Saturday, October 31, 2015

Short Story: Dark Envoy




Dark Envoy

by Floyd Looney
 

The fang-shaped black craft moved silently through space toward the moons of Rarvis, the third world in this solar system. The lone occupant of the vessel expected to be challenged at any time by the defense forces of Rarvis, but he had gotten a lot closer than he thought possible before being noticed.

Assuming they hadn't noticed was the flaw, of course. The Sartorian wasn't going to make the mistake of thinking Rarvis would be that easy a target. In fact he would assume they had been tracking him the entire time since dropping out of transit-space.

The phrase 'moons of Rarvis', while technically accurate, was a misnomer. There was one large moon hanging about but there were dozens of small ones keeping position with the big one while orbiting Rarvis. The Sartorian's passive sensors noted that there were indeed sensors embedded on most of these smaller rocks.

Now there was no doubt they were monitoring him. The defense systems on the large moon had not activated because they may have identified him already. That would be a bit disconcerting, unless they were not alarmed because it was just the lone ship. The Sartorian assumed they would never make that kind of mistake; just because you only detect one does not mean it is alone.

Old habits die hard and the Sartorian grinned. He wasn't here as a scout for the Great Fleet of Sarto, he was a civilian now, he was the Envoy.

Sarto Vessel, Envoy Malok. We have been expecting you, please set in the follow coordinates and follow the traffic control beam to the appointed landing site.” The communication burst had bluntly said.

As his ship passed the small moon he was finally contacted by the Rarvis security forces. The first communication told him they knew exactly who and what he was. How they had come by this information was a mystery. How his appointment as Envoy had reached them before his arrival was unnerving. Not just spies, but very fast and competent spies at that.

The Sartorians and Rarvisians were new allies. Although the relationship between the worlds was still quite rocky and tentative, it seemed to Malok that the Rarvisians might actually be worthy. Sure, he would look for any weakness that might be exploited, for those are the pitfalls of diplomacy. He would try to make peace and trade while looking for any way that Sartorians could come and take over.

The Rarvisians would no doubt be doing the same with Sarto because this was the expected path of diplomacy among all the known worlds. An Envoy was a diplomat, a spy and a possible enemy all in one. No world allow foreign worlds to have permanent diplomats and would never in a million cycles declare even a tokan of land to be foreign sovereign territory.

The ship followed the beam in. Malok found his ship moving over the expansive capitol city of Rarvis, mostly white and gray buildings of various size. He had learned nothing about their military abilities but they had shown off their intelligence gathering abilities. That arrogance seemed to be very contrary to the regular nature of Rarvisians. It could be some kind of warning that Sarto shouldn't take them lightly.

The landing site was a spaceport within the city. Possibly the city had grown and expanded around it over a long time. His vessel was moved to a parking location far from any other ship, of which only a few were in evidence.

Surface vehicles were parked nearby and he could see black-suited soldiers patrolling the area for possible saboteurs, rebels or dragoons from his own ship. The security forces seemed competent but sparse enough not be threatening. He could see a black turreted vessel in the distance.

A trio of white-robed people near a large-ish ground vessel walked halfway to his ship and stopped, as per protocol. He set the ship to explode if boarded and then left to greet the dignitaries who would accompany him to meet the leaders of Rarvis.

Envoy Malok, I am Torin, the Grandee of the High Assembly. These are Minister of Stellar Semian and the Personal Secretary of the Arch himself, Garja.”

The three Rarvisians were of the light-green variation and their scales were flush with their bodies and looked seamless. Almost an entirely different look from the average Rarvisian who were obvious reptilians. Maybe the idea that better looking people were more likely to get ahead was true even here.

The vehicle was comfortable enough but he couldn't see much of the city since it flew over the buildings and streets below. Soon it was setting down at a grand palace, the well-appointed and manicured grounds surrounded by high walls with towers.

Did the Rarvisian leaders fear their own people? That would be the sort of information that Sarto's Ministry of Intelligence would like to know. Malok wanted to be able to walk the streets, see the people and their conditions. Find out how if the government here was oppressive and by how much. Obviously every strong world needed to be a bit oppressive, but there was a point where this became a negative fr everyone.

He was greeted by other functionaries, exchanged pleasantries, at the palace and then followed them inside to meet the Arch himself. None of them would bring up the fact that they all knew who he was and that he had been appointed as Envoy. He wondered how much they knew about him. If they had send the information by trans-space probe at the time he was appointed, they might have had little time to do much research on his past.

If he could figure out where the holes in their knowledge of him, Malok might be able to use it to his advantage. This could be interesting.

The Personal Secretary of the Arch himself bowed to them and said he would inform his majesty that the Envoy had arrived. This was all protocol, the Arch had probably known since the second the vessel had landed at the palace.

The Rarvisians were putting up a front, that much was obvious to Malok. The more they continued this charade the more suspicious he would become. Malok rubbed his nose to hide a grin, it probably wasn't possible to get more cynical than what was needed to be an Envoy.

Besides the grim-faced soldier at the door, all the Rarvisians present were well-aged with the lighter shade of green and smooth features most desired on their world. He wondered how many of them were undergoing operations to keep their desirable features from fading.

Torin, who headed the High Assembly looked confident and in charge. This wasn't the Grand Assembly, this was not his turf. His casual manners, from what Malok knew of their kind, was pretty rude. Leaning back on the red couch and drinking a mix of vegetable juice and bugs while everyone was supposed to wait for the Arch to enter.

Possibly this Torin fellow was the real power or part of it on this world. Then again, maybe he had always been a slob. The Minister of Stellar, named Semian, seemed like an oaf. His only real job was appointing and receiving Envoys and overseeing the bureaucracy of their filings and reports. The blank stare of that one would indicate that he was someone else's puppet.

Rarvis could be exactly what they pretended but Malok was doubting that more by the moment. Finally the large double door on the far side of the room opened and two soldiers walked in and took places on either side. The Arch's Private Secretary entered and addressed the room.

The Arch of Rarvis himself.”

Malok noted that Torin was the last to stand, and he stood up slowly. He still held the drink near his chest. The man was being totally disrespectful for the occasion.

The Arch entered. Malok flinched but caught himself. This Rarvisian was emaciated, his head hung down in front of him as if the cape of office were far heavier than it looked. The others applauded his entrance, except for Torin, and Malok joined them.

This is the Envoy from Sarto, your highness.” The Private Secretary said, indicating Malok. The old Rarvisians head nodded and his glassy eyes darted around the room as he held out a hand. Malok took his hand and bowed.

I am called Malok. I have been appointed as the Envoy to your world, your highness.” He said as flowery as he could, noting that Talon had a derisive sneer on his face. No matter how many species he met, that derisive sneer always seemed to be the same as if it was the one constant in the universe.

I am pleased to make your acquaintance.” The Arch said in a whispery voice. “Let us sit down.”

Malok and the Arch sat on couches on opposite sides of a table but close together. The others sat around their leader, Torin sat on the arm on a chair on the far end.

You must have come to finalize the agreement between our two worlds.” The Private Secretary said and when Malok nodded his assent, it was whispered into the ear of the Arch. Torin was looking on with the look of a Ren about to feast on a fat field mog. That alone made Malok want to tear up the treaty and go home.

This treaty obligates both worlds to support one another in cases of attack by the Raxis.” Malok said, “They being the strongest and most malevolent species in the section. The treaty also opens up trade in certain agreed-upon goods and industries between our worlds. Who isn't always seeking new markets?”

“We must include the Minister of Protection and the Minister of the Mercantile in this meeting.” The Arch said and then had a coughing fit. The Private secretary patted his back and then wiped the elderly Arch's mouth with a cloth napkin. None of the others seemed shocked by the convulsion but rather looked to see Malok's reaction. He kept his face impassionate.

“I don't think that is necessary, your highness. The treaty has already been negotiated to the satisfaction of all involved. All that remains is your imprimatur. It's all ceremony and formality.” Torin broke in to add to the conversation, “Just sign it.”

The blue carpet was well worn. The decorations on the walls were in no particular order but their locations made Malok uncomfortable. The fact that he was not allowed to see the city before coming to the palace had been a minor thing, but now he was truly curious as to what was being hidden.

The frail Arch was an obvious figurehead who seemed almost clueless as to what was going on. This Torin person was the one running the show from the safety of his own office.

“Yes, your highness, it only needs to be signed.” Malok said, but then stood up. All eyes were on the Envoy as he crossed the room and removed a big painting from the wall. Nobody voiced an objection. Envoys had a lot of leeway. There were burn marks and projectile holes. He nodded and put the painting back.

“Would it be accurate to suggest that your economy is in shambles? The masses rebellious? That your defense forces that tracked me easily, might not have taken off to meet me as easily? That while your spies seem confident, the world I have been presented with is all a front?” Malok asked, the face of the Personal Secretary, Garja, looked away. The Grandee of the High Assembly glared at him with an iron face.

The Arch and the Minister of Stellar barely seemed to notice that questions had been asked. The other officials mingling in the background just watched.

“True enough.” Torin said.

“I suspected as much.” Malok said, turning towards the Grandee. “I want you to tell me the truth. I see too much front and little else. If you expect Sarto to come to your economic and military aid, we'll have to know how bad it is.”

“Our poor planet is an easy target for Raxis, should they decide to strike. Rarvis would become part of their empire without a doubt.” Torin answered. “It is in the interest of your world to keep that from happening.”

“My world would expect concessions if we are to feed you and park ships here.” Malok informed them, “There is a price for everything.”

Torin put the drink on a table and crossed his arms. “What price?”

“Sarto would allow you to retain your own government, although the figurehead would need replaced with the real local power.” Malok said looking into Torin's eyes. “We would need access to natural resources if we are expected to feed you and provide technical assistance to your farms. We would need to be able to train your soldiers before we would trust them with our advanced weapons. We'll let you keep down the rebellions on your own.”

“Still better than what the Raxis would do to us.” Garja said loud enough to be heard.

“Of course, the Raxis are monsters with starships. We Sartorians deal in reality, and the facts are that we must be able to put up a viable threat or the Raxis will strike. The stronger Sarto is and the more allies we have the more peaceful it is.” he told them. Then he smiled. “This is to the benefit of every one.”

Soon enough he was riding a ground vehicle through the dark streets of the decrepit city towards the executive spaceport. He was mentally formulating his report along the way. One of his most urgent things was to find and execute those spying for Rarvis. They were far too effective to be allowed to delve any deeper.

Too deep and it would cause problems. It would not for these subjugated worlds to learn that Raxis was also their puppet. It was working far too well to be allowed to crumble now.

END

---------------------

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Second Front: Chapter Eleven - Running Men


Prologue
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three  
Chapter Four 
Chapter Five 
Chapter Six 
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight  
Chapter Nine 
Chapter Ten




 


Chapter Eleven
Running Men

The four men ran for the gate. They carried packs, but not very heavy ones. The heaviest things they carried were the 50 caliber guns and the grenade launcher. The suits they wore were more restricting than the weight. They hadn't really noticed before this point, but the suits and life support systems had not been designed for combat.

Lt Max “Action” Jackson first felt something tear in the groin area, the suit loosened up noticeably. Sgt Frank Gore felt something like that under his right arm, his armpit felt aired out. Thankfully the helmets were sealed completely separate from the rest of the suits. The bulky alien armor shell that had been sewed into the suits was being felt.

They also saw presumably confused faces of the aliens looking out windows and doorways at them as they ran past. There were loud noises behind them, enemy soldiers that had entered a bunker for safety during the launch were now coming back out. That put them between the humans and the closing gate.

Lt Kim Lu-Hyun out of habit checked the view from the drone above them. He was the first to notice the approach of one of the large robotic tanks. It was obviously trying to reach the gate before they did.

Sgt Frank Gore yelled a growling noise as he opened up on the stunned aliens with his heavy machine gun, hardly slowing down in the process. The belt-fed gun did some damage before the aliens scattered for cover and began returning fire. Lt Jackson fired off some grenades toward those hiding places.

Then nothing.

Click, click, click... Sgt Gore's gun ran out of ammunition while a cursing Lt Jackson noted that he had also emptied the M-32 launcher. Lt Peter Lowery fired off several 50 caliber rounds from his lighter rifle while the four of them took cover behind a rock wall between what looked like two shops.

Timing is everything!” A sweaty and worried-looking Lt Jackson joked, digging into his pack for spare grenades. They hadn't been prepared for this. There had been no time, of course, for a proper briefing but they should have sent more ammunition.

We're not going to make it.” Lowery said, “The gate is closed.”

Then again, it wasn't completely closed. That would help explain why everyone headed into the columns and bunkers at launch time.

We might be able to squeeze out.” Kim Lu-Hyun told them, “We just need to get out before that robotic tank gets here.”

No rest for the weary.” Sgt Gore lamented already rising back into a crouch, readying to run again. “This is my last belt of ammo.”

They were less than fifty yards from being outside. The suit-less, armor-less soldiers or reserves hadn't put up much fight but the numbers were still on the home teams side.

The unspoken plan was just to run and shoot and get out before the walking tank arrived. It was slower than they had first thought and the pilot or driver seemed unsure of getting through the shanty-type area. Of course that had been overcome and it was now crushing the huts in the way.

Go!” Lowery shouted and the four of them took off from behind their protective wall. Jackson and Gore firing in the general area of the enemy before them. Enemy rounds were swooshing past them, sometimes glancing off the alien armor shells they wore.

After the first few seconds Kim Lu-Hyun got his hopes up. To him it looked like they might actually make it out intact. That was when one of the enemy shells smashed into his helmet and threw him off balance. His little HUD screen was gone, the faceplate was cracked like a spiderweb and he could hardly see anything as he climbed back to his feet as more shots seemed to target him, some deflected by the alien armor.

A round tore through his right forearm, he felt something kick him in the ribs behind here the armor protected him. Still he saw the slight opening in the gate and the three other humans in front of him who were almost there.

Gore turned and sprayed rounds at the enemy to Lu-Hyun's left while Jackson threw down the grenade launcher and unslung his own machine gun. The two Americans had stopped and were firing instead of trying to get out as fast as possible. Then he saw the Englishman tearing the armored carapace from the front of his suit.

The opening was too narrow to slide through with the armor. “Aish,” he thought to himself, not another complication. Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered there was a nuclear device about to explode in the vicinity. He needed to be outside and away from the gate when that detonated with a wall of rock between them.

Lt Kim Lu-Hyun hit the gate and bounced off. Lowery had shed his armored piece, tearing parts of the suit where it had been sewed on. Then Peter Lowery turned to help the Korean and paused. Lu-Hyun knew that was caused by the surprise Lowery must have had from seeing his condition. After a moments hesitation Lowery worked quickly to tear off the armor from Lu-Hyun's suit.

Somewhere in his mind Kim Lu-Hyun noted that somehow the suits had only been sewed three ayers deep in the five layer suit. The possibility of them needing to be pulled off must have occurred to someone along the line. Or maybe it was coincidence.

Lu-Hyun felt himself pulled and then pushed. He was being pushed sideways through the narrow gap, but it was a tight fit until Lowery put a boot on Lu-Hyun's hip and kicked him through. Kim Lu-Hyun was outside, on the ground staring at the dirt for a long moment before trying to push himself into a sitting position.

Instead of seeing an empty expanse of dirt, rocks and mountains he was dwarfed by the towering rockets arrayed before him. Suddenly he wondered if it was just as dangerous outside than inside, thinking of twenty Saturn rockets launching at the same time. He was just way too close.

He turned back to see Lowery and Sgt Gore pulling Lt Jackson through. Lt Max Jackson was the biggest amongst them and the life support pack, although small, made the difference. He would have to take it off from its mount. They were reasonably sure the air was safe to breathe. It was likely that germs and whatever else were dead on the surface after being frozen while basically exposed to space for so long.

They had also decided not to risk it unless they had to.

Once it was off they had to move away from the gate. They wanted to get as much wall between themselves and the explosion as they could. The compact nuclear device they had brought was comparable to the one used on Nagasaki that pretty much ended the Second World War. In an enclosed space it should kill anything whether by the explosion or radiation. It might be like a microwave oven in there.


Out of time.” James Arlen breathlessly said to himself repeatedly as he ran. Making tracks across the top of the plateau that concealed an alien city, the slightly acrid air. Arlen considered throwing off the suit, but decided it would take too much time. He had to reach the ship. James had to get there before the explosion. The plateau could collapse inward because of the detonation. His hope was that the ship would be pushed off the side of the plateau and the para-glider wing would cushion the impact onto the valley below.

It felt like he was in a frozen desert as he ran. Being able to feel the air on his face and hear the wind with his own ears made this all real. He stopped near a large boulder, as big as a diesel big rig waiting for a trailer, and got his breath. Some little voice in the back of his mind was continuously assuring him that there were no bad germs and he would be okay. Lt Arlen laughed out loud that he hadn't noticed this particular little voice's running commentary in his head before.

The ship was right there. Not even the length of a football field away. Some other part of his mind tried to tell him that this was pointless. That even if the ship was thrown into the air and the para-wing worked, there was still a good chance it'd plummet down with the top of the plateau should it all collapse. He didn't care. That ship was built on Earth and it felt like he was safer there. If he was going to die in the nuclear detonation, let it be in a human-built coffin.


Yes, they had known it was a suicide mission when they signed up. Earth was being devastated by aliens and this was a chance to hit back. It was normal that even in the most dire situation humans would cling to a thread that they might be saved, even when surrendering to the end. The afterlife, reincarnation, Valhalla, heaven were all manifestations of this. How many dead heroes, soldiers, cops, firefighters and the like thought they would live through an impossible situation? Would they have rushed in otherwise?

Sgt Frank Gore had gotten out of the underground city, he and the others moved away from it by following the wall of rock that made up the outside of the plateau. Getting away from the blast was the hope of this. When atomic bombs had dropped on Japan at the end of the Second World War, there were people who survived through the protection of much flimsier stuff. Even while people were turned into shadows on the concrete outside, being behind or underneath a thin layer of dirt or wood had saved others.

Now that he had probably escaped death by the nuclear detonation Frank Gore was looking out at a small forest of giant rockets, each as big as the Saturn-V. Each of them full of explosive fuel and he was protected from them by nothing.

Out of the frying pan...” he told himself. The others were probably having the same thoughts and nobody said anything. The nuclear weapon would explode at any time, assuming the aliens had not taken it apart or rendered it moot somehow.

The blast doors will keep those from being knocked over, right?” Lt Lowery asked their resident nerd.

Kim Lu-Hyun sort of nodded. “I think so. The radiation should ruin their electronics so they can't be launched.”

Those rockets are carrying the next wave, we don't even know who or what's in them.” Lt Jackson said, “Could be carrying their best soldiers for all we know. The guards in the city could be their Barney Fife's, while their real terminators are out here with us.”

Kim Lu-Hyun sat down, his back to the plateau wall. “If the city is destroyed they won't have anyone who can pull them back in and get them down. Those final stages might be designed with a pad abort system but the electronics on those are probably fried too. Probably.”

Lt Peter Lowery began looking around for the best way out of the area, should they stay on the low ground or climb up one of the mountains? If there were alien soldiers in those ships and they were able to dismount the rockets, the four of them would not stand much of a chance.

Fighting was out, they had no more ammunition. The “backpack” nuke had been their real weapon, everything else had been a rush because the robot swarm had been closing in on the launchpad. The team of six escaped from that to reach Nemesis, now there were four. Arlen was on the top of the Plateau, but his death was almost certain, Lowery thought.

I'd like to eat some real food one more time.” Jackson said.

I didn't get the chance to say bye to my ex-girl. I wanted to rub it in.” Gore told them with a laugh at the end. “I'm not exactly very romantic.”

If there had been time, I would have visited my parents graves.” Kim Lu-Hyun said, looking at his knees pulled up to his face.

Peter Lowery suddenly realized he did have a regret. “I never went to an amusement park. I would have gone to Blackpool. I heard it was destroyed by a swarm.”

You came here in the biggest roller coaster ever!” Lt Jackson said, slapping Lowery's shoulder, “After this, no amusement park is going to work.”

To their left a blinding light erupted through the tiny faults in the blast doors, the ground shook enough that all of them sat on the ground. The noise of the blast and the rumbling was deafening. The air pressure changed and everything suddenly felt very warm.

Sgt Gore peeked out to watch the nearest alien rocket gently swaying high above them.

-----------------To Be Continued

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Short Story: The Keepers


I'm back! Sorry about that absence, it was totally unintentional. I will continue adding to Second Front ASAP. The next chapter is half-way there. In the meantime here is a short story that seems to be part of another, longer story. Maybe one as long as civilisation itself....



The Keepers


by Floyd Looney




At the end of my long voyage I had reached my destination. The real quest was just getting started. In front of me was an enormous edifice. A building with wings jutting out in star-burst pattern from a central dome. It was probably the largest building left standing after the cataclysm. It had been untouched.

An etched sign against the wall said: Academic Matriculation Center.

I entered the foyer and removed my breathing apparatus and my heavy cloak. I hung these on hooks arrayed against one wall, mine were not the only ones so hung. There were dozens. It might be that some of these cloaks and suits had been hanging here for decades.

After that was finished I approached the broad double-doors. An elderly man with a long white beard in white robes with purple trim was standing there waiting for me. He was at ease and patient as if he had all the time in the world.

I approached him and gave a small bow, he tilted his head forward and closed his head. At his age, I supposed, this was a bow.

“My name is Joseph.” I said, to introduce myself, “I have come a long way to see this.”

He nodded slowly in understanding, but barely moving his head a centimeter or two. Still I felt like he also pitied me, all in just that movement.

“Follow me.” He said as he turned around, the double doors opened wide by themselves, though they looked like ordinary wooden doors on ordinary ancient hinges. I followed him out of the cloak room and into a wide corridor.

I had assumed there would be rooms on either side but this was all open space. Against the walls on their side were bookshelves, filled with books. Invaluable books, a treasure on any world. So many books in one place made me gasp. These shelves were separated by tall white marble columns and divided from me by low white benches that also looked like marble.

“Each section of the bookshelves are divided by subject. This is why they are not all the same size.” The elderly man said without looking back as we walked.

I was wondering why there was so much open space when I saw four younger people and an older person sitting in chairs in the corridor facing the bookshelves. None of them had crossed the benches to get one of the precious tomes though. Instead a holographic image projected above the bench where a scientist was conducting a chemistry experiment.

Keeping knowledge alive was the only purpose of this place. Only the people who really wanted to learn were accepted here. Those who did not want to learn would not stay anyway. There would be no real reason for them to stick around. Well, it was clean and they were fed, this alone brought many to pretend to want to learn. Very few stay long.


Our footsteps echoed in this place to my ears, but I was assured by the documentation that the sound does not carry far at all. The people sitting and learning could not hear me walking by even if I stomped, some of the rumors said. I did not test this theory.

Soon enough we reached the end of this hall. The double-doors opened for the elderly man and I followed into the largest room I had ever seen. It was as large as a stadium. A museum of the human race spread out across it, or more accurately the museum of humanity did.

“Come along, if you want to hear the answer to your question, Joseph.” The old man said. I followed a few steps behind but I marveled at the statues, the art and the ancient machinery that had been kept in good condition. As I watched youngsters, watched over by a woman, started up a steam-driven printing press.

Unfortunately we arrived at the next set of double doors before I could take it all in and they shut behind us. Again I was in a large hall, like a temple, with both walls lined with books. I could see groups of people sitting and watching holographic depictions of history.

“We are biased toward teaching history without bias. We try, although we might err occasionally.” The old man said, an amused lilt to his voice, although I had asked no question. The man seemed to know the reason I had come here, although that should be impossible. Yet, I followed precisely because I thought he knew where I needed to be.

“How did you know..?” I said when he finally stopped and approached one of the benches.

He seemed to grin under his facial here. “It is a question that many have sought the answers to, Joseph, but most find that they wished they hadn't. The ones that stay choose to learn about unrelated subjects, seemingly to make themselves forget. This is futile of course.”

I nodded. “There are ways to erase memories, but they are not delicate nor subtle.”

He waved his hand above the white marble bench and a holographic menu appeared, it waited for someone to give it a command.

“This is the only alcove in all the complex devoted to the topic, Joseph. Do you wonder why something that destroyed human civilization would be given such little space or prominence?” He asked me. Then it occurred to me that we were at the far end of the Hall of History, right up against the wall and a hidden emergency exit. It was one of the smallest bookshelves a well.

I knew the answer. Like many, nay most everyone, I had pushed the facts away. I had wished it away and went on with my life. I had rejected it. It hurt to hear the question, my heart pounded, my stomach lurched and my eyes watered.

“People do not want to know.” I answered with a halting breath. I breathed deep, like one might do after crying. I rub my eyes, making the tears go away.

“Why is that, Joseph?” The friendly, wise old man asked. He was unaffected by this, he had lived through this countless times, he knew what to expect. I felt it, the urge to lash out at him. As if this were fault, as if the feelings and emotions pouring into me...

That was wrong. They were pouring out of me. This was not some external pressure I was feeling, this was all from inside. Tears were flowing unimpeded now. I was looking down at the space between him and me, gasping, lip quivering and wanting to think about anything but this. Like a child outside of the operating room not wanting to know the fate of his mother inside, but knowing already.

We humans already know what we don't want to know. We want it to go away. I wanted it to go away.

“Why, Joseph?” The man asked again, ever impatient and calm.

I wiped my nose and tears. I did not want to look at him. I did not want to see the new images on the screen. I had saw them and rejected them already. They were part of the human DNA now, since the Burgeoning. Since humans had done whatever needed to be done to survive and to flee the awful truth.

“We did it.” I said, “We all did it. Even though I wasn't but a baby, I did it as much as anyone. We did it all through history. Over and over we failed to hold it in check. Over and over we have sought to forget the truth and run away from it and we killed those who knew...”

He was quiet.

“We all did it. Every time civilization collapsed, we rallied just enough to start building again. Then we got to think ourselves better than that. We never were, we never were.” I said, sobbing. I was sitting on the floor now.

“Why Joseph?” he asked, images of atrocities playing out behind him. “But why?”

Even if I admitted it, what would it change? I wouldn't be able to live amongst the new worlds knowing that I was wasn't like everyone else. Why had I come here? Why had I wanted to delve into the collapse of Earth? Why had I wanted to see what had caused the greatest suffering in history?

When I really knew it all along. Buried deep, deep inside.

“We're animals. We're not born innocent. We're never innocent. We are animals, the worst beasts that ever walked the Earth and the hundred worlds. Humans are not intrinsically good. Our default is greed and selfishness. Only with our minds and souls can we hope to control this.” I said, drained of energy I just lay on the floor.

It was cool. Quiet. I wanted to sleep but the nightmares had already arrived.

“2109 A.D.” the old man spoke up, and sounding a little preachy continued, “The human race finally did it. Again. They rejected any and all notions of right and wrong or morality. They embraced every possible evil and carried out these evils with enthusiasm. Humans were their own Gods!, they declared, but no, they were their own devils. The death toll reached more than half the human species within a year, within two years more than eighty-five percent of the human race was dead.”

After a pause he returned to his quiet voice. “The remnant finally started to come to their senses, many still rejected of course. To their end. After seeing what they had done, the remnant closed off their minds and fled to the stars. Today, I wonder, how far away is the next collapse. And the next. For those societies who reject a higher reasoning, a higher morality and even a higher power are more dangerous than any fanatic who went off the rails.”

“But is there a God?” I asked, I begged.

“Humans need God. It is now scientifically proven.” The man answered, a twinkle in his eye. “Whether or not he exists, Joseph, humans need to believe in something more than their own base desires. Otherwise they become animals. Just a simple understanding there are things one must not do to another human being is enough, really. Yet, this is rejected over and over through time.”

I had a lot to process.

He sighed. “Joseph. Humans wish to forget it happened. They always do. Even here, this is the least used portion of the building. In the old days they built new cities and empires atop of the old ones. Today they flee to other worlds. Flee from their own animal nature. Even those who ever think about it will lie to themselves that it can never happen again.”

“I'm not sure.”

He pointed at the holographic screen. I winced. Images of people tearing apart babies and covering themselves in blood during an orgy-rave.

“People become monsters. Evil becomes passé and a higher and worse evil is sought to quell their base desires. People need a reason to be civilized and over time these reasons are removed one by one, in the name of 'freedom' or 'fun' or any number of other things. It will happen. It will happen again and again and we can do nothing but fight it. Fight it like a candle in the night.”

I bury my face in my hands. It's hard to accept. The horrible evidence is everywhere. It is still fresh, even if humanity has declared it to be unthinkable.

“Are you asking me to...” I take a breath “Go to the worlds and spread the gospel of civilization?”

“I am asking, is that what you feel you should do?” he answered, and sat on the bench. Above him a blood-covered woman was cutting off her own arm screaming, “It's my body!”

He was right. “What is your name?” I finally asked.

He smiled and shrugged. “Just call me what every one else does; Dad.”

END

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Short Story: Gray Tigers

Gray Tigers

A short story



Planet Denen 3, 2188

The grim reality of the situation was that he never saw a person under 30 in town. The situation must be getting worse because the people he saw out and about were getting older and older. Roger Talbot, 52, had retired early thanks to some fortunate and some unfortunate events. The economy was in shambles with the war.

Walking through the town center he noted the boarded up shops and the gray-haired sidewalk vendors on blankets. A woman he knew, Julia Mendez, was sitting on a blue blanket with a tray of arepa's trying to earn some money to help her children.

“I'll take a few of those, Julia.” He said, kneeling beside her. Choosing one filled with cheese, another with fried egg and a third with some kind of meat and egg.

“Thanks, Roger.” She said as she piled them on a paper plate and added a paper napkin. Times were tough all over, even if she sold everything she would only be marginally better off for the day. Roger's wife had divorced him long ago and he never bothered to remarry. Now and then he felt something for Julia but he never told her that.

“Excuse me, sir.” Someone behind him said, trying to sound polite and firm at the same time and failing. Roger turned around and stood. A woman in uniform was standing there with a palm com, a holographic screen floated above it.

“How can I help you?” He asked the woman. She had short cropped brownish hair and appeared to be wearing a dress uniform, he estimated that she was in her mid-30's.

“Yes, I'm with the Global Defense Organization's recruitment office. Have you considered signing up to serve in the war?” She asked. “What is your name?”

“Me? Roger Talbot, but I didn't think they recruited men over 50 for the war. I doubt I'd do well fighting planet to planet with all those lift-offs and landings.” He told her.

“No, not that. We have a Home Guard too. To defend this planet if it comes to being invaded by the enemy.” She told him.

That was new. He hadn't heard that the enemy even had such a capability remaining. All of the propaganda said the aliens were being pulverized and had no chance against us in space. It was reported that they would be confined to only their home world in a matter of months.

“I didn't know there was such a thing.” He answered. She took his arm and pulled him a little ways from the sidewalk vendors.

She came close and in a quiet tone said. “We don't want it getting out, but there is a chance they still have some ships and troops we don't know about. That's why we have the Home Guard. If you sign up you would be paid a little and have free meals.”

That offer probably worked for a lot of people in this economy, he thought to himself, although it smelled fishy. Why was this Home Guard thing such a secret? Why was it in need of new recruits when there were hundreds of thousands of impoverished people who would jump at the chance?

He read her name badge. “Lieutenant Melody Smith. Can I have a day to think it over and maybe get some affairs in order? I can meet you back here at noon tomorrow.”

She seemed satisfied. “Yes, that would be alright. See you then.”

The more he thought about it, the worse it sounded. Denen must be in peril if they were recruiting older men to fight. All the younger men and women were already at war in distant solar systems, leaving Denen mostly undefended. Maybe the authorities were just now recognizing this oversight.

Okay, if the government was going to be paying for his meals and he didn't need to rent the tiny closet-like apartment any more he had some things to do. Soon enough he was knocking at the shack-like house of Julia Mendez.

“Roger? What brings you here?” She asked, he could hear her kids playing inside.

This was going to sound weird, but...

“I've decided to enlist. Not as front-line soldier or anything but they still have slots for people like me n the war effort. I wanted to tell you...” He paused,

“Tell me what?” She asked, curious but at least smiling.

“While I'm in, I won't need to pay for my meals or anything. I wanted to transfer my payments over to you in the meantime.” He told her. She looked surprised and speechless.

“I mean, it would be hard to spend it before it expires. I might be away for months and the thought of all that money disappearing into nothing makes my stomach hurt.” Roger told her. Julia came outside and closed the door and gave him a hug. He hugged her back.

“I'll be leaving tomorrow.” He told her, handing her a folded piece of paper with some cash in it. “These bills expire in less than two weeks, so you need to make sure they get spent. Get little Gabriel some sandals, or something.”

“I really don't know how to thank you.” She told him.

“Well, you'll have time to think of something while I'm away.” He told her jokingly.

The next day, as he predicted the recruiter turned up with a military vehicle. It looked sort of like a boat on large wheels. There were a couple of other older men who had signed on as well ready to board.

“Lieutenant.” He asked when he had a moment close to her. “Why is the Home Guard recruiting? Seems like they would have all the hands they need.”

“I wouldn't know anything like that. You can ask the base Commander when you arrive.” She answered before walking toward the vehicle, “Okay, recruits. Up the ladder, let's get moving.”

Roger joined them after exchanging waves with Julia who was not there to sell anything for once.

East Sector Tertiary Camp

The vehicle entered through the front gates after passing maybe fifty miles of woodland. The colony of Denen hadn't reached this far yet. The front gate guards were probably in their mid-forties and both of them had laser rifles slung on their backs.

There were some uniformed soldiers jogging and exercising in a field to the left as they passed but he wasn't close enough to tell their age. Finally the vehicle stopped between some buildings, there were other military vehicles parked nearby in neat rows.

Maybe all of this was just the government being wasteful, or just giving them something to do besides puttering around. He saw some soldiers cleaning windows at a barracks and some others doing maintenance on a mobile anti-aircraft laser. All of these had gray-hair.

“Like an old folks home with guns.” He muttered to himself as he got off the vehicle and stood at attention with the other new arrivals. Someone came out of the building they were facing, he had more ribbons and shoulder stripes than the others.

“I am base Commander Falco. I know you are wondering why you are here. You are here to give support and aid to the men who fight the enemy.” The balding officer told them. “If you have military experience, even just basic training two decades ago, I want to know. It will help me assign you to your new duties. Quite possibly freeing up someone who can fight the bad guys.”

The other guys who had come with him were named Jeffery Mint and Conrad Tabor. They were bunked in the far back corner of the barracks and got to know each other some over meals and exercises. Jeffery was assigned to the kitchens, Conrad was soon an electrician (again) while Roger Talbert was assigned to the watchtower.

The watchtower turned out to be two-hundred feet tall. There was no lift attached, just a ladder made up of a single bar with alternating “branches”. Roger had to pause and catch his breath before he started climbing without looking down or up. Doing either would make his stomach spin and his head go woozy.

The man he was relieving told him the basics. He was looking for anything. Which narrowed that down really well. When he saw anything he was to use the binoculars and then zoom in until he could dismiss it as no threat or declare it a threat. If he found a threat he was to use the built-in com to address the base commander directly.

For the first five days he was always seeing birds or deer or things blown by the wind. It seemed unproductive and pointless. What happened to the high-tech sensors the military had deployed, was the Home Guard just too unimportant? Was this all busy-work? The base commander seemed to be pretty intense for a guy running an exercise center for old men.

On the sixth morning he was awake before the bugles to take a piss. He noted as he passed the bunks that several of them were empty. Roger was a bit confused. These men were not on a night-shift, they should still be in their bunks asleep. After daybreak he found the base commander observing the cleaning of his personal transport.

“I saw that several bunks in the barracks were empty this morning. Those men work days, so it is unusual for them to be gone before bugles. Has something happened?” Roger asked.

Base commander Falco waved him off. “Nothing to worry about. These things happen in war. Maybe their contract ended and they wanted to leave.”

“In the middle of the night without saying goodbye?” Roger asked, “That doesn't make much sense.”

“Don't worry about it. It's all part of wearing the uniform.” Commander Falco said, then looked at his office as another vehicle arrived. It was carrying new recruits. That was as much as he could figure before he was climbing the watchtower again.

Something was very off about this base. Roger would bring this up to Conrad and Jeffery later at the evening meal. When he did he asked, “Have you guys seen anything weird?”

“We have two fewer armored vehicles and one of the laser batteries was getting fresh batteries.” Conrad told him, “I checked over the papers on that. Seems like it's worn them out and they were only installed a few months back.”

Not only had it been used but it had been used enough to need new batteries. Out here in the middle of nowhere on a non-priority base without any of the advanced equipment like those sent to the front. All of this was confusing enough without noticing that people were going missing.

“I work in the kitchens.” Jeffery Mint said, “I wouldn't see any of that. I was doing the evening inventory yesterday, I quite clearly recorded 711 cases of ReadyMeals. This morning there were only 600 of them. As if that wasn't weird enough, by evening inventory today, it had become 645. As if they took some last night and brought some back today.”

The next morning he was back up in the watchtower. In the distance he could see some thin smoke and he got a close up view with the equipment. That clearing hadn't been there the previous day and the strange smoke, nearly completely dissipated was dark. Had there been a campfire? Nobody would come out here to do some logging.

Roger used the equipment to get the best look he could. He saw something strange and moved the camera carefully. As far as he could determine there was a military vehicle in the clearing that had been on fire. Roger doubted he was supposed to be able to see that. He didn't dare call Commander Falco or even write down the observation.

That evening at meal time he didn't disclose what he had seen to his friends. It did not stop them from telling him anything they saw.

“I worked a few minutes late on inventory when the supervisor came in and told me to stand side as some soldiers took some cases. They wouldn't tell me what was going on.” Jeffery said.

“Some of those vehicles have dents and scratches in them that weren't there the other day.” Conrad told them in a quiet voice. “They were being banged out and repainted today. None of this is in the reports.”

“Something is going on. I don't like it.” Roger told them, “If we've been invaded, why would this be kept secret?”

Jeffery and Conrad both looked at him as if the answer was obvious.

Roger Talbert had a troubled sleep. Suddenly he was being shaken and then pulled by his shirt-front out of the cot. He noticed Jeffery and Conrad had also been roused by the unfamiliar looking soldiers who hushed them and led them out of the barracks.

Falco was waiting for them next to an armored vehicle.

“We need you to take this vehicle out east-northeast for nine kilometers, chain it to a wrecked vehicle that you will tow back to base.” He told them, “Do not question these orders. Hanson, there, will man the turret gun, in case you come into contact with an enemy force.”

Roger traded confused looks with Conrad and Jeffery. Conrad would drive, Roger would take the side seat next to him. Jeffery was in the back, trying to figure out how to reload the laser rifle he had been issued.

“What is this about?” Conrad asked, “Why would they give an assignment like this to us? Does that make any sense?”

No. Not at all. Not unless they were losing this war and Denen was being invaded.

“I have no idea.” Roger answered. Suddenly the ground rose up in front of the vehicle like a blister on the skin. Then this blister popped and some sort of heavy vehicle was facing right at them. The turret opened fire as Jeffery jumped out the back and ran.

The other vehicle also began firing. The first shots put a hole in the military vehicle and exploded in the cockpit. When Roger was able to stand up and open his eyes, Conrad Tabor was fried to a crisp in the seat.

The turret above him exploded and blood splattered down around him. Roger decided that Jeffery was the one to follow. He turned and ran out of the back of the vehicle just as the other vehicle emitted a laser so bright that the dead of night looked like the sun had gone nova. Roger couldn't help but look back in time to see the armored vehicle literally melt.

Denen had been invaded. It might be a small invasion, since this was taking so long, but they were here without a doubt.

Roger entered the woods instead of staying on the dirt road and he found a nice ditch to hide in when he thought he heard enemy forces around. Instead he saw military drones fly over his position and then there were more armored vehicles arriving.

He made his way to them and one of them stopped. Commander Falco was at the hatch. “Get in! The battle is joined and we Gray Tigers have a chance at glory!”

The man was nuts, but he was the boss. Roger climbed aboard.

“Now what?”

--------------------

Just a little story that came to me when I was sleeping. That was about all I had when the dog's whining woke me up.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Second Front- Chapter Ten

Prologue
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three  
Chapter Four 
Chapter Five 
Chapter Six 
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight  
Chapter Nine








Chapter Ten
Survival

Alien activity in much of North America has been curtailed. Of course much of the US had been leveled by the swarms. Industrial areas and infrastructure seemed to have been particular targets of the swarms in addition to cities. Society had pretty much broken down. Foreign nations that still had some way to contact the US government, what there was left of it, were asking for assistance.

The President wiped his face again. He had woke up too early and was now sitting in the compartment on Air Force One that served as his office. The Secretary of Defense sat across from him in what had become his normal seat. There was only one issue that mattered now: the invasion.

The Secretary of State was standing by the doorway in the cramped space trying to do his as a diplomat, knowing full well how futile this was likely to be.

It will take time to send assistance to many parts of the world. Our experts are explaining to them how they might cause EMP's, but most countries are no longer organized enough to pull off even basic counter-attacks.” The Secretary of Defense was answering the top diplomat, “Frankly, even putting my people on the phone with most of the world is a waste of resources.”

The Secretary of State nodded. “I have tried to explain that the US is just as devastated as anyone else in this situation. Just because we have beaten back the invasion by the skin of our teeth, some think we have the capability of projecting that.”

The Defense Secretary shifted in his uncomfortable seat. “We are working on that. We might be able to deploy some EMP lasers on naval carrier aircraft in a few days. We are still keeping them as far offshore as we can right now.”

The President spoke up. “I want to get off this plane. The American people are not going to feel that the situation is improving while I stay airborne.”

I'm not sure that's a good idea, yet. There was major damage in DC, you know.” The Defense Secretary told him. “Trying to get you back in the White House will inconvenience more people than anything. This is not the time to worry about PR. The war is not over, I don't think people should be allowed to forget that.”

The President sighed and addressed the Secretary of State, “Tell them we'll have that help on the way as soon as possible. Send in that space guy.”

Stan Jeffords entered and stood near the doorway. “Yes, sir?”

Stan, any new develops on Nemesis?” The President asked.

“Yes, as I reported before, there are signs that another wave is being prepped for launch from the same sites as before. The alien vessels that carried the last wave are almost back to Nemesis, I expect they'll ferry another wave to Earth.” He told the President, “Very recent images show rockets being moved out of underground locations to the launch points.”

“Anything from Operation Doolittle?”

“I've seen nothing that would indicate that they made contact yet. We have people studying those images and if they see the ship, they are supposed to let me know.” Jeffords said.

“So, we don't even know if they have arrived?” The President asked.

“Physics tells me that they arrived already, Mr. President. We're just trying to figure out where they are.”

The President waved him off and rubbed his temples. The Earth was pretty near-devastated and another wave would finish it off. Although they had beaten back the swarms, at least in North America, the damage would take decades to repair.

“How am I supposed to prepare the country for another wave?” The President asked. “We don't even have contact with most of the country right now. Even if I wanted to draft everyone into the fight, we no longer have the resources to do it.”

The Secretary of Defense nodded. “It seems like an impossible situation. On the bright side, we have two more ships being prepared for launch. I don't think we'll be able to build any more for a while, though.”

The President thought about it. “Unless I see evidence that those men are alive on Nemesis, I don't think I can justify sending more. The proposal to launch nuclear bunker busters is more interesting to me at this point.”

The Secretary of Defense nodded again. There had to be underground cities near the launch sites and their satellite probes could be used to guide the bombs to their targets. There was no way to know the exact location of the cities under the ground, but the giant doors where the launch vehicles had been kept were likely locations.


Samantha huddled into the cave a little further when the rain started up. The cuts on her body had stopped bleeding but they still hurt. Her clothes were torn to almost complete shreds from the rocks and the rushing water. All she could think about was her missing brother and getting herself to a place where people were.

Samantha had tried to walk downstream for a while but her feet hurt too much, they bled enough to cause her concern. She had looked for something that could be tied around her feet but she had found a small cave instead. Actually, it had probably been a den for some hibernating animal at some point. There were bears in this part of the country, after all.

Samantha felt useless and weak because her injured feet kept her from doing things that needed to be done for the sake of survival. She was an outdoor kind of girl, if her feet were in better shape Samantha could probably even catch her own food.

Tomorrow. When the sun comes up, she planned to herself, go back to the river. Clean up. Start looking in the small pools, streams and eddies off the side of the river for fish or anything she could eat. Those little crayfish that looked like tiny lobsters usually lived in holes in the river banks. One just had to watch out for the pinch of their big claw. Maybe she could find a straight enough stick to rub on a rock to make a sharp point on the end to catch herself a real fish.

When the sun finally came up she crawled out of the cave, relieved to see the rain had stopped during the night. Then she hobbled along toward the river. There was a feeder stream nearby and there she started looking for fish and other edibles. Suddenly she noticed the fat leaves in the water and picked them up.

“This looks familiar.” She told herself. Then she sniffed it and took a small bite. It had a peppery taste to it. This is watercress! Yes! Samantha collected as much of this as she could and put them into a pile before going back to search for other edibles.

There was a very small fish in the tidal pool, like it had been trapped there. She stalked it as it swam in circles and then it tried to avoid her. When it tried to keep swimming at the edge, she struck at it with a pointed stick.

Mama's going to eat tonight.” She told herself.

After eating what she could she started to hobble back to the cave. After reaching the tree line she looked back across the water. The first thing she saw was a baby bison and then the human it was following. It had to be her brother. They were a ways off and she couldn't very well run in her condition.

Marshal!” she shouted. The figure didn't seem to hear her. So she took a deep breath, arched her back to where was almost looking up and screamed “MARSHAL!”. Suddenly there was a big hand on her shoulder and another covering her mouth. She was pulled backward into the trees. She tried to twist away from the grasp but the hand on her shoulder then put her into a headlock. She was dragged deeper into the woods.

Marshal, help.

Samantha was no wallflower, having learned martial arts. but knew when she was at a severe disadvantage. She heard the voices of two men, including the one holding her. Samantha did not understand their language. Then she heard a familiar phrase that sent her blood running cold.

Allahu Akbar!”

A cloth bag was placed over her head and tied into place and then she felt her arms being forced around the trunk of a tree, as if she were hugging it. Samantha tried to mentally prepare herself, surely she was going to be raped. Her brother had been so close, but unless he had seen her this was it. Even though she fought it, the tears came and she sobbed as quietly as she could.

The two men continued to talk and laugh somewhere behind her, she could hear the popping of a campfire. Then something moved in high grass somewhere, the men seemed surprised, maybe even pleased. She could hear them talking excitedly and then footsteps.

Then there were shouts and running and groans that sounded like fighting. Then quiet.

Then she heard a snort-grunt of a small animal. Footsteps and someone was untying the cloth over her head.

Marshal? Is that you?” She asked and then the sack was off. It was her brother, dirty disheveled, abrasions on his arms and face, but alive. He was already cutting the rope that tied her to the tree. When she was loose, the first thing was to wrap her brother in a big hug.

The two men who had abducted her were dead and one of them had close to the same size foot she did. He wasn't going to complain about losing his boots. Marshal looked through the camp but found pathetic little that was useful. Finally they left the camp and he told her his story since they got separated.

That baby bison is following you?” She asked, smiling.

I don't know why!” He said defensively. “Think I should name it?”

We could name it Steak.” She said. He pretended to look offended.

I know where the closest refugee center is now.” He told her, “We might reach it by tomorrow.”

It wasn't much of a plan, but it was a plan.


Park Eun-Hee had to tell her story at least a dozen times. First to her parents, then to a local official, then to some military types and politicians and finally at a press conference. It was all too much and it wore her out. Everyone asked the same kind of questions, the whole thing was scary at first but it got to be boring.

Not that her story was going to make people feel any better. Sure, an alien had seemed friendly more or less, that was a good thing. It was dwarfed by the plans that the aliens were carrying out though. To strip the Earth of anything useful, even the minerals in the ground and the water in the oceans and take it all to their world. Then they'd leave.

This would take a long time, it would seem. Although they had done a good job of invading Earth, so far, in only a few days. Eradicating humans would take a bit longer. Their world had caused all sorts of tidal waves, flooding, hurricanes when it passed by, but for some reason they hadn't parked their planet-ship closer. Why?

The South Korean government had put her family on an Osprey and flown them to Jeju Island, where no alien activity had ever been reported. It turned out that a lot of wealthy and politically connected people had gone to Jeju Island. It was a resort, after all.

Park Eun-Hee was then escorted into a small building nestled against the side of a mountain. Taken into a tunnel and then to an underground chamber.

I don't know what's going on.” She said to everyone. Soldiers, scientists and others were working in this place. Then she reached the end. Behind a thick transparent wall was a small chamber, a cell, and inside of it was the alien. The splotchy marks were the same, this was the same alien she had spent hours with in her school.

A scientist-looking person came to her. “We're trying to communicate with the creature. We thought maybe you could help.”

She looked at the man as if he had lost his mind. “What makes you think I can help?”

The man pointed at the wall in the chamber. A sketch was there, apparently drawn by the alien and it was unmistakably a drawing of Park Eun-Hee.

---------------- to be continued

I might try to rewrite the prologue next. It doesn't need to be all exposition and I think there will be some big changes in the story flow too. If I write in the Prologue Beta that we lost the moon, don't wonder why this hadn't been mentioned before. You can bet it will be mentioned several times in the second draft!