Friday, July 31, 2015

Oasis: Part One

Part One

“Wake up, sleepy face” the blond girl said getting too close to Jake's face while he was still mostly asleep. He fell right off his cot because of his little sister and onto the wooden floor. If the breeze hadn't picked up just as he was standing he might have chased her through the gondola. Instead he turned and beheld the site of Oasis on a nice morning.

The only city on the planet grown up around the only surface water and surrounded by mountains which helped keep it together. Otherwise humans wouldn't be living here, except maybe a few scientists. He reached out and grabbed a shirt from the line and threw it on, he had to get down there and enjoy the city!

He threw on his sandals and ran through the gondola into the kitchen where he nabbed a small stack of cracker-toast and berries and headed for the anchor rope.

“Take the vator this time, sliding down the anchor is dangerous!” his father yelled as he ran by. Jake hardly heard anything as he grabbed his hook and caught the anchor rope and slid around and around toward the ground. It was almost like flying as he held out his other arm and enjoyed the feeling of the rushing air and watched the ground rush up to meet him.

“Don't you ever listen?” Jake thought he heard his father yelling from somewhere, but that was a small matter. He hit the ground, he was in Oasis! It felt like his element, everything about this town and this planet felt like part of him. Oasis was made up of thirteen distinct groups of people, factions some called them, but most called them tribes. Thirteen tribes of Oasis.

Nobody remembers why.

The most noticeable of the tribes was Jake's own Airship Vagabonds who lived in the sky on large dirigibles. There were usually dozens anchored around Oasis, the city, at any given time while others wandered the skies of the desert world. Then there was the Merchants of Oasis City who pretty much controlled local politics. They were pretty okay, but boring.

Jake went from table to table and booth to booth seeing what was for sale. Sometimes you might find a real gem among the trash. Sometimes you might be able to buy a piece of high-technology from off-world, but that was getting more and more rare. Jake eyed the weapons on sale at one of the fancier booths, the charge pistols were far too expensive but there was something...

“Is that a boomerazor?” Jake asked, surprised. The short, fat balding man smiled and nodded. Where had he come across this? It was just barely affordable and Jake was eager to buy it. It looked a bit worn and might be dull with age but it was the real deal. He dropped his bag of coin on the counter and held it up.

He folded and unfolded it. A real sharpened boomerang used by the Aerial Knights and he had one to call his own. The Aerial Knights lived up on a high plateau, they considered it a kingdom of their own and they kept to themselves mostly. You could see them flying their power-gliders like they owned the sky, because they did own the skies. Jake had always been in awe of them.

The Aerial Knights weren't the only tribe to be mostly known for using motors, the Riders rode their cycles all over the desert, they own the ground in their mind. Nobody would want to cross them out in the empty wastes alone. They would rob you blind and make you thank them for it.

The Riders never tried to attack Oasis City of course. They were only a bother to any crazies who decided to run off into the desert on their own. The Agrarians who farmed the outskirts of Oasis, near where the water was, were raided once in a while but it's been many years. The Riders had mellowed.

Jake went to his very favorite noodle shop, flopped onto a bench and waved at Lily. Lily was the blonde girl who worked the place, sometimes her sister Tulip helped out but that was usually more of an annoyance than a help. Lily smiled and waved back and quickly had a bowl of regular noodles in front of him.

“So what are you up to, Mr Jake Wagoner?” she asked, sitting on the table near the bowl he was trying to eat from. He was looking elsewhere and the noodles slipped right off his fork without him knowing, she laughed. His family had once been part of the Caravan tribe, riding their wagons in long lines all over the place before his grandfather got the chance to buy his own blimp.

“I was just thinking about the pretty girl who works here, Ms. Lily” he said. She looked around and said “You want me to go fetch Tulip?”

Jake put out and waved both hands “No, please don't!”

She laughed and leaned up close to Jake. “So... you mean that I am the pretty girl?” she asked in an imitation of a sultry voice. They both laughed, how many times had they done this?

Just then they heard some shouting around the corner and they both went to look. It seems that someone was angry with one of the peddler-merchants.

“What do you mean you can't sell me ammo for this gun?” a customer was asking loudly “That sounds like a real shady business operation to me!”

The peddler was upset too. “I can't find any ammunition for that particular type gun. It just isn't available. We don't manufacture them on Oasis, obviously. I will buy the gun back from you, I guess.”

The man threw the gun at the peddler and then kicked over the table. “You're nothing but trash!” he yelled “I want my money back.”

The man stomped off after getting his money. Jake and Lily went back around the corner. “What was that all about? That guy was really high-strung!” Jake said.

“Yeah. It's happening more and more these days.” Lily told him “It's almost as if someone powerful is intentionally messing with the markets.”

“What do you mean?”

“That was a common caliber of weapon, Jake. There should be warehouses of that ammunition, there were actually, but recently someone has been taking it all... off-line.” she answered “I hear a lot of people talking about this. I think something is up, but I don't know what and I have no proof. It's just a theory right now.”

The Governing Council of Oasis is made up of one member of each of the thirteen tribes, this helps keep the balance and the peace in our society. Being a desert planet, the population is not very big and one small group can make a big disruption if they wanted to. That used to be the Riders but they mostly stuck to their own thing these days.

Jake decided to pay a visit to his friend, Bolt. Bolt was the son of Mr. Tinker, one of the best Makers in Oasis. He could design and produce just about anything on his hand-built X-Y-Z mini-factories and that should include ammunition, if the gunpowder was available.

“Bolt, anyone here?” Jake asked, pushing open the front door. Bolt was there in the middle of the floor with their maid Leeta. She seemed to be comforting him.

“What happened?” Jake asked

“Some men, a gang, they came and busted up the factory. They busted up Mr. Tinker too” Leeta answered as Bolt sobbed. She rubbed his shoulders and then said “He's not doing too well, but he will pull through I think.”

“Who would do this?” Jake asked “Mr. Tinker doesn't have any enemies, does he?”

No, but he had competitors. That was the first thing Jake thought of, but it didn't make sense. For thirty years Mr. Tinker has been just fine and why would the others manufacturers send goons now? Two and two did not add up to competitors.

It was getting late. Jake would be able to investigate this a little more tomorrow. Walking back toward the family dirigible his thoughts were in turmoil. He had wanted to spend his time flirting with Lily but something weird was happening and it was not going to be good.

The vator was already lowered and waiting for him. He walked onto the platform and pulled the cord and then he was slowly winched up to the gondola. Once he arrived his father said “Dinner is served, Jake. Where have you been anyway?”

It was a never-ending joke since Oasis wasn't that big and Jake was old enough to go pretty much anywhere he wanted. He entered the dining room to find the benches holding his annoying little sister, her friend Kelsa, and their little brother, Jato.

“Steamed tato's” Jato called out as he entered “Reary good!” shoving spoonfuls into his mouth. Jake took his bowl and took a few small, quick bites before setting it down.

“Dad. Have you heard anything weird happening lately?” Jake asked.

“Not really. Why? Anything specific?” he asked, adjusting one of his suspenders.

“What about the council, has something happened on the council?” Jake asked, it was a fishing expedition but it was something his dad might know about.

His dead took a drink of his water. “Now that you ask, kind of.”

Jake hadn't expected anything, he was surprised. “What? You mean something is happening on the council?”

His dad reached down and pulled out the palm-size flimsy he was always reading. “It's been in the news for days, Jake. You should try reading the news once in a while.”

He took the flimsy from his father and scrolled the headlines.

His dad said “A new member of the council. Supposedly representing the merchants but it seems he strong-armed his way onto the council. Now he is trying to cajole the council into passing all kinds of new laws and programs, he says he has a grand vision for Oasis.”

Jake didn't know if this had anything to do with the attack on Mr. Tinker or the lack of available ammunition for the public but it could. This Mr. Campo wanted to heavily restrict firearms on Oasis and he wanted to more regulate the manufacturing of goods. His ideas might have made sense on a densely populated world but it was kind of dumb on Oasis.

“This Mr. Campo. Does he seem like someone who might hire goons?” Jake asked handing the flimsy back to his father.

“I don't know. He seems like a big dreamer and ideologue to me, plus he is just one member of the council. I don't think we have to worry about Mr. Campo actually getting of the more weird things passed.” his dad said.

Weird ideas. Like the bridge to the plateau, the idea that the Air Knights and other tribes should not have their own defacto territories. All that's going to do is cause conflict where none need exist. Jake wondered if Campo was trying to cause conflict?

Then his dad spoke up. “I sort of volunteered you for helping with the harvest at Evander's orchard tomorrow, so show up bright and early.”

“You what?” Jake asked. Why was his father always doing things like that? Evander's orchard was to the south of Oasis City farther than the lakes. Close to the edge of the plateau. Maybe he would get a glimpse of the power-gliders flying through the sky. That would make it worth the trip.

The next morning Jake was out of the gondola and down the anchor rope using his hook, using the brake just before hitting the ground. Then he took the turn-off south and walked the rocky path toward the orchards.

The path was also the only thin piece of land dividing two of the lakes that made up Oasis, the one on the left was used as a city water source, the one on the right was for agriculture. He could see some people working on the fish farm in the distance. After he crossed the path it wasn't too much farther before he reached Evander's orchards.

The orchards were a sight, a lot of green on such a dry world. But the plateau in the distance kept getting his attention. Something about it has always drawn him. Someday he wanted to visit the plateau and learn all about the Air Knights. Even though this never happened, they were very closed off, he wanted to go.

After picking oranges and other fruit until past noon, Jake's fingers were hurting. Finally Mr. Evander himself brought him some cold juice and told him he could go now. Before Jake could take off, the man dropped some coins into his hand. A little money never hurt.

“Thanks! I didn't expect that.” Jake said

“You were working harder than most of my paid help. I almost had to stop them from ganging up on you for making them look bad, but they were too lazy to carry through with their plans.” Evander joked with him.

“Thanks again. If you need help again, you know where to find me.” Jake told him before leaving. Instead of heading back toward Oasis City he went south to the big empty desert between the farms and plateau. He wanted to see some aerial shows but nothing was flying at that moment.

Just before he gave up he finally glimpsed one of the power-gliders fly from the plateau and make some sharp turns in the air. Someone was doing a good job of controlling their aircraft, Jake thought as he watched the aircraft maneuver.

Boom! Jake nearly fell over from the sound. Where had that come from? He saw a man in the desert area with a big gun on his shoulder. Boom! He was shooting at the Air Knight. Jake was shocked, this was attempted murder (crime is rare on Oasis!) and in broad daylight. Jake wanted to find someone and tell them to call the authorities but... boom!

Smoke poured from the power-glider it could no longer fly high enough to land on the plateau. Jake watched the smoke trail turn and head towards the man on the ground with the gun. Jake wanted to scream a warning to the Air Knight but just then the man on the ground dropped the gun and grabbed his throat, and fell.

Jake ran towards where all of this was happening.

The power glider had crashed landed, smoke was still coming from the engine. The Air Knight was standing with hands on hips staring on their vehicle. Not far away was the body of a gruff-looking man, a large gun next to him and a boomerazor lodged into his throat.

“Are you okay?” Jake asked “I saw the whole thing!”

The Air Knight turned around and took off their helmet. Hair just past the shoulders and the prettiest face Jake remembered seeing on a girl. She was around his own age too. “Who are you?” she asked.

“My name is Jake. I saw it all. What's your name?”

“Ria” she told him and walked to the body and pulled the weapon from the corpse. “Do you have any idea who he is? Or why he attacked me?”

Jake shook his head. “Some weird things have been happening lately, but nothing like this. Are you okay though?”

“He punctured my glider!” Ria told him “That is definitely not being okay!”

Then she pulled something from the helmet and spoke into it “Hando! I had an emergency, call the others and come and get me!”

Jake could barely hear a garbled response.

She looked around and back to Jake, as if just remembering he was there. “You can go now, my wing will come and fetch me. I'm not injured.”

Jake looked at the body and back to her. “You just killed a man in self-defense, the authorities need to be notified. People can't just go around and use you guys for target practice!”

“I'm not notifying anyone” she said “I'm just going to get back up there where I belong. I have my own authorities to warn about people shooting at us.”

Jake nodded. The Air Knights liked to think of themselves as their own little country, independent from the others. That was something Mr. Campo was trying to start an argument over in the council. Jake glanced at the corpse again, could that guy have been working for Campo? Could this incident now be used by him for political purposes?

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Random images can kickstart a story

Sometimes when trying to figure out a new story idea I get really frustrated and then suddenly some random image lights up some synapses and a story idea is born. I am currently working on a couple of stories but I wonder if a random pic could give me another idea.

Credit: Koichi Wakata (via Twitter as @Astro_Wakata)
Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata took a picture of a green apple with a porthole behind it, so it looks like the apple is floating in space. You can see the Russian-built capsules docked to the ISS and the Earth behind that.

Even if I cannot come up with a story I will always now have the image in my head and Koichi Wakata will be the "Applenaut" to me forever.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Short Story: Playing Games With Planets

Playing Games With Planets

“Okay, you can have Cortesia if I can have Concordia. I'm rather fond of Concordia having taken my daughter there on her birthday once. The purple grass plains of the Midshires is indelibly inked to my memories” The rotund elderly man in a brown suit, pausing to puff a cigar.

The other man regarded these comments while studying a holographic map floating in the ether between them. Many of the stars on the galactic map were either red or blue.

“I guess Concordia can be yours but Cortesia is surrounded by your systems, cut off from mine, I'd like something contiguous. Maybe Hereford-Raskins would be better for this than Cortesia, although not nearly as nice a place to live.”

“I am amenable to that, good sir!”

They were sitting in old recliners surrounded by bookshelves. Or rather that was the visual image they desired for this meeting since it was all virtual. The thinner gray-haired man poured a glass of brandy for the other and handed it to him.

“I think, we have a deal Mr. Shanks,” he said, looking through some files on a hologram to the right side of his chair “Everything appears to be in order.”

“I agree, Mr. Andrews. I don't mind trading this and that. It's not like I can live on all of these planets just because I own them” Mr Shanks said sipping the brandy and puffing on the cigar. “I guess 'own' isn't the right word since I didn't buy them. I just took them, but they're still just as much mine.”

The thinner Andrews checked the pocket watch from his vest “These negotiations didn't take up nearly as much as I thought they might.”

“I'm not a hard man to deal with.” the older gentleman said “I'm quite genial in fact.”

A broad smile crossed the face of Mr. Andrews “I would tend to doubt the residents of the planets you own would agree to that.”

The older man laughed and cleared some phlegm from his throat “They might but they would be wrong since I hardly interfere directly in their affairs. It would be quite impossible to micro-manage the lives of everyone on a thousand and, what was it now, two worlds. No, Mr. Andrews, I put down guidelines and they have to live by them or, eventually, they face the consequences.”

“That is the only way it can be done with our positions” Mr. Andrews replied “Even with the staff I have, it is hard to keep track of everything. Have you any plans for dinner. Mr. Shanks, my kitchen is preparing quite the spread of steak and pheasant?”

Mr. Shanks was stading near the door putting on an overcoat. “That sounds splendid, please inform my chief of staff of the time for supper and I'll be there”

The two shook hands.

“May peace always prevail, Mr. Shanks”

“Ah yes, the alternative is quite unthinkable these days. Nothing to fight over between us or anyone else really, Mr. Andrews” Shanks said “All the planets and resources of the galaxy at our fingertips, more than any man could possibly need in fifty billion lifetimes”

“Quite true” Andrews answered as Shanks opened the door “Good day then” and vanished after stepping through the portal. Once the portal evaporated, the small library and the lounge chairs vanished as well. Andrews was standing in a transparent room, outside there were many members of his staff running about, doing their jobs for the empire.

A man in a blue uniform entered the room and handed Andrews a holographic data filament, it hovered in the air until Andrews gave it his identification code. “Alpha One Omega Tomorrow”, then it spread out and occupied a meter of space in front of him.

“Our fleets are all in position” the uniformed said “By this time next week, all will be prepared for the invasion. They won't know what hit them until it's over.”

Mr. Andrews smiled. “Finally, the entire galaxy will be united, under my control of course.”

“The old bulldog isn't going to go down easily, sir” the uniformed said “He's not a softie, he didn't get to his position being unprepared.”

Andrews tried to keep the smile but frowned instead. “I'm not a fool, Jenkins. We have studied and searched and can find no evidence that he has amassed any military power at all in his territories. It's almost as if we were being invited to try and take them!”

The officer nodded “And you are taking the bait?”

“We are taking the galaxy” Andrews answered “That is what we are doing. Do not misunderstand anything about this, I have one motive. Owning the Galaxy.”

“Just don't assume his territory is undefended, that is all I am saying. You'll end up throwing lives away unnecessarily.” the officer said before turning to leave but stopping at the door “I think he has something up his sleeve, I'm pretty sure I don't want to know what it is first.”

Dinner that evening was a pleasant affair. The food was delicious, the best seven-courses that half the galaxy's bounty could provide. Mr. Shanks ate heartily and drank much wine. As far as the experts who were there and watching from afar he seemed to display no problems at all. No anxiety of knowing an invasion might be imminent or anything else.

“He has to know” one of the advisers said while they were meeting to discuss things “There is no chance he doesn't know by now.”

“Lord Shanks appears to know nothing about what Lord Andrews is going to do.” said another “He isn't massing any fleets to defend his worlds, there are no evacuations or sudden build-ups of defense systems. Almost as if they did not care.”

Lord Andrews paced back and form through a holographic map of the galaxy that took up the entire transparent room. The marks where his many invasion fleets were prepped and the target worlds were all over the place. He was concerned. Shanks had to have fleets, where were they? Why no moves to defend his worlds? Nothing at all was going on over there, or nothing they could see.

It was frustrating not to know. Infuriating that Shanks wanted to keep pretending that nothing would ever threaten peace again. “Nothing to fight over. Power is worth taking! Shanks should know this, or he doesn't deserve to be a lord!”

Another one of his loyal staff entered the room. “Nothing about this makes sense. I have contacted one of the spies on Lord Shanks Capitol Ship and my source knows nothing either. The spy might have been compromised, of course, but..” he threw his hands out.

The smart move would be to cancel the invasion, the open goal at the other end was an obvious trick to trap them. Somehow Lord Andrews did not think he could do that. He hated to think that he was being played but he was pretty dedicated to the invasion. Unite all of humanity, all of the galaxy under a firm hand, that was always his prime goal.

Weakness and navel-gazing caused empires to fall and Lord Andrews did not want to be another Clement Attlee who allowed an empire to crumble while pursuing dysfunctional baubles. Strength through strength is what a made an empire last, once you let the barbarians into the gates it was all over.

Lord Andrews would not change course. It was decided. If history would be the judge of this decision, let it. The invasion would go on as planned.

At the appointed hour the capitol ship of Lord Andrews floated in a gaseous cloud looking down upon the solar system where Cortesia lay. His fleet was highlighted on the exterior view-screen as it began moving at high speed. Lord Andrews tightened his hands into fists, his nerves were a bit frayed but he wanted to get this over with.

250 invasion fleets would hit the first systems at the same time, conquer them and send half their forces to conquer another 250 systems before the day was over. Andrews had chosen to watch the invasion of Cortesia because his mother had been born there.

The fleet was highlighted in red as it streaked into the solar system and then... vanished from the display.. ? His staff all gasped.

“What happened? Why is the fleet no longer highlighted on the view-screen?” he demanded to know.

“Your lordship,” one of his commanders said “The fleet has been destroyed”

“Destroyed? How? I see no enemy fleet marked on the view-screen!” he pointed, angrily, “Just tell me what happened!”

“Some sort of barrier was thrown up. It wasn't there before and we don't know where it came from, all of the invasion ships disintegrated on contact.” the highly decorated officer told him.

“What about the other fleets? How goes the other invasions?” Andrews asked, gasping for air, as he sat back down. “Are they all...?”

“All of the invasion fleets met the same fate, your lordship” came the answer. Lord Andrews felt like he would faint, everything was becoming blurry. He grabbed his seat and held it tightly until his vision returned to normal. As he looked forward and took a deep breath he saw the capitol ship of Lord Shanks dematerialize right outside. His staff was shocked, the military officers were shouted orders.

“I guess he came to gloat” Andrews told himself.

“Your lordship, Lord Shanks would like to have a word with you in the holographic room” someone said, he just nodded and trudged to the room. He hardly had the energy.

It was a green park-like setting this time and the old fatty was in plaid shorts sitting under a tree with a blanket spread out for a picnic. There was even a large picnic basket next to him and he was waving Andrews over like a best friend.

“You have got to try one of these cucumber sandwiches, old chap, they are simply exquisite” Shanks said as a greeting.

Andrews sat across from him and grabbed a goblet, he could definitely use a drink. Shanks poured out some wine into the cup and said “Drink up! We might get to play some cricket before the sun goes down.”

After taking a rather long drink, Andrews raised a hand “Let's get down to it. You've won. That barrier technology is something remarkable, I never saw it coming. Wiped out 250 invasion fleets in one go, quite a show.”

The rotund figure polished off one of the finger sandwiches. “Cheer up, old boy, you got one wish out of the deal. That's something, isn't it?”

Andrews frowned. “What do you mean I got one wish out of this?”

The old man laughed. “You wanted a united galaxy and now you have it”

Andrews was obviously lost so Lord Shanks filled him in “While your fleets were running head-long into walls, mine were taking over your worlds. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to do it or not. My fleets were waiting for months, those stealth shields eat up a bloody lot of energy too, I can tell you that.”

Lord Andrews closed his eyes and put a hand over his face. Failed. He couldn't believe he had failed so badly.

“Oh, it's not that bad.” Shanks told him “I'll tell you what. Let's start with Andromeda next. You can start on one side and I'll start on the other”

Just move on to the next galaxy, why not?

“Deal!” Lord Andrews said


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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Bright Horizons

Bright Horizons by Wilson Harp is a worthy entry into the Space Opera genre, first of a series. A full-length novel with some tough soldiers and several different alien species and memorable characters, the book is very readable. Although the time-frame can move ahead without much notice, this only serves to get to the good parts without usual filler in between.

Yes, the main character nuked a major once in his past but he's moved on. I was also surprised to see some characters introduced only to get casually killed off, but that's life. Just because you think someone might stick around for the whole book doesn't mean they will. Makes it more interesting.

Monday, July 27, 2015


I wrote a short 1,924 word story today that I will try to submit somewhere. I can't post all my stories on the blog! I sure do post a lot of them, though. "Playing Games With Planets" will be submitted elsewhere and if nobody buys it, maybe then I'll post it here.

Also submitting stories called "The Derelict" and "Hullabaloo on Cora" to different sites.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Short Story: The Queendom: Border Skirmish

The Queendom
Border Skirmish

The princess sat still from the time the covered wagon left the castle to the time it reached the border defense area where the First Army was camped out. Enemy soldiers had crossed over and raided communities in the area. The Republic of Tilaska had been given every warning to keep their troops to themselves and soon they would face the reprisals.

The soldiers stared as she left the wagon and walked to the tent of General Koregan, she wondered how many of them might have seen a royal before and whether her brother was among those foot soldiers this day.

“My Princess” the General said putting his hand on her naked shoulder. “I'm sorry it became necessary for you to travel this far”

“I am but a humble servant to my people, General, I do as I am required” she answered. He nodded and sighed before he shooed his aides and attendants from the tent. “It gets cold at night and hot in the day, you should really wear clothes out here”

She told him “You know as well as everyone else that the Queen and her daughters do not have the same rights and privileges as the people. We are never to wear clothes, we are never to choose our own mates, we are never to quibble about food or other trivialities. We are the servants, not the rulers. Not really”

Ever since the powers manifested themselves in only the females of the royal line they were destined to become little more than tools, such as was the arc of history for their world. By this law the Queen was wed to the Commanding General of the Armies. That was General Koregan at present but if he were replaced the Queen would have a new mate.

“Our scouts are reporting that the Tilaskans are massing their troops on the other side of the Blue Twin hills. This sounds like more than a raiding party, it sounds like they are preparing to try and seize territory” The General told her “The Queendom could be in danger if they are not stopped quickly”

The Princess nodded “I see”.

“You arrived just in time for dinner” he told her “Since you have to accept what I give you, I am going to give you the best meal I can and all the wine you can drink”

“You spoil me, General, as much as you have my mother” she said as he led her to the back room.

“Get some rest in my bed, I will wake you for dinner or if the enemy attacks unexpectedly” he said, she climbed into the bed and then he shut the leather doorway and went to see the steward. Soon enough she was awakened to a meal befit normal royalty. She bit her tongue instead of criticizing the meal while she knew the soldiers were probably eating jerky and crackers.

Immediately after the meal a scout returned and reported movement of the enemy forces. Sure enough s they went outside they could see dozens and then hundreds of soldiers coming through the gap of the Blue Twin Hills. The General suddenly had a bad feeling that this was all a feigned attack.

“Princess, I think the castle and queen might be in danger!” he told her “Tilaska would never attack our territory by itself, the Rovards are their top allies. We need to safeguard the Queen!”

Rovards was on the far side of the Queendom. The General and his men would never make it there in time if they were also attacking. Colonel Yong led the 2nd Army in that region, he should be able to keep any invaders occupied.

“We should stay here, General.” she told him “Move your troops a little closer, then tell them to stand in formation”

As the troops marched forward the Tilaskan forces that were just standing there started looking more and more nervous. Then the princess moved to the front ranks.

“Soldiers of Tilaska” she addressed the enemy in a loud voice “You have one warning, this one, to get back to your families. You cannot defeat the forces of the Queendom, you cannot even defeat me, by myself. Let me show you!”

She raised her arms, her hair was buffeted by a wind that hadn't been there before and she became a fireball, other fireballs left her and shot into the sky and began raining down on the Tilaska troops who broke ranks and ran in the opposite direction. The all-male Queendom Army cheered this, taunting the enemy forces as they ran away.

“I think you can handle it from here General” she told him “I will return to the castle now. I will give mother your regards and tell her that you are healthy and strong.”

He crossed his arms “and if the Rovards are invading​? Then what?”

She nodded “If they are attacking then I will join Colonel Yong and drive them off”

The General was confused by this. “I know you are the most powerful princess in memory, but you cannot defend all the borders by yourself all the time. You are also heir to the throne, I am sure the Queen would rather not have you fighting wars”

She shook her head “I am a servant. I do what I can and when I can.”

He walked her back to the covered wagon and with a quick hug before boarding she was off. The General hoped she was right, he hated to think the Queen would be in any danger.


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Saturday, July 25, 2015

New Prologue for New Arrivals

I have added a new prologue for NEW ARRIVALS that adds 4,000 words to the story!


Tharsus – 335 NSE (New Space Era)

Simeon Kitts, junior adviser to King Osvald Harnett was out in the orchards overseeing the workers gathering the wagon-loads of fruits, nuts and other goods that would join the Tribute Parade to the Palace. The King would bless the bountiful harvest and order the gathered goods distributed to the poorest of his subjects.

It was an annual pageant, full of celebration and it was also the official opening to the Summer Market Bazaar season. There would be much to celebrate, not least Simeon's new status within his majesty's court. There was also the new Peace & Benevolence Treaty with the Nosrin Empire, ending years of trepidation with having a possibly hostile neighbor within travel distance.

Usually it took many years to travel to other inhabited solar systems, though time passed slowly for those aboard the ships. So space travel for trade or tourism was unheard for most worlds without very close neighbors. The Nosrin Empire was a close neighbor but it was expansionist and militant and it scared the people of Tharsus that it might invade.

Thanks to the King, this seems to have ended any thought of invasion from the Nosrin Empire, making the celebration even sweeter. Simeon inspected the fruits and goods for the parade as they sat in the hovering wagons. His estate would produce twelve hover-wagons full of goods this year, a great harvest was beginning. All in all, this was shaping up to be a great year.

Simeon was a brand new adviser within the court, he had only met the King privately twice but both times he found himself concerned that the old man was a bit “off”. He was always distracted and losing focus of the topic under discussion, although Simeon never dared share any of these concerns with others within the court.

“Father!” he heard and turned to find his daughter running into his arms. He picked her up and spun around but this wasn't as easy as it used to be.

“You are getting too big, Samantha” he told her, feigning injury “My back isn't getting any younger you know.”

“I know better than that” she said and then looked around “How many wagons?”

“Twelve! Our biggest parade yet! Have to put up a good show now that I am working for the King!” he told her. It was true, there were reputations on the line for everything within the court, palace intrigue was pretty petty these days, but it was still going on.

“Everyone at school is treating me different now” Samantha said, rolling her eyes “It's pretty annoying.”

Simeon hadn't thought about that. Even his daughter was affected by his new status. Although he was one of the lower ranking courtiers, the fact that he was there at all brought new respect. Yes, but it might also bring new jealousies and enmity from certain parties too.

“I'm just happy school is out for several days for the celebrations” she said before taking off “I'll be back later, father.”

Simeon shook his head and smiled. She wasn't very girly but that would change in time, she'll go from playing in the mud to wearing silkren gowns within a few years. Soon enough it would be time to stop playing sword fighting with the boys and start trying to tame a particular boy, that thought didn't make him happier though.

The hovering wagons of his estate joined those from other estates and farms, every family that could afford it tried to at least show up with one. It was something they could boast about for a long time. Soon enough all of these lines of goods joined up on the main thoroughfare in the capitol city leading up to the palace where the King and others would be on the reviewing stands.

Joyous people lined the streets to watch the spectacle. The harvest did indeed seem bountiful this year judging from the Tribute Parade. Hundreds of carts soon passed the reviewing stands where Simeon saw the King, Queen and top officials watching them pass. Someone he did not recognize was there too, at the King's right hand.

Normally the King's Own Agent would be standing there but instead there was a man in a sparkling green military uniform of the Nosrin Empire. He and the King seemed to be chatting amicably enough but it made Simeon wonder why this man was there and in that position when ceremonial tradition demanded different.

He also noted the white suited Prince toward the back of the reviewing stand with the royal blue cape, showing his appointed position as head of the King's Guard. Yes, Simeon could just barely glimpse the golden scabbard on his hip.

Finally the hundreds of wagons filled the Palace Courtyard, a grand site to behold. The King stood up to the front and raised his arms and a great cheer arose from the assembled crowd. The cheer went on for a little bit with Simeon doing his own share of it.

“Never in my thirty-five years as King have I seen such a bounty for the Tribute Parade!” he said and the applause and cheers arose again. “As is tradition, I order that these goods be taken into custody and be distributed amongst the poorest subjects in the kingdom!”

Yet another grand cheer.

“As you might have heard, a Peace & Benevolence Treaty has been established with our neighbors, the Nosrin Empire” he said “We no longer need live with the fear that we have grown accustomed to” he was interrupted again by the cheers “Today we have so many blessings to count that it will take all week” he elicited some chuckles. “Please everyone, enjoy the celebrations and don't forget that when night falls there will be fireworks!”

The Nosrin in the uniform applauded with everyone else. Simeon thought he looked more smug that elated at the news of peace. Could the Nosrin be trusted? Simeon hoped so, but they were a martial people and they came from a very different culture.

The King's Guard arrived, led by Prince Levier, for the important mission of directing the hovering wagons of goods to the King's Storehouse. The Prince was not impressed with this duty, he thought it was not dignified, something he only divulged to Simeon once in conversation. The Prince had shown trust in Simeon by sharing.

Once upon a time Tharsus had been divided into warring factions and about a century ago a war took place with high-technology that left tens of thousands of warriors on both sides dead. The fierce battle had been for the high ground on a wide expansive plain called Visna. The hill was the strategic location that both armies coveted.

Ten thousand robotics-enhanced armored soldiers on each side were sent to claim this high ground, with the firearms and lasers jammed, they wielded swords and spears. The battle took all day and all night and when the next day dawned the hill had been smashed flat, there was nothing but a blood red plains.

It had been an epic and horrifying battle for both sides, the sight they beheld of the dead and the destroyed hill, ended all lust for war. One side sued for peace and the other side crowned the victor but without any real fanfare, no-one had felt like throwing a party.

The present king, Osvald Harnett, was a direct descendant of the victor. One of his first acts upon being crowned was to visit the Plains of Visna and say a prayer for the dead and to ask any God who could hear him for forgiveness for what had taken place there. To this day, nearly a century after the battle, the ground of the plain is red, the soil there had changed composition since the battle.

Simeon Kitts was troubled by the presence of the Nosrin soldier, probably a General. He had sent messages to those closer to the King about who this man was and his real reasons for being there. Simeon sat at a table at an outdoor restaurant with a glass of wine, waiting for the fireworks to begin now that the sun was falling.

He hardly noticed when Samantha and her friend Katrina join his table but they were laughing about something. “What is so funny?” he asked them.

“The biggest bully in school, Carl Munger, he was at the martle juice kiosk” Katrina said, snickering to herself “We were behind him in line. I poked him in the back and he turned around like he was going to maul someone. He saw Samantha and calmed down quickly. I can't believe even that guy respects her new status.”

Samantha looked embarrassed “Well, I guess it could come in handy but this is all weird for me. It's not like we're royalty or anything.”

Just then the fireworks started above the palace. Simeon enjoyed them but he had a nagging feeling that something was wrong. He didn't know what, or why, he just felt it. His queries about the presence of the Nosrin brass were for naught. Evidently those in the know thought the information he wanted might be used for a bad purpose.

On Tharsus status can change in the blink of an eye in a game of “oneupmanship”. So it has become part of the culture on the planet to not needlessly share information that could be used against you. This is much more common within the King's court, becoming almost unknown in the private sector. Simeon would just have to broach the subject with the Prince, who trusted him.

Arriving at the palace the following day Simeon passed through the gates manned by guards in light power-armor suits. Now that peace was being declared these guys might not need to wear the armor to work much longer.

He dispatched a message directly to the prince from his desk one he got to the office, asking for a private meeting. Then he went to work reading the paperwork on the holographic display in front of him. The first was a secret directive from the King that the warships of the Nosrin Empire then in orbit around Tharsus be left alone and not even scanned.

Simeon found it unnerving to learn that there were multiple Nosrin warships in orbit and that the King had allowed this. Did a Nosrin General require such support for a visit and possibly dinner?

Prince Levier's response pinged and Simeon was cordially invited to lunch with the heir to the throne of Tharsus. Good. Nothing in either messages would give anyone spying on them any idea that he had reservations about this whole Nosrin peace deal. Something like that would not be good for his status.

Prince Levier was decked out in his exaggerated “sort-of” military uniform with a white cape that had a tall collar. He had never really taken his ceremonial position very seriously but he looked serious enough once Simeon Kitts entered. The Prince shooed the help out of the suite and locked the door behind them.

“I think I know why you're here” The Prince said “I've been concerned ever since the last week of the conference”

Simeon was surprised to hear that, how far back did this go? “What happened there?”

“My father, the King, suddenly began passing message pouches directly to the Nosrin representative and none of the staff or adviser know what was in those messages”, Levier explained “Father has been having issues recently, I think his mental faculties have been compromised.”

“Does that Nosrin military officer at the Tribute Parade have something to do with all this?” Simeon asked, standing up from the table. The prince nodded “I believe so. There is a reason he was standing in the position where his main adviser usually stood.”

Simeon sat again. The King had been having mental issues, according to his own son and dealing with the Nosrin Empire on his own. Those two things happening at the same time was truly troubling, what kind of side deal had been made?

“That Nosrin military officer is Admiral Jad'a'Kor”, The Prince said calling up a holo-image of the man
that hovered above the remnants of the light lunch. “He is the leading military figure for the Nosrin and commands the Imperial Lead Fleet of sixty warships. Twelve of which are in orbit of Tharsus, the rest waiting close to the edge of the system.”

Simeon felt light-headed and grabbed the edge of the table. “The King might be senile and we have a possibly hostile military force on our doorsteps?”

The Prince nodded. “I don't know what to do about this. I might be wrong and don't think I should really try anything without more information.”

The Prince was being patient, possibly too patient. Simeon thought about the protocols for the Royal family and replied “You must demand to know what is going on here, if he refuses to tell you, then yu have every right to try and take his position.”

The Prince leaned back in his chair, looking stunned. “I know. I don't want to depose my father though, there must be a way to avoid such a thing.”

As head of the King's Guard the Prince had the command of one of the local barracks and 1,000 soldiers as well as several ships. These ships were more along the lines of transports than the mighty warships of the Nosrin Empire.

“You need to ask!” Simeon said “Don't challenge his rule until after you gather your own supporters within the court. Ask him today, tell me his answer tonight. Tomorrow we will probably be very busy.”

The Good King Osvald Harnett was very popular among all the people of Tharsus, the idea that he would ever turn on his own kingdom was impossible. As Simeon strode through the park behind the palace for some fresh air he thought about the situation. If Tharsus was worth invading the Nosrin would have done that nearly a century ago when the world was recovering from the war.

So what kind of game were they playing?

The sky was starting to dim before he realized he was still sitting on a park bench. He had been lost in thought and if the Prince didn't have good news, the time to act was now. Simeon Kitts pulled a small device from his pocket. The Personal Active Link, PAL, had a holographic display that hovered over the flat black square. He sent a message to the Prince.

Immediately he received a response telling him to return to the fountain in the Center Square. Simeon put it back into his pocket and hurried to meet the prince. When he arrived at the large fountain where concrete representations of two soldiers in hand to hand combat were surrounded by jets of water and lights streaking into the sky, he found the prince and four soldiers in their powered armor.

“Prince Levier” he said as he walked up to them “What happened?”

The prince pulled him closer to the fountain where the noise would fool most listening devices and told him “We were right. The King, I mean my father, has lost it. I can't believe what he told me today, it makes me so angry!”

Simeon would become frantic at this rate “Spill it! Just tell me the situation.”

The prince breathed deeply to calm himself down “He has agreed to make Tharsus part of the Nosrin Empire.”

“What! Why would he do that? What did they offer him in return?” Simeon asked, aghast

The prince pulled him closer to make his voice heard better “My father told me that the Empire is the future. He agreed only if he was named the emperor. It wouldn't be so bad if my father hadn't lost his mind, maybe he could have lessened the evils of the Nosrin Empire, but he supports it and its evil history” The prince looked devastated, his eyes were rimmed red “My father has lost his mind and is totally fooled.”

“Prince. You must take the throne and resist this move by the Nosrin Empire, they must be using your father” Simeon said. The prince nodded, he thought that too.

“We may not have time to resist” the prince said “That Nosrin fleet on the edge of the system is on its way, and it is an invasion force!”

Simeon was shocked. He backed up and sat at the foot of the fountain. He barely noticed another man in uniform arrive and start an animated conversation with the prince. Suddenly he recognized the Vice Admiral of the Tharsus Defense Fleet, Colm Donnelly, the green and black flag on his shoulder.

He stood and approached the other two men. “We need to gather as many people as we can and prepare to evacuate them in case the worst comes.”

“I'm busy trying to organize a defense of the planet” Vice Admiral Donnelly responded “If you are going to try and evacuate your families and friends, you might want to start doing that now”

“I'm going to try and set up a defense of the capitol city and palace” Prince Levier said to Simeon after the military officer left “But if the worst comes, I'll leave with you”

It was a busy night. Simeon Kitts woke up the foremen on the estate and told them to begin packing up supplies and preparing their families to leave. Then he dispatched trusted people to warn and give the information to people within the court that he trusted, hoping they would not tip off the King's side that this was happening.

By morning the area of the city around the palace looked like a military encampment with hover-tanks and anti-aerial laser weapons set up and troops in power-armor robot-enhanced suits on patrol. Meanwhile Simeon was busy shuttling people to the tertiary space port south of the city, normally closed to traffic, it was going to be busy today.

There were about fifteen transport ships of various shapes and sizes parked there, including the cruiser normally reserved for the King. They had seen little use for close to a century but they were all well-maintained.

He met with the Reserve Corps leader, one Captain Ranagar, who seemed like a hostile person but at least he was on their side.

“I am appalled by the actions of the King” he had said “I knew he would lose his marbles sooner or later, it is definitely the time for a new king. Do we even know where we are going?”

“Father!” Samantha said running up from somewhere “The supplies are almost done loading. We still have some families on the way to join us, the families of some people from my school”

“They better hurry.” Simeon said and his daughter gave him a hug before running off to make sure the loading was going well.

The Captain had asked where they would be going. Simeon just knew that things looked bad. The invasion fleet would be arriving any time, the horizon was brightening. He received a message on his PAL from the prince telling him that the King would be making an announcement very soon. Most likely welcoming the invasion fleet.

The only other thing the message said was that defending Tharsus looked pretty hopeless from his vantage. Simeon nodded to himself. The fight might be brief but it had to be done.

The people they had warned to leave were starting to fill up the ships that had been prepared for the evacuation. His PAL received another message, this one from Vice Admiral Donnelly, the Nosrin warships in orbit had begun their attack against the Tharsus defense vessels and military space stations.

“A complete disaster.” the Vice Admiral had said.

Laser fire from near the palace lit up the sky, explosions exposed an enormous number of enemy drop-ships descending from space. Simeon sent a message to everyone involved “It's time to leave, now! Right now!”

Almost as quickly as he turned there were explosions on the ground and then he heard the whoosh of a nearly invisible craft fly overhead. Enemy fighters were covering for the troops in the drop-ships, the fuel tank only miles away went up in a giant fireball. The evacuation ships sitting on the tarmac were lit up like day-light for the enemy to see.

“Lift off, Now! Activate the defense grid!” he gave orders. The tertiary space ports own defense network came to life, this would help their ships begin their ascent with some protection. He lifted up his PAL “Levier, where are you?”

“Falling back! We're out-numbered a thousand to one! The palace has been captured!” the Prince reported breathlessly. Simeon could hear the emotional anguish in his voice.

The voice of King Osvald Harnett broke through on every channel and broadcast by loudcasters in the city. “People of Tharsus, this is your King. A new glorious day for the Kingdom has arisen. Today we no longer celebrate peace with the Nosrin Empire, but also brotherhood. Beginning today, Tharsus is a part of the Nosrin Empire. Do not depair, I have been asked to become the Emperor of all the Nosrin worlds and I will keep my title as your King.”

“Do not resist the Nosrin forces that are arriving, they are here to help better integrate this world into the empire. Do not resent or hate our new brothers, welcome them with open arms. We of Tharsus are a peaceful and kind people, let us spread that throughout the empire that we are joining...”

All of this was interspersed with explosions.

Simeon ran for the royal cruiser, its lights were on and the engines were warming up. All it really needed was the presence of Prince Levier. Once he arrived at the largest ship in the port he waited at the main entrance in the front.

He could see laser towers tracking and occasionally firing at Nosrin vessels but his attention was soon drawn to the sound of smaller arms and smaller explosions. Soon more than twenty men in powered-armor suits that jumped more than ten meters in the sky could be seen coming. One of those was the prince, Simeon Kitts had no doubt.

Soon enough hostile robotic enemy forces were showing up, they were exchanging fire and launching guided incendiary grenades at each other. They wasted no time climbing aboard the ship when they reached it and the royal cruiser was lifting off, firing its heavier lasers at the Nosrin armored soldiers below.

As soon as the large hatch closed and he passed the veeks it carried Simeon suddenly needed to be reassured that his daughter was safe. He used his PAL, video and audio contact was being jammed by one side or the other. Then he realized that there was effectively only one side down there. The Nosrin had the mind-addled King on their side, it was all a done-deal.

He sent her a text asking where she was.

“I was able to find room on a scout ship, most of my friends are on the same ship too” she sent back followed by “I think the Captain is Ranagar or something.”

Once in space the enemy ships tracked the escaping transports but the forces of Vice Admiral Donnelly intercepted them. Even though his ships were far fewer and less advanced than the mighty Nosrin fleet, they kept them busy long enough for the transports to get far enough to go into deep drive.

Once they entered Deep Drive, Simeon Kitts let out a deep breath in relief. It would take months to reach where they were headed, but decades would pass out there outside of Deep-Drive-Space. He went up toward the command deck of the cruiser and found the Prince huddled with the Captain of the cruiser and others.

“Where are we going, anyway?” Simeon asked.

A holographic projection told him the answer. “A recently settled world, a very small colony-fewer than our fleet is carrying, called Montoya.”


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Short Story: Orbital PD: Show My Good Side

Orbital PD:
Show My Good Side

“I'm a cop. My beat covers the whole world, but way up here in orbit. That is a lot of territory to cover and there aren't that many police officers to go around. Of course, I wouldn't trade my job for anything” Lieutenant Reese Davison said to the camera being held by an older, balding man.

“and cut” the man said “Remember this is going to be a documentary seen all over Earth, I need to see some real interesting stuff during the ride-along”

Lieutenant Davison glanced toward Sergeant Manny Jones who was looking grumpy about this whole thing. Reese Davison was younger, tall and good-looking while Manny Jones was short, stout and looked like a “get off my lawn, lousy kids” type. The documentary-maker, Bruce Atkinson, was already showing favoritism toward the telegenic Davison.

They were in the main room of the OPD station, it was the mess hall and a bunch of other things, and at 60 square feet it was the biggest room by far. The bosses downstairs had decided that a documentary would be good PR for the whole operation. Manny thought that was bunk, of course.

With the camera off Manny gently floated over to his partner and stopped himself by grabbing the table, it was bolted to the floor. “How long is this going to take? We have important things to do, you know”

The chubby old man waved a hand and said “Fine, fine” as he attached his camera to a harness he wore across his chest, along with other things. He had already taken a tour of the station, Manny barely remembered to go and make sure the toilet was clean and shiny in time.

“The other teams left twenty minutes ago” Manny said, there were only three other teams “We're the last ones out”.

“Is there a call?” the man asked, Manny wondered if the camera on the mans chest was still on and decided to play nice for the sake of PR.

“Yes, Beverly – our dispatcher- has an assignment for us. It seems that one of the religious sects has been preventing one of its members from leaving” Manny told him, looking at the camera “That..” he said dramatically “... is kidnapping & imprisonment!”

Lieutenant Davison was watching this with bemused interest but he had to put an end to this just in case Manny was going to keep going “Okay, lets suit up and roll out”

All three put on the suits, the two OPD officers had the gold crest on their shoulders and chest while their guest had to wear the green and white “reserve suit”. Then they floated down through the tunnel and into the airlock connecting to their ship.

It looked like a clone of the old Space Shuttles but smaller and it had a red and blue light bar on top and a spotlight of its own. It said POLICE on the side and OPD on the tail. Theirs was “car #2”. Bruce Atkinson was impressed and got recordings from inside of the ship as they moved away from the station, turned and rocketed away.

“Lieutenant Reese Davison, 36, originally from Belmont, NY. What made you want to become a police officer in orbit?” their guest asked.

“Well, when I was a kid I witnessed a crime. I told the honest-to-God truth to my parents, to the cops, to the judge but the guy got off light, too light. The cops weren't happy about that but they pulled up their sleeves and went back to work. I liked that commitment, I liked the fact that even an injustice in the system makes them want real justice even more” Reese said

“So, you want to bring justice to space?”

“Oh, not like that. I just needed to stay away from Belmont for a while after I helped catch a fellow cop who beat the perp to a pulp. So I joined the OPD!” he said with a dazzling smile for the camera. Manny wanted to be sick but he grinned and bore it.

Then Bruce Atkinson, still frowning and shaking his head about something pointed the camera at Manny, causing him to perk up. “Is there any special event or desire that brings you to join the OPD, Sergeant Manny Jones?”

Manny closed his eyes and said “ah..” as if he had to think about it “I wouldn't call it special, I came out here because there are less people per squared mile than anywhere on Earth. I really dislike people and crowds... and children – more than one in a room at the same time really”

Bruce looked flabbergasted. He probably wondered if he could even use the footage.

Soon enough Reese got to say “We are approaching the religious sects station now”

Manny picked up the communications device and said “Beverly, this is Car 2, we are approaching the location now, over”

Through static the voice of the woman responded “Why in the -sshhhhsss- are you telling me that?”

“Roger that” Manny said putting it back down “Just dock it, I am not doing a space-walk today”

Bruce got video of the station it was the kind that revolved and gave the occupants some gravity, not as much as on Earth, but some. They also could see that one end of the spinning part was a dome with a large tree inside.

“Dang tree hugging witches” Manny grumbled

“That sounds pretty offensive” Bruce told him “Why would you say that, I might have been recording!”

“Wha... no, you need to understand” Manny said “That is their religion, the Seventh Day Ba'Hai Wiccan Church of Gaia. They literally worship that tree that is in that dome”

So car #2 docked with the religious sect's space station and the air-lock wasn't blockaded or anything, so they entered just fine. They were escorted from the weightless environment of the center up a spoke to the opposite end of where the dome was. Now they had about 0.6g of gravity and were told to wait in small room that had couches around a coffee table, and no room for anything else.

After a minute of waiting a gray-haired woman wearing a white robe with purple trim entered and sat on the white couch opposite the officers.

“What can I do for you, officers?” she asked nicely “Can I get you some tea?”

“No, no” Manny said “We are here to look into a case. It has been reported that a girl is being kept here against her will”

“Ridiculous” the woman said, not looking at all surprised or alarmed by what he said “No-one is kept against their will in our community, you must mean the problem child Naomi. She's just sore that she isn't a good student of... our ways. She can't memorize the catechism to save her own hide.”

Lt Reese Davison decided to take over the talking. “Ma'am”

“My title is Nature Mother” she told them

“Nature Mother, Ma'am, we will have to see and talk to Naomi before we can leave” he told her “We have standard procedures in cases like this”

“This is impossible” the woman said “Naomi is at her prayers”

The two cops looked at each other for a second. Davison asked “How long will that take?”

The woman sighed “She is meditating, in prayer to the life force of the Tree of Life. She must pray to the four winds and for every season. It could take another ten hours”

The filmmaker choked to cover up a sarcastic chuckle. “Pardon me, Nature Mother, may the peace of a quiet sun keep you always warm, but I happen to know a little something of your faith and there is no way the Sa-Christal Prayer takes anywhere near that much time”

The woman seemed a little surprised but then smiled “We are an off-shoot, a branching, of the sect you are referring to. Some of our ways are different”

Sergeant Manny Jones stood up and announced “If you do not deliver this girl, Naomi, within the hour we will tow your station from this spot to near our base, then we will have a dozen officers do a thorough search of the whole complex. Including the dome”

This shocked her “No one outside of the faith is allowed in the dome!”

Manny nodded “That doesn't matter to us. We have to respect your faith, but if you are keeping us from seeing someone who has been reported held against their will, we won't hesitate to pick apart the whole station to find her.”

Bruce Atkinson reached out and picked up the offered glass of tea, a little cooled now, and took a sniff before shaking his head. “Naughty, naughty. Your ways aren't so different from your Earth-bound brethren after all” the man laughed “Seems to have a trace of a certain mild opiate in this tea. Did you think we wouldn't notice?”

She harrumphed and left the room.

“I said I knew a little about their faith” the man said checking his camera “I hope there is a happy ending, this would be good for the show. When she looked surprised about cops going into the dome it rung a bell, must be where they grow that stuff”

“You recorded all this?” Manny asked “You'll need to make me a copy in case this goes to court”

“I'd be glad to” Lt Reese Davison said “Now let's find Naomi and get out of here”

They went into the corridor and started moving around, looking into doors and hatches.

“By the way, you realize that particular stuff in the tea isn't illegal up here, right?” Manny asked Bruce as he filmed them searching the premises.

“But it is supposed to be banned by their faith” he answered “Getting caught is what they consider a sin”

The woman reappeared with a tall, muscular man who had the wrist of a girl in her late teen in his grip. The man did not look at all happy but his blue robe was clean and vibrant, so that is always a plus, appearance gets you points.

“This is Naomi” the woman said “She tells me she has just decided to leave the community, so you can take her away if you want. She's nothing but trouble”

The man let her go and gave her a small shove towards the officers.

“Just leave in peace, child” the woman said without a bit of sincerity. So they left without saying a word until they were back in the ship.

“Are you all right?” Manny asked the girl

“I'm okay, just get me away from here” she told them “I should never have come here”

Davison disengaged the docking and turned the ship toward the station. The man making the documentary asked Naomi “Now that you are out of that place, what will you be doing with yourself?”

She shook her head “I'm not sure”

Manny bent over and whispered “Say you want to be a cop like the heroes who rescued you”

Naomi thought for a second “But she said the man with the camera had them figured out, she only said you cops were too dense to understand anything”

Bruce had filmed that too, he had a big smile.

“Just make sure you get my good side” Manny Jones told him.

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