

I eyed him. “Oh really? What could be more important?”

“I used my intuition,” Nolan said.

“That again.”

“The last conversation should tell you why it’s important, sir. Hear me out.”

“Go ahead,” I said, trying to keep calm.

“I wondered how that Clan Battle Frigate showed up so quickly, so I checked to see how close Valla Cappos was to a natural wormhole.”

“What difference would that make? Their major ships have Samson drive.”

Nolan smiled. “Sometimes things are so obvious that everybody in the room just ignores them.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your corporation can track Samson drive travel, and you know damn well they’d be alerted if a Clan ship’s drive profile showed up in the Central Authority Zone.”

I felt dizzy, numerous possibilities flashing behind my eyes. “Son of a bitch.”

“That’s how I reacted when it struck me,” Nolan said.

“You’re about to tell me there was a wormhole right by Valla Cappos.”

“That is correct, sir.”

“Is there one near Cremonia?” Izzy asked, eyes wide.

“No, I made sure there wasn’t before I selected it,” Nolan said, “but I have been looking at the detailed map for our zone. I know where they are now. We need to check this out in more detail.”

“How many are by planets below level six?” Tim asked.

“More than I remembered, including one right by Earth. Those aren’t the planets I’m worried about, though.”

“Why not?” Izzy asked.

“All planets level five and below have sensors everywhere, of many types. The chances of a Clan ship successfully sneaking onto one of those planets is near zero.”

I leaned back in my chair, looking at the ceiling for a moment, trying to clear my mind so I could think.

“You’re getting it, aren’t you Captain?” Izzy asked.

“Maybe,” I said. “They’re trying to build bases on planets where we wouldn’t notice their presence.”

“Precisely. We have some exposure. There are sixty-seven planets over level five that have wormhole access within seconds, and another twenty-thousand that have wormhole access within a day or less.”

“Hey, this might explain something about Valla Cappos,” Tim said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Neanderthals can hear Clan implants, especially those enhanced eyes they use.”

Nolan froze, looking over at Tim. “Very good. That’s why the Clan was fighting the Neanderthals. Remind me not to call you stupid anymore.”

Tim smiled. “Nolan, don’t…”

“Yeah, I know,” Nolan said, cutting him off with a smirk on his face.

“Those beasts would take on Clan fighters on purpose?” Izzy asked. “I didn’t think they were that smart.”

“In some ways they’re smarter than humans,” Nolan said. “Think of them as very intelligent guard dogs. They protect their pack, which could be other Neanderthals or humans. Don’t ask me how, but they know not to trust humans with mechanical implants.”

“It’s a shame they didn’t survive into the modern age on most planets, because they really are noble creatures in so many ways,” I said. “That’s why I wouldn’t ignore the cries of our friend from Valla Cappos.”

“Where are we going with this, Captain?” Izzy asked. “We’ll be orbiting Cremonia in three minutes.”

“We sit down there and try to sort this out,” I said. “We’ve got two things to do. First, we watch Sheppard One for signs that our allies have been discovered.”

“Yes, Captain,” Nolan said. “And I’ll plan a trip to a likely Clan base on a world between levels six and eleven.”

“Why only eleven?” Izzy asked.

“Their ships can’t take depth, remember? Too many nasty land creatures on Level Twelve worlds, and things get less stable on worlds above that from a geological standpoint.”

We all felt our hairs rise with static as we came out of the jump.

“We’re in orbit, Captain,” Izzy said.

“Thank you. Let Nolan input the coordinates. Meanwhile I’m going to sick bay.”

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 7 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 11 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Bug Out! California Part 172 – The Quadrant

Trevor and Kaylee were in their battle wagon when the text came in. They both looked at their phones, then at each other.

“This is bad,” Kaylee said. “That’s a lot of UN vans.

“We aren’t one hundred percent sure they’re coming here, you know.”

“How far away are they?”

Trevor looked over at her from his phone. “Looking at that now. Just under twenty miles. If they don’t run into trouble, they’re about half an hour from here.”

“No.”

“Don’t get too worried yet. We’ve got a lot of people in place along Highway 94, remember? They’re just coming in vans, too. They won’t take much abuse, and if the highway gets blocked, it’s not like they can off-road.”

“Then why would they come this way?” Kaylee asked.

“That’s why I’m not so sure they’re really coming here. They might have another target in mind.”

“Where are our people on Highway 94?” Kaylee asked.

“There’s about three thousand by Otay Lakes Road. The lion’s share are south of us, around Engineer Springs. Almost ten thousand citizens.”

“I guess that would figure, if we’re expecting the enemy to attack us from Mexico.”

Trevor shot her a grin. “Last I saw of that battle in Mexico, the enemy forces aren’t gonna make it here.”

They both jumped as another text came in. “They’re not coming here,” Kaylee said. “Southwest on Highway 54.

“But we’re going there. I’ll get us unhooked.”

“Which route?” Kaylee asked.

“I’m sure we’ll get instructions in a moment, but looking at the map, the only good way is Otay Lake Road. I’ll be a struggle to beat them there, though, assuming they’re gonna try to take Highway 125 south to the border.”

“I’ll get things locked down in here, then. Glad we reloaded all the weapons.”

“See you in a few minutes,” Trevor said, slipping out the door. He saw Angel rushing to the back of his coach, parked about twenty yards away.

“We’re gonna see some action,” he said. “I’m almost glad.”

Trevor nodded. “Yeah. Wonder if we can beat them there?”

“We’ll see. Hear that?”

The sound of engines starting drifted over the property.

“All those recruits,” Trevor said as he unhooked the water. “Hope they’re sending the citizens who were along Highway 94.”

“Where were they?” Angel asked, as he yanked the power cord off the mast.

“They were close to Otay Lake Road. Hopefully they’re already taking off. We might need to block the road.”

“Highway 125?” Angel asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “We ought to be hearing any minute. I’m done. See you, man.”

“Take care, dude,” Angel said, heading for the door of his coach.

“Ready to go?” Kaylee asked.

“Yeah, we get the instructions?”

“North on Highway 94, stop at Otay Lake Road unless we hear from them.”

“They’re making sure,” Trevor said, pushing the button for the main slide. It moved in slowly. When it was finished, he brought in the bedroom slide, then went to the driver’s seat and fired up the engine. “Ready?”

“Let’s go,” Kaylee said, walking to the passenger seat with her M4 and one of the M60s. She sat as Trevor drove towards the gate.

***

“You call our Teamster buddies?” Mr. White asked, walking out of the motel room’s bath.

“Yep, they’re hitting the road soon. Three thousand semi-trucks.”

“Sounds like traffic jam in making,” Mr. White said. “Glad Ivan get weapons here in time. Lots M-60, mortars, and RPGs. Distributed at Teamster’s union hall.”

“Excellent, let’s go.”

The two men grabbed their weapons and headed for their van, setting the guns between the seats. Mr. Black took the wheel. “What about others?”

“Jesse gathered three hundred. They already left. Heavily armed. All have military training. They tip of spear.”

“Are we trying to stop them on road?” Mr. Black asked.

“We do what we can, and Ivan send forces from Dulzura. Another four thousand, including all but three battle wagons.”

Mr. Black glanced at him. “Why not all? We know where enemy is, and Dulzura have cavalry.”

Mr. White chuckled. “They use generators from last three battle wagons to power computers in broken mine.”

“Oh. They should buy stand-alone generators.”

Mr. White nodded. “Would have. Not time. This happen fast.”

“What we do about Dana Point Harbor?”

“You worry too much,” Mr. White said. “Either moot point, or we mess with. Depend on this fight, no?”

“This wasn’t all UN forces. Have to watch back.”

“That be part of our job,” Mr. White said. “Let’s hit it.”

They drove south.

***

The BFV on the end of the line blew up, hit by more tank cannon fire, as four TOW missiles flew, taking out two tanks and disabling a third.

“These are lousy tanks,” Doug said, watching in his sight. “There’s one turning its gun towards us.”

“Fire,” Gonzalez said, but somebody else beat Doug to it, the tank getting hit in the front part of the turret, blowing it half way off, fire erupting from the right side of the tank. The crew tried to escape through the top, mowed down as soon as they were on the ground by a fast-moving L-ATV.

“Those little L-ATVs are too fast for the tanks to get a good bead on,” Jorge said. “Watch that tank coming this way. It’s trying to decide whether to shoot at us or the guy next to us.”

“On it,” Doug said, firing his first TOW missile, steering it right into the turret of the tank, a large explosion stopping it in its tracks. “Bullseye!”

“Nice job,” Gonzalez said. Remember you’ve only got one left before we reload.”

“Here come three more tanks!” Jorge shouted. “Heading this way.”

“Crap,” Doug said, getting ready to fire his second TOW missile. Then the enemy tanks turned and headed south, going full bore. “What the hell?”

There was a loud blast from behind them, knocking one of the fleeing enemy tanks into the air, coming down on one next to it, both bursting into flames.

“Our M-1 Tanks are here,” Gonzalez said. “About frigging time.”

“There they go!” Jorge shouted, watching eight tanks flying by at high speed, two of them firing on the run, hitting two more of the fleeing enemy tanks. Several more tanks passed them to join the fight.

“Yes!” Doug said. “Should I go back to shooting at infantry? There’s a group over there getting another mortar ready.”

“Go for it, man,” Gonzalez said, watching through the CIV.

“I got you, suckas,” Doug shouted, hitting a mortar team with full auto from the M242, killing all the men and blowing up their crate of mortar rounds. Then there was a pop close by, and a large group of enemy fighters exploded in white-hot flames.

“What was that?” Jorge asked. “Mortar?”

“Looks like Sessions and Jenkins finally got their mortar working,” Gonzalez said, his comment punctuated by another pop, another large group of enemy fighters going up in flames.

“What is that, napalm?” Jorge asked.

“Willie Pete,” Gonzalez said. “When that goes off, be someplace else.”

“What’s Willie Pete?” Doug asked.

“White Phosphorous.”

“I thought that was illegal, dude,” Jorge said.

“Only when you mix it with high-explosive rounds,” Gonzalez said. “We aren’t doing that.”

More M-1 tanks sped past them, heading right for the ridge where the enemy tanks were hiding. One climbed it, starting to go down when it was hit, the round from the enemy tank making a lot of noise but not slowing the M-1 down.

“Like I said, they got lousy tanks,” Doug said, watching the M-1 turn its main gun towards the fleeing enemy tank and firing, pieces of armor raining down around the area. “That shot just pissed off the M-1.”

Jorge laughed. “The enemy isn’t advancing anymore. They’re running south.”

“Then we’ll go further south too. Remember to follow a path already traveled.”

“That’s gonna be tough. The ground is a mess.”

“Hey, Gonzalez, open the door,” Sessions yelled. “We need to go further south.”

Gonzalez pushed the button to open the rear gate, the men flooding in.

“You got that Willie Pete secured?” Gonzalez asked.

“Yeah, it’s back in the container, sealed up,” Jenkins said. “Let’s get going.”

Jorge listened for the sound of the back door closing, then drove forward, trying to keep on a safe path. M-1 tanks continued their assault on the enemy tanks, blowing them up wholesale.

“There were a lot of enemy tanks,” Doug said. “How come we didn’t see them?”

“I don’t think they’re being driven by Islamists,” Gonzales said. “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.”

“There are still a lot of enemy hits out there,” Doug said. “We haven’t seen the largest group yet. Not by a long shot.”

“Yeah, I know,” Gonzalez said, nearly shouting as the noise outside grew louder.

“Think we’re running into a trap?”

Gonzalez looked at Doug, shaking his head no. “They might think that, but they have only seen about a quarter of the force from the Jacumba Hot Springs area, and we’ve got a huge flow of patriots coming east on Highway 2 right now. Just got an update in my text inbox.”

An L-ATV ahead of them touched off another IED, a second hitting one a few seconds later.

“Here we go, men,” Sessions shouted. “Their next kill spot, or so they think.”

“Keep your wits about you, Jorge,” Jenkins shouted.

“No prob, dude,’ Jorge shouted back. “I’m back on a good path again. We’ll be fine.”

“There aren’t any ridges nearby for tanks to hide behind,” Doug said. “Where’s our M-1s?”

“Finishing off those old Russian tanks back there,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a turkey shoot. Their cannon fire just bounces off the M-1s unless they get very lucky and hit them in exactly the right spot.”

“I saw one of them try a cheapo hand-held anti-tank weapon back there,” Jenkins said. “Bounced right off.”

“Modern Russian anti-tank weapons will work,” Gonzalez said. “Luckily for us, Russia is on our side in this war, and they’re not selling that stuff to anybody but us and our allies.”

“Something’s gonna happen pretty soon,” Jenkins said, looking at his phone. “The enemy troops retreating got to the main group and stopped. They’re liable to come back at us.”

“This is within mortar range,” Sessions said. “We don’t need to go much further before you can drop us off.”

“Listen,” Jorge said. “Sounds like choppers.”

“Crap, it is,” Gonzalez said. “We aren’t stopping yet. Doug, target any choppers you see coming with the M242.”

“How do we know which ours are and which theirs are?” Doug asked.

“We don’t have any in the area,” Gonzalez said.

“Those choppers are in for a nasty surprise,” Jenkins said.

Sessions chuckled. “You ain’t kidding.”

“What?” Doug asked.

“All of the L-ATVs were issued with stinger missiles,” Jenkins said. “Their choppers won’t last long.”

“I see one,” Jorge said. “No, there’s four of them. They look kinda old.”

“They’re strafing our L-ATVs,” Doug said, “but not with a round strong enough to kill them.”

One of the choppers fired a missile, which flew into an M-1 tank, blowing it up.

“Dammit!” Jorge shouted. “You see that?”

“Yeah,” Gonzalez said. “Didn’t kill the crew. They’re getting out of the tank.”

“What happened?” Jenkins asked.

“Chopper hit an M-1 with an anti-tank missile.”

“Whoa!” Jorge said, punctuated by a loud explosion and the sound of metal hitting the ground. “One of those stingers just came out. Knocked that chopper right out of the air.”

“I’ve got a bead on one,” Doug said, firing full auto with the M242, hitting it in the tail, stopping the back rotor. The chopper began spinning through the air, clipping the chopper near it, which went out of control, both of them hitting the dirt and blowing up.

“Nice shooting, Tex,” Gonzalez yelled, laughing. “Two with one frigging shot.”

“It was on auto,” Jenkins said. “That was about ten shots.’

“It was one burst,” Doug said.

Sessions laughed. “You guys crack me up. We close enough for the mortars yet?”

“There’s a small mound coming up. We’ll stop behind it. Doug, keep an eye out for more choppers.”

“There goes another Stinger,” Jorge said, and the explosion went off, sounding closer than the others. Some debris hit the top of their BFV. “Wow, listen to that!”

“More stingers just fired,” Doug said. “One hit, one miss, but the other choppers are flying away now.”

“Don’t blame them,” Jenkins said.

“Jorge, pull up by the mound. See it?”

“Yeah, man, I’m almost there.” The vehicle stopped after a moment. “This good?”

“Yeah,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve got the back door opening. You guys ready?”

“Hell yeah,” Sessions said, leading the others out the back.

“Once they start frying that big group with Willie Pete, this is gonna be over,” Gonzalez said. “There’s another group further south, but they’re at least a day’s walk from here.”

“Maybe we should drive over there and nail them,” Jorge said.

“That’ll be the commander’s call. I’m getting some chatter about a huge caravan of UN vans heading for the border.”

“Vans? What good will those do?” Jorge asked. “There aren’t roads here.”

Gonzalez shrugged. “There is Highway 2D, but last I heard the Marines had complete control of that.”

“Maybe they’re coming to attack the Dulzura base,” Doug said.

“They’re already south of the road for that,” Gonzalez said. “Let’s move around this mound so we can fire at the enemy with the M242. They’ll be setting up mortars any second now.”

“Will do,” Jorge said, moving forward, going around one side of the mound, getting into position to fight again. There were rows of BFVs on either side of them, getting ready to open fire, and then the first of the mortar shots from the enemy ranks flew, hitting a BFV about sixty yards from their position.

“I see where that came from,” Doug said, firing the M242 again, the projectiles smashing into the huddled men and their mortar. Then Sessions dropped a Willie Pete round into his mortar, the round flying into the midst of a huge group of Islamists, the whole area exploding in flames, burning men running, trying to drop and roll as other mortar teams started up, setting the whole enemy line on fire.

***

Tex was driving the Battle Wagon, in the lead, the rest of the rigs from Dodge City behind him. There were hundreds of citizen fighters ahead of him, in every kind of vehicle imaginable. They’d just made the left turn onto Otay Lake Road.

“Maybe we should put on the blue-tooth headsets now,” Karen said from the passenger seat.

“Yeah, it’s time,” Tex said.

“We’re on,” Karen said into hers. “Tex and Karen.”

“We’re on too,” Sparky said. “Ted, Haley, Bryan, and Brianna.”

“Robbie and Morgan are on.”

“Dana and Sparky.”

“Trevor and Kaylee.”

“Katie and Justin.”

“Megan and Angel.”

“Allison and Cody.”

A few others logged in.

“Hello, all. Jules here, with rest of intel and leadership team.”

“Where’s the UN Vans now, partner? You can see us, right?”

“Yes, we see you, most already on Otay Lake Road,” Jules said. “UN would have beat you there, but ran into trouble on Highway 125.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“Roadblock. Local sheriff in La Presa started. Most vans got message and went to side streets.”

“They can’t go very far to the west, and there’s not much in the way of good roads to the east of I-25,” Ted said.

“Yes, Ted, you right. If they go west of I-805, the Marines get involved. They watch. Same drone feed we use.”

“So are we gonna get to them before they can get south of us?” Morgan asked.

“They have to be lucky to make that,” Jules said. “Keep on plan. Maybe you go north, when off Otay Lake Road, maybe south. Either way, they doomed.”

“How’s it going in Mexico?” Sparky asked.

“Not good for enemy,” Jules said. “Looking like rout.”

“Their plan didn’t work, then?” Ted asked.

“What plan?” Katie asked.

Jules chuckled. “They try to draw regular army from Mexico City to save citizens going over border to fight. Now they need rescue themselves.”

Tex laughed. “That’s beautiful, partner. Maybe this war will be over sooner rather than later.”

“I’d love that,” Dana said.

***

Jesse was at the wheel of an old primer-gray pickup, the back full of his buddies. All of them were ex-military, most former Marines like Jesse. Sax was behind him, leading a huge group of truckers, all of them armed to the teeth. Both groups were supplied with military-grade weapons. M-60s, M-16s, M-4s, and some new M249s that Ivan had managed to obtain. Rounding out the group was another new weapon – the MP5.

“Hey, Jesse, how far away are they now?” asked Erik, a tall, well-built man who’d only been out of the service for three years.

“Last I saw, they were on Paradise Valley Road, nearly stopped,” he said, pulling his phone out of his pocket and handing it over. “Pin is 3357. There’s a browser up with the drone feed video. Should be right on them.”

“Cool,” Erik said, taking it and inputting the pin. He laughed. “They’re all over the damn place in Jamacha-Lomita and the Bay Terraces area. “I’ll bet they’re trying to find a place to turn around and lose the local law enforcement. There’s cop cars everywhere. Can’t all be from these little towns.”

“This effort is huge now,” Jesse said. “Got to hand it to this Ivan the Butcher character. I think he might have saved the damn state.”

“We’re just about to Lemon Grove. Maybe we ought to get off 125 and onto the surface roads to pick these creeps off. Otherwise they’re liable to keep going north to get away.”

“We know about their headquarters now,” Jesse said. “They’ve got to know they’re done.”

“They might just move someplace else in the state,” Erik said. “We need to kill all of them we can on the road, and then go hit that base. They probably only sent a fraction of what they had there.”

“According to Sax’s guys, they took pretty much all of their vans.”

“Get off on Spring Street,” Erik said. “I’ll text the others. Turn left on Spring, then right on Broadway. That’ll take us right into the quadrant they’re hiding in.”

“Quadrant?” Jesse asked, shooting him a grin. “Want to be back in, don’t you?”

“Yes and no, man. I meant the area between 94 on the north, 125 on the east, I-805 to the west, and 54 to the south. That’s where almost all of them are. We’ll have to hunt them down street to street.”

“They’ll leave their vehicles,” Jesse said. “We’ll be on foot.”

“Yeah, with M-4s, M249s, M60s, and MP5s. We’re gonna fry their bacon up good.”

“There’s our turnoff,” Jesse said, taking the ramp down to Spring Street. “Here we go!”

“Yep, here we go.”

To be continued…

 

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The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 5 – Plasma Blast

I looked at Nolan, fighting my urges to let him have it. “There was a human settlement here just three hundred years ago?”

“I’m as surprised as you are, Captain,” Nolan said.

“That’s supposed to make me feel better?”

“Are you guys seeing this?” Deneuve asked, staring at his hand-held.

I glanced at Deneuve, then back at Nolan. “I want to see the survey you looked at.”

“It’s still possible the survey was right, Captain.”

“You guys really ought to take a look at this,” Deneuve said. I put my hand up to pause him.

“Explain,” I said, feeling the anger rise in me, “and it’d better be good, Nolan. You’re on thin ice.”

“Remember the Vikings?”

“Captain, heads up,” Deneuve shouted.

“Dammit, what?” I said, whirling around towards him.

“The Nanos show three creatures heading this way at a good clip, sir.”

“Dammit,” I said, rushing over to look. “What are those? They look human.”

Nolan had his hand-held out in a flash. “Humanoids. Why aren’t the main sensors picking them up?”

“I just sent a message back to the ship,” Caraway said. “This is gonna be bad. Somebody’s trying to hide themselves.”

“The Overlords,” Deneuve whispered.

“No, they don’t have cloaking technology,” Nolan said. “The Central Authority refused to change the Zone Charter, remember? There was a big battle over it.”

“Take cover,” I said. “Now.”

I got behind some foliage, Nolan rushing back to me. “Why don’t we get in the vehicle? It affords some protection, doesn’t it?”

“It also tips whoever this is off about us,” I said, watching, my spiker pointed at the direction the marks were coming from. “Where’s your spiker, Nolan?”

“In my hand,” he said. He fished an infrared scanner out of his pocket and put it to his eyes. “I see them. No more than fifty yards, coming fast.”

“Humans?”

“With suits on,” he whispered. “Their temperature is bleeding out of the seams.”

“Maybe it is the Overlords.”

“That would answer one of our questions. If it’s them, we’ve got a plant.”

“Wonderful,” I said, watching them approach on my hand-held, the Nanos following them closely.

“They’ve probably got one of these scanners or better, so we’re not really hiding. They’ll see us right away. Probably already see us.”

“Sir, we’ve got more company coming,” Deneuve said in a loud whisper. “Scanners picking them up. Large humanoids. Probably Neanderthals. No attempt to cover.”

“Geez, is everybody joining the party?” Nolan asked, still watching through the scanners. “Here they come. Should we shoot them?”

“I’d like to see who I’m shooting at,” I said.

“You won’t see much. You’ll just see faint slivers around their neck and wrists.”

“Deneuve, you and Caraway get into the Jackal and fire up the main weapon.”

“That’s plasma, Captain,” Caraway said. “We’ll be detected.”

“Don’t care at this point,” I said. “We’ll jump away if we have to.”

“Almost on us,” Nolan whispered. “Look, there, coming through the bushes.”

“Move behind that boulder,” I said, nodding to the left. We got up and ran behind it, as a white-hot shot from a plasma weapon fried the bushes we were behind.

“Well, we know they aren’t friendly,” Nolan said, aiming his spiker. “If they’ve got armor on, these won’t be effective.”

“Won’t kill them easily, but might make them visible,” I said, aiming, just catching a glimpse of one of them. “Lousy suits.” I fired several times, hitting the figure with all the shots, only one of them doing any damage, getting into the crease at his neck. I heard a human’s voice cry out in pain as more plasma shots came at us, hitting the hut behind us to the right, the dry animal skin and wood framing bursting into flames, pieces flying everywhere.

“Look, his suit is damaged,” Nolan said. “See the black outline? Hit the others. See them?”

“Barely,” I said, letting lose with another ten rounds, hitting the suits, causing one to snap into view, shiny black fabric showing up. I fired again at the head, sparks going off around it, the man pulling the hood off and dropping behind cover. The other figure was still invisible, firing another plasma round at us. Then there was a strange sound, and the suit came into view, the man trying to pull a stick out of the neck. I heard another twang sound, an arrow flying to the man’s head, going right into the eye hole. He keeled over as his companions cried out, two plasma guns firing rapidly into the trees on our right, an angry roar sounding, a heavy body falling, cracking branches on the way down. Another arrow flew, hitting one of the men who was trying to get his suit to turn back on, catching him by surprise. He screamed in pain. Both the survivors ran away, leaving their dead companion behind.

The Jackal pulled up. “Want us to give chase, Captain?” asked Caraway through my PA.

“No. There’s a dead one over there. Let’s go check it out. Maybe we can figure out who they are.”

“How do you know he’s dead?” Caraway asked.

“He took an arrow in the eye.”

Caraway shuddered. “That’ll do it.”

“Two of the Neanderthals fled,” Nolan said, looking at his hand held. “One’s down. Might be dead from that plasma shot.”

“Forget them for now. Let’s go see who was in that suit.” I ran towards the position, Deneuve out of the Jackal and sprinting behind me as Caraway drove it forward, plasma gun turret aimed at the fallen human.

“Yep, he’s dead all right,” Deneuve said, kneeling next to him. “Don’t recognize the outfit.”

Nolan got closer, looking the body over, then turned towards me. “Just as I thought.”

“Overlords?” I asked.

“The Clan,” Nolan said.

“What?” Deneuve asked.

“The Clan are playing around on a level eight planet in the Central Authority Zone?” I asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

A loud cry came from behind us, followed by some rustling around. Deneuve and I glanced at each other.

“That’s just the Neanderthal,” Nolan said.

“Stay there, Nolan,” I said. “Caraway, stay on that plasma gun and watch the sensors and the Nanos. Send a message to the ship, too. The Clan has a ship close by. I want our shields up right now.”

“Hopefully they haven’t taken the ship already,” Nolan said. “Don’t waste too much time on that beast. We need to get back.”

“I’ll take it under advisement,” I said as I struggled to keep up with Deneuve.

“He might be right, Captain. There might be a Clan ship there already.”

“Tim and Deacon know what’s going on,” I said. “They’re ready to jump out of trouble, and the Clan can’t catch them.”

We stopped suddenly when we saw the creature. It was a male, sprawled on the ground, with a heavy build, and less body hair than I expected.

“Easy there, fella,” I said as we approached, his eyes focused on me like a lion looking at a gazelle.

“These aren’t usually dangerous,” Deneuve said. He slowly approached, putting his hand out. The Neanderthal tried to roll away, but Deneuve rubbed it tenderly on the shoulder right below the neck, and it stopped, looking at him with his huge eyes. “This is something they can’t resist, Captain. They’re all like this.”

“Guess those jerks from the Clan didn’t get the memo,” I said. “He didn’t get hit with the plasma shot. I don’t see any burns.”

“His right arm is broken,” Deneuve said. “See? The plasma blast probably hit the branch he was standing on up there.”

I looked, seeing the forearm bent at a wrong angle. “Oh. We can patch him up. We should take him back with us.”

Deneuve looked at me. “If we do that, we’ll have a hard time putting him back here. They become attached really quick.”

“He just shot a bow and arrow at other humans.”

“Clan scumbags,” Deneuve said. “They’re breaking the treaty.”

I put my hand-held to my mouth. “Caraway, drive over here. We’re gonna load this wounded Neanderthal and take him to sick bay.”

“Say again?” Caraway asked.

“You heard me. Get through to the ship?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine, and the shields are up,” Caraway said. “On my way.”

I looked at the hand held, selecting the Nano display. “They’re still moving away.”

“They’ve got a ship hidden someplace,” Deneuve said. “Looks like they’ve made some technical breakthroughs.”

I nodded. “This development could change everything.”

The Neanderthal looked towards the clearing in a panic, hearing the Jackal before I did. Deneuve looked at me and smiled.

“Yeah,” he said, “these guys are like dogs. Their hearing and sense of smell is much better than humans. Eyesight too. You see him shoot the arrow right into that cretin’s eye socket? That wasn’t an accident.”

“I’ve read they had superior athletic ability, and better hand-eye muscle coordination than humans.”

Caraway trotted over, freezing when he saw Deneuve rubbing the creatures massive shoulder. “Well that figures. Way to go, nature boy.”

Deneuve chuckled. “This guy is cool. Maybe we ought to keep him.”

“I doubt if any of our uniforms would fit,” Caraway cracked. “It’s gonna take all of us plus Nolan to get him into the Jackal, and that’s if he cooperates.”

“Call Nolan,” I said. “Let’s get this done and go back to the ship. We’re liable to have company again.”

“Won’t we get warning from the Nanos?” Caraway asked.

“They just killed the six Nanos that I sent after them.”

Caraway nodded, pulling out his hand-held. It did take all four of us to get the Neanderthal into the Jackal, and he wasn’t helpful, even with Deneuve’s talents for settling him down. Once we were underway he fell asleep.

“You want us to park outside?” Caraway asked.

“No, I’ll open the ramp when we get there. Let’s drive her right inside and button up the ship, just in case.”

“I know how to scan for their Clan spacecraft,” Nolan said, “assuming they haven’t upgraded their hardware too much in the last few years.”

“Why didn’t we know they were here?” I asked.

“They could be sitting in the water someplace, like we were.”

The Zephyrus came into view, it’s gold shining in the bright sunlight. I used my hand-held to open the ramp, and we drove up, the door closing as soon as we were in the cargo hold.

“All right, get him to sick bay,” I said. “Call some of Deacon’s men to help. I’m going straight to the bridge. Join me, Nolan.”

“Yes sir,” he said.

We hurried down the hall, Nolan struggling to keep up with me again, but not complaining this time.

“Anything show up on our unexpected friends?” I asked Tim as we entered the bridge.

“Can’t see anything,” Tim said. “Did you really bring a Neanderthal onboard?”

“Yeah, to patch him up.”

Izzy swiveled her chair towards me. “I knew you were a softy, Captain.”

“Be nice.”

She smiled at me. “I’m impressed.”

Nolan chuckled. “That thing is gonna win all of us over, you know. They’re notorious for that.”

“It’s not a thing, Nolan,” Izzy said.

I chuckled. “All right, let’s not get any premature ideas. Nolan, you mentioned you could see Clan spacecraft. Get to it. I want to know where their ship or ships are. Got me?”

“Will do, Captain,” he said, sitting in his Chief Scientist’s chair.

“Clan ships can be pretty tough to deal with,” Tim said, “and this is no battle cruiser.”

“I’d rather be on this than a battle cruiser,” Nolan said, not looking up from his screen. “They’re in the water all right.”

“How come they aren’t getting attacked by Mosasaurs?” Izzy asked.

“They’re in a big fresh-water lake. Mosasaurs are sea-dwellers.”

“How can you see them when they’re under water?” Tim asked.

“They aren’t deep enough,” Nolan said. “Their ships can’t take the depth that ours can.”

“Can they see us?” Izzy asked.

“Unknown. Captain, we should move elsewhere.”

“Maybe they’ll tell the Central Authority where we are,” Izzy said.

“Doubtful,” Nolan said. “Them being here breaks the treaty. There’s nothing illegal about us being here, other than the regulations about visiting worlds of this level. It’s our zone.”

I was running scenarios through my head, none of them ending well for us. “This isn’t evidence that we’ve got a plant.”

“I’d have to agree, Captain,” Nolan said. “I don’t believe the Clan saw us on the planet, either. I think they were going after the Neanderthals.”

“Why would they do that?” I asked.

“Unknown. Revenge, perhaps. Maybe they’ve been hit with Neanderthal arrows before.”

“They had bow and arrows?” Tim asked. “They didn’t on Earth, did they?”

“Remember the Ice Age?” Nolan asked.

“How old do you think we are?” Izzy quipped.

“Cute. You know what I’m asking. Neanderthals didn’t develop as far on Earth before they died out. Most experts blame the Ice Age. A few blame humans.”

“Humans on earth were good at final solutions,” Tim said.

“We’ll never know for sure, but I suspect it was a combination of both, plus some other factors we’re not aware of,” Nolan said. “They could’ve just gotten sick. There are many examples of mammal diseases that won’t jump species.”

The ship buzzed, lights dimming for a split second, static heavy in the air.

“We’re under attack, Captain,” Izzy said, turning to her console. “Plasma cannon.”

“Get us out of here,” I said.

“Where, Captain?”

“Orbit, until Nolan can figure out a new place for us to go.”

“On it,” Nolan said. “Don’t worry, they’re at the extreme end of their range with that plasma cannon. They’re firing it from their ship, and that’s more than five miles away.”

“They were that close?” Izzy asked as she lifted the ship off.

Another burst hit us, pushing us back slightly as we slowly rose above the ground.

“Dammit!” I said. “Get us up there. Now.”

I felt my stomach drop as we shot upward, out of the atmosphere in seconds.

“We’re in orbit, Captain,” Izzy said.

The ship was rocked with another plasma blast.

“What the hell?” I asked.

“Clan Battle Frigate just came out of a jump,” Nolan said. “It was nearby.”

“Tim?”

“I’m letting them have it, sir, but their shields are better than ours. This isn’t a battle ship.”

“Jump coordinates on your PA,” Nolan shouted to Izzy as we got rocked again.

“Gone,” I said, feeling the momentary faintness as we made the jump.

“Something left the ship,” Tim said.

I looked at Nolan. “What’d you do?”

“What makes you think I did something?”

I glared at him. “Come on. What was it?”

He sighed. “Documents.”

“You shot some of our payload down there?” I asked. “That’s a violation.”

“They won’t find it in our lifetimes, but the seeds will be planted.”

I got up and walked to Nolan. “Where did you send them?”

“A remote part of the civilized continent. They won’t find it for several hundred years, but when they do, it’ll get them thinking.”

“That’s evidence that we were on a level eight world right there,” Tim said. “We ought to throw you in the brig, Nolan.”

I shot Tim a glance, then looked at Nolan’s screen over his shoulder. “I understand what you did, and I don’t really disagree, but I need to know before you do things like this. You had to lower the shields to get that out. A lucky shot from that battle frigate might have wasted us.”

“It was a calculated risk,” Nolan said, “but I timed it with our own weapons firing. It was safer than you think.”

I stared him in the face for a moment, trying to calm down. “Where are we jumping?”

“Closer to Sheppard One. It’s a prehistoric planet this time. Level twelve.”

“Won’t we have the same problem with the oceans that we had on Valla Cappos?” Izzy asked.

“I learned something from the Clan,” Nolan said. “We’re setting down in a large fresh-water lake. Should be safer.”

“Why don’t we just go to Sheppard One?” Izzy asked.

“We still don’t know if we have a plant or not,” Nolan said. “Want to doom our allies?”

“How long till we get there?” I asked.

“Couple hours, according to the Samson Drive calculations,” Izzy said, reading her monitor.

“Good, then I’m gonna go get this damn armor off,” I said, standing. “You can do the same, Nolan.”

“In a few minutes,” he said. “I’m working something out.”

“Suit yourself.” I left the bridge, heading for my stateroom, mind reeling. The Clan. What the hell were they doing there?

It was a relief to get the armor off. I used the cleanser to clean off the perspiration, then settled into my chair and hit the touch pad under the right arm rest five times, the holograph frame appearing. I put in a call to Chairman Vermillion. It took a few moments for him to respond.

“Sorry, Captain, caught me napping,” he said, wiping his eyes.

“Oh, sorry sir,” I said. “There’s been some developments. I thought you needed to know right away. It might change our mission.”

“You’re in a jump, aren’t you?” he asked, a smile washing over his face. “We haven’t even tested this feature yet.”

“How does it look on your end?”

“It jitters slightly,” Vermillion said. “We can fine-tune that, of course. It’s watchable.”

“Looks perfect from here.”

He smiled. “Okay, go ahead. What’s on your mind?”

“We had some unexpected visitors on Valla Cappos.”

“Humans? You had to jump out of there?”

“Yes and yes,” I said.

“Overlords?” he asked, his brow furrowed.

“The Clan.”

“Say again?”

“The Clan,” I said. “They had a ship in a fresh-water lake about five miles from where we were.”

“I thought you were going into an ocean.”

I chuckled. “Damn sea monsters chased us out. They work in packs, you know. We had many attacking us all at once. It was either flee or use a weapon we shouldn’t.”

“You didn’t have to use plasma weapons against the Clan ship?”

“On the surface, no, we just shot into orbit, but when we got there, a Clan Battle Frigate came out of a jump and opened fire. We returned it while Nolan was working out the next jump.”

“Damage?” Vermillion asked.

“None, our shields held, but we would’ve been toast if we couldn’t jump away.”

“Dammit,” Vermillion said. “All we need is another war. Every time there’s any kind of skirmish anywhere, the Overlords push for tighter restrictions on the population, and the Central Authority backs them. They’d have a field day with a Clan attack.”

“Couldn’t we just shut down their Samson drives?”

Vermillion leaned back his head, thinking. “That would start another war, and there are natural wormholes that dump off near important planets in our zone.”

“Wouldn’t the self-destruct blow up their ships?”

Vermillion shook his head no. “They’ve got thousands of standard-drive space craft. Don’t blame them. They’ve kept their natural wormhole infrastructure in place all these years, too. Peace is more fragile than most people think.”

“We’ve known this?”

Vermillion smiled. “Of course we’ve known it, but we don’t advertise it.”

“First I’ve heard of it.”

“You didn’t have a need to know before. Now you do.”

My mind flashed to all the things I know about but haven’t told my team. It’s the same with me. Secrets. Up and down the chain.

“I understand, sir. Nolan doesn’t think the Clan saw us. He thinks they were going after some Neanderthals in the area.”

“Why? Do they want to import slaves? There’s plenty of Neanderthals in the Clan Zone.”

“Good question. Three Neanderthals were there. Attacked the Clan fighters even though they had camo armor on. Killed one, wounded another. The Neanderthals were very good with bow and arrow.”

“The Clan operatives were invisible, but the beasts still managed a successful attack?”

“Hard to say what would’ve happened had we not been there,” I said. “The Clan concentrated on us when they realized we were there. Probably saw us with infrared.”

“Did they kill the Neanderthals?”

I hesitated for a moment.

“Something wrong, Captain?”

“Two fled. Don’t know if they’re wounded or not. We have the other one in sick bay with a broken arm.”

“You removed it from the planet?”

I nodded. “We didn’t expect to be leaving in such a hurry.”

Vermillion was silent for a moment.

“Did I do the wrong thing?”

He smiled. “Technically, yes, as Neanderthals are considered natural resources on worlds above level five,” Vermillion said. “Have Nolan look up the language dialects for the planet. See if your new pet understands any of them. They’re a big part of the society on that planet, and they do converse with humans there.”

“Oh, that reminds me. We were checking out a hut on the un-inhabited continent when all of this started.”

“A human hut?”

“Yep, with mummified remains of a couple and child. Nolan dated them at three hundred years old.”

“So much for the survey. That makes that world a level six or seven, not eight.”

“I agree. Maybe this Neanderthal will be able to shed some light on the situation.”

“Worth a try, Captain. Where are you headed?”

“A pre-historic planet. Nolan says it’s a level twelve. We’re gonna set down in a fresh-water lake.”

Vermillion laughed. “The beasties ought to be a little smaller, then. Good luck. Keep me informed, especially about the Neanderthal.”

“Are you going to ring the fire alarm about the Clan being in our zone?”

“Not just yet,” Vermillion said. “Take care.”

His face disappeared. I sat looking at the empty hologram frame for more than a minute.

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 7 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

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Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

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The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Space Opera Part 3 – Mosasaurs

Nolan and I got back to the Zephyrus’s bridge.

“Izzy, we’re going to Valla Cappos.”

“You sure, Captain?”

“I’m sure. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”

Izzy looked at me for a long minute, then turned to Nolan. “You’ve got the coordinates for our spot?”

“Get the system up and I’ll punch it in manually,” Nolan said.

“I thought you said you could wipe data out of our PA system,” Izzy said, glancing at me. “Just send it to me and we’ll clean it up later.”

“Nope,” Nolan said. “Anything can happen, and I haven’t finished my analysis of the PA system yet.”

Tim shook his head in disgust. “Wait, you don’t even have the analysis done, and you’re telling us you can wipe our history? What about the coordinates Izzy put in there to jump from Earth? They’re in the PA system.”

Izzy glanced at him. “There was nothing illegal about the coordinates for the jump from Earth. Going to a level eight world is illegal.”

Nolan chuckled. “Precisely, my dear. As for the PA system, I took a quick look for certain things that are important and saw that I’ll be able to break into the system. I’ll do it when I can, but it’s lower priority than other things I’m dealing with now. It won’t be a problem, unless we get compromised.”

“Is this okay with you, Captain?” Izzy asked.

“Yes, it’s okay, Izzy. I’ll take responsibility for using the manual override.”

“I’m gonna wipe that history too,” Nolan said. “I already know how to do that.”

“Of course you do,” cracked Tim.

Nolan took Izzy’s seat and input the coordinates. The Zephyrus took off, Nolan getting up and letting Izzy back into the pilot’s seat. We were in Valla Cappos’s orbit in minutes, and then came down into it’s largest ocean, the ship sinking beneath the surface and going into the tread program.

Izzy looked at me. “We’re treading water, Captain. What level do you want to maintain?”

“Let’s take her down to 350 fathoms. That ought to be far enough.”

Izzy nodded and made the adjustments. We felt the ship move slightly as it descended.

“Strong currents in this ocean,” Tim said. “Feel that?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Nolan said. “It won’t be a problem. Take me to those torpedoes you were talking about earlier.”

“Captain, what are we gonna tell the rest of the crew?” Izzy asked. “I’m sure they sensed that we’re submerged again.”

“Let me handle that,” I said.

“Yes sir.”

“Coming with us, Captain?” Tim asked.

“No, you two go ahead. I’ve got some work to do up here.”

Izzy watched the two men leave the bridge, then swiveled her chair towards me. “Do you trust Nolan?”

I smiled. “That’s a difficult question to answer.”

“Try.”

“I trust that he doesn’t want to get caught. He’s got more at stake than we do, and his heart is in the right place.”

She snickered. “He has a heart? You sure about that?”

“It’s not unusual for a genius to mock anybody who’s not at his intellectual level.”

“Sounds kinda like an excuse, Captain.”

“Maybe a little. Don’t worry, though, he won’t sell us out. He’ll push the envelope to achieve his objective, but I can’t blame him for that, because we’ve done the same thing by joining him.”

“I’m here because of my loyalty to you.”

“And I thank you for that. Tim’s the same way.”

“Tim’s suspicious as hell. He thinks Nolan is playing you.”

I shrugged. “I know, but when things get dicey and Nolan holds up, Tim will start to accept things.”

“What does the corporation think you’re doing?”

“Commanding their prototype,” I said, “and that’s essentially what I’m doing. That’s all I can say about that, though. Sorry.”

“The Corporation knows all of us are aboard, except Nolan, right?”

“No comment. Sorry, I can fill you in eventually, but you’ll just have to trust me for now, okay?”

Izzy stared at me for a moment, then nodded and turned back to her pilot station. “I’ve got all the sensors running. I’ve set alarms, but while I’m awake I’ll watch most of the time.”

“You’re really nervous about the Mosasaurs, aren’t you?”

“Yes, and with good reason,” she said, not looking up from her screen.

“Have they ever attacked a ship this size?”

She swiveled her chair back towards me. “Not that I know of, but they’ve destroyed two smaller ships.”

“How much smaller?”

“One was about fifty feet, the other about seventy,” she said.

“You’re talking about shuttles. We’re a lot larger than that, and a lot better armed.”

“True, but we can’t use our normal weapons, remember? Look up the attack on the seventy-foot vehicle. Several Mosasaurs got together and coordinated an attack. They shouldn’t have been able to take out that shuttle, but they did. Killed sixteen people.”

I got up. “Put the front camera on screen.”

“Nolan will mess with you for that,” Izzy quipped, shaking her head.

“Who cares? Do it.”

Izzy nodded, speaking into her PA. The screen changed to the underwater view, remarkably bright considering our depth.

“It’s pretty. I can cycle through all the cameras if you’d like. We have fourteen, all pointed in different directions.”

“Good idea,” I said. “It’ll keep us entertained if nothing else.”

“Why does Nolan have a problem with the display?”

“He knows human eyes can miss things that our sensors won’t, and the display while we’re underway isn’t even a camera view. It’s a simulation, and as Nolan said, it is only for comfort. Cameras won’t work while we’re in a wormhole. Using the display in this situation is different.”

My PA sounded the incoming call tone. I answered, and Deacon’s face showed up on my screen.

“Hey, Cappy,” he said. “Mind if I come chat with you?”

“Come on up. I was just about to call you.”

“Be there in a few minutes.” His face left the screen.

“Wow!” I said, pointing to a large school of brightly colored fish going by one of the upper cameras.

“Nice, huh?” Izzy asked. “Good news too. When we see all the fish disappear, that’s when we should worry.”

The bridge door slid open, a portly man with a red beard and scraggly hair walking in. He nodded to Izzy as he approached me.

“Hey, Deacon, how are you?” I asked.

“Good, old friend. You?” He sat down in one of the observer’s seats.

“Fine. You’re wondering why we’re submerged, and where we are?”

“Well, that, and we’d like to know what happened when we left. I know we were firing our main gun. We could hear it down in engineering. We’re wondering why a prototype would have to shoot its way out of Earth.”

“We’re on a special mission for the Corporation.”

Deacon eyed me. “I see. And you can’t tell me much about it, can you?”

“No. Sorry. Beyond my control.”

“How much danger are we in?” he asked, leaning back in his chair.

“No more than usual, but the Overlords are interested. They’ve transmitted a warrant for us to give up the Zephyrus.”

“They don’t have that authority. It’s corporation property, and it’s registered as a prototype.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“They want that new frequency module, I suspect.”

I froze, staring at him as he chuckled.

“Didn’t think I knew about that, did you Cappy?”

“You can see the frequency readouts someplace, can’t you?”

“Yep. What is it? New cloaking device?”

I sighed. “That’s the basic function. The Zephyrus is not trackable by the Central Authority or the Overlords. Don’t spread that around.”

“Some of the crew already have a pretty good idea, you know,” Deacon said. “Some of them are brilliant. Deneuve, for instance. That kid shows real promise. Reminds me of you when you were young.”

“Can you keep them calm?”

“Will I regret telling them they’re not in danger?” Deacon asked.

I shrugged. “No more than usual.”

Deacon laughed. “Fair enough, Cappy. Anything we need to be ready for?”

“There is some aggressive wild life in this ocean. We might have to defend ourselves.”

“Crap. What?”

“Mosasaurs.”

Deacon rubbed his beard. “No problem with our plasma weapons, but I’ll bet we don’t want anybody to know where we are. That rules them out.”

I just smiled, causing Deacon to chuckle again. “You promise to tell me the whole story someday?”

“I promise. One other thing.”

“What’s that?” Deacon asked.

“We’re afraid there might be an Overlord plant in the crew. Keep your eyes open, okay?”

Deacon’s brow furrowed. “Son of a bitch. If I find one, I’ll skin them alive and send them out the airlock.”

I shook my head. “No, if that’s what we’re dealing with, they’re liable to be dangerous. Notify me immediately and we’ll take care of it. You’re too old and fat for a fight.”

“Hey!” he said, grinning.

“Just keep your eyes open, all right?”

“Will do, Cappy. See you later.”

He got up and left the bridge.

Izzy turned towards me. “That old fart loves you.”

“The feeling’s mutual,” I said.

Nolan and Tim came back onto the bridge.

“What was he doing here?” Nolan asked.

“Who?”

“Stop it, Captain. The Chief Engineer.”

“The crew are wondering why we had to shoot our way off Earth, and why we’re submerged now. Oh, and where we are, of course.”

“What did you tell them?” Nolan asked.

“As little as possible, but here’s a little tidbit of knowledge for you. He knew about the Frequency Module.”

Nolan smiled. “Well, at least I know you’ve got a Chief Engineer worth his salt. He probably saw the readouts, although the difference is subtle.”

“Yep.”

“Commendable. What did you tell him?”

“I told him it was basically a cloaking device, and that we weren’t trackable. I also mentioned that the Overlords have demanded we turn over the Zephyrus to them.”

“Are you sure that’s wise?” Nolan asked.

“He knows the Overlords have no authority to take this ship, and he understands what the classification of prototype means. Since I know most of the crew has no use for the Overlords, I thought it might build a little camaraderie.”

“You keep surprising me, Captain. Remind me to be nice to the Chief Engineer. He sounds worthy of respect.”

“Nolan,” I said.

“What?”

“Be nice to the Chief Engineer.”

Tim laughed, shaking his head. Nolan rolled his eyes.

“What about the torpedoes?” I asked.

“Those are nice units. We could send them out an airlock and then start them. They’ll swim to wherever we tell them.”

“They worry me,” Tim said.

Nolan nodded in agreement. “I’d like to know how they got here. I’m going down there later to take one apart.”

“Why?” I asked.

“To make sure their targeting system hasn’t been compromised, and to make sure they aren’t sending out a beacon transmission. You don’t mind, I hope.”

“Why didn’t you do that while you were down there?”

“Some of the crew were busy in there,” Nolan said, “plus I didn’t have my tools with me. I’ll do it later, after most of the crew has turned in.”

“Fair enough. What are you going to do in the meantime?”

“I want to send a floating sensor onto the surface to scan for Overlord ships,” Nolan said. “I programmed one earlier.”

“You’re positive it won’t be picked up?” I asked.

Nolan nodded as he got into the chief scientist’s seat. “Yes, it’s completely passive.”

“Good,” I said, getting up from my seat. “I’m going to my stateroom for a little while.”

“Need some downtime already?” Tim asked.

I laughed. “No, the chairman insisted that I record a log every day, so he can review it in detail when we get back. I won’t be gone long. Tim, you have the Captain’s chair until I return.”

“Yes sir,” Tim said.

“Oh, and if any beasties make themselves known, notify me immediately. Understand?”

“Will do, Captain,” Tim said.

“Oh, and Izzy, tell these guys what you told me about the Mosasaurs attacks.”

“Yes, Captain.”

I left the bridge, heading down the long empty hallway to my door, which slid aside. I set the security lock after it closed behind me, and sat at the chair in front of my desk, tapping the hidden pad under the right arm five times. A hologram frame appeared about three feet from my face. I triple-tapped the pad. A chime sounded and the frame disappeared, a man’s holographic face appearing after a moment.

“Captain Clarke. Good, you got away clean.”

“Chairman Vermillion, good to see you. Your image is perfect. Looks like you’re in the room with me, except for the floating head thing.”

Vermillion chuckled. “Does Nolan suspect anything?”

“No, but I’d sure like to tell him. Love to make that blow-hard understand that he’d barely make second-grade scientist at the corporation.”

“Be nice. He did a good job on that frequency module. It’s better than the one we developed. Uses less power, and it’s got a better collision avoidance algorithm.”

“True. As a ship’s Chief Scientist, he’s overkill. I’ll enjoy his services while they last. I suspect he can fix anything that goes wrong with the Zephyrus”

“Nobody else on the crew has any idea what this prototype can do, I hope.”

“It’s hard not telling Tim and Izzy, but no, they don’t have any idea. Anything new on Simone?”

“She went nuts when you guys escaped her trap. They’d been planning the operation for more than a month.”

I laughed. “Yeah, Nolan said that Centurion Class battle cruiser had been in their space dock for about that long.”

“What’s your location?”

“We’re in an ocean on Valla Cappos,” I said.

“Really? Level eight, huh? Nolan’s idea?”

“Yep. It’ll be interesting to see how he gets us onto dry land. It’ll probably involve some local beasties.”

“What’s there?” Vermillion asked.

“Mosasaurs.”

“Oh. Nasty, but they aren’t capable of damaging the Zephyrus.”

I snickered. “All he has to do is make us believe that we’ve got a problem. Who’s going to argue that with the Chief Scientist?”

“Deacon may figure it out. You’d better watch that.”

“Yes, Chairman, I know. He figured out we had the frequency module running.”

“I knew he was gonna figure that out,” Vermillion said. “Just so you know, I agree with Nolan’s long-term plan. That’s are best hope for preserving our system into the future.”

“I agree, but this is a dangerous place. We’ll have to be careful.”

Vermillion eyed me. “There’s a rogue, isn’t there?”

“Nolan says no, but they’ve already got firearms. This world is at the Roman stage.”

“Think he knows?”

I nodded. “Yeah, but he wanted to make sure we’d come here. He’s got a plan. Don’t know the details. I’ll bet we get chased from one illegal planet to another.”

“Probably. Simone’s forces just took over the government on another world. That makes thirty-three, and she’s expanding her propaganda activities on the worlds which still enjoy individual liberty. They’re making Nolan famous. He’s a terrorist now.”

“Why is the Central Authority allowing the Overlords to do this?”

Vermillion sighed. “The ruling majority in the Central Authority believe they need the Overlords to keep their zone under control, and so they aren’t pressing for transparency. The minority has been investigating, though. Stories are starting to leak out.”

“How secure is the Corporation?” I asked.

“The diversity regulations are making things slightly more difficult,” Vermillion said. “We have to accept applicants from every world in the zone, including the ones we know to be totalitarian.”

“Spies.”

“There are calls for us to give all of our intellectual property to the Central Authority, which of course means the Overlords. There’s no way we’ll do that, but they’ve got operatives inside now. If this little project of ours doesn’t work, we’ll have to take more direct action to squash it. You’d think people would be more suspicious of the Central Authority after they forced the PA corporation under Overlord control. Very few people are unaware of the consequences of that. It put every individual in the zone under surveillance.”

“After we get finished with this operation, we need to attack that situation,” I said.

“If this operation succeeds, it’ll be easy to right that.”

“Do you think the Overlords suspect that this encrypted holographic communications system is the focus of our prototype?”

Vermillion laughed. “No, they think it’s the frequency module, and they know Nolan is behind the prototype that they captured. I think it’s a riot. Perfect smoke screen. They’re all worried about un-trackable spacecraft. Untraceable communications are much more dangerous for them. That’s why they worked so hard to compromise the PA system.”

“Yeah, about 5% of the population of the zone engages in space travel. Everybody engages in communication.”

“It’s essential that Nolan not figure this out yet,” Vermillion said. “Do you see any danger there?”

“No sir.” The ship jerked suddenly. “Here it starts.”

“Your image just jolted. Mosasaurs?”

“Yeah, looks like we’re already going onto dry land. I’d better go.”

“Talk to you soon,” Vermillion said. “You know what to do. Make sure Nolan doesn’t screw up and tip off any infants on that planet.”

“Will do, sir.” I tapped the pad under the right armrest once and the holographic display disappeared. My PA paged me at that moment.

“Captain, better get up here,” Izzy said.

“I felt it. Be right there.” I was on the bridge in minutes, stumbling at the door as the ship heaved again.

“Status?” I asked, getting into the Captain’s chair. The video display showed several Mosasaurs swimming at the ship, toothed v-shaped mouths open wide.

“There appears to be eight out there,” Izzy said, “and they’re coordinating attacks.”

“What about those torpedoes?” I asked. “Should we deploy them?”

“Negative,” Nolan said. “They might have beacons, remember?”

“Dammit, that’s right.”

“We need to jump elsewhere,” Tim said. “Another planet, one that isn’t inhabited.”

My PA buzzed me. It was Deacon.

“We have anything to worry about, Cappy?”

“Nope, but if there’s any fusion power issues, let me know right away. Understand?”

“Yes sir.” His picture left my PA screen.

Nolan made eye contact with me. “We’re taking on water, Captain.”

“One of those things busted the ship?” I asked, my eyebrows raised.

“It’s an airlock. Maybe it malfunctioned. I think we’d better move to dry land and check it out.”

“Let’s jump to another planet,” Tim said, working his sensors. “There’s five more of these things coming. Just picked them up on the sensors.”

“We can’t go into open space if we’ve got a breech,” Nolan said. “We need to get to dry land and check it out.”

“You got a spot in mind that isn’t inhabited?” I asked, trying hard not to smirk.”

“I do, Captain. Shall we?”

“Send the data to Izzy’s PA,” I said.

“You sure, Captain?” Nolan asked. “Maybe I should punch it in.”

“We’ll be fine. Send it.”

Nolan nodded, punching some codes into his console.

“Got it, Captain,” Izzy said. She spoke into her PA and the ship rose up towards the surface of the water, breaking out as the Mosasaurs gave chase. As soon as we cleared the water we blasted away on impulse power.

I watched the screen. “Izzy, shut down all but the front camera.” She nodded and did that. The display showed land on the horizon, coming up quickly. We climbed, going over a coastal ridge, then coming down into a heavily forested valley, setting down in a large clearing. Izzy swiveled her chair towards me.

“We’re down, Captain.”

I got out of my chair. “I want to take a look at this faulty airlock.”

“I’m looking at it on video,” Nolan said. “Looks like a malfunction, not damage.”

“What could’ve caused that?” Tim asked. “We didn’t receive any jolts hard enough to cause a problem.”

“We did have impacts,” Nolan said. “They didn’t feel bad because of the dampening effects of the water.”

“I still want to go down there and check it out. Izzy, expand the screen and put all the cameras up in a grid, then watch for anything approaching, especially humans.”

“Why not use the sensors?” Nolan asked.

“Maybe the sensors were giving a false reading of damage at that airlock,” I said. “Tim’s right, we didn’t get hit hard enough.”

“I’m going to keep the sensors running and monitor them on my PA, if you don’t mind,” Nolan said.

I nodded. “Was about to suggest that. You coming to the airlock?”

“Izzy and Tim are staying on the bridge, right? Don’t forget why we were under water.”

“Yes, Tim and Izzy will stay on the bridge. C’mon, Nolan.”

We headed out to the airlock.

To be continued…

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

 

Bug Out! California Book 7 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 11 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Bug Out! California Part 171 – Sax and Jesse

Mr. White and Mr. Black walked into Willie’s Lounge, doing their best to look casual. An old barfly with bleach-blonde hair in a tank top saw them belly up to the bar. She sauntered over.

“Are you two that big all over?” The stale smell of beer hit them before she got within three feet.

“Get lost,” Mr. Black said.

“You don’t have to be nasty,” she said, turning to walk away.

Mr. White snickered. “What, you no like? She built.”

“She smell bad. Remember why we here.”

Two men were watching them from a table behind the bar. Mr. White noticed. “We attract attention, no?”

“Watch what say,” Mr. Black said. “They come over in minute.”

The two men got up, leaving their women at the round table, heading for an opening at the bar next to Mr. White.

“Four more of these, bar keep,” said the first man, lanky with a goatee and salt-and-pepper hair. His buddy was short and overweight, a beer belly spilling over his belt. He eyed Mr. White cautiously.

“You trying to avoid tips again?” the bartender asked, taking the empties.

“Nah, just got tired of waiting,” the skinny man said. The bartender shrugged and walked away with the empties.

“You aren’t from around here,” the skinny man said. “I’m Jesse, and this is my friend Sax.”

“Nice to meet,” Mr. White said. “Yes, we aren’t from around here. Just passing through.”

The bartender brought the fresh beers, setting them on the bar in front of Jesse. “That’ll be fourteen dollars.”

“Highway robbery,” Jesse said, half a grin on his face.

“Stuff it, Jesse,” the bartender said, shaking his head as he walked away.

“Let’s go,” Sax said.

“Unusual name, Sax,” Mr. Black said.

Jesse laughed. “He fancies himself a musician.”

“Shut up.”

Jesse snickered. “I’m just messing with you, Sax. Don’t get upset, okay?”

Sax nodded. “Let’s get back to the ladies.”

Jesse ignored him. “You guys aren’t with them, are you?”

“Them?” Mr. White asked.

“UN.”

“Jesse,” Sax said, eyes darting around. “Knock it off.”

“No, we’re not with them,” Mr. White said.

“We don’t like the UN,” Mr. Black said.

“And why is that?” Jesse asked.

“They kidnap women and rape them,” Mr. White said. “Any of that going on around here? Seen a few more of their pussy vans than normal.”

“I’ve heard stories,” Jesse said, “but not from around here. I think they’re trying to keep a low profile. They haven’t been mixing with the population at all.”

“How you know they’re here, then?” Mr. Black asked.

“Sax here works at a food distribution company,” Jesse said.

“Shut up, dammit,” Sax said. “We don’t know who these guys are.”

“We just concerned citizens,” Mr. White said. “Not here to cause trouble. You do food deliveries?”

Sax eyed Mr. White, then sighed. “Yes, we’ve been delivering to them for the past month. Orders get bigger every time.”

“I’ve seen them bring in vans on car carriers,” Jesse said. “Noticed it about three weeks ago. They just keep on coming. Have to be more than a thousand now.”

“That sound suspicious,” Mr. Black said.

“Yes sir, they’re planning something,” Jesse said. “Wish we had more citizens around here that cared.”

“A lot of people care,” Sax said quietly, looking around to make sure nobody was close by. “We got several thousand Teamsters living in this town. Most of them want the UN out of here.”

“Bad enough to do something about?” Mr. White asked.

“They could be rallied,” Sax said, “but nobody has the guts yet.”

“Do you know locations?” Mr. White asked.

“Who are you guys?” Sax asked. “Really?”

Mr. White and Mr. Black looked at each other, then back at Sax and Jesse.

“How do we know who you are?” Mr. White asked.

“We’re just locals,” Jesse said.

“Why you approach?” Mr. White asked.

“Well, no offense, but you look kinda European to me,” Jesse said. “I’ve not been causing a ruckus over these UN folks because they aren’t in town pushing anybody around. If they start, lots of rednecks are gonna come out of the woodwork. Mark my words.”

“Now don’t be sounding like a trouble-maker,” Sax said. “How do you know they won’t report back to the UN?”

Mr. White chuckled. “UN don’t like us. Feeling mutual.”

“Where are you from?” Jesse asked, “if you don’t mind me asking.”

“Bulgaria, originally,” Mr. White said. “American citizens now.”

“Uh huh,” Sax said. “What do you do for a living?”

Mr. Black laughed. “Fixers.”

“Fixers?” Sax asked. “What does that mean, exactly?”

Jesse shot him a nervous glance. “Forget what my friend is asking, gentlemen.”

“I thought you were full of questions,” Sax said.

“When you come out of shell, you come out of shell,” Mr. White quipped.

“Should we tell?” Mr. Black asked.

“Send boss text,” Mr. White replied.

Mr. Black pulled out his phone, Sax’s eyes getting big.

“Let’s get out of here, Jesse. They’re probably calling their UN buddies.”

“Sit,” Mr. Black said as he typed the message. His phone dinged with a reply. Mr. Black read it and snickered.

“What’s so funny?” Jesse asked, looking more and more nervous.

“Yeah, what so funny?” Mr. White asked.

Mr. Black looked at Sax. “What name of kid on Leave it to Beaver?”

Jesse laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Sax smiled. “I know what they’re doing. It was Theodore.”

“Right,” Mr. Black said. “What name of brother?”

Jesse smiled. “Oh, I get it. Wally. Dad’s name was Ward. Remember the old joke?”

“What old joke?” Mr. Black asked.

“When the wife says Ward, you were kinda tough on the beaver last night.

Mr. Black burst out laughing. “Hey, I like these guys.”

“Pass test?” Mr. White asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Black said.” He looked at Jesse and Sax. “You hear of Ivan the Butcher?”

“Oh, crap, you’re with him, aren’t you?” Sax whispered.

“You say there teamsters who’ve had enough of UN?” Mr. White asked.

Sax shook his head yes.

“Think they might want to help us on upcoming attack?”

“I got a lot of friends too,” Jesse said. “Ex-military like me. We’ve all had it with these creeps.”

“Be careful who tell,” Mr. White said. “Agents all over. When next teamster meeting?”

“Couple days,” Sax said.

“You know footprint of UN base?”

“I know where I’ve delivered food,” Sax said. He rattled off the street boundaries.

Mr. White and Mr. Black glanced at each other, smiling.

“We pretty close, no?” Mr. White said.

Mr. Black nodded. “I knew. Makes sense when you look at map. Easy to protect. Mass access for attack not easy. Only handful of good entry points.”

“Wonder how they’d like it if we blocked them all up with semi-trucks?” Sax asked.

“I like, them not so much,” Mr. White said. “I think we be friends, gentlemen. Go back to women now, they look antsy. You here often?”

“Hell, just about every night,” Jesse said.

Sax pulled out his phone. “What’s your number?”

Mr. White read it off quietly, and Sax punched it in, calling him.

“Good,” Mr. White said, putting a name to the new contact. “I’ll text when we have news. Be careful who you tell. If women can’t be trusted, don’t mention. Understand?”

“Yes sir,” Sax said.

“We got it,” Jesse said.

They walked back to their table.

 

***

Jorge drove the BFV south, one of more than fifty other BFVs and nearly a thousand L-ATVs, infantry following them slowly. It was just past dusk.

“I’m gonna close the hatch,” Jorge said. “Starting to get a little chilly.”

“Go for it,” Gonzalez shouted. “You can turn on the headlights, too. It’s not too early.”

“Roger that,” Jorge said.

Doug scanned the area through his weapons sight, seeing some other vehicles rolling past them. “Damn, those L-ATVs are a lot faster than this, aren’t they?”

“Yeah,” Gonzalez said. “They’re scouting.”

“Hey, Gonzales, how far is it to our deployment location?” asked Sessions, one of the Marines in the back, in a Georgia accent. “It smells like Jenkins’s dirty socks in here.”

“Hey, screw you man,” said Jenkins, a buff black Marine with a big grin. “You’re smelling yourself.”

“We’ll let you know when the scouts in the L-ATVs report in,” Gonzales said. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch. The longer you stay in here, the less time you’re out there walking through scorpions and sidewinders.”

Several of the Marines chuckled, Doug shaking his head.

Suddenly there was a large explosion, the flash looking about a hundred yards out.

“Crap,” Gonzalez said. “One of the L-ATVs just ran over an IED.”

“Hey, dude, it’s still rolling,” Jorge said from the driver’s seat. “They rolled past it. Should I go over there?”

“Negative,” Gonzalez said. “Those vehicles are better equipped to handle IEDs than this is. Steer way wide. As a matter of fact, focus on vehicles who get through without hitting anything and follow their tracks as best you can.”

“Got it,” Jorge said.

“Looks like those guys are all fine,” Doug said, watching through his FLIR gunsight. “They’re getting back into their vehicle now.”

“Yeah, see them,” Gonzalez said. “Most of the time those things can keep going.”

“Yeah, unless there’s a hit too close to one of the tires,” Jenkins said. “Hopefully somebody checked.”

Doug turned from his sight. “Yeah, they had several people crawl underneath. All the insides of the tires got looked at.”

“I was in one of those damn things when we rolled over an IED once,” Sessions said. “Not one of those small ones. An old MRAP. Didn’t hear good for a frigging week.”

There was another explosion further up.

“Dammit, they’ve mined this whole frigging area,” Gonzalez said. “You doing okay up there, Jorge? Still keeping a bead on a good path?”

“Yes sir,” he replied. “That L-ATV isn’t moving.”

“The guys are okay, though,” Doug said. “They’re all out of their vehicle.”

“So what now?” Jorge asked. “They on foot?”

“They’ll figure out if it’s fixable or not,” Gonzalez said. “If it’s not, they’ll end up hooking up with some of the other vehicles. There’s several more waves coming.”

“If the enemy is smart, they’ll have their mortars aimed at the places with no explosives,” Jenkins said. “That way, when the later vehicles roll through, they’ll be funneled into a smaller area that their mortars are already targeted on.”

“Let’s hope they aren’t that smart,” Doug said.

“They were that smart in Syria,” Sessions said.

Yeah they were,” Jenkins replied.

“We’re just about to the one that’s stopped,” Jorge said. “We picking up?”

“No, they’ll get picked up later,” Gonzalez said. “We don’t have room.”

They rolled along for another several miles, no more IEDs encountered, and then there was an explosion, three hundred yards ahead of them.

“Here it starts,” Jenkins said.

“Was that mortar fire?” Jorge asked, his question punctuated by another explosion.

“Yep,” Gonzalez said. “Stay on a good path and speed up. See that ridge? We might be able to see the enemy mortar team with the FLIR system if we’re high enough up.”

“Looks like another BFV is thinking the same thing,” Jorge said. “They’re gonna beat us there.”

“They’d better be careful,” Gonzalez said, watching them stray into a path not yet traveled, his comment cut off by another mortar explosion, only fifty yards to their east.

“What happens if we get hit with one of those mortar shells?” Doug asked.

“Depends on where it hits us,” Gonzalez said. “These are more survivable against mortar rounds than the L-ATVs, so don’t worry about it too much.”

There was a massive explosion ahead, the BFV ahead of them blowing up.

“Dammit!” Gonzalez shouted. “That’s why you follow a path that’s already been used.”

“Shit, that thing is fully engulfed in flames,” Jorge said. The ammo rounds blew seconds later, pieces of vehicle and men flying in every direction.

“You know what you’re doing up there, driver?” Jenkins shouted.

“Yes sir, I’m sticking to a path already traveled,” Jorge shouted back. “Don’t worry, we’ll get there in one piece.”

“No pun intended,” Sessions said.

“You’re a sick puppy,” Jenkins said. “We probably knew those guys.”

“War is war.”

“We’re almost to the ridge,” Doug said.

Another mortar round blew up, behind them this time by about seventy yards, narrowly missing an L-ATV.

“We’re there,” Jorge said, pulling up to the crest of the small ridge. “Says we’re on an eight-degree angle. I can go up a little more and it’ll level out, but we’ll be more exposed.

“Don’t bother, I can see what I need to see,” Doug said, looking through his FLIR sight as more mortar rounds fell.

“Hurry up, man, they’re increasing their rate of fire,” Sessions shouted.

“M242, right?” Doug asked.

“Yeah, with the anti-personnel frag rounds,” Gonzalez said. “Try a few single shots to test your aim, then go to full auto.”

“You got it,” Doug said, looking at the men moving on the green screen, their bodies showing bright against a darker green background. He fired, the round going off, killing several men, others rushing up to take their place at the mortar, as machine gun fire started, the armor of the BFV pinging. Two more mortar shells fell, one of them a little too close for comfort, the impact shaking the vehicle.

“C’mon, man, end those guys,” Jenkins shouted.

“Here goes nothing,” Doug said, pushing the button for auto-fire and pulling the trigger, peppering the mortar nest with high-explosive rounds, killing almost all the enemy fighters manning the mortars, the barrage stopping. By that time there were more BFVs up along the ridge, and they all started up, most of them firing into the large group of men, who were coming towards the line at a fast trot. Then the L-ATVs started flying over the top of the ridge and down into the valley below, guns blazing.

“Be careful not to hit our guys!” Gonzalez shouted as Doug wailed away at the enemy with the M242.

“Don’t worry, I’m way beyond where they are. This gun is insane. How much ammo we got?”

Gonzalez looked over at Doug and grinned. “Plenty, but don’t fire auto bursts that are too long, or you’ll overheat the gun. See anybody setting up more mortars?”

“Nope, the enemy fighters are trying to find cover. A lot of them are being killed by the machine guns on those L-ATVs. Should I use ours?”

“No, hold that in reserve.”

“Tank, coming in from the west,” Jorge said. “See it?”

“Son of a bitch,” Jorge said. “Remember how the TOW Missiles work?”

“Yeah, I got it,” Doug said. “Want me to fire one?”

There was a whoosh from a nearby BFV, a missile flying towards the tank, hitting it broadside, just under the turret, popping the whole assembly off.

“Whoa, dude, that was awesome,” Jorge shouted.

“See any more?” Doug asked.

“I’m on it with the CIV,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a better picture. I don’t see any more, but there’s a ridge to the west where that first one came from. Might be more over there.”

“What if there are a bunch of battle tanks over there?” Doug asked. “We’ve only got six TOW missiles, right?”

Gonzalez backed away from his CIV eyepiece and glanced at him. “Look to the east and west, along the ridge. We’ve got most of the first fifty BFVs lining up. They got six TOW missiles a piece. Don’t lose your nerve on me, okay?”

Jenkins laughed. “You let us know if there’s a bunch of tanks, and we’ll get out of this tin bucket.”

“Shut up, man,” Gonzalez said.

“There’s a whole lot more enemy fighters coming up behind that first batch,” Doug said, looking through his sight. “Some of them are carrying mortars.”

“So, we blast them before they can set them up,” Gonzalez said. “That’s our job.”

“The L-ATVs are in a good position,” Jorge said. “I don’t think those enemy fighters know they’re there.”

“Oh, they know, believe me,” Gonzalez said. “This battle is gonna be a bloodbath.”

“You want me to kill anybody trying to set up a mortar, right?” Doug asked.

Gonzalez nodded. “Yeah, as long as there aren’t any of our guys in front of them.”

“Hey, dude, tanks, see them?” Jorge shouted. “I can just see the main guns of a couple of them now, coming up from the ridge.”

“Knew it,” Gonzalez said. “Get ready on that TOW launcher. Remember we’ve only got two, then we have to load more missiles. Remember how we did it?”

“Yeah, no problem,” Doug said.

There was a massive blast, and a BFV about sixty yards to the west blew apart.

“Oh crap!” Doug said, his heart pounding.

“We’re getting out,” Jenkins said.

“Yeah, go for it,” Gonzalez said, hitting the button to drop the rear door. “Set up your mortar and wail away.”

***

Ivan was watching PC screens with the intel team, all of them focused on the long-range detailed app. Sam and the rest of the leadership team walked in, chatting amongst themselves.

“Great, you’re here,” Ivan said. “How’s things up-top?”

“We got the timbers here,” Garrett said. “Still gonna be slow going on the main entrance, I’m afraid. Maybe we ought to move this hardware into a building.”

“No, it safer down here,” Jules said.

“I agree,” Ted said. “What are you guys watching? The battle in Mexico?”

“Yeah,” Robbie said, turning from the screen. “It’s starting to ramp up now.”

“That’s gonna be a tough battle, partner,” Tex said. “I’d rather be here.”

“Let’s chat about the UN base,” Ivan said. “Find a seat. There’s more folding chairs over in the corner there.”

Everybody gathered around with chairs, and Ivan nodded to Ben, who showed a satellite view of the UN base on the largest monitor they had.

“That’s a huge space,” Ted said, looking at the screen, with it’s dark red outline around the target area. “How dense are they?”

“We don’t know for sure,” Ivan said.

“That’s why you asked us to be on the recon team, right?” Sam asked.

“Yes, but there have been some further developments,” Ivan said. “Mr. White and Mr. Black made some friends.”

“Friends?” Ted asked.

“Locals who’ve been watching, and don’t like the UN,” Ivan said.

“One in Teamster’s Union,” Jules said. “We talk to them about joining attack.”

“Teamsters, huh?” Tex asked. “How many?”

“Over a thousand,” Ivan said, “but more on that later.”

“We’re still going in to check it out, though, right?” Sam asked. “We don’t need any nasty surprises when we’ve got our pants around our ankles.”

Jules chuckled. “You and me on same page. Local help great, will pay off, but we need to look for ourselves.”

“I’m okay with that, as long as we have a plan that makes me confident.”

“Confident about what?” Sparky asked.

“Confident that we won’t lose the best men on our team,” Ivan said. “We’re going to hit this base with overwhelming force. I want to know as much as we can, but we have to balance risk and reward carefully.”

“Then we come up with a good plan,” Sam said.

Ivan’s phone rang. He answered it, walking away from the group.

“Uh oh,” Jules said. “Seen that look before.”

Ivan was back in a flash. “Mr. White and Mr. Black are seeing movement of UN vans from the base.”

“Where are they going?” Garrett asked. “They getting on I-8?”

“Going east on Broadway,” Ivan said. His phone dinged with a new text. “Turning south on 2nd Street. Our assets are following them, but it’s tough, because there’s still vans leaving the base.”

“Put the map of El Cajon up on that screen,” Ted said.

Ben loaded the map program, using his cursor to point out Broadway. “There it is. And here’s 2nd Street.”

Sam’s brow furrowed. “They could take that to Highway 94.”

“That leads here,” Morgan said.

Ivan nodded. “Yes, it does. Better alert everybody.”

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! California Book 7 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 11 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store – Book 1 is just 99 cents for a limited time!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Bugout! California Part 170 – BFV Training

Sam slipped down through the hole on the rope, the opening big enough for him to pass now. It was about seven feet from the ceiling to the floor of the storage room, but he had enough rope to get almost to the ground. He heard scraping in the hole, and turned to take hold of the ladder.

“This thing feels really rickety,” he yelled up.

“It’ll be okay,” Elmer yelled down. “The hole will help keep it steady, and it ain’t gonna break. I wouldn’t put more than about three people on it at a time, though. Two if they’re large.”

Sam nodded, then left the storage room, heading straight for the nursery. Morgan saw him and grinned. “Got the ladder in?”

“Yep. You’re working the nursery?”

“Helping out some,” Morgan said. “All of us have been. They miss Anna.”

Mia squealed as she ran to Sam, hugging his legs until he picked her up and kissed her.

“Daddy! Where’s mommy?”

“She’s outside. I’ll take you up the ladder so you can be with her pretty soon.”

“Maybe it’s safer for Mia to be down here,” Morgan said quietly.

“We can send her back down if we have to,” Sam said. “The enemy probably won’t hit us again. Their main operation is starting, and apparently we’ve nailed the Venezuelan ship that was sending the cruise missiles.”

“That’s what we’ve been hearing,” Morgan said. “You should go chat with Ivan and Jules. There’s been a lot going on.”

“I will in a second,” he said, sitting down with Mia in his lap, chatting to her softly.

“What’s next?” Morgan asked.

“We’ll get more supplies down here, first of all.”

“What about the main entrance?”

“Some of Tyler’s warriors are working that with the small bulldozer, but they’re a little worried about additional cave-ins. Garrett sent people into town to get some timbers. We’ll have to put them up as we go back.”

“Sounds like that’s going to take a while.”

Sam nodded. “Yeah, it’ll be a slow process. We’ve got the ladder in place, though. Anybody who doesn’t need to be down here can get out easily now.”

“I want to go see mommy,” Mia said.

“Don’t worry, honey, I’ll take you up there with me when I leave. I need to talk to Uncle Ivan and Uncle Jules.”

Morgan chuckled, shaking her head.

Sam got up. “I’m going to go chat for a few minutes. You’ll have to wait here, honey.”

“Why can’t I go?” Mia asked.

“It’ll be faster if I go by myself, and you want to get back to mommy as soon as you can, right?”

Mia thought for a moment, then nodded reluctantly.

Sam kissed her forehead, smiled at Morgan, and left, heading for the intel room. Ivan and Jules were both there, sitting in a corner chatting with Ben.

“Sam, you guys got the ladder set up already?” Ivan asked.

“Yep. It’s a little rickety, but it’ll work for now. What’s up?”

“Big battle brewing south of border,” Jules said.

“I know, been watching the apps.”

“We’re getting a lot of help down there now,” Ben said. “The US armed forces are getting involved. They sent a ton of military hardware into the area from all over the southwest. Lots of L-ATVs and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.”

“Perfect,” Sam said. “Do they have enough people to run them?”

Ivan shook his head. “They’ve got mostly citizen recruits. That’s probably our biggest weakness right now.”

“How much chance is there that we’ll hold them south of the border?”

“Near hundred percent,” Jules said. “We took over Tecate and the highway that leads right to the enemy lines. There are trucks on it as we speak, sending recruits down there.”

“The UN is gonna be our focus then, right?” Sam asked.

“You got it,” Ben said. “Mr. White and Mr. Black know where they are, and they also found the entry point.”

“Where is it?” Sam asked.

“Dana Point harbor,” Ben said. “We’re planning the operation now.”

“I’d say we’re making plans for the plan,” Ivan said. “We need another recon team. We’re thinking about you, Tex, Sparky, and Ted. What do you think?”

“I think Erica might push hard to go along,” Sam said. “I’d rather she didn’t. She’s a great fighter, but she doesn’t have experience in this type of thing. The group you’re talking about has Special Forces training.”

“Use Mia,” Ivan said. “Make her understand that she needs to protect her child.”

Sam smiled, nodding. “Way ahead of you, chief.”

“How long till the main entrance gets opened?” Ben asked.

“Gonna be a while,” Sam said. “We’re having to buy timbers. The walls and ceiling need to be shored up. It’s as bad as digging a new mine, according to people who know.”

“Which people?” Jules asked.

“Elmer, Willard, and a few others,” Sam said. “I believe them. Frankly, I’d like us to shore up these rooms too.”

“I need to meet with you and the others, and plan the recon operation,” Ivan said. “Could we do that this afternoon?”

“Sure,” Sam said. “I’ll chat with them and send you a text. Feel free to come out, too. It’s a climb, but not too bad.”

“I think we should meet down here,” Jules said. “Computers here, we need the data.”

“I agree,” Sam said. “I’m gonna take Mia up top to be with Erica. Then I’ll get with the others.”

“Sounds good,” Ivan said. “We’ll see you back here in a little while.”

Sam nodded, then went back to the nursery to pick up Mia. She was glad to see him, rushing for a hug. Morgan and Shelly were both there.

“Oh, you’ve got the duty too, huh?” Sam asked Shelly.

“We’re all pitching in. The kids miss Anna. Think she can climb down here?”

“Probably,” Sam said. “Might be better to move the kids up there, though.”

“Is it safe enough?” Shelly asked.

“Oh, I think so,” Sam said. “Ready, sweetie?”

Mia looked up at him, shaking her head yes.

“You’re going to climb in front of me, but don’t worry. I won’t let you fall, okay?”

“Yes, daddy,” she said, taking his hand. They walked to the storage room.

Men were bringing boxes of supplies down, but they stopped to make way for Sam and Mia.

Mia was a trooper, climbing up the ladder quickly, Sam struggling to keep up. “Where’s mommy?”

“She’s probably in the hotel or the saloon,” Sam said, pulling out his phone. He sent her a quick text, and she burst out of the hotel lobby, running down the street to them. Mia leapt into her arms.

“Oh, sweetie, I missed you so much,” Erica said, holding her tight.

Anna came over. “Hello, Mia, how are you?”

“Okay,” Mia said, glancing at her and then looking back at Erica. “I don’t have to go back down there, do I?”

“No, sweetie, you can stay with us,” Erica said, shooting a glance to Anna and Sam.

“She’s completely bonded to you two,” Anna whispered. “That’s good.”

“It is,” Sam said. “Where should we go?”

“Home,” Erica said. “For a little while at least.”

“The battle wagon?” Sam asked.

Erica chuckled. “Well, that is our home, isn’t it?”

“For now,” Sam said. “I’m gonna have to meet with Ivan and a few others in a couple hours.”

“I figured, but let’s not focus on that now, all right? We need to focus on our daughter for a while.”

“Yes,” Sam said. The three of them walked towards the pasture where their battle wagon was parked. Anna watched them until they were out of sight, then went back into the hotel lobby.

***

It was late afternoon on the border. Doug and Jorge were tired after a day of helping with supply unloading and distribution. Conrad came over.

“Higgins has a proposal for you two.”

“What’s that?” Doug asked.

“They want you to be crew members in one of the BFVs.”

“Won’t that take a lot of training?” Jorge asked.

“Not really,” Conrad said. “They want one of you to drive and the other to be the gunner. A marine will be the commander, and you’ll be bringing in six marines and their mortars.”

“So we’ll be like an armored taxi service?” Jorge asked.

“Once you’re there, you’ll use the weapons of the BFV to pound the enemy. You’ll be one of sixty in this area.”

“Well, what do you think?” Doug asked Jorge.

“I’m game,” he said. “When do we start training?”

“Now,” Conrad said. “We’re pulling out in three hours.”

“We’re going in the dark?” Jorge asked.

“The BFV has very good FLIR systems,” Conrad said. “This version is using CIV, which is a good thing, and it’s also got the latest-generation FLIR targeting system.”

“Hey, dude, in English. What’s CIV?”

“I figured you’d ask what FLIR was,” Conrad said, shooting a smirk at Jorge.

“I know what that is,” Jorge said. “Forward Looking Infrared.”

“Yep, and CIV is the Commanders Independent Viewer,” Conrad said. “Let’s go. That’s your rig right there, third from the end next to the train tracks.”

They walked over and were met by the commander, a young Hispanic man. He was smaller than either Doug or Jorge, with a stocky but trim build and a welcoming smile.

“You’re the commander for this one?” Conrad asked.

“Yes sir,” he said. “Private Gonzalez at your service. Is this my gunner and driver?”

“Yep,” Conrad said. “I’ll leave you guys to this. I’ve got other stuff to do.”

“You gonna be involved?” Doug asked.

“Yeah, most of my team will be using the L-ATVs. We’ll see you out there.”

Doug and Jorge watched as Conrad trotted away.

“Let’s get started,” Gonzalez said. “Have you ever served in a tank or other armored vehicle?”

“No sir,” Jorge said. Doug shook his head no.

“Not a problem,” Gonzalez said. “Who’s got the most experience driving commercial vehicles?”

“I drove truck for a few years,” Doug said, “but Jorge has done more of it.”

“Fifteen years on the road,” Jorge said. “What’s this baby got under the hood?”

“It’s a Cummins VTA-903T,” Gonzalez said.

“Nice,” Jorge said. “It’s 600 horsepower, right?”

“You know your diesels. You okay with driving?”

“Sure,” Jorge said. “Where do I sit?”

Gonzalez led them to the front of the vehicle. “That hatch right there, in front. You’ll be sitting right next to the engine.”

“Is it supposed to be open?” Jorge asked.

“You can drive with it open or closed,” Gonzalez said. “Obviously when we’re in battle we’ll be buttoned up all around. Go ahead and climb in.”

Jorge smiled like a kid in a candy store, climbing onto the vehicle and lowering himself into the seat. “Hey, this is cool.” He checked out the controls. “Looks pretty straight-forward.”

“It is. I’ll help you get a feel for her in a moment, but let’s look inside the turret first. Come on through the back.”

Jorge climbed out and joined them. They walked up the ramp and went to the turret section.

“Which seat is mine?” Doug asked.

“Left side. See the white panel between the seats? Those are for fire control and ammo selection. The main gun fires either semi-auto or automatic, and you select it here.” Gonzalez pointed to the buttons. “There’s also selectors for the TOW missiles and the M240 machine gun. All of them are aimed and fired with the two-hand grip there.”

“The white unit with the handles covered in black rubber,” Doug said. “Seen pictures of this someplace.”

“They’ve been around for quite a while now,” Gonzalez said. “See that joystick next to my seat? That allows me to fire the weapons as well.”

“Cool,” Doug said. “What’s that sight on your side?”

“That’s the CIV.”

“Oh, it’s the Commanders Independent Viewer,” Jorge quipped, shooting a smirk at Doug.

“That’s correct,” Gonzalez said. “Nice unit. Uses a gimbal made of armor, which was quite a feat when it was first developed.”

“Why would that be difficult?” Doug asked.

“The specs on this were really tight. No wiggling around or jerky movements. It’s smooth as silk and easy to zero in on targets, and that’s not easy with a gimbal that’s so heavy.”

“Are we taking six troops with us?” Doug asked.

“Five in our case, and half a dozen mortars,” Gonzalez said. “Ready to drive this puppy around a little, Jorge?”

“Hell yeah, dude,” Jorge said. He got into the driver’s seat. “Anything I need to know before we go?”

“To get a feel for how it turns, leave the hatch open at first, then we’ll close it. It starts with the push button. Fire her up while I close the rear door.”

“Okay, boss,” Jorge said. The diesel turned over and started running, the vibration moving through the hull of the vehicle. “Purrs like a kitten.”

Gonzalez laughed, pushing the button to close the rear door. “Strap yourselves in.”

Doug got into the gunner’s seat and strapped in, Gonzalez getting into the commander’s seat and flipping a few switches. Lights on the equipment came on.

“I start rolling with this knob to my right?” Jorge asked.

“Yep,” Gonzalez said. “Put her into drive and hit the gas, brother.”

Jorge laughed, engaged the transmission, and stepped on the gas, the beast lurching forward, Jorge grabbing the wheel in a panic as it took off faster than he expected. “Whoa!”

Gonzalez laughed. “Don’t worry, you’ll get the feel for this in a hurry. Drive her around between the train tracks and the border fence.”

Jorge drove forward, making a turn to avoid some other vehicles, then going straight towards the border at a good clip. “This thing has a great feel to it.”

“It does, doesn’t it,” Gonzalez said. “I used to be a driver. Kinda miss it.”

“How come you aren’t still a driver?” Doug asked.

“Because we didn’t have enough crews for all of these vehicles. They put experienced BFV operators in as commanders, so we could train you citizen recruits. We can switch around some if you guys would like. Good for all of us to know how to operate everything.”

“What should I be doing?” Doug asked.

“Look through the sight.”

Doug put his head to the eyepieces, his forehead resting on a pad above them. “Crystal clear, nice reticle.”

“Flip the night-vision switch there.”

Doug saw it and flipped it, the picture changing. “Wow, this is very high-res. Expected less.”

“Turn towards those trucks over there.”

Doug did that, the FLIR system showing him the warm engine right through the sides of the truck’s engine compartment. “Holy crap.”

“Yeah, now imagine we’re in the dark and there’s enemy fighters trying to sneak up on us. They’ll stick out like a frigging sore thumb because of their body heat.”

“I could imagine. Should I fire anything?”

“Nah, but move through the buttons and move each of the weapons around. They move slightly different. You’ll have to get used to them.”

Doug put each of the weapons systems through it’s paces. “This is easy. Are we really going to use TOW missiles?”

“We only have six of those,” Gonzalez said. “We save them in case the enemy has brought any tanks along, but so far we haven’t seen any. All other vehicles, including their puny Gaz Tigrs, will be toast when we hit them with the M242 chain gun. Trust me on that.”

“What’s the difference between these two types of ammo?” Doug asked, looking at the buttons.

“That one is to hit vehicles. Armor piercing shells. The other is anti-personnel. They’re high-explosive fragment shells.”

“Remind me not to be around when one of those goes off,” Jorge quipped. “This thing is flat-out fun to drive.”

“She is, ain’t she,” Gonzales said. “Go ahead and drive her back to the parking place, and back in. I’ll show you guys how to reload the guns and other stuff you’ll need to know.”

Jorge parked the vehicle like he’d been driving it for months.

***

Mr. Black watched as Mr. White drove east on Vernon way.

“This bad,” Mr. Black said. “I think they do this for very long time. I still see vans all the way over here, and European smokers.”

“What’s the next big street?” Mr. White asked.

“Cuyamaca. I see now. Row of housing. Looks abandoned. Lots of broken glass. Turn right. I bet this western boundary.”

Mr. White made the turn, and they drove down the street. “How far boundary to the north, I wonder?”

“First street we hit is Bradley. Here it comes. I see evidence of more people across street. See them out there, sitting between building and lot. I guess UN have rules about smoking outside.”

Both men cracked up.

“Stupid leftists,” Mr. White said. “How about that street, nothing interesting past it.”

“Billy Mitchell Drive. Make right. Nobody on far side. Civilian cars.”

“How can the folks who live around here miss this?” Mr. White asked as he turned.

“Some notice, afraid to say anything, others have no clue. It same everywhere.”

They cruised down the street, and then Mr. White’s eyes got wide. “This street run into municipal airport. Wonder if they use. Lot of UN creeps here. Take long time to float in on fishing boat.”

“I haven’t seen any aircraft flying around,” Mr. Black said. “Turn right again, take Marshall, then Bradley.”

Mr. White nodded, making the turn onto Marshall. “You right, I hear no aircraft at all. It’s closed.”

“Wonder if it’s occupied? Lots of hangars and other buildings around there.”

Mr. White smiled. “We should tell boss about this. Maybe he get line on C-130s or C-17s.”

Mr. Black laughed. “That be riot, but enemy hear. Might shoot down, kill hundred good guys with one shot. Turn here, at Bradley.”

“I see, I see,” Mr. White said. “We know how far on east side, right.”

“I didn’t see Eurotrash east of Pioneer,” Mr. Black said.

“We go past and look anyway, no?”

“Sure, no problem,” Mr. Black said. “Then hit bar. Need drink and food. Listen to locals.”

“Sounds good to me,” Mr. White said. He drove them past Pioneer, all the way to Magnolia, making another right, going down to Greenfield, which turned into Vernon Way.

“That it,” Mr. Black said. “No UN creep east of Pioneer, or at least not enough to be noticeable. We really need to get on foot and check out.”

“Boss said his recon team be here tomorrow. They check out in more detail.”

“We make sure to mention airport,” Mr. Black said.

“Yes. Look. Bar hopping with people. Let’s go. Use ears.”

Mr. White parked at the sports bar called Willie’s Lounge, and they went inside.

To be continued…

 

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The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Bugout! California Part 169 – L-ATV

Seth’s computer sounded the history program alarm. He clicked on it, his eyes getting wide.

“What is it?” Kaitlyn asked, turning her chair towards his screen.

“Same highway in Mexico where we saw the semis unload before they took out the Marines. Wow. I’m seeing about thirty-thousand new RFID hits. Better call Jules and Ivan over here.”

“I’ll go get them,” Ben said, getting up from his seat.

“Why don’t they drive closer to the border before they reveal themselves?” Kaitlyn asked.

“Good question,” Seth said, turning as he heard Jules and Ivan come into the room. Ben sat back down, still working the problem with his drone feed.

“They’re dumping, huh?” Jules asked.

“Yeah, but why here?” Seth asked. “Why not closer to the border?”

Jules looked at Ivan, who was thinking, watching the screen over Seth’s shoulder. “They think it’ll be harder for us to stop them when they’re spread out wide on the dirt between there and the border. They’re probably right.”

Robbie and Morgan came back into the room with cups of coffee. “Uh oh, what’s happening?” Morgan asked.

“Thirty-thousand enemy fighters just revealed themselves in Mexico,” Kaitlyn said. “Same highway as before.”

“Maybe it’s time for the planes of the Theodore Roosevelt to start attacking,” Robbie said. “They’re close enough.”

Ivan shook his head no. “They’re going further south. Not for us. There’s an attack coming in the Gulf of Mexico.”

“Against what?” Ben asked.

“Governor Nelson’s team isn’t sure yet. Probably Houston. It’s the largest town in that region.”

“What about us?” Kaitlyn asked.

“We don’t have a city of over two million who are in danger of a nuke attack,” Robbie said.

“That we know of yet,” Seth quipped.

Robbie chuckled. “Yeah, that’s a fair point.”

Seth’s computer sounded another alarm. “Oh boy, another five thousand, same place.”

“This is going to go on for the next couple hours,” Ivan said. “All we can do at this point is watch and pinpoint their locations. If you see any that are on roads closer to the US border, come get me right away, okay?”

“Will do,” Seth said.

Ivan smiled. “Thanks.”

“Mind if I stay and watch, boss?” Jules asked.

“Sure, be my guest. I want to check on the UN base. Mr. White and Mr. Black are running a stakeout.”

“Good, they bigger problem,” Jules said. Ivan left the room, motioning for Ben to follow him.

“There’s a lot more Islamists,” Robbie said.

“True, but them we can see,” Jules said.

***

It was first light along the border. Doug crawled out of his pup-tent, his bones aching.

Jorge was getting up. “Hey, dude, ready for coffee?”

“Yeah, let’s go to the mess hall,” Doug said as he stood and fixed his pants and shirt. “I need a shower.”

“Yeah, me too, and I need some time with my wife,” Jorge said, dusting off his knees. “Looked at the apps lately?”

“Need to plug my phone in when we get to the mess hall. Glad they provided all those charging stations.”

“We’ve got military equipment that needs to be kept at the ready,” Jorge said.

Doug laughed. “Yeah, our cellphones with the apps on them are military equipment. Never thought of it that way.”

They walked down the hill, getting into the line for breakfast.

“Wonder where Conrad is?” Jorge asked.

“Who knows? That smells good. Bacon.”

“Perfect thing to go with powdered eggs,” Jorge cracked. “Wish they would’ve waited on pulling those trains out of here until morning. Woke me up at two-thirty. Took a while to get back to sleep.”

“I heard it but fell back to sleep right away. Wonder if they’re going to leave that stuff here?”

“Conrad was non-committal on that.”

“He doesn’t have any say,” Doug said.

“Oh, I know, dude, I was talking about him being non-committal on his opinion.”

Doug snickered. “Sorry, I’m not awake until I’ve had some coffee.”

“You and me both. That’s more tanks than I thought, but not all of them are M-1s. What are those other things?”

“Bradley Fighting Vehicles,” Doug said. “I’m surprised they weren’t using those before. M-1s are mainly for battles with enemy tanks, and this enemy doesn’t have them.”

“At least we haven’t seen any yet.”

They got through the food line after about five minutes, then found a place to sit next to charging outlets, both plugging their phones in.

“We’re slaves to modern technology,” Jorge said, his mouth half full of eggs.

“Listen. Is that another train coming?”

The low rumble got louder, Jorge getting up to look out the flap of the tent. “Two again. Looks like they’re both full of weapons.”

“Hope there’s more Bradley Fighting Vehicles,” Doug said.

“Good morning,” Conrad said, walking to their table with his breakfast. “Mind if I join you?”

“Sit,” Doug said. “Another two trains pulling in.”

“Yeah, chatted with Major Higgins about it earlier this morning. We’re finally getting smart.”

“Wait, earlier this morning?” Jorge asked. “Damn, dude, what time were you up?”

“Four,” Conrad said as he shoveled the first bite of powdered eggs into his mouth.

Doug washed down his breakfast with coffee. “So, they’ve gotten smarter than yesterday?”

“I’m kinda joking,” Conrad said. “Most of what they sent here yesterday were Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and about half of them came from further north in California, not from San Diego or Camp Pendleton.”

“I’m still not understanding what makes these Bradley Fighting Vehicles better than M-1 tanks,” Jorge said.

Conrad finished chewing a piece of bacon and washed it down with a small cup of orange juice. “The BFV has firepower that’s better to use against this enemy, and they hold a crew of three, plus up to six fully-equipped soldiers.”

“That sounds more like an armored personnel carrier,” Doug said.

“It’s much better armed.”

“What’s it got, dude?” Jorge asked.

“M242 chain gun, TOW missiles, and an M240 machine gun,” Conrad said. “It’s got reactive armor, too, so they can withstand a lot of abuse. Not as much as an M-1, but plenty for this situation. They’d eat a Gaz Tigr for breakfast.”

“Probably more enjoyable than this breakfast,” Jorge said, turning to toss his empty paper plate into the big cardboard trash box behind him.

“Always with the complaints, man,” Conrad said, shaking his head.

Jorge laughed. “Next, you’re gonna tell me about how Charley eats fish heads and rice, and squats in the bush.”

Doug cracked up, watching Conrad shake his head.

“What’s a chain gun?” Jorge asked.

“It’s a cannon that fires full auto,” Conrad said.

“Whoa, really? Bitchen, dude.”

“I’m sure that’s what the brass said when they selected that particular weapon,” Doug quipped.

“You two never fail to amuse me,” Conrad said, standing up. “We’ve got something even better coming now, from a base in Nevada.”

“Oh, they’re not BFVs?” Doug asked.

“The first train has a few. The second will be full to the gills with L-ATVs.”

“Great, another acronym I have to learn. What the hell is an L-ATV?”

Conrad smirked. “They’re a smaller, lighter MRAP.”

“Well that was helpful,” Jorge said, Doug cracking up as he tossed his empty plate in the trash.

“Sorry, I’m messing with you,” Conrad said.

“You seem happy this morning,” Doug said, sitting back down at the table. “You didn’t look so happy yesterday.”

“Uncle Sam is finally getting into the fight on our side,” Conrad said. “We’ll be a little short on men, but there are enough citizens to cover it with some short training.”

“Why the change?” Doug asked.

“General Hogan is working directly with the new Joint Chiefs now, and he knows where to direct hardware and what kind to deploy.”

“Are you gonna tell us what an L-ATV is or what?” Jorge asked.

“It’s a smaller, lighter form of MRAP, which means Mine Resistant Ambush Protected,” Conrad said. “Remember in the Iraq war where roadside IEDs were killing a lot of our troops?”

“Oh, yeah,” Jorge said.

“MRAP vehicles were designed to protect against those. They have a hull-shaped structure underneath that directs the blasts of mines away from the occupants of the vehicle. And before you ask, L-ATV stands for Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle.”

“That’s more words than there are letters in the acronym,” Jorge said.

Conrad smirked. “Take it up with the Pentagon.”

Doug snickered, then eyed Conrad. “Are we gonna end up in one of these vehicles?”

“Possibly,” Conrad said. “You guys done? Let’s go down and check them out. The trains are almost in position to unload.”

“I’m ready,” Doug said, looking at Jorge, who nodded in agreement. Conrad tossed his empty plate in the trash and they headed down the hill, getting to the tracks just as the first train was slowing to a stop. Major Higgins was there, directing the crews, poised to unload the train.

“Those are the BFVs?” Jorge asked, looking at the vehicles sitting two to a flatbed.

“Beautiful, ain’t they?” Major Higgins asked.

“How many?” Conrad asked.

“We’ll only have twenty of these,” Major Higgins said. “We’ll use them to lay down fire, mostly.”

“How many L-ATVs?”

Major Higgins shot him a grin. “You aren’t gonna believe it. Just got word from my CO.”

“Try me.”

“Fifteen hundred here, another five thousand near Tecate.”

“Wow,” Conrad said. “Nice.”

“That’s not all,” Major Higgins said. “The marines took control of Federal Highway 2D in Mexico and locked down the city of Tecate, with help from that city’s leadership. Seems the Mexicans aren’t too keen on a bunch of Islamists turning their country into a battleground.”

“What’ll they do with that highway?” Jorge asked.

“They’ll load anybody willing to fight onto trucks and take them to the enemy front,” Major Higgins said. “We’ve got citizens massing in that area from all over the state now, itching for some action.”

“Wonder how many enemy fighters there are now?” Jorge asked, reaching into his pocket. “Crap, man, I left my phone on the charger back there.”

“Shoot, so did I,” Doug said. They ran to the mess hall in a panic, Conrad and Major Higgins chuckling.

“Is it really as good as you’re saying?” Conrad asked.

“Yeah, but this is gonna be bloody as hell. Most of the ninety thousand enemy fighters are visible now, walking on a huge line towards the border. We’ve got all these weapons and vehicles, but I expect the enemy to pull some nasty surprises out of nowhere. This battle isn’t about what everybody thinks it is.”

“How so?”

“The Islamists and the UN have had a falling out,” Major Higgins said.

“Where’d you hear that?”

“Never mind. Just trust me on this. They’re evacuating their forces from the US. It’s happening in Texas, and it’s happening in California. No way can they win in the US. They’d evacuate the southwest too, if they didn’t have General Hogan standing in their way.”

“I don’t know that I buy this.”

“They think they can take over Mexico and re-group, if they can get those pesky US regular army folks away from Mexico City and the other places they now control.”

Conrad was quiet, thinking for a moment. “You’re saying that they’d like to draw the US army into a fight to save all the civilians down here?”

“That’s what I’m thinking, and I’m not alone in that. I think they’ve prepared a nasty trap. If we’re dumb enough to fall for it, that’s on us.”

“They want to turn Mexico into a new Afghanistan right on our border, and they think the USA is just gonna let them do it, huh? That’s not so bright.”

“You’re right, it’s not so bright,” Major Higgins said, “and that’s why we’ll win in the long run. There are big glaring signs that they’re ignoring.”

“Like what?”

“The Mexican people are actively fighting on the same side with the US Army. They’ve stopped the flow of Islamist fighters from Central America, and very few of the Venezuelans are left alive in Mexico at this point.”

“It’s hard to believe they don’t see that,” Conrad said.

“They believe their own BS. They still think they can convert most of the poor in Mexico to Islam. Catholics usually won’t go there without a fight, and the Pope has finally turned against the globalists. I expect him to be killed any day now.”

“That doesn’t sound so good.”

“If they’re successful in taking out the Pope, it’ll be the end of radical Islam in any Catholic-majority country. Trust me. These sixth-century cretins think they want a religious war. That’ll be their undoing. They don’t have the numbers nor the good leadership. They’ve made mistake after mistake. They always push too far because some stupid Imam tells them it’s the will of their God. They had a good chunk of Europe at one point. They lost it because of the same thinking they’re using now.”

“Charles Martel,” Conrad said.

Major Higgins laughed. “He’s one of the most important figures in European history, and most people have no idea who he was.”

“Yeah, cracks me up when modern historians rail against the Crusades.”

“You ain’t kidding there. It’s portrayed as stupid and evil by the revisionist historians today, when actually it was a reaction to the Islamist invasions of Europe. Bottom line, look who ended up in the 1st world and who ended up in the 3rd world. Hell, we were so dominant over these Islamist slugs that we drew up the boundaries for their countries. Cut their lands up like a frigging birthday cake. Many say we caused all the rancor in the Middle East because we were stupid in how we drew the borders. That’s a misguided opinion.”

“How so?” Conrad asked.

“We set those countries up the way we did to keep the crazies fighting each other instead of the civilized world, and it worked for a long time, until the globalists started messing around with it.”

“Hell, I never thought about it that way,” Conrad said.

“Remember the results of the Arab Spring? The stupid globalists in the EU and a bad president here pushed that forward. The result was a new invasion of Europe which they’re still dealing with today. Morons.”

Doug and Jorge returned with their phones, both looking scared.

“What’s up?” Conrad asked.

“Do you know there’s nearly a hundred thousand Islamists on the way to the border?” Doug asked.

Conrad and Major Higgins shot each other a glance.

“Last time I looked it was in the nineties,” Major Higgins said. “We’ll have six more trains making deliveries here today, and five times that many near Tecate. Don’t give up yet, men.”

Conrad nodded. “Let’s go check out those L-ATVs.”

Jorge and Doug followed him to the second train, which had just started unloading, leaving Major Higgins to his job.

“How worried are you about this?” Doug asked.

Conrad glanced back at him. “We’re in a better position than we were before. Wow, these look brand new.” The three stopped next to a massive flatbed railcar, which had eight off-road vehicles on it. They sported massive tires, and a small turret on top.

“What kind of gun is that?” Jorge asked.

“Looks like an M240 machine gun to me.”

Jorge got closer, looking up. “Is that good?”

“Yeah, it’s good,” Conrad said. “The army replaced M60s with these in most applications.”

“Most?” Doug asked.

“Yeah, they still use M60s for infantry, because they’re so much lighter than these, but where weight doesn’t matter, these are better. They never jam, and their barrels last a lot longer.”

“That vehicle next to it has a different gun,” Jorge said, pointing at the otherwise identical vehicle next to the first one.

Conrad chuckled. “That’s an M19 grenade launcher.”

“Wow,” Doug said. “Bet that packs a wallop.”

“Wouldn’t want somebody pointing that at me,” Conrad said. “You guys might get assigned to one of these.”

“We don’t know how to operate this thing,” Doug said.

“Don’t worry, not much to it,” Conrad said. “It’ll be dangerous, though. If you don’t think you can handle that, speak up. Nobody’s gonna force you.”

“I’ll do what my country asks of me,” Doug said, “but I don’t have kids or a wife who gives a damn. Jorge, you might want to think twice.”

Excuse me, gentlemen,” a young marine said. “We need to unload these.”

The three men backed away, watching as ramps were put into place, and the vehicles backed off.

Jorge looked down at the ground for a moment, then back up at Conrad. “I’ve got a lot to live for.”

“I know,” Conrad said.

“And I’ve got loved ones to protect. If we can take these creeps out south of the border, they won’t come up here and hurt my family. I’m in if they need me.”

“You have a few hours to think it over,” Doug said. “Best to be sure.”

Conrad nodded. “Yep, it’s best to be sure.”

***

Ivan and Jules stared up at the hole in the ceiling of the dim storage room, dirt falling as Tex and Sam dug at the earthen walls with shovels.

“It’s big enough now to get supplies down,” Jules said. “That’s the immediate danger, no?”

“The chemical toilets down here are gonna be a problem after a while,” Ivan said. “They weren’t designed for this many people living full time. Rolling the tanks out with carts was one thing. Hoisting them up this hole is going to be more difficult.”

Jules chuckled. “True, didn’t think. Maybe as soon as the hole is big enough, we use ladders to evacuate people.”

Ivan nodded, then his phone rang. “Mr. Black. I’ll put it on speaker.

“Hi, boss, still in the hole?”

Jules snickered.

“Oh, Jules with you. Hi, Jules.”

“Mr. Black, how are you, old friend?”

“Tired, was long night. Glad it morning now.”

“What’d you see last night?” Ivan asked.

“You right, many UN vans around, but not marked. Locals don’t seem to take notice. Foreigners keeping low profile, though. Much more spread out than expected.”

“I figured,” Ivan said. “Have any idea how many UN assets are in the area?”

“Rough guess? Many thousands.”

“Dammit,” Jules said.

“One thing that helps them is TV news,” Mr. Black said. “Talk of Islamists just south of border is on local channels. Saw people chatting in sports bar while watching. Most people stay in their homes according to conversation. Probably helps UN. Easier to not be noticed this way.”

“I’m sure,” Ivan said. “Where’s your other half?”

“Mr. White take nap. Me next. What you want we should do after? Keep motel room, hang out longer?”

“For now, yes. Blend in. Gather intel. We will be hitting them, but it’ll be a coordinated hit. When we get close, you’ll be moved to Dana Point. We’ll start the attack when the boat is at the dock. Kill everybody there, sink the boat, make sure the locals know what the operation was. Ruin that spot for them. That’ll screw them good.”

“How so?” Mr. Black asked. “Boats dime a dozen.”

“We’ll make sure the authorities in all the ports between San Diego and Santa Barbara know what they’re doing, and what to look for.”

“Oh. Hopefully none are on enemy side.”

Jules looked at Ivan.

“Jules, you have something to add?”

“Do we know if anybody at Dana Point knows about operation?” he asked.

“That’s good question,” Mr. Black said, “but very hard to determine. If we ask around, they’ll know, pass to enemy, be ready for our attack. Better to worry about later.”

Ivan sat quietly, thinking. “We need a second intel team.”

“We have, still in San Francisco,” Mr. Black said.

“Yes, but we can’t move them. There’s been attempts to return the UN there. Our operatives can handle it now, but if we lose the intel team, it’ll be much more difficult. I don’t want to battle again for territory we’ve won.”

“Sam, Tex, Ted, and Sparky?” Jules asked. “All trained. All experienced.”

“And Ji-Ho too,” Ivan said.

“Ji-Ho sick, Ivan. Remember, I tell?”

“Oh, that’s right,” Ivan said. “Better to leave him out of this.”

“Boss, I worry more about UN base than harbor,” Mr. Black said. “It’s spread out. Massive assault to take down. We not know boundaries yet.”

“Okay, we’ll table this conversation for now. You and Mr. White stay in the area and watch. Try to figure out what their footprint is, but don’t get caught. Got it?”

“Yes sir,” Mr. Black said.

“Good. Take a nap.”

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 11 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store – Book 1 is just 99 cents for a limited time!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Bugout! California Part 168 – Generators

Meyers watched his men from the small ridge, battling the onslaught of Islamists, the tanks silent now, most of them out of ammo. His phone dinged. He set the binoculars aside and looked, his brow furrowed.

“We’re not going to win this,” the driver said in near panic.

“Shut up,” Meyers said. “We’re not done yet. We need to kill as many enemy fighters as possible. That’s all that matters.”

“What was the message?”

“The enemy destroyed the airstrip and the B-1 Bombers in San Diego.”

“What? We’re toast. We should retreat right now.”

“They’ll stop us,” Meyers said. “This was well planned. It’s their D-Day.”

“They’ll retake California?”

Meyers chuckled. “They don’t know how many civilian fighters we have in Southern California. They’ll run into a buzz-saw when they get over the border.” He started for the door of their armored personnel carrier. “Come on.”

“Good, we’re gonna retreat,” he said.

“No, we’re gonna go join the battle, and kill as many of them as we can.”

His eyes got wide. “No way am I doing that.”

Meyers pulled his side arm and pointed it at the driver’s head. “You’re either going or I’m gonna end it for you right here and now.”

“But we’ll get killed. They’re all getting killed down there.”

“And they’re causing huge enemy casualties. Every person we kill is one less that attacks our homeland. We’ve got a job to do, so pull yourself together and be a man.”

The driver swallowed hard, looking down for a moment, then headed for the driver’s door. “I didn’t expect it to end like this.”

Both men got in, and the driver started the engine. Meyers loaded a new belt on the main gun with shaky hands, and they drove down into the raging battle, going for maximum destruction, slaughtering enemy fighters as fast as they could. When the anti-tank missile hit, neither of them felt a thing.

***

The three motorhomes were parked on the western street next to the mine, making it difficult for anything but pedestrians to get past. Elmer and Clem worked on the power hookup to the generators with Willard acting as commentator. Further back, along the side of the hill next to the boarding house, Tex, Sparky, Ted, and Sam were working on the hole that Elmer had dug to route exhaust gasses from the unfinished mine generator.

“Shouldn’t this give our cellphone signals a better path?” Sparky asked. “We haven’t tried a call from here, have we?”

“Won’t make any difference, because it depends on where the cell tower is,” Tex said. “Hey, Elmer, you guys got any cell repeaters around here?”

Elmer heard him and poked his head up from under the coach. “Yeah, we’ve got one. Willard, you know where that is, don’t you?”

“Yes sir,” he said. “I’ll go get it. Got a long enough extension cord to run it?”

“It’s got a car plug, remember?” Elmer asked. “Plug it into the dash of this rig and turn on the ignition. That’ll be close enough to the hole. Once we have the generators running we can use the AC adapter instead and plug it into the outlet in the utility bay.”

Willard rushed off to the hotel, running inside, coming back out with a box and some dangling wire. He plugged the unit into the motorhome dashboard, the green indicator light on the repeater turning on. “Try it now, Tex.”

Tex pulled out his phone and hit Jules’s contact. It rang three times, then picked up.

“How did you get through, my friend?” Jules asked.

“Cell repeater. I’ll put it on speaker,” Tex said. He did that, setting the phone on a rock as the others paused their work to gather around.

“We’re trying to enlarge the hole for the generator exhaust, so we can get supplies down to you, and hopefully get you out as well. The repeater is sending its signal through there.”

“Oh,” Jules said. “How’s power coming?”

“Close,” Ted said. “Clem and Elmer were almost done with the wiring the last time I talked to them.”

“Good, we’re blind as bats,” Jules said. “Any of you watch apps?”

“I’m sure some of the others are,” Tex said. “We’ve been pretty busy.”

“Ivan worried about battle south of border.”

“Why don’t you try to use the apps near this hole, partner?”

“Ah, Tex, good idea. It in storage room, correct?”

“You know, I’m not really sure,” Tex said. “Hey Elmer, where does this hole open up in the mine?”

Elmer trotted over. “The back storage room. The one we used to keep primer caps in. We’re gonna turn the power on in about five minutes. We’re almost done. The ethernet cable is still connected too. Should get you your WiFi back.”

“That good,” Jules said over the speaker. “Thanks.”

“I’d better get to it,” Elmer said. He went back to where Clem was working, at the mouth of the mine.

“Do you know where that storage room is?” Ted asked.

“No, I find somebody who know. I get off phone for now. Need to conserve battery.”

“The power will be back on in a few minutes,” Sparky said.

“Can you see whole cable?” Jules asked. “Might be damaged someplace else.”

Tex chuckled. “Possibly, but I doubt it. It’s okay, though, we know you’re safe. Talk to you soon, you old bushwhacker.”

Jules laughed and ended the call.

“A Belgian Bushwhacker?” Ted asked with a smirk.

“Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best choice of words,” Tex said. The men got back to work on the hole, making it wider as they went down.

“You know, we should find some rope,” Sparky said. “We’ll have to be down in this hole to continue much further. We don’t need anybody slipping down and getting stuck.”

Tex cracked up. “Yeah, that would be just great. I know where there’s rope. I’ll go get it.” He trotted down the street towards the livery stable.

The motorhome generators started.

“Here goes nothing,” Clem said, watching as Elmer threw the big switch in the mouth of the mine.

“Well, it didn’t short out,” Elmer said. “That’s a good sign.”

“Maybe we ought to make another call,” Clem said. They both walked to the hole. “Get somebody on the phone, so we can make sure they’re getting power.”

Tex came back over with two big coils of rope. “Generators working?” His phone rang. “It’s Jules again.” He put it on speaker.

“We have power,” Jules said. “Thank you. How long will it last?”

“As long as we need it to,” Elmer said. “These generators sip diesel, and we’ve got full tanks, plus more in the storage tank out back.”

“Yeah, we’ll have the waterwheel fixed before we run out of fuel,” Clem said.

“Maybe you have us out by then.”

“Ed and Tyler are leading a team on that, but it’ll be slow going,” Clem said. “It’d be easy to cause more of a cave-in than we already have.”

“Well do best can,” Jules said. “Ivan calling. I talk later.”

The call ended.

“Back to work,” Tex said.

***

Ivan watched over Seth’s shoulder as his laptop reconnected. Jules and Shelly joined them. Robbie, Morgan, and Ben were on PCs next to them, waiting for them to boot up.

“How long do we have power?” Ivan asked Jules.

“As long as we need,” he said.

“Hey, now that the router and Wi-Fi is back up, just connect your phone to that,” Seth said, eyes still glued to the screen as the history program came up. “The name and password are on the bulletin board over there, on a small piece of paper we tacked up the other day.”

“In a minute,” Ivan said. “Let’s see what’s going on.”

Seth’s eyes grew wide as the display came up. “The enemy fighters are heading for the border in a hurry.”

“Dammit, they overran our troops down there,” Ben said. “I was afraid that would happen.”

Ivan glanced at him, then back at the screen. “How many?”

“Working on a count now,” Kaitlyn said, working on her machine now that it was up. “Wow, less than there were, but still a lot. About ten thousand. It was closer to fifteen the last time we looked.”

“Check further south, to see if anybody else is joining them,” Ivan said.

“Only five thousand killed?” Jules asked.

“Wait, some of those hits are dead,” Seth said, looking at the history program. “Kaitlyn’s just looking at the long-range detailed app.”

“You see them stationary in the history?” Ivan asked.

“Yeah, at least twenty-five hundred of them.”

“So we’ve got between seven and eight thousand,” Ivan said, “and we know where the group from Julian is. They aren’t going to join them.”

“When they do, it’ll be in hell,” Ben said. “I’m working on the drone video feed. Having a hard time getting connected, though. I need to reboot this sucker again.”

“What happened?” Ivan asked.

“I don’t know.”

***

Conrad walked out of the leadership tent, his face grim. Doug and Jorge were waiting for him.

“I don’t like that look, dude,” Jorge said.

“Meyer’s whole force was slaughtered. At least they took out lots of enemy fighters before they bought it.”

“They’re coming here, aren’t they?” Doug asked.

Conrad shrugged. “Possible. We’re putting the artillery in place here. Want to help put those claymore mines back?”

“They knew,” Jorge said, eyes staring south into the barren desert.

“Excuse me?” Conrad asked.

“The brass,” Jorge said. “They knew Meyers would be overrun.”

“It’s more complicated than that,” Conrad said. “We had B-1 bombers, remember? They were supposed to take part in this, but they got blown up.”

“Yeah, I don’t think it’s so much that they knew this was going to happen,” Doug said. “They knew it might happen, and thank God for that.”

“Doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better,” Jorge said, his eyes on the phone he was holding in front of his face. “They’ve got nearly ten-thousand men on the way.”

“Probably less, according to the intel folks in there.” Conrad nodded at the tent. “Some of the hits aren’t moving. Probably dead.”

“If they put some lead-lined semi-trucks on that highway down there, what’s to stop them from bringing more?” Doug asked.

“Nothing, at this point,” Conrad said. “That’s why I suggested we start placing the claymore mines back out there again.”

“All right, let’s get to it, then.”

The three men went to the truck where they’d stored the claymore mines, pulling the hardware together, Jorge grabbing the big-wheeled cart they used last time.

“There’s got to be more aircraft around,” Doug said.

“The Theodore Roosevelt is steaming out of San Diego as we speak,” Conrad said.

“What’s that?” Jorge asked.

Doug laughed. “It’s one of our carriers. Why aren’t they just using those planes from the damn harbor?”

“They’re overly cautious, and I don’t blame them,” Conrad said. “The fact that they’re throwing that to the wind and bringing the carrier group out is good for us, but worrisome.”

“We’re on our own way too much,” Jorge muttered.

They worked the claymore mine setup for the next several hours, the sun getting low in the sky.

“Okay, that’s all of them,” Conrad said.

“The enemy fighters aren’t coming that fast,” Doug said, looking at his phone.

“They’re waiting for the rest of their force,” Conrad said. “Ten to one.”

Jorge nodded. “Yeah, dude, that’s what I’m thinking.”

They walked up the hill towards the mess center and got in line for food, taking it to one of the tables overlooking the border wall.

“Looks peaceful out there now,” Doug said, “but it won’t be peaceful for long.”

“Train coming,” Conrad said, nodding to the west.

“More artillery?” Jorge asked.

Conrad shrugged. “Probably. We need trained men more than we need artillery right now. The enemy is on foot and spread way the hell out, according to the app.”

“That’s a long train,” Jorge said. “Hey, looks like tanks.”

“Really?” Conrad asked, standing up, craning his neck to see in the distance. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m surprised.”

“Why are you surprised?” Doug asked.

“They were down to pretty low levels of armor at the bases. They want to keep a certain amount there, just in case they get attacked. If the Naval base or Camp Pendleton get overrun, we’re in deep yogurt.”

“What do they know that we don’t, dude?” Jorge asked.

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Doug said. “There’s a second train following this one. See it?”

“Barely,” Conrad said. “This worries me. I hope they know what they’re doing. Maybe these came from someplace other than the local bases.”

The men watched as troops and armor were unloaded, heading down the hill after they finished their meals.

“I’m going to ask where this stuff came from,” Conrad said, heading for the train. He found a Major directing the unloading and approached. “Excuse me.”

“Who the hell are you?” the Major asked. Conrad pulled his ID and showed it. “Okay, heard of you. What’s on your mind? We’re a little busy, as you can see.”

“Where are these assets coming from?”

The Major chuckled. “You look worried. Good.”

“Well?” Conrad asked.

“San Diego, mostly,” he said. “I think they’re nuts to do this. They’ve left themselves too open, and now they’ve sent the Theodore Roosevelt out as well.”

Conrad shook his head. “The B-1s are gone too.”

“Oh, you know about that?”

“It’s why Meyer’s bought it,” Conrad said.

The Major’s brow furrowed. “Meyers was a good man, and my friend.”

“I just barely got to know him, but was very impressed,” Conrad said. “Seems like this whole thing was planned.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” the Major said. “They hit the B-1s, but they also hit the base Ivan the Butcher was using in Dulzura.”

“Oh, crap, is he dead?” Jorge asked.

“And who might you be?” the Major asked.

“He’s one of our citizen recruits,” Conrad said. “A good one. Jorge. The guy next to him is Doug.”

“Good to meet you. I’m Major Higgins.”

“Pleasure,” Doug said. “Is Ivan still alive?”

“Yeah, heard they were in a mine when the cruise missiles hit the base. They’re trying to dig out now, but they’ve got power back on and are still conducting intelligence.”

“You know a lot about him,” Conrad said.

“We’ve been working with him lately,” Major Higgins said. “How could we not? He’s a criminal, but he’s our criminal, and he’s gotten better results than anybody else in the state.”

“Well, I hope we’re doing the right thing,” Conrad said, “but I’m skeptical.”

“What would you have done?” Major Higgins asked.

“We’ve got a couple hundred thousand citizen recruits all along the roads here. More than enough to stop this enemy before they get very far. There’s less than ten-thousand of them.”

“I wish you were right,” Major Higgins said.

“What’s not right?”

“Ivan’s guy is running that history program over Mexico now, and they got some earlier data from the regular army down around Mexico City. There’s over ninety-thousand RFID chips missing. Been disappearing over the last two weeks. They used barely fifteen-thousand of them against Meyers.”

“Oh, hell,” Jorge said. “Really? We need to evacuate our town right now.”

“Jacumba Hot Springs?” Major Higgins asked. “They’re not going to mess with that. If they come here at all, which I think is doubtful, it’ll be to get on Old Highway 80 and head west. There’s nothing for them to the east but death. General Hogan’s boys have seen to that.”

“What do you think they’re gonna do?” Jorge asked.

“I think they’ll head for Tecate and cross the border there.”

“Then why are we loading this place up with tanks and artillery, dude?”

Major Higgins laughed. “Because the brass don’t listen to me.”

***

Mr. Black was behind the wheel of the van. “They’re going right to where we expected.”

Mr. White nodded. “Yes, they do. Turnoff is only three miles. Don’t get too close.”

Mr. Black shot him a glare. “You worry too much. Boss say forty-five vans participate in hit on Dulzura base. Remember how many vans we see yesterday?”

“I didn’t count them,” Mr. White said. “Fill most of parking lot, so if number down, we’ll see.”

“They’re making the turn.”

Mr. White chuckled. “I have eyes.”

Mr. Black pulled into a parking lot across the street from the industrial area. “Watch them. Maybe we should walk over after dark and check out, no?”

“That’s nuts,” Mr. White said. “We wait a few minutes, drive by, see how many vans, report to boss. Get drone over area.”

Mr. Black sighed. “Okay, that fine.” They waited for a few minutes, then got back out on Pioneer Way, going north, past Vernon.

“That parking lot full more than yesterday,” Mr. White said. “I text boss.”

“You should call,” Mr. Black said.

Mr. White shook his head. “They still in mine, can’t get call, only text.” He sent it, and a second later his phone rang. “Hey, fixed, he calling.”

“Put on speaker,” Mr. Black said.

Mr. White pushed the button and set the phone on the center console. “Boss, you out of mine?”

“No, we’re still stuck, but we have a cell repeater in place. You say the vans are all still there, huh?”

“Yes sir, look like more to me. You want we should investigate?”

“We’re going to put a drone over the area, but I’d like you two to stick around. Keep an eye out on the street for traffic. If they’ve got a large enough number of those vans there, you’ll see them cruising the area. Don’t sneak around on foot after dark, though.”

“Yes, night vision make more dangerous than broad daylight,” Mr. Black said.

“Exactly,” Ivan said. “I’m going to let Ben try to hack into the El Cajon municipal video system. If he’s successful, I’ll send you a URL. You have your laptops, right?”

“Don’t leave home without,” Mr. Black said. Mr. White snickered.

“Good, you guys never disappoint,” Ivan said. “Talk to you soon. If you see any kind of major movement, follow them and let me know.”

“Will do, boss,” Mr. White said. “Talk later.”

The call ended.

“It be long night again,” Mr. Black said.

To be continued…

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 12 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 6 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 11 is available now in e-book and paperback.

 

Bug Out! California Book 1 is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

The Plan – How the Bugout! War Started is now available in the Kindle Store, free in Kindle Unlimited!

 

Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!

 

Please visit and like my author page on Facebook!

 

Here’s the series that started it all! Bug Out! Pick up your copy of book 1 for just 99 cents in the Kindle Store!

 

Horror Road – A Supernatural Thriller! Available now in the Kindle Store – Book 1 is just 99 cents for a limited time!

 

The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”

 

Copyright Robert Boren 2018

Bugout! California Part 167 – Empty Ice Chests

 

Tyler rushed into the intelligence room.

“UN Peacekeepers! The patrol leader just told us they’re massing at the front of the property. They haven’t started shooting yet.”

“Put the video feeds on that big screen,” Ivan said.

Karen shot Tex a worried glance.

“Want to go man our battle wagon, little lady?” Tex asked.

“I’m game,” she said.

Sparky rushed in. “We’d better get out there.”

Sam’s phone dinged. “Text from Garrett. The back end was attacked too, but we stopped them. Remember that the cavalry and the off-roaders are out there.”

“I just made a deal with the large groups who are camped here, remember?” Jules said. “We be fine, but time to fight.”

“Jules, you stay in here with Shelly,” Ivan said. “You’re second in command. I need you to fight with your brain. Understand?”

Jules nodded, watching the others head for the main shaft.

“Don’t get that look,” Shelly said. “Ivan’s right. We have plenty of fighters.”

“I know, but don’t have to like,” Jules said. “Let’s monitor video, have phones out to direct battle.”

***

“You hear that?” Trevor asked, hanging out with Kaylee, Megan, and Angel by the mouth of the main shaft.

“Enemy fighters,” Angel said. “I’ll bet that’s why Tyler just ran by.”

They all picked up their weapons. Erica trotted out with Sam, and then Ted, Haley, and the others rushed by them, Ted turning to Trevor. “Get ready, kid, it’s on!”

Trevor nodded, and then he saw somebody running towards the mine from the street. “Is that Willard?”

“Yep,” Kaylee said.

“Good, I could use a drink,” Angel said, Megan rolling her eyes.

“Hey, kids, want to provide me some cover?” Willard asked, trying to catch his breath.

“Sure, what’s up?” Trevor asked.

“I called what’s left of the cannon crew. We want to start blasting these cretins, but a little cover would help us get set up.”

“Cool,” Trevor said. “I love those things. Let’s go!”

They ran to the cannons, which were still in the wooded section in front of town. Willard’s team was already there, Trevor, Kaylee, and the others taking covered positions pointing in several directions.

“Look, see the white vans?” Kaylee asked, laying down next to Trevor.

He looked in that direction. “Yep, still on the highway. Behind the trees there.”

“Wish we could see how many,” Kaylee said.

“You and me both. Hear that? Off-roaders.”

“Yeah, coming from behind the town.”

“Hey, man, look!” Angel said, looking back towards town at a handful of off-roaders sporting micro-guns, followed by a multitude of mounted cavalry.

Everybody’s phones dinged. Trevor pulled his phone and looked. “Jules and the others are monitoring the whole area with all of those new video cameras that Clem’s team put up. The enemy came with at least thirty vans, and a dozen Gaz Tigrs too.”

“They’re in for a nasty surprise,” Megan said, reading her phone.

“Seriously,” Kaylee said. “When do we open fire? I can hit several enemy fighters from here.”

Trevor typed a text to the intelligence team. Fire at will?

Gunfire erupted from the highway, right through the trees, hitting one of the battle wagons but doing no damage. Then there was an ear-splitting blast, as the first cannon went off, and a Gaz Tigr blew up, the fireball clearly visible behind the tree line.

“Guess that answers my question,” Trevor said, opening fire with his Winchester, tagging several UN Peacekeepers who were running to the burning Gaz Tigr. Then a mini-gun on one of the battle wagons fired, stopping a Gaz Tigr which was trying to come in on the main driveway, its windshield shattered. Kaylee opened fire, killing the men as they got out, Megan joining in, as Trevor concentrated on UN infantry rushing through the trees in all directions.

“Damn, there’s a lot of them,” Angel shouted, firing his M-4, too many shots going wide.

“Slow down,” Trevor yelled. “Aim carefully. No need to rush. Look behind you!”

Angel turned around and saw several hundred cavalry men, riding by the cannon emplacement, firing their Colt pistols and Winchesters, the smell of black powder filling the area. Two of the cannons fired again, their thunderous roar striking terror into the UN Peacekeepers, most fleeing for their lives.

“This is burning my eyes,” Kaylee said.

“We’re not in a good position,” Trevor said, “the wind is blowing the smoke into us. We should go hunting. Plenty of UN Peacekeepers to take out.”

“Then let’s go do what we do best,” Kaylee said, getting up, running to the first clump of cover and diving to the ground. She fired, hitting several UN Peacekeepers who were rushing her. Trevor opened fire as he ran, dropping the rest of them. He dived to the ground next to Kaylee, Angel and Megan joining them.

“Hey, let me know a few seconds before you haul ass,” Trevor said as he shoved more .44 mag rounds into his magazine. “Nice shooting, though.”

“Thanks. Where did those off-roaders go?”

“Probably heading towards the highway,” Trevor said. “There’s a way, remember? We walked it a couple days ago. That pretty pathway with the trees covering it on either side.”

“You’re right,” Angel said. “I think the rest of the UN team is afraid to come in here.”

“Not so much,” Megan said, pointing to several Gaz Tigrs busting through the bushes right of the main driveway, in sight of the battle wagons, which opened fire with grenades and mini-guns.

“Whoa!” Trevor shouted. “They’re bailing out of those vehicles. Let’s go get them, so the mini-guns don’t have to waste the ammo.”

Kaylee nodded and they got up, running in a crouch, going from one clump of cover to another, firing on the way, killing several enemy fighters and spooking the rest.

A cannon fired again, hitting a van trying to come down the main road, causing it to fly sideways and roll, the cavalry on them in seconds, blazing away, none of the enemy fighters getting away. Several more vans rolled up behind the burning one, UN fighters racing out the side doors, heading for cover. Trevor and Kaylee hit as many as they could, the men on horseback riding over to finish off those who’d made it behind the bushes and boulders.

“The battle wagons aren’t moving around this time,” Trevor said. “Works a lot better. They’re just blasting whoever comes within range.”

“I hear the off-roaders now, going someplace in a hurry,” Kaylee said. “Couldn’t hear them before.”

“They make a lot more noise when they’re up to speed,” Trevor said. His phone dinged, and he looked at it. “Get ready for mortar fire. They showed up in the video feed. The off-roaders are going to take them out, but they won’t get there in time.”

Just as he finished talking, a mortar round fell in the middle of the pasture in front of town and blew up. Nobody was nearby.

“Uh oh,” Kaylee said. “That’s not good.”

The raspy snarl of the micro-guns started, and seconds later there was a loud series of explosions from the highway.

Trevor laughed. “I’ll bet those micro-guns just fried the mortar ammo.”

“Let’s hope so,” Kaylee said. “Look, there’s more UN Peacekeepers flooding in through those trees, where the first ones came from.”

“Let’s go get some,” Trevor said.

“Okay, Ash,” Angel said, rolling his eyes.

Trevor laughed. He got up with Kaylee and they ran forward, weaving in and out of cover again, firing at the running UN Peacekeepers until the cavalry noticed and flooded into the area.

“Hey, no fair,” Trevor said.

“There’s more over there,” Kaylee said. A shot rang out, whizzing by her, Trevor leaping into action, tackling her, pushing her up behind a boulder.

“What are you doing?” Kaylee asked, reaching for her M4 which she dropped when Trevor knocked her down.

“Saving my woman,” Trevor said, cocking the Winchester and firing at the approaching fighters, Kaylee joining in with automatic fire from the M4.

“Thanks, I think,” Kaylee said, swapping magazines. “We might run out of ammo.”

“I know.”

The gunfire was ramping down. Trevor and Kaylee went back by the cannons, Megan and Angel joining them. Willard and his team were still watching the area, but there was nothing to shoot at.

“Can it really be over this fast?” Willard asked. “Thought it was gonna be a bigger battle.”

“I guess it’s Miller Time,” Angel said.

Willard chuckled. “Perish the thought. It’s whiskey time.

***

Ivan, Ji-Ho, and Jules watched the video feed.

“Why they do this, boss?” Jules asked. “They know we beat that many UN creeps.”

Ivan was watching the screen. He turned to Jules. “Most of our leadership people are still out there. Get them in here. Now!”

Jules sent a broadcast text to the principals. “You think they would do that much just to draw our people out?”

“I don’t know,” Ivan said. “Maybe.”

“Hey, Ivan, that drone is over us finally,” Ben said, turning from his PC. “Nobody else around for miles. We’re working on a count of the vehicles they sent at us.”

“Good, do that,” Ivan said. “Jules, are they coming?”

“Yep, they responded.” Jules said. “I tell them come fast.”

“Good.”

“Make sure Garrett and Clem get their butts in here too,” Shelly said. “We need them both.”

“I included them,” Jules said. “Trevor and Kaylee too.”

“Thank you,” Ji-Ho said.

Ben turned towards them again. “Counting the attackers in the back, they sent fourteen Gaz Tigrs and forty-five vans.”

“Nowhere near enough to take us, and they know,” Ji-Ho said. “Tell our people hurry.”

“Just did,” Jules said.

There was a low rumble, shaking hard enough for dirt and small rocks to fall from the ceiling.

“Too late,” Ji-Ho said, eyes full of worry.

“Oh crap,” Shelly said, looking at the ceiling. “Was that a cruise missile?”

Several of the video feeds disappeared from the big screen.

“Who got to the mine?” Ivan asked.

“I don’t know, boss, sending message now.”

There was another low rumble, much louder this time, and the ground beneath them shook. Dust filled the air in the intelligence room.

“Dammit,” Jules said, walking away with the cellphone to his ear.

The electricity shut off, several people screaming.

“We just lost everything but the laptops, guys,” Robbie shouted, coming out of the back room using his cellphone flashlight.

“Jules?” Ivan asked.

“Ted report, all alive so far,” Jules said. “Say part of mine shaft may have collapsed. Signal weak. Texts working, but can’t make call.”

“We’re trapped in here,” Shelly said.

“I only felt two explosions,” Ivan said.

“Is there anything they can hit us with that will penetrate this far down?” Ben asked. “Bunker busters, for instance?”

“You have to drop those from plane,” Jules said. “We have air superiority.”

“We hope,” Ivan said. “We used to have B-1s to deliver air support.”

Shelly glanced at Jules. “Let’s see where the cave-in is. Might be a way around it.”

“Yes,” Jules said, turning to the others. “Hey, there flashlights in cabinet by door. Many. Save phones, everybody. Don’t use for flashlight more than necessary.”

Jules and Shelly left the room, grabbing flashlights on the way, light beams picking up the dust in the air as they walked to the main shaft.

“Ivan’s having problems with the stress,” Shelly whispered.

“He okay, in thinking mode. Does hand-wringing. Trust me. He working it out.”

“Whatever you say. You know him better than anybody.”

“True,” Jules said. “Look, there. Closer than I expect. That’s bad. No way around.”

They walked up to a wall of rocks and dirt, blocking the shaft completely.

“Can we dig that out?” Shelly asked, eyes wide as she looked at it.

“From inside, I doubt. From outside with bulldozer, probably.”

“Did the enemy know what they were doing?”

Jules looked at Shelly. “I hope not.”

***

Trevor and Kaylee raced to the entrance of the mine, after the big explosions. A couple of the buildings in town were damaged, but not totally. Tyler and his warriors were already there.

“I wouldn’t go inside that shaft,” Tyler said. “Might cave in.”

“My dad’s in there,” Kaylee said, ignoring him, running inside with Trevor, both of them taking out their phones and turning on the flashlights. The blockage was only about thirty yards in.

“Dammit,” Trevor said. “That’s gonna take a lot of work with bulldozers.”

Willard came up behind them, with Clem, Tyler, and Elmer.

“Holy crap,” Elmer said. “That’s bad. Might take a couple weeks to dig that out.”

“They’ll starve in there,” Kaylee said, tears running down her cheeks.

“No, they took a lot of food and water down there,” Clem said. “I watched them do it. If it’s not on the wrong side of the cave-in, they’ve got supplies.”

“It’s not on the wrong side of the cave in,” Trevor said, shining his flashlight around at the mountain of rubble blocking the shaft.

“True,” Willard said, “but the cave-in might have landed on top of it.”

“Everybody would be dead,” Trevor said. “I got texted from them after it happened. They said everybody’s okay.”

“They have no power,” Tyler said. “Weren’t you guys working on getting something run down there?”

Clem scratched his head. “Dirt falling on wires won’t knock out the power.”

“Power’s out in the mill, too,” Susanne said as she rushed inside. “We should check the generator.”

Clem and Elmer looked at each other, then rushed out of the shaft, going across the street, to a small building near the mill.

“Look, the waterwheel is blown up,” Elmer said. Must have gotten hit by flying debris.”

“That’s fixable, but not in a hurry,” Clem said. “We need power for those folks in now. They’re in the dark, and our intel team is blind as a bat.”

“Those battle wagons have generators, right?”

Clem smiled. “Yeah, they do, as a matter of fact. It would take about three of them to replace that mill generator. You know how to wire that stuff up?”

“I could do it blindfolded,” Elmer said. “Let’s go.”

They rushed over to the crowd outside the mine.

“Well?” Susanne asked.

“The waterwheel is screwed,” Elmer said.

“Do you have to use that terminology?” Susanne snapped.

“The kids are all in the mine,” Clem said. Several of the people out there gasped. “Don’t worry, they’ll be okay.”

“We need three of the battle wagons moved over here,” Elmer said. “We’ll use the generators until we can get the mill repaired.”

Sam and Erica ran up.

“Oh, God, the kids are still in there?” Erica cried.

“They’re alive,” Kaylee said quickly. “We need three battle wagons over here, so we can use the generators. They’re in the dark right now.”

“Use the new ones in the back,” Sam said. “We should leave the others out front where they are. We might get attacked again.”

“I’ll help drive them over,” Tyler said. He followed Sam and Erica with a couple of warriors.

“Do they have full tanks of gas?” Clem asked.

Trevor nodded yes. “Yeah, they came full. Those diesel generators will run a long time.”

“I had that exhaust hole for the inside generator almost done,” Elmer said.

“I was just thinking about that,” Clem said. “Think we can widen it enough to get people out?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Elmer replied. “Might take a few days.”

“I’ll help,” Willard said.

“I think some of us younger guys ought to work on that, partner,” Tex said. “Lead the way.”

***

“How far they go?” Mr. Black asked from the passenger seat, as they followed the two rental trucks north on I-5. “They have guts, driving on I-5 so close to the Marine base.”

“That why they take rental trucks,” Mr. White said. “Very little chance they get stopped.”

“We’re already north of San Clemente.”

Mr. White shot him a glance. “Want me to call them and ask how much longer? What you care, I stuck driving whole way.”

Mr. Black was silent for a moment, watching as the rental trucks took the off-ramp to Highway 1. “I knew it, they go to a harbor, pick up more UN Peacekeepers.”

“You probably right, my friend,” Mr. White said as he took the same off-ramp. “What nearby? Any small harbors?”

Mr. Black picked his phone off the van’s center console and brought up the map program.

“Well?” Mr. White asked.

“Dana Point Harbor. Looks like pleasure craft and fishing marina. If they make left on Dana Point Harbor Drive, that’s where they go.”

“How far?”

Mr. Black chuckled. “Less than mile. They turn any minute. If not here, much further. Newport.”

“They not get off so quick for that.”

“I-5 take off towards east right after Highway 1,” Mr. Black said. “So don’t be so sure.”

“There they go, into the left turn lane.”

Mr. Black shot him a grin. “Good, Dana Point. When we see where they park, let’s park too and get out of car. Blend in.”

“Okay, but we must be careful.”

The rental trucks passed the first driveway into the Marina complex, making a left turn into the second one.

“There,” Mr. Black said. “Embarcadero. Huge parking lot. It’s flat, so we can see where they go. They going by launching ramp, turning right.”

“I see. They turn left on street, look.”

“That’s called Street of the Golden Lantern,” Mr. Black said. “They go all the way down to boat dock. Wait and see.”

“I’m gonna park here,” Mr. White said.

“Fine, no outlet where they are. Shall we walk over?”

“Yes, but text Ivan now. Just in case.”

Mr. Black nodded, typing the text as Mr. White parked. “Text done. Say delivered. Let’s go.”

“Turn off your phone ringer,” Mr. White said.

“What, you think I amateur?”

The two trucks were pulled up in a loading lane right next to the entrance of the pier. The French smoker was out, lighting up again. The other men walked onto the dock. Mr. White and Mr. Black walked towards the pier at a leisurely pace, trying not to stare at the trucks, pretending to take in the sights like tourists.

“Double parked,” Mr. Black said. “They won’t be here long, my friend.”

“There’s coffee joint right before it. Looks like their patio overlooks the docks. Let’s get some and watch.”

“You read my mind,” Mr. Black said. They walked to the window and ordered. Mr. Black stood at the counter, waiting on the coffees, while Mr. White went to the patio and grabbed a table right by the edge, giving him a good view of a big fishing boat that said Charter Only on the side.

Mr. Black walked up with the coffees, handing one to Mr. White. “Well, what you see?”

“UN pigs climb aboard charter fishing boat,” Mr. White said softly. “That big boat.”

“Yes. Look, they carry ice chests. Large. New men. Not in original group.”

“Fresh UN thugs to kill, eh?” Mr. White quipped.

“Quiet,” Mr. Black whispered. “They might have lookouts close by.”

“Here come more men. Six. No, ten, look.”

“Five more.”

The two men watched, trying not to make it obvious, as the fifteen men carried the ice chests, four men on each.

“Empty, but they pretend heavy,” Mr. White said. “I’ll bet they don’t come back.”

“Uh oh, they pack boat tight. That’s at least ten more coming out now.”

“There’s more,” Mr. White said, taking a sip of coffee as he watched more men climbing out of the boat, doing the empty ice chest routine again.

“I count thirty, with first fifteen make forty-five.”

“That batch gone now. Look, drivers carry back first ice chests, two men instead of four. Still empty.”

Mr. Black chuckled. “Another fifteen men get off boat. They have this well thought out, no? Fifty-five men so far.”

“Can’t be more, boat not that big.”

“You’re right,” Mr. Black said. “Look, drivers back with rest of empty ice chests. Boat crew picking up from dock.”

“I bet they don’t smell like fish.”

Mr. Black grinned, taking his phone out and typing the info, sending it to Ivan.

“He reply to first message?” Mr. White asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Black said. “Says they got hit at base.”

“They okay?”

“Ivan okay, didn’t mention anybody else. Oh, there reply.”

“What say?”

“Thank you,” M