Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Playing with Blender



Over in a Facebook Group for Space Opera writers someone posted about a new python script for Blender that gives you random spaceships. I haven't figured out the nuances but I have been playing with it a bit.

It can be found here: https://github.com/a1studmuffin/SpaceshipGenerator/

I don't know if it works on Windows machines.






After Rendering an image (mine won't render backgrounds for some reason) I use GIMP to add background and other things. I have a long way to go to be proficient in using Blender, I am a total talentless noob at it, but I still like what I can do with it.




Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Rebel, a short story



The Rebel

Floyd Looney


Fifteen-year-old Bradley walked the docks before and after school because taking the bus was boring and this was much more scenic. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes were the stuff of life, not words on the page of a textbook. This way he could have sushi for breakfast from a vendor or just a steamed bun filled with a variety of meat or vegetables.

The docks were the best place for fresh seafood but far more than seafood was usually available from the many vendors there. Small trading ships from nearby nations would often stop to unload stacks of clothing or whatever they happened to have. Often these ships were on their way north to the larger markets, and decided that Fortron was a good place to make a stop. Small traders were charged nothing to sell their wares.

School would soon be out for the summer and Brad wanted a summer job. He wanted to work on the docks if at all possible. He wasn't a little kid anymore and he would need and want things than a meager allowance could not buy. Brad didn't have any definite plans for the money, but there was always something.

A whole summer of possibilities was in front of him and for the first time he could travel anywhere in the tiny country and his mother wouldn't worry. He was big enough to take care of himself and several years of taekwondo reinforced that.

Brad purchased some hot sweet potatoes and steamed meat buns to take home with him, as he scarfed down some oily kimbap from its aluminum foil wrapper. Not too far from the docks he entered the three-story building and climbed the steps to the top where he shared a one bedroom unit with his mother.

“Mom, are you home?”

She was sprawled on the couch half asleep. This was how he normally found her after school, worn out and tired from working since four in the morning. He put the bags down on the table next to the kitchenette and walked back to his mother and pulled her shoes off, tossing them toward the door.

Brad wanted to take care of his mother some day, but he didn't know how that could happen. It wasn't like he was intelligent, definitely not the nerdy type who would own half the country one day. Brad would have to find his own way, whatever that might be.

“I've got some baked sweet potatoes and steamed buns, mom!” He said in a loud whisper as he walked back to the table and slipped off his backpack. He took a textbook and a notebook out quietly and started working on his homework. Brad didn't like to disturb his mother, he knew how hard she worked cleaning at the hotel or hospital. She was sent to one or the other depending on the day.

Fortron was a small country situated on an isthmus connecting larger continents to the south and north, both of which had several countries of their own. The southern continent was full of corrupt, backward nations while the northern nations were more prosperous but morally bankrupt. Along the isthmus itself most of the small countries were poor and corrupt as well, but Fortron was not one of them. There wasn't enough government in Fortron to become corrupt. There would be nobody to pass the blame to.

The tiny nation of Fortron was first settled by some very wealthy people fleeing from their oppressive governments. They willingly pooled much of their fortunes to make their dream a reality, since then the tiny nation grew into a real, although small, free democratic country.

Brad had fallen asleep on his open history book. Glancing at the clock he saw that it was about to become dark and his mother was stirring. She rolled herself off the couch and stood up to stretch, “I smell sweet potatoes.”

“Also steamed buns, but they're probably cold by now,” Brad told her.

She sat on the far side of the table and pulled out a steamed bun and a sweet potato, “I'm hungry enough to eat them cold. It doesn't bother me.”

Brad closed the history book and looked at his mother seriously, “I'm going to try and find a job for the summer.”

“Really? What sort of job?” She asked, chewing.

He shrugged, “I don't know. I'm just starting to think about it, I'll spend all day tomorrow looking around I guess.”

Brad's mother stopped eating, “Forget it, I'll give you extra spending money. Have you been to the arcade recently?”

He grinned and shook his head, amused she was trying to talk him out of it by changing the subject, but his mind was made up.

“Mom, I don't want to go to the arcade unless it's hiring for the summer,” He told her. Actually he would avoid it like the plague. He didn't like to be reminded how poor they were by seeing so many people throwing their money around on such trivial things. Sure the two-level go-kart race track seemed kind of cool, but he didn't want to pay twenty yang for a ten-minute thrill.

“Bus money, then.”

Brad laughed for real, “I never ride the bus. This country is small enough to walk across in half a day, and the city has a nice pedestrian park going through the center.”

“You know I get worried, Brad.”

He shook his head, “I'm fifteen now, we talked about this.”

Brad's mother sighed, seeming to deflate, “I suppose so, then.”

In his head Brad heard the voice of his favorite comedian, Dante Loyola, “And that Brad, is the last argument you'll ever win with a female!”

Brad bit into one of the sweet potatoes, “We should warm these up.”

“We really should,” She agreed, about to stand up but Brad beat her to it.



Bradley checked the back page of the Fortron Daily but found nothing that sounded remotely suited to him. It occurred to him that most businesses weren't going to spend money placing ads for summer jobs for youths unless they were desperate.

He only barely noted the headline on the front page as he sat on a bench near the docks, watching and listening to the hustle and bustle of the place. The docks were alive and being around it made him feel alive too. Brad decided to check out the sports pages near the back, he planned to throw it away before he headed toward the “downtown” area to inquire about employment.

Tegucigalpa's goalie hurt in training accident! Belmopan still not favored to win match tomorrow.

He yawned as he closed the paper and looked around for the wastebasket. The headline finally caught Brads eye.

Talks with NAU break down. International mediators continue to work for peace.

Brad did not understand international diplomacy. He did know that the northern countries liked to throw their weight around more than they should. They were the big gorilla and trade pacts usually favored them over the small, poorer nations.

The NAU's threats of war was all bluster anyway, just a ploy to get more trade concessions in all probability. They did not like that Fortron didn't tax foreign bank deposits, accusing the country of being a haven for tax cheats. Brad, like everyone else in the country, scoffed at this, their government was far too honest for that.

In all fact, the politicians were probably too honest. They never promised anything but stability and fiscal responsibility. They never pretended that the country had more money to spend that it really did. Elections for the 9-seat Governing Council were boring, the country didn't even have real political parties they were more like clubs with membership dues.

The idea that the NAU would really go to war with Fortron was laughable. Fortron didn't have an army, it barely had a coast guard. It had a single runway airport and not a single fighter jet in its possession. There was literally no chance that Fortron was going to war.

Some of the older people seemed worried, though. They seemed to think the NAU might really invade. After all its army alone had ten times more soldiers than Fortron had people, there would be no way an attack could be resisted.

Brad went from business to business asking about a summer job. He remembered they seemed plentiful a year ago when he had been too young. Now it seemed that business owners were worried too. He might really have to apply at the arcade after all.

It was a lot cooler in the shade as he sat on a park bench eating an ice cream, making his worries melt away for a few minutes. Just then he heard stomping and looked up to see a dozen armed men in uniforms jogging by. The Militia very rarely trained inside of the city itself, so some people did stare after they jogged by.



Brad got home and collapsed in the living room chair. His mother was snoring lightly on the couch, still wearing her uniform from work. He had put in applications and thought a couple of places might actually call him back for interviews. Nothing was certain though.

Brad turned on the television and turned the volume down a bit, so as not to disturb his mother. He was trying to catch the rerun of the Good Night Show because Dante Loyola had been scheduled to appear. It soon became apparent that the rerun had been preempted by news.

“These startling video images are dominating the newscasts of the NAU tonight,” the anchor spoke as images of large groups of soldiers and armored vehicles marched across the screen. Then there was “file footage” of aircraft destroying targets on the ground, although they looked destroyed already to Brad, “Reports are coming in from different sources that NAU military forces and equipment are being moved in an unusual manner. There were no scheduled large-scale training maneuvers, but something big is happening.”

The anchor turned to a gray-haired guest analyst, “Mr. Hernandez, you have experience as a diplomatic envoy to many countries, what is the sense you have tonight? Is this all just saber-rattling by the NAU, or is more going on?”

“Well, Diego, I would love to be proven wrong, but I think the NAU is intent on forcing Fortron to accept its terms.”

The anchor nodded as half the screen listed some of the demands, the anchor spoke, “Our government says these demands are simply outrageous.”

“Diego, I agree with that sentiment completely. What the NAU is asking is a violation of our national sovereignty in the guise of 'fair trade'. In real terms what they want is mercantilism, which forces us to sell our products while buying their products is artificially more expensive. The kicker is that it would lock us in, we would not be able to find these products for a better price.”

The anchor turned to the other direction, “Nancy Roberts is the newest member of the Governing Council,” the host introduced a woman in her late thirties with a wrinkle-free face, “How does our country survive this move by the NAU? Will they really invade if we do not accept their ultimatum?”

The woman frowned, “Obviously we cannot fight their industrial war machine, we have no real military force. Their big city police forces are better armed than our militia. I think we should calm the situation down, the idea of war over this is ludicrous. Go back to the peace table, be reasonable, I' sure some compromise can be had.”

Soon another video full of “file footage” appeared, “The NAU Naval Forces include these floating air bases, the modern aircraft carrier. Capable of carrying sixty fighters, bombers and helicopters and able to carry out a heavy schedule of aerial warfare, a single carrier and its associated fleet has more firepower than all of the countries of the isthmus combined. There is talk that this fleet carrier will be joined with a smaller flattop that is able to land an entire Marine Expeditionary Unit on our shores in a short time.”

Brad was stunned. He could not begin to understand why the NAU would want to pick on a tiny nation like Fortron. Even if their country really was a bad country, so were thirty others in the region. How was the NAU being harmed by anything Fortron was doing?

Just seeing it on television the awesome military power made the Fortron militia look like the meter maids he had seen in some NAU movies. He had also seen documentaries enough to know what a country looks like after a war. Brad didn't believe it might happen to him.

He turned the television off as his mother woke up, “Mom, let's go out for ice cream.”

“Ice cream?”

Brad gave his mother a hug, “It's been a long time since we've gone out and spent time together.”

She smiled and then looked at what she wearing, dirty work clothes, “Let me change real quick.”

Brad wanted to forget it, forget what he had seen on television, just for a few hours. They walked toward the docks as night fell, eating ice cream and watching the lights of the boats out at sea. You can see a lot of stars in Fortron, it wasn't even a big city.

If war came, this tiny nation would be devastated. No matter what the country he had grown up in would be gone forever, and not in a good way. Brad knew that Fortron had no chance in a fight, but maybe if there was a guerrilla army somewhere to fight in unconventional ways. Some way to rebel and make it painful for the NAU in the long run.

Brad wanted there to be one, because he was going to join it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Escape From the Free Republic - Chapter Ten

 Chapter Nine
My Books Page

(Kemdra, Kembra.. whichever, it's a rough draft!)





Chapter Ten


The underground train traveled a great distance around Sync until it was underneath part of one of the two great seas of the planet. The Free Republic had never known about the train, it was a recent development and there were very few of them. They didn't need infrastructure such as rails or tunnels, they seemed to be analogous to bending space but on a small scale. Tom Grier didn't really understand it, but he was trying to think about something else.

Sync had fooled the Free Republic into thinking it had destroyed its entire fleet of ships. The only ships that Sync possessed were the type that landed on planets, nothing like the monstrous warships such as the carrier Umbrage that stalked it at that moment. Instead the Free Republic had destroyed aging, mothballed ships that had been remodeled to fool sensor scans, seeming to be the newer ships.

Those newer ships had been hidden, mostly under the ocean. The ships were being prepared by the rebel forces for what Tom thought was a suicide mission. Not only were they to get close enough to attack the Umbrage, but to board it and cripple or destroy it. A tall order to be sure, but one that Tom did not think could possibly come to fruition, even with the rebel technologies.

Tom and the other soldiers were not wearing their powered-armor suits, which had been stored in their own train car. Kembra and Sandy had been spending a lot of time chatting and giggling, still acting like girls even in these circumstances. Their father, Enoch, came around every so often with tea or snacks. It was hard to believe that the figure-head of Syncrian independence was acting like a servant aboard the train.

Finally Enoch sat next to Tom. “Well, we are going to be arriving at the destination soon and I was thinking that you should be the one to lead the attack,” the old man said.

I'm not a leader, I've only just become part of the rebellion. Besides, I think the attack is probably still a bad idea,” Tom told him, “Sandy is group leader.”

Enoch shook his head, “My daughter has her position and her role. She has no experience out there, it would be insane to think she should lead this particular mission. Tom, rank has its role too, but this is one of the times where it is not a determinant factor.”

Tom didn't see Enoch stand up, stretch and then walk away. Several scenarios of trying to infiltrate the carrier ran through his head. None of them seemed likely to succeed. Many things would have to go wrong for the enemy in order for this attack to work. The ships null field should keep any atomic charges from exploding, just as it renders most energy weapons useless. These were side affects of a device originally created to protect ships during trans-spatial travel.

The train slowed and then stopped. When Tom exited with everyone else, he saw that he was in a cavern larger than he ever thought possible. It occurred to him that some kind of Syncrian technology must have formed and maintained this under-sea base. He could see the six ships lined up and buildings and ground crews running around.

Kembra saw his face and explained, “It's just shield technology times ten. Instead of expanding the shield range, we fortified it. Since this meant that only a small area could be shielded, we use many of them.”

The ships are larger than I imagined from the images.”

Kembra shook her head, “They are smaller than any of the capital ships in the Free Republic fleet, but they suit Sync just fine. We just want independence, we don't want our own empire or anything.”

Each ship had two energy cannon turrets, one on the top and one on the bottom. Each turret fired two beams at a time. These were to be used against the Onyx Flight fighters that the Umbrage would launch against them, as well as against the torpedoes and rail guns that many ships in the fleet carried.

For attacking the Umbrage with its nullification field activated, the attacking forces would have to use its own torpedoes and projectile weapons. Energy weapons would not be useful against the carrier until that null-field was down.

The rebels believed their technology would cloak their ships from fleet sensors until they were close enough to be safe from long-range weapons. Tom was doubtful but he had to take it into consideration that it might work that way.

Getting individual armor-suited fighters aboard the carrier was not going to happen by stealth. At least one the rebel ships was going to have to target the cargo decks to create an opening. If the same ship started off by attacking the fighter and shuttle bays, the enemy might not suspect that the cargo bays were hit on purpose.

Once the armor-suited fighters, Tom thought of them as Rebel Marines, were on-board the carrier they would need to make their way quickly to the forward and aft engineering sections about halfway between the “bottom” and “top” of the ship. This is where the gravity control pillars and power distribution nodes were located, the massive vessel would become crippled without them.

Of course, the atomic charges were not likely to work, as Tom figured. There would be need of another way to take these things out. All of this had to be done before the Free Republic Marines showed up because Tom did not think his side could win that fight. Trying to use the jamming device Sandy had used on Tom wouldn't work on the carrier. Way too much electromagnetic activity would be happening.

We will have skeleton crews on the ships. There is no good reason to risk more lives than is necessary,” Kembra had said, “Two of the ships will be used to transport your infiltration team, the others will continue to attack while you are inside.”

Tom shook his head, “No.”

Kembra looked alarmed, “No? What do you mean by that?”

Once the team has infiltrated the carrier, our ships should get out of there. Get as far away from the Umbrage as possible,” Tom said, “Continuing the attack is too big a risk, and there is no guarantee that the infiltration team will survive.”

Kembra looked down, “That's just...”

I'm not just being pessimistic. The ships need to withdraw immediately if it looks like we can't infiltrate or after we do infiltrate,” Tom said, “Otherwise this whole mission will be useless. If we do manage to survive and cripple the carrier, we will find a way back down if possible.”

Kembra grinned, “Just remember that your armored suits are not rated for re-entry.”

Tom smiled, “The landing would be especially rough.”

His crush on Kembra had been pushed aside by her brusque attitude when they had first met, but he was getting used to that now. Otherwise she reminded him of Maggie, at least somewhat, which explained a lot in his mind.

If you plan to do something stupid, try to give us a little warning,” Kembra told him and she looked around, “Want to see something special?”

After he assented she dragged him to a vehicle and drove across the underground cavern to the far side were a large hangar housed another ship. It was longer but narrower and the outer hull was shiny silver, without any of the protective plating of the military vessels.

It's a family ship. My father had this built a long time ago, but it has hardly been used. If Sync can regain its independence it could be used for diplomatic purposes,” she explained, “I remember spending some time living in this thing even though it was on the ground. The independence movement had been crushed and things looked grim.”

So your family used it as a hideout?” Tom asked.

We lived in it while we learned and trained. The independence movement morphed into an armed struggle with the Free Republic becoming an oppressive regime.”

Tom nodded, times weren't good anywhere. The new regime had instituted laws and economic decrees that defied common sense. Every planet was now battling poverty, much of the economic and industrial base was simply gone.

The Free Republic hasn't built a new carrier since it became an empire, it can't afford to. It has built precious few new ships of any type because resources are dwindling and they'd rather use it to oppress than build,” Kembra said, “If we can take out the Umbrage, Tom, it will send the regime reeling.”

She led him up the steps and into the ship.

This ship has no weapons, it was never meant to be a warship. It was going to be a family yacht and this over here was my room.”

It was clean, the bed had been made and a small stuffed animal he couldn't name sat on the pillow.

Cute,” Tom said, “Any particular reason you're showing me this?”

Don't get your hopes up, Tom, I'm not planning to get involved with any relationship while the war is going on. The Sync War for Independence at least,” She told him. Well, she knew he had a thing for her, so much for that secret.

At least?”

Of course if Sync achieved independence then other worlds would try to follow. If the Free Republic loses the Umbrage, it would lose prestige.

It won't end here, Sync would still be at risk until the Free Republic is toppled. If we succeed here, we still have to make sure that the Free Republic is too busy elsewhere to bother trying to return. I plan to help foment rebellion on other worlds afterward,” Kembra told him, “This vessel, an unarmed civilian ship that the Free Republic doesn't know will be used by me. I was hoping you would come with me, assuming you don't get yourself killed.”

Go with you?” Tom asked, “How would I not get my hopes up, if you say things like that?”

Kembra took something from a drawer and handed it to him. It was a locket. When he opened it a holographic projection appeared above it of Kembra and Sandy on a beach, playing in the sand.

Take this with you as a good luck charm.”

He grinned, “Cheesy.”

She shrugged.


Enoch was addressing the pilots and gunners of the six ships, “Finally, the time has come. The plan that Tom Grier and others have devised has been gone over for the past few days. Our armored warriors have practiced their infiltration and you all know what is expected. Now, with the blessing of the creator of the universe, it is time to initiate our first attack against the fleet itself.”

There was silence.

To your stations!” Enoch said and everyone began moving.

Tom climbed into the rear gate of the designated ship with seven other armored fighters, the ones he had come to know and trust over the past few days. Then he pressed the switch which closed the hatch.

Umbrage, Marine deck

I can't believe that the crazy old fool has gone this far,” Colonel Mortimer said examining the sealed hatch that blocked the corridor. The Marines with him stood aside as General Gallant came to join him.

Well?” The General asked, “What happened?”

Mortimer shook his head, “They completely sealed off the decks. We have no access to the rest of the ship, just our own decks, and the chutes to the shuttles in Bay 2. That Admiral has lost it. I don't think he has much grip on reality left.”

A Marine added, “We tried using the laser cutters, but they're jamming them like energy weapons. They have increased the jamming just locally.”

We can break through these seals, right?” General Gallant said, “With our weapons, if we must.”

The Colonel nodded, “I suppose, but I don't like the idea of using weapons on the ship. I'm sure the quad-barrel battle rifles can break through with their explosive round, but it's explosive for one thing.”

Admiral Robinson was going too far. With most of his Marines on Sync and much of his staff combing through the Dispensation with Lt General Edwards, there was little that could be done.

We'll just ignore this for now. Inform the men that they are not to try to cross into the other decks at all.” The General said and the men nodded, saluted and departed.

The Colonel came up beside him and they headed back toward the Command & Control center.

Anything from Edwards?” The Colonel asked.

A mess. They've mostly been cleaning the ship but they did manage to pull some security video from the trashed computers. Just a few seconds, but it was enough,” General Gallant said, “Some places weren't as trashed as others. There is evidence that someone was brought in as a medical emergency, although why we weren't alerted I don't know.”

The Colonel frowned, “No sign of that patient?”

Gallant nodded, “Not among the dead, which makes that patient the top suspect. There is a fleeting glimpse of his reflection a few frames of video. We have not yet identified him, though.”

Whoever he was, he managed to incapacitate enough people to reach the prototype and steal it. Then the person was able to disable the ship and slaughter everyone aboard before leaving without a trace.
The prototype was a very deadly weapon, it was one of the few real advances made since the new regime had come to power. Of course it had been made in complete secrecy, especially from the regime.

As they entered the control center, they noted how few officers were left aboard.

Sir! General, something is happening out there.” Maddie Anders reported as they entered.

What is it?”

She shook her head, “I'm not sure. We've been cut off from ship sensors and the like. It looks like they've launched every fighter they had aboard.”

The Colonel growled, “I hope the Admiral isn't trying to commit any atrocities.”

Another one of the Control officers came to them, “Sir, I contacted the Dispensation and asked them to patch us into their sensor network. It should be coming in any minute.”

Good idea.” General Gallant said.

Maggie Anders furiously changed the settings on her console. “Check this out.”

What?”

She pointed to the reading on her screen, “There seems to be some kind of anomaly. There are intermittent signal distortions that have come up from the planet and is now heading straight for the Umbrage.”

The General looked at the Colonel, “Is it some weapon we haven't seen before?”

The Colonel shook his head, “I don't think Sync has any stealth missiles, besides they would have used them a long time ago. We took out their anti-orbital weapons at the start of the operation.”

Onyx Flight is closing in on the distortion,” Maggie informed them, “Of course we are cut off from seeing whatever they see.”

The sixteen blips reached the outline of the distortion area on the sensors.


Syncrian Infiltration Force, lead ship

Opening fire!” Tom Grier heard the ships gunner announce. A small screen on the wall told them what was happening. Onyx Flight was inbound. The fleet hadn't been fooled by the rebel stealth technology after all.

Suddenly the ship turned fast enough that even through his heavy armored suit, which was almost anchored by magnetic plating, he could feel it.

The Umbrage is firing blindly in our direction!” the coms officer in the cockpit said, “Okay, concentrate fire... now!

Having no control over what was going on didn't make Tom feel like a leader. If it looked bad enough he could tell them to abort, that's about all the control he had at that point. The pilots knew what they were doing though, several choices were open to them.

Option D sounds good right now!” Tom told the ships coms officer.

Roger that!

Tom waited for the message to be sent to the ships. They would all change course immediately after ship six dropped its stealth field. Ship six only had a pilot and gunner, otherwise it was more heavily armed than the others.

Engaging D!

He felt the tug of the course change. On the screen he watched ship six falling back and flipping over, the rear hatch opening at the same time. Onyx Flight fighters closed in on it like cats pouncing on a mouse.

Out of the rear hatch more than a dozen stealthy torpedoes launched at the nearby fighters. The fighters tried to change course or, more realistically, shoot at the incoming torpedoes. Still, they had little time since they were so close. More than half the fighters sustained damage while three had been completely obliterated.

Ship six continued to fire its energy weapons and rail guns at the fighters, which began trying to pull back. Two of the Onyx Flight fighters continued to attack the ship which was now moving away, as if to escape back to the planet below. It was leading them even farther away from the carrier.

Tom was relieved but also distressed that his plan put the lives of two brave people into direct jeopardy and now everyone else too.

The target will be in range in thirty seconds!

Twenty seconds after that, as the plan said, it would be time to break through and infiltrate the Umbrage. Plans very often went awry of course, upon first contact with the enemy.

All five of the remaining ships began firing their projectile weapons as they approached the massive carrier.

Okay, let's get into position,” Tom ordered, turning to face the rear hatch.

Ship Five has taken heavy damage to the engines!

Tom turned back to the screen on the wall. The carrier was firing blindly into the distortion field created by the rebels null-field. As he watched he could see ship five, it was rolling sideways and then it changed course.

What the...”

Ship Five slammed into the top-most deck of the Umbrage where a lot of large observation windows had been located. It tore into the extended deck and lodged inside. Tom Grier waited a couple seconds but there was no explosion.

Tell ship two that I think they have a new alternate infiltration point!”


Umbrage, Admirals office

The door opened and a breathless officer entered, “Admiral!”

He had heard the alarms and had been informed that Onyx Flight had engaged an enemy vessel from the surface already. Since then he had been taking a quick nap.

What is it?” He asked, looking down to activate the holographic screen of his hovering chair.

We're under attack!”

We?”

The Umbrage is under attack by stealth ships. One of them has crashed into the observation deck, causing three deaths and the loss of some atmosphere.”

Admiral James “Jim” Robinson started turning red in the face. “Have the Assyrian move in closer to give us extra cover. Have the ship placed on General Quarters, why is it not already?”

Your standing orders was that only you can do that,” the officer stammered.

Get it done. I'm on my way to the bridge!”


 Chapter Nine
My Books Page

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Short Story: The Sapin Pets

Sometimes I write little stories with the thought that they will someday become longer stories, maybe even novellas or novels. This one doesn't even have a real title at this point, so I just made something up.

The Sapin Pets

Floyd Looney

The knock at the door announced the arrival of the venerable researcher Bolgar, who was also a friend of the esteemed Dulgard, the owner of the estate. Both were nearly three meters tall, blue and the crown of their heads were studded with sharp protuberances.

Good day, Dulgard!” the visitor said as the two males clasped their claws on the shoulder of the other in friendly greeting.

To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, Bolgar?” he asked as they sat on the comfortable couches in the sitting room.

I was in the area on a research project,” Bolgar said as he accepted a metal cup of hot liquid from the other who happened to have a tray with the pot and an extra cup, “You know the uproar that happens every time the Cronia reports that some animal can speak and understand our language?”

Dulgard nodded, “I stopped my subscription when they began running these fake attention-seeking kinds of articles. What animal is it this time?”

Bolgar sighed, “Unfortunately, this time they might have something. Purely by accident if it turns out to have a factual basis. They are now reporting that sapins are actually intelligent and can be taught to understand our language.”

Dulgard had a strange expression for a moment before frowning, “What kind of idiocy is this?”

Yes, well I have seen that look in their eyes. They do have a look of an intelligence species, being bipedal and all,” Bolgar said, “Their discovery is still recent as things go, less than one hundred crossings of the plane.”

Dulgard smiled and said, “Are you saying there is some credence to the theory?”

Bolgar waved his arms in the air, “We do not know where they came from, or how. We do not know the origination planet. Sure, some space-faring species might have dropped them off on Plexis where we found and rescued them, but what if they got there themselves?”

Once they are house trained they do normally make good pets,” Dulgard said, “I bought one for my daughter not too long ago.”

Bolgar considered this, “Might I see this creature?”

Dulgard frowned, “I don't want you dissecting my daughters pet, it was quite expensive. Besides, she doesn't seem intelligent to me. We had a hard time teaching the thing to defecate outside instead of in the flower pots.”

They both laughed as Dulgard poured more of the hot liquid into their cups.

It is a fascinating species. The idea that they were once a space-faring intelligent species that has fallen to this level is interesting, we just don't know enough about them to prove it is not true. I would like to do some tests, no not cutting them, just talking to them and showing them images and observing,” the researcher promised.

Dulgard, “I suppose we could come to an arrangement.”

Can I just... see the pet before I go?” Bolgar asked sheepishly.

The door to his daughters room opened a small bit and the two males peered inside where the sapin was lying, apparently asleep on a corner of the bed.

Your daughter apparently likes to keep the hair trimmed,” Bolgar observed, “No hair on the face, it is a female then?”

I think so, although it's not like I know much about them,” Dulgard answered with a shrug, “I only objected when she tried to put clothing on the poor thing. One must not traumatize pets that way, especially really expensive ones.”

The female sapin stirred ad stretched her arms into the air before turning its head to look directly at the observers. The sapin appeared to smile in their direction.

It doesn't seem upset to see us,” Bolgar said, “I have seen some animals kept as pets that would be screeching, biting and spitting at us. This one does have that intelligent look in its eyes.”

As far as I can tell about this one, it seems to have a very agreeable temperament,” Dulgard said, “Although quite fragile, they so seem to enjoy a good rubbing. This one truly enjoys being bathed, I have seen it laughing and playing.”

I must get funding to find out where they came from and how they reached Plexis.”

Dulgard nodded, “I suppose I can always propose such a thing to the council, but I won't make any promises.”

After the visiting researcher left, Dulgard entered his daughters room. The sapin was still sitting on the edge of the bed.

I suppose you need to be fed and let out to defecate,” he told the creature that climbed down from the bed and walked toward him. Dulgard did not tell his friend the whole truth. In fact, Dulgard knew for certain that sapins were capable of intelligence. This pet obviously understood what he said, sometimes he thinks it understood a lot more than simple things too.

After the sapin scarfed down milky oats he let it out the sliding transparent back door. The creature took a small spade and dug a hole near a tree on which to squat, finishing by wiping itself with leaves and burying those along with the excrement. Using tools counts as a sign of intelligence, Dulgard believed.

The creature stood up, but instead of coming back inside immediately she was staring at something in the sky. It was Plexis, dominating the daylight skies. The two worlds orbited each other. Dulgard wondered if all sapins looked at that world so longingly as this one. All he saw was a blue-green world covered with a lot of white clouds, just like the world they stood upon.

----

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Escape From The Free Republic - Chapter Nine

Chapter Eight
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Chapter Nine


There was no time for a meet and greet when Tom Grier rejoined the rebels, including the rebel leaders that had been gathered in Valla for a conference. The immediate issue was getting back underground, back on the subterranean train and get as far from there as possible.

Tom only relaxed when they were many kilometers from Valla.

Sandy had her helmet down again as she approached where he sat. She sat next to him and was quiet for a moment.

I was wondering if you might not come back,” She said.

I'm not dead.”

I mean, I thought you might have rejoined the Free Republic Marines. Just a small part of my mind thought you might,” Sandy said, looking embarrassed.

He nodded, “I did have a chance to do that. It just did not feel like the right thing to do.”

The gray-haired man with the trimmed beard stood by his daughter, “My name is Enoch. I am one of the rebel instigators, as the Free Republic likes to say. I hear that you have some information which might be of use to our cause?”

There was no reason to hide it, Tom looked up at Enoch and said, “The Free Republic Marines were arresting some of Admiral Robinson's agents after what happened in Valla.”

An eyebrow raised, “Indeed?”

The Marine General Gallant himself was there,” Tom said, looking anywhere but at the man now, “You'll probably be upset that I didn't shoot him, I guess.”

The rebel leader crossed his arms but grinned, “No, you did the right thing. It seems, though, that a bigger rift between the Fleet and the Marines is opening. I'm sure that could be used to our advantage in the next operation. We just need to determine how.”

Are you people seriously thinking of attacking the fleet itself? They'd do to the whole planet what they did to that base we fled from!” Tom told them both. A mountain had been turned into a valley by orbital bombardment weapons.

Enoch nodded, “I believe the old axion was something along the lines of, 'If you're determined to punch the Regolian in the snout, you'd better make sure he doesn't get back up.' We won't act without a real plan, Tom Grier, I assure you.”

I thought you might like to see one of the ships, Tom,” Sandy said with a broad smile. Of course she had reason to be happy, her father and sister had been saved.

Tom sighed. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. The rebels didn't seem to understand what he was trying to tell them. Attacking the fleet itself was the worst possible course of action. For one it would unite Admiral James “Jim” Robinson and General Gallant to a much rougher course of action against Sync.

For two, news of such an attack would create sympathy and anger across the worlds of the Free Republic even where it was not popular. More ships and Marines would be sent and harsher measures against the population would be enacted.

When he woke up the train had stopped. He exited to find it was sitting next to an underground lake surrounded by lighting devices. The other soldiers had gotten out of their armor and were swimming, bathing and even playing in the water.

Sandy in a black one-piece bathing suit looked more like a child than ever as she splashed water at soldiers. Tom still couldn't pin-point her age, it was always possible she was just naturally on the flat-chested side. Suddenly her father in formal attire was standing next to him holding out a glass of something.

It is Syncrian Tea, sweetened,” Enoch said. Tom took the glass and took a sip. The fruity tea flavor was a surprise.

It's nice.”

Enoch smiled. Tom suddenly realized another girl was standing behind the rebel leader. Enoch took a step to the side and held out a hand, “I don't think you have been introduced to my other daughter, Kembra.”

Tom held out his hand and bowed a little. Kembra was beautiful and not under-developed in the least like her little sister. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Kembra.”

She smiled, Tom was captivated, “Likewise. I don't know if you understand that your name has spread across the planet among us rebels. You've become famous even before you have really earned it.”

Ouch.

I hope to be of use,” Tom told her. He felt a bit self-conscience about the state of his face after the rebel surgery to remove all of the enhancement implants. Tom imagined that his one-eyed scarred face was hideous to a girl like Kembra.

Yes, there is something you could help us with,” Kembra told him. Tom felt like he had just walked right into a trap.

And what is that?”

You could help us plan the attack on the fleet. You aren't the only former Marine in our ranks, but you are here and available.” Kembra told him. He heard it as, “The others are busy out there fighting.”

Tom looked back at the underground lake, “I think an attack on the fleet itself is a bad idea.”

Kembra nodded and smiled, “I'm sure you do. You don't know some of the things we need to show you that will change your mind.”

What do you mean?” Tom asked.

She smiled again, Tom was already in love with her teeth, she asked “Interested?”

Sure,” He answered.

Enoch drank his tea and nodded, “Show him that it won't be a suicide mission. With his help, we can give the Free Republic more than a bloody nose.”

The entire side of the command car of the train was open, top and bottom, creating what would look like a normal sized room without walls. A couple members of the leadership delegation were in the center looking over a holographic projection of Sync.

Okay, Anid, let's show Tom what we have,” Kembra said as she motioned for him to be seated, although he was perfectly comfortable standing in the suit since the suit did all the supporting. He sat down anyways, just to be next to her. The short, older woman named Anid started speaking, first blue dots appeared on the globe, most of them in the oceans.

All right, the main thing is we have ships. They were well-hidden a long time ago, the fleet destroyed mothballed junk whose electrical signatures were changed to match the new tech. As you found out when you were captured we have the ability to block the carrier signals to implants and knock out the power distribution node of your suit.”

He nodded, “I found that out the hard way.”

Anid smiled, “We can do something similar to the shielding and sensors of fleet vessels.”

Tom shook his head, “Impossible. It would take incredible power output to even reach the fleet.”

The woman moved her hand and the holographic image closed in until only the image of the fleet was visible.

The power output would be coming from aboard the rebel ships, not nearly as far away as the surface of the planet,” she told him, “At any rate their sensors and some shipboard functions will be negatively affected as well.”

Tom frowned, “You don't really know which systems would be affected?”

Having never done this before, no we don't.”

Kembra spoke up, “I assume the power distribution nodes aboard a ship like the carrier Umbrage would be heavily shielded from interference. Maybe not as much for some of the smaller vessels.”

Tom stood up and turned to face Anid and Kembra.

The first thing that will happen, when you are still too far away to jam their system, they will open up on you like a fireworks display. Then before you get too close, Onyx Flight will be launched. Those are your basic advanced fighters, not as maneuverable in space, but much more than your ships are likely to be. If you can get passed all of that, the Umbrage has close-in weapons systems that are hardened against jamming and glamming,” he told them, “It would take quite a miracle to get through all of that.”

Anida stepped forward, “We forgot to tell you that our ships will be mostly invisible to their sensors, we have a system that creates the opposite of whatever signals might be bounced off the hull, nullifying the signature. Like sound and anti-sound systems in a factory to reduce the noise level, except ours is better.”

That is impossible, every research project into that found it to be so flawed that it could never work,” Tom said, “The Free Republic has a lot more scientific research going on that Sync by itself could.”

Kembra laughed, “Quantity over quality is not always a good thing. The Free Republic throws out grants and contracts like candy, irrespective of results. Actually, they normally reward failure with more money. Thus encouraging a bloated research industry that produces little. Sync doesn't do that, real advances get grants not promising proposal papers.”

It's already been fielded. You've already had a run-in with the technology,” Anid said.

What? When?”

On your way down to Sync aboard the landing pods. You felt a jolt, the enhancement and the carrier signals that controlled feelings and thoughts blinked off for a moment. Your pod had bumped into one of our stealthy ships, and it still got away without being detected,” Anid told him.

Tom was dumbfounded. The rebels could really do that? Challenging the goliath of the Free Republic with its many planets was still insane. Or was it? Could this little unassuming world named Sync really defeat the Free Republic?

No, they'd just send more fleets and bombard the planet. There was no way the man running Free Republic, a narcissist who could never admit to being wrong, was going to allow it. Dissent wasn't tolerated by his regime, rebellion would definitely not be.

Tom Grier still thought the uprising was doomed to eventual failure, but if they managed to put a dent into the armor of the fledgling empire, it might encourage more rebellions on other worlds in the Free Republic.

How many ships do you have? What are their configurations and weapon systems?” Tom asked, as a nugget of an idea entered his head.

Tom,” Kemdra said.

What?”

The point of this attack is to board the carrier, which is the flagship and is running the combat operations and cause enough damage to cripple it,” she told him, “If you have an idea on how to accomplish this, we'd all love to hear it. Anid, call a gathering.”

The train stopped again in a large underground chamber where another rebel group was temporarily based. These soldiers belonged to Kembra's command, Tom learned rather quickly as some of the ranking officers lined up to salute her.

Enoch, Kembra, Sandy and others took to a natural stage at the center of the assembly. Tom was reluctant to join them but they insisted.

Today is a new beginning, shed the burdens and worries of the past and take on the duties required of us to go forward,” Enoch began the first speech, “You have all heard about what happened in Valla, we were attacked by the Free Republic and we managed to escape. We all mourn the loss of our five brave soldiers, but we look forward to avenge them!”

Tom thought Enoch sounded a lot like a politician.

Our next move is to show the fleet that oppresses us that we are not cowed, we are not going to submit to their rule over Sync! Syncrians shall be free!” he said, the crowd was getting a little raucous. Of course these were soldiers and rebel leaders, the speech was apparently being recorded for further use too.

We will strike at the fleet itself, we will take out their crown jewel and make them choke on it!” Kembra told the gathering, resulting in cheers.

Sandy leaned toward him and said, “Maybe you should lead the assault.”

Lead it? Tom wasn't confident enough to offer something like that. Just getting there and getting out alive would be enough of an accomplishment. The plan was simple: board the Umbrage and plant at least one nuclear device to take out the biggest weapon in the fleet. Get out alive if possible.



Carrier Umbrage, auxiliary storage room lowest deck

It was a fiasco of the highest order. The Admiral is... less than happy about what happened in Valla and you are the highest ranking officer that survived, Bolton,” Commander Grabble told the soldier who was standing at attention, as much as he could with his arms bound behind his back. Three masked soldiers with light guns kept Bolton from trying to escape.

It's not true. I did nothing wrong,” The soldier responded.

Commander Grabble paced back and forth before facing Bolton again, “Lieutenant Blade was alive when you saw him last?”

I helped him board the shuttle!”

I see,” Grabble said, “Yet, he wasn't aboard when the shuttle arrived.”

Bolton shook his head, “He was behind where I sat, I don't know where he went.”

You described Blade as having two useless legs and a useless arm. How could he have gone anywhere, much less while aboard a shuttle?” Grabble asked, “You can see why the Admiral would have a problem with this. With General Gallant taking two of our men prisoner, charging them with violating the Code of Military Justice in an attempt to embarrass the Admiral, it is imperative that embarrassments are made to disappear.”

You can send me away, I'll never be heard from again! You can send me to the remotest world in the Free Republic, I'll go gladly,” Bolton told Commander Grabble.

Grabble put his hands behind his back, “It's not my call. The Admiral gives the orders around here, Bolton.”

Grabble nodded to the soldiers who slung their weapons to their back and each grabbed one arm of Bolton and began pulling him toward the air-lock.

No, please! Don't do this!” He pleaded as the air-locks inner hatch cycled open. The guards pushed him inside. Just before the door cycled closed he screamed, “I'll tell you where Blade is!”

Grabble smiled and walked up to the hatch, “I'm listening but I'm not making any promises.”

Bolton was desperate, “He was let out at the Dispensation. The Marines tech ship.”

Grabble was confused, “Why?”

Bolton shook his head, “I don't know, he wouldn't tell me.”

Grabble then turned and walked away, and waved his hand in the air as he walked to the exit hatch, “Follow the Admirals orders!”

What?” Bolton said as the inner hatch shut and before he could react the outer hatch opened and he was thrown out into space before his world went black.

...

Carrier Umbrage, General Gallants office

The Admiral is not going to silently wait while we prosecute two of his men at a court-martial. If I know the old man, he will hit back sooner rather than later,” Colonel Mortimer said, holding his glass of Tarsish champaign as if it were poison while standing near the door.

Lieutenant General Roscoe Edwards sat across the Generals desk with his hat on his lap, “I've posted extra guards in the corridors and near the lifts. If he's insane enough to send men to try and free the prisoners, he'll have to face a court-martial himself.

Gallant nodded and then finished his drink, “It's a tense situation, for sure. Although he has political connections that reach the top, he has to be made to follow the rules. I'm not sure if Robinson is playing with a full deck, but he isn't playing the same game the rest of us are.”

He's dangerous,” Colonel Mortimer said, finally putting the demon liquor down on the desk, which the General smiled at, “I'm not sure what will happen going forward, but if he is as unstable as we think, he will strike.”

Between the three of us, I think we need to be prepared for the worst. We might have to send Marines to arrest Robinson for the safety of everyone on this ship,” Lt General Edwards told them.

General Gallant reached across the desk and took the glass Mortimer had set down, “Let Robinson make his move. Then we can decide our response.”

The door swung open and Colonel Wilma Johnson entered, “General, we have a situation!”

All three of the men looked alarm at her statement. Gallant stood, “What is it Colonel?”

Someone has boarded the Dispensation and stolen the prototype Mark IV, sir,” She told them, Colonel Mortimer leaned against the wall to keep his balance. Edwards looked astonished. Gallant took deep breaths, “What happened? Get me someone aboard that ship, I need to know how this happened.”

That's the worst news, sir, there doesn't seem to be anyone still alive on that ship!”


Chapter Eight
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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Escape From The Free Republic - Chapter Eight


Chapter Seven
My Books Page



Chapter Eight

Tom Grier pushed himself up, the armor was feeling more natural to him now. He didn't know where the shooter was yet, with the old implants he would have access to information that would let him know immediately. Information from drones, counter-battery radar and many other things would have let him “see” the entire field of battle.

Now he was running from behind one building to another trying not to get hit by a very powerful sniper weapon. It had to be some kind of rail-gun, he knew that snipers in his Marine group carried some very long guns strapped to the back of their suits.

The sniper knows exactly where we are!” He said into his local radio to the others, “We need to find better cover and take out whatever drones he has up.”

Sandy stopped and threw an explosive in the middle of the street. It created a crater that reached down into the sewage system, which was as much cover as they were going to get. They all climbed down into it.

Sandy began sending some messages that he could not hear. One of the other men set up a small sensor pod that quickly identified two drones flying overhead.

Tom Grier laid down in the muck and aimed his QBR-44 at one of the drones and fired a seven-round burst. At least three of the 18mm rounds homed in and took out the drone. The others exploded harmlessly at higher altitude.

That other drone is taking a wider arc. It'll be back in about 6 seconds,” someone reported, and there it was, as predicted. It peeked over at them and then moved out of visual range before anyone could get shots off.

We've been made!” someone said, “Everybody out!”

The armored-clad soldier began leaping out of the crater and Tom was about to join them when he noticed that Sandy was deep in conversation and hadn't heard. He grabbed her from behind and tossed her out of the crater just as shells began to land all around him.

Tom fired his quad-barrel rifle into the sky after switching to 'intercept'. Some of the incoming mortar rounds were taken out as his gun blared away. Several explosions pushed him around like a rag doll in the crater, but it didn't seem to do a lot of damage to the suit.

Finally there was a break and he leaped over the lip of the crater and ran towards what looked like a small stadium.

I've located the sniper!” one of the team members reported.

About time!” Tom yelled as he arrived at the location. He noticed that one of the armored soldiers was laid out on the ground, a large gaping hole in the suits abdomen. The humans too.

Rex Reilly is dead,” someone told him, not that he was really familiar with these guys yet.

On the roof of the tallest building, center of town,” Sandy said, “Can you hit that from here?

The building in question rose much higher than the other buildings, it became quite narrow by the time it became a flat roof.

You need to contact your father! Tell them to cancel the conference and get into hiding!” Tom said, although he knew that communications systems had probably all been jammed. The rebels had been able to break through that sometimes, he had seen since being captured, maybe she could get through.

Shots started breaking through the wall of the stadium, in rapid succession. Pang! Pang! Pang!

You need to move to another spot, just keep moving,” Tom told them, “I'm going to go the other way, but as long as he is shooting at us, he isn't shooting at your father. No run.”

As soon as they reached the far end of the stadium Tom ran toward the tall building. The powered legs weren't yet as responsive as they had been with his enhancements, but they'd do. He heard shots hitting behind him and beside him as he ran. He also moved from side to side and then made abrupt turns down alleys and through at least parking garage.


Lieutenant Blade was frustrated as he adjusted the large gun again, moving it closer to the edge of the building. Someone down there in Free Republic Marine armor was running fast and trying to get close to his platform. That person had been with the rebels, Blade knew he had to take that suit out, “Traitor!” he muttered.

In his ear he heard from one of his team members near the conference hall, “No sign of the meeting coming together yet, they're all late!

Then from his spotter, Bolton, across the street from the hotel, “They left the hotel room several minutes ago, they should be reaching the street level soon. Are you ready Blade?

Blast it!” He said, “We have rebels moving up on our six!”

Our mission is to take out the rebel leaders!

Lieutenant Blade threw the headset against the roof. He grabbed the gun assembly and swung the whole thing to the other side of the roof. Then he peered down at the entry of the hotel and saw nobody there.

They aren't there! We've been given the slip, they must have found a back way out. Get down there and find them Bolton!” Blade ordered, then he swung it back to the other side and tried to find the rebel in the Free Republic Marine armor. “Bloody hell, this whole gig is going to crap!”

Blade, I don't think the meeting is going to happen! They must have suspected something.

We need to pull out, get the Admiral to send down some shuttles!” Blade told the men surrounding the conference hall. He gave up on the traitor and went back panning to look for the rebels, his last drone was on the far side of the city. Soon enough he found them, lying low in a revetment. He wondered if these rebels planned to meet up with some of the runaway rebel leaders.

What's the ETA on those shuttles?” He asked as he sighted in the big gun on the rebel position. If anyone showed up to meet them, that person was going to become soup.

Seven minutes.

A vehicle stopped near where the rebels were holding position. Blade focused in on the people exiting the vehicle. The gray-haired, bearded man looked familiar. It was “Jonah”, the man who had become a hero to all of Sync for standing against the Free Republic. The authorities had hunted him for years to no avail.

Blade grinned and decided to take out the leader of the rebellion.

Suddenly the gun swerved as if it had been pushed and Lieutenant Blade found himself thrown to the ground, he rolled once and stood up. The traitor in armor was on the roof with him. He spit.

You're going to die here, traitor!” Blade yelled and pulled a handgun from the pocket on the side of his leg. The traitor rolled to the side faster than Blade could aim, then from a position on all four the armored figure launched directly at him. The tackle threw Blade onto his back, his handgun disappeared and the faceplate of the traitor was right in his face.

Who are you?” The armored suit demanded.

I was going to ask the same thing, traitor!” Blade said, trying to kick the rebel scum off, but the suit was too heavy. Blade relaxed as if he had spent all of his energy resisting the armored rebel.

Listen to me, you must work for Admiral Robinson, the man is insane! The people of Sync just want to be left alone, they don't want to be at war against the Free Republic. They just want out,” Tom Grier tried to explain.

There is no escaping from the Free Republic, traitor scum.”


Nobody has to die, just some reasonable accommodation...” Tom was saying before he noticed that the sniper was twirling a finger on a hand Grier was holding against the roof. With a bad feeling he looked back to see the sniper rail gun swinging around to aim directly at him.

Wrong. You have to die!” The sniper screamed just as Tom Grier rolled forward over the edge of the building and the loud blast splintered the whole edge of the rooftop and top floor. Grier had fallen two floors before the building moved outward and he crashed through a glass ceiling.

He looked up to see the sniper gun itself fall over the rooftop as well. Tom didn't see any sign of the sniper himself. Grier moved through the empty office and crashed through the door into the corridor and wondered briefly if the lifts would be working.

Tom Grier began descending the stairs but when he reached the tenth floor landing that oversaw the grand lobby below, he became the target of two armored figures. He hadn't had time to use his QBR-44 on the roof but it was still attached to the back of his armored suit. He pulled it forward.

The glass partitioned had been shattered by the firing from below. Many of the rounds were coming up through the floor and they were often too accurate. Again Tom missed the enhancements that would let him take out those enemies without even having to see them.

Instead he rolled toward the edge peered over with the gun at the ready and let go a twenty-round burst that shattered furniture and desks all around the two enemy soldiers. They had moved away behind a thick pillar and this gave Tom time to move down two more floors.

The glass partition had already been shattered when he arrived. Again the two armored figures opened fire on his position, forcing him to retreat toward the far wall. He selected explosive rounds on his battle rifle, he was running out of other ammunition. He walked up to the edge and fired a dozen explosive rounds downward.

The two figures tried to find cover behind a pillar and a low wall, but the explosive rounds were able to track and change course. The resulting explosions left a gaping hole to outside in the corner of the building, but the load-bearing pillar seemed mostly intact.

After reaching the ground floor Tom Grier didn't bother looking at the two armored suits that had been torn apart as he walked through the hole he had made. His battle rifle was nearly out of ammunition and he was tired. The suit required a lot more work without the enhancements that the rebels had removed from his head.

He found two men in civilian clothes on their knees with their hands behind their heads. They were surrounded by a half-dozen well-armed men without armor. When they saw Tom, two of them aimed their guns in his direction.

Suddenly a familiar face walked in front of him. General Gallant, who carried no weapon.

This battle is over! Just leave,” The General told him. Tom would have taken him up on that quickly if Maggie Anders hadn't entered his field of vision.

Maggie?” He asked, immediately realizing it was a mistake.

She looked surprised and then shocked. Her hand soon covered her mouth.

You know each other?” The General asked, seeming amused, then to Tom, “The shuttles, our shuttles, will be here in a minute. You might want to become scarce. Unless you're coming back with us, that is. Which side are you on?”

Tom!” Maggie said, “Come back. Come back to the ship with us.”

Tom opened the faceplate shield so they could see him. Maggie gasped. “I didn't defect, I was captured. They removed my implants.”

General Gallant made a face, “We can repair the damage.”

Tom tightened his jaw. “This war is wrong, General. These people just want to be left alone,” He said.

The General was impatient, “You and I don't make those decisions, soldier. We just follow them.”

Tom shook his head, Maggie stepped back. “I can think and feel for myself without the interface with the system, you know. The implants were the damage to my face. I think I know which side I belong to now.”

Tom, no, no...” He heard Maggie cry as he turned and ran away at top speed.


Lieutenant Blade had crawled to the edge of the city where the Fleet shuttles had landed. A trail of blood was left behind him. Then Bolton had found him and helped him climb aboard. His legs and left forearm were pretty useless.

The others?”

They didn't make it, three are dead I think. some were taken into custody by the Marines,” Bolton reported. Admiral Robinson was going to be furious.

 ------Chapter Nine


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