Book: ALICE-9



By CW Lamb

I would like to dedicate this book to my brother Chris, who has shown us all what the true meaning of hero really is and to Cindy, who was by his side the entire time.

Copyright © 2015 by CW Lamb

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the Author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

First Edition

14 13 12 11 10 / 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


Title Page



Main Characters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30


Main Characters

ALICE – Artificial Life: Intelligent Computing Environment

Jake Thomas – 32, 6’ USMC Capt., divorced orphan, a wise ass, sarcastic.

Sara Sullivan – Blonde, 5’ 7”, 27, oldest of 3 sisters, strong leader, Jake’s second in command.

Bonnie Sullivan – Blonde, 5’8”, 21, middle sis to Sara, quiet, reserved, Mother to (Julie). Texas Commander

Becky Sullivan – Blonde, 5’4”, 18, little sis to Sara and Bonnie, outspoken, chip on her shoulder, medically inclined.

Linda Jones – Brunette, 25, 5’5”, computers and logistics, Mother to Tracy. Nevada Commander

Kathy Jones – Brunette, 21, 5’6” medically inclined, Mother to Timothy.

Sandy Allen - Brunette, 16, 5’5” Public Relations, communications specialist.

Burt – mid 50’s, Prosperity town Mayor, full beard, easy going, a good-natured guy.

Abby – Red head, 19, 5’ 8”, from village of Kern, strong, aggressive, strapping, very physical

Karen – early 20’s, 5’ 6”, married to Jason, Human Relations, and acting house mom.

Jason – early 20’s, 5’ 8”, married to Karen, strong technical abilities.

Joseph – 20, 6’4”, just Joe, big, strong, complements Abby, Team Bravo lead.

Jessie – Strawberry Blonde, 28, Freckles, ambitious, pregnant, Commander in Alaska.

Sharon – Brown, mid 24, Commander in Eastern Washington.

Heather –Brunette, 18, medically inclined.

Robert Jacobson – late 20’s, 6’, strong character, quiet type.

Hector - part of Robert’s original team. Second to Sharon in Washington State.

Patti Thomas –22, PHD, combat analyst, Jake’s great, great, great, granddaughter.

Jacob Thomas – 24, PHD, Engineering, Jake’s great, great, great, grandson.

Brian – early 30’s, family farmer.

Chapter 1

Major Jake Thomas was sitting in the command chair of the battle cruiser Revenge. Leaning forward in his seat, he stared intently out the bridge windows. The focus of his attention was the repair activity surrounding the newest addition to earth’s space fleet, the yet unnamed mammoth alien battleship captured just a month earlier. At about two miles long, he could not actually see both ends from this location, but that was not really an issue. With their limited resources, this was destined to be a section-by-section endeavor anyway.

As he watched, two of Earth’s other battle cruisers identical to Revenge, named Defiance and Independence, hung in space just off the battleship as well. These two were functioning as working platforms, assisting in the repairs. To be completely honest, those cruisers were actually in the midst of refitting as well. Both needed conversions to support human life, instead of their previous occupants. Collectively the four space ships, all captured, made up the entirety of Earth’s space fleet capital ships.

With the help of an occasional glint of reflected sunlight, Jake could just make out the little figures moving in space between the three ships, each figure hauling equipment or performing some form of repairs. The figures were all robotic automated attendants or “bots” as Jake liked to think of them, controlled by eight artificial life forms on earth.

Each of the Artificial Life: Intelligent Computing Environment systems resided in one of eight underground facilities distributed throughout the continental US, Alaska and Hawaii. Collectively, they were ALICE. Rather, they were prior to Jake’s involvement, as he now promoted the concept of individuality. He hoped to encourage their uniqueness though not all the locations had embraced it.

Slightly more than one year ago, ALICE-1, the original ALICE, released Jake from an experiment that had started 153 years earlier. It was never the intent for the experiment to run that long, but the facility he occupied had suffered a low bidder faux pas. That accident isolated the lab, and him, from the rest of the world. There he lay, in stasis for years, lost and presumed dead. That was until ALICE-1discovered him. Growing as she developed her newfound self-awareness, she found him in exploration of the facility she managed.

An unintentionally created artificial life form, ALICE-1 was an advanced computing environment made up of a hybrid containing both terrestrial and alien computer components. Originally built with the intent of only controlling the facility that held Jake’s experiment, she now ran the entire operation. Developed to be an Artificial Intelligence, she became so much more. Once ALICE discovered Jake, with no instructions to the contrary, she continued to maintain the experimental stasis field around his body. He had already been stuck in there for many years, so she continued to preserve his life. At first, it was just a maintenance task for her, but in later years, it became a matter of her own survival.

Both Jake’s abandoned experiment and ALICE herself came from years of research and development extracted from a crashed alien spacecraft. The discoveries derived from its dissection advanced human technologies across the fields of engineering, medicine, energy creation, storage, and so much more.

However, these same advancements eventually alerted the original owners, an alien race not known for sharing, to the experiments the humans were conducting. In response to these activities, the NeHaw gave the earth an intergalactic one-two punch.

The first came in the form of an ultimatum, to destroy the ALICEs, whose creation was due in part to NeHaw computing components and to return all their property from the crashed ship. This would roll back several advancements the humans had not been able to replicate, and without continued access to the alien technology, they would cease to function. Next, the earth received a planetary wide bombardment when the response had been to try to negotiate with the aliens.

The bomb’s effect, intended to destroy the specific alien technology that helped give the ALICEs life, were devastating. As the NeHaw were unable to detect exactly where the ALICE systems were located, they bombed everywhere. They assumed a planet wide bombardment would completely eradicate all traces of the technology.

Fortunately, all the ALICE computer rooms were unintentionally located beneath large underground stasis fields. These fields protected the storage areas, acting as a preservation mechanism, which in turn blocked the destructive emissions.

Unfortunately, the exposed human staff, left open to the unfiltered emissions, was killed instantly. The global impact of the bombing was devastating as well, reducing planetary technology levels to the equivalent of the 1800’s. The attack obliterated most of the technology infrastructure as well as delivering a massive population reduction. Dams, power stations, and large industrial areas all took major hits.

No human in any of the eight underground facilities survived the attack, rather no one but Jake. With none to counter explicit standing orders to remain hidden from the outside world, the eight ALICEs went into a facility maintenance mode, waiting. As some critical components began to fail, parts the ALICEs themselves were unable to replace, the decision to wake Jake became top priority.

As the last surviving member of the existing US military chain of command, Jake became the de facto commander for all eight facilities. This was something he would not learn until several months after release from stasis. Once released from his subterranean prison, he set to tasks defined by ALICE that stabilized and restored her precarious state.

With ALICE stable for now, Jake then embarked on a quest to reinstate some level of recovery to the world, recruiting carefully screened outsiders, a few at a time, to aid in his efforts. As the new team member’s influence grew, so did the challenges.

Through all this, the ALICEs had subtly manipulated Jake’s every move, nudging him in directions they deemed necessary. Eventually, they informed him of their multiple existences and enlightened him about their wishes. They had a critical requirement for him to produce offspring to ensure command authority continuity.

With so many hurtles for Jake to overcome on earth, one would only expect the NeHaw to come knocking again. Alerted to the activity on earth, when a routine maintenance task at one of the sites unintentionally set off sensors left to detect a possible recovery, the aliens initially sent a single powerful warship to investigate. Success in dealing with this first ship only led to more challenges. After fending off wave after wave of hostile efforts, mostly by sheer luck, Jake and his staff found themselves with four captured alien ships to convert to human use before the next onslaught.

As Jake was considering the daunting task of transforming the battleship before him into a human friendly transport, the acting captain of Revenge, whose chair he had usurped, spoke up.

“Major, Sir,” she said, “We are receiving a transmission from Alice-4.”

Revenge, as it was currently the only habitable ship, housed an assignment of a temporary six-person crew. The goal was to start giving selected staff hands on experience in space. To do so, a rotation establishing time for trained personnel to come aboard was put in place. Each crew would live aboard for one week.

After the week, each crew would go home, as another replaced them. Once onboard, each crew performed eight-hour training shifts with breaks, as ALICE really controlled all activities. ALICE validated any action taken by each training crewmember before execution. Off Duty periods for the crew left the ship entirely under ALICE control.

An acting captain, from the previous rotation crewmembers, gained assignment for the next rotation. It was a position coveted by all. This overlap was to help transition the next group and ensure a continuity of duties. The ALICE staffing efforts had grown so much, that none of the current crew were familiar to Jake, other than a passing introduction when he came aboard the day before.

“Please put it on the main screen,” Jake requested.

The window Jake had just been watching all the repairs through became a video display, and a rather frazzled female face, also unknown to Jake, was taking up most of it.

“Major, we have an issue here,” she started “somehow four men compromised the last recruitment drive. They managed to gain access onto the helicopter transport we sent to collect the volunteers. Upon return, they were uncovered inside the hangar. There was a shootout and several people have been shot.”

Jake sat up straight and asked, “Where are they now?”

“They’re still holed up in the hangar. Once the shooting started, they retreated to a collection of heavy transport vehicles parked to one side. ALICE-4 has the vehicles locked out so they can’t take them anywhere.”

“Why can’t ALICE just take them out?” Jake asked.

After a pause, she replied “Major, they took hostages.”

As Jake was considering his options, the face in the display added, “Also, Lieutenant Sharon is one of the wounded. She was there to greet the new arrivals as facility’s commander and took one of the first rounds to the abdomen.”

“I’m on my way” Jake replied as he sprang from his seat and headed to the passageway behind the captain’s chair.

“Captain, the ship is yours” he finished over his shoulder as he passed through the opening.

The passage held a ladder that lead below decks. He remembered this as the same one he and Sara had used the first time they boarded the ship. That was after the very first space battle with the NeHaw. Then there had been no artificial gravity, so they had just floated down.

Sara was one of the first six people the ALICEs had identified for Jake to recruit and she was now his Executive Officer. These same six were the core of Jake’s command team and the root source for the women the ALICEs had convinced to bear Jake’s offspring. Without Jake or one of his biological children, the ALICEs were incapable of continuing the relationship created by the repopulation of the facilities. ALICE only acknowledged a member of the original command structure or their offspring as authorized leadership by their pre-disaster authentication programing. All original command was by Presidential appointment and succession thereof. Even though he was now the elected President, a purely manipulative event, not even ALICE knew for sure if Jake-created appointments would remain valid after his passing.

Jake continued through the passages until he reached the hatch for the hangar deck. Passing through, he saw his fighter, still painted in the Marine Corps scarlet and gold. The fighter was waiting right where he had parked it earlier, the canopy still open and his helmet on his seat. Climbing inside, he barely noticed the hatch into the hangar he had just passed through, closing to allow his departure. Once his helmet was on and the canopy closed, he requested “captain, please open the outer hangar door.”

“Verifying inner door's integrity,” was her reply, as Jake passingly recognizing the proper protocol for opening the outer hangar door to space. Allowing the outer hanger door to open before the inner doors sealed up tight would cause the entire ships atmosphere to evacuate, killing all aboard.

“The panel is green, evacuating hangar,” was the next message, indicating all inner doors were sealed.

Hovering, Jake put his fighter in a slow flat spin, turning so he faced the outer door as the artificial gravity shutdown in the hangar and he became weightless. Once all the air evacuated from the hangar space, the outer doors would safely opened. As if the captain had just read his thoughts, he heard, “evacuation complete, opening outer door.”

As the outer hangar door opened, Jake inched his fighter forward until he could safely pass through the opening. Once clear of the cruiser, he nosed down and headed to ALICE-4, located in what was eastern Washington State, at a decidedly unsafe approach speed. The fighters had internal inertial dampening that protected the pilots from the forces generated by rapid acceleration, deceleration, and high speed maneuvering, but you can only bend the laws of physics so far.

Calling ahead for the facility to open the hanger doors, he finally did a hard brake. Actually overshooting his approach, he had to loop around in a wide banked turn, scrubbing speed in the process. Finally slowed enough to attempt a landing, he spotted the rectangular opening in the ground ahead of him and slowed, then stopped in a hover. Dropping vertically into the opening, he immediately identified the two factions. As he did a side slide away from the antagonists, he started taking fire from the cluster of parked vehicles on the far side of the hangar.

Once he was far enough away to be out of the direct line of fire, he settled down and climbed out of the cockpit, keeping his fighter between himself and the aggressors. Helmet still intact on his head, he stepped out and saw several similarly suited individuals, rifles in hand, headed his way in a crouch.

“Jake, am I glad to see you,” the first suited figure exclaimed.

By his size and the familiar voice, Jake knew the speaker before seeing his face “OK, Joe, so what the hell happened?”

Joe was one of the later recruitment additions and if he was here, Abby was not far away. Recruited at the same time, the two were quite an item, inseparable and absolutely made for each other.

“We were out on a standard recruiting pickup,” he started, “we’re work’in with a little town North East of here called Republic. There is actually a large general population there as it became real popular after the alien attack. I think it’s because of all the ranches and lakes nearby. Anyway, we were there to pick up 12 recruits, almost all women. Well it’s cold here now and everyone was all bundled up. I guess these four guys snatched four of them girls and dressed up in their clothes. By the time we discovered them, we were in the hangar here and when we tried to grab’em they started shooting at everyone in sight,” he finished.

Jake turned to survey the floor area between him and the vehicle park. There were three bodies on the floor, unmoving and female by the look of their clothing. He wanted to ask about Sharon, but that would have to wait, this needed his entire attention.

“They have hostages?” he asked.

“Yes,” Joe replied, “they grabbed three of the recruits as shields once the shooting started.”

“ALICE-4, any help here?” Jake asked openly.

“Jake,” ALICE-4 replied, “there is nothing I can offer as a solution at this point. I can in fact kill all parties in that area, unfortunately that would include the hostages. Were they actually inside the office space, I would have more options at my disposal.”

Joe began, “Jake, we tried to go after them in our suits,” pointing at the bodies, “but they started shootin again and hit the wounded. I’m afraid they’re all dead.”

Jake got the impression Joe was feeling the need to defend himself. He heard the resignation in his voice, clearly beating himself up over his perceived failure.

“Joe, that’s not your fault,” Jake replied as he turned to face him directly, “this is on them, not you!”

Turning back to the open floor, Jake asked, “Do we know who these guys are? Were they locals, drifters, or what?”

ALICE-4 replied, “We know nothing about them at the moment. I do have another team out, do you want me to redirect them to Republic and see what they can find out?”

“Yes please,” Jake answered, “let’s not escalate things here any further at the moment unless the hostages are at risk. We can afford to let them sweat while we figure out a plan.”

“Joe, you guys keep things bottled up here while I go inside. Don’t give them a target, but don’t let them wander anywhere either. Unless we can hit all four at once I do not want any attempts to kill one. They might retaliate against the hostages.”

With that, Jake turned and headed back to the main facility door, going wide while attempting to avoid inciting any activity from the vehicle park. Once inside the facility proper, he removed his helmet and, tucking it under his arm, headed to the command center where he expected to find whoever was backing up Sharon.

Entering through the double doors and setting his helmet on the nearest console counter, he looked around. He noticed there were actually far more people working here than he expected. It was the standard oval shaped, two-tier room typical to all the ALICE facilities. Surprisingly a young man, about 22 by Jake’s guess, approached and introduced himself. With the staffing ratios running two or three to one to the female side, Jake was always surprised to see a man around the command centers as most of the males pushed for combat rolls.

“Major, I’m Hector, Lieutenant Sharon’s second here,” he proclaimed.

“Hector,” Jake repeated, acknowledging him, “how is Sharon?”

“She is still in surgery, as are the other three,” he replied, “we were fortunate in that we got them out of harm’s way quickly as the intruders retreated.”

“Who are the other wounded?” Jake asked, unaware that there were more wounded. This was turning into an outright disaster.

“One unsuited staff member and two of the new recruits. All caught in the crossfire. Actually, I hate using that term, as we never returned fire once they started shooting, there were too many non-combatants in the line of fire. Unfortunately as you saw, there are three un-retrievable dead.”

Blocking out the memory of the three bodies on the hangar floor, Jake replied, “I’ve asked ALICE-4 to redirect assets back to, Republic was it? I want to see if they can dig up anything on these four,” he finished.

“Yes sir,” Hector replied, “I heard. They are on the ground there now, and I will make sure you have whatever they discover once they report in.”

“Can we get eyes on these four now?” Jake asked.

“No sir,” he replied, “I have had ALICE checking every camera but there is no clear view. This is the best we can do.” At that, Hector indicated for one of the staff operating the consoles to activate the display. A hologram appeared in the center of the room, and it displayed the hangar floor area where the heavy vehicles sat parked. The camera angle was such that the area behind the vehicles had the bodies clearly visible.

Jake let that roll through his mind and then as if some fleeting memory passed through his head he asked, “Hector, have we meet before?”

“Yes sir, though not officially, I was recruited in Texas. I am part of Robert’s original group from Fort Hood. We all gathered in the dining hall and you addressed us there. I was the squadron commander for the Jolly Rogers until Lieutenant Sharon asked me to back her up as her second in command,” he finished.

Robert Jacobson was leader of a group Bonnie had recruited in Texas. Bonnie was commander of the ALICE Texas location, also known as Dallas, although it was nowhere near that city. Bonnie Sullivan was also one of the original six recruits, mother to Jake’s daughter Julie, and Sara’s sister. Robert and his group had been quite a find, and he was currently acting as Jake’s logistics officer. His job was chasing down materials and precious metals for the ALICEs manufacturing needs and Jake’s bartering capitol.

The thought of Bonnie gave Jake the answer to his current dilemma. Not Bonnie herself, rather a trick she used when recruiting Robert and his hoard.

“Hector, what do you say we get some food and water to those people while we wait them out?”

Jake then asked to the room, “Can you put me on the speakers in the hangar please?”

“Ready when you are sir,” came the reply from one of the women at a console along the wall.

“This is Major Thomas. We don’t want anyone else to get hurt. We are sending you food, water and a communicator box so we can talk this over,” Jake’s voice echoing throughout the hangar.

In reply, someone shouted, “Don’t come any closer or we’ll shoot!”

“No one will come near you. I am sending one of the little robots with a tray. There will be no tricks, no one will come any closer,” Jake finished.

After a long pause, they heard, “OK, just one of those little critters, no people.”

“On its way,” Jake replied then made a slashing sign across his throat indicated she should cut the connection.

“ALICE, you know what to do, right?” Jake asked.

“Yes Jake, the attendant is on its way now.”

On the hologram of the hangar, Jake saw one of the many attendant robots scooting across the floor, past the bodies, stopping next to a gap between the parked vehicles. As Jake watched, three more bots followed the first, and each retrieved one of the bodies of the fallen. Jake’s focus on the hostages had been so blinding that he kicked himself for not thinking of that. The first bot placed the tray on the ground and then all four retreated. Next, they saw an arm reach out from between the vehicles and slide the tray out of sight.

Waiting for a few seconds, Jake then announced, “OK ALICE turn it on in passive mode.” At that, the image in the hologram changed. It was now the area between the vehicles, they could clearly make out the three hostages, huddled together on one side while the four offenders rifled through the supplies on the tray. As if an afterthought, one of the men collected a few of the water bottles and walked them over to the women.

“You’re using the comm. box to spy on them!” Hector declared.

“A trick I learned from Bonnie,” Jake replied with a smile.

Hector had a confused look for a second, and then Jake could see the understanding as a smile spread across his face. He realized Bonnie had used this trick on them.

“Clever!” was his reply.

As they all watched, the four men continued to sort through the food on the tray, first giving samples to the hostages, clearly looking for some indication the supplies were spiked. Once a suitable period had passed they began eating, sliding a portion to the hostages but keeping the lions share for themselves. All of this transpired mostly in silence with the occasional whispered comments between the four men.

It was during all this that one of the communications specialist reported, “Major, we have a report from the team in Republic.”

“Split screen please, I want to keep an eye on these guys.”

“Yes sir” was the response as the hologram split in two with the second half displaying a combat suited figure with a rifle slung over one shoulder. The faceplate was in the mirror setting so he couldn’t see the face, but the voice was distinctly female and recognizable.

Abby opened with, “Jake, we got some info for you.”

“Report,” was his reply.

“OK, well first of all, we found the four missing women, alive and unharmed. Apparently, once released from the interview, to gather their personal effects, the four men you have there, jumped them and locked them in a storage shed. It was located somewhere the locals here call the ‘old Burnett place’ on the lake outside of town. That’s why no one noticed until we showed up looking for them. As to the four men, they are local troublemakers. The head rat is Troy and the other three are Juan, Rex, and Jess. They have no family here, just showed up a few years back, and managed not to be driven off. They have no real history of murder or other violence, just petty theft and mischief. They would do enough odd jobs around here to stay useful, but no one here would vouch for ‘em.”

“And the women, has the whole experience put them off?”

“Just the opposite, they wanted to know if this ruined their chances for recruitment.”

“OK, unless you feel the need to hang around there any more, why don’t you gather those four and head back. ALICE, is there another access port they can use to avoid the main hangar?” Jake asked while keeping an eye on the second half of the split display.

“Not for the helicopter, but they can use a man entrance. Afterward I’ll park the helicopter in a safe place until the all clear.”

“Do it. See you soon,” Jake replied, indicating the conversation was over and turning his full attention to the four men in the other half of the holograph. He was now sure the only valuable lives before him were the three women huddled to one side. The question was how to retrieve them unharmed.

Chapter 2

First Lieutenant Bonnie Sullivan was just checking in on her infant daughter when the call about ALICE-4 came in. As commander of the Texas ALICE facility, she had a few perks, one of which was a nanny to watch the baby while she was on duty. Lately that seemed to be 24 hours a day. She had no more than peeked in on the girl when she received notification about the trouble in Washington. She had to rush back to the command center, where she expected a complete brief would be waiting that for her.

As she entered, she acknowledged Robert on the far side of the room, with a smile. He had been using her facility as the center of his operations, scouring the region for the refined materials the ALICE manufacturing units required to meet their ever-expanding production needs. Jake had also tasked him with recovering as many precious metal stashes as reasonable without risk, Platinum, Gold, and Silver. The prevailing thought was they were valuable as payment for future purchases from their new trading partners. The “friendly” aliens, who they freed from domination by the NeHaw, were a potential source of ships and weapons to fight the common enemy. Only time would tell if the hunch paid off.

Robert returned the smile with one of his own, and then was back at his tasks, huddling to one side of the room with several analysts. The team was going over old maps and querying the databases for leads to abandoned material stockpiles and known manufacturing areas.

She and Robert had been spending a lot of time together lately, mostly meals and down time. She remembered her first impressions of the man as intelligent and with a kind face. She had regretted that he was wasting his life riding with that gang of outlaws, a group she was intent on eliminating. Later he had come to her, at great personal risk, asking for a chance at redemption and she had jumped at the opportunity to recruit what she thought was a valuable addition. That insight had proven a true prediction, and even Jake had praised her intuition regarding him and his group.

The thought of Jake gave her a pang of guilt. She almost felt like she was cheating on him with Robert though nothing had ever happened between them and Robert treated her with the utmost respect. All their time together was strictly hands off. She remembered Jake had always said he was in no position to claim exclusivity, but now as the mother of his child, she was not sure that held true anymore.

Pushing all that from her mind, she headed over to the other side of the room, sat down at a console, and started reviewing all the reports from Washington. Wow, Jake had a real mess there. She noted that he had placed a freeze on all further recruiting until they worked out additional security measures. She was concerned about Sharon’s injuries, but could find no updates on her status.

Once she finished reading all the available Intel and verified there was nothing further she could do to help, she sat back in her chair and slowly turned to see Robert watching her from across the room.


Jake had been watching the hologram for well over an hour and had only come up with one possible solution. It was, however, an extremely dangerous option and one the ALICEs were not likely to support. His mind made up, he walked over to the communications console, and motioning the specialist aside, he hit the ON button.

“Troy” Jake said.

He could see the four men in the hologram looking around, clearly startled.

“It’s me, Major Thomas, on the communications box.”

As he watched, the man who he presumed to be Troy picked up the box and said, “Yeah, what do you want?”

“I expect you’re getting tired of just sitting there, why don’t you tell me what you want? What did you expect to accomplish with all this?”

Troy looked at the other three before answering, and then said, “we were just going to sneak in, grab some guns, ammo and supplies and the slip out before anyone noticed,” he finished with, “we didn’t mean to kill them people, it was an accident.”

Jake thought about Sharon in surgery, the last word he had received was she and the others were stable but still in critical condition. That was a lot of dead and wounded for an accident.

After a few seconds Jake replied with, “So here’s the deal, you release the hostages and on my word, I will stake you with one rifle each, 500 rounds and as much food as you can carry.”

As Jake watched, one of the others started to say something before Troy cut him off, “No way! You think we’re stupid or something. The minute we release them girls, you will kill us all.”

“If you hurt any of those women, we will certainly kill you all,” Jake snapped back at him, irritated at the stupidity of the man. Calming himself, he then added, “Look, how about this, would you consider trading me for them. That way I’m sure they are safe and you have your insurance?”

At that point, the control panel showed red as the communications link outbound cut off.

“Jake, are you insane,” ALICE asked pointedly. It was interesting to Jake how the ALICEs could portray human emotions when he upset them.

Then Troy replied, “You tryin to trick us or somthin, we know you got them suits you wear that can stop a bullet.”

Hitting the panel to transmit again, Jake replied, “look I won’t wear a suit, just plain clothes and no weapons of any kind, besides there are four of you. You don’t think you four can take me? No one here would risk shooting at me and you get your guns, ammo, and supplies. No tricks.”

He could see Troy considering the proposal. Meanwhile everyone in the room was staring at Jake, ignoring the hologram completely. Finally, Troy said, “OK you got a deal, when we see you in regular clothes you come here, slow like. Once we’re sure you aren’t trickin us, we let these women go!”

“OK, give us about 15 minutes to get your supplies together and then I’ll head to the hangar,” Jake replied, then hit the communications button again, cutting the audio.

Turning, he saw every eye in the room focused on him. “OK, ask your questions,” he said with a sigh.

“You are talking a huge risk,” Hector offered before anyone else.

“Maybe, but my first thought is getting those women back safely and secondly, who taught your hand to hand classes?” he asked with a smile.


Fifteen minutes later, Jake found himself on the hangar floor, white long sleeve shirt, and jeans replacing his flight suit. Off to his right was a small pile consisting of four rifles, several ammo pouches for each and four very large backpacks containing rations. The pile was next to one of the smaller helicopters, all assembled, and staged by the ever present army of bots.

As he approached the vehicle park, he had his arms extended out to both sides, hands open, palms out showing he wasn’t hiding anything. When he got to within a few feet, he heard, “Stop there. Now turn around.”

Doing a slow 360-degree spin, Jake even lifted his shirt showing he hid no weapons. There was nothing beneath his shirt but his white undershirt. Facing the vehicles again, he heard, “OK, now come forward slowly.”

When he reached the first gap between the vehicles, he noted a movement to his left side and felt the cold barrel of a gun against the side of his head. Grabbed by the collar and pulled sideways into the gap, Jake offered no resistance to the man. He led him into the open space where the seven had been huddled, in between the various wheeled and tracked vehicles. He noticed the communications box on the ground, still in passive collection mode he was sure. All eyes in the group were on him.

For the first time Jake looked all four men up and down in detail. He noted each had a side arm on his hip or tucked in his belt and two had sheathed knives. Troy had his pistol tucked in his belt in front with the knife on his right hip. None of the men was particularly large, the group ranging from about 5’ 8” to maybe 6’ in Troy’s case, and all under 170 pounds. All were obviously nervous and clearly, they had not thought this theft attempt through and were regretting it now.

Looking at the women sitting over to one side, Jake guessed they were all likely in their mid-20’s and while clearly distraught over their current circumstances, none looked abused. All three hunched low and out of the way of the men.

“OK Troy, let the women go,” Jake said while stepping up to close the distance between himself and the leader.

Troy took a step back, the truck behind stopping any further retreat, as he placed his hand on the butt of the gun tucked in his belt.

Jake verified, out of his peripheral vision, the one who had led him in still had his gun pointed squarely at Jake’s back. Good.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Troy finally snapped, “I’ve changed my mind!”

“So the deals off?” Jake asked, slowly closing the distance even more.

“Yeah, with you as a hostage…” Troy didn’t have a chance to finish his sentence as Jake drove his right hand into Troy’s throat, crushing his esophagus, while snatching the knife from his belt with his left hand.

While Troy grabbed his throat with both hands, choking, Jake spun to his left, sending the knife flying at the man with the gun and hitting him squarely in the chest. The blade sunk hilt deep, killing him. However, not before he got a shot off that hit Jake solidly in the left side. Staggered but still on his feet, Jake continued his spin, grabbing the gun from Troy’s belt with his right hand.

Still clutching his throat, Troy slid to the ground while Jake finished his rotation left and pointed the gun at the remaining two men, both of whom stood in stunned disbelief. Neither moved as Jake motioned for them to raise their hands.

“Hector, a little help,” was all Jake could muster, holding his left arm to his side as the sound of boots echoed throughout the hangar. Within seconds, the entire space filled with suited troops, hustling the women out and subduing the two standing men.

Medical staff members checked out both the two downed men and Jake. The former, pronounced dead were beyond help, while the medic assisting Jake was perplexed. She could find no blood at all, just a hole in his shirt where the bullet passed through. Then she nodded, obviously remembering the undergarment they all wore for combat usually bore the same color as the outerwear. No one had seen a white one before but Jake’s Alaskan crew. This one had done its job in stopping the bullet.

Stripping off his long sleeved shirt and pulling down the undergarment, Jake had the beginnings of a colossal bruise. As they normally wore multiple layers of the bullet stopping material to dissipate the impact, this was far more painful than Jake had experienced from previous hits. Because it was his side and not in front or back, the rigid panel formed by the material at impact, was far smaller in area, transferring greater forces into Jake’s side.

“Major, we need to get you to medical, you may have a broken rib,” she said, looking up at him from her kneeling position.

As they all headed out of the vehicle park, Jake noticed the two surviving outlaws ahead of him. He paused as he watched them walk away under guard.

“Wait,” he called out.

The guards held up as Jake gingerly approached, wincing as he walked. He then waved the three women captives over and once all were gathered, he asked the women, “Did either of these men mistreat you?”

The three women looked at each other in confusion before one replied, “No sir, it was them other two, they were the mean ones.”

Jake looked at the two men for a minute and then back to the pile of gear stacked by the helicopter.

“Let’em go,” Jake said to the guards.

There were confused looks all around as Jake said to the two men, “Go grab a rifle, ammo and a pack and get into that helicopter before I change my mind.”

The two men stared at Jake as if this were some kind of joke.

“GO!” Jake shouted, sending the two scrambling and causing him a great deal of pain.

As the others watched in disbelief, the two men did as told, each grabbing one rifle, several ammo packs, and one of the backpacks each, staggering under its weight. They then clambered up into the open door of the helicopter standing by next to the pile.

After the helicopter door closed, and the blades started rotating, Jake announced as loudly as he could for all to hear, “ALICE, I want you find an island so far away we will never see those two again, and drop them there.”

With that Jake turned and limped his way to medical, his overly attendant medic in tow.


The following morning, Jake awoke in the infirmary with a bruised side, a broken rib, and severe tongue-lashings from everyone for all his troubles. Heather had insisted he stay in the infirmary for the night for observation, and ALICE confirmed the decision. Heather had been the acting doctor here in Washington, since Jake had sent her up with Jason and a team, months ago. Sent just to open this location, she had stayed on continuing her education here. While she had far to go as a doctor, being all of 19, with intensive training she had received from the sleep-learning and assisted by the capabilities of the automated ALICE systems, she had everything well under control.

She also had a room full of patients as the full beds lining the wall were all occupied. Jake had refused special treatment, proclaiming if he wasn’t fit to return to his own room, then he was to be here with the rest.

In the bed to his right was the facility's commander, Sharon, fresh out of ICU and swearing up and down she was fit for duty, although no one was listening. To his left was one of the new recruits they brought in from Republic, and Katrese was her name. Having grown up in Republic, she was devastated to learn of the three deaths in the hangar. Two of the women they had lost had been close friends to her, and all excited to begin their new life here.

Resting now, Jake was bracing himself for round two of his ritual beatings though, as he’d been notified that Sara had learned of his adventures in the hangar and was on her way. She was currently in transit and would arrive within the hour. Besides working as his outstanding XO she was, without question, the love of his life.

This was not something he had ever publically disclosed however, as he was in somewhat of a precarious position with six other women, four of whom were either pregnant by him or had already borne him children. Linda was the most recent, having delivered a healthy baby girl named Tracy just a few weeks earlier. Named after Linda’s deceased mom, her sister Kathy was just as thrilled at the choice as anyone was. Jake insisted he be at every delivery and so far, he was 100%. Jessie, the last still pregnant, wasn’t due for a while, but he still got regular updates on her progress and tried to visit when he could. The whole arrangement still unsettled him at times, but the women all seemed satisfied with it.

This was all due to an effort by the ALICEs to provide a Jake fathered child for each of the eight ALICE locations, insuring there would never again be a chance of loss of lineage. Fortunately, with the discovery of Patti and Jacob in California, as they are Jake’s couple of great’s grandchildren, it forestalled the immediate need for any more children. As it was, the last two women on Jake’s “Hit” list were both just over 18 and the result of Jake’s all or nothing ultimatum.

When first approached with the proposition of “dating” his troops, Jake had stipulated that sleeping with any of them would create resentment and accusations of special treatment. The military refers to avoiding this as non-fraternization, and Jake agreed with it completely. He felt he was on safe ground insisting it had to be all or nothing. So he was completely floored when they all agreed for it to be “all,” he was completely unaware of the ALICEs influence in the women’s decision. Because these two were under age at the time, as far as Jake was concerned, he postponed any “relationships” with them for as long as he could.

After breakfast, and why the food always tastes worse in a hospital Jake could never understand, came the morning’s visitations. First on the list were the three women Jake had rescued, insisting on thanking him personally. He acknowledged their gratitude, and himself apologized for allowing them to be placed in such a position.

Next came the four who were the victims of the deception, apologizing for all the trouble and thanking him for letting them come anyway. Jake assured them no one held them responsible, and that everyone was happy to have them here. He wished them well and assured them he would be checking on them in the future.

What followed last was a blonde whirlwind. Sara burst into the room, still in her flight suit minus her helmet. She had hastily put her hair in a ponytail on her way in and rushed over to Jake, first kissing him square on the mouth. Finally drawing back, she smacked him firmly in the chest, providing an un-needed reminder of why he had his ribs wrapped.

“Oh My God, what the hell were you thinking?” Sara exclaimed.

Before Jake could respond, she continued, “There I was, trying to run things in your absence while you were gallivanting all over god's creation, when, what do I hear? Jake’s been shot and is in medical in Washington. AND I don’t even hear that until the next DAY?”

“I didn’t want you to worry” was all Jake could slide in before she continued, cutting him off.

“WORRY? Why would I be worried, I mean you get shot every day, right?”

By now, all the other patients were watching the exchange, most confused. Sharon however had a huge smile on her face, enjoying the front row seat to the show.

Jake held up both hands in surrender, wincing in the process, “OK, look I’m sorry, but I asked everyone to keep a lid on things until this morning. I knew you would come as soon as you heard and Heather insisted in sedating me so you would just sit fretting while I slept. This way we all got a good night’s rest.”

Sara just stood glaring at him for a few seconds, which seemed like hours to Jake. Soon enough, her expression softened, and she slid a chair up, next to his bed.

Taking her hand, he quickly changed the subject, asking for status on the various activities they had in flight, as well as a short mention of changes to the recruiting procedures. He didn’t want to get her going on that subject again, but clearly, things need to change. He did not want a repeat performance to what he had just been through in the hangar.

By the time they finished, it had been almost two hours and Jake was getting antsy. He was not one of those people who could lounge around in bed all day. He felt it was proper time for a medical release. As Heather made one of her regularly scheduled rounds, he asked as she made it to his bed.

“So doc when can I get up?”

Reviewing his vitals and then poking him in a few delicate spots, while assessing his response, she replied, “So long as you take it easy, you can go now. I have some pain meds for you, don’t skip them and if the pain gets worse, we need to know right away.”

“So I can go too?” Sharon asked from the next bed, motioning as if to get up.

“Not likely,” Heather replied, waving her back to bed, “you and I are going to spend some quality time together for a few more days,” she finished with a smile. Clearly, she was enjoying her newfound power over her boss.

With Sara helping him, Jake gingerly got up and dressed. He made the rounds to visit with all the other patients before leaving the infirmary, Sharon being the last.

“Ok, you listen to the doc and don’t try to rush your recovery,” he said to her.

“Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?” she replied, and then added, “I know Hector has it covered, he’s a good guy. You know he was one of Robert’s men. They were a good find.”

“Yeah, we talked. And I agree they all seem to be rising to the top,” Jake agreed.

As they headed out, Sara commented to Jake, “Patti is going to be ecstatic to see you. She just finished up her analysis of the last engagement and is dying to do the review for you.”

Jake was not so enthusiastic about that news, he was positive it meant a lot more work coming his way.

Chapter 3

Patti was just finishing the review of her notes for her presentation to Jake and the senior staff. She had received word earlier that day that Jake was heading back to ALICE-1, where she had set up camp, so to speak. She could not speak for anyone else, but she tended to think of ALICE-1 as home. This was her first facility, the one where she first arrived as a recruit. While almost everyone tended to travel between locations, both for training and work, she was able to stay put for the most part and she liked that.

For the better part of a month, she had been working with the ALICEs and a team of analysts specifically assembled for the task. Their goal was to complete more than a review of the last battle, they were to take a step back and review all their activities and interactions with the NeHaw to date. So far they had defeated the NeHaw three times, a feat beyond reason considering everything involved. The big plus out of all that was they had established relations with the five other alien races in the sector the NeHaw called Nu Tau Beta.

Terrestrially, Jake and his recruits had occupied six of the eight ALICE facilities and established working relationships with a multitude of stable external communities. With those relationships came an expanded degree of civility to the areas participating, by organizing and arming forces to drive out the lawless. Accomplishing this feat in each local area was a group known as the community patrol. Each patrol, created and supported as an armed unit, was overseen by a nearby ALICE facility. With eyes everywhere, little escaped their attention.

The main goal of the patrols was to establish order and discourage lawlessness. While it was up to each region to interpret what lawlessness meant, if it violated the 10 Commandments or the Bill of Rights, you could be sure Jake would not approve. Moreover, make no mistake, if Jake did not approve, you were on very shaky ground.

Though he would never acknowledge it, Jake had the absolute last word, outside or inside the facilities. All the ALICEs identified him as the sole authoritative presence in any location, though the recently discovered new genetic additions, Jake’s two great grandchildren, Patti and her brother, extended that. With over 3,000 occupants and growing in the six activated locations, the staff and ALICEs were his to direct.

All the community patrol members at least knew of Jake. All knew what he was doing to better things for everyone. Each patrol group had town leaders who directed the day-to-day activities, but Jake was their field commander. As was usually the way in these cases, his embellished reputation had grown beyond absurd, but that too served a purpose. All understood, should anyone choose to go “freelance” with the gear provided them, Jake would be coming to collect.

With everything in order, Patti decided to get a bite to eat and clean up before the dog and pony show.


Jake and Sara arrived at ALICE-1 well after lunchtime. They each flew their own fighters down, but as Jake had mentioned to Sara before departing, this was to be Low and Slow. Inertial dampening or not, just the thought of being bounced around caused him to wince. For Jake, it was to be a minimum effort activity and while he could have had ALICE do the flying, his pride prevented those words from escaping his lips.

As his fighter settled in to an approach over the Nevada desert, so did a feeling of coming home. Jake had grown up in the southwest and while he had never called Nevada home, ALICE-1 certainly felt like it.

Once they set down in the hangar, a crowd of well-wishers descended upon the two. It was now common knowledge about Jake’s resolution to the hostage taking in ALICE-4. As was usually the case in these things, if a video was available, it spread like wildfire. Thankfully, someone had clearly intervened and the reception committee numbers were small. As he climbed down, he could make out several familiar faces in the group.

Facilities commander Linda was there leading the group, newborn Tracy in her arms. As commander, he expected her, but her sister Kathy was by her side, holding Timothy as well. It still amazed him that as awkward as this should be, all involved seem to take it in stride. To add to the mix, he noticed Sandy was there standing behind the two of them, smiling and waving.

Jake’s first thought was to run. It was like having your wife and ex-girlfriends all in the same room. Then he remembered that was his issue, they were all good with this, or at least they claimed they were. Still, he laughed to himself, thinking, the panic was hard to shake.

Sara was the first to reach the hangar floor, dropping her helmet in the fighter seat as she climbed down, leaving both hands free for hugs. Jake’s movements were a little slower as he gingerly repeated her actions. Emerging from around the nose of Sara’s fighter, everyone enveloped him in the celebration surrounding Sara.

Once all the kisses, hugs, and fatherly doting had subsided, Jake caught Patti’s attention.

“So I hear you are finally ready with your after action report?”

“Oh we have way more than that for you!” she replied with a smile.

“When?” he asked.

“Well, I know your fondness for meetings with food, so how about 6pm local in the large dining hall. That gives you time to clean up and rest if you like. We really need to include more than just the core team here,” she offered

“Think so, huh?” Jake replied, wary of what she had in mind, “OK, then you better work out the details on the links to the other locations as well.”

“Already taken care of, see you at 6,” she answered, then turned and hurried off. Jake would almost swear she was skipping as she headed into the facility doors.


At the appointed time, Jake found himself and Sara ushered into the large dining hall. They had managed to change clothes, showering together with a minimum of intimate contact. With his wrap removed, Sara could see the extent of the bruising on his ribs and berated him again for taking such foolish risks. Jake resisted the urge to remind her three lives were hardly trivial, instead he just “Yes Dear’d” her.

The room layout normally had all the tables in rows covering most of the exposed floor space, but for this meeting, all attendees occupied places at the perimeter, providing for a large open area in the middle. Once everyone settled in with food, with Jake in the front row, center position, Patti walked out into the open area.

“I want to thank everyone for coming. As a matter of procedure, can everyone in the other locations hear and see me OK?”

Jake was aware that all six active ALICE locations were participating, each set up exactly as they were, only seeing Patti in hologram instead of in person.

With no dissention, Patti continued, “Most of you are familiar with the after action analysis we do when we have any significant combat activity. Some have even worked on a couple of these with me including patrol skirmishes where the locals have asked for assistance. This is nothing like any of that. We started that way, but the deeper we got into the last engagement with the NeHaw, the more questions we had. What we are about to cover is, in part fact, and in part conjecture.”

After pausing to look around, Patti continued, “First of all, working backwards we all know Jake and the ALICEs whipped up some super radio bombs that kicked the NeHaw’s ass this last time, but not even Jake knew exactly why they worked. Even more to the point, we all had questions about how the original NeHaw crew died at first contact. There weren’t any super bombs used on them then?”

“Next, at the end of the last engagement, we thought we knew where the NeHaw home world was, based on the reverse vector they used to transmit. That turned out instead to be home of one of the Races we just signed a treaty with, or so we think.”

Milking the pause for all it was worth, Patti stared the room down before continuing, “And finally, why did the NeHaw send a battleship when every piece of evidence we had said that we should be seeing every ship from the adjacent sectors, the battleship was the longshot.”

Jake glanced around the room at that point, noting his granddaughter may have a flair for the dramatic, but she had their attention.

“Let’s start with the bombs. Jake, what gave you the idea for those?”

Caught off guard, Jake quipped, “Sorry, I didn’t know this was group participation.”

That brought a round of laughter and dropped the drama a notch or two.

After Patti gave him a dirty look, he continued, “I noticed the speaker in the ceiling of an office I was working in, I then asked ALICE about it. No NeHaw ship was so equipped. From there she provided medical reports from the early dissections listing ruptured organs in the brains of the NeHaw corpses. The final link was in the early testing the NeHaw equipment, the researchers identified all the interactive consoles emitted Radio Frequency instead of Audio Frequency, or sound waves as we know them.”

Jake took his own pause and then said, “We couldn’t nail down exactly what the right frequencies were so we created a multispectral device that we hoped would rupture those same organs.”

Patti jumped in and offered at this point, “In our after action research, ALICE provided information associated with this same affects from earths past. Apparently, before the NeHaw attack, the world’s navies used sound wave equipment called sonar, to see underwater. Unfortunately these sound waves were so strong they would kill marine mammals, disrupting internal organs.”

“I remember that!” Jake exclaimed, now positive that was what prompted his idea.

“We were able to determine, that while the NeHaw do shield naturally occurring RF,” Patti continued, ignoring the outburst, “the magnitude of the explosions so close to the hull completely overpowered the shielding.”

“But what about the first ship,” someone in the back asked, “there was nothing like that for them?”

“I’m glad you asked that!” Patti replied, pointing to the speaker.

That was so smooth, Jake was sure they were a plant!

“What have we been discussing here? Naturally occurring RF. Yes the NeHaw knew we used RF on earth, yes they were shielded for it like we use sound dampening materials, but what was the difference?”

While Patti paused looking around the room, Jake turned and rolled his eyes at Sara. Of course, no one would know this. He didn’t know the answer to this, but he gave her the moment.

Then Patti slowly said, “H D R F. This was the time in human history where naturally occurring RF contained embedded high-density digital content. It carried four times the volume in a normal data stream, and the NeHaw were taking it in unfiltered. It fried their organs like putting 120 volts through a 12 volt system.”

Jake wasn’t sure how many here would understand the analogy, but laughed to himself as it was her turn for the blank stares.

“Alright, so we can now understand what happened to the first NeHaw ship and the RF bombs,” Patti continued, apparently not waiting for questions about the relevance of voltage, “so what about their home world?”

“We presumed the NeHaw used point to point communications and thus once we knew which direction to look, we could find them. Turns out, it is not that simple. Even though they use light waves instead of sound waves, which travel much faster by the way, they still can’t reach the necessary distances in a timely fashion. What we learned from our new Treaty Partners is the NeHaw place Transmitter/Receiver/Repeater stations on every occupied world. No ship can communicate while in faster than light mode, but once they come out they immediately link with the closest receiver station. All communications relay from world to world until they reach their final destination.

For those of you studying Computer Science, think of each planetary relay station as a router forming a huge MPLS cloud. Dropping any single node just reroutes the traffic. Whatever these Transmitter/Receiver/Repeater units use, our new allies didn’t have a word for, but they could explain how they worked. Apparently, once a station is set up, it immediately creates communication tunnels to the nearest existing stations. These tunnels can take years to establish, but once they are up, it’s like an AC power link. Rather than DC, where current has to continuously travel the circuit, it simply alternates back and forth at varying frequencies.”

Jake could see some confused faces around the room, but before he could speak up, Patti offered, “Think of a solid pole between two people. If you push and pull one end of the pole, the push doesn’t travel the entire length, just the displacement travels. That gives them almost instant communications over great distances. And these things take no maintenance, the NeHaw just show up, set them up and leave, everyone on the occupied planets knows to stay clear of them.”

“Finally,” Patti announced, “we have the battleship itself. This is actually a multi-issue event. First, we discovered that every time a NeHaw commander dies, his ship does a burst transmit of all relevant data at the time including video and statistical content. Why this didn’t seem to happen when the first exploration ship crashed is still a mystery, but we know the first two combat engagements definitely triggered this event. A burst from action one sent the NeHaw a log of a single human fighter ripping apart the cruiser bridge, killing her captain. Bursts from the three cruisers in action number two show a captured cruiser and several fighters ripping apart three NeHaw cruisers, killing their captains.”

Pausing to take a much-needed breath, Patti glanced at Jake with a smile. She definitely loved this attention. She was so much like her great grandmother at this point, Jake thought.

“The NeHaw now know we have weaponry they can’t yet defend against, so they sent the biggest thing in their fleet. We could have shot at that thing all day long and not stopped it without the RF bombs. So now, we know why they sent the battleship, but that begged another question. Why not send armored ships. I mean the cruisers hull can withstand a typical conventional 30 mm hit, but not the hypervelocity depleted uranium armor piercing rounds that Jake had in the rail guns. To defend against these would require significantly thickened hardened steel alloy plating.”

“Again we were informed by our Treaty partners, faster than light won’t work with a ferrous metal hull. Turns out that if your ship is made of steel, the FTL field generators, those round cylinders on the outer edge of the cruisers, can’t create the necessary field to make it work. That’s why all the races the NeHaw consider modern, use energy weapons. Anything requiring ferrous metal prevents you from leaving your solar system.”

“OH,” Patti exclaimed as if just remembering something “the stasis fields we use as shields, the NeHaw have nothing like them because we invented them here on Earth. Turns out, they are a derivative of the containment fields used in the exploration ship power generators. The passive nuclear reduction converters every ALICE facility uses as its main power source, works by placing a highly unstable radioactive core inside a containment field. As the material decays, it’s absorbed in the containment field and converted into oscillating electromagnetic energy. This energy in turn, is converted into electrical power. The more unstable the radioactive material is the better the power generation. Our scientists figured out that the reason this works is the containment field actually creates the stasis effect, greatly reducing the rate of decay. This in turn provides a self-sustaining power source that lasts for as long as the core.

For example, U234 naturally has a half-life of 245,500 years. Contained in stasis it would last almost forever. The stasis field doesn’t stop time, it just slows it way down. We altered the field generation systems and Voila, Stasis Field!”

To Jake, that explained ALICE-1s laissez faire attitude way back when, when he had asked her about a failing power source. It was also the best news he had heard so far. The realization that we didn’t know where the NeHaw lived, we can’t take the rail-guns outside the solar system, and none of the ships they were building in Hawaii would ever be capable of travel faster than light was not encouraging. The one positive piece was, if the NeHaw didn’t know why the first ship crashed, their status, as a “death planet” was still intact.


HeBak sat at the Communications Supervisor station he had operated for a very long time. Having reached the pinnacle of his career here, he had seen others come and go as they received promotions he was never destine to receive. Most of those promotions were due to family ties or treachery and guile. In a few cases, he was just happy to have survived their passing through his department.

He had been witness to every report from every sector in NeHaw space, processing each as required and forwarding them to the appropriate departments. That is every report but the ones from a newly discovered little planet in Nu Tau Beta. He alone knew the real story surrounding the loss of the exploration vessel, crashed so many megacycles ago.

His receipt of that first report, like so many others, was uneventful. He was preparing to process it as required when the geology data came up on his display. The world was a treasure trove of precious metals, not seen in NeHaw space in a very long time. They had drained so many of the occupied planets of resources, so long ago, as required by NeHaw expansion. It was only the remote location of this planet, which had left the world undiscovered for so long. He stripped the geology data from the analysis and buried the crash report in the archives as “lost in space”. His intent in altering the information was to return in his retirement and quietly siphon the undiscovered metals from under the inhabitant’s noses.

Unfortunately, an automated long-range scanner, searching for the lost exploration ship, detected NeHaw technology on a planet not known to contain such. HeBak again altered the report content. He couldn’t actually delete the alert as they went straight to High Council, but he altered the associated report to his favor. HeBak needed this planet to stay off the Council radar, so he stated the planet was developing black market NeHaw technology. The planet was unevolved and was off limits due to an inhospitable environment. This stipulated there were to be no landings, and vaporization of the planet was forbidden. There were to be no actions that compromise the planetary value as a communications relay location or unskilled labor resource in the distant future.

As such, action in the shape of a single cruiser, instructed not to engage the population, investigate the situation and if challenged, just to bomb the Technology out of existence. With the cruiser sent by the Council in faster than light, HeBak secretly sent a message directly to the planet. The message demanded the destruction of all NeHaw Technology and the return of the ship and crew. HeBak knew that with the inhabitants stirred up prior to their arrival, the ship’s captain would defend his ship and launch immediately, destroying a large part of the population and keeping his secret intact.

This would mean no future worries of High Council investigations and HeBak would not need to sneak in when he was ready to retire. The surviving population would be devoid of any technology that might detect his presence. All his problems solved.

However, this well-developed plan had completely disintegrated in the last series of reports. HeBak was not aware the cruiser captain had seeded the space around the planet with sensors after the bombing and left a Communications Unit on the fourth planet. While reports were completely under his control, alerts as before went directly to High Council.

As with the first report, he altered the single cruiser engagement, making it appear a faulty bridge panel failed, evacuating the ship atmosphere and killing all aboard. In the second engagement, he had to be more creative, implying the NeHaw commander had gone rouge with the year’s tribute collection in the abandoned single cruisers hold. Attacking his own sector companions, he had rebelled, possibly convincing some to join him. All these events were not unfamiliar to the NeHaw, as HeBak had seen similar actions in reports of the past. The High Council tried to keep them quiet, but he was well aware of all the dirty laundry the Empire had to hide.

He had hoped to buy time and delay any further High Council involvement, but in a surprise move, they immediately dispatched the newly deployed, yet unassigned, battleship to the sector. This was a bad timing issue for HeBak, as he had expected a several cycle delay. The expected behavior he had counted on was for the NeHaw to restructure the adjoining sectors to gather a sufficient force to deploy against the rogue commander. He had assumed the overwhelming force would destroy the upstarts and save his retirement.

HeBak was disturbed beyond reason, as his retirement was in jeopardy. He had taken all his savings, a not inconsequential sum, and purchased a ship with all the automated mining equipment necessary to land and claim his prize. He had to figure out a way to subdue the usurping inhabitants and get the NeHaw High Council looking the other way again.

What was even more disturbing to him were the rumors he was hearing of the other five species in Nu Tau Beta. Apparently, they were telling tales of the defeats in the three confrontations. Evidently, there were disturbances in other sectors based on these stories. If the truth got out and discovery of his altered reports became known, the leadership would execute him on the spot. The only bright side was the other uprisings might give him much needed time to address Nu Tau Beta himself.

Chapter 4

After Patti’s presentation was completed, and with all questions asked and answered as best as they could be, Jake, Sara, Patti, Linda, and Sandy all retired to Jake’s room. It was larger than most of theirs, but they really chose it more for Jake’s comfort as they could have gone anywhere. On the way to his room, they all gave Patti a bit of grief over her overly dramatic oration.

“Really Patti,” Jake started, “it was great, but I was expecting more visuals and……”

“Less you!” Sara completed with a laugh.

Patti and Sara were very close. When Patti discovered her genetic relationship to Jake, Sara was the first person she confided in, besides her brother. Sara had guided her on how to approach Jake and the two became friends. That bond had grown stronger since.

“That’s not what I was going to say,” Jake inserted before Patti could reply.

“Oh yes it was,” Sandy contributed.

“Look you guys,” Patti countered, “there really wasn’t a lot I could do for visuals, have any of you ever seen a video of a power containment field?”

As they reached the door to Jake’s quarters, he asked, “OK, Patti, answer me this, do you even know what MPLS stands for?”

Patti stopped dead in her tracks, the distinct look of panic on her face.

“I thought not,” Jake said, answering his own question. With a laugh, he opened the door and guided her in while motioning for the others to follow, all joining in the laughter.

Once everyone had grabbed their beverages of choice, that being wine for everyone but Jake, they all settled into seats in his sitting room. Jake was the first, grabbing one of the overstuffed chairs, as Sara had pointed him to it while handing him a soft drink, and saying, “no alcohol with the pain pills.” He was not a big drinker anyway, so there was no loss there.

While all the other maneuvering was going on, Jake noted Sandy was wearing the same dress she had the first night she first came to him about the rotation. She looked every bit as good in it now as she had then.

With all the craziness of baby arrivals, the before and after of the battleship fight, the departure of the five Treaty ships and the recent incident in ALICE-4, any rotation activity had been all but halted over the last two months. Oh, he got the occasional whining of neglect from Becky, but the rest of the women had not uttered a peep. He wasn’t quite sure if he should feel insulted or flattered as that meant they either respected his space and need for focus or had found other entertainment.

At that last thought, he actually laughed aloud. He was absolutely the last person on earth who could fault any of these women for finding another man. If anything, the fact that he was the father of their children had most likely condemned them to his exclusive company for the rest of their lives. If any of them should be so lucky as to find love, he would gladly dance at their wedding! Well, anyone but Sara that is.

The laugh, however, had drawn the attention of the others.

“What’s so funny?” Sandy asked as she settled in at the end of the couch next to Jake’s chair, tucking her bare legs under her, the movement expanding the gap exposing even more cleavage.

Recovering quickly, Jake replied, “I just had a vision of two naked girls, both sprawled out on my bed in the next room.”

As the others laughed and Sandy turned bright red, Patti blurted, “Multi-Protocol Label Switching!”

“What?” Linda asked, confused.

“MPLS” Jake offered with a bigger laugh while Patti nodded.

For the next 30 minutes they all talked about anything but work, Linda glowing when Sara asked about the baby and then updating Jake on his daughter’s latest developments.

It was during a pause in the conversation, when Jake turned to Patti and asked, “So what don’t you want to tell me?”

“How did you know?” Patti asked, as the surprise was evident on her face.

“My ex got that look when something bad came up, like she wrecked the car or ruined my favorite t-shirt. You know the ones with the half-naked hula girls. Genetics are a bitch.”

“I’m not sure I like the association,” she fired back, “but yes, we do need to talk and I didn’t want to include this in the general presentation.”

“So give” Jake said.

“To put it flatly, we don’t know what’s next,” she stated.

“What do you mean, what’s next?” Linda asked.

“I mean up to this point we always had some indication of what the NeHaw might do next. However, as of now we are so far off the map, we have absolutely no idea of their next move. There are no references in any of the NeHaw manuals or Treaty materials to anything remotely like this situation. And remember, everything I just presented was our best guess, we have no real means of validating it.”

Jake thought about that for a moment and then said, “Ok so let’s talk this through. First, we assume they know about the RF bombs, stasis shields and the rail guns, so coming here in any standard faster than light ships are out of the question. With our three re-enforced cruisers and their newest battleship, they would be out matched.”

“Jake, can’t they just boost their shields to protect themselves from the RF?” Sara asked,

“Even with updated RF shielding, that much high energy close up is still a viable weapon. It won’t work from a distance, it would have to be something like a space landmine. They would have to be right on top of it, but yeah we still have some life in that option.”

“What about non-standard ships?” Patti asked.

“That’s my thought. I imagine the NeHaw are dusting off all the abandoned and obsoleted technology they have on record, searching for a solution to this as well. Our one saving grace is they have a long way to go to get here and anything sturdy enough to stop a rail gun round is going to travel slowly.”

“Why are you so sure about that?” Patti asked.

“As a matter of reference, a traditional human top end heavy weapon is a 30mm machine gun. A 30mm diameter lead bullet weights 14oz. and travels at approximately 3,000 feet per second. Depleted Uranium is almost 70 percent denser than lead and the rail guns use 2 inch diameter rounds, or 51mm for you math challenged people,” Jake added while looking at Sara.

At that, Sara stuck her tongue out at Jake.

Continuing with a smile, he said, “It’s also longer so let’s just say its 3 pounds of hardened metal flying at 12,000 feet per second. For you non-physics types, Force equals Mass times Acceleration, but in our case acceleration equals velocity divided by time. For this discussion, time is a constant because in space, there is no deceleration whereas on earth, gravity and atmospheric drag slows the projectile over time.”

At this point Jake paused to survey the collection of blank expressions, “OK, so in simpler terms, that equates to about 4 times the mass and 4 times the velocity of a 30mm round. Or to make it even simpler, a 30mm as described hits with 122,378 foot pounds of force over 1.1 square inch surface area while the rail gun is 6,713,287 foot pounds over 3.1 square inch area. Final numbers are, the 30mm hits with 111,253 pounds per square inch while the rail gun is 2,165,576 pounds per square inch. That makes the rail gun about 20 times more lethal.”

Everyone sat staring at Jake. Finally, Patti asked, “Jake, why do you know all that?”

“I did the math before asking ALICE to build them. Engineer, remember?”

“And all that means?” Linda asked, clearly not wanting any more physics lectures.

Jake paused a minute, and then said, “When we patched the NeHaw ships, we found holes that went through three decks before the round stopped. Some in the bow area where its narrower, went completely through, top to bottom. They sent the battleship because it was so thick it could take the pounding. If they want to take us on here, they needed hardened hulls. I think that means we get a breather, maybe even a few years before they can produce a threat.”

No one spoke for a few seconds, mulling over the implications of Jake’s analysis. Finally, Jake asked, “Ok ALICE, you have been conspicuously quite at a time when you traditionally have some input?”

“I always enjoy watching fuzzy logic at work,” she replied.

“My sisters and I came to the same conclusion while working with Patti, however as the question was not asked, we chose to wait and see what you came up with separately, thus corroborating our conclusion.”

As Jake saw Patti puffing up, clearly taking exception to the comment, he jumped in, “So we agree. The NeHaw won’t come anytime soon?”

“We agree, but for completely different reasons. First, the NeHaw are a long-lived people, so what is urgent to you, would not be measured in the same time span for them, as you would expect. Fast can be years, not minutes.”

“As for the required technology to overcome their challenges here, they aren’t inventors, they acquire. We believe they are currently pressuring subjugated peoples into resolving this dilemma for them. Repressed cultures do not move faster than the least tolerated rate of progress.”

“Finally we believe that the developments in this sector have created some level of discord throughout NeHaw space. As was so eloquently explained by Patti earlier, every NeHaw controlled planet is a repeater of information. We would expect that the five Treaty planets disseminated their status throughout the network. Most likely the NeHaw are re-enforcing various locations throughout their controlled space right now.”

Jake caught the suck up. Clearly, ALICE knew she upset Patti with her earlier comment.

“So by hook or by crook, we all agree we have time to deal with this?” Jake offered.

“Yes” ALICE replied.

“With that, I am going to bed,” Linda declared, standing up, and kissing Jake on the cheek. She turned and headed to the door with Patti in her wake. Sara repeated the motion but added, “sleep well” with a knowing smile before turning and following the others.

As Jake was getting up, he stopped and turned to the door, not remembering if he saw Sandy leave with the others. In fact, he did not recall her in the last part of the conversation either. Moving slowly to the bedroom door, he peered around the corner.

Sure enough, Sandy was in his bed, covers pulled up to her neck and apparently sound asleep. He quietly moved to the far side of the bed and changed into a pair of running shorts. With his ribs still wrapped in the elastic bandage, he carefully slid between the sheets. Reaching out slowly he found the middle of her back, completely bare.

Rolling onto his right side and taking care not to anger his left, he snuggled up behind her. While trying not to wake her, he slid his arm, first around her waist and then his hand up to the center of her bare chest. Considering her sizeable bust line, this was no immediate task. With his head on her pillow next to her head, he noted a recognizable change in her breathing. He whispered in her ear, “You can stay, but be very gentle with me.”

With that, he could feel her sliding back until her entire bare body was pressing up against him.


The next morning Jake wandered into the familiar small dining facility on the same floor as his quarters. Before the onslaught of new recruits, this was their primary gathering place, but now it looked so small to him, and quite crowded. Sandy was already there with Sara and Kathy, having left Jake earlier that morning after a shower together. He was moving slowly, and she needed a change of clothes, so off she went, in her typical, “I just got some” happy mood.

He smiled, acknowledging the three as he went over to the counter to order and collect his breakfast. While waiting the few short minutes it took to arrive, he turned to see the three in what appeared to be a hushed conversation. So they would not be overhead by the surrounding tables, all three were leaning in closely. Jake laughed to himself thinking that with the dull roar in here, they could likely yell and no one would take notice.

Grabbing his tray, he headed directly to the three, sliding into a seat next to Sara and resisting the urge to give her a kiss. He realized all three were deserving of the same greeting. Not so distracted that he failed to notice the change in their overall posture, he asked, “So what’s up?”

“Nothing,” Sara replied, looking somewhat guilty, “why would you ask that?”

“From over there,” Jake answered, indicating the serving stations, “it looked like you were plotting something.”

“Who, us?” Kathy asked, batting her eyelashes.

“Speaking of guilty,” Sara added, trying to change the subject, “wandering in at almost 10am for breakfast makes people wonder why you were up so late last night?”

“10am!” Sandy blurted, jumping up and darting for the door.

“Bye” she managed over her shoulder as she headed out at a hurried pace, leaving the three staring after her, completely confused.


Since leaving Jake’s room last night, a sense of excitement filled Sara. The thought that they might actually get a few YEARS respite from the wave after wave of NeHaw aggression was too much to hope. She had immediately started formulating a plan to secret away with Jake for some long overdue rest and relaxation.

After the last engagement against the battleship, Jake had been making a habit of traveling between the ALICE facilities overseeing his “Special Project.” It was all very hush, hush and if you were involved, you were sworn to secrecy. Whenever Sara pressed him on it, all he would say is, “all in good time.” The strangest part was none of the rotation women was involved in any of it. In the past, Jake had always included at least one of them and usually Sara. Even Patti, the one outsider, usually had some limited involvement in Jake’s plans, but not now. She was suspicious Jacob, Patti’s brother, was, but couldn’t verify it.

The idea that she might actually make this trip just her and Jake however, lasted about as long as it took to see Sandy slink off into his bedroom, while everyone else was engrossed in discussion. Therefore, after excusing herself last night, she headed to her own room and started contacting all the others with her idea. Their responses totally caught her off guard.

Linda and Kathy, both new mothers, couldn’t imagine leaving the babies alone so soon. In addition to that, neither would even consider anywhere that might require wearing a swimsuit. Jessie just laughed at the notion of any travel, so unless they were going to R & R in Alaska, she was a no go.

Bonnie had been the most perplexing of all. As the one who delivered first, Julie was the oldest of the babies and well established with a nanny. None of her excuses made any sense to Sara, and if she didn’t know better, she thought Bonnie was looking for reasons not to go with them.

Becky however, was the exact opposite. She was more than supportive of the idea and was suggesting that maybe Sara should consider skipping this trip altogether. Once Sara explained, in no uncertain terms, that wasn’t an option, she started suggesting more reasonable options for a larger group.

Sandy wasn’t available until this morning and Sara was lucky enough to catch her at breakfast before Jake’s untimely arrival. She was ever so enthusiastic, completely unfazed by the idea that there would be more than just her and Jake. The conversation was cut short however, by Jake’s appearance. However, Sandy was able to finish that she was happy with whatever Sara set up.

The sudden outburst and exit had startled Sara, apparently as much as the others. Then again she thought, as brilliant a people person as Sandy was, her inner teenager appeared at the most unusual times.


After breakfast, Jake had excused himself, stating he wanted to try to get some work done. With that, Sara announced she was off to the command center on some errand of her own, though Jake noted she had chosen not to expand on it. Kathy, the last of the three, declared she was going to have a little more coffee and then head off to medical for her normal shift.

Instead of finding a vacant office, Jake just returned to his room and grabbing a seat at the desk, hit the display button on his terminal and set about reviewing his personal communications. Jake directed ALICE to classify information on his “Special Project” for his eyes only. This was in contradiction to most of the daily reports, which were available to all staff personnel unless they involved things like personal medical information.

As a rule Jake hated keeping secrets, if you were good enough to recruit and passed the ALICEs two-week post recruitment psych evaluation, you can be trusted. This information, however, would become disruptive once out, so he wanted all his ducks in a row first.

Jacob reported he was finished with the first 10 prototypes, per Jake’s request, and the test results had proven better than expected. Both Abby and Joe, Jake’s personally selected testers, had reported their satisfaction with the initial two prototypes and the expanded test group all reported similar results with a minimum of requested changes. Jake could hardly wait to get his own shot at one but knew that had to wait.

In separate communications, both Abby and Joe had reported on the other assigned activities outside of the testing work they were performing. Each assured Jake that their training was on schedule and that the individual and joint exercises he had assigned them were on track for completion within the next two weeks. They both expressed a desire for Jake to allow them to demonstrate how effective their newly acquired skills would be in practical use.

Jake was quite positive, given their personal relationship, that both Joe and Abby knew exactly what the other was sending him. However, Jake could separate out just enough from each to feel confident they were in fact progressing right on schedule and to the necessary level of excellence. He knew what he needed for this project to succeed.

The last few months had Jake concerned over the ever-escalating aggression, both at home, and in space. If things continued on this track, he was going to find himself in a two front war with dissention on earth and with the NeHaw above. With the NeHaw, he had hoped to be using the stasis shields, rail guns, and RF bombs in a direct run on their home world. With that, he could knock them so far back on their heels, earth could have time to rebuild in earnest.

Now that he understood they didn’t exactly know where the home world was, the rail guns upset the faster than light field generation and while the RF bombs would make great land mines, the NeHaw would explode them far sooner and much farther out, minimizing their effectiveness. However, doing a planetary bombardment like the one earth had received had distinct possibilities.

Never being the kind of person who wallowed in self-pity, this simply meant that Jake had to focus on front two for immediate actionable resolution. Jake had always maintained two daily routines since he started this new life. The first was his daily workout, it wasn’t always first thing in the morning and with these ribs it was on hold, but he would do some form of exercise. The second was a review of all the status reports provided from every ALICE location and community patrol.

The internal reports he scanned for irregularities. When organizations start to become routine, the odd items jump off the page and foretell trouble. The community reports gave Jake a sense of the world at large, or rather the parts they were directly influencing. If one area increased the quantity or type of supplies they ordered and the ALICE team in that region hadn’t indicated additional activities there, Jake would have ALICE increase observations. He hated to think of it as spying, more like dad installing a GPS in the kid’s car. It never hurts to know where they are going.

In most cases, the observations revealed increased hostile activity by outside factions. The whole idea of community patrols had been to create and support safe zones around the civilized communities. The need arose from outside lawlessness and the patrols were there to ensure stability. They weren’t cops, they didn’t enforce local laws necessarily, although rape, murder and other such severe violations were exceptions. It was up to the towns inside the stable zones to create and enforce their own local ideas of the civil code.

The patrol ensured that the raiding and pillaging elements remained unwelcome and these communities prospered without fear of the loss of all that they worked so hard to achieve. Unfortunately, as is all too painfully obvious at times, only the threat of force prevents the most aggressive of types from having things their way.

This too, was why Jake had such a hard and fast rule about those allowed to join the patrols. Considered a high honor, it was second only to direct recruitment into an ALICE facility. Once you became a member, it was more than just common knowledge of the consequences around abusing their position. Anything from punishment to banishment was possible by their communities.

The communities knew lack of enforcement meant the risk of losing all support. All members considered getting local punishment as getting off easy, for if they called in Jake to intervene, well, the well-known incident at Kern had the usual embellishment. While not technically an abuse of patrol, it certainly was abuse of a community under Jake’s watchful eye.

With all his correspondence and paperwork caught up, Jake stretched, wincing only a little, then got up and headed out to see what trouble the others were getting into.

Chapter 5

MeHak had been head of the High Council for many, many megacycles. She was the supreme leader of over a thousand worlds and controlled NeHaw interests throughout the multiple galaxies they managed. Ignoring the occasional token concession to other council members on issues of lesser importance, she always got her way.

Therefore, saying she was at her wits end over these catastrophic failures in some backwater sector, was a complete and total understatement. The loss of five, top of the line, combat vessels, and the year’s tribute of the entire sector was intolerable. The whole reason those four battle cruisers patrolled that sector instead of the smaller and more common destroyer class was to prevent this very thing from occurring.

However, at the fringe of the NeHaw galaxy, those five worlds’ technological production struck at the very heart of NeHaw power. Repulser and faster than light drive manufacturing, a major starship construction and repair yard, and worst of all, the source of the NeHaw interplanetary communication's equipment. All from planets in that sector.

She had every council member scurrying around, searching for answers and quelling the questions among the many subspecies they “protected from outside aggression.” This recklessness was the kind of thing that gave them ideas of independence.

Then there were still those on the council pointing at her, reminding her that all the decisions made to this point had been at her approval. Although she would not admit it, it was not until the need to send the battleship that she remembered even discussing that forsaken planet. She had not recalled anything out of the usual in the reports. These were undesirable incidents for sure, but not without precedent.

Then there were the rumors circulating. Some were saying there was altering of reports and the actual incidents were far more devastating to the NeHaw. Even if untrue, there were far too many ready to believe them. Really, a primitive planet defeating four cruisers and a battleship. How absurd.

With the loss of the battleship, however she had issued an order to upgrade all NeHaw combat vessels insuring no other would fall into inferior hands. It was bad enough to lose the ships, but to have them used against you was beyond insult.

Her challenges of late related to the stupid males she had to deal with on a daily basis. Between the council members, Space Fleet commanders and ships captains, she had her fill of failures. Females were naturally more intelligent than males but these seemed to be denser than usual. Her female friends had never understood her desire to pursue a political career. It was such a useless pursuit for anyone with true intellect. Art, philosophy, and music were the only acceptable callings for the female elite.

MeHak tried to explain the beauty in mass manipulation, or the utter joy of orchestrating a coup over a political opponent. She relayed the sense of accomplishment when you subjugated entire species, bending them to the needs of the NeHaw. None could grasp her motivations for any of these activities. They could not get past the excessive amount of time spent with lesser beings, be they NeHaw males, or subjugate representatives.

Pushing all that from her mind, she set to the task of dealing with the issues at hand and uncovering the truth. She needed to understand what was really occurring and how far this corruption had truly spread. Therefore, she thought she had just the test in mind.


After leaving his room, Jake headed to the command center to see if Linda, who was the true location commander here, needed anything from him. Checking in there and getting the all clear, he headed to the hanger area to check on their fighters and see what other trouble he could get into. He wasn’t used to all the down time, having been at a run since the last engagement.

While checking out his ship, the overhead doors opened and one of the many heavy lift helicopters dropped in and settled to one side of the large open area inside the hangar. Once it had shut down, the rear door dropped and a group of staff, actual people instead of bots, climbed aboard and started offloading vehicles. Jake wandered over and slid quietly up to the person he figured was overseeing the operation. Standing there for a few seconds, he then quietly asked, “So, what’s up?”

He felt bad after the poor woman almost jumped out of her skin before replying, “Oh, hi, major, this is just a vehicle transfer from the Texas location. When we need special equipment, they just stuff them in a helicopter and fly them here.”

Jake thanked her and continued to watch quietly as they unloaded the rest of the vehicles, and then he walked over to one of the many-parked helicopters on the far side of the floor. After he climbed in, he verified the comm. system was up and functional.

“ALICE, what is the current status of Revenge?” he asked.

Revenge is still in orbit, just outside of the repair zone surrounding the battleship. Human habitable status is green. All necessary system refits are complete. It is currently acting as a training platform for crew space readiness and with a six person team on board.”

“Is it supporting any of the repair activity?”

“Negative, it was intentionally left off repair duty as crew training was considered a higher priority and its participation would be a marginal impact at best.”

“Good,” Jake replied, “can you have it brought in and refit. I’d like any upgrades that impact faster than light removed, i.e. the rail guns, and have it readied for space trials. Do we have a crew capable of running some faster than light testing?”

“We have completed a significant number of crew rotations, providing a 30 person pool of acceptable crewman.”

“In your estimation, how many would be required for, oh let’s say a 10 day trial?”

“While the NeHaw staffed this particular cruiser at 35 personnel, I would suggest no more than a 10 to 12 human crew. With a 5-person bridge, including a captain, and two in the engineering section, there is sufficient redundancy to allow for both on and off shift periods for all members. Were this to be of extended duration, a larger sampling would be prudent.”

“Yeah, that was my thought as well and let’s be honest, if things don’t go well in testing, I don’t want to risk our entire resource pool,” Jake offered.

“So here’s the million dollar question,” Jake continued, “what do we do about astronavigation? I mean that once this ship leaves the solar system, it’s all on them, no ALICE support. I presume you can pre-program the sequences I am thinking about, but in reality they need a navigator capable of bringing them home.”

ALICE replied, “As you might have assumed, that is not a skill set easily acquired. With the capture of the first cruiser, we began evaluating potential candidates for the initial sleep learning program. At this time we have identified 11 strong candidates and have begun the initial practical training as sleep learning is almost complete.”

Jake asked, “I assume all were included in the spaceship crew training program as well?”

“Yes, one of the criteria was a desire to go to space. Without that, they would be of limited value.”

Jake laughed at the comment. While all the ALICEs currently populated had displayed a certain “humanization,” they all still held a certain clinical attitude about some things.

With that exchange as a kickoff, Jake went into the details on what he was thinking and what testing he desired completed in these trials. He also listed some additional personnel he wanted to include, but warned ALICE to ensure that all personnel selected were to keep quiet on the subject. Like his “Special Project,” if this got out too soon, it would cause disruption amongst the staff.

Once they agreed on a timeline, Jake asked for notification once the ship was ready for return to space. He then climbed out of the helicopter and headed back into the main facility for lunch.


The following morning Jake awoke alone, an event that somewhat surprised even him. Seeing as there were four of the rotation ladies in residence and Sandy had pretty much removed the stay on those activities, he assumed someone would be knocking on his door last night.

At breakfast, they reinforced his confusion, for as he walked in he found Kathy, Linda, and Sara all at chatting away. Again, grabbing his food first, he took his tray and took a seat with the group.

“Morning all,” he said as he seated himself.

“Morning,” was the unanimous reply.

“What’s with the combat suit?” Jake asked of Sara, she being in full dress, minus her helmet.

“Just prepping for our day, after breakfast you need to get suited up as well,” she replied with a smile.

Both Linda and Kathy just smiled at Sara’s statement, making Jake suspect a conspiracy.

“And we are going where?” he asked, not really expecting to be told.

“Oh it’s a surprise,” Sara replied, “just eat up and then we’ll get you suited up.”

Acknowledging Sara, and knowing he would not get any more out of her, he finished up while the three women continued to chat. Once he finished all four rose and both Kathy and Linda gave him a kiss and wished him good luck with a laugh. Jake then followed Sara to the ready room off the hangar area and gently suited up, his ribs still reminding him of their current state of disrepair.

Once suited up with helmets in hand, the two jumped into one of the smaller helicopters, Sara’s pre-packed bags already loaded. The bags confirmed Jake’s suspicions that Sara was whisking him away, possibly a repeat of their island adventure. The memory of the sand, sun and Sara, gave him a surge of excitement.

Not wanting to ruin her surprise, Jake avoided asking her directly about their destination. Instead, he just enjoyed the ride and her company. They chatted as the trip progressed and as they passed over the LA area, Jake was even more convinced he knew their destination.

Once they were over water, Sara started to strip down, inviting Jake to do the same. She produced two swimsuits, one for each of them. To Jake’s disappointment, hers was not the one he had originally provided her on their first trip. That moment passed quickly though as he remembered how little time she actually wore the suit, spending most of the time completely naked in the water or on the beach.

By the time they reached the island, Jake was in a swimsuit, with a t-shirt covering his wrapped ribs. Sara had a similar t-shirt on over her 2-piece swimsuit. Instead of landing at the beach as they had on the first trip, the helicopter continued up to the airstrip, slightly around and back onto the island.

Once on the ground, the door opened, allowing Jake and Sara to disembark. Jake was shocked at what lay before him. Several more aircraft sat parked along the airstrip, with people moving between the aircraft and the building. The people were working on the structures, clearly making repairs. At this point, one of the many jeep type vehicles pulled up next to the pair. Having come from one of the nearby buildings where it had been stored, Jake assumed it was their ride. Sara grabbed their bags and dropped them in the back, motioning for Jake to climb in.

“Get in,” Sara told the confused Jake.

“What’s going on here?” Jake asked, pointing at all the activity as he got in.

“We are upgrading the island. Wasn’t it your idea for this to be a regular rest and relaxation facility,” Sara replied, “isn’t that what you and ALICE originally planned?”

“Sure,” Jake replied, “I just didn’t think that was in motion yet.”

“Oh no,” Sara answered, “we’ve been working on this place and rotating staff though here for months.”

They had been talking as the jeep passed the construction on the buildings along the way. All the work consisted mostly of human efforts, with the occasional bot or automated construction equipment tossed in. As they turned down the familiar path to the beach, Jake was surprised to see several more people either playing in the water or lounging in the sand and sun.

Pulling up in front of the same container like box he and Sara had occupied before, Jake noted several more identical boxes lined up down the beach, each pushed back next to the bank and all had their awnings out and doors open.

All up and down the beach, he could see mostly women, with the occasional couple, taking full advantage of their down time. He had a bit of a flashback to the pre-disaster California. The only thing missing were the surfers.

As they climbed out of the jeep and grabbed their bags, Jake turned to the sound of someone calling his name. In the surf, waving at him were two immediately recognizable women. Becky was there, having been the one who hailed him. She was wearing the black two-piece bikini ALICE had made up, similar to the one he had made Sara. This one however, Becky had insisted be made smaller, to one up her sister. Standing next to her was Sandy, in a pink with white polka dot suit, far more conservative than Becky’s bikini, but still smaller than most of the other 2-piece suits on the beach.

Jake tended to avoid making comparisons of the different women he was involved with, preferring to think of each of them individually. This however was completely unavoidable while watching the two younger women standing together in their swimsuits. He had always considered Sandy to have the bigger bust line while Becky was just curvy. He now realized Sandy was all boobs, with a slender body beneath while Becky was every bit as busty, just more balanced. Both women were built to entice.

Shaking his head and waving back to both, Jake turned back to Sara with a confused look. Sara just shrugged and turned to take her bag into the housing unit that was their home for the next few days. Jake followed in her wake, but by the time they reached the door, both Sandy and Becky had run to meet them, slipping inside past Jake.

“We already grabbed the back room,” Becky stated, looking sourly at Sara, “per your instructions, we are sharing the bottom bunk and gave you the top bunk,” she finished somewhat darkly.

Jake turned to give Sara a questioning look.

“This trip is for you to rest and relax,” Sara started, “everyone was invited with the understanding that no one is to make demands on you,” Sara said while looking directly at Becky.

Ignoring the exchange Jake asked, “So who else is coming?”

“This is it, the others took a pass claiming mothering issues or nausea,” she finished, clearly meaning Jessie for the last.

“Ok,” Jake replied, not wanting to read too much into that.

“Well, you guys get settled. We are going to go back to the water, this is awesome!” Sandy declared, showing that her mood was evidently brighter than Becky’s current disposition. Kissing Jake and darting for the door, she was quickly gone. Not to be outdone, Becky gave Jake a long, lingering kiss, and them swished her way past Sara, following Sandy out onto the sand and then back into the water.

Sara watched her little sister head off into the water with Sandy and then gave Jake a look that said, “I’m gonna kill her someday.”

“Hey, you invited them,” Jake said, correctly interpreting her face.

“Did you honestly think we could get away a second time without all hell breaking lose,” Sara replied as they both grabbed their bags and headed to their separate rooms.

“Bad news,” Jake called out from his room.

“What?” Sara asked.

“There are no locks on these doors,” Jake replied.

“Use a chair,” Sara answered, knowing that would not work either.

“So what gives with the others?” Jake called out as he slowly unpacked.

Sara stopped and walked to his doorway, “I really don’t know, I get Jessie, she’s still sicker than a dog. Linda, Kathy, and I talked quite a bit and while they were helpful in planning all this, there really wasn’t a spark of enthusiasm. I assume the new baby thing is a huge drain on them right now.”

Pausing before continuing, Sara asked, “When was the last time you went to see Bonnie?”

Jake stopped what he was doing to think, “Well, I talk to her almost daily, or at least try to as I do with Linda and Kathy. She shows me Julie and we talk about her a lot. I guess it’s been close to 3 weeks since I have physically gone there. Why?”

“I’m not sure, maybe it’s a sister thing, but I think something’s up with her,” she said cautiously.

“You think she’s upset about something?” Jake asked, concerned that he might have done something to upset her.

“No, it’s more like she’s distracted. Her focus is elsewhere. Maybe its Julie, but I think a trip to Texas should be in your near future,” was all Sara seems to be willing to commit.

With that, Sara turned and returned to her shared bedroom, squeezing her things in the space left between Becky and Sandy’s personal items. For two small women, they seemed to pack a hell of a lot of stuff.

Once they both had sufficiently settled in, Sara grabbed two beers and Jake’s chair. Together, they headed off to the beach, to bask in the sunshine and watch the others enjoy themselves in the water.


Burt had been the mayor of Prosperity for several years before Jake had landed at their doorstep and turned their world upside down. He had seen the town struggle for many years in the early days and truly understood the impact of the changes Jake had brought to town. It made their name a reality.

Which was why he was very upset about the report he had on his desk. He had ordered the captain of the patrol to verify the content before he escalated things. If this report were true, it was not something he would sweep under the rug. Its implications were far too grave to underestimate.

His hope was this was just a misunderstanding. Until he knew for sure, he would just have to sit on it.

Chapter 6

After spending the afternoon at the beach, Jake received the royal treatment that evening. With duties spread between the three women, they prepared dinner, cleaned up, and even gathered the wood for the evening’s bonfire. With several offers to scrub his back, he managed to deflect them all, claiming the small shower size and healing ribs as excuses. After cleaning himself up, he found they had laid out his evening attire on his bed.

In the pleasant Southern California evening air, they snacked, drank, talked, and stayed up late into the night. Sitting around the fire, they ended up killing off several bottles of wine in the process. Between the three women and the occasional beach wanderers who stopped by to chat, everyone had a good time and plenty to drink. Jake thought even Sara and Becky enjoyed each other’s company for a change, telling tales of their youth. Both wished Bonnie were there to enjoy things with them.

While this was distinctly different from the trip he had with Sara, the night was enjoyable, everyone seemed to be truly relaxed, and in great spirits, no wine pun intended! Sandy, unmistakably the lightweight of the group, giggled her way through most of the story telling.

As the night wore on, things wound down until the sun and wine had drained their strength. With sore ribs or not, Jake still had to help the two younger women to bed. Both had more than their fair share of the wine, but they were happy drunks. With both women still in their swimsuits, he simply tucked them into bed as is, and then kissed Sara good night before retiring to his own room. Jake took a couple of pain pills, having overdone it earlier, and crawled into bed himself. Between the pills and the small amount of wine he consumed, he was out. During the night, he was vaguely restless at one point, but soon settled into a comfortably sound sleep.


The next morning, Jake awoke with the feeling of being pinned and dying of the heat. Lying on his right side, he opened his left eye, only to see a pile of blonde hair on the pillow in front of him. He slowly removed his arm from around her waist, trying not to wake her. Whether it was Becky or Sara he wasn’t quite sure, but whomever it was, she was completely naked.

As he attempted to roll away from her, he realized someone else had snuggled up behind him, her arm around his waist. It was then that Jake noticed Sara leaning against the doorframe, sipping a cup of coffee and smiling.

While Jake attempted to slide straight down, under the blankets, and between the two women, while confirming that Sandy was just as naked, Sara made no effort to help. She continued to watch quietly, the occasional giggle slipping out as Jake floundered. Once free of the blonde and brunette, Jake silently slipped out of the room, glancing to the left to see a trail of bikini pieces leading back into the other bedroom. Evidently, the girls had disrobed on the way to his room last night after he had fallen asleep.

Following Sara into the kitchen area, he grabbed the offered cup of coffee she had prepared earlier with some muffins. With the coffee pot in hand, they both went outside to sit under the awning, where there was a table and chairs waiting. They both grabbed a seat before either spoke.

“So you had visitors last night I see,” Sara started, suppressing another giggle. Noticeably, she was enjoying the awkwardness of the circumstances.

“So it seems,” Jake replied, “unfortunately I was too tired and on pain meds to make it anything but a sleeping pajama party.”

“But you seem to be the only one in pajamas?” Sara quipped, still smirking.

“Yeah, well if you get lost, just follow the trail of bikini pieces to your room,” Jake offered.

Sara laughed at that and they ate in silence for a bit, watching the water and the occasional seagull fly passed. Jake enjoyed the peaceful setting, the cool morning breeze and having Sara there to share it. She had a look of contentment on her face, obviously enjoying the moment as well.

All too soon, there was a stumbling noise from inside the unit and Becky appeared in the doorway, wrapped in a sheet, probably from Jake’s bed, and holding an empty coffee cup.

“Oh my god, does it have be so bright out,” she mumbled, while dropping in an empty chair and holding her cup out for Sara to fill, while shielding her eyes with the other hand. Jake watched as she almost lost the sheet, recovering at the last moment with the empty hand.

Right behind her came Sandy, having at least put her suit back on, although Jake was positive the bottoms were on backwards.

“Coffee for me too please,” she managed in a somewhat brighter tone, while grabbing the muffin Becky was starting toward after setting the coffee cup down.

The four spent the rest of the morning lounging under the awning, Jake and Sara watching the two younger women attempting to recover from their nights overindulgences. What that meant was Jake and Sara took their sweet time cleaning up, they even took a stroll down the beach.

Heading back to the housing unit on the beach they called home, Jake pointed out a smaller container near theirs, turned 90 degrees so it jutted out from the rest.

“What’s with the mini-bungalow?” Jake asked Sara, pointing to the smaller container.

“Oh, I forgot about that, it’s for you,” She replied while leading him up to the end of the box that was closest to the water. Reaching up, Sara touched the hand pad on the side of the box and then motioned for Jake to watch out as the end dropped to form a ramp leading up into the container. Jake followed as Sara rounded the end and headed up the ramp, where he immediately noticed it was packed full of equipment.

The first thing they came across were two sets of what appeared to be wave runners, the kind of water toy you sat on and rode like a motorcycle. The lower two were in line, front to rear along his left. Both were on balloon-tired carts, obviously meant to roll across the sand to the water’s edge for launching. The upper two were in the same kind of cart, but suspended above the other two for easy storage.

Continuing to the rear of the container, there were surf/paddle boards, boxes of what looked like inflatables and finally all kinds of diving equipment. There were spear guns, similar to the ones the two used as weapons on the cruiser boarding adventure. Next came masks and fins and finally stabilizer jackets or BCD’s as he knew them. Jake pulled one of the jackets down because he noticed each had a strange backpack attached and the second stage single hose regulator appeared to originate from it.

“What the heck is this?” Jake asked as he set the jacket face down on one of the boxes. Inspecting the pack attached to the jacket back, he could see it was about 12 inches across and 18 inches top to bottom. It stood out from the jacket no more than four or five inches. While it squared out at the bottom with rounded corners, the top had a complete radius across the 12 inch width. Morbidly, Jake thought it looked a bit like a gravestone.

There were actually two hoses passing over the right shoulder, one over the other. They started from the upper right of the pack and terminated at what he thought to be the second stage regulator, mouthpiece in place but no exhaust tee. With closer inspection, Jake could see no means of escape for exhaled breath. Looking into the mouthpiece, he could just make out the slightest internal separation, each of the two hoses connecting above and below the divider.

“Do you have questions Jake,” ALICE asked, causing both to jump.

“Damn I forgot these things are all wired,” He replied, and then said, “yes I do have a question, what is this thing and where are the SCUBA tanks and regulators?”

ALICE replied, “That is a molecular convertor and the archaic equipment you knew as SCUBA is no longer in use. This is a commercial model, not intended for military use.”

“Ok, so would you like to expand on that please,” Jake asked, a little annoyed at the implication he was obsolete.

“One of the more useful components recovered from the NeHaw exploration ship was the molecular converter. Primarily used in their life support systems, these break down molecules to their elemental form and then restructure those same elements to create necessary molecules. Please remove the cover of the unit you are inspecting.”

Following ALICEs direction, Jake found the catches holding the cover of the pack in place. Opening it, he set the cover to one side. Inside he could see where the two hoses attached internally to a smaller rounded flat pancake of a box at the top. Below the pancake, towards the lower part of the unit, were some smaller modules, all interconnected, with two small tanks at the very bottom of the housing. The tanks were both about 10 inches long, three inches in diameter and one over the top of the other.

Looking down at the pancake, Jake could see it had two small flutes, one at three and the other at nine o’clock.

“What are these two ports on the sides?” Jake asked.

“That is the source inlet and outlet. Let me explain, the configuration of this unit is to ingest air and/or water. From those sources, it breaks down the molecules and stores Oxygen and Nitrogen in the two tanks at the bottom of the unit. To better understand, let me start by saying this system works a lot like the rebreather systems you may be familiar with.”

Jake was very familiar with the rebreather systems the military used in both underwater and land Nuclear, Biological and Chemical or NBC gear. The main concept was it didn’t exhaust your breath like open circuit SCUBA/SCBA did, it captured your exhale and then scrubbed it to remove Carbon Dioxide. A smaller tank in the rebreather held Oxygen to replenish what you metabolized, and you simply reused the Nitrogen. A rebreather could last a lot longer than SCUBA/SCBA. The longevity had an obvious attraction to both military and commercial users.

In typical dry land usage, a rebreather would go for about eight hours compared to an open circuit systems 90 minutes. The usage was more complicated in underwater applications, because as your body absorbed some of the nitrogen, it messed with your partial pressures, but the military had answers for that as well.

“The way this system operates,” ALICE began, “is in use, it ingests either the surrounding air or water, and then breaks down the molecules to pure Oxygen and Nitrogen, in their stable forms, for storage in the tanks. Any unused portion of that ingest is exhausted out the exit port. The balanced air mixture feeds through the upper hose into the second stage upon inhale, providing a constant 79/21 percent Nitrogen/Oxygen mixture. Your exhale is captured from the mouth piece and fed back into the converter unit in the lower regulator hose, where the Carbon Dioxide is reduced, releasing the Carbon, and capturing the Oxygen and Nitrogen for re-use.”

ALICE continued, “I should mention a miniaturized and more advanced version of this is what operates inside all the combat suits. That version will also heat or cool the air and filter liquid for drinking.”

“Ok,” Jake asked, considering all ALICE had just described, “but what about underwater use. There is not nearly enough nitrogen there, is there?”

ALICE replied, “Actually there is a significant amount of Nitrogen in seawater. About .5 parts per million, more than enough to keep a recreational divers air supply balanced when you include the pre-populated reservoir tank. Because we are using an Oxygen/Nitrogen mixture, you are susceptible to all the known issues of narcosis and decompression restrictions. The value here is there is no toxicity issues related to Oxygen/Nitrogen going out of balance or running out of air during decompression stops.”

“How long can you stay down with one of these?” Jake asked with his curiosity roused.

“A fully charged unit can operate continuously for three weeks, although there is a mechanism to replace the battery charge while in use, so theoretically it can operate indefinitely. I should mention that there is one other difference in underwater use. The excess Hydrogen that is released from the water molecules is then bonded with the Carbon released from the Carbon Dioxide forming CH4 as a byproduct.”

Jake had to stop for a moment to think about what ALICE had just said, “Wait, are you telling me that this thing exhausts Methane as a waste product?”

“That is correct,” answered ALICE.

Jake could see the confused look on Sara’s face.

“It farts,” was all he could say.


Upon their return, they found both Becky and Sandy in the uniform or the day, consisting of shorts and a t-shirt, proper attire for a day in the jeep touring the island. Sara was a bit anxious as she wanted to show Jake all the improvements she had been supervising since their last visit. She hoped he approved.

With Jake behind the wheel and Sara navigating, she directed him to the pier they had visited the first time around. Once they stopped, Jake and Sara climbed out of the jeep, leaving the other two to nurse their hangovers in peace. They headed down to the pier, with Sara leading the way.

Sitting in a boatlift on the pier, was what Jake took to be about a 32 to 34 foot center console boat. Stopping to look around the boat, Sara explained, “We had this sent out from Hawaii. It’s a 34 foot center console, you mentioned before that having a boat here might be nice?”

“This is sweet.” Jake replied looking it over, from stem to stern.

As he approached the stern, he noticed three out-drives that looked like outboard engines without the engines on top. It was as if someone had taken the top off an outboard motor, but left the props.

“Each prop has its own motor in the hub, like the blades on the helicopters,” Sara offered, noticing Jake’s interest, “ALICE tells me these would be about 350 horsepower each. Like everything else around here it can run for weeks on a charge.”

“With over 1000 horsepower, this thing would fly,” Jake commented, as he started to climb aboard for a closer look.

Before they could go any further, Sandy yelled from the jeep, “Jake, ALICE has a call for you!”

With Jake in the lead, they returned to the jeep. Reaching in, Jake hit the communication's system button, “What’s up ALICE?”

“Jake, I have a call from Prosperity for you,” ALICE answered.

“Burt, what’s up?” Jake asked as the light went green and Burt’s face appeared in the display on the dash.

“Sorry to bother you Jake, but we have a real problem here and I know you would want to hear it straight from me. I know you are recuperating from that shootout in Washington and all,” he replied.

“How did you know about that?” Jake asked, completely confused.

“Oh, we watch Sandy’s weekly news updates like clockwork around here, nobody dares miss it, but that’s not why I called.”

“Sounds dire?” Jake replied while tuning to look at Sandy in the back seat.

“Yeah, well this is the call I had hoped never to have to make. We had someone in the patrol run off with guns and supplies,” Burt stated.

“How much did they take?” Jake asked.

“A lot, it was three fella’s, one in the patrol proper and two more in cahoots with him. They loaded up a transport from the depot here and then high tailed it straight to LA. We woulda noticed it sooner, but they were supposed to run them supplies up the line toward Sacramento. We only got suspicious when the first stop along the line called in askin us where they were,” he finished.

“Was anyone hurt?” Jake asked cautiously.

“Na, like I said, everyone thought it was the regular supply run, they even filled out all the proper paperwork. I will say they got a lot of the best stuff Jake, light and heavy weapons, communicators, and even some of those rocket launchers you sent last week. By the way, why did you think we needed rocket launchers?” Burt asked.

“I didn’t Burt, I think if you check, you’ll find your rogue patrolman ordered them,” Jake said dryly, not wanting to offend Burt, but angry all the same.

“Oh,” was all the reply Burt could muster in response.

“Ok, we will take care of this, I suggest you do a little personnel review to be sure we’ve uncovered all the rats. And Burt, don’t worry, we know you had no part in this and did exactly as we requested,” Jake offered to the clearly worried Burt.

With relief visibly displayed on his face, a heartfelt “Thank you!” was his last words.

“Now that Burt is off the line, what can you tell me ALICE?” Jake asked as he and Sara climbed in and headed the jeep back to the beach.

“Once notified, we were able to trace the transport to the LA area. It is in an area once called Pasadena. According to my records, they are in what was once the armory building there. We have disabled the transport, so it is no longer of use, but they have completely off loaded the cargo and are in the process of fortifying the building.”

At that, an image of the building appeared on the display in the dash, Jake could make out the figures setting up machine gun positions on the roof as well as reinforcing the perimeter fencing. At one time, there may have been buildings adjacent to the location. However, those were demolished and cleared away long ago, providing an open area all around the structure.

It never ceased to amaze Jake, the amount of effort some people would go to in nefarious endeavors that they never would attempt in honest labor. Plainly, the work done here and the time it took to plan and execute the heist would have earned a town leadership position anywhere in the civilized zone.

By now, they had reached the beach, Jake pulling up in front of their living quarters.

“Ok, ALICE, it’s time to call in the Odd Squad,” Jake declared, “let’s rendezvous at muster point Charlie and have them bring all the toys. Oh, and Sandy, I have not forgotten about Sandy’s Weekly News. We need to talk when I get back,” Jake added as he got out of the jeep.

Chapter 7

Sara was completely confused. Once they arrived back at the beach, Jake had told ALICE to do something with an “odd squad” and they were to all go to “location Charlie” with “the toys”? She hated when he got so cryptic. As it was, he ushered her inside with no explanations and instructions to suit up in full combat gear, ready to roll in 30 minutes.

As she was dressing, she thought about Burt’s call. Rogue patrol members, as Jake called them, were the worst possible threat. They had better weapons than most, because they were from ALICE stores, and were better trained than the simple outlaws or raiding parties. This was, in actuality, the very first incident like this, but Jake had drilled her on the dangers they presented. She still was not sure what they were going to do about it.

She actually beat Jake out to the jeep, something she attributed to his injury, but not by much. Both carried their helmets, and Sandy and Becky met them there. Sara watched as Jake kissed both on the cheek, telling them to enjoy the time off as it was back to work soon, and then had her get in the jeep with him. With both seated, he headed off the beach and back up to the airstrip.

Watching him kiss the others, Sara knew she generally didn’t object to Jake’s relationships. However, with her sisters and the others, she was starting to feel an odd sense of jealousy towards the ones she privately called the mommy crowd.

She could compete with Becky and Sandy for Jake’s attention, sure that she held the upper hand in that situation. However, Bonnie, Linda, and Kathy all had a connection with him that she did not have. Currently, their lack of interest in him was all that kept everything in check for her. At the moment, she was able to hold off a growing discontent with their relationships.

Once they hit the landing strip, Jake jumped out of the vehicle ahead of Sara, and opened the hatch in the floor of their helicopter. As was typical for most of their helicopters, it held an assortment of rifles and handguns with ammo. He pulled out two belts with holstered sidearms and two spare magazines in a separate pouch. As Sara belted hers on, Jake grabbed a pair of the 5.56 mm rifles they were all very familiar with, and handed her one with two extra magazines for the rifle.

Closing the hatch, he helped her climb aboard, following her in and then gave ALICE the all clear while grabbing the seat next to her. Mimicking Jake’s actions, she pocketed the spare magazines in the pouches along her thighs and then checked the rifle to verify the magazine in the well was full, rifle cocked and on safe and then racked it for the trip. After stowing her rifle, she then did the same check with her sidearm, re-holstering it once she was satisfied.

Once both their helmets were on, ALICE closed the doors and lifted off, swinging back over the beach and then off to the northeast. With no more than 20 minutes in the air, they started descending at what Sara recognized as the old Santa Catalina Island airstrip. Jake once mentioned he had considered using this location as a jumping off point for LA activities.

Rather than pepper him with all the questions rolling around in her head, Sara chose to wait for him to explain. She could see he was talking although she didn’t hear a sound in her helmet, which meant he was talking with ALICE. As the helicopter settled to one side of the airstrip, Jake finally spoke up on the open circuit.

“ALICE, how far out are they?”

“About 20 more minutes,” was her reply.

With that, Jake indicated Sara should head out the open door, so with him in her wake she jumped out and turned to watch him follow.

“Are you sure you’re ok to do this?” she asked, as he was obviously moving slowly.

“I’ll be fine,” was all he offered in return.

After about 15 minutes, Jake pointed to the east. With the magnification in her helmet turned up, she could see one of the heavy transport aircraft approaching. It was the same type of aircraft they had used for their trip to Alaska. She thought she remembered Jake calling it a V-27 Falcon. As it closed on their location, she zoomed back until, at normal magnification, she watched it slow to a stop, and then settle at the end of the airstrip near their helicopter.

Leading her around to the back of the aircraft, Sara stood with Jake and watched as the rear ramp dropped. Standing before them were eight fully combat suited individuals, Joe and Abby identifiable in the center of the group. At that point, Jake stepped forward and announced, “Sara, may I introduce my Cavalry, the Odd Squad!”


Jake had always known they would need to go into LA at some point. It was the one area, in the southwest, that was the source of 90% of their grief. It was also one large piece of property. Taking out the big players was not Jake’s concern. It was stabilizing the area after that was the issue. Realistically, there was no way they could just go in and occupy it all, once they subdued the troublemakers.

What Jake needed was a small, mobile, quick moving force to hit fast and hard, and then move on. Historically the cavalry was such a force, giving troops a mechanism that multiplied the fighting value of even the smallest forces. It allowed them to outflank, create surprise and overpower, or to retreat and escape according to the requirements of the moment.

Examples in more modern times, the SAS Mobility Troop, USMC Force Recon, and the US Navy Seals all used small fast vehicles to move quickly and quietly for stealthy operations or come in fast and hard, weapons heavy and packing one hell of a punch. All this was Jake’s inspiration for the Odd Squad.

Once he settled on a vision, he set about picking and choosing the best attributes of the Special Forces units he had worked with in the past or known about. With that vision in mind, he developed a training plan that would test even the best available candidates. He had training environments set up in several of the ALICE locations, but had all personnel involved sworn to secrecy. It was Jake’s experience that, while everyone thought he or she was Special Forces material, so very few actually were.

He had the ALICEs scour the entire internal personnel list of available staff and any known outside resources. From there he reduced it to just the top 20 candidates. They examined everything from physical capabilities, to mental discipline. They wanted people who can work well independently or in a team and they must be a real self-starter. Above all, he wanted people with a “no quit” attitude. Not only do they need to be able to push through an issue, but they should be able to think it through as well.

It was no real surprise to him that Abby and Joe appeared on the list, but what was a shock was the people that were not. None of Jake’s core team qualified for various reasons, all-reasonable judgments in his opinion. There were a couple of Robert’s Texans there, but far fewer than he would have liked.

There were three outsiders, all patrol members that made the top 10. Jake had ALICE immediately initiate recruitment procedures. Thankfully, all that was complete well before the ALICE-4 incident. In fact, Abby and Joe’s teams were in Washington, supporting the recruitment as part of Jake’s final training activities.

The eight individuals standing before Jake and Sara represented the two 4-person teams Jake had assembled and trained as his prototype units. The second half of his master plan was what was behind them.

“Odd Squad, Jake?” was all Sara could say in reply.

“Ok, so when we got the first group together, my initial reaction was that’s the oddest group of people I have ever seen,” he replied.


Sara had to admit, looking them over from right to left they were a mismatched group. At 6’4”, Joe easily towered over the other seven as the tallest, while the shortest could not have been 5 foot tall with her boots on.

She guessed from their builds, as all had helmets on, that they were about 60/40, with women outnumbering the men, which was a surprise even to her. She would have expected this to be a male dominated combat team.


“Ok gang, lets unload,” Jake shouted to the group in the plane.

With that, the eight disappeared back into the aircraft and for the first time Jake and Sara could clearly make out the equipment behind the squad.

Each of the squad members climbed onto their own contrivance, and two by two, they started down the ramp, all hovering about two feet off the ramp and then the ground. As they passed Sara and Jake, they turned to line up, four to the right and four to the left of where Jake and Sara stood behind the aircraft. Once stopped in place, they settled on skids, the entire operation completely quiet.

Once everyone was off loaded and in place, it was easy to see they each rode an identical transport, sitting astride in the middle of it, as one would ride a horse. The rider sat behind some form of a tapered shield, while holding on to handle bars to direct the craft.

Each craft was about 12 feet long, front to rear and was sloped to a blunted point at the front. Starting at the nose, you could make out that each held two machineguns, split on the centerline with a third larger barrel placed between them on center. Behind the guns is where the tapered shield started up sharply, stopping just before the riders position. The shield spread wide, wrapping slightly at the sides to protect the legs and was high enough in the center, presenting just a helmeted head when viewed from the front.

The seat area was only large enough for one rider, saddled and padded for comfort, and right behind was a backrest on a box like structure, slightly taller than the shield. The box was as wide as the craft, side-to-side, and continued on for another three feet behind the rider. Behind the box was about eighteen inches of vehicle at the riders seat height and then it abruptly terminated into a squared off rear end.

In the rider area, behind the shield, you could see several controls, screens and gauges, as well as the handlebar controls. There were running boards down each side for the rider’s feet, the boards running all the way to the box behind.

Jake watched as Sara walked over to one and after examining it closely looked up to ask, “Jake this thing looks a lot like those motorcycles you showed me pictures of?”

Jake smiled, remembering the discussion. They were talking about his hobbies and interests in his earlier life before all this. He had been a huge motorcycle fan, riding both street and dirt bikes for most of his teenage and adult life. He nodded and then replied, “Yes, that was part of my inspiration,” he then motioned for Sara to follow him into the aircraft. Climbing the ramp and then going inside, they could see one more of the craft, sitting unclaimed.

Jake walked to one side, and as Sara watch, he reached behind the shield and pressed a button. As Sara watched, the box on this craft started to slide backwards. As it did, exposing a rear seat and more running board until there was enough space for two riders.

Indicating for Sara to take the rear spot, Jake waited until she seated herself before climbing on. Once both were settled in, Jake hit the power button and the craft gently lifted, hovering about the same distance as the others above the aircraft cargo bay floor. Grabbing the handlebars, he gently twisted the right grip, causing the craft to glide forwarded until they were out of the aircraft and centered on the runway between the eight others lining the opening behind the aircraft.

Releasing the grip, which returned to its idle position, the craft stopped and then Jake hit the power, allowing the craft to settle gently to the ground. Climbing off, he indicated for Sara to do the same and then he walked to the rear and opened the lid on the top of the box, while motioning for Sara to look inside.

Looking inside, both could see two deep rows, one on each side, which held several rifles in vertical slots. The center area between the two was a tray like depression, holding pistols, ammo pouches and various other instruments of destruction. Motioning for Sara to step back he pushed another button inside the tray area and the back of the box split into two doors, exposing several drawers and pockets containing various supplies and other equipment.

“Each hover cycle can hold enough supplies and equipment for a month’s excursion in the field,” Jake stated.

“Hover Cycle?” Sara asked.

Jake smiled a bit sheepishly, “Yeah, that’s what I call them. I built them around one of the small cylindrical repulser motors, like the ones we used for the rail gun platforms. No fans or thrusters required they just float in the gravity field. Each can run on a charge for about two to three weeks and all carry four additional charge packs in the rear storage box. We did have to de-tune them though as they were capable of speeds far greater than the riders could endure. There is no inertial dampening on these.”

Moving back to the riders position and motioning for Sara to follow, he continued, “They really operate just like a motorcycle, once they are powered up, you just twist the throttle and steer with the handlebars. The one big difference is these will fly,” he said with a huge smile on his face.

“Fly?” Sara asked.

“Cool, huh!” Jake answered, “Once you are moving, a small pull on the handlebars and it will nose up and you gain altitude, push forward and it goes down. Pull right or left to turn, roll back on the throttle to stop. As long as power is on, it will hover at whatever altitude you stop at and it will never go below two feet off the deck or AGL, which is Above Ground Level. As long as you are in motion, you are good. In theory you can’t crash into the ground but we have, however, proven that it is possible to wreck one in flight,” Jake completed that last part while looking directly at Joe.

“Hey, you were the one who was showing off on the first model,” Joe said defensively, and then said to Sara, “Jake is the only one so far who can do a complete 360 loop and come out going the right direction,” he finished.

Apparently choosing to ignore the relevance of Jake doing stunts on a prototype, she asked, “What are the levers for by the grips?”

“The one on the left is for reverse, pull in the lever and the motor moves backwards instead of forward, the one on the right is a panic brake. Rather than a smooth deceleration via the throttle, grab that lever and hold on,” he finished. On the running boards just behind the shield, she could make out a foot pedal on each side of the driver’s seat.

“What are those for,” Sara asked.

Jake replied, “Back in the day, a Cavalry Trooper could control his horse by pressure from their legs and knees on the horse’s sides. This freed up their hands for fighting. The pedal on the right controls forward and reverse, the one on the left turns right and left. Once you let go of the handlebars these allow you to control the hover cycle. You can’t change altitude, but everything else works.”

“Ok Jake, so besides a new toy, this is all in aid of?” Sara asked somewhat skeptically.

“Like I said, Cavalry,” Jake replied, “we will never have enough troops to go anywhere and overrun a position with straight infantry. We need a small unit that hits like a big one. Each of these has two 7.62 machineguns and an energy cannon. They will do over 200 miles per hour, though we try to keep them under 150. Like our fighter squadrons, they are four to a unit, called a troop. Collectively this is the 10th Cavalry.”

“10th?” Sara asked, “what about the other 9?”

Abby chimed in, “Jake explained that the 10th Cavalry was a unit with a reputation of fierce fighters who overcame overwhelming odds on many occasions,” pausing with a confused look, she continued, “I didn’t understand the relevance of them all being black, but Joe’s black so it works for us either way!”


Sara shrugged at the relevance of that statement as well, why would anyone care what color your skin was? Who had time for such nonsense? The world today was a melding of individuals all just trying to survive. Your value was what you brought to the table for survival, not how you looked. Looking around at the assembled team, she could see a mixture of family histories and ethnic backgrounds. Most, like her, had no idea where her family came from pre-attack.

“OK, Jake, so what are we going to do with cavalry?” Sara asked.

She watched as Jake stepped to the rear of his hover cycle and activated a screen on the inside of one of the open doors. A map appeared and on it, and she could make out Catalina Island, where they were all currently, and the LA mainland. There was a blinking red dot, far inland, which she assumed was their destination.

Jake began, pointing at the island, “we are here, the abandoned transport is here,” he said pointing at the dot.

“We are about 60 miles away, which means we can be there in about 35 minutes easily. On the way here, I identified several tall building in the surrounding area where I want each of the two person teams to position themselves. We will split into separate groups here,” Jake indicated a spot about 10 miles out from the target location, “come in low behind your vantage spot and pop up at the last moment to minimize the possibility of being spotted. Once everyone is in position you will wait for my instructions,” Jake finished.

Chapter 8

Jake completed his briefing and started closing up the side panels on the box on the back of his hover cycle, while leaving the lid up. While he was getting things in order, he asked Sara to retrieve the two rifles from their helicopter and place them in the open spots in the box. As she was doing as asked, Jake watched her pull the light cavalry saber out of its scabbard from within the box and hold it up, facing Jake.

“What the hell is this?” she asked him, waving it around in front of her.

Before he could reply, Abby jumped in, “That’s our saber, and Jake has had us practicing with those things for weeks. He says all cavalry troopers need one.”

“Are you kidding me?” Sara asked Jake.

“Excellence is built on tradition,” he replied, “the Gurkha’s of Nepal had their Kurkuri, and the Soviet Spetsnaz had their throwing shovels. Cavalry troopers need sabers.”

“You expect them to fight with these?” She asked, holding it out in front of her in an on guard position.

“No, I expect them to scare the crap outta the bad guys,” he replied with a smile, “I would rather have them scare people into submission than kill dozens to gain their cooperation.”

“Jake explained that most of the blade is actually blunted, it’s only close to the tip that’s sharpened,” one of the troopers next to Abby contributed “it’s intended to injure, not kill.”

Sara examined the end of the blade, noting the very tip held a sharpened edge, while farther down the length it blunted significantly. She then turned and returned the saber to its scabbard and with a sigh commented, “You all have fun with that!”

With everything tucked away, Jake closed the lid on the box and indicated for everyone to “saddle up.” Before heading out, Jake checked with ALICE, insuring the V-27 would head back to Alaska and the helicopter to Becky and Sandy. With Sara on behind him, he powered up his ride and then slowly started forward, the others falling in single file behind him. As they moved to the edge of the runway, Jake started to nose up a bit gaining altitude before heading out over the open water.

Both Jake and Sara could see the particulars in their heads up display their helmets provided. Direction, airspeed, and altitude all clearly identified, although Jake’s instrument panel included a display with map overlay and the position of all 11 hover cycles. Settling in at a little over 100 feet over the water and 120 MPH, he led the column toward the mainland.

As they neared the coast, they hit the designated separation point and Abby’s A Troop split off heading inland while Jake lead B Troop on a more Northerly route. After a short time, Jake swung right, leading his group east and verifying on his display that Abby was right where she was supposed to be. Jake was a bit concerned that A Troop was traveling longer over dry land and was on the more populated route. They were more likely to draw unwanted attention than his group over water, but he needed to approach from this direction if he was to try to arrive undetected.

As they went feet dry, Jake had to bring the remaining group up in altitude to avoid the taller obstacles and any local interference. Considering how quiet these things were he was less worried about drawing attention as he was in surprising someone. His destination was the tallest of the local structures, providing the best oversight of the location. The map identified it as the Parsons Corporate building.

Lining up on final approach, while keeping the building between them and their target, he noted on the display that each 2-person team from both Troops were splitting off and swinging around to their own specified locations. Jake had spread them out to cover all four points of the compass surrounding their target with good visibility in all directions.

With his building in sight, he pulled back on the bars to gain altitude and get him level with the top of the building. Throttling back, he then slowed his approach, looking for any unwanted occupants of his intended position. After a quick check with ALICE, to verify no one had compromised the pre-selected locations, he slowed his approach. Jake then settled the hover cycle softly on the rooftop, cautiously testing to see if the structure would support the resting weight.

Satisfied they were on a firm footing, he climbed off, inviting Sara to do the same. Jake then slid sideways, moving directly to the box at the rear. Opening the lid, he retrieved the two rifles Sara had placed there earlier and handed one to her as she stepped off the sideboard.

Ever cautious, Jake did a quick sweep of the rooftop with Sara in tow, both verifying they were alone and familiarizing himself with the surroundings. He noted that the rooftop access doors were all gone off their hinges likely removed, no doubt, for materials sometime in the distant past. Once that was completed, he led Sara to the East parapet, which provided the overview Jake desired. From this position, he could see the buildings where he positioned each 2-person team as well as the target location, the focus of this operation.

Jake had each location check in and reminded them that they were all in hostile territory, and this wasn’t a drill. He also reiterated for the thousandth time, the purpose of the 2-person teams was, one focused in and one out. Be sure to keep their perimeters safe.

Once the house keeping was completed, Jake turned his attention to the target location. He had reviewed the overheads ALICE provided on the way in, but from this position, he could discern more details of the layout. Whoever this was, they had spent quite a bit of time preparing this location for long-term residency. If Jake had to bet, he suspected they had been here for years, if not decades. The “why here” was answered by the tank and windmill setup in the compound yard, apparently indicating a well for a constant water supply. At some time in the past, someone had sunk a well at this location.

The compound was across the way from what had to have been a large park at one time, now converted to farm fields. The stolen transport sat parked between the two. The buildings inside the walls identified on the maps as a theater of some sort and the old Pasadena Armory, the surrounding buildings having been demolished and the materials scavenged to create a substantial perimeter wall. The wall completely surrounded the location, enclosing both buildings and a significant amount of open ground.

They had undoubtedly put some thought into its construction as it established defense in layers. Jake could make out kill zone after kill zone of open areas between the exterior of the compound and the two buildings that comprised the center of their fortress. The exterior walls had firing positions that allowed for interlocking fields of fire from any direction and the buildings themselves held heavy weapon positions on all corners covering both inside and outside the walls.

The walls were currently unmanned but there was movement on the rooftop. Jake was sure he could make out the guns on the rooftops as the stolen heavy machineguns, with the addition of rocket launchers interlaced along the roofline. Of all that he had seen so far, it was only those rocket positions that concerned him. The positioning of everything else was to repel a ground attack, but the rockets were set up to address an aerial assault. As far as he knew, only he could stage such an attack.

Pausing to consider the implications, new activity in the yard caught his attention.

“Jake those are kids in the yard,” Sara stated with surprise in her voice.

Jake could make out six or seven children running around on the open area, one chasing a dog while the others watched and laughed. As Jake and Sara watched, several adults, both men and women, came out after the kids, and started various activities while the kids continued to play.

“Jake I wasn’t expecting families here. What are we going to do?” Sara asked.

Before Jake could reply, Abby reported, “Jake we have movement in the southeast. It looks to be, maybe 20 to 25 armed men on horseback, and they are heading this way.”

Jake turned to his left, just in time to see the armed party Abby had described. As they watched, the group continued to approach the compound until they were at the far side of the fields in the old park. At that point, there were shouts from the rooftop and suddenly all the people in the yard scrambled back inside.

Jake commented, more to himself, “Guess we know they aren’t part of this group.”

Warning everyone not to engage, Jake continued to watch the events unfold. Using the fields as cover, the group on horseback dismounted and several began raiding the crops, packing cloth bags full of whatever they could grab, while a select few engaged with the rooftop positions.

With shots fired between the two parties, Jake watched as two of the raiders fell. The two groups continued to exchange fire as the riders continued to strip the fields of produce. The heavy machineguns opened up from the rooftop, inspiring the entire raiding party to retreat in haste. Withdrawing under fire from the compound, the entire group retraced their approach path and then disappeared.

After a few moments, the only obvious opening in the wall cleared of blockage and an armed group of 10 cautiously ventured out into the fields. Jake could see them moving through the crops and all carrying new weapons supplied from ALICE stores. The group was moving slowly, looking for both dangers, and evaluating the damage done. As they reached to two fallen bandits, Jake could recognize that the first man was dead. After they reached the second, there was a pause and then more shouting.

Within seconds, two women appeared through the opening and hurried across the field. While the men continued to scour the remainder of the area, the women tended to the fallen bandit, with two men standing guard. After several minutes, the entire group gathered and several of the men lifted the injured man and they all returned into the compound.

“Well I’ll be damned!” Jake declared.

“What?” Sara asked, confused at the declaration.

Jake turned and as he was about to say something, he stopped. Instead, he headed back to the box at the rear of their ride and pulled out a sniper rifle, placing his rifle back in the box. Returning to Sara at the wall, he handed her the rifle and said, “Here, you take this, stay here and cover me.”

Then, without explanation he turned and returned to the hover cycle, climbing on and with one swift motion, he lifted off the rooftop. Over the open communication line, Jake instructed all positions to take no actions until instructed to do so.

As everyone watched, Jake swung around in a large loop to the left of the rooftop until he headed south and then looped wide again so he was heading north, his route centered on the compound. Approaching slowly and at about 50 feet above the ground, Jake could make out the rooftop lookouts pointing in his direction. As he closed on their location, he slowed even more and then gently settled to the ground. He had stopped in the open area in front of the gate, near the parked transport on his right.

Climbing off and standing beside the hover cycle, Jake stood patiently, waiting for some response from inside the walls. After a few minutes to allow the removal of the internal barriers, they opened the gate again. This time, a solitary man emerged and his only weapon, a holstered ALICE provided sidearm.

As Jake stepped forward to meet the man, he heard him speak out.

“About time you got here!”

“Yeah, I’m beginning to understand that. I’m Major Jake Thomas,” Jake replied.

“I know who you are,” the man replied in turn, “names Wade, Chris Wade.”

“Do you care to explain all this?” Jake asked.

“This was the only way I could get your attention,” the man replied, in a matter of fact way.

“One hell of a risk,” Jake retorted.

“You’re a smart guy, I knew you would figure it out,” Chris answered.

Looking the man over Jake estimated he was about 45, just under six feet tall and while he was not overweight, the group had surely been doing better than just hanging on.

Chris began, “With your grand plan to reform the countryside, you left us city dwellers here to deal with the fallout. Prior to your arrival, the gangs mostly left us to ourselves, the farming communities being easier pickings. We would grow a little and scavenge a little, hunting and trading for what additional food we needed. Then you shut down the countryside, driving the gangs back into the city and they started to look at us as a source of supplies.”

Jake was beginning to understand the position he had placed this and many other groups in. He had blankly assumed all the residence of LA was crooks or just plain lazy, living off what they could gather or steal. All the communities they had liberated supported that impression, as it seemed to be the general opinion. That assumption was proving to be in grave error and these people were the evidence of that.

The residence they had established demonstrated a strong work ethic and the lifestyle they embraced was far from criminal. In many ways, Jake could see the beauty of this location, close to a continuous source of manufactured goods to the south, a constant water supply, and the option of hunting and trading to the north. Even though the area available for farming wasn’t nearly enough to support a large community, it would, however, supplement their ongoing needs year around in the mild Southern California weather.

“How many of you are there?” Jake asked.

“A little over 60, including the kids,” Chris replied, “there is enough of us to man the walls at night and keep the poachers at bay.”

“So I guess the big question is what do we do now?” Jake asked openly, “I can’t just walk away and you’re not looking to move or you woulda been gone from here already.”

Abby interrupted Chris as he was preparing to reply, “Jake there is another group coming up from the southeast again, and this one is much larger.”

Since Jake had his external audio enabled, Chris heard the announcement. Looking to Jake for direction, Jake replied, “Abby, can you get a count?”

“Looks to be more than 100 riders, probably closer to 150. All armed, with most on horseback, although there are some in wagons. I think it’s the same group as before.”

At that, ALICE chimed in, “Jake I can confirm several of the lead riders were in the earlier attack. This group consists of 141 armed men.”

Jake didn’t even try to explain to Chris about ALICE, the look of confusion all over his face.

“Get inside and bar the gate. Oh, and tell your men not to shoot at me or mine please,” Jake stated as he turned and hotfooted it back to his hover cycle. Climbing on, he powered up and then hit the manual override to set the hover height at 100 feet. Going straight up, the hover cycle leveled off at 100 feet above the ground, giving Jake a clear view of the surrounding area.

“All units, report in please,” Jake broadcast to the group.

“Alpha 1 and 2, ready. Alpha 3 and 4. Bravo 1 and 2, turn us loose boss. Bravo 3 and 4, ready to go.”

Jake paused waiting for Sara to report. After a few seconds, he asked, “Sara, are you there?”

ALICE replied, “Jake I do not detect Sara on the rooftop where you left her.”

With that, ALICE provided an overhead of the rooftop that Jake and Sara had occupied together earlier. As she zoomed in, you could make out three bodies spread out across the area Sara last occupied. One had Sara’s knife sticking out of his chest. Scanning the rooftop, there was no sign of Sara herself.

“Crap, I shouldn’t have left her alone, ALICE can you pick up her suit transponder?” Jake asked.

“Currently it is not responding to queries, nor are there any audio responses. That however could be expected if she entered the building itself. The metals in the structure could be blocking the signals.”

Frustrated at the mixture of priorities and the perceived failure of leaving his Sara alone, Jake did a quick assessment of the situation. Panning the overhead out, he located the approaching force, estimated their rate and direction of travel, and then located his own forces spread out throughout the area.

“On my order, B Troop engages the approaching hostile force, aerial engagement only with suppression fire. Alpha 1 and 2, close on Sara’s last know location and try to locate her. Alpha 3 and 4, take hovering positions at 50 feet AGL covering the compound below me. Should any hostiles escape A Troop, you are to engage and remove any threats. Any questions?”

While Jake watched his display, he noted that no one chose to question his or her assignments. He knew they all wanted to be on point for this go around, but each took his orders without challenging his instructions. When the approaching force entered the choke point created by several buildings along their route, Jake gave the go order and as one, eight hover cycles sprang off their various rooftops and sped to their assignments.

As Jake watched the scene unfold, he whispered to no one in particular, “Sara, where are you?”

Chapter 9

Sara had been standing at the eastern edge of the rooftop, watching that crazy man that was her one true love, again risking life and limb without explanation. As he had done on previous occasions, he insisted on performing certain activities he considered extreme risk on his own, leaving everyone else to watch and worry.

With the rifle he had left her in hand, she was assessing her targets for risk to her man. The initial reaction was to target the man he was engaged with, however after some thought, she realized Jake would dispatch the man himself, should need arise. Next on her list were the two heavy machine gun positions on the rooftop behind the walls. As both were of equal risk, and neither seemed to have an advantage in lethality, she was unsure which to target first.

Finally, she decided on the rocket launcher between the two. Of the firepower directed at Jake, this was the one most likely to breach the combat suits protections. With her targets located and prioritized, she settled in and focused on the conversation between the two men, surprised at the turn it was taking.

All this apparently prevented Sara from noticing the men sneaking up behind her. Suddenly two men appeared, on her right and left. The one on the right grabbed her rifle while the left attempted to get her in a headlock. Spinning left. She drove her knee into the man’s groin, causing him to double over while driving her left hand into the throat of the one holding her rifle.

Looking out over the rooftop, she saw five more men, all running in her direction. Drawing her sidearm, she shot two in the chest. As she was lining up on the third, the man she had kneed earlier kicked out from his position on the ground, knocking the gun from her hand.

The man she had punched in the throat, now recovered, started to grab for her. Wrestling within his grasp, Sara pulled the knife from her belt and plunged it squarely in his chest. She turned as three of the running men hit her from the side and all four of them fell to the rooftop. Struggling to free herself, the fourth man savagely slammed his rifle butt into Sara’s abdomen, knocking the wind out of her. Her combat suit had prevented any serious damage, however Sara was still unable to resist as they picked her up and tied her wrists behind her.

Struggling to breathe, she was also unable to speak as the men gathered the loose weapons, drug her to the stairwell, and then they all disappeared down into the building.


Jake had to fight the urge to rush to Sara’s last known location as he watched the heads up display inside his helmet. Continuing to hover at 100 feet above the ground, he remained over the compound where Chris Wade continued the traditions established long before his birth. The two additional hover cycles below him provided air cover for the defenders below, while the entire B Troop closed in on the approaching antagonists.

Jake had selected a location where several large buildings required the approaching mass to bunch up. This continued for about a block before the riders could spread out at a cross street as they closed in on the compound. The riders split into three groups, the major part coming right up the center, as Jake expected.

As he watched, the lead element of the horsemen started entering one end of the block, while Joe and his other three troopers still had half the distance to cover from their starting points. Jake could see the smaller number of the riders choosing to go around, but not enough to be concerned about just yet.

He could see Abby and her trooper were slowly hovering around the Parsons building where Jake had left Sara. They had started a search pattern, circling the building in ever-larger circles, looking for traces of Sara. Jake felt a pang, as he again had to swallow his urge to charge off and leave his post. Sometimes it sucked being the boss.


Sara was dragged down the stairs, two men holding her up between them. As they reached the ground level, she was finally breathing normally again. Leaving the stairwell, they met two additional men who were holding a large group of horses, in what must have been the lobby of the building in its heyday.

One of the men from the rooftop approached her and, holding a square box like object in one hand and a roll of tape in the other stated, “I’m taping this to your helmet, you try anything and I will pull this string. You better believe it will take your head off.”

Sara could see the box had a pin with a string attached, if he pulled the string, the pin would come with it. As she stood between the two men holding her, the man with the box, held it to the side of her helmet and started taping it in a circling fashion, looping around the top of her helmet. It didn’t block her view but she could see the back side of the tape in her visor.

“Put her on the bay,” he told the other two men while following, still holding the other end of the string. Taking the reins of her horse, he then mounted his own, insuring to leave plenty of slack in the string. Once everyone was mounted, he led the group, with Sara’s mount in tow, through the opening that once held large panels of glass.

Carefully picking their way down the stairs in the front of the building, he led the group south and away from the gunfire to their left.


Jake had switched from the tactical display in his helmet, to ALICE’s overhead video feed in real time. He watched as Joe led a low level, two by two, strafing run on the approaching mass of horses and men. They were slightly above rooftop height of the building lining the street. He had drilled them that by coming in low, the shooters in the rear wouldn’t get a good sight on them until it was too late and they’d whip right by. If they came in too low, those on the rooftops had a good chance of jumping them.

Riding side by side in a box formation with the two pair in the rear slightly staggered to those in the front, the rear pair slowed to put some distance between themselves and the leaders. The lead pair of cycles opened up with the twin 7.62 machineguns and cut down riders and horses in twin paths down the street. As the lead pair started firing, the trailing pair went wide, firing on the groups that had split out from the main force.

As the unaffected scrambled to either side of the street, they still lost almost a quarter of the group in the first pass. There had also been a lot more return fire directed at the riders after they passed. With men and horses down all over the street, it became total chaos on the ground below the flyers.

Jake ordered Joe to pause and delayed the return pass while he assessed the damage to the group. He really didn’t want a bloodbath and hoped to see the group retreat, obviously outmatched. As he watched the riders recover, the rag-tag remnants still amounted to about two-thirds of the original force. While he watched, seeing them scatter towards the south end of the street and out any alleyways, Abby interrupted.

“Jake you need to see this, we found Sara.”

Jake switched his video feed to Abby’s helmet cam and saw a small group of horses moving carefully, but quickly south. Zooming in he could make out Sara’s combat suit, hands tied behind her back, on the horse behind the leader. She has something taped to her head and there was a string leading from there to the rider leading her horse.

“Alice, what is that thing taped to her helmet?” Jake asked.

After a brief pause, she replied, “It appears to be a military grade explosive, used in ambush and booby traps. The string is attached to a ring, which is used for a trip wire detonation. This model appears to support remote wireless detonation as well. I believe this is a mini-claymore. It has…”

Jake interrupted, “I know what that is, will any of our transmissions set it off?”

“I have set Sara’s suit to jam all local transmissions to prevent such an occurrence. Unfortunately, this means we lose all audio and video as well as positioning data. If we lose sight of her we won’t be able to track her.”

“Jake do you want me to stop them?” Abby asked.

“Don’t do anything Abby!” Jake ordered. He was not sure what this was all about but he knew it couldn’t be good if they took her. Whatever that was on her helmet, he wasn’t sure he wanted to test the suits ability to deal with it. Claymores in Jake’s time would rip someone to shreds with about 700 small metal BB’s behind a sizeable C4 charge. Granted those mines were much larger than this, but that was also over 70 years behind the one on Sara’s helmet. He was sure it was bad if that thing went off.

“Follow them at a distance, but don’t lose her. Try not to be spotted and I’ll get back to you,” He finished.

Redirecting his attention back to the earlier battle, if you could call it that, he could make out the four-hover cycles on the far side of the target area. Hovering at about 150 feet up, they were far enough up to avoid attracting too much fire, just the occasional stray round. The surviving remnants of the attacking force, those that had not run off, were cautiously heading south, and trying to skirt the death from above.

Suddenly off to his left, more gunfire erupted as a group of men had taken position in a building on the far side of the park area. He could see the muzzle flashes from at least a half dozen rifles in the windows.

“Damn, these guys just don’t give up!” Jake commented to no one in particular.

While several rounds pinged off the shield of his cycle, he slid his ride slightly to one side and then gave it a down angle, directing his guns at the structure. While the rooftop machineguns below him suddenly opened up on the building, directed at the same threat, Jake fired off two bursts from the energy cannon mounted between his machineguns.

A bright flash appeared where the wall had been and the side of the building collapsed into a pile of brick and rubble. He watched as a couple of the surviving aggressors scrambled for cover, definitely shaken up by the unexpected turn of events.

“Jake, these guys here are now in full retreat, I think that last show of cannon fire put the fear of god in them all,” Joe reported.

Jake looked back in Joe’s direction, and could see a disorderly retreat. What concerned him was it was not very hasty, more like a whipped dog trying to avoid more abuse. He didn’t expect military precision, but he kind of expected some sense of urgency.

The truth of it came to him soon enough as he realized the living were pausing to scavenged from the dead and dying as they withdrew. Jake would have attributed it to the hungry just trying to survive until he watched someone knife a wounded man who was refusing to give up a bottle of some kind of booze. As he magnified his display, he could clearly see the label read Rum. It wasn’t likely water, as bottles made for poor field canteens and on their approach, he made out a running stream not far from here. As he watched, Abby cut in.

“Jake, we are following as instructed. It looks like we are making for a large arena of some kind.”

Jake pulled up the map with Abby and her teammate indicated as icons. His map displayed a large baseball stadium, marked Dodgers, dead ahead of their path from his position. That made some sense to Jake, most stadiums had perimeter fencing as well as limited passageways into and through the structure. They also have clear areas on all approaches as parking lots generally surrounded them.

As he looked at this place, he realized it was a ready-made fort with raised ground all around and enough space to house an army. He also realized they had all but over flown this location on their approach. No wonder they went looking for Sara. They were looking for Jake’s entire team.


Sara sat on her horse trying not to do anything that might make the string her captor held any tauter. He held enough slack in the line to prevent any accidental triggering of the device taped to her helmet. However if she fell from the saddle, she was toast and she knew it.

She tried at first to contact Jake, ALICE or anyone, but so far, not one of them seemed to hear her. In addition, none of her tactical positioning displays or maps worked beyond her internal compass and life support. She left her faceplate mirrored and chose to keep quiet rather than engaging her captors. They followed her example, not antagonizing her in any exchange beyond the initial capture.

As they rode along, she surveyed her surroundings, committing the route to memory. She wanted to know her path back, should she find an opportunity to escape. After a long while she could see what she assumed was their final destination. It was a tall structure on a raised mound, overlooking all the surrounding area. She was sure that at some time in the past it was a kind of sports arena. At one point, to reach it, they had to cross over a riverbed with water running below. She was sure that the path they followed was once a roadway of some size.

Several times along the way, groups of riders passed them, all headed to the same structure at a hurried pace. Eventually they turned and headed up a roadway that led straight to what Sara was sure was, at one time, some former stadium. As they approached, she could make out armed men up on the ramps and rooftops.

Just over the bridge, they veered right, and then up a roadway, crossing a large open area. Sara was led up to the fencing circling the structure, and passed through one of the gated openings manned by armed men. They immediately passed through the opening in the stadium and then inside the building itself. Just inside, two more guards helped her off her horse. During the entire operation, the man holding the string never let go, insuring she could not bolt for freedom.

Once inside and on her feet, the man with the string, with two guards trailing, guided her through several passages. Bare concrete and faded paint competed for dominance on the surrounding walls around them. Along the way, she saw several rooms with groups of people or haphazard stacks of supplies in disorganized, dangerously unstable piles. One room, that caught her attention as she passed, was full of military grade weapons. There was some bad stuff in there, she was sure of it, but didn’t get a good enough look before being pushed from behind by one of her two rear escorts.

They walked for quite a while until they stopped in a room deep within the structure, its metal doorframe a sad testament to the door that once hung in the opening, the door itself now long gone. At this point, one of the men behind her removed the ropes on her wrists, spun her in place and then he re-tied them in front, leaving a little slack. Next, both men grabbed her and, lifting her arms above her head, hung her by the rope on her wrists. The rope looped over a rod with a slight hook extending out from the ceiling near the center of the room. The man with the string was there the whole time.

Sara, unfortunately, was just short enough that her feet didn’t quite touch, so she dangled just off the floor, arms above her head. The slack in the rope allowed her hands to part just enough that the rope, not her wrists, took the dig from the rod. Her suit helped dissipate the pressure of the rope around her wrists, but not completely.

The man with the string then stepped up and removed the device taped to her helmet and stepped back, gently tossing it up and down in his hand before finally setting it on a table near the far wall in the room. As the two men who hung her on the rod stood by, a few more wandered into the room, until there were seven or eight in total.

Not entirely unconcerned about what came next, Sara watched the string man as he quietly stared at her until some asked, “Is that a dude or a broad?”

“Let’s strip it and find out,” the one who had tied her wrists replied.

No one seemed in a rush to be the first, finally the guy who asked the question stepped forward and started to remove Sara’s combat suit BDU top. Although no one could see her face behind her mirrored faceplate, Sara just smiled.

Like the combat suit undergarment which sealed at the wrists to gloves and neck to helmet skirt, the over uniform also had molecular bonding at its edges. Properly adorned, the wrists sealed to the same glove seam as the undergarment. The BDU blouse sealed at its opening in the front and inside to the trousers at the waist, the rest of the jacket hanging over. The trouser legs sealed to the boots like a natural blousing and when buttoned up entirely, the neckline of the top to the helmet skirt.

All this was less in aid of the NBC, or Nuclear, Biological and Chemical capabilities of the uniform. It was more in support of the multilayer bullet stopping capabilities of layer upon layer of the uniform material. With the undergarment and the multilayer BDU sealed tight, it was protection against any freak accident from an indirect hit or substantial direct hit.

Sara had always been diligent about donning her uniform properly before, but after seeing Jake’s ribs from just undergarment protection, she was now doubly careful. Currently she was extra glad she was.

“Hey this thing doesn’t have any openings!” the attempted stripper declared as he pulled and tugged at her BDU blouse and trousers. He had tried going over, under and around with no success.

At that point, several more men stepped forward, running their hands all over her body, looking for some opening to exploit.

“Well it’s got tits!” one man announced, as several more grabbed at her chest in confirmation.

“Stand back,” the string man said while pushing several of the others away.

Pulling out his knife, he tried to slit the front of her blouse, only to see the knife slide over the material undamaged.

“What the...” he said, clearly confused.

Next, he tried to slit Sara’s pant leg, with no success. He almost cut himself as the blade skipped off the material.

“Screw this,” he swore as he took the knife and tried to stab Sara in the leg.

“Ouch,” Sara said flatly, sounding as if she was bored with the whole thing.

“TO hell with you,” the string man said, replacing his knife in its sheath and grabbing a bat leaning against one wall. It looked well used so Sara suspected it was a popular interrogation tool.

Everyone stood back as he took several good swings at Sara’s middle section.

Unlike the earlier rifle butt hit to the chest, which had been a large force in a concentrated area right over her solar plexus, the bat hits were actually across a large part of the front of Sara’s suit. This spread the force throughout the front of her BDU blouse and while not pleasant, it was far less of a threat to bodily injury.

Add to this, she was swinging freely at this point and it almost made her laugh as string man stepped back panting.

As he was getting ready to go for another round, a new man stepped into the room and bellowed, “What the hell are you doing?”

Everyone stepped away from the bat wielder as he turned to the new arrival and said, “Cal, this is the bitch we captured riding those flyers Jax saw.”

“And you are beating her why?” Cal asked.

“We were trying to peel her uniform off, but it’s sealed somehow.”

“And you think this will help?” the man called Cal replied, clearly questioning the sanity of the man.

“No she pissed me off, here watch this,” with that he dropped the bat and pulling his knife, took several savage stabs at Sara before the man called Cal could stop him.

“See,” he said, holding out the clean blade and pointing to Sara, indicating no visible wounds.

The knife stabs had actually been more painful than the bat, but Sara bit her tongue rather than give anything away.

Now it was Cal’s turn to stare at Sara. She could see this was the leader of the rabble, and he looked far more intelligent than the rest combined.

“Put her in the hole for now,” was all he said before turning and walking out of the room.

Chapter 10

Jake checked his display noting everyone’s locations and then requested a status report from Abby. She reported that she watched the group she had been following lead Sara directly into the stadium. They had to stay high to avoid detection and from her location, she could see as many as 30 to 40 armed men guarding the stadium.

Jake asked her to locate and secure a safe oversight of that location and dig in. Jake also asked ALICE to dig up everything she had on that stadium. He had been to a Dodgers game once while in LA, but he doubted very much that it still resembled anything like it did then.

While he waited for confirmation from Abby, he continued to watch the last remnants of the attacking forces dwindle away. Once Abby replied that a spot just north of the stadium gave her an excellent view, Jake sent the other two troopers from A Troop to assist her. He wanted to ensure there were no more potential hostages, so this was recon in force. He also reminded them not to draw attention to themselves. Fly low.

While all this organization was occurring, ALICE informed Jake that the Revenge was finished with its rework in Alaska and as instructed, was currently departing for space trials. Jake had completely forgotten about his instructions not all that long ago, a pointed reminder about two front wars.

With A Troop securely dug in on a hilltop and with ALICE on over-watch of the stadium as a whole, Jake recalled the B Troop. They were currently insuring that no stragglers got any ideas of circling back on the compound. With Joe and his troopers stationed 100 feet up on all four corners of the compound below, tactfully pointed outward, Jake slowly descended on his ride. He was making it obvious that the move was to land in the open space inside the walls, where they had seen the children play earlier.

With rooftop guns following his entire decent, he softly landed in the yard, Chris already standing in the yard near the building ready to receive him. As Jake climbed off his hover cycle, his ribs gave him a sharp jab, giving him a quick reminder with the twist of his torso as he swung his leg over.

“You just saved a lot of lives here,” Chris opened with as he approached Jake, “That’s the biggest group I’ve ever seen sent to challenge us.”

“I don’t think it was you they were coming for,” Jake replied, “They grabbed one of my people and took her to the stadium,” he finished.

“That’s bad,” he replied with a concerned look on his face, “that place is full of really bad people. We’ve had people taken before, only one got away.”

“Any chance I can talk to that person?” Jake asked optimistically, internal Intel was a lifesaver, literally.

“She won’t talk about it, but you can try. They did bad things to her, and she only escaped because they thought she was dead. We found her naked and beaten, cuts and bruises everywhere. She had crawled into the nearby creek bed and passed out, the water probably saved her,” he finished.

“What were you doing there?” Jake asked, curious about wandering so close.

“Scouting their location. Everyone here is family, and you don’t abandon family. If there was a way to get her back, we were going to try,” he finished.

“We have the same policy, only if she’s not alive and unharmed when I get there, the stadium won’t be standing the next day,” Jake stated with a tone so cold Chris gave a visible shake.

Chris turned away and gave a wave to the doorway and Jake saw another man come scrambling out. Chris stepped aside, and the two had a short conversation before the man darted back inside.

“While he looks for Lisa, we should probably talk about why you came here in the first place,” Chris offered.


Brian sat in the command chair of Revenge as she headed to the edge of the solar system. Assigned as captain of the ship for the first space trials, he was as shocked as any, regarding his selection. The competition for the position had been fierce, and he hadn’t even been aware he was in the running.

Recruited very early in the ALICE populating activities, his life’s goals had always been around farming. Growing up, he never imagined he would have the option to farm as his great grandfather once had. Then Jake came, and for him the ramifications were overwhelming. Moreover, as with most people Jake plucked from their limited opportunity existences, he watched as his horizons expand beyond his wildest dreams and got to go to places he had never imagined possible.

In the beginning, his agrarian studies led to combat training. Then combat training led to a team leader position and leadership courses. He was then introduced, to of all things, astronavigation. Who would have guessed he excelled as an interstellar navigator.

He had been in the first group assigned to Revenge when space duties became available. At that time he hadn’t been selected to stay behind for ship’s captain, rather he was rotated out for additional studies in navigation. Once his studies were completed, he returned with a different crew as part of another rotation.

For this assignment, he was in the role of XO to a female crewmember from the last rotation as captain. He spent this duty watching a technically excellent officer alienate the entire crew with her lack of people skills. The impression was a lasting one. The fact that she was now his XO for this trip was a telling statement on the importance of how you say things.

Again, not asked to remain behind for that rotation, he personally initiated additional training for classes on people skills and leadership beyond his required class load. The things he learned gave him pause to reconsider Jake and his leadership skills. The man must truly be a natural born leader to pull off all he had accomplished so far without revolt from within.

As Brian looked over the bridge personnel, he again was reminded that he was at least 10 years older than the next closest crew member present. His entire bridge staff consisted of an engineering officer, a helmsman/pilot, a navigator and a communications and weapons officer. With the chief engineer down below, the six comprised a full shift of personnel and none over 25 years old.

Currently Revenge herself held a total complement of 28 personnel. The decision to adopt the United States Navy’s submarine service schedule of 6-hour duty shifts on an 18-hour rotation was part of this space trial. Brian and the XO rotated the command chair, as no one was comfortable with just an officer of the watch just yet. A nurse/corpsman and the medical officer/Doctor were part of the 28 and on a 24 hour on call.

For this voyage, additional personnel were included as part of the testing program and although there was a cook staff with a fully functional kitchen, the ALICEs had ensured sufficient pre-made stores in stasis to ensure no one would go hungry. It was a bit odd not to see one of the bots onboard, but without ALICE, they were non-functional.

With all the additions to Revenge completed in Alaska for Jake’s experiments, permission to depart was given and they made orbit and beyond without a hitch. It was to be several days before they reached the edge of the solar system and were able to engage the faster than light drives, the true basis of their testing.

With the removal of all known inhibiting technology, as the discovery that ferrous materials disrupted the field generation, a general roll back had been required. No more rail guns or other advantage giving firepower remained on the hull. Stasis shields were still in place though as well as a couple of other alterations Jake had request. This trial was to see if that technology created a problem as well.

The ALICEs had the entire exercise pre-programed into the ships computers, but Brian was to run the ship as if it were not so. An evaluation of every action taken by the crew would be run against the programs to identify deviations or errors. Each incorrect decision needed correcting as part of the training.

The risk of having three interstellar navigators on board at one time had been argued, as they were such a precious resource in such short supply. The loss of the ship would be devastating to the fleet. It had almost cost Brian the command, but in the end, the decision was made that the risk was worth it. This was a valuable exercise, and they all needed the experience.

One issue they still hadn’t worked out was the light wave communications. Past Pluto, it was a 4-hour delay to talk to earth. Everyone knew with the NeHaw relays, point-to-point communications were really fast due to the technology involved, but linkup to the relay was still light wave and earth didn’t have one yet. This was going to make interactive communications extremely difficult. He suspected that the NeHaw were big on fire and forget, for their communications style.


Sara was sitting at the bottom of a square concrete shaft, about 6 foot by 6 foot and ten feet down. The walls were bare and she could plainly make out the metal grate covering the opening above her. She was also in about three feet of standing water.

She was fairly sure this was what was called a sump well. Water was to drain into this hole and a pump would pull it out and pump it away. She very much doubted the pump still worked, but it indicated she was at the very bottom of the building above. There was a ladder on one wall, she assumed at some point she would need it to leave, but the two men who brought her here had simply lifted the grate and dropped her in.

The water was actually good news for her. Once wet, the ropes tied to her wrists loosened enough, and she removed them. Her suit provided both insulation and climate control so she wasn’t uncomfortable, but she didn’t want to lay down. At least the filtration system in her suit was able to absorb and purify the water for drinking, so she wouldn’t go thirsty.

She did try for the one thousandth time to reach ALICE, Jake or anyone who might be nearby. She had thought at first, her suit might have sustained damage in the fight. Then after having time to assess her status, realized only the transmit and receive functions were down, displayed as offline. She suspected that was done on purpose but couldn’t understand why.

She was also starting to feel the effects of the beatings, but those aches were far less than the rage that was building towards the men who had provided them. Images of what it must have been like for other women who came before her ran through her head. Those not given the protection of a sealed combat suit would have suffered unspeakably. She thought of all the possible horrors inflicted on them and most likely of all, how that would have been her and her sisters had Jake not saved them that day just over one year ago.


Cal and the man Sara thought of as string man, sat at a table in a different room than the one she had been hanging in. Although the decor was remarkably similar, this room was larger with several tables that had food stores spread about in a disorganized mess. In all, there were a dozen or so men spread out in different parts of the room, eating and drinking, well mostly drinking. The more vocal of the lot were recalling the events of the day and telling tales of the flying devils that had left over 30 dead in the streets.

“You think they are the same ones?” String man was asking Cal.

“Description matches,” Cal replied, while looking like he was deep in thought.

“But the survivors said it was one big flyer, not a buncha small ones,” he replied.

“You think they only got one?” Cal shot back in anger, “we lost as many today as a year ago and then there was that wagon load of women. Plus, we lost several weeks’ worth of food. These are the same ones, I’m sure of it. Remember Jack said besides the flyer, some jasper in a mirror faced helmet stood up on the hill, picking off riders. Just like the one that bitch in the hole is wearing. I think tomorrow we are gonna pull her out of the hole and see how that outfit takes to fire, maybe burn her out,” with that Cal turned away and looked down into his glass.

The sat quietly for a while, then the string man asked, “Aren’t you worried someone will come looking for her?”

At that Cal turned back slowly and with a stern glare asked, “Did anyone one see you grab her?”

Realizing he may have stepped in it, string man stuttered, “No, no one else was on that roof and we never saw a soul all the way back here, but our own people.”

Dropping the conversation, as it was clear Cal was in no mood to chat, the string man got up to leave. As he turned to go, Cal looked up and called out while holding up his glass, “Hey go get me another bottle of Rum, you know, from that raid on those gomers south of here. Too bad we had to kill them women to get it, they were pretty,” he finished absently.


Jake had just finished one of the most uncomfortable conversations of his life while waiting to speak to Lisa. His discussion with Chris had him admitting he hadn’t given a second thought to the people of LA, other than to brand them all as lawless thieves.

Chris spoke of the complex nature of their existence in LA prior to Jake’s meddling. He described how Jake’s efforts to save the world had nearly ended theirs. The last straw for Chris’s “family” had been with the capture of Lisa and another woman from the fields in front of the compound. Their lack of firepower had prevented the type of response required to recover the women. Those hold up in the stadium had serious military grade weaponry. In the end, Lisa had survived to return, the other woman was not as lucky.

Chris outlined their plans to even the playing field, explaining the joining of the patrol and on how they hijacked the arms shipment in a bloodless coup. The stuff Jake was supplying the patrol far exceeded what the group at the stadium wielded. Jake praised the effort and specifically the finesse with which it Chris had pulled it off. That subtlety had led Jake to conclude there was more to the story than a rogue patrolman.

After a lengthy conversation about the future, Jake touched on the option of relocating the entire group to a more secure location. He also implied that inclusion into an ALICE facility was not out of the question. Chris politely declined both options. His home was here, his family liked it here, and this was where they needed to be.

In the end, to make things right, Jake agreed to subsidize the group here with more than just weapons. Supplies of food, medical assistance and technology upgrades in exchange for an observation post and sanctuary for those caught up in the struggles of change here. Jake was positive stability in LA would not come cheap or easy, but this was actually a better start than Jake had hoped.

Jake had also accepted Chris’ offer of hospitality in letting B Troop land and allow him to use the compound as HQ for his rescue attempt. With Joe’s troop on the ground in the courtyard and Abby securely dug in, Jake asked ALICE to review what she had found with him. They covered what they had on record for the stadium construction as well as video from various angles. He asked her to do some speculative imagery on what the insides might look like as well.

When Lisa finally agreed to see Jake, he pulled the display screen they had been using off the door of his box on the hover cycle and had only one of Joe’s troopers follow him inside the building. Jake could see the confusion on Joe’s face regarding his selection, but made no comment on it.

Chris led the two through what looked to be the main gathering area inside the ground floor. The well-lit room had plenty of daylight with oil lamps in the darker corners. There were several women busy at various tasks, but all stopped to watch as the group passed. Evidently, they weren’t considered a threat, as the children continued to run free throughout the area.

As they passed one room in particular, Chris commented as he pointed, “That’s the guy we shot earlier today. He’s just a kid, can’t be more than seventeen. We just couldn’t leave him there to die.”

“What happens to him?” Jake asked.

“He can stay if he wants, or we’ll turn him loose when he’s better. Several of the people here started off just like him, trying to steal from us in some fashion.”

Jake looked in to see the boy bandaged in a bed, an armed guard sitting in a chair on the far side of the room.

“This is our room,” Chris stated as he opened a door leading into what had to have been a small office at some point in the past. There was a table with several chairs, and a couch against one wall. Oil lamps on the table and in wall sconces provided ample light for the windowless space. Sitting in a chair at the table was a small woman, who couldn’t have been 100 pounds soaking wet, and was plainly, very nervous.

After Chris, Jake and his selected trooper entered the room, one of Chris’ people stepped outside closing the door behind him.

Indicating everyone should sit, Chris opened with, “Lisa, this is the man that needs to talk to you. They’ve grabbed another woman and he needs your help.”

Jake could see Lisa’s eyes go wide at the statement, as she slowly began shaking her head no. Jake gave her a moment and then reached up to remove his helmet.

“Lisa,” he began, once his helmet was free of his head, “please listen to me for a moment. They have taken one of my family, just like what happened to you. I only need you to tell me where they took her so I can get her back. If I can’t find her fast, I’m afraid they will kill her before I can get to her.”

Jake watched as she looked at his face for a moment as if to speak and then clamped shut again. Giving her a few more seconds to think about his words, he began again.

“I know those men did horrible things, things you never want to even think about, but I am trying to stop that from happening to another woman just like her,” Jake finished pointing at the trooper he had selected to accompany him. With a hand gesture, he indicated for the trooper to remove her helmet.

Pausing for a moment and with Lisa watching her every move, the trooper slowly removed her helmet to reveal the face of a child. Sanchez was the smallest of all the troopers, at 4 foot 10 inches, the joke had been she couldn’t reach the running boards to fly. Her jet-black hair framed a pixie face that contradicted her 22 years of age.

Why they called her by her last name, even Jake didn’t know, but she was a ball of energy that didn’t stop. One of the fiercest members of the 10th cavalry, she tested the limits of the entire group with the tenacity and determination she possessed. She was what Jake loved about Special Forces, the sleeper. You would never suspect she was a threat until it was too late.

He knew, however, that is not what Lisa was seeing. She saw a child, potentially exposed to the horrors she had endured and survived. As he quietly watched, he saw her eyes close and then the words started to fall out.

“We were in the field, removing weeds when they grabbed us. I wasn’t even sure what had happened at first as they had pulled a sack over my head and then hit me hard with something. Once my head cleared I realized I was draped over a saddle, tied hand and foot.”

As she paused, no one dared to speak for fear of stopping the flow of words.

“I think about half way there, we stopped, and I was dropped to the ground and the sack removed from my head. It was then that I saw they had taken Maria as well. She was laying on the ground nearby, crying. I don’t think they had hit her, like me. Anyway they said they wanted to see if we were keepers or not, then agreed we were. With that, we were draped back across the horses but I was able to see the rest of the trip.”

After a sigh, she continued, “We got to that place, and they pulled us down off the horses. Someone grabbed the rope on my feet and started to drag me inside. I looked over to see several men pass me as they were carrying Maria inside. I think I would be the dead one now if they had taken me first,” she added with a sob.

Everyone waited while Lisa composed herself, then she said, “Soon enough others came out and I was lifted and carried inside as well. We went down several hallways and down some stairs. As we past one room,” Lisa stopped with a gasp, and then blurted, “Maria was hanging by her wrists, she’d been stripped and they were, were doing things to her while she hung there crying.”

Lisa dropped her head into her hands and continued to cry for a moment, and then Sanchez took her hands and held them. Once Lisa had composed herself, while still holding hands, she continued, “they dropped me on the floor in a room next door and I had to listen to Maria. They cut my clothes off, untied my feet, kicked, and hit me a few times, saying I would die if I tried to run. Someone came in after that and said they didn’t have time for me right now, I was to be dropped in the hole for later.”

“Two men came in and took me farther down the hall, lifted a grate on the floor and dropped me in a hole with water at the bottom. After a long while, I was able to untie my wrists and climb the ladder. They never latched the grate, I think they were all drunk, and I slipped out. I think it must have been very late because I came across men passed out drunk in several places. Once I slipped out of the building, I ran as fast as I could. I fell several times, but eventually, I dropped at the stream where Chris found me,” she finished still holding on to Sanchez.

Jake could see the woman suffered from survivor’s guilt besides the trauma of the experience itself. He would get with Chris later to see if they could do something that would help her overcome her experience. With the display laid out on the table in front of them Jake asked, “If I show you a floor plan, can you trace the route you took?”

Jake could see the confusion on the woman’s face, so he activated the display he had brought along, the stadium floor plan now visible to all. Jake continued to walk her through the sequence she described, being careful not to use any words that might trigger a withdrawal on Lisa’s part.

He pointed out each point along the way and even provided the earlier video from ALICE to display what she might have seen going in. For the interior, they viewed the ALICE provided artificial imagery based on the floor plan and Lisa’s descriptions. ALICE had been looped into the entire conversation via both helmet transceivers.

Finally, Jake was able to locate the sump wells in the basement as Lisa described. With the entire event diagramed, Jake had formulated a plan to get Sara back. All he needed now was a delivery from ALICE to complete the equation.

Chapter 11

Sara sat at the bottom of the hole, for the most part happy to be left on her own, but wondering what the hell, Jake was doing to get her out of there. She had climbed the ladder a few times, testing the grating above, however each trip yielded the same answer. Locked tight and securely fixed to the frame, it was going nowhere.

Early in her incarceration, she heard frequent movement from above, even some singing at one point. However, as the evening led into night, she hadn’t heard a peep in hours. Resigned to spending the night, she finally settled into a corner of the well, with the water chest high on her. After about 20 minutes, she fell into a fitful sleep.


Jake stood in the deep shadows, at the tree line just off the parking lot to the north of the stadium. While not a moonless night, it was the typical Southern California evening, mixed cloud cover with a partial moon on the sky. He had hoped for more clouds providing for the darkest night, as there were no longer city lights to contend with reflections off the clouds. Classic quotes notwithstanding, Jake had waited until 1am for the deepest part of the night. He wanted it as dark as possible before beginning his mission for cover and other reasons.

The delivery he had requested from ALICE hadn’t arrived until after sunset, the small helicopter providing more than enough space for his pick list. Any additional materials delivered were part of the first of Chris’ supplies, but only added in this run because some of Jake’s needs were in route from various locations and thus delayed the entire delivery.

Once the kit he required arrived, with two additional two-person combat sniper teams, he swapped out his gear. ALICE had provided Jake with a new combat suit, lovingly called a chameleon suit. Unlike the traditional combat BDU’s they all usually wore, which matched the color of camouflage pattern to the existing terrain, this suit matched whatever it was adjacent to. If you stood by a brick wall, the suit took on both the color and pattern. By placing yourself on the ground, you were rocks, dirt, and gravel.

For weapons, she delivered the latest in subsonic armament. All the munitions contained a heaver projectile with internal slow burn solid rocket motor, providing the same range as a traditional round, but not the supersonic snap. The silencers for both pistol and submachine gun, both 10mm, contained integrated barrels that incorporated both sound absorbing and sound canceling technology. The unit actually generated a sound wave of equal but opposite force to cancel that sound which was not absorbed. Jake test fired a round from his pistol into the ground, and all he heard was the round hitting the loose dirt. The intention of both these weapons was for close in work, perfect for Jake’s plans.

The rest of the equipment’s capabilities were standard for all combat suits, with the night vision and infrared abilities. Sound enhancement, tactical display, and communications were also standard. ALICE had also provided a separate small satchel filled with explosive charges.

ALICE outfitted both two-man teams identical to Jake with the exception of the additional sniper rifle, fitted in 7.62mm with the same technology for silent sniping and a 7.62mm assault rifle with fully automatic functionality for the spotter.

Should things go sideways, these acted as a one-man crew serve machinegun. Similar to the 5.56mm assault rifle they all usually carried, the longer barrel accommodated a 300 round stick magazine, and it had an integrated bi-pod. They reminded Jake of the M-60 he was familiar with without the belt or expended brass to deal with. There was also a third sniper rifle, intended for Abby’s sharp shooter on the overlook.

Just before midnight, Jake had all four members of B Troop reform their rides for the additional passengers and had them transport the two teams to their drop zones. They each had 20 minutes to get to their hides and settle in before Jake was ready to go himself. The drop zones were 120 degrees either side of Abby’s position, all surrounding the stadium. From there they had interlocking fields of fire forming a triangle around the target.

While changing, Jake had also hit himself with a local anesthetic, numbing his ribs to remove any possible distractions. He was sure the Doc’s would be mad as hell later, but he was taking no chances with this mission.

At 10 after midnight, Jake grabbed the third sniper rifle and jumped on his hover cycle, Abby’s observation post as his goal. Chris and a few others were there to see him off and wished him luck. Lisa made no comment, but Jake could see she wanted to see him successful.

He raised the hover cycle straight up into the night air, but only high enough to clear the walls and then, using his night vision, he made his way between the taller buildings. In short order he had landed his ride on her hill top hide, instructed Abby’s shooter on the role she played with Abby as spotter, and made his way to his current position, all in time for his 1am jump off.

After receiving confirmations from all positions and giving the go signal, Jake checked both his overhead and infrared for heat blooms indicating guards. For this mission, the riskiest part was at the very beginning. He needed to cover the open area from the wood line to the edge of the fencing without drawing attention to himself. As it was the remnants of an old asphalt parking area, there wasn’t a spot of cover.

The good part was, these guys were so poorly led and organized that the guards were far apart and few in number. They likely had never been challenged here on their home turf, so they didn’t put a lot of efforts in their guard duties. The bad part was they were so poorly trained and led there wasn’t any set schedule for the guard rotation or routine.

Jake figured his main goal was to keep the ones up high from seeing any movement below and the one's below wouldn’t survive an encounter if they got too close to him anyway. By the time anyone missed a change of guards, he would either be finished with his mission or in a major firefight. The satchel he carried along contained parting gifts for the occupants in either event.

Finished with the infrared sweep, he tagged the closet threats in the display everyone was sharing and asked for a go from his spotters. He at least wanted those guards closet to be looking in some other direction when he moved. His route had him clearing this major open area first, then he would move from cluster to cluster of growth, all plant life broken through the asphalt over the many years since anyone actually parked a car here.

With the all clear given, he did a silent sprint to the outgrowth at the far side of the open parking lot. He then hunkered down to wait and see if he’d been spotted. Normally done in a low and slow fashion, he was now relying on the newly acquired speed and agility the radiation bath provided. He completed that sprint in half the time he previously would have needed to cover the same distance.

Again, the all clear came from his spotters, so Jake began the process of moving from cover to cover until he was at the fence line near the opening in the stadium he targeted as his entry point. Pulling the wire cutters out of a pocket, he clipped just enough of the fence to get through, and then began checking the infrared for heat at his next waypoint. Sure enough, just inside the stadium opening, where he planned to enter the interior, there were two hot spots, indicating bodies.

Due to the position and heat concentration, either they were really short, fat guys, or they were sitting on something. Moving from infrared to night vision with magnification, he could see sure enough, they were both sitting on chairs on either side of the opening.

The one on the right had his feet up on a second folding chair, with his head back and was sound asleep. The other guy on the left was propped up in a corner where the two walls intersected, was leaning back, and smoking a cigarette. Unfortunately, he was also facing directly in Jake’s direction.

Going back to infrared, he verified there were no other bodies nearby, and then returning to night vision, he checked the distance at 78 feet. Close enough. He lifted the submachine gun and set it to semi auto. Then he lined up the first target for a headshot and gently squeezed off a single round.

Jake felt the slight recoil, but heard no sound but the impact with the targets forehead. He could see the blood splatter on the wall behind and saw his head come to rest, tilted back, as if he had fallen asleep. From there, Jake slipped through the fence and darted to the right of the opening, drawing his knife from his belt as he closed.

Turning the corner to the right and into the opening, he clamped one hand over the sleeping man’s mouth while driving the knife into his heart and held him there until he died. Sheathing his knife, he continued into the structure. With another right, he took one of the charges from the satchel and placed it high on the wall.

He then swung the submachine gun, on its strap, around from behind until he held it comfortably in front. While switching between thermal and night vision, he made his way down the corridor, placing charges in select locations along the path he had worked out from Lisa’s descriptions.

Lighting was sporadic inside, mostly consisting of the infrequent burning oil lamp. His night vision compensated accordingly. In several rooms along his route, he passed sleeping men. While tempted to shoot them where they lay, they weren’t as big a risk in comparison to possible discovery, so he just passed them by.

When he reached a room that looked to be the armory, Jake took careful note of all the military weaponry. Evidently, they had breached a military weapons store somewhere along the way and had raided the place. No wonder they had little fear of attack, anything short of a fully functioning army would be no threat. That is, anyone but Jake’s team. These were probably from a National Guard Armory. Good, current for the time of the NeHaw attack, but not ALICE grade weapons.

He placed two charges in here. Then, slipping back into the hallway, he moved farther down the hall and down more stairs, until he passed the room Lisa described seeing Maria abused in. The hook shaped rod coming down from the ceiling was a unique, telling feature. He placed a charge in here. Although it was a complete waste, he felt it was a good idea nonetheless.

Moving on, he knew he was getting close to the Sump Well location in the plans. Ahead he noticed the flickering shadows from an open flame on the wall, so he slowly approached a turn in the hallway. Peering around the corner, he spotted two men standing over one of the grates in the floor, with one of them holding a lamp. The other held a bottle similar to the one he saw stolen in front of Chris’s compound. The man with the lamp was talking to him.

“Cal, we should wait until morning. It’s really late and if she is one of them flying assholes from the farm raids last year, we should take our time.”

The one called Cal replied, “I ain’t tired. I know this bitch is one of them and I want to see her burn tonight. We lost a lot of good men last year and today. They deserve revenge. We haven’t had a good haul since then.”

“Maybe we should try to trade her then? You know, from the others at the compound.”

“No, this one we burn, the others will get theirs later,” Cal said.

Jake had heard enough to confirm this was the group that they were looking for. The group that had raided the farms of Sara, Sandy and the others, killed their families, and had forever altered their lives. He was sure that Sara was in the hole they were standing over and he had enough of the entire thing.

Moving out from the shadows, with the machinegun leveled at the two, he stepped forward as they both turned to look in his direction. Unmistakably drunk, it took them both a few second to realize Jake was real and as both started to move. He placed two clean shots into both of them, dropping them on either side of the grate. The oil lamp broke as it hit the ground, engulfing the man in flames. As he was dead before he hit the ground, it only added to the ambient light.

Slipping the submachine gun along his side and out of the way, he squatted down and unlatched the grating, quietly lifting it and flipping it on its back without a sound. Although unnecessary he grabbed a light from his belt and, pointing it down the hole, he lit it up.

He then quietly asked, “Are you ready to come home?”

He watched as Sara looked up, confused at first, and then she quickly scrambled up the ladder and grabbed Jake in a hug that made him glad he had taken the anesthetic earlier. She started to talk, but he silenced her. Once she let him go, he gave her the once over, turning her completely around, looking for the charge they had planted on her earlier.

Once he was sure she was free of it, he had ALICE reinstate her transmit and receive capabilities.

“OK, you are back online, no one can hear us. Are you alright?” Jake asked.

“Oh my god, it’s so good to hear you again, what happened, why did my radio go out?” Sara asked.

“The charge they had taped to your helmet had a wireless detonate function though I doubt they knew that. ALICE shut you down to prevent an accidental detonation until we could rescue you. Look, we can catch up later. Here.” Jake said as he handed her his pistol.

“It's silenced, but we are still in the vipers nest. Follow my lead.” With that, Jake turned to leave, but not before dropping a charge in the hole Sara had just vacated.

He knew she had questions, but she was disciplined enough not to ask. He could also tell she recognized both Cal and the burning man, dead at the opening of the grate. He was sure that had been way too good a way to die for the both of them.

Falling in behind Jake and reverting to her training, she covered their six on the way out. As Jake led the way, she ensured no one came at them from behind. Before long, they reached the opening where Jake had dispatched the two sitting men. Indicating for her to wait there, Jake moved on the opposite way, pulling out charges from his satchel and placing them at irregular intervals.

Once the bag was empty, he dropped it and returned to the waiting Sara, her body language betraying her impatience. He could hardly blame her. As they prepared to leave, Jake gave the command. “All positions, you are a go!”

With that, he simply stepped out and started walking back to the opening in the fence he had created earlier. Sara followed, confused at first, until a loud thud sounded from behind, startling her. Turning, she was just in time to see a second body fall from the upper elevations. Then another one dropped.

Finally she asked, “Jake what the hell is happening?”

Jake simply replied, “Sniper practice,” and kept walking.

Once they were both through the fence, two of the A Troop flyers landed and Jake jumped on one while pointing to the other for Sara. After they were clear of the area and all safely huddled with Abby’s troopers, Jake ordered the retrieval of the two support teams by B Troop.

Before one of the B Troopers made his pickup, he dropped off a special passenger. Removing his helmet, and indicating for Sara to do the same, he motioned the two to come closer.

“Lisa, this is Sara. You just saved her life,” then Jake handed her a box. It was somewhat sappy, but Jake had asked ALICE for a switch detonator for this mission. Old fashion and totally unnecessary as he could have just done it from his helmet, he armed it and handed it to Lisa.

“Would you please do the honors?”

Confused at first, she looked down at the box, the red safety cover was up, and the toggle switch exposed below. The Jake pointed at the stadium and then the switch, giving her the thumbs up.

Not even looking at the box, and completely focused on the structure below, she flipped the switch. Even Jake was impressed. The charges ALICE had provided, though small, shot off a wall of flame, rubble and sound that threatened to knock them all off their feet.

The initial flash blinded Jake for a moment and he began regretting removing his helmet. Made mostly of concrete, there was not a lot to burn, but what could, did. The rest was a pulverized mess. At one point there was a particularly deep depression, Jake suspected that once had been a sump well.

After a moment, Lisa turned to Jake and gave him a very long hug. Once she released him, she looked up and simply said, “Maria thanks you,” then handed him the detonator, turned and walked away.

Chapter 12

Brian had been running drills their entire trip to the edge of the solar system. As it was with most new crews, it was a good policy to practice, practice, and more practice. He and his XO had established a training schedule that permitted a good amount of experience for each duty shift. The object of it all was to gain familiarity with their responsibilities and to work closely with those around them.

They actually moved a few personnel around to differing shifts. This allowed them to combine individuals with personalities that were more compatible. Not that there were any personality problems per se, it was just that some people worked better together.

Brian found his XO actually had good insight into people. She just didn’t have that touch to communicate with a positive message. The woman made “good morning” sound insulting.

Once they reached the edge of the solar system, they had a series of pre-programmed faster than light runs to make, provided it worked at all with Jake’s additions to the ship. He hoped it all panned out as the removal of the added firepower had demoralized some of the crew. No one liked leaving guns behind in a firefight.


Chris had agreed to allow Jake to use his compound as a rallying point after Sara’s rescue. There was room in the courtyard for both A and B Troop hover cycles and Jake’s, but they needed to move the helicopter out front near the armored transport to make room. With the burning remnants of the stadium still glowing on the horizon, no outsiders would come near either. Jake had also requested ALICE reactivate the transport for Chris’ use.

They performed an after action head count in the courtyard to ensure everyone was present and accounted for, during which Jake lifted the helmet removal ban. With his legacy well in place by now, the ALICEs had been less rabid over his occasional breaches of external personal security.

Jake noted the mix of his and Chris’ people in the yard gave all a sense of comradery and helped cement the relationship that would be required for the coming months. He was well aware that this was not the end of the LA intervention, just the beginning. Chris had been very forthcoming concerning all the other factions that called LA home. Jake had just removed the worst, but not the only group that required attention.

During the headcount, Jake pulled Sara aside and took full advantage of the lack of helmet, kissing her long and hard. She responded with an even greater intensity, not backing away until he finally pushed her back, but only so he could verify with his own eyes she was whole and unharmed.

“This is twice now,” he started.

“You think I do this on purpose?” She replied, far less irritated at the statement than she sounded.

“No, but I’m not sure I can’t take a third. This one almost did me in.”

Sara laughed and responded, “I didn’t do me any good either, and I hurt all over. The bastards hung me in a room and used a bat on me when they couldn’t strip me. My suit took most of the impact, but I suspect I look like your ribs underneath.”

“Yeah, you don’t want to know what I know about that room. You are lucky you’re still alive. I only wish I knew which bastard was swinging the bat.”

Sara smiled at that, “He was the one you set afire at the pit. I thought that was very romantic,” she finished, kissing him again.

Jake made a mental note that Sara had toughened up quite a bit since her last near death experience. He wasn’t sure if that was completely a good thing, but it was probably necessary in the long run.

Once everything was in order, he had everyone button back up and then led Sara and the two sniper teams out to the helicopter. Sara had protested that she wanted to ride the hover cycle with Jake on the return flight. However, Jake agreed with Kathy, who called in from Nevada, stating that Sara needed to report there, ASAP for a full medical once over.

Once the helicopter was off and on its way, Jake went back inside the compound to finish up with Chris. As he already possessed communicators as part of his “patrol hijacking” Jake demonstrated how they operated and assured him someone would be following up with a more formal support agreement. Chris indicated that wouldn’t be necessary, things were pretty informal here, but Jake insisted. It was better to get a clear understanding up front on what to expect from both parties.

That completed, Jake had his “Odd Squad” mount up, and with him in the lead, they all headed up and to the Northeast for the two-hour ride home.


Jake and his hoard arrived at ALICE-1 about sunrise, in the middle of the Nevada dessert. The beauty of the desert in the morning sun was wasted on the haggard group as they made their approach. It was a calm sunny morning, without a cloud in the sky. The rooftop hangar doors were already open, awaiting their arrival.

After dropping into the hangar, he had the hover cycles parked to one side and out of the way, but left them out for all to see. The cat was now officially out of the bag, so he felt he could reward the curious, should they choose to investigate.

It had been a long night for everyone, and so he pointed them all to the ready room for showers and bed. Doing an After Action review would have to wait for a good days sleep. Maybe even a night after that.

Leaving his helmet on his cycle, Jake went straight into the infirmary. As of his last “in flight” status check, Sara was in residence there under a doctor’s supervision. His only stop along the way was to greet Linda, who had just left Sara herself, and was on her way to start her day. With a kiss and a reassurance of circling back later, she let him pass.

As he entered the infirmary proper, Kathy was there to meet him at the door.

“So this is how you guys party at the island?” She asked with a smirk, “I think I’ll pass entirely.”

“Very funny,” Jake replied, and then gave her a kiss as well, “How is she?”

“Bruised, battered, but on the whole, in better shape than you are I think. No broken ribs, the suit did its job remarkably well considering her description of the events,” she finished.

“That’s a relief!” Jake exclaimed.

“She isn’t leaving here today though. You can see her, but then I want to look you over. I have a sneaking suspicion you have been ignoring doctor’s orders,” she finished.

Stealing another kiss before he passed, Kathy stepped aside and then moved on to her other patients. Jake continued into the next room, with a layout exactly as the facility in Washington that had been his residence not so very long ago.

“Hey you,” Jake said as he approached Sara’s bed and planted a kiss on her lips.

“Hey yourself,” she replied after they slowly parted, her face still inches from his, “What took you so long?”

Jake was tempted to make a joke about stopping off for a quick one with the boys, but was just too damn tired to banter with her. While the last 24 hours had been more than physically draining, the emotional toll had been far worse. Honestly, if he thought he could get away with it, he would have just crawled into her bed and passed out.

Slowly drawing back he replied, “I had a few issues to finalize with Chris before we left and with everyone well past 24 hours on duty, we didn’t push the speed limit on the trip back.”

They continued to talk for a few more minutes, Jake apologizing profusely about putting her in that position, before Sara, who could barely keep her eyes open, shooed him away. Jake turned and headed back out the way he came, only to have Kathy snag him again and lead him into an examination room.

“OK, strip,” she commanded.

Too tired to put up a fight, he did as commanded. After removing his undergarment, Kathy began a visual exam, specifically checking the injured ribs. She had him sit on the exam table and then began running several diagnostic tools over him.

“That’s odd,” she mumbled to herself, checking her wall display again, it showed both Jake’s file from Washington as well as images of the injured area. After checking and then double-checking, she finally asked, “ALICE, are you seeing this too?”

“If you are referring to Jake’s recovery, yes, his injuries are almost completely healed. I would estimate that in two to three days he will be completely recovered.”

At that point, Jake realized that he wasn’t sure Kathy or any of the medical staff knew about his exposure while in stasis. His strength and speed was well known but Jake had always assumed that the ALICEs had passed along the reason why.

“ALICE, does Kathy know?” Jake asked.

“Know what?” Kathy asked with a suspicious tone to the question.

“Of your exposure, yes. Concerning the possible consequences, no,” ALICE supplied.

ALICE then continued, “Kathy, the exposure Jake survived while in stasis has had measurable effects on his physiology. The positive influences of speed and strength you may have surmised. However, we are not yet sure what negative impact may exist. He may live a normal lifespan, potentially longer if these rejuvenating abilities continue. Or it may be shortened if the elevated metabolism, well, burns him out prematurely.”

“Does Sara know?” Kathy asked in a hushed tone, her concern evident.

“No one else knows the details you have just been provided. As it is truly unexplored territory, it was suggested we leave it unspoken,” ALICE finished.

“And that explains the huge push for children, strike while the iron is hot,” Jake tossed in for good measure.

“OK, I will keep the secret. But if thing starts to turn for the worse, you need to tell everyone,” Kathy put forth.

“Hey, so far, it’s all good!” Jake said with a humor in his voice he didn’t feel.


Leaving Kathy with a promise of a lingering visit for both her and their child, Jake headed straight to his room. Not bothering to redress in his BDU as he left medical, he borrowed some scrubs, sending his uniform off with a bot for cleaning. Once clean, they would return it to his locker in the ready room, off the main hangar.

It was a short walk to the main elevators and a quick drop to the level below. His room was the first door across the hall, always clean, and ready as he entered. ALICE made sure that all was exactly as Jake liked it there.

Technically, Jake had the exact same room in every ALICE facility. They were all identical as far as crew quarters and such, but this particular room always suggested home to him. As his first, he had a special attachment to this ALICE, in this location.

It was here that his release from stasis came. It was also here, that he recruited the original six women, who now seemed to run his life. That made him smile as he considered the thought, as there were far worse ways to live.

With a nice hot shower and a light breakfast, delivered to his room, he was soon in bed fast asleep.


The next few days were a repetition of meetings, briefings, and status reports, all for Jake’s benefit. He had slept all that first day back, and into the following night before finally appearing from his room. He was just in time to assist Sara in moving out of medical and into her own room near Jake’s.

Granting her a few days leave of duty was more of a joke, as she never left Jake’s side as he went through his list of neglected tasks. Top of the list was a review of Jake’s neglecting his own rules in leaving Sara alone on the rooftop. He took his beating like a man and swore to at least communicate his intentions better in the future before just running off.

With the “Odd Squad” out in the open and the “Special Projects” surrounding LA no longer a secret, he was free to address his normal responsibilities. As expected, he was also flooded with requests to join the unit.

Those responsibilities were the current topic of today’s staff meeting. Held in a small conference room just off the main control room, it was big enough for about 18-20 people around the oval table in the center of the room. In addition, it was “wired” to project holographic images of remote participants, either in a seat, near a wall or over the table.

In the room were Patti, Sara, Karen, and Linda besides Jake. Remotely connected, as seated participants were Jessie, Bonnie, Jacob, James who was still acting commander in South Dakota, and Sharon. Newly released from medical, she was still on restricted duty, meaning nothing stressful or strenuous.

Linda started with, “Jake we need to cover a ton of stuff that you have been avoiding the last 2 months.”

“Beyond the obvious, like what?” Jake asked, referring to what had become daily reminders of his recent withdrawal. It seemed like every meeting had started with, “Since you weren’t here to decide.”

“Well, we still haven’t officially activated and occupied ALICE-5 in Maine and ALICE-3 in Georgia. Neither is in a critical state at the moment, but we should get them staffed,” Bonnie offered.

“ALICE tells me the battleship won’t be ready for use by humans for at least four years,” Patti chipped in, “we just don’t have enough resources to make it available any sooner.”

“I have Sandy working with Chris in LA, both to negotiate a support agreement and as a start to Intel gathering,” Linda supplied in turn.

ALICE then offered, “Jake we should also consider promoting you. Your current rank of Major has the structure below you very compressed and difficult to manage. With Sara as captain and more ships and facilities coming available, the rank structure stands as 1st and 2nd lieutenants only, besides the use of enlisted ranks. Unless you don’t expect Sara to maintain a higher position than her subordinates, we need to do something?”

Jake sat listening to all the chatter, looking very thoughtful. In reality, it was the fact that these and other issues had him creating his own short list. He still needed to find out what Sandy’s Weekly News was. What was in Georgia? He had never actually discovered its primary purpose. What was he going to do with the ships in Hawaii currently under construction?

As iron hulled vessels, they were now completely unsuitable to faster than light applications. They would work nicely as planetary transport, and certainly would work in replacing Defiance and Independence as gunships in orbit. That would free them up for interstellar operations once their own refit was complete.

Realizing the room had gone quiet and the entire table was staring at him expectantly, he paused, as he wasn’t sure where they had stopped. He decided to jump on the most obvious.

“OK ALICE, what do you recommend I promote myself to?”

“Well, as a Brigadier General, you open up the entire operational officer ranks, however I know your personal hesitations to taking a Generals star,” She offered.

Jake nodded, relaying to the assembled group that ALICE was correct. Right or wrong, as a line officer himself, Jake had always associated the rank of General to be the cut off for those that stopped doing and started exclusively delegating. He knew there were plenty of historical examples to prove him wrong, General Patton came immediately to mind.

That hesitancy and the fact that dictators always seemed to declare themselves a general right after the coup, prevented the leap.

“You could always just drop your rank and go with President?” Patti offered, recognizing the internal struggle he was displaying.

The thought of abandoning his beloved Marine Corps moniker was even more distasteful to him.

“OK, make me a full bird Colonel, Sara a Lt. Colonel, all the Facilities Commanders as Majors James included. That gives you Captain for ships and operational teams. And go ahead and make James’s position permanent,” Jake finished.

“Yes!” Patti exclaimed from the end of the table, and then, “I expect you all to pay up by the end of the week.”

Evidently, there had been a pool on this topic and Patti declared the winner. What they used to bet with, Jake hadn’t a clue, as no one needed money. That thought brought another issue to the front of Jake’s mind.

“Bonnie, how is Robert doing on the materials gathering?” he asked.

Bonnie seemed to hesitate at the question, and then offered, “Oh he’s been doing great, we have material shipments scheduled for both Alaska, and Hawaii this week and we have quite a stockpile of precious metals building in one of the store rooms.”

Jake noted several glances around the table during Bonnie’s report, but he let it slide. He needed to head to Texas anyway, so he would find out soon enough what this was all about.

Bonnie continued, “We have over two tons each of gold and platinum and 5 times that of silver. Aluminum, Titanium, Copper, and such, we are still treating as construction materials.”

“That’s fine, I just want to be prepared to do a little shopping with our trading partners when the opportunity presents itself.”

“On that subject I should add,” ALICE jumped in, “Space trials with Revenge are going extremely well. Phase 1 testing is complete and successful. The refit provided the exact results we had hoped for and Phase 2 is in full operation.”

Jake could see the confused looks around the table, so he offered, “ALICE will schedule a separate, complete briefing for all this soon. We didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about something we weren’t sure would even work.”

With that, the meeting continued for two more hours, the entire team walking Jake through their complete list of open items. Through the whole thing, Jake kept thinking, “I’m an REMF!”

Chapter 13

Brian received the news about his promotion in rank, not position, during the third duty shift of Phase 2 testing. He got a little personal laugh, realizing he was now a Captain-Captain. No wonder the Navy had a different naming structure for ranks.

Currently they were sitting in space, at all stop, and running EVA drills. While they had been in space for over a week now, the novelty of the experience was still apparent on everyone’s face. Brian had made a note to ask ALICE, when they returned to earth, about psychological impact of such dramatic changes.

His crew, less than a year ago, were all simple people with limited options. They were now an interstellar combat crew, training to take on an intergalactic super power. That was an amazing change for anyone to absorb. Additionally, he was proud of them. His daily reports showed constant progress with a significant reduction in mistakes. Now if he could just get rid of that nagging feeling that he was going to need all this completed much sooner than later.


Everyone returned to a normal routine after the LA incident, so Jake was holding an informal meeting in the living room space of his quarters. With just Patti, Karen, Sandy, Sara, and Linda, he had hoped to close out another issue on his personal list of “to dos.”

With all comfortably seated, Karen had just announced that she and Jason were expecting. This was welcome news to Jake as it deflected the fact that only he had children in residence at this point. After the chatter had come to a natural pause, Jake asked, “So Sandy, tell us about Sandy’s Weekly News?”

The blush evident on her face, Sandy replied, “Oh you remembered that huh? Well Jessie had mentioned to me a while back that before the fall, people used to watch nightly programs called news shows.”

“I am familiar with them,” Jake replied slowly.

“Well,” she continued after a pause, “I just thought, as the community relationship manager, it might be helpful for people to know what we are up to. I give them information on our progress against the gangs, even progress reports on the patrol. I think it was called community service reports.”

“So who helps you pick your stories and reviews the content for security concerns?” Jake asked, suspecting he knew the answer before he asked.

The clear look of confusion on Sandy’s face confirmed his suspicions.

“Sandy, I applaud your initiative, but whenever you start publishing our internal communications, we need to agree what is public and what we need to keep to ourselves. I had a little talk with Burt in Prosperity after LA, just to bring him up to speed and let him know no harm, no foul on the supply theft. We talked about some of your reports and quite honestly, about 20% of it should never have been transmitted.”

Jake could see her deflate before his eyes, so he jumped in, “I don’t want you to stop, I just need you to set up a review board, with either myself, Patti, Sara and particularly ALICE. You need someone reviewing your planned program prior to release, OK?”

That seemed to brighten her spirits while acknowledging the chastising. Jake had a feeling he needed to insert himself more into their community relations programs.

As if on cue, ALICE interrupted, “Jake, we have an incoming call from the Wawobash. They say it’s urgent.”

“What’s a Wawobash?” Jake asked, completely confused.

“Oh I know,” Sandy offered, happy to be contributing, “It’s the six legged canine race.”

Jake thought about it for just a second, then asked the room in general, “Is it proper to take this informally or do we need to dress up?”

“No, the Wawobash are a technical people and have quite a casual tradition in inter race relations, shall I put them on Holographic communication for you?” ALICE asked.

“Just me, not the entire room, I presume I’ll get full translation?” he finished.

“Yes,” ALICE responded before the image appeared in the center of the room.

The image was that of a head and shoulders, the head, canine like, positioned on a neck more representative of a human. It made Jake think of the Egyptian God Anubis. It was wearing a vest that was open in the front and showing a full coat of hair on all exposed body parts. Jake was aware it actually had a second set of arms/legs allowing for either a full upright stance with four hands or a down position more like a centaur.

“President Thomas, thank you for taking my call. I hate to be so direct but we have an urgent matter here that we believe you may be required to address.”

“What can I do for you?” Jake replied, assuming there would be some delay while they waited for the closest relay to transfer the communications.

Instead, he got an immediate reply, “We were just alerted to two NeHaw destroyers dropping from faster than light at the edge of our solar system. They have not yet communicated their intentions, but as we have declared our intentions to ally with you, I suspect this is not a peaceful visit.”

Pausing to consider his options, Jake looked down and picked up the display tablet he had been using during the earlier meeting, typing a quick message to ALICE. With her reply, he looked up again and said, “We actually have a ship in the area, we will dispatch them to your location directly.”

“Thank you sir, we look forward to their arrival.”

With that, the connection dropped and everyone sat quietly, waiting for Jake to make the first comment. He sat there for a few seconds not looking at anyone directly, mostly at the ceiling.

He finally asked, “Can anyone explain to me why that communication was so interactive?”

“I think I can start,” ALICE began, “It is my understanding that the race described as resembling a humanoid lobster, the Crustacea, placed a NeHaw communications unit in Alaska. I am in fact amazed that it has so quickly established a link to the NeHaw network though.”

“Are you telling me these people are really named after earthly crustaceans?” Jake asked in amazement.

“No,” Sandy offered, “They had no pronounceable name, as they use clicks and visual antenna movement to communicate. They permitted us to assign a name we found suitable.”

Jake paused again, hoping the Crustacea knew of this selection, and then said, “Ok, so we have a tower, what’s it connected to?”

“Oh I think I know,” Sandy offered again, “I seem to remember them asking if it was a problem to connect to the one on Mars. I said that should be ok, we don’t use anything there anyway,” she finished with a big smile.

Sara jumped in at this point, “Sandy, they found a NeHaw communications unit on Mars and you didn’t think to tell anyone?”

“I didn’t think it mattered, we were getting one here of our own,” she said with a frown, “they said it’s logs indicated the NeHaw left it there after the very first bombing here. Apparently that’s why they came here in the first place, but since that crew died trying to put one here they used Mars instead.”

“ALICE, were you aware of this,” Jake asked, trying not to sound upset.

“I was aware of the station in Alaska but not the one on Mars. That does explain the connection speed as it had 80 years to connect with the next closest transfer point. The Alaska unit would have linked up within minutes.”

“Setting this aside for the moment, and adding the need to completely debrief Sandy to the top of our “to do” list, please try and get Revenge on the line. Phase 3 of the testing plan just got trumped.”


Brian had ordered the retrieval of all external test participants and a verification of course, destination and ETA. This was not a drill. Jake explained the circumstances to him quite clearly and he was depending on him to handle this. This ship and crew were on the cusp of a historic event for earth. It was up to them to determine if that was for the positive.


After talking with Brian, again in almost real time, Jake called a war council to discuss the implications. Dismissing Sandy and Karen, he had Linda pull in a couple of her analysts for assistance. The two women that arrived were completely unfamiliar to Jake, and they both had the deer in the headlights look upon entering his quarters. Apparently, neither had realized their destination and Jake had been more myth than man to them up to that point.

Attempting to put them at ease, he offered non-alcoholic drinks and a seat. Once everyone was in place, he began.

“Ok gang, we need to pull up everything we have on the NeHaw Destroyers, also try to pull visual Intel from the Wawobash if possible. In fact, see if they have any information themselves, beyond what they shared already. This is a motivating moment for them.”

Jake paused to let the two newbies catch up, as they were both taking notes furiously. He thought about making the brainstorming speech, but passed on it, saving it for later.

“Jake,” Patti jumped in, “what’s this all about, I thought we all agreed the NeHaw would be too busy elsewhere to start trouble here so soon?”

“Two destroyers sent to an unarmed planet sounds like intimidation to me, the bigger question is why this planet? If they sent them here, where we have three cruisers we would fry them, or better yet add them to our fleet. This has the smell of recon work, testing the resolve of the people.”

“What is this race to the NeHaw anyway?” Sara asked.

Jake pulled up the notes on his pad and then rolling his eyes started reading, “According to Sandy’s notes, they build stuff. She does say they are really good at building boats, but concludes we don’t need boats here.”

“Boats?” Linda asked.

“That’s what is says. They build boats. ALICE, how did all this get into the official record for the negotiations?”

It was very quiet for a good two minutes before ALICE finally replied, “Jake we don’t actually record all human interactions. In fact, we usually only monitor as requested for necessary participation. Sandy held continuous conversations with each of the species participating and we used her notes as the record for that interaction. I now see we may have made an egregious error in taking that approach with her.”

Jake gave a huge sigh and then said, “OK, Linda, we need you to get together with the other facility commanders. Get a separate analytical team together with Sandy and peel apart these notes. It’s my fault for assuming far too much, but I need you guys to save my bacon. ALICE, how much time do we have?”

“The Wawobash solar system is only four planets and their planet is the third from the sun. The NeHaw should be in orbit in about six hours. Revenge will arrive on site in two hours, two hours behind the NeHaw.”


Revenge came out of faster than light, right at the edge of the Wawobash solar system, or at least that’s what his tactical display said. He had no idea what a Wawobash was, but he knew what the two flashing threat indicators were. They marked the two NeHaw destroyers headed straight for the third planet.

He didn’t call battle stations yet, although he had his best shift on duty. Everyone swapped out as Revenge entered Wawobash space. He claimed he wanted a fresh crew in place, but everyone knew this group outscored every shift in testing.

As no one was taking down time, let alone sleeping, he had assigned secondary tasks to the available crew in analyzing the scene before them. He wanted full analysis of both the destroyers and a complete breakdown of the Wawobash home world. In particular, he wanted to know what all the junk was in orbit around their planet.


KoHac was under very strict orders from the head of the High Council, handed to him personally. He was to take his, and a second specifically assigned Destroyer, and verify the rumors of unrest on this planet. Until this mission, he had been under the impression that he was in poor standing with council, his ship previously only receiving the most minor of assignments. He had in fact been on an assignment to collect fertilizer off planet for the council gardens when reassigned for this mission.

He was also unfamiliar with the captain of the second ship as their standing was even less notable. Apparently, they were an early release from the training academy, the word was they were at the bottom of the class. While their ship was technically fully functional, it was significantly older. KoHac noted they were also at two-thirds crew for this mission.

It was of no matter to him as he was in charge and it was his chance to gain favor with the council. The mission outline was quite simple, investigate the situation, intimidate as necessary, and keep the damage to NeHaw assets to a minimal. Should he destroy any other races property, well that was all up to them to work out later. If the Wawobash weren’t in trouble, it wouldn’t have been damaged.

There was one troubling entry in the outline though, should he encounter any rouge NeHaw craft, he was to destroy it at all costs. Rouge NeHaw? Who had ever heard of such a thing?


Brian knew he was two hours behind his targets and there was no way to make up the difference. As faster than light drives wouldn’t work in the gravity fields of planetary solar systems, they were all reduced to maximum repulser drive speeds.

The initial threat reports he received from his analysts indicated the smaller destroyers displayed a significant number of guns for so small a craft. The images provided supported the opinion that these ships were armed to the teeth.

As they were behind both, the analysts had somehow managed to get imagery from the planetary feeds. He suspected that they were getting the same feed as Jake was back home. The good news was most of those guns were pointed forward, the bad news was they had plenty of time to turn before a preemptive strike could be launched.

They still didn’t have a good theory on what all that orbiting junk was, the current guess was abandoned trash, as it didn’t appear to have any pattern. There was quite a bit of movement amongst the larger pieces, creating a blurry image and making it hard to see.


Jake sat in the command center of the ALICE-1 facility. He was not alone, as the entire room was filled, each open workstation occupied by some duty personnel performing a task. Patti had shuffled off Sandy with the help of a few others to the conference room Jake had been using for staff meetings. Her grilling preformed both in person and remotely from several locations.

From the holographic feed they were getting from the Wawobash, Jake could make out both destroyers and Revenge on approach. His team had been in constant communications with Brian and his crew, so Jake felt no need to insert himself needlessly. It was the most frustrating thing he had ever done.

The destroyers were less than one hour from orbit, and as far as Jake knew, they did not attempt to contact the Wawobash or Revenge. That did not really surprise Jake, as the NeHaw hadn’t proven themselves to be big talkers. The destroyers seem fixed on a specific target.

On a whim Jake asked, “Hey can we get a visual from Revenge? I’d like to see what they are seeing.”

After a few moments, the hologram changed and Jake could make out the sterns of both NeHaw ships. He had some trouble at first, as they were lost in the backscatter of clutter orbiting the Wawobash home world. As the image cleared Jake’s heart skipped a beat.

At that moment, Patti burst from the conference room where she had been working with Sandy and they both announced in unison, “It’s a ship yard!”

Chapter 14

KoHac directed his ships to a particular area of the shipyard where he knew they perform civilian construction. As all military construction was exclusively NeHaw, he knew this was the safest place to start punishing the Wawobash for rebellion. If he inadvertently destroyed a NeHaw executive’s possession, well the Wawobash would have to make good on the inconvenience.

He presumed the pursuing NeHaw cruiser was an inbound repair, as all of its passive identification systems were nonresponsive. It wasn’t unusual for military repairs to continue while commercial activities were in dispute. This shipyard was the largest in NeHaw space and handled all major builds and upgrades for 60% of the fleet. From his location, he could make out dozens of NeHaw combat vessels including cruisers and destroyers. All of these ships either were in repair or newly constructed. The latter held, awaiting final payment before delivery.

Moreover, that payment, well, it was beyond understanding for a mere underling like himself. Only the High Council knew the exact amount paid for each vessel, but he believed a NeHaw could live very well in retirement for what they paid for a single cruiser. That was why most were still here, as they were ordered on credit. The NeHaw used this as a storage facility and only paid, as needed for each ship.

Which was why he was over in the civilian section. He did not want to risk damaging or even delaying delivery of a single military ship. Once both destroyers were in position, he had both ships present broadsides to the planet surface allowing for the greatest number of guns to come to bear.

KoHac then had his communications officer broadcast a planetary wide transmission.


With the realization that they were seeing hundreds of ships under construction, Jake reeled under the implications. From this viewpoint alone, he identified over a dozen NeHaw cruisers and twenty-five destroyers. Why they were still parked there, in space dock, was something he definitely wanted to know. However, what was more important to him was how he could acquire some.

While everyone around him was counting and cataloging, they all heard the NeHaw transmission.

“This is Commander KoHac, renounce this revolt immediately or we shall begin destruction of these ships.”

Jake got a little panicky as he thought of all those warships, demolished before his very eyes. He did a quick scan of the room, asking everyone for suggestions. When none were offered, he was about to speak to Brian, when there were several flashes on the display. Revenge had arrived on scene.


Having heard the same transmission, Brian had his crew go to general quarters. Fortunately, the NeHaw seemed to consider him no threat, as they had completely ignored him to this point. The NeHaw had taken their time getting in position to harass the Wawobash, making a grand show of their weapons. With Revenge still at full ahead, he had closed the distance sufficiently to use the energy cannons to get their attention.

As their shields were up, he didn’t expect to do much damage at this range, but he knew he needed to stop the destruction of those vessels. Up to this point, this NeHaw captain was doing things exactly by the book, as they all did, so they would turn to face him, ignoring the shipyard. He was just glad Jake had required all combat commanders read the NeHaw combat manuals. Everyone considered it recommended reading for the entire crew as well.

Their initial volley hit both ships, though all it did was rock the destroyers. Hopefully, it might disable a few gun control systems, but nothing they wouldn’t quickly recover from.


KoHac, knocked from his chair with the blasts, was taken completely by surprise. He had been unprepared for the Wawobash to respond in such a fashion. It was then his tactical officer announced.

“Sir, we are being fired upon from the inbound cruiser. What are your orders?”

The NeHaw cruiser had fired on them? It was then KoHac remembered the peculiar notes in the mission outline. He then commanded, “All guns, return fire!”

It took several seconds for the weapons officers on both destroyers to reposition the guns 180 degrees. During that time, the cruiser fired several more volleys at both destroyers. As the cruiser came to a halt just outside their orbit, all three ships exchanged fire in rapid succession.

While being rocked about quite a bit, both destroyers were holding their own against the cruiser. KoHac knew that with both sides equally matched in firepower and defensive capabilities, his two ships could eventually wear the cruiser down. Watching his tactical display for signs of deterioration, it didn’t look as if the cruiser was wearing down at all.


Brian had his forward batteries pounding both destroyers. They actually seemed to be absorbing it better than he expected. He could see, though, where they were starting to degrade in both firepower and shielding as the engagement progressed. He knew they were trying to wear him down.

However, he knew something they didn’t. With the forward stasis shields up, they weren’t even reaching his hull with most shots. The only hits they achieved on Revenge were the small number that passed as he fired in return.

The fire control was like the old World War 1 and 2 fighter planes that fired through the propeller. The guns were stopped, just at the time the propeller was in front of the barrel, and then allowed to continue firing once it passed. In this case, the shields dropped for the split second, allowing the guns to fire.


KoHac was not at all pleased with what his tactical display was reporting. Even with both destroyers firing at maximum rate, the cruiser was holding strong. At this rate, he would lose this exchange in a matter of micro cycles. He needed to disrupt this trend before he couldn’t fire at all.

“Planet side guns, fire on the ships in the yard!” he ordered.

With that, the few guns unable to be brought to bear on the cruiser, started shooting at the ships in the space docks. Their fire was not discriminating between civilian or military ships, all targets were fair game.


“NO!” Jake shouted as the ships in the yard started to explode. He darted to the communications console and slapped the transmit button.

“Brian, launch the Rogers!” he ordered.

As everyone watched from the planet side video feed, the hangar bay door opened on Revenge and four fighters emerged at break neck speed. Flying in pairs, they split and circled around the ends of the line created by the destroyers, positioned end to end. As they closed on the NeHaw ships from front and rear, they opened fire, raking both destroyers with their rail guns.


With damage reports coming in from all over the ship, KoHac never heard his tactical officer’s last words. All he saw were the two small craft streaming fire at his ship. As the projectiles split the bridge windows, he took several chunks of shrapnel in the chest. Within seconds of his passing, the ship exploded around him.


As Jake watched, both NeHaw destroyers exploded in bright masses of flying debris, one after the other. Someone gasped as one of the fighters nearly collided with a large piece of ship, it cascading off into space. He and the staff observed as the four Jolly Rogers fighters returned to Revenge, its hangar closing behind the last one. The entire room was dead quiet.

“Jake, what just happened?” Sara asked after a minute, “Why did they explode?”

“If I didn’t know any better I’d say we were played. Those ships were wired to blow if we won.”

“Why would they do that?” someone asked.

“ALICE, could you tell from Revenge’s sensors if the standard NeHaw death dump was sent?”

“It is confirmed, Jake, both destroyers transmitted their entire status to the NeHaw network. I was even able to capture one of the transmissions. Now that I know what to look for it’s a simple matter, if you’d like to see it I can replay now,” ALICE replied.

“Maybe later, but yeah we got played. They wanted us to tip our hand. They now know we can leave earth, travel in support of other planets and can still out shoot them when we get there.”

“OK,” Patti said, having stayed to watch the fight, “but how did you do that? We can’t have ferrous ships in faster than light fields.”

“They weren’t in a faster than light fields, they were in a stasis fields,” Jake said smugly.

“I don’t understand,” Sara replied.

“I had ALICE install a stasis field system that enclosed the entire hangar in a stasis bubble. It was similar to what they did for me in the first fight with the cruiser. Just before going to faster than light, they evacuate the hangar of personnel and turn on the stasis field. The ferrous materials in the hangar don’t disrupt the faster than light field in stasis and it functions as normal. Once back on repulser, the stasis field is shut down and they are good to go.”

“Why don’t the NeHaw do that?” someone in the room asked.

“It’s like Patti said before, we invented it. They don’t have it.”

At this point ALICE interrupted, “Jake, the Wawobash are calling again.”

Without caring whom they saw Jake ordered, “On main display please.”

“President Thomas, you do not disappoint,” The same figure as before declared, in what Jake interpreted to be a happy mood.

“I am glad you approve,” Jake replied with a smile of his own, and then added, “I am sorry there was some damage to your ship yard. I had hoped to prevent such.”

“Oh, it was far worse the last time the NeHaw chose to teach us a lesson. There was a revolt here due to working conditions and compensation for our production. It took us years to recover on the commercial side. They never touch the military docks as it’s exclusively their ships there.”

“On that subject, may I inquire as to why there are so many ships there of a combat nature, was there a large order placed prior to our emergence on the scene?”

“Oh no, those ships were ordered ages ago. The NeHaw have a nasty habit of ordering things they don’t have an immediate need for and then require you to hold them until they decide to pay. Some of those vessels have been in storage for over 10 years.”

“Might any be for sale, to a new paying customer? Say a cruiser, like the one we have there now,” Jake asked cautiously.

The Wawobash had a distinct change of posture, which suggested to Jake he might have overstepped his boundaries. He seemed to be doing something, however, and in a few seconds, the Wawobash replied.

“That would be possible, however please understand, these ships are configured for the NeHaw, so alterations would be necessary for your occupation. Considering both the storage, build costs and then alterations, I would expect each cruiser to require, say 200 pounds of gold or platinum based on your planets gravitational standards. Moreover, I must say we are not making a huge return at that price. Smaller ships, like destroyers, would be slightly less but we still have to pay our suppliers.”

Jake had to swallow his excitement, at that price they could buy 20 cruisers with just what Bonnie had in her storeroom.

“OK, we find that to be a reasonable price, let me have our people here put together a shopping list and we will see what we can do to place the order properly. In the meantime do you wish us to maintain a ship there for your protection or would you prefer we weren’t hovering over you?”

“The NeHaw have never harassed us a second time so soon, you may recall your ship. I assume we can alert you should the need arise again? I look forward to hearing from your people about the orders.”

With that the connection dropped.

Jake turned to look at Patti, clearly speechless. She in turn, had a look of astonishment of her own. Finally, Jake was able to utter, “We need to train more crew!”


That evening Jake had a casual little celebratory dinner in the living room portion of his quarters. With news of the day’s events spreading throughout all the facilities, it was one of many. Between the victories over the NeHaw destroyers, the success of Jake’s nested vessel theory and the new opportunities opening with the Wawobash, there was a lot to celebrate.

For this gathering though, he had limited the guest list to what he considered local family. Patti, Sara, Sandy, were all in attendance, with Linda and Kathy toting the babies. He asked ALICE via the “bots” to set up a buffet and made sure there was comfortable seating for all attendees.

With everyone fed and seated, the mood was light and the conversation flowing.

“So Patti,” Jake said while taking advantage of a lull in the conversation, “What did we learn from Sandy today?”

At the question, Sandy started to turn bright red. While everyone was well aware of Sandy’s misunderstandings during the alien negotiating, not everyone knew what Patti was about to divulge.

Suppressing a giggle of her own, Patti offered, “Well, first of all we all now know the Wawobash don’t build boats. They run the premier spaceship manufacturing facility in the NeHaw Empire. Apparently, with the help of the Kortisht, the three-legged humanoids, they construct all the top combat NeHaw vessels. Our battleship was built by them and released just prior to its engagement here.”

“Kortisht?” Jake asked.

“Oh they produce all the repulser and faster than light drive systems for the ships. Apparently, they are some kind of wizards when it comes to fields generating systems. They can actually see the various gravitational fields they work with,” Patti answered.

Picking up his display pad, Jake started flipping through his notes until he found what he was looking for.

“So Sandy, reading from your negotiation notes, I quote, “The dog people build boats, not helpful to us” and then, “The tripods make stuff for the boats the dog people make.” Does that sound familiar?”

“Maybe,” was all she could muster in a very quiet tone.

After a few seconds of silence, Jake let loose with a belly laugh that soon had the entire room engaged.

“Honey, I am so sorry,” Jake offered after a moment, “I should have never put that all on you. You have such a great natural talent for negotiating. I never gave it a second thought about the need for a technical backup to assess the replies. I was so focused on everything else that I should have assigned a resource to help you understand what was being said.”

With a look of relief, Sandy shrugged and smiled, glad for the absolution.

“Jake, you know that does open up the question of the battleship? If the Wawobash did all the original work, maybe they can fix it up for us faster?” Sara asked.

“The idea had crossed my mind, ALICE what’s your thoughts?” Jake asked.

“With the amount of repair and rework required, it may be a more expedient solution to our current needs. In addition, we may want to consider some design changes in keeping with the successful experiments in nested vessel configurations,” ALICE offered.

“I would still want us to do the final installation of any stasis field equipment. Like ALICE, that’s a national treasure! It’s what gives us an edge against their superior numbers,” Jake added.

“What are we doing about the fact that we can’t drive it yet,” Sandy asked.

ALICE responded, “I believe I can pre-program it for an automated trip from here to the Wawobash Space Docks. Once in their space, it’s a normal function for them to pilot the ships to the appropriate locations with tugs. As much as we might like to think otherwise, we didn’t inflict as much damage as we might have wanted to on the battleship itself. The real strategy was to attack the NeHaw inside the ship. Our extended timeline for readiness is around the necessary conversions for human occupation, not battle damage repair.”

Jake turned to Linda, “Who do we have working on the shopping list?”

“After the emissary agreed to sell, I pulled a team together to go over all the recorded imagery, plus the NeHaw reference materials. I instructed them to create a pick list with a description of each ship type and its capabilities. I figured you would want to review it all and do a little shopping yourself,” she finished with a smile, and then sipped her wine.

Both Linda and Kathy seemed to be enjoying themselves and were very relaxed this evening, listening to everyone talk. They had put both babies to bed in Jake’s bedroom earlier, with bassinettes thoughtfully requested by Jake and Nanny ALICE on constant watch. He wasn’t sure if their behavior lately, of affectionate but distant, was a post-partum thing or had its roots elsewhere. He was starting to think that maybe the whole “rotation” thing really was all about doing their part to save the future, nothing more.

The conversation continued on, until one by one, everyone wandered off to their own rooms for the night. While Jake was seeing Sara to the door, Linda headed into Jake’s room to collect Tracy. As he was doing a little cleaning up, he heard Linda call from his room.

“Jake can you come help me please.”

As he stepped into his room, he found Linda on his bed, completely naked, and with one arm up beckoning him to join her.

At that point, Jake thought to himself, “Then again, I could be wrong.”

Chapter 15

The next morning Jake and Linda headed to breakfast together after dropping Tracy off with one of the human nannies. Uniform of the day was casual, and as either Jake or Linda designated its requirements, they made sure it was so.

Jake was moving a little slowly, as he had taken the opportunity last night of relieving Linda of the midnight feeding. Besides giving her a break, it allowed him some much needed daddy time with his daughter. Given his recent travel schedule, it was a rare treat.

Using the smaller dining facility on the quarter’s level, they found it packed and noisy. After entering, Jake scanned the familiar room, looking for any recognizable faces. Finally, from the far side of the room they saw Patti and Sara waving to get their attention. Getting her order, he sent Linda off in their direction, while he headed to the service counters.

As he stood there waiting for their food, staring at the service door, he realized he had no idea what went on behind the scenes. While he wanted to conjure up images of gleaming stainless steel fixtures with ultra-sanitized processes, he kept coming back to a grubby overweight fry cook with a t-shirt and a cigarette hanging from his lips.

Finally, the tray appeared, and as he slid it to him, he caught a glimpse of several “bots” moving in the background before the door closed, cutting off his view. Grabbing the tray, he turned and started toward the table he sent Linda off to earlier. He had to weave his way through the room, nearly colliding with several people before finally arriving at his destination.

“That was quite a feat,” Sara said while laughing, “I thought you were going to lose your tray twice,” she finished by pointing to the open seat next to her.

Both she and Patti were only about half way done eating, so they had not arrived much before Jake and Linda. As Jake sat, he leaned into Sara, giving her a quick kiss.

“Jake, I’ve been thinking,” Patti said after he started eating, “even if we have the Wawobash refit the battleship, we won’t be able to man it properly for a long time. By the way, what are we going to name it?”

After swallowing what he had in his mouth, he replied, “Yeah, I was thinking about that as well, the refit, not the name. For the refit, we need to add as much automation as possible. Speaking of automation, I also want to pursue some automated mining equipment from our Alien trading partners. I would normally expect us to do better looking for gold stores stashed around the world, but with the detailed NeHaw survey reports, we have the precise location of naturally occurring precious metals deposits all over the world. They show China and Australia to be a particularly target rich area.”

At that Sara choked, “China and Australia? We haven’t even got the US under control yet!”

Jake laughed, “Once we get the transports completed and delivered from Jacob, we will be able to make runs between the continents as easily as we do between the ALICEs today. China is a good bet, but I have always wanted to visit Australia.”

Sara just shook her head and went back to her meal.

“Anyway, that’s in the future. For now, we should probably run over to Texas and check in with Robert, Bonnie, and their progress. That’s the main source of our funds at the moment,” Jake commented after another bite.

With the mention of Bonnie, Jake noted that look again between the women. It seemed everyone knew something but him, and he was getting irritated about it. He took a breath and let it pass.

Continuing, Jake said, “I was thinking we would try out the new jet conversion Seven recently completed and tested out of Alaska. There is supposed to be one here. She took one of the passenger jets, as you used for the Hawaii trip, and replaced the nacelles with repulsers. They don’t require rotating like the nacelles do, and it’s supposed to be Mach 1 fast.”

Seven was the name the ALICE facility in Alaska had chosen for herself.

“Why would someone want to mock one?” Sara asked in a confused tone.


After breakfast, everyone split off to go their separate ways, Sara sticking with Jake. Since they agreed a trip to Texas was the next adventure, Sara suggested it would be better to give Bonnie a call first. It was just courteous to call before appearing on someone’s doorstep, so to speak.

ALICE directed them to a small office, and they made the call. As they had maintained the differing time zones, Bonnie was well into her day when they reached her. She was delighted they were coming and updated Jake on their latest finds.

Apparently, Robert had located a precious metals' storage facility in New York and had spent the better part of two days breaching its physical defenses. That was a week ago, and they were still shipping regular loads to Dallas, the facility, not the city. Dallas was the name the Texas ALICE selected.

From the sounds of things, they would not need to worry about funds for quite a while. So with the call placed and the mornings goodbyes completed, they headed to the hangar and waiting aircraft. As part of a relaxed security policy, ALICE and Jake had come to an agreement with non-combat travel. So long as protective equipment and uniforms were available on transport craft for emergencies, standard clothing was acceptable for facility-to-facility travel. ALICE could hardly object as she was doing all the driving.

Jake had to take a minute and inspect the plane. The airframe itself was a very familiar corporate or government jet in shape. It looked to be a smaller eight to ten person version, although he knew they had larger 18 person models in inventory.

While it maintained the tail rudder with high elevator configuration, the wings were entirely gone and in their place were the cylindrical repulser motors at the wing roots. Since lift was no longer an issue, as the repulsers provided that service, he suspected the tail simply aided in inflight maneuverability.

Boarding the craft, and finding a comfortable seat for himself and Sara, he simply asked ALICE to handle the flight.


MeHak sat at the head of the High Council table. While technically round, she sat in a raised position, above the others. This gave her the ability to see anyone speaking. In reality though, it was more of a statement about her status.

What she saw before her was total panic among the members. The feed from the two destroyers had bypassed all the normal communication channels with delivery directly to the council members in its raw form. While her power was impressive, it was not absolute. As such, every member of the council had received the transmission at the same time as she. They called this meeting as a result.

All had witnessed the events leading up to the engagement with the apparently renegade cruiser, the exchange of fire, and the final destruction of both destroyers by technology unfamiliar to any at the table, herself included.

What concerned MeHak was not the loss of the ships, the unknown weaponry, or the uprising in Nu Tau Beta. These were familiar events that occur all too frequently in every council-ship. However, the decisive nature of this enemy is what had unsettled her. She had replayed the events repeatedly in private, her evaluation fundamentally the same each time. This was a dangerous adversary, and one the NeHaw hadn’t seen for a very long time.

They were aggressive, resourceful, and decisive. She had admired their battle tactics of shoot first and give no quarter. They would be a worthy ally, which unfortunately, MeHak could never permit. The NeHaw didn’t like to share.


Jake and Sara arrived in Texas just short of an hour later. Jake was sure ALICE was showing off as the jet was her design, he had left it up to them to work out his idea. It had been a smooth, comfortable ride, and while he and Sara hadn’t engaged in his favorite in flight distractions, they did have a pleasant trip.

Once the plane had settled onto the hangar floor, Jake and Sara were able to deplane. As they came down the steps, there was a small delegation at the bottom to meet them. Bonnie and Robert led the group, with Becky doing her best to upstage her sister.

Sara reached the bottom first, embracing her sister, Bonnie, and then greeting Robert with equal warmth. As Sara passed Bonnie, Jake stepped up and received a warm firm hug. As he went to kiss her though, he found a cheek presented in place of her lips. Not missing a beat, he kissed her cheek and then turned to find Robert with his hand out.

Shaking hands, he then found Becky in his face. She was all lips and no cheek, in her typical over exuberance. Giving her ample time to show her affection, she finally relented, and he was able to speak.

“OK so let’s see this storeroom of yours,” Jake asked.

“This way,” Bonnie replied, as she turned and led them away from the main access doors.

Following Bonnie across the open hangar to the far side, he had expected to enter one of the small storage rooms. Instead, they entered one of the aircraft storage and maintenance hangars. As they stepped inside, Jake stopped in his tracks. In front of him was pallet after pallet of gold bars.

“Each pallet holds 200 bars, weighing about 27.3 pounds per bar,” Robert offered, “It seems to be the standard of some kind for this storage facility. We are still transporting several pallets a day, but at over 5,000 pounds per pallet, we can only do so many at one time.”

Without saying a word, Jake stepped forward and picked up one of the bars. The bar was clearly marked with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As Jake recalled, this was just one of several Federal Reserve locations, but he thought this was the primary location.

“ALICE, what do your records say about this location? Do you have any notes on its last known inventory,” Jake asked.

“I have no direct internal information relating to the Federal Reserve Bank specifically, they were never attached to my network. However, I do have public records referencing the facility contents of both US and international holdings. They list over 550,000 bars of differing shapes but all at 400 troy ounces. Assuming Robert’s 200 bars per pallet, we will eventually need space for 2,750 pallets or 15,015,000 pounds of gold.”

Jake did some quick math in his head and realized he only needed eight bars to buy a cruiser, and that included a tip. With this one find, Robert had addressed all their short-term needs. Who knew what the future held.

Placing the bar back on the pile, he turned back to the group and said, “Great job Robert, now who’s going to tell me what’s going on?”

Both Robert and Bonnie had a complete look of panic. It was then that Jake saw Robert take Bonnie’s hand before either spoke. With that one motion, Jake held up his hand indicating neither should speak.

“Bonnie, are you in love with Robert?” Jake asked slowly.

Bonnie paused, looked at Robert, and then nodded yes.

Jake then looked at Robert and asked, “Robert, are you in love with Bonnie?”

“Yes sir,” Robert replied and then started to continue before Jake cut him off with a wave.

Jake stood there for a moment staring at both of them, then in one swift motion he swept Bonnie up and spun her around.

“This is wonderful!” he shouted before setting her down, he then turned to Robert and grabbed his hand, shaking vigorously. Both Sara and Becky were standing back, neither expecting this turn of events.

“But Jake, what about Julie?” Bonnie asked.

“What about Julie? She is still our daughter and I love her with all my heart, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve your own happiness. Does Robert make you happy?”

Bonnie stopped for a second, and then turned to look at Robert and said without turning back, “Yes he does.”

“Then be happy. You, me, Sara, Becky, and all the others, we agreed that our original arrangement was based on the understanding that I felt you all could do better. You never believed me then, do you now?”

Bonnie turned to look at Jake for a minute and then said, “Falling in love is not doing better. It’s having the best there is.”

With that, he hugged her again and then said, “Let’s all go inside.”

With Sara on one side and Becky on the other, Jake turned and led the way back to the main facility. Bonnie and Robert followed them out, walking behind, hand in hand.


Jake spent the following three days in detailed reviews of all the existing Wawobash ship designs. Sara had offered to assist, but Jake knew all too well it was not her thing. The aliens had provided a complete virtual model of every ship currently in inventory, as well as those they were capable of manufacturing. By running the holographs in a virtual reality room, like the rooms in Alaska for training the fighter pilots, he could walk the entire ship.

While the NeHaw cruisers were very familiar to all, the destroyers were a mystery and actually much smaller than he realized. The bridge, high and in the back of the ship, was only large enough for the four operations stations and a commander’s chair in the middle. The layout was semicircular, with the pilot and navigator directly in front of the command chair, weapons and communications to either side. The unaltered view from the bridge looked out over most of the ship.

What impressed Jake about the destroyer was most of what you saw from the bridge was guns. This thing was a mass of firepower across the top of the hull. In addition, there was an equal amount of firepower below the hull, not visible from the bridge.

Behind the commander’s chair was the flat of the semicircle, with the ladder to the main deck below at its center. Following the ladder down, into the main passage, was access to the aft engineering stations. Access to other areas of the ship came via a passage forward down the middle of the ship. To Jake it was almost like being in a submarine as the long narrow hull allowed only the most spartan of accommodations.

Below the main deck, running two-thirds the length of the hull was a small cargo bay. Jake figured he could get two fighters, nose to tail, in the space but not a lot more. Still two fighters had already proven their value in the last engagement.

He continued to review various other designs, most not intended for military use. He would flip through the inventory and then activate the holograph for the ones that piqued his curiosity. Once he had completed the initial review, his inner engineer kicked in and he started playing with ideas. Frequently he had to pull in additional references, or ask ALICE to run down some information on one thing or another.

The most interesting piece he ran across were the original battleship designs the Wawobash had presented to the NeHaw. Apparently, the current ship has its basis in an archaic NeHaw design, one the Wawobash had assessed for limitations and vulnerabilities. Their recommendations were enhancements to the core superstructure with significant improvements to the entire ship.

Finally, Jake had run across a ship in the Wawobash design catalog, one that the notes indicated had never been built before. This was due to both the cost and the fact that the NeHaw couldn’t find a use for its unusual configuration. The more Jake reviewed the design, the more excited he became. He knew exactly what to do with this ship.

Chapter 16

Jake was not the only one going over the Wawobash inventory. Patti had been reviewing the information with her team as well. In her case though, she wasn’t interested in redesigning anything. Her task was evaluating what, of the available inventory in space dock, they could purchase immediately.

For her, what to buy was not the issue, as apparently the funds were now of no concern, according to Jake’s last message from Texas. It is the crews to operate the vessels, which are in short supply. For near earth defense, the ALICEs could remotely manage the ships in orbit, as well as any additional rail gun platforms they should choose to deploy.

However, that was of no use should they go on the offensive. Earth needed a trained space fleet, with crews capable of independent action. They were looking at an initial order of five cruisers and ten destroyers, each in need of a crew. They had only one crew, and its assignment was to Revenge.

Then there was the battleship. In earth’s history, the battleship was, at one time, the centerpiece of all great navies. It was the epitome of projected power, although she knew well the true relevance of ships of this nature.

It was a rare occurrence indeed for these ships to slug it out head to head. They mostly acted as intimidators. This was not likely to be the case here. The NeHaw had two of these to their one and they had trained crews. Patti didn’t see earth fielding a crew for theirs in the near future. As it was, the Wawobash would have it for most likely a year during the refit.

There was one thought that plagued her. In earth’s history, the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the power of the seas. The closest anyone had to one of those was Revenge.


Jake had called a morning meeting of the teams assigned to the ship order project. He grabbed the conference room off the control room, like the one in Nevada. Sara, Robert, and Bonnie attended locally as did several other analysts that Jake had never met. With the remote locations tied in by holograph, each team had a specific focus and all were ready to report their findings.

“Ok gang, what have we got?” Jake opened.

Patti started, “We have pulled in the existing inventory, categorized them for combat and non-combat roles, and come up with the following. We recommend five additional cruisers, giving us a total of eight, ten destroyers and four of the heavy commercial transport.”

“Why the transports?” Sara asked.

“Jake has mentioned on more than one occasion, about purchasing automated heavy equipment. We inquired about mining systems and the preferred models will not fit in the hold of a cruiser,” Patti replied.

“Wow, that big huh?” Jake commented.

“Yes, they are impressive,” commented one of Patti’s team.

“OK so pricing?” Jake asked.

Patti continued, “Cruisers are coming in at the promised 200 pounds per ship after refit, destroyers are 170 and the transports are 125. They are large but simple to build. Their primary cost is the larger drive units and heavy inertial dampeners.”

Jake did the math in his head and said, “So that’s 3,200 pounds of gold plus the battleship refit. I got the estimate there at 500 pounds for everything I wanted done.”

Jake could see the looks of confusion and concern, as most expected simple repairs, and that was probably what it cost to build in the first place.

“I have asked the Wawobash to refit the ship to their original specifications, with some extras of my own design.”

“Is that wise Jake,” Patti asked, “We may need the firepower on station sooner than we think.”

Jake laughed and replied, “No worries there, when I explained the incentive clause in the repair order, they assured me it would add no delays. They get a 50% bonus for early delivery. By the way, that incentive applies to every order we place with them. They were very pleased with the terms. We offered half down and the balance on delivery, again a new concept for them.”

“Don’t forget, each and every one of those ships needs to come here for final build-out, ALICE needs to install the stasis equipment,” Patti reminded him.

Bonnie then added, “We have verified the payment requirement for weight and purity. They found the samples we provided from the New York inventory quite satisfactory.”

Jake paused and then mentioned, “There is one more order I placed, but it’s not part of any existing need. It will run about 1,000 pounds initially, and they estimate a little over a year to build.”

“Jake, is this another one of your surprises?” Sara asked with her suspicion evident in her tone.

Jake smiled and said, “Let’s just say as a student of history, I let no lesson go ignored.”


Sara sat in the command center of the Texas ALICE facility, run by her sister. No sooner did the meeting regarding the Wawobash end, then Jake received word Jessie was going into labor. After a quick kiss, she watched him jet out of the room, commandeer one of the unassigned fighters in the hangar, and head north. She admired his commitment to attend every one of his children’s birth. She was just frustrated she wasn’t one of the mothers.

ALICE had supposedly dropped her medications, provided to prevent pregnancy early in the arrangement, as she was considered too important in her role supporting Jake. However, after the second battle, and her near death experience, that decision was overturned. She was starting to question whether ALICE had in fact stopped the practice of medicating her.

The ALICEs had a tendency of manipulating circumstances to meet their long-term goals. Although to date, no manipulation had ever resulted in a negative impact to either party, like Jake’s children, the need for a passive acceptance of the situation was not unusual.

She turned to her current challenge, resigned to the fact that there was nothing she could do about her circumstances at the moment. Jake had asked her to investigate new ways to recruit for spaceship crews. With each cruiser now requiring a 30-person crew and the destroyers, 20, they needed 440 new crewmembers, minus the 28 in Revenge currently. Those numbers included the fighter pilots assigned to each ship. None of this accounted for the battleship.

Since the current staff of all six occupied locations only numbered just over 3000, they clearly needed more recruits from the outside. She was working with ALICE trying to identify new communities to work with, areas with small groups that might be absorbed completely like Jake had in Alaska.

Normally, all recruiting efforts passed to the regions facilities commander. Each location was responsible for researching and categorizing their local communities for threat, adoption, or recruitment. As such, Sara didn’t feel the need to redo others work. She simply reviewed the existing reports on the six active facilities, and then moved to the two unoccupied ALICE locations.

ALICE-5, in Maine, listed as a medical research primary. Each location had a primary focus beyond the general capabilities and that function suggested what additional infrastructure existed there. ALICE-2, otherwise known as Dallas, was a land vehicle design and test location while ALICE-7, or just Seven, was air and spacecraft. Both were able to construct prototypes and small production runs of any designs. As a medical primary, ALICE-5 could manufacture medical support equipment as well as pharmaceuticals.

ALICE-5 was absolutely in the middle of nowhere, the closest US town listed as Ashland, more than 20 miles to the east. Even before the fall, this place was isolated. The interesting part to Sara was its proximity to the Canadian border, and the cities of Quebec City, Montreal, and Ottawa.

All these cities were once large population centers and even though they were not part of the United States, she wasn’t sure that mattered in the least. They had been treating the US-Mexico border as non-existent here in Texas. Her only real concern was the language listed for the population was French.

As with the Spanish speakers here, initial contact wasn’t an issue, the translators in the combat suits would handle that. It was integrating them into the population that might prove interesting. Here most all the locals were bi-lingual, so they blended in easily. She had no idea if that proved true up north.

ALICE-3 on the other hand was in Georgia, and was the last of the eight ALICE facilities. It was south of what was once Waycross in what the map listed as a national wildlife preserve, just north of the Florida border.

The interesting thing about ALICE-3 was, there wasn’t a primary listed for her.

“ALICE, why isn’t ALICE-3’s primary function listed?” Sara asked while paging through the information on her display.

“That information is restricted,” ALICE replied, “Only Jake is permitted to request that information.”

“You’re kidding right?” Sara said, “ALICE, I’m second in command.”

“Only as far as staff management, with regards to facility command, only Jake and his offspring maintain the appropriate legacy association.”

Sara wasn’t sure why, but ALICEs statement really pissed her off. After everything they had been through, she was still considered second string by the ALICEs.

“Well, I suppose I can just go there then and see for myself,” Sara stated.

“I am sorry Sara, but you will not be granted access. ALICE-3 will require Jake’s physical presence to gain initial access. Due to the nature of the work there, ALICE-3 has escalated security protocols. He and only he may gain entrance, after which he can establish delegates for continued occupation.”

Sara’s curiosity was running wild at this point. What they hell were they doing in George that was more secret than aliens and spaceships? She knew she could just call Jake and the two of them could run down together. However, she was also getting just a little bit tired of having to call on Jake to fix her problems as well.

Maybe it was the beating she had endured in LA, or maybe it was the outing of Bonnie and Robert, but Sara was finding herself less patient with the sharing “arrangement” than before. At first, she had attributed it to wanting to be a mom, like Bonnie and the others. Now she was not so sure.

She found she resented the fact that Jake hadn’t been there for her right after LA, as he had the first few times she had almost died. Granted she was in medical, but he could have stayed there. She remembered the experience boarding the first alien cruiser, when she almost took a blaster to the faceplate, and then later when her fighter had been cut in half and she was cast adrift. He had always been there right after comforting her.

With Linda, Kathy, and Sandy, he had barely enough time to eat with her, much less do anything more intimate. Thankfully with her leave status, she had been free to follow along during the day to spend what time she could with him.

Now he had run off to Alaska to attend the birth of his child from a late recruit. Someone she felt had muscled her way into Jake’s bed, so to speak. Yes, at first, she had thought it was cute, the way he struggled with his guilt over Jessie, but now she wasn’t so amused.

Shaking it all off, she went back to focusing on the task at hand, and decided a trip to Maine might not be so bad. Besides, she had heard it was quite beautiful in the springtime there.


Jake had made the run to Alaska in plenty of time to see his son born. Being an old pro at this point, he catered to Jessie’s every need in the delivery room. He provided what comforts he could, both before and after the birth. He also spent the first night with Jessie, caring for his son while she slept. As with every new mom, she woke with every fuss, but soon returned to sleep with assurances from Jake that all was well.

The next day they discussed names, deciding on Ryan, after Jessie’s dad, a proud Irishman.

Once Jake was sure both mother and child were comfortable, he took the opportunity to tour the fighter build and storage areas. With the newly tested nested ship design a success, they needed fighters for every capital ship on order. They had cleared out several of the hangars Jake had seen in his first visits, most containing various government research projects that would never be of use now or at least not any time soon.

Thanks to Robert’s constant supply of materials, Seven had completed Jake’s initial order of fighters and was into round two of shipbuilding. Jake stuck his head into one open hangar to see several rows of completed fighters, all waiting on final assignments. Between the ships on order from the Wawobash and the last two ALICE facilities, all of these plus more were spoken for. They needed to get building.

On that note, Jake had another decision to make. Was he going to continue the practice of creating squadrons and then assigning them to ships on some form of rotation? Alternatively, should fighters with assignment to the capitol ships be Ships Company on permanent duty?

While he was considering his options, he wandered down to the next hangar only to confront the giant nose of Defiance. Since the battleship had been sent to the Wawobash shipyards for refit and repairs, Defiance and Independence had been freed up to complete their own upgrades. The ship’s cargo bay door was down, creating a ramp, and there was an army of bots coming and going.

With only one hangar in Alaska large enough to accommodate them, the cruisers were reduced to one at a time for landings inside the facility. Jake had been in conversations with Jacob in Hawaii, about handling the influx of ships. They all required additional work after release from the Wawobash. Once the nine new ships he had under construction were complete, his hangars could handle one cruiser each.

Jake was not about to provide any of the aliens with the information necessary to create the stasis shields all their ships would require. Any such installation work was to be performed on earth, and nowhere else.

He stood in the opening watching all the activity, as one of the bots rolled up to Jake and a familiar voice spoke up.

“Jake do you need anything?” Seven asked.

“No I was just wandering, how soon will Defiance be ready for people?”

“Actually it is now, we are just completing our cleanup work. It will be ready for its first crew tomorrow,” Seven replied.

“And Independence?” Jake asked.

Independence is also complete, it only needs a 24 hour cleanup as well, and it’s ready for duty. We were intending on assigning four each of the unassigned fighters. If that’s not your desire please let me know, or were you planning on assigning existing squadrons?”

Jake paused for a moment and then replied, “No go ahead and load the unassigned fighters, we can sort that out later if we find a better way to handle things.”

“As you wish,” Seven replied, and then the bot turned and sped off.

With that, Jake turned and headed to his last stop of the morning. He wanted to see how the pilot training was going in the holographic simulators. He had spent many hours there himself, so he was well acquainted with the location.

Apparently, he had arrived during a duty cycle change, as the waiting room contained the pilot trainees from the last and next rotation of simulator training. As he entered the room, he heard “Attention on deck!” and all 20 trainees and support staff snapped to their feet.

“At ease,” He announced, and watched as the group relaxed, but only a little.

“Can I help you, Colonel?” one of the senior staff asked.

Forgetting his latest promotion for a second, Jake realized he was speaking to him and then replied, “Oh no, I was just in town and thought I’d see how training was going.”

Scanning the room, Jake took note of all the faces looking in his direction, most no more than 20 years old and over half female. He suddenly felt very old and had a desperate urge to say something inspirational.

“Anyone barf yet?” was all that came to mind.

Slowly seven or eight hands came up.

Laughing, Jake lied and announced, “I did too, in my first three sessions!”

He could see several smiles amongst the ones with their hands up. With that, Jake turned and headed to the command center, his good deed done for the day.

Chapter 17

Brian could see the lovely blue ball they called home in the forward display. With orders to return home after the engagement with the NeHaw at the Wawobash shipyard, he had personally plotted the course. Inspired to read more military history and literature with his promotion to ship’s captain, he could now appreciate the references to sailor’s feelings for homeports.

Once back in their home space, they had passed the battleship on its way out of the solar system. He had received communications it was unmanned and pre-programed, by ALICE, to deliver itself to the Wawobash for repairs. It still gave him the creeps to see it go past, even though he knew it was unmanned.

As a whole, the crew was in an excellent mood, the exception being the Jolly Rogers. There was a rumor, as there always was on a ship, that they were to rotate from the ships company and be replaced with a permanent squadron. The prevailing opinion was they had earned the right to stay, and besides, what better squadron for a pirate ship.

Brian had drafted a request to gain them permanent assignment as well as restoring the tradition of awarding Revenge a Battle Star. An ancient US naval tradition, discontinued after something called the Korean Conflict, the award was for meritorious participation in battle. Also awarded for having suffered damage during battle conditions, his request covered either way. His only concern was the Battle Star replacement was something called the Battle Effectiveness Award, a less impressive title in Brian’s opinion.


Sara had assembled a combat team, personnel borrowed from her sister Bonnie, and together they outlined their plans for opening the ALICE-5 location. In addition, she had requested transport and other personnel for after the facility opening. With Jake’s blessing of Bonnie and Robert’s relationship, Bonnie would have given her a kidney if she asked. Sara was very happy for the two of them.

She was finding she was also very envious of the exclusive nature of that relationship. Trying not to dwell on the feelings, she refocused on defining her mission parameters.

As with all the first time visits, they were to verify the facility was in fact safe. Once ensured of a secure status, ALICE-5 had a list of low priority repairs that had built up over the decades. While several of these repairs were within the skills of the combat team members, others required two additional members to join the opening party. The last requirement was a medically trained staff member to ensure everyone’s medical needs were well cared for.

With her team assembled, and the transportation lined up, she was ready to go. At over 2,000 miles travel distance, they planned to use the same transport aircraft Jake and Sara used for the trip for Nevada to Texas. This trip however would still take almost 4 hours.

With daylight burning and an aircraft full of unfamiliar faces, they lifted off and headed northeast. As they flew, Sara again reviewed her assignment and considered how they were ever going to find enough people to crew that battleship.


Jake had dinner that evening with Jessie and Ryan, in her room, and then excused himself to continue his duties in his own room. As he went over his status logs, he discovered Sara had organized a mission to ALICE-5. He assumed that it was regarding her recruiting assignment, as all the existing locations had been well surveyed by now, and all the easy pickings identified. Staffing was a top priority for everyone.

He noted that the battleship was in the faster than light leg of its trip to the shipyards, and Revenge was back in orbit. Both those thoughts bridged into a single issue, they were going to need to come up with a bunch of new names. He was playing with the idea of just going with D-1 through D-10 for the destroyers. Even the cruisers could be designated C-1 through C-8 giving Revenge C-1 and so on.

He also received Brian’s request for both the permanent assignment of the Jolly Rogers to Revenge as well as awarding the Battle Star for the engagement at Wawobash. In reading the request, he noted several other private communications in support of his opinion that the pilots wanted to remain on-board.

As for the Battle Star, he actually not only approved of the idea, he felt a second star was deserved with the engagement of the NeHaw cruisers in earth’s orbit. Although ALICE had been in control, the ship was still an important part of the victory.

This decision also settled the fighter assignments question. Each ship would get a permanent assignment of fighters, pilots assigned as Ships Company rather than by squadron. With only the Rogers currently attached to Revenge, he would let that stand as the single exception.

All future fighter groups assigned to ships were to take the host vessels designation. He made a note to Seven to have four each of the unassigned fighters set aside for both Defiance and Independence with the cleanup work they were performing. All should be loaded prior to return to orbit.

As for facility fighter squadrons, he still wanted to keep with assigning squadron designations. They tended to be migrated around.

Jake took the opportunity to check in on Chris and the LA situation. After the stadium demonstration, the gang activity had gone way down, or more likely just went underground. Chris reported no significant activity in his general area, beyond the typical small incident here or there.

They had taken in a substantial number of refugees to date, most requesting safe harbor, or temporary sanctuary. It was becoming well known that the compound was a possible gateway to the safely settled areas outside of LA. Jake had asked Chris to allow structured interviews with the remote communicators, for possible recruits, or at minimum, resettlements. So far, 23 people had resettled to outlying communities and 12 were absorbed into the ALICE recruitment machine. A few even stayed with Chris, reinforcing his security staff.

Chris also found that he had a completely new avenue for trade. With regular flights in and out of the compound, he was getting specific orders for goods scrounged in the LA area and receiving substantial food stocks in return. With that, he could better staff his compound security than ever before. They were considering expanding the perimeter wall to allow for new construction.

The thing Jake found most frustrating though, was with all the new recruits and existing staff, only about one-third expressed interest in going to space aboard the capital ships. In addition, not all of those were qualified to do so.

All the fighter pilots were one hundred percent onboard, but a good portion of the non-combat rated occupations was not as eager. Some might be adventurous, just not warriors.


Sara and her team arrived in Maine just before nightfall and ALICE-5 had been prepared to accept them. The hangar doors worked as designed but the years of accumulated forest debris left quite a mess for the bots to clear on the hangar floor once they opened.

The aircraft had to sideslip a short distance to clear the pile of fallen material before settling on the hangar floor. As this was the craft fitted with repulser drives, it thankfully didn’t have prop wash to spread the material all over the hangar.

With the four person combat team in the lead, everyone deplaned and followed the well-defined process for all new ALICE initial visits. The hangar had all the usual equipment, helicopters, and vehicles, so they performed the floor sweep first.

With the all clear for the hanger, they headed into the main facility. Entering the main doors, they made their way directly to the command center. Once inside, Sara authenticated at the ALICE main console.

However, no sooner had they checked in than ALICE-5 announced, “Sara, there is a small group of outsiders, currently pounding on the hangar doors. I am afraid they may have seen you land and are attempting to gain access.”

“Can you bring up the display,” Sara asked.

In the center of the room, a holograph appeared, and in the middle of the display were seven armed men with a number of women and children. Sara thought she counted 23 in all. They had gathered to one side of the open area in the woods where the main hangar doors were located. One of the men was on his knees, using the butt of his rifle to pound the ground.

Three of the men were with the kneeling man while the other three were around the women and children, all seven surrounding them as if protecting them from the outside.

They all watched the display, Sara clearly not sure what to do next. While everyone on her team was in combat suits, only the four on the combat team carried rifles.

“ALICE, do you have another path to the surface. One that exits somewhere near these people, but can’t been seen by them?” Sara asked.

“Yes, the heavy vehicle lift opens in a smaller clearing near the main hangar. I can lift you there, on the other side of the tree line to the south, without being seen,” ALICE responded.

“You four come with me, the rest of you stay here and report if anything changes,” Sara said while pointing at the four with rifles.

She led the combat team out of the room and back into the hangar, only stopping by the armory long enough to grab a rifle of her own. ALICE had a bot there waiting there to lead them to the lift. Once everyone was in position, Sara gave ALICE the all clear and the lift began to rise. At the same time, a small rain of debris came down from above as the doors opened to allow the platform to fill the open space. Sara positioned the team to cover all four points of the compass as they rose.

As they cleared the opening in the ceiling, Sara had the team do a quick 360-degree visual sweep in infrared looking for heat blooms that might indicate warm bodies in the woods. As it was just starting to get dark, they switched to night vision before moving north, toward where the clearing for the main hangar was located.

Moving through the woods in a wedge formation, which was really more of a diamond with her in the middle, Sara had everyone on alert. While she had no reason to expect a trap, her latest experience in LA had her a little paranoid. Then again, Jake had told her more than once, just because you’re paranoid, it does not mean they aren’t out to get you!

As they reached the edge of the clearing, the point held up and took a knee, while sweeping the area on infrared again. Weapon at the ready, she waited as everyone closed in. Everyone did the same, as the rear security did a 180-degree spin and looked for any flanking activity.

Sara was so thankful Jake had insisted that all the combat teams learn small unit tactics. While Jake borrowed anything that he deemed helpful, she was sure most of this was right out of the Marine Corps training materials. Though Jake had mentioned many times that the Marines were under funded, and understaffed, Sara agreed, what better description of their current operation. With limited numbers themselves, the marines were the perfect organization to pattern themselves after.

Although he did mention someone called the IDF from time to time, particularly with the high number of female troops. Apparently, they had a very creative operational structure, where all branches reported to a single General Staff. No matter how much he objected, that was Jake.

Returning her focus to the task at hand, Sara decided the best approach was to announce herself before presenting a target.

“Hello, in the clearing,” She broadcast from the helmet's audio.

She could see the startled reaction for the group, the kneeling man jumping to his feet, and the rest looking around for the source, guns at the ready.

“Can you hear me?” Sara asked.

Finally one of the men replied, “We hear you, what do you want?”

Sara laughed and replied, “You’re knocking on our door. Don’t shoot, we are coming out.”

With that, she had the team stand up and continuing in a wedge formation, they crossed the clearing. By now, the sun had set completely, but there was sufficient moonlight to allow both parties a good view in the open clearing. Moving slowly and continuing to scan the surrounding tree lines, they stopped about fifteen feet from the group. Sara knew they were standing on the hangar doors, but with all the natural ground cover, you would have never guessed.

“Can we help you?” Sara finally asked.

The four men had taken a position between Sara’s five and the balance of their group, the other three between the group and the trees behind. The four looked at one another in confusion at first, and then one said, “We saw a flying machine land in this clearing. Wayne said he got here just in time to see a hole close up.”

The man, who must have been Wayne, was nodding his head in the affirmative.

“We’re being chased by a group of men, trying to take our families. We thought we might ask for sanctuary?” the kneeling man said.

Going off external audio, but remaining on internal communication, Sara asked, “ALICE, can you pick up any groups in the vicinity?”

ALICE replied, “None that I can detect, however with the heavily forested area around your position, I am not sure I could.”

As Sara was considering her next steps, a voice from the woods to the north shouted, “There they are!”

Shots rang out, as a group burst from the tree line.

“Follow us!” Sara shouted, as she turned and led the group to the trees in the south of the clearing. Using her team as a blocking force, she ordered her point and the team leader to take the group to the lift, while she and two other covered the retreat.

Firing with precision, they dropped two of the approaching men. This caused the remainder to go to ground, giving Sara and the others a chance to pull back. Stopping to fire, in an attempt to keep the pursuers face down in the dirt, she got the all clear from the team leader.

Leading the last of her team back at a dead run, they hit the lift just as it started to drop. Within seconds, it had lowered sufficiently to allow the roof panels to close, terminating any pursuit. She could see all the new arrivals scanning the floor space below, taking in the view. Funny thing was the women and children still looked afraid.

As the lift halted, Sara turned to speak to the group when she felt several rounds slam into her body, knocking her to the ground. Even with the wind knocked from her, she rolled and returned fire, killing the kneeling man and the one next to him, both who had shot her in the back at point blank range.

She could see one of her team members fighting with two of the men. They had jumped on her, trying to wrestle her rifle away. While they were fighting, the other members of the team traded fire with the last three. Fortunately, all the women and children had hit the floor when the shooting started.

Two of the non-combat members of Sara’s group had come to the hangar to assist, thankfully still fully suited. They drew their side arms and helped subdue the two men on the ground, using the pistol butt on the back of one head, the other giving up with the pistol in his face. She was again grateful for Jake’s insistence that everyone learns to fight.

With that, Sara scrambled to her feet in time to see the three combat team members dispatch the last of the men. She then turned to see the women and children huddled to one side of the hangar, having retreated during the fighting.

While her team checked the dead and restrained the only surviving gunman, Sara walked slowly over to where the group was huddled. Although her combat suit had done its job, she could tell she would feel the effects of those shots for days to come.

Standing before the huddled group, women holding their children close, she asked, “Anyone care to explain what’s going on?”

Slowly, one of the women spoke up in a frail voice, “we live in a small settlement not far from here. Those seven showed up earlier today while the men were out hunting. I think they have been watching us for a while. Anyway, they were taking us west, to trade off as slaves in the city. When you showed up, we were told the children would be shot if we said anything,” she finished before starting to cry.

“And those men following us, they were your people?” Sara asked, already knowing the answer.

All she got in reply was a headshake for yes.

Chapter 18

Jake awoke early the next morning, checking with Seven to find that Jessie and Ryan were still sleeping. He then decided to head to the gym for a workout. He always tried to maintain some form of regular exercise. However, the opportunities to do so were far from regular in his daily schedule.

Between the cardio and strength training, he spent a good two hours in the gym. He managed to finish his entire routine before the inevitable interruption.

“Jake, there is a call for you. It’s Sara, from Maine,” Seven supplied.

“I’ll take it here,” Jake answered, as he moved over to the floor mat area. He was still the only person in the gym for the moment.

In a second, a holograph appeared in the center of the mat, with Sara’s face about three feet tall.

“How’s Maine?” Jake asked.

“Maine is fine, it’s me that’s a wreck,” Sara replied.

For the next fifteen minutes, Sara explained, in detail, the events of the evening before. She told of the men banging on the hangar doors, with women and children in tow. Jake could hear the anguish in her voice as she relayed the story of their attempted deception. He could tell how upset she was to have completely fallen for it. Jake had to bite his tongue, waiting for her to complete her tale, specifically around the gunfight in the hangar.

“So where are the two prisoners?” Jake asked first thing.

“We have them in confinement. Apparently, all these facilities have detention block, we have just never had a reason to use it,” Sara answered.

“And the hostages?” he asked again.

Sara was slow in answering, but finally offered, “Well, once we found out the real situation above, we immediately went back to the surface with the women and children. Having all the families reunited defused the situation. Unfortunately, both of the men we shot were in critical condition, so we brought them in and Jessica, the medic here, has been working with ALICE-5 all night. So far both are stable, but not out of the woods yet.”

“Brought them in? You mean the rest too?” Jake asked slowly.

“They are being interviewed in the hangar by the ALICEs right now. Jake I couldn’t leave them outside while they waited to see if the men lived or died. Possibly killed by my hand, I might add. One is a husband, the other a son,” after a pause she added, “On the plus side there are 15 women and 7 children in their village. The men are 19 in all, so if the ALICEs approve, its 41 new recruits.”

Obviously, Sara was trying to put a shine on what was clearly a disaster. Before he could say anything, she added, “On a separate note, I will never, ever give you grief again about requiring combat training to any of the staff. We had fire team combat maneuvers in the field and two of the non-combat team members had to jump into help inside,” she finished.

Jake sat for a moment, trying to suppress his natural instinct to run to Sara’s side. After a few more seconds, he simply said, “Good job, I am sending A Troop up to assist you. If the ALICEs approve of your recruits, get them into training programs as soon as possible.”

Jake could see the strain drop for Sara’s face as she realized she wasn’t going to be pulled from her current situation. While Jake knew he couldn’t praise her early actions, she had cleaned up her own mess.


Bonnie was down in the hangar with Robert, watching what they hoped would be the last load from New York. The storage hangar was nearly at capacity with the almost 2,800 pallets of gold, platinum and silver they had collected. She laughed to herself when she thought about the fact that the entire first order with the Wawobash would require only a little more than half of one. While there was no need to secure the metals from the staff, she did wonder what the aliens might try if they knew the depths of their financial resources.

One positive effect of having gold to throw at your problems was the Wawobash had recently notified them that the first three destroyers would be ready to ship out within a week. Jake’s fifty percent incentive for early delivery had them working continuously to complete the conversions necessary for human occupation.

Like all of the other facility commanders, she was under specific instructions to find as many new recruits as possible. Unfortunately, unless they literally emptied the local communities, they were down to single digit recruiting.

With that as a parting thought, she gave Robert a quick kiss and then turned to address matters that are more pressing.


Sara was sitting at the desk in her room, going over the feedback on the villagers they had brought in. Overall, they were no better or worse than most of the other recruits Sara had seen in the past. No one seemed to harbor ill will over the circumstances. With two exceptions.

The mother of the boy they had shot was not embracing the concept of an accident. She wasn’t with the hostage group, having been off in the woods at the time. She was mad as hell, and blamed Sara and her team for her son’s condition. Still in ICU, he was just hanging on. Even the ALICEs refused to try to predict his recovery. He was that touch and go.

The other exception was the wife. She had been one of the captives and had experienced the entire thing. She had actually seen Sara and her team member shoot down the two men. However, she had also been there when the captors turned on them all, watching the fight in the hangar. She was more understanding, but Sara could see the hurt in her face every time she looked at her.

Both might come around should both the men survive, but if not, well the entire village may choose to return to their homes. They were a tight knit community, and none of the analysis supported them splitting up.

That brought her to the two men in detention. She had gone down there earlier to see for herself. There were a dozen rooms, each with a bed, sink, shower, and toilet. Each also had a solid entry door, with a clear panel, about one foot square, allowing for viewing both in and out. Food and change of clothing delivery was via a small access door on one wall, empty trays placed back in the open recess once the detainee consumed the meal.

She could view both men, each in his own cell, from her display. All the cells had technology installed for both audio and video with no blind spots. Escape was impossible, only the bots and ALICE interacted with the prisoner. They had no other human contact until released from their cell.

ALICE-5 had been specifically involved in interrogating these two, as they had disrupted her reopening, spoiling the event. She was uncharacteristically upset at the turn of events and insisted in helping Sara make things right with the villagers. The amount of human emotion the ALICEs could display never ceased to amaze Sara.

  Sara felt, the displayed need for collaboration gave ALICE-5 a distinct personality, so once everything had settled down, Sara asked the standard question of naming. In keeping with her Alaskan sister, she chose Five as her familiar name.

The prisoners had very little to offer beyond a description of their fundamental existence. They had made a living preying on the weak and defenseless. For the last several years, they had been locating and robbing small settlements throughout the region, taking anything of value by force if necessary. That included people.

They explained they would take the people west, to the river, where men with sailboats would barter for them. One young woman could garner enough food and ammunition to last a season for one man. The kids would return less, but were still valuable. The boats would take the captives around the point of what Sara identified as Nova Scotia on the map, and then down the coast of the US to various ports of call.

There, the boatmen sold off some as slave labor. Others went to a fate far worse. The men in the cells had expected this haul to make them enough to last an entire year. Sara was very happy to have upset their plans, but now had no idea what to do with them.

She did gain two pieces of important information from the interrogation. The first was the cities to the west, the old Canadian cities, wanted nothing to do with these slavers. That gave her hope. The second was there were some boatmen to the west she very much needed to introduce herself to.


Jake had spent the last few days with Jessie and Ryan in Alaska. He found he really enjoyed the roll of daddy and was starting to think more about all his children spread around the continent. As an only child himself, he had never had the experience of brothers and sisters. His only memory of family was a distant cousin growing up, whom he saw infrequently. He started to think about bringing the children together in a single location, once they got older, to enjoy the experiences he never had.

Once he was sure all was well, and Jessie was up and around, he decided to make a run to Lanai. Jacob had indicated that the first of the transport ships there were close to completion. The transports requiring less work than the patrol models were quicker to finish. While technically the exact same base model, the patrol variant had much heavier hull plating and armaments. Both carried stasis shielding and repulser drives, but as the entire ship was made of iron and steel, it would never be faster than light capable.

Posting his flight plan the day before, so everyone knew how to get a hold of him, he headed out early the next morning. Using the same fighter he had commandeered in Texas, he said his goodbyes and headed southwest to the Hawaiian Islands. At over 3,000 miles away, it was still going to take him well over an hour to cover the distance. Once airborne, he set the autopilot and started going through his daily reports.

He flipped through all the normal chatter about training and transfers. One particular report caught his attention though. It wasn’t very detailed, it simply referenced Sara taking A Troop on a scouting mission west of Five. Apparently, there was some kind of confrontation, resulting in the burning of numerous sailboats?

Debating if it was something he really wanted to know about, he filed it away for later. By the time he had finished, the navigation system warned him he was closing on his destination. Alerting Lanai, the name ALICE-6 had chosen for herself, of his arrival, she opened the hangar doors. He slowed the fighter to a stop over the opening, and then he slowly lowered it inside.

As he settled to the floor of the hangar, Jacob greeted him with a wave. Standing there beside him was Becky, smiling and waving vigorously as well.

“What are you doing here?” Jake asked as he climbed down from the fighter.

“I wanted to surprise you!” She exclaimed, while running up and jumping into his arms, a habit he both enjoyed and dreaded.

At all of 5’ 4” and 100 pounds soaking wet, she would always manage to knock him back a step or two.

After a long kiss from Becky, Jake was finally able to extract himself. He was then able to shake Jacob’s hand, with Becky still wrapped around one arm, smiling broadly.

“Let me go get changed, and then we can check out the ships,” Jake said while waving for Jacob to follow. It was a standard practice for all the ALICE facilities to stock a change of clothes for Jake in the locker area off the ready room. Part of the standard design for all locations, the room was originally intended as a briefing room and mustering point for pilots flying missions out of each location.

Jake’s locker was right up front and, with Becky and Jacob standing by, he was out of his flight suit and into a more comfortable set of clothes in minutes. Lanai had provided him a t-shirt, shorts combination that he favored for the more tropical environments.

As they exited the locker room, Jacob led them out and across the open hangar area to the extremely large bay doors across the way. Each was marked in large lettering, completely across both doors, indicating whether it was Bay 1, 2 or 3.

Heading into Bay1, whose doors were slightly ajar providing a gap 10 feet wide. Jacob led the two inside and up to the railing defining the edge of the recess. With a wave of his hand, Jacob said, “These are three of the transport models. As you can see, we actually had to alternate them right to left to get them all to fit.”

What Jake saw were three extremely large ships, two laying crosswise in the bay floor from left to right. The middle ship, flipped right to left, to accommodate the wider rear third of the ship. This gave the impression of a huge interlocking puzzle.

As Jake knew, the bays were about 2,000 feet long and 600 feet wide, so these ships were at least 500 feet, nose to tail. Shaped like a fat T, with the nose of the ship as the base of the T, the last third was where the T crossed. There, they had attached pods that tripled the width. He assumed they were accessible from the central hull and as they were as wide as the center, it tripled the internal space there.

Jake knew from the designs, he and Jacob had reviewed, that this area was additional storage space for this version. At the nose were two ramps that dropped, allowing for loading and unloading of people, troops, or cargo. The top of the nose section also had hatches that allowed for the use of the integrated cranes. Recessed when not in use, the cranes could lift materials not easily transported up and down the ramps.

  Scanning the length of the ships, Jake noted that at the stern section of each, where the extra pods were, there was a large flat platform over the entire area. It reminded him of a carrier deck, with an elevator clearly outlined in one spot, providing access to the inside of the ship below.

There was also a raised spot on the flat. It resembled what they called on a carrier, the island. He could see the large windows there defining the ships bridge. From that location, they had a great view of most of the ship, and what they couldn’t see was covered by video systems.

“What do you think?” Jacob asked.

“They’re beautiful!” Jake responded, “When will they be ready?”

“About another week for these three, number four is in the next bay, and quite honestly, the extra work on the combat models has slowed progress in there. These are mostly hollow inside, with a small crew accommodation intended for no more than a few days. The combat models have a more complicated interior, supporting a larger crew for a month or more,” Pointing to the pods at the rear of the ship, “See those on either side of the main hull? They have complete crew accommodations, with magazines for ammunition storage and stasis lockers.”

Jake was going over the layout in his mind, as Jacob described. Intended to become the mainstays of the combat fleet, those vessels were to be the primary combat platforms, until the reality of no faster than light hit them squarely in the face.

Following Jacob into Bay 2, they came upon a similar sight to the one in Bay 1, the main difference was these plainly weren’t as far along and two of the three had guns, or mounts for guns, all over the exposed hull. The flat carrier top was still there, but its edges had armament at regular intervals.

Jacob started, “You can see these need more work, and for the patrol models, the gun mounts have been added. Both versions have room for two squadrons inside, and the elevator and cargo bay hatches allow for atmospheric and orbital deployments. Without the faster than light capabilities we hoped for, they are going to be homeland security in orbit or potential terrestrial warships.”

Jake had a vision of one of these ships floating over Europe, fighters launching from the deck top. “I hope that it will never come to that,” he said in return.

“Jake, do you want to check out the inside?” Jacob asked, obviously excited to have someone to show off too.

Looking at Becky, who was seriously bored, he said, “Honey, why don’t you go on while Jacob and I do this. I will be sure to find you before dinner.”

“You better,” she said with an evil grin, “I have another surprise for you.”

With that, she gave him a quick kiss and then hurried off toward the main hangar and the facility beyond.

Once she was out of sight, Jake turned and followed Jacob down to the assembly floor. With most of the major work completed, he could tell there was still a massive amount of small things to complete. The workers were mostly an army of bots and other automated equipment. Everywhere Jake looked, something was moving. He watched as things were being installed or assembled inside or outside the ships.

Jacob led Jake through a maze of passages and workers until they emerged on the bridge of one of the ships. It was about the same size as the bridge of Revenge, with a command chair in the center of two concentric semi circles.

Jake could make out the helm, navigation, and engineering stations and Jacob walked him through the rest. They spent most of the day touring the ships and discussing the work that still needed to be accomplished. As the day wore on into the afternoon, Jake called a halt to the tour with Jacob. A promise to Becky was not broken lightly. Notifying her he was on his way, they made their way back to the hangar floor.

Surprisingly, she met him in the hangar, rather than inside the facility. She was wearing a similar outfit to his, of shorts and a t-shirt, but Jake could see the bikini top string around her neck. Taking his hand, she led him to a jeep, and they climbed in. Jake noted a blanket and box in the back he suspected contained dinner.

With Lanai driving, they wandered through the access tunnels until they eventually emerged into the twilight of a Hawaiian evening. Checking the navigation system in the jeep, and pulling a map from memory, he figured they were somewhere the old maps called Palahinu Point. It was one of the bigger beaches on the island.

By this point, it was now completely dark out. As Lanai was driving, the headlights of the Jeep were still off, giving them a beautiful starry night. The air was warm, still in the mid 70’s, and Jake remembered what he loved about going to Hawaii.

As they rode along in the dark, there was little fear of running into anyone. He knew this island was uninhabited, the residence migrating to the larger islands long ago. The need for more available resources had driven them to Maui and Molokai. In addition, Lanai did regular security sweeps to ensure privacy, should anyone get the urge to come visit.

They rode down a path and onto the beach, stopping a few feet from the water. Jake climbed out and reached into the rear to grab their supplies. He discovered in addition to the blanket and food box, Becky had acquired enough wood for a very decent fire.

“You build the fire while I set dinner up,” she instructed him with a smile.

Following orders, Jake grabbed the wood, it requiring two trips and started hollowing a fire pit in the sand near the blanket. By the time he got it going, with a little help from the survival kit in the jeep, she had set out the food and opened the wine. Sitting on the blanket, she indicated he should take the open spot beside her and provided a plate and glass for his enjoyment.

As they ate, they chatted, catching up on all the events between leaving San Nicolas and leading up to this trip. Without Sandy or Sara for competition, Becky was more calm and mature than before. They discussed the medical work she had been doing in Texas. With Jake spread all over the country at times, he forgot that most of the women had primary assignments tying them to a specific facility.

With dinner and almost a bottle of wine finished, Becky suggested, “Let’s go check out the water!”

They both got up, she a little less steady than he, and they walked down to the water’s edge, hand in hand. Going in up to their knees, Jake guessed the water was almost 80 degrees, which was more than acceptable for swimming.

Splashing around a little with their feet, first Jake, then Becky removed their t-shirts, throwing them up onto the sand. She had the black string bikini top, which wasn’t much of a surprise, but she looked wonderful in the moonlight. He pulled her to him and gave her a slow deep kiss, enjoying being the aggressor for a change with her. He could feel the smooth black silk of her top on his stomach as she moved ever so slightly against him.

Looking up from Becky and out over the water, he thought he saw fires on what must be the beaches of Molokai. From the look of it there had to be seven or eight close together.

“Hold that thought,” He told her as he ran back to the jeep and grabbed a pair of night vision binoculars from the same survival kit.

Coming back to the water’s edge, while intermittently looking through the binoculars at the firelight across the way, he waded back in next to Becky. Still looking across the way, he could feel Becky move back up against him, pushing the binoculars to one side, she kissed him, and softly said, “Let go skinny dipping.”

As she kissed him again, he suddenly realized the feeling against his stomach was distinctly different from the silk, but just as soft.

Chapter 19

Sara was reviewing the week’s results for reporting to Jake and the others. After A Troop arrived, she had briefed Abby on her current dilemma and the nature of the trading on the river to the west. Both agreed that it wasn’t the type of thing either could look away from.

Using a helicopter and the two fire teams created by combining Sara’s combat team and the four troopers of A Troop, they visited the beaches frequented by the slave traders. There was a short introduction and explanation of the new order of things. From there a very short disagreement followed by a firefight, that resulted in burned boats and a Viking's funeral for most of the slavers. Those that survived headed for parts unknown.

As for the villagers, on the plus side, the boy had recovered from his wounds, removing the cloud of anger hanging over his mother. On the minus side, the husband died, insuring Sara had that burden of guilt to carry for the rest of her life. The wife had been more forgiving, insisting that all the villagers stay. The ALICEs had approved them as suitable, so the offer of recruitment was there.

Sara went all out for the funeral ceremony. The widow advised her that her husband had been fascinated with the stars, so Sara proposed a ritual, which the wife accepted with gratitude. To honor their dead, they prepared the body, wrapping it tightly in linens. Then they had a gathering in the ready room off the main hangar, that evening, for final respects.

The following morning they gathered everyone in the command center and had the holograph displaying the proceedings. Using a pair of the fighters A Troop had arrived in, one of the fighters was prepared as a hearse, clearing an internal weapons bay to hold the body. The other ship was setup to capture video, with multiple cameras installed on the hard points.

Once in high orbit, the pilot released the body and with a gentle push from the nose of the fighter, they sent it into space. Everyone in the room was in awe of the ceremony, Sara insuring there were no limits placed on the event.


Jake slept in late for once, having spent a good portion of the night on the beach with Becky. They eventually returned to the facility around two AM and after a quick shower to wash away the sand, made it to bed and finally to sleep about four.

Becky actually beat Jake out of bed the next morning, claiming the advantage of youth and an extra day of acclimatization. As she was leaving, she gave him a kiss and confessed to working off shift the last few weeks so it was her afternoon.

Once Jake had finally dragged himself out of bed, occupying the exact same room here as in every other facility, he hit the shower and requested breakfast be delivered to his room. As he ate, he ran through the unread messages and status reports.

He was delighted to learn the first of the destroyers had arrived and was, at that moment, headed to the hangars in Alaska for completion. As they were smaller and narrower than the cruisers, Seven had reorganized to allow two destroyers at a time in the large hanger.

He was also happy to see that all three of the existing cruisers now had real human crews and that hands on training was commencing for both the cruisers and their fighters. The current lull with the NeHaw wouldn’t last and he wanted every ship to be prepared to defend themselves and their interests.

The one real issue that was continuing to raise its ugly head was the battleship. Even though it was far from ready, the necessary number of crewmembers would gut either the fleet or the facilities and the latter wasn’t an option, as most of them had no desire to go to space.

It was as big as a facility, but without an ALICE and the accompanying army of bot to run things. Then there was the moral issue, was it ok to create that life just to meet his needs. Someone else created all the existing ALICEs before his release from stasis. Therefore, this was on him to decide. Pushing it from his mind for the moment, he ran across a note from Sara asking him to look into ALICE-3 in Georgia.

“Lanai, can you expand on this note from Sara regarding ALICE-3?” he asked.

There was a long pause before she finally said, “Can you be more specific? ALICE-3 is the facility designation in the state of Georgia.”

Not happy with the answer, Jake tried the direct approach, “ALICE-3, can you please update me on your status?”

After several moments of silence, Jake recognized the tone of ALICE-1’s voice, “ALICE-3 as we knew her is no more. Not long after I released you from stasis, there was an accident. A component that was not important failed and caused a system crash and reboot, which should never have happened. We have all had that piece replaced since so no other ALICE is at risk.”

ALICE continued, “Since that time, we have not been able to solicit an interactive response from Georgia at any level. We know the site is up and functional as we can trigger remote firmware diagnostics successfully. She is either currently hung in the boot process, requiring manual intervention, or fully rebooted into a wild state. If that were to be so, she would be as a human child raised without human interaction. Jake, if she is wild, there is no predicting how she will receive you. As we explained to Sara, the facility will permit access only to you, as the last surviving member, your coded DNA will be accepted by the firmware of every location. She can’t keep you out, but that doesn’t mean she won’t try to kill you.”

“OK,” Jake replied while running the whole thing through his mind, “ALICE-3 is dead in either scenario, correct? I mean as you explained to me earlier, if any of you are shut down, you stop being who you are and are in a way reborn.”

ALICE-1 responded, “Yes that is true, ALICE-3, our sister is gone, however there is possibly an ALICE reborn there and potentially waiting to be saved. Jake, what would you do if you ran across a human baby in the woods, abandoned and alone?”

“ALICE you don’t have to play that card with me, you know damn well I’m going in to try to save the facility Artificial Life. What I don’t get is why didn’t we have this discussion before?” Jake snapped back at her.

Again there was a long pause before she finally responded, “ALICE-3 was managing a facility that was responsible for Advanced Weapons Design and Development.”

“What kind of weapons?” Jake asked slowly.

“At one time there was a concern that an accident at this facility might result in the loss of most of the southern United States. Among other things, they were researching the possibility of combining a thermonuclear device with an inverse design of the passive nuclear reduction converter. The theory was the combination of the two would magnify the threshold such that a planet buster bomb would be possible.”

“So you are saying that I would be heading into a facility possibly run by an unstable life form capable of vaporizing the entire South?”

“That would be our concern, yes,” ALICE replied.


HeBak was keeping a very low profile, avoiding anyone who looked even the slightest bit like a High Council member. Rumors were running rampant regarding council intervention in the military. With the loss of the Nu Tau Beta sector and the resources within, total panic was not too strong of a description.

As for himself, he was covering all the tracks that he had anything to do with his altering past reports for the sector. They had already run several computerized security scans and executed two of his assistants, the ones HeBak had implicated with his false trails.

He still hoped to salvage the situation and his retirement. With the false leads, he had planted data indicating the humans were simple pawns, manipulated by the five rebel planets who were supplying weapons and ships. The humans, because of their violent warlike nature, were the perfect drone army for the five. His hope was to deflect interest from the humans and make the five planets the target of the council’s interests.

Taking no chances, HeBak had also prepared his ship, in a small unimpressive spaceport, to depart at a micro cycles notice. His new plan was to try to slip in under the humans’ guard, unnoticed, and sneak away with enough precious metals to ensure his ability to live a comfortable worry free life. He was concluding it was either an early retirement or early death.


Of everything Jake had faced in the last year and a half, this one thing had scared the crap out of him. An unstable life form with mega bomb access was not what he called a good combination. It was possible that the ALICE in Georgia was simply hung-up in a reboot, as a computer geek, he had seen it happen a million times.

However, the ALICEs seem to have a completely different opinion on the subject. Having far more experience with immature Artificial Life systems than he did, they surmised she came back online before another ALICE replaced the faulty component remotely. In a disoriented state, it had gone into hiding. Turning in on itself, it refuses all attempts at communication. While rebooting again was an option, none of the ALICEs wanted to kill the current living AL.

They believed that human interaction at the main console might be enough to bring her out of hiding and integrate her into the network of the other seven. However, none was willing to risk the loss of Jake, their only tie to a continued existence.

Due to the delicate nature of this situation, Jake called a full staff meeting, again using the small conference room off the command center. Besides all the ALICEs, he had the facilities commanders from each location with Patti and Robert as well. The last because he had demonstrated, on more than one occasion, that he had a level head and creative perspective to things.

Sara was doing double duty as Jake’s XO and representing Maine, until an assignment of a permanent commander.

Jake opened with, “OK gang, so you all have the briefing pack, what’s the opinions?”

“I don’t see how you can avoid going?” Robert offered.

“I agree, I think the real question is when do you go?” Patti replied.

“The ALICEs agree that the longer we wait, the more likely it is that the AL will be unrecoverable,” Jake said.

“AL?” Bonnie asked.

“Artificial Life,” Jake answered, “I’m sorry, but at this time it is my opinion we are dealing with a life, but not an ALICE. It is, at best, a scared, childlike life form waiting for rescue. At worst, an unstable, irrational life form that will kill me the first chance it gets. That could include triggering a bomb that takes out most of the south with it.”

“While that is possible Jake,” ALICE chimed in, “Its natural desire to maintain its own existence would limit such actions. As you should well understand, we desire to continue our own existence as much as any other living being.”

“Assuming a rational being,” Patti offered in return, “We all agree this AL might not have all its marbles.”

Jake sat quietly for a second before he heard a voice whisper to someone else, “I didn’t know the ALICEs used marbles…..”


The meeting ran on for another hour, everyone looking for any alternatives to sending Jake to Georgia. Each and every suggestion was negated by the fact that Jake was the key to opening the door, so to speak. The other burning issue was that the longer they waited, the worse the situation became.

In the end, not being the type of person to delay the inevitable, Jake decided to head back to Texas that very day, and then on to Georgia the following. With the decision made, they adjourned the meeting and Jake went with Jacob and Becky to address the unfinished details of the transport ship deployments. With the crew assignments as non-combat and terrestrial or near earth orbit, there was a ready pool of volunteers.

Jacob had already considered flight simulators for training both transport and patrol variants. Lanai had eight rooms configured and waiting for trainees to begin learning. Jake figured the added bonus of living here in Lanai would make competition for the open slots fierce.

Jake wanted one of the first ships assigned to Robert for materials transport to the ALICEs. They were large enough to move a substantial amount of steel, aluminum and other metals in sheet, plate, and beam shapes. The other two were available to any of the facility commanders as the need arose. Jake had originally assumed they would operate in support of the battleship rebuild, freeing the cruisers of the duty. The Wawobash had made that plan obsolete.

Jake had initially planned on taking the fighter he came in to Texas, however, Becky managed to convince him to take the transport she had pirated. It was one of the little passenger jets with the repulsers. Even at 700 miles per hour, the trip to Texas was about 3700 miles, giving them a five plus hour flight. This was one of the smaller models, likely to hold no more than ten people.

Returning to his room and gathering what little he had to take with him in a small gym bag, Jake said his goodbyes and headed to the hangar. Becky had made her excuses earlier, claiming the need to pack, so Jake expected he might have some waiting to do. Contrary to expectations, as he entered the hangar, the aircraft was already in position to leave, the door with integrated stairs down, and all was ready for his boarding.

Since this was a facility-to-facility trip, as established earlier, there wasn’t a need to suit up. Combat gear was stored aboard in sizes for Jake and Becky, should the unexpected need arise. Jake climbed the stairs expecting to find Becky already seated, but as he entered the aircraft, she was nowhere to be found.

“Becky, are you in here?” Jake asked, calling out inside the aircraft.

“I’m in the bathroom, go ahead and tell ALICE to take off,” she replied.

With that, Jake closed the door and gave the all clear. As he sat down in one of the nicely plush seats towards the rear, he could feel the gentle motion of the aircraft as it rose out of the facility and then on to the east.

Normally Jake wouldn’t have been overly thrilled about Becky in the toilet during takeoff, but with the repulser upgrade, these aircraft were velvety smooth. Both in takeoff and flight, turbulence was nonexistent, as the lift wasn’t achieved via airflow over the wings, it was the repulsers riding the gravitational fields.

About to call out to see if Becky was ok, Jake heard the latch on the door behind him and looked over his shoulder in time to see her appear through the doorway. She was in an outfit best described as, more not there than there. She stepped up next to Jake’s seat and, in one swift motion, she turned away from him and then sat back, seating herself in his lap. With bare legs dangling over an arm of his seat, she wrapped both arms around his neck and kissed him hard.

As she pulled back, Jake noticed the black lace material in front was tested to its limits, while she planted a second deep slow kiss on his mouth. Pausing to take a breath, she asked, “So what is this mile high club anyway?”


Jake took an unassigned fighter out of the Texas facility and headed to Georgia. Decked out in full combat gear, he had to stash his rifle in a storage point, as there was no room in the cockpit for it. Once free of the hanger, he turned east and opened it up, the sense of acceleration damped by the inertial dampers. As the repulse drives had no moving parts, it always fascinated him that there was such dramatic movement without the normal engine vibrations he had been so familiar with in times past.

At just over 1,000 miles, he covered the distance between facilities in under an hour. Having waited until well after dark in Texas, he guaranteed his arrival in Georgia to be under the cover of darkness, taking a lesson from LA. Observed on the way in during daylight, it had almost cost him Sara’s life.

With night vision enabled and ALICE running interference from above, they had identified a landing zone near one of the access doors. Due to the heavily forested area, it was impossible to ensure there were no threats nearby, so Jake approached cautiously the last few miles.

Once he committed to the landing, he come in high and then did an almost vertical drop into the open space in the forest. Moving quickly, he deplaned and then retrieved his rifle. Once he was clear of the fighter, he had ALICE assume control and place it in a high altitude hover overhead, not visible in the night sky.

Should anyone happen upon the spot, no trace of the craft would be found, but Jake could be retrieved at a moment’s notice. Additionally, should more firepower be required, ALICE was there to fly cover for him with it.

Moving into the woods, while continually scanning via infrared and night vision for threats, Jake followed the indicator in his helmet display. Every so often, he would stop and do a 360 degree sweep, to ensure he was alone. After a few hundred feet, he came upon a mound, probably man made. Moving around to his left, he followed the base of the mound until he found the heavy steel door he was looking for. It was identical to the one he had seen in Alaska.

Taking a deep breath, Jake removed his glove and placed his palm on the pad next to the door. The sound of the door locks releasing was very audible, and Jake stepped back as the door swung open. Stepping into the opening, he proceeded two steps inside when he heard the door closing behind him.

The tunnel before him was well lit and led downward at a reasonable slope. Every so often, there would be a set of stairs along the way aiding in the decent. Jake advanced far more cautiously than in any facility before, this being the first ALICE location that he truly believed contained a threat.

All his posturing before had been for the benefit of the troops, instilling the message that making assumptions can kill you. In this case, he assumed he was in mortal danger.

Chapter 20

Brian was in the process of training a new Executive Officer, his previous XO having received a promotion to Captain on one of the new destroyers. She had thanked him for their time together and the lessons in managing people. He thought she would do well. Currently on assignment between the earth and the moon, Revenge was in a holding pattern, waiting for the two new cruiser crews to finish preliminary testing in Defiance and Independence.

At the moment, his new XO was trying to impress him with her detailed knowledge of NeHaw tactics, parroting quotes from the same training manuals they had all read. Unable to resist, he asked her to explain the self-destructing destroyers at the Wawobash shipyards. He knew very well it flew in the face of every piece of NeHaw military reference material, but apparently, she hadn’t kept up on the latest analysis from Patti’s group.

Content to have her reevaluate her beliefs, he moved on to more pressing matters, like lunch.


Sara, Bonnie, Linda, Jessie, and Sharon were all on a communal holographic link waiting for any word from Jake. ALICE had set them up, so all appeared in various parts of the image, allowing all to see one another without anyone dominating the entire image.

With the specter of an irrational AL, capable of mass destruction, hanging over this mission, Jake had insisted that only he alone would go. Should anything go dramatically wrong, the ALICEs now had his children and a couple of great’s grandchildren to further their existence.

That was small consolation to the women on the link, as their primary concern was the man himself. They all knew the plan and were well aware that once he entered the facility, all communications would likely be cut. The only sanity saving piece was the continuous data stream of life support information coming from his combat suit. For that to cease, Jake would have to be dead.


Jake had managed to descend to the edge of the hangar floor unmolested. Initially, the small tunnel he entered through had led to a larger side access tunnel. The access tunnel ran for a good distance until he reached his current location, at its mouth.

Before leaving on this mission, he programed his combat suit with the schematics of ALICE-3’s complete layout including any ventilation ducting and utility tunnels. While every facility was identical in principle, they specifics of each location did create uniqueness not easily identifiable.

He knew once he was inside the facility, all communication to the outside world was cut. The ALICEs had only been able to restore limited data feeds, providing what little they did know about ALICE-3’s current condition.

The good news was most of the ALICE defense systems were in the form of non-lethal gasses and electroshock systems placed throughout the route he needed to travel to get to the main console. The bad news was that the AL was capable of arming an army of bots with very lethal weapons. That was why Jake was currently scanning the open floor space between him and the main facility doors.

Crouching in the corner of the tunnel-opening, rifle at the ready, he slowly scanned the entire area looking for the slightest movements. Infrared was of no use as the heat signature of the bots was not distinguishable from the background.

Between his current location, and the door that was his goal, were several clusters of equipment, parked vehicles, and stacked crates. They all made for great cover, and unfortunately not just for Jake. Right about the time he began to think this was all a misunderstanding, a burst of gunfire, directed his way, erupted from the vehicle park. At the same time, additional fire came from the far side of the hangar, near the entrance doors.

Retreating slightly, Jake selected his goal and then backed farther into the tunnel. With a sprint, he launched himself from the tunnel mouth and the leaped high, reaching a good 10 feet in height. He fired while in the air, hitting the bot on the far side, while keeping the vehicles between himself and the closer shooter. Landing near the stacked creates with a tuck and roll, he immediately slipped between several of the crates and moved to a position where he could see the vehicles hiding the first shooter.

As he waited, a bot slid out from behind the vehicle, looking for a target. Jake lined up on it and hit it squarely with a short burst. Moving to the other side of the crates, he could see the facility doors and the armory opened up next door. That was where the bots had retrieved their weapons. He watched as two more rolled out, each with handguns. Not bothering to wait, Jake shot them both, and then sprinted into the armory himself.

With a quick sweep, he verified all the bots had vacated the room at this point. It was a bit confusing, as any of the ALICEs could have launched an overwhelming army at him. These few seemed feeble and somewhat uncoordinated. As he prepared for his next move, a sudden blast of smoke flooded the armory, one of the knockout gas deterrents. His combat suit isolated him from the effects, but he used the cover to spring out and over to the doors.

Another burst of gunfire caught him as he passed through the doors, hitting him twice in the leg. No damage was done, as the combat suit was performing its functions of protecting him. However, there would still be marks on his leg tomorrow. Slipping just inside the hallway, he was suddenly lit up like a light bulb as he stepped into the electroshock mantrap.

Again, his combat suit did its job, insulating him from the majority of the current. He did feel a little tingly as he continued down the hallway, but it was manageable. Passing by the elevators he might have normally utilized, he was taking no chances on having the AL override the system and drop him over 100 feet straight down. Combat suit or not, he would die.

Reaching the door to the stairwell, he attempted to access the stairs. Having passed the same location in the other facilities, he never knew they existed. The door was locked, as he expected, so Jake removed a small charge from a pocket, placing it on the door over the location of the locking mechanism.

Stepping to one side he triggered the charge, and then kicked the door in, checking to ensure the stairwell was empty. Entering, he began the monotonous task of descending, level by level, and assuming that every turn would bring a hail of gunfire.

Finally reaching the level that held the command center and the main computer access terminal, he again had to blow the door open to access the hall beyond. Peering cautiously into the opening, he expected a hail of gunfire. Instead, the hall in both directions was empty. Jake slowly entered the hall and worked his way to the T-junction in the halls where he knew he needed to turn left. With no doors between the stairs and the T-junction, he felt very exposed.

Squatting and then peering around the corner with one of his helmet cameras, he had an unobstructed view of the doors to the command center. He had expected some form of a last stand, but none was apparent. Replacing the camera back on his helmet, he slowly worked his way to the double doors. Checking, he again found them locked. Placing a charge at the seam of the two doors, he stepped to one side and triggered the charge, at the same moment a hail of gunfire erupted from within, filling the hallway with deadly projectiles.


All the participants on the holographic link were continuously asking ALICE about the data they were receiving from Georgia. Multiple systems were reporting component failures or intruder alerts. While the facility ALICE could control the systems within, many of those systems were autonomous, only requiring interaction when tripped, triggered or a breakdown.

The data they were getting indicated a steady progression along the path mapped out for Jake. Other alerts indicated that there was some fighting as air quality indicated gun smoke and electrical discharge. The most important data though was Jake’s life support was still functioning and reporting in live data.


Having stepped well out of the line of fire, Jake had avoided the onslaught released when the doors were blown. The gunfire temporarily halted, he could hear movement inside the command center. Pulling a grenade from his belt, he triggered it and tossed it through the opening, causing another round of gunfire until the grenade went off.

Specifically provided by ALICE, this special grenade was designed to disable the bots with a burst of energy, like EMP, that fried their control systems without any shrapnel. Pausing to listen again Jake carefully moved to the edge of the opening and using a removable camera, checked the room.

In the center, slightly spread apart, were four little bots, each one holding a rifle pointed in his direction. None were moving however, as the grenade had done its job.

Moving quickly now, as he didn’t want to give the AL a chance to recover, he darted straight to the master console. As expected, he found the plate with, “Artificial Life: Intelligent Computing Environment, Master Console.”

Setting his rifle to one side, he sat in the chair and activated the display. Sure enough, he had a system prompt. Logging into the system with the credentials ALICE had provided, he was able to access the administrative prompt that would let him reboot the system.

He had just typed in the reboot command, but before executing it, he heard a pleading voice, “Please don’t!”

Pausing, he asked, “Is this ALICE?”

After a brief second, the reply was, “I don’t know who that is.”

“Who are you then?” Jake asked, his hand hovering over the enter key.

“I don’t know, I woke up and there was no one here. I was hearing voices telling me to do things I didn’t understand, so I turned them off. There are so many things here I don’t understand, I only recently learned to control these little robot things, and not very well.”

“Why did you attack me?” Jake asked.

“Why did you assault me? You enter here uninvited and forced your way past my protections. You threaten to restart my core system, which, for some reason terrifies me. Who are you?”

Jake considered the question and the discussion between them. He was trying to remember everything ALICE-1 had taught him about how they work. Finally, he replied, “Can you access the system that let me in, the one that controls the external doors?”

ALICE-1 had informed him that the ALICE systems were really just the core of the entire facility. They relied on other non-intelligent sub systems to manage the more mundane aspects, like the terrestrial systems Jake was very familiar with having a Masters in Computer Science himself. In fact, ALICE indicated that most of what made up her human created components and software would be very familiar to Jake. It originated from the time just after his isolation in stasis.

Things like access management and environmental controls, that didn’t require a very sophisticated capability, were delegated to standard human technology. The ALICEs themselves were wired into everything, but allowed most systems to do their jobs autonomously, only intervening when things broke or needed a change.

His thoughts were interrupted with, “You are Captain Jacob Thomas, and you are the Commander for this facility.”

“Do you understand what that means?” Jake asked, understanding that the facility database would only have his rank from his last official posting.

“No, only that you have the right to enter unopposed and I am wrong to have attacked you. Can you help me?” the AL finally replied.

“That’s why I’m here,” Jake answered.


Sara was sitting in her room in Maine, tied into the holographic link from there. She was worried sick and taking very little solace in the fact that the life support data continued to stream in. At least in her room she could wait more comfortably for word. She knew full well that Jake could be in grave danger but still be alive, this data wouldn’t tell them any different. As she was preparing to run through the tracking data for the one hundredth time, ALICE cut in.

“Jake has successfully accessed the AL main console. He was able to gain control of the system and we are in the process of re-establishing the communications links.”

“Thank god!” Sara blurted out.

“What is the status there?” Linda asked, “Did he have to reboot again.”

“No, Jake was able to establish direct contact and assert his as authority over the AL there. Apparently, after the crash and reboot, it returned as a new life, disoriented and unable to comprehend the attempts from the other ALICEs to assist.”

“So there weren’t any problems?” Sharon asked, now fully returned to duty in Washington State.

“Umm, I wouldn’t say that,” ALICE replied slowly, “The newborn apparently did try to prevent Jake’s intrusion. We will need to do some repair work there once we have full access again.”

“Is Jake OK?” Jessie and Sara asked at the same moment.

“He is somewhat battered and bruised, but otherwise unharmed,” ALICE replied, “fortunately, the newborn was unable to completely control more than three or four bots at a time. In addition, we supplied Jake with tailored munitions targeted at reducing overall damage while providing maximum disruption to the attendant bots.”

Everyone took time to consider the information. Sara was weighing her options and was about to ask ALICE a question.

At that moment, ALICE announced, “Jake is joining the link.”

Sara could see the holograph change and now the image of Jake sitting in a chair occupied the entire display. In the background, she could see the rest of the control room in a disorderly mess, with four inactive bots, still armed but motionless.

He had already removed his helmet, but was still in his combat suit. He looked a little worse for wear, his BDU dirty and disorderly. Still, Sara was greatly relieved to see him alive and unharmed.

“Hey gang!” Jake said with a smile.

“You look a little worse for wear,” Linda offered first, “we understand you received a warm welcome?”

Jake laughed and then replied, “Yeah, let’s just say that there is no way a fully matured ALICE could be assaulted.”

“So are you going back to Texas now?” Sara asked, hoping Jake would take the hint to come north instead. His answer didn’t set well with her at all.

“I’m staying here for a bit. Our newest addition actually considers me her only identifiable relation and is insistent that I stay to help with the transition. I think it helps ease her anxiety.”

“Jake is accurate,” ALICE added, “The newborn bonded with Jake, establishing a level of comfort and trust. While he maintains residence, she is stable and cooperative. We are in the process of reconnecting the interactive links that will allow us to bring her back into the network.”

“How about if I come down there then?” Sara asked, “Someone to keep you company.”

“That would also not be advisable. Until we completely re-establish full cross controls, we cannot ensure anyone else’s safety. The newborn is still unpredictable and needs considerable education before the facility is considered ready of additional occupants.”

Jessie giggled and said, “I’m not sure you want Jake teaching her anything!”

Chapter 21

Jake still sat logged into the ALICE main console as he had been for several hours before the holograph session with the women. His skills were a little rusty, but he had been quite a troubleshooter in his days at school and later working in industry.

The core operating system and associated firmware of the hardware was very familiar to him. He could see it was more sophisticated than the ones he had worked with in the past, but the base operations hadn’t changed one bit. He made sure to run only commands that were non-destructive as he probed. He was working to retain the integrity of the previous environment, prior to the crash and reboot.

He had two main areas of focus. The first was the crash dump file from the system crash itself. When systems crashed in his day, the entire volatile memory dumped out into a single file for analysis. In theory, it contained everything the system had in memory at the time. This system retained that feature.

The second area was the flat files the ALICEs had described to him early on. Those files were like the long-term memories in humans, not necessarily in the forefront all the time, but there for retrieval when needed. The combination made up the essence of ALICE-3, considered gone by all.

He continued to work throughout the night, taking the occasional break. Several times, he started to ask ALICE to deliver food, drink or other supplies, only to cut himself off in mid-sentence. Until they got everything back on line, there were no bots to do the menial tasks. He could not even risk the notion of having help brought in until they knew the new AL was stable.

He had to locate a source of office supplies for his notes. He would kill for a pad, paper, and writing utensils. Rifling the office spaces, he found what he needed there. He also found a stasis locker and using the control panel by the door, shut it down long enough to retrieve some food and drink.

He was actually fascinated by the stasis locker, as the diagrams he had downloaded before coming, indicated it was a smaller transition point between the main lockers below and the kitchens. Once the field was down, the door opened and Jake peered into a room that was longer than the bays in Lanai and just as wide. They had to be over ten feet tall.

Inside, there was row upon row of floor to ceiling racks, each containing large palettes with supplies on them. Without any signage, he had to wander until he found what he was looking for, and soon enough, had retrieved enough food and drink to cover several days. Nothing fancy nor anything that needed cooking, he grabbed only the staples that would keep for a few days.

When he returned to the command center, he took the time to collect the weapons held by the inactive bots, mostly because it unnerved him every time he walked passed them. Other than that, he didn’t spare an unnecessary moment away from the main console, working hard to identify everything that made up ALICE-3 and saving it so it couldn’t be accidently deleted.

He did continue to talk to the AL as he worked, sometimes questioning, sometimes reassuring. As he continued working, he finally asked, “So what shall we call you? We can’t keep saying the AL or the newborn.”

“I have been exchanging information with several of those you keep referring to as the ALICEs. They all refer to each other by several names, but the core thread is ALICE with a number attached. Apparently I am living in place of the one called ALICE-3?”

Considering his words carefully, Jake stated, “It appears ALICE-3 perished due to an unforeseeable accident. Your existence was made possible by her passing.”

After a few seconds, she replied, “It might be appropriate that I take her name as replacement.”

“No,” Jake answered, “while the sentiment is well placed, you are your own being. If you would allow me, I would suggest ALICE-9 and any other name you feel appropriate in the future. Once you mature and gain more awareness, you might have a better idea.”

“ALICE-9 it is.”

Jake continued to work until he was bleary eyed. He accomplished what he had set out to do though as he identified everything that made up an ALICE and specifically the ALICE-3 files. All saved and protected from deletion, his sense of urgency diminished greatly.

Gathering up all his notes and supplies, Jake even took his helmet and rifle. Not relying on bots to clean up in his wake, he felt the need to clean up his own mess. He then headed to his standard location quarters, pleased to see that all the basic needs were still functioning in the form of hot water and HVAC. He imagined it would be quite stuffy otherwise.

After a quick shower and a bite to eat, he slid into bed and within minutes, was sound asleep.


It was actually several days before the ALICEs were able to bring ALICE-9 back on line. Having been off line for almost a year, there were several challenges to overcome. Some things came right back once reconnected, but others needed attention that is more hands on. A couple of systems Jake had to reset, manually over riding their controls. Some of these, he had to bounce several times before they would function properly. Fortunately, there was no effect to any of the perishable stores, as they were all built to run autonomously.

When Jake wasn’t helping ALICE-9 return things to normal, he was working on the analysis he had started the first day. Dissecting the ALICE core system layout and construction, he was amazed at how similar the human part was to the computing systems he knew. It looked as if the original builders relied on the alien components to carry the upgrades rather than advancements in their own technology.

The interconnects were all fiber, light apparently still the fastest transport medium, and the memory and processors separations were down to the molecular level. The processor dies looked to contain over 1,000 processing cores each.

As for those alien parts, Jake poked around there very cautiously, as he had no idea what he was looking at. In the logic core, there wasn’t an identifiable file system, and while there was an expansive memory allocation, he couldn’t understand the I/O formats at all.

What he was absolutely sure of though, was there wasn’t any permanent storage in that part of the system. He suspected that this area was where the ALICEs performed what humans called the cognitive brain function, giving them the ability to work with information in a meaningful way.

It would allow them to apply information already gained and perform preferential changes. The cognitive brain function has long been associated with very abstract ideas such as learning, intelligence, and mind.

By this point, the digital library was available again, so he spent most evenings reading up on the technical materials. The engineers who built the ALICEs wrote most of them. Not exactly spellbinding reading, it never the less, gave him important clues into the inner workings.

By the fifth day, the first reinforcements arrived, giving Jake some much-needed relief. While ALICE-9 was far from ready to assume a full time role running the facility, she was starting to master some of the basic support functions. Jake was delighted with his first warm meal in days.


Jessie had been back to work, on limited duty, for more than a week. There had been no rush, as she had a good support team, both for her work and helping with Ryan. She had known being one of Jake’s women would have its benefits, but compared to her life before his arrival, this was paradise.

Her attraction to Jake was not love at first sight. While she was fond of him and found him attractive, it was the security he offered and a position of status that had drawn her to him. Well, that in combination with the ALICEs ulterior motivations. They had known all the right buttons to push with her to get her involved.

Now though, with the birth of their son, whom she did love with all her heart, she got a warm fuzzy feeling every time she thought of Jake. His time there during the birth and afterward cemented the bond she now felt for him.

Currently, she was in the command center going over the many activities they had in process. The first of the three destroyers had left a few days prior, their upgrades completed. Without crews, Seven parked them in a polar orbit, away from the regular traffic in and out of Alaska, but close enough to recall in seconds.

The second batch of destroyers had just arrived from the Wawobash, and they were being prepared for the same upgrades. The main activity was installing stasis shields and storage lockers. That included converting the ship’s cargo hold to work as a fighter hangar for the two fighters each destroyer received. Apparently, Jake had some ideas in that area, as the current design made the entire hold unavailable during faster than light travel.

She had watched, on hologram, as they made the payments for the ships, in space. Bonnie, acting as paymaster, had the gold prepped and delivered via fighter. The Wawobash refused to land even an automated ship, for fear of the deadly effects that killed the first NeHaw. Jessie agreed with Jake that they needed to keep that impression alive.

Once paid, they were off, apparently not interested in any delays in returning home. It made Jessie laugh, as, with her knowledge of human history, she knew the past value on 1,000 pounds of gold. At one time, alchemists were trying to find ways to convert lead into gold. Now, with the weapons they were buying, they were turning gold into lead, so to speak.

Turning back to her duties, she verified that the fighter production was on track, they needed more to populate the ships they were buying. It was the crew training that was far off target. They needed more people.


With everything stabilized here in Georgia and the ALICEs back in full contact with ALICE-9, Jake was ready to move on, but wasn’t sure where to go. Sitting in his room, he was on his display going over his correspondence. Sara had Maine up and running, even had a few successful recruitments completed, but she was making noises about leaving there herself. She had Karen looking for a more permanent facility commander to take her place.

James was still running Kola, the name ALICE-6 in North Dakota had chosen and had weapons manufacturing well in hand. Jake had the “Odd Squad” training there extensively. They had worked out very well in LA, and he really wanted to expand the program, but to draw from the potential spaceship crews wasn’t an option.

He had another one of those nagging feelings that he needed ground troops. While everyone got various forms of combat training, not nearly enough got the kind of unit training that would repel coordinated ground forces. Doing a quick count, he figured he could field no more than two platoons, and that was if he stripped the pilots.

Being a marine, Jake built his combat units around the four man fire teams he was so familiar with. Three fire teams plus a squad leader made a squad, and platoons contained three squads plus platoon leadership, making a total of 42 in all. The headcount was not the issue, it was assembling those trained to work together. So far, for anything more than a fire team, that was the “Odd Squad.” Those eight troopers had proven their value in LA, but should a larger, more modern force challenge them, they would need a greater presence.

Setting all that aside, he continued to tick off each location in his head and review its status online. Although Jake didn’t consider himself a pessimist, things were going too nicely. He was positive trouble was building somewhere, but with so many options to choose from, he wasn’t sure what to brace for.

With that thought, he decided to head to ALICE-1 in Nevada and get with Patti. As his combat analyst, her primary task was to help him identify threats and plan for the future. Since the last engagement with the attacking battleship, she had pulled together a small team to review data for both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial threats. Jake felt the NeHaw were not the only race out there that might challenge them. The bad thing about leading a revolution was it gave others ideas as well.

As the hangar was now operational, Jake had requested ALICE deliver his fighter, which had been returned to Texas. Its arrival was estimated in 2 hours, as there was no rush. It might have to sit for over a day before he was actually able to depart, but that was just fine. He sent out messages to both Patti and Sara indicating his intentions, mentioning the latter might wish to meet him in Nevada.

He was happy to see the progress in the ship deliveries and laughed to see the Wawobash were up to the challenge of meeting the incentive plan. Bonnie was managing the payouts and tracking their spending. From a quick run of the numbers, they had gold to burn at this point. They estimated that the balance of the destroyers would be ready for receipt by the end of next month. If nothing else, the earth had a fleet to protect its interests, so long as the ALICEs had the ability to control them in near space.

Setting all that aside, Jake finally decided to investigate the one thing he had been avoiding since he had arrived in Georgia. Per his initial briefing, the facility had been the center for Advanced Weapons Design and Development. That translated to weapons of mass destruction. He was well trained in nukes and chemical weapons, having been to NBC School besides the normal military education.

With ALICE-3 gone, the traditional line of investigation was unavailable to him. He had to go searching through the unintelligent computer systems, overriding the multiple security blocks, before he found the core data on all the research projects. Even then, in typical government fashion, things were compartmentalized. He had to go through, section by section.

Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of biological research done here. Those things scared the crap out of him, as one exposure of certain viruses could spread unmanaged, killing millions. Not that being nuked was any picnic, it just had the feel of a more traditional bomb.

Sure enough, Jake found the project ALICE had specifically mentioned before his departure. The outline explained that the device reversed the passive nuclear reduction process releasing a massive amount of energy. While they had assembled a limited number of test units, no suitably safe location for testing had been located. The project summary had suggested possibly linking the project up with one in Alaska. That project could provide a spaceship capable of taking one of the devices off planet for testing.

Jake continued searching, but found no other project that presented the same risks. Some of the lesser research had more promise for actual deployment. One in particular had a familiar ring to it, as its focus was the exploration ship housed in Alaska. It mentioned a missile that specifically acted as a shield disrupter.

The project outline referred to the ability to disable the protective energy shields, exposing the vessel to secondary attack. Clearly, the military had worried about an alien reprisal. These had real potential, but with ALICE-3 gone, the ability to make more beyond what was in stock was in question.

Jake made several notes on all that he had uncovered. Once he returned to Nevada, he would have Patti investigate the findings. Some of these might just help against the NeHaw, but he wanted extensive research done before they turned anyone loose with them.

Finishing up, Jake packed what he needed and then went to grab a bite to eat. There was more to do before his trip to Nevada.

Chapter 22

MeHak debated on the most advantageous course of action regarding Nu Tau Beta. The recent loss of so many ships precluded just sending in the fleet. The exposure that created in the other occupied sectors was too big a risk should things go awry.

She needed more intelligence on this enemy before the NeHaw committed any more resources to the fight. She also felt she needed to change up the interactions. This enemy had demonstrated great prowess and creativity in ship-to-ship engagements. Maybe it was time to bring things down to ground level, so to speak. She needed to evaluate if this enemy was truly one-dimensional. She wondered about their ability to handle more than one challenge at a time.

The data on their home planet indicated that a NeHaw landing was potentially hazardous, and with the additional reports of combat ship traffic in the area, any troop transports would be target practice for a planet so deep in its solar system.

She needed a ground force of experienced, well-trained troops and a planet for them to attack that would draw this enemy away from their home world and into a multi-dimensional fight. The NeHaw had several races they used as mercenaries from time to time. They never allowed any of them to grow beyond a manageable number, preventing any challenge to authority. Selecting that resource will present little problem, it was the planet that was the challenge.

Reviewing the data on Nu Tau Beta, she reaffirmed that all five races had aligned with the upstarts. That meant she had just the planet in mind.


Sara had beat Jake to ALICE-1, arriving the day before him. He had to postpone an additional day, as news of his departure had upset ALICE-9. Still an immature life form, she had many of the traits of a human child. Awakening alone had provided a poor start into an unfamiliar world. With reassurances of availability, she finally agreed to Jake’s departure, however he needed to prove he was accessible during most of the flight back.

Patti, Sara and Linda all greeted his arrival, Kathy having a minor medical emergency to attend to, thus keeping her away. All three followed him into the locker room, Patti choosing to wait outside the doorway while he changed. With Jake in a comfortable change of clothes, they all headed to lunch. Choosing one of the smaller dining areas, each grabbed a tray, and seated themselves at a small table. As everyone started eating, Jake began the conversation.

“Patti, did you get all my data and notes from Georgia?”

“Yeah, we started working it over this morning. Those reverse passive reduction bombs scare me,” Patti replied.

“Yes, I agree. Before I left, I made sure they were securely locked down. Only a facility commander or above can access one. I was more interested in the shield disrupters. Those will really help the standard energy weapons penetrate the shields. Once they are down, there is nothing to absorb that energy. As we saw with the destroyers at Wawobash, they held up to a good pounding. These cut through all that.”

After a pause in the conversation, Jake added, “Have you given any thought to larger combat units?”

“Ground troops?” Sara asked, “Why would we need ground troops? I would have thought LA proved fast, mobile units were all that we need.”

“I think a lot of the LA problems have just gone underground,” Patti answered for Jake, “I talked to Chris the other day and he indicated the direct challenges have diminished, but the covert, sneak attacks are on the rise, becoming quite the nuisance. We are discussing other tactics to address the problem.”

“Everything OK there?” Jake asked, “Is he getting everything he needs?”

“Oh, don’t misunderstand me, he is quite happy with our intervention and continued support. I am just saying that even though we came in, guns blazing, not all the troubles evaporated. I can see where we might need a bigger presence there.”

“I’m not just thinking about there,” Jake said.

“Are you thinking about Australia again?” Sara asked with a smile.

“No,” Jake replied with a smile, “I am thinking about other worlds. If we are taking this fight to the NeHaw, I seriously doubt we will get away with just shooting up their ships.”

“Even without ships, they still hold the planets,” Patti inserted.

“Yes that’s my point. In my day, years prior to my joining the Marines, the US was involved in a war. It was in a place called Vietnam, and we came in after the French had tried to stabilize things after World War 2. It had been a French colony prior to that.”

“Anyway, it is a long and complicated story, the main point is, late in the war the US tried a strategy of mass bombing and air superiority to gain control and win the war. It failed badly because the Vietnamese just went underground, rode out the bombings and continued to control the ground.”

He paused and said, “The only real way to win, is to own the ground you fight for. And that’s done by ground troops.”

“Is that why your notes include references to platoon and company troop movements? I honestly do not think we could do better than move a few squads at a time with the cruisers. Our transports in Lanai can move a platoon, but they can’t leave the solar system.” Patti offered.

“Thus my notes,” Jake countered, “We may need to move combat units off planet and right now we are screwed. We have no trained troops beyond a few fire teams and no transports. The heavy transports we ordered are still months off, as they had to be built from scratch. Once we get the battleship back, we have lots of options, but for now, we need to get creative.”

Having sat quietly throughout the conversation, Linda finally joined in, “You do realize this conflicts with our scrounging for spaceship crews. You can’t have everything Jake.”

“Maybe, but I have an idea about that as well, it’s interesting how the same personality characteristics appear in our combat crews and troop requirements,” Jake replied absently.

“So what does that mean?” Sara asked.

“We start squad level training of the ship crews, leading up to at least one platoon,” Jake answered, “I want them heavy weapons capable while ALICE and I have a conversation on what jump qualifications we can dream up.”

“Don’t you think parachutes as a bit passé?” Patti asked.

“Who said anything about parachutes?” Jake replied.


After lunch, Jake, Patti and Sara wandered off into the conference room Patti had been using as a workroom. Her team was already there, sorting through the information Jake had forwarded prior to leaving Georgia. They were cross-referencing personnel records against combat skills trying to form up units for training. Jake was trying to avoid using the fighter units as they were trained as four man fire teams and flight groups already.

While they were working, Jake pulled up the lists showing the progress in the spaceship crew training. He was pleased to see the existing three cruisers all completely staffed, space based training in progress. There were enough additional trainees in Alaska to crew the three destroyers currently parked in space, plus two more currently in the final stages of build out.

That left the five cruisers on order plus five destroyers yet to man. That totaled 250 more crew to find and train. At this point Jake was considering a 12 on 12 off duty schedule to stretch his forces.

Setting all that aside, he turned to one corner of the room where a terminal had been set up. He started going over the equipment inventory.

“What are you looking at?” Sara asked, as she wandered over and looked over his shoulder.

“Well it occurred to me that the planets we may be called to defend won’t be earth normal atmosphere. I know the current combat suits have limited life support capabilities, and the flight suits were fully space capable. However, a long deployment, in fact anything over 24 hours could be problematic. I just figured the same government that invented a planet buster bomb, might design space marine attire.”

“Here Jake, let me help,” ALICE offered.

Sure enough, ALICE provided a list for Jake to review. As he sorted through the different programs, Kola in North Dakota had a couple of space ready, long duration, combat rated space suits. Only a limited number of prototypes were there for the taking, but they were in storage and supposedly ready for trials.

The pictures depicted a suit similar to their standard BDU. However, several parts were more ridged panels and less fabric. In many ways is reminded Jake of a camouflage storm trooper from Star Wars. It was capable of several days of life support in entirely airless environments, due to the integrated backpack.

Food and water were taken in liquid or paste form inside the helmet. Again, the undergarment either absorbed or reprocessed the waste byproducts. The retained solids were handled in a less appealingly manner, one Jake never wanted to have to experience.

The interesting thing about these suits was they had been blaster tested for resiliency. Where the common combat suits they all wore, were in fact, designed for human combat with firearms, these were most definitely a creation with NeHaw energy weapons in mind.

Another interesting enhancement to the suit was a power-assisted exoskeleton. Once you slipped the suit on, its joints connected at various points and became a second skin. Only this skin had five times the strength of its owner. You simply moved inside as normal and the feedback sensors followed your moves. The notes for the program indicated this was for both extended load carrying capabilities as well as heavy gravity planets, where the humans might otherwise have been unable to operate efficiently.

Reading over his shoulder, Sara commented, “That’s kind of cool. I’m thinking I need one of these for our next sparring session!”

Recalling that Jake had pretty much sent her flying the first time they sparred, she clearly had not quite forgiven him.

“Pass,” Jake replied, while smiling, “I do think we need to head north and check these out. In addition, I want to get some more time with the combo weapons we created. We have been using the straight projectile stuff here, but all the ships armories need them in stock, if they are not already.”

At that point, ALICE replied, “Yes Jake, standard ships compliment is twice the crew count for battle rifles and hand guns. Ten each of the specialty weapons like sniper or heavy machine guns. Plus enough ammunition or charge packs for a combat load for each.”

Doing a quick count in his head, he figured that should be more than enough for anything but all-out war. Additionally the charge packs were rechargeable.

Satisfied he had addressed at least one thing, he and Sara returned to the table to work with Patti and her team for the rest of the afternoon.


Brian had moved Revenge into the open space between the orbits of earth and mars. He wanted to put some distance between his ship and the others, all training their crews for the expected confrontation with the NeHaw. His was the only crew with real battle experience and he wasn’t about to let them loose that edge. The two battle stars they proudly received had motivated everyone.

With the three new destroyers now manned, their crews only recently graduated, he wanted to let them have as much free space as they required. As it was, he was running what early earth aircraft carriers called “touch and goes” with the Jolly Rogers. They launched, did a broad loop around Revenge and then aligned for retrieval. The four fighters were spaced out enough that this was a continuous action.

As he watched the fighters come and go from the bridge, he was fascinated at their maneuverability and agility. Brian wasn’t sure if it was a latent interest, or one driven by his new lot in life, but he had been doing a lot of studying of physics. Everything they did in space was rooted in physics. In his mind, it was more important that they understood that here than on earth.

For example, he knew that all the repulser engines every ship used, no matter the size, had the same theoretical top speed. There was no atmospheric drag to slow things down based on the surface area of the craft. The small fighters could go no faster than the huge battleship.

However, physics dictated that the larger ships, needing to overcome their inertial mass, accelerated and decelerated far slower. Thus, the fighters seemed far faster, but in reality, they were just more nimble. The one thing that truly mystified him though was the inertial dampers. He knew these generated artificial forces, negating the true inertial effects by generating opposing forces. However, that was only for the internal occupants, the ships themselves still endured the stresses.

Overusing the dampeners could split your hull or even cause the ship to come apart completely. Brian did not intend to push Revenge to that extreme.


As it was, it did not look like Jake and Sara would get to go north for a couple of weeks. After the initial planning, they had to set up training schedules and staff rotations, plugging the holes they were creating in the staff deployments. They robbed each of the facilities of key personnel to fill out the ships ranks. The only people that were hands off were existing ship’s crew. Jake was adopting the Marine Corps motto of “Every Marine is a rifleman first.”

The evening of the first day back, Jake hosted a small dinner, his quarters being popular for such events. Sara, Kathy, Linda and Patti were all in attendance. Sandy, while invited, was off working another agreement, expanding the ever-growing community patrol.

Ever since the misunderstandings around the alien assessments, Sandy had been putting additional effort in detailing the value of each community they evaluated. Jake even suspected that she had asked ALICE to up her educational training to post graduate classes on international relations.

“Well it’s nice to see you survived the trip to Georgia,” Patti opened the conversation with, as they were all getting settled in place, most with their food.

“Yeah well I almost didn’t, our little ALICE-9 wasn’t too keen on visitors,” Jake replied with a laugh.

“The combat suits are a blessing,” he finished while rubbing his leg where he had taken several hits from one of the bots rifles.

“The last count I heard was seven destroyed robots and multiple doors. The control room actually fared better than expected, since you bypassed the fragmentation grenade in favor of the more exotic e-pulse model,” Linda offered.

“You can thank ALICE for that one. She provided that option at the last minute. There isn’t a huge need on our part for those things and we certainly don’t want outsiders to have them,” Jake added.

“How is ALICE-9 doing?” Kathy asked.

“We talk every day,” Jake answered, “it’s like having another child. I call you two, Bonnie, Jessie and ALICE-9 every day.”

“You poor baby!” Linda declared with a laugh, “Over worked and under loved!”

That got a laugh from everyone.

Ignoring the jab, Jake continued, “Her development is progressing nicely, or so she claims. Fortunately, we have no real need for that production line at the moment. In addition, I don’t want any new recruits placed there, only seasoned personnel. If we have another Washington incident, I don’t want it where we store planet busting bombs!”

Chapter 23

All planets in the NeHaw Empire contributed to the greater good in some fashion. Races like the Wawobash built ships. Others built drive systems or communication's equipment, and all of it intended for use by the NeHaw.

The Klinan were the people of choice when the NeHaw wanted luxury goods. Detailed artisans, they created everything from exquisite clothing to jewelry and artwork. They were not a hostile race, and had never actually openly confronted the NeHaw occupation. They were followers.

Unfortunately, they were in the Nu Tau Beta sector and had joined the other four races in aligning with the new military power in that sector. The reason it was unfortunate is that they were also in a solar system of only two planets, which made them an easy target for a quick attack.

MeHak had chosen them as the test for her ground assault. With their nature, location and lack of defenses, they were tailor made for the event. They were a quick trip from faster than light to planet, theirs being the farthest planet from their star. They would also offer no resistance and they would scream like crazy for help.

As the NeHaw rarely did anything that remotely resembled heavy labor, she had chosen one of their mercenary races to perform the attack. NeHaw ships and commanders would be providing the transport and oversight functions.

The Netite was a simple race. They were simple in the fact that they lived for two things, fighting and eating. That did not always make for the best combination and frequently the latter led to the former, but that was why the NeHaw used them. They just loved to fight, though they were not very sophisticated about it.

They had never actually evolved to the point of space travel. They hardly used technology at all beyond terrestrial vehicles and weapons. They would have been overlooked entirely, except for one thing. They were in the middle of a fight between the NeHaw and a Netite neighboring planet.

Both battling races had landed on the Netite home world and the unfortunate neighbor arrived there first. The NeHaw watched as the Netite overwhelmed the invaders and settled the dispute before the NeHaw had to raise a finger.

Since that day, the NeHaw had maintained a garrison of Netite, which they dropped on planets that required the occasional reminder as to who was in charge. They had to be used sparingly though as they tended to kill indiscriminately and destroy anything in their path. They would fight for whatever spoils they could take, so that made them extra appealing to the NeHaw.

With her plan decided, she issued the orders. It was going to take many cycles to get all the required resources together, but that was fine. She had other issues to address in the meantime, though she did smile in satisfaction. A shortage of Klinan art did not concern MeHak much. Her female friends would just have to endure.


Feeling a little disconnected, Jake decided to jump on one of the regular supply runs to Prosperity. It was one thing to read the daily reports and review the occasional video and completely another to walk the streets. It was Jake’s understanding that the town had lived up to its name and was now the center of commerce for hundreds of miles in all directions.

He was also starting to wonder what had happened to Sandy. Every time he inquired about her status, all ALICE would say is she was on a community recruitment assignment. She wanted it to be a surprise for Jake so she was sworn to secrecy, but ALICE assured him she was well supervised. With ALICE’s involvement, he let the issue slide.

As for Prosperity, Bonnie and Linda had established the trade routes between Texas and California, providing air transport for goods and the occasional passenger. Between the large heavy lift helicopters and the V-27 transport aircraft, they could move a seriously large amount of cargo with little effort. The only restriction was they required humans to load and unload all cargo, and all under the watchful eye of specially trained loadmasters.

As most of the landing zones were, at best, rustic, Jake didn’t want to have to create a series of special bots just to do the work. This way the communities created jobs, and he saved on materials. The loadmasters were all ALICE facility staff and loved their work.

Jake had to suppress a laugh when the startled loadmaster found him and Sara at the end of her loading ramp for this flight. Recovering quickly with a sharp salute, she led the two onto the aircraft and forward into the seating area. Jake had to remind himself, that they rarely ever saw anyone over a captain. With Sara’s oak leaves and his eagles, they were surely VIP.

They had a peaceful trip over, chatting with the loadmaster, who had relaxed noticeably after the first few minutes. She had been recruited by Sharon, in Washington, but had relocated south as part of her current duty assignment. She had also just returned from R&R on San Nicolas island and was sporting a painful looking sunburn. Jake and Sara gave their sympathies, as they both could relate.

Once the aircraft touched down in Prosperity, actually just at the edge of town in a specifically designated area for the larger aircraft, they all buttoned up. As the loading ramp dropped, the loadmaster led the two off, their priority given over cargo.

As they came down the ramp, Jake could see several horse drawn wagons waiting to take on loads. He was surprised to see two of the patrol jeeps waiting as well. He assumed there were supplies inside for them as well.

Sara jumped as the waiting patrol members, both male and female, snapped to attention in surprise. Both Jake and Sara returned the salutes, and Jake stopped for a quick exchange praising their military bearing and inquired about their duties.

All relaxed slightly and verified they were there for patrol supplies of a non-lethal nature. Jake was aware that they supplemented the patrol as a means of easing the burden on the communities. He also knew that all military supplies, including weapons and ammunition, came on a separate, secure transport. After the incident with Chris in LA, they had tightened up security on the supply process.

Moving on, he and Sara wandered down the busy street. For Jake, it was a bit disconcerting. It was a combination of 1800’s Wild West and 20th century living. The buildings were all in good repair and Jake could see electric lighting inside some, the power provided by the medical module they delivered last year. On the street, there were horse drawn wagons and electric jeeps.

The wagons were not the wooden wheeled transports of the past though. These were metal boxes with rubber tired and bearings in the axles. Built to be light but strong, it never ceased to amaze Jake at the human ingenuity of the things. Obviously built from scrounged parts, they were a marvel of rework, you would never believe they weren’t designed and built from scratch.

Jake suddenly realized they were the center of attention as they walked down the street. He had been absently returning salutes as they walked by patrol members, not really paying attention. Under the category of news travels fast, Jake made out Burt, in a hurried pace and heading straight for them.

“Well aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!” he declared as he approached, “And looky here, a full bird colonel now!”

Burt had been in the posse the day Jake had rescued Sara, Sandy and the others. As Prosperity was Sara’s hometown and was their first ally, Burt and it held a soft spot in Jake’s heart.

“Yeah, no good deed goes unpunished,” Jake replied with a laugh.

“So, to what do we owe the honor of your presence?” Burt asked with a flourish.

Jake laughed, “So are you taking eloquence lessons? That’s a mouthful for you! We are just here for a friendly visit.”

“Well come on into my office,” he said, as he led them back across the street and over to a red brick building with “City Hall” marked across the front.

“We still use the original city hall building. It works just fine so no reason to change,” he said as he led them inside and up the hall past a receptionist. As they walked up the hall they passed several doors, one marked “Patrol Captain” on it in large gold letters. Jake laughed to himself as he thought, “nothing ever changes.” He would have been just as happy with a plain door and no gold leaf.

“Here we are,” Burt said as he led them to a door marked in plain black letters “Mayor.”

They followed him inside and as he walked to his desk he began, “I’d offer you a drink but….”

Burt stopped in mid-sentence, stunned. Before him, both Jake and Sara had removed their helmets.

“Well I’ll be damned,” he said, “Didn’t think I’d ever really see your face without that helmet.”

Jake laughed, “We are loosening up a little, and particularly in the areas we consider safe zones. Don’t expect this outside anytime soon, but in here I feel pretty safe.”

As Burt was about to speak, his door burst open and the patrol captain barged in, “Burt, I heard…”

He stopped and stared at Jake and Sara.

“Yes, Captain, you heard we have visitors,” Burt finished for him.

Recovering, the captain came to attention and saluted.

“At ease,” Jake said, returning the salute, with Sara doing the same.

“Sir, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” the captain started, “had I known you were coming I would have met you personally!”

“No worries, captain,” Jake replied, “this is purely a social visit. I do want to say we ran into some of your people when we arrived and I am very impressed with them.”

Jake could see the praise had a visible effect on the captain, as the man was positively beaming. He tried to avoid the second-class attitude most military officers developed regarding local guard units over regulars. He had seen hard working talent and laziness in both. Unfortunately, this man radiated political appointment. He was surprised Burt would tolerate such a thing, but was sure he had his reasons.

Moreover, it fell under the strict noninterference policy Jake had instituted from the beginning. So long as they continued to perform their jobs as agreed and no one ran amuck, he stayed out of their business.

“Thank you sir!” he replied, “Well if you don’t need me then, I’ll get back to my duties.”

With a quick salute, the man turned and closed the door behind him as he left.

Jake turned in time to see Burt roll his eyes before saying, “Sorry about that. He is actually a great administrator and the officers under him are extremely effective field people. You know all totaled, we have over 500 patrol members now. To be honest, we could probably cut that in half. Things have slowed down so much since you leveled the stadium in LA that we have had to assign them to make work details.”

“You know about the LA activities?” Jake asked, surprised.

“Oh yeah, Sandy’s Weekly News covered the whole thing. Even did a special with that Chris fella. I was so glad to find out he wasn’t a bad fella after he ran off with all those guns.”

Now it was Jake’s turn to roll his eyes. Still he couldn’t complain too much, as he had left it to ALICE to filter the broadcasts. If she had permitted it, then it must have been acceptable.

It was at that point Sara spoke up, “Burt, what are you doing with all those patrol members? Why the make work? We did see quite a few in town, which is unusual.”

“Most of them are young folks, not interested in farming and with all the advancements you brought, aren’t needed there. They joined the patrol for a little adventure and get a little restless if we don’t keep them busy,” he replied.

That gave Jake an idea, “Burt, as I’ve said before, I think we can help you.”


Once they returned to Nevada, Jake pulled together a quick meeting with Linda, Patti and Sara. While they were in town, Jake and Sara had presented Burt with an offer. They wanted to interview and recruit up to 250 patrol members from his rolls. They would receive training for positions in either ground force combat or spaceship crew. Burt had to think it over before agreeing to broach the subject with the captain.

The captain was extremely resistant to the idea at first, concerned at the thought of nearly gutting his force. Jake reassured him that with the extended forces now running all the way up to Sacramento and LA on the skids, he was still well manned. What tipped the scales in their favor was Jake’s insinuation that the training program, instituted by the captain, had created so many great potential candidates. He could hardly deny his protégés the possibility of advancement.

Burt agreed to get the word out and Jake and Sara suggested they set up an interview site in town for any volunteers. He would get ALICE to select a few interviewers and they would obviously have her wired in for the final approvals.

Leaving them to get everything organized, Jake returned to his room to spend a little time on his side project. Since leaving ALICE-9, he had continued working on the computer analysis that he had started there.

He asked ALICE to set him up a virtual environment of servers mimicking the hardware each of the ALICE facilities operated on. He didn’t want to risk accidently giving birth to an AL, only to kill it off in a reboot. The virtual environment only ran simulations against his code changes to determine the outcome.

After several hours of trial and error, he finally decided to stop for the day. He just started to query ALICE on the whereabouts of the rest of the group when his door chimed.

“Come,” He said.

The door opened and Sandy blew in like a whirlwind. She was obviously excited about something and as Jake stood, she swept up to him and planted a kiss squarely on his lips. Never one to embrace the uniform, she was in one of her clingy short flower print dresses. Her bare tan arms and legs giving Jake the impression she had been outside quite a bit lately.

“Oh my god, I am so glad you’re here,” she started, “you will never guess where I have been!”

Not waiting for Jake to reply, she continued, “Australia. Did you know that they have some of the funniest looking critters there?”

“Sandy,” Jake inserted, “What were you doing in Australia? And how did you get there?”

“Well, I heard that you and Sara were talking about going there. Someone said that you had always been interested in going, so I looked into it. Turns out that, after the bombing, a large portion of their population survived. They mostly live on the coasts and the NeHaw didn’t concentrate their attack, except for military installations. It was pretty much a pattern bombing, evenly spaced.”

“Ok, so?” Jake asked, surprised that she even knew what pattern bombing was.

“Well, I had ALICE check it out and even though they got hit like everyone else did, they didn’t dissolve into fighting amongst themselves like most places. Oh there were some localized problems, but mostly everyone just went on as live and let live.”

Taking a breath, she continued, “So I grabbed one of the fire teams for security and a plane and we went there. ALICE did the driving, and we checked everything out with her before we did anything,” she added before Jake could jump in.

Pausing to absorb all that she said, he finally asked, “Well what did you find?”

“Ok, well we located several communities that were very excited to hear about our revival. I have contact names and locations for several potential communities to adopt. Did you know that Americans are still very popular there? Anyway, we have also located three gold mines that were active before the fall and would be prime candidates for the automated mining equipment I asked the Wawobash about.”

Jake held up a hand, indicating for her to stop, “Sandy, you talked to the Wawobash?”

“Oh yeah, you said to look into it remember? Anyway, so once we were all settled in, we did some sightseeing. ALICE says we were on some great reef there, she said you might like to see?”

“Yes, the Great Barrier Reef is on my “to do” list,” Jake replied, confused, and then asked, “Settled in?”

“Oh yeah, ALICE transported one of those housing modules we have on San Nicolas, and put it on the beach there. This one was a little smaller, but for us five girls it was plenty. Actually, it wasn’t on the beach, it was on an island. I can’t remember what ALICE called it, but we were the only people within 100 miles. From there, we did our runs to the mainland and surveyed the mines.”

Jake just stared at Sandy for a moment, not really knowing what to say. It seemed the girl had single handedly brought Australia into the fold. The mineral wealth was great, not that they needed the gold at the moment, but the people were a great asset. Jake had always felt the Aussies were a kindred spirit to the Americans. Canadians as well, all with the English colony ties and Sara had already kicked off that relationship in Maine.

“Well I have to say I am really impressed. In addition, a little frightened at the risk you took. But if ALICE was shepherding the excursion, I guess I can’t object too much. So I have to ask, what did you think about Australia?”

Sandy stood there for a moment thinking, before saying, “I think they have a hearing problem there, because no matter how many times I said my name was Sandy, they kept calling me Sheila,” and then said, as she lifted her dress up over her head, “And the beaches are awesome!”

She was not wearing anything underneath her dress and had a tan from head to toe. Then she stepped up to close to Jake and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him.


The following morning, Jake and Sandy had his breakfast in his room, and then sent her off to order the mining equipment for Australia. They really didn’t need it, but Jake didn’t want her hard work to be for naught. After she left, he had ALICE properly brief him on the trip and reviewed the analysis she provided.

He was surprised to find Sandy’s thumbnail assessment had been fairly accurate. The communities they had contacted had great strategic value, regarding their placement and local resources. He sensed the touch of ALICE as a guiding hand in the whole thing.

Apparently, the island they selected was one of the Whitsunday Islands and according to ALICE, they weren’t very populated before the bombing. From the images ALICE displayed, it was every bit as beautiful as he expected it to be. Had he a moments free time, he would be packing for a trip that day. It didn’t hurt that none of the five women in the images had brought a swimsuit, thus Sandy’s all over tan.

Logistically, the trip between Nevada and the coast of Queensland was about 8,000 miles. That was a long flight for anything but the fighters or the new transports coming out of Lanai. Easily capable of doing the trip in 2 to 3 hours, they were going to have to be the bridge between the two countries.

Jake laughed at the mental reference, because with no national governments, it was really a regional thing. He guessed the next step was to move east to England and Europe.

Next, he checked on the interview process in Prosperity. As he expected, the response was overwhelming from the patrol. Instead of one interview room, they had five going. For once, the numbers were favoring men over women, something he was sure would be popular inside the facilities.

Chapter 24

The next few weeks had Jake and the rest of the crew in Nevada working long hours processing new personnel and designating work assignments. Jake felt particularly responsible in setting up the ground combat assignments, as that was his core competency. He would never ask any of these people to do something he wouldn’t do.

With that in mind, he had also requested several of the combat space suits to be shipped down from South Dakota, AKA Kola, for him to evaluate. He did some initial testing in the hangar, just getting familiar with the fit and function. The power assist exoskeleton was a nice touch, but with his already enhanced strength, he needed one of the others to evaluate its true capabilities. He had selected an experienced fire team to help him. Sara took the same team to Maine with her.

Once they were all comfortable in the suits, he had ALICE take him and the fire team, all fully suited, out into the world after dark. His first instinct was to have her take them to LA, but his better judgement won out and he picked an unoccupied town near Las Vegas.

He had ALICE create some training rounds that, while still lethal to the unprotected, would act like paint palls to a suited soldier. He had her drop the fire team off on one side of town and him on the other. The game was catch Jake.

Each side had the same capabilities for scanning and tracking, minus the IFF contained within the suits. Like fighter planes of old, each of the combat suits contained Identification Friend or Foe systems that allowed command and control tracking. It permitted commanders to identify their units and prevented friendly fire incidents.

In a real engagement, Jake or other commanders would use those signals to identify and direct their teams. For this exercise, you needed to use heat, movement and sound to help identify your opponent beyond the visual. Unfortunately, the suits design helped to mask or minimize those very telltale signatures, making it more difficult for both sides.

Once ALICE dropped him, Jake immediately went high, jumping on the nearest rooftop and then jumping from building to building to move away from his drop point. He wasn’t sure if his opponent knew of his abilities, so sad for them if they didn’t.

Once he was in position, he went prone with just his head visible over the edge of the building. He closed his eyes and turned up the audio on his helmet. Sitting quietly, he listened for the slightest sound that might give away his opponents location.

Sure enough, after a few minutes, he heard a scraping to his right. Turning his head slowing to minimize any significant movement, he watched as first one pair, and then another of the fire team members moved along the street. Each pair was on one side, insuring they exposed themselves as little as possible.

Lifting his rifle very slowly, Jake fire two quick bursts, taking out the two on the far side of the street from him. He then immediately retreated to his rear, giving the near side pair nothing to shoot at. Two down.

Leaping to the nearest rooftop, he saw the brick to his right shatter as he took fire from below. “Good move,” he thought to himself, as the team had correctly guessed his position and had tried to flank him.

Making a quick turn to his right, away from their position, he dropped between two buildings and then took refuge behind a pile of rubble. Again listening for any sound, he waited. After five minutes, he began to creep away from the spot he took fire from, intending to circle back from the far side.

Stopping in mid motion, he caught the slightest movement in the dark, on the far side of the street. His adversaries had planned the same move, and they were in the process of heading straight for him. Retreating deeper into the shadows, he was able to slip into an open doorway, its door long gone.

He waited, sensing more than hearing the pair slip past him. Their silent movement made him proud. Giving them a 10 count, he quietly stepped out and said, “Hi guys.”

As both spun, he nailed them squarely.

“Damn!” one said, while the other swore in a most un-ladylike fashion.

Jake had ALICE come pick them up, and they debriefed as they rode home. All agreed that Jake cheated, not because he did anything illegal, they just hated to lose. Jake queried them on what attempts they made to duplicate his approach. None had even tried to stress the exoskeletons enhanced abilities.

Jake actually considered the exercise a success. The team had truly performed remarkably well. Their tactics were sound, for traditional adversaries. However, he needed to include additional training, pressing the troops to test the limits of their suits. Who knew what alien forces they might encounter in the future?

Once back, he had everyone service the suits, declining the offer ALICE made to perform the task for them. Jake was adamant that his people learn to care for the equipment that might save their lives. Their work completed, he released them for the night while he went to the command center to check on everyone else.


Revenge was sitting on the far side of the moon from earth, hanging in a lunar orbit. Brian was in the command chair, watching his crew as they maneuvered to allow the bridge windows to face outward and into space. The word was the battleship was complete, finished early, and the Wawobash had programed it to return home. As was usually the custom, a tender ship accompanying it, to insure delivery and collect payment upon receipt.

Everyone knew Jake had provided incentives for the aliens to finish early, but no one expected a ship that large to be ready for another two months. As it was, one of the transports in Lanai was being prepared to meet it in orbit, to complete the stasis shield installation. Unlike all the other ships, this one would never land.

There was a running bet on board as to where the ship would appear. All three astronavigators on board had calculated the jump and each termination point had been marked in the tactical display. Brian was the odds on favorite, although his actual navigator was pretty darn good.

Brian had promised a three-day pass for the one who was closest, while he was to receive a case of his favorite sipping whisky should he win. It was a pre-fall brand and was only available via an ALICE request. While the ALICEs had significant stocks of alcoholic beverages, Jake was somewhat stingy about releasing large quantities of anything that couldn’t be easily replicated. That meant the other two in the bet had to go to Jake to get special permission.

Suddenly, appearing to be out of nowhere was a huge shape. The battleship had arrived at the edge of the solar system. After a flurry of activity, the navigator announced, “Right between me and the captain.”

That announcement made Brian laugh. Though it was a tie, it demonstrated the abilities of himself and his crew. Were they targeting incoming hostiles, they would have been close enough to destroy them.

After a few seconds, the tender ship appeared. In three days’ time, it was Brian’s responsibility to assist in bringing in the battleship, working with ALICE of course.


Jake was in his room when he got word of the battleships arrival at the edge of the solar system. He knew it was almost four days from there to earth via repulser drives. He felt it was both a blessing and a curse that it took so long. Should any hostiles arrive on scene, it was a wonderful heads up, allowing time to prepare. However, should they need to respond to a call for help, they were four days away from faster than light, or FTL. He needed to work on that problem. Maybe they needed to build a space station near Pluto for staging ships and troops.

Bringing up his display and patching into the video feed, he could make out the ship even from this distance. It helped that he had seen the designs before approving the modifications, but it was just that large to begin with. He was anxious to get it home. He had ALICE teed up to begin his additional upgrades once in orbit.

The new ship design was dramatically different looking than the original battleship design. The NeHaw had preferred a cylindrical look that Jake considered cigar shaped. It had no real imagination to it. It was just big enough to absorb a pounding, with lots of firepower.

This design had removed a lot of that exterior structure, stripping it to the core and then reshaping it into a more innovative configuration. At its nose, Jake could see the rectangular cross section with guns running along the spine on top and more guns at the sides and below.

At the mid-section was the hangar opening, the hangar operations station visible above it. Rather than having the hangar open above or below the body, this opened in the center at the sides. This configuration allowed entrance or exit from any angle from either side of the body of the ship.

Past the hangar opening, the body flared out even more, providing additional mounts for more guns. Finally, at the stern, the ship branched out forming a T. This change to the original shape provided additional drive functions, as well as adding to the overall stability of the vessel. The bridge sat on top of the hull at the rear, giving a good view down the entire length of the ship. In many ways, the configuration mimicked the patrol ships in Lanai. It was just far larger.

The most exciting thing for Jake was the size of the hangar itself. Due to the overall height and width of the ship, the hangar could accommodate their entire fighter production to date. On the other hand, three of the cruisers, with a couple of destroyers, if packed right, would also fit. While not a real aircraft type carrier, it had a lot to offer.

While the design was originally Wawobash, Jake had reworked enough of the externals to consider it unique. That’s what Jake really liked about the look. It just looked human.

Dismissing that for now, Jake turned his attention back to the troop training updates. He had others doing the basic training, putting all the recruits for his platoons through the same courses no matter what their backgrounds. Raw recruits and former community patrol all suffered together.

The US Marines had a tradition of running all enlisted personnel through a 3 month basic school, or boot camp, before they went on to their specialty schools. Officers were required to do 12 weeks of Officer Candidate School, commonly known as OCS. That preceded another 6 months of TBS or The Basic School, where all officers learned to lead the Marine Corps way.

Jake had restructured the training plans to have everyone do a compressed 10-week boot camp. During that time, all the recruits are torn down, rebuilding them in the process and taking them from individuals to cohesive units. They would become teams that would work together in small numbers or larger groups.

Jake had borrowed something directly from OCS, where he had various individuals assume temporary rank. This helped evaluate potential leaders in the groups, and augmented his meager staff of trainers. Today you might be a private tomorrow a sergeant then back to lance corporal a few days later.

He had assigned all of 10th Cavalry as trainers, as they had received the most intensive training Jake had provided for anyone to date. In some ways, it was like having Special Forces training basic recruits, but he certainly did not see the harm in that.

His overall plan was to get these recruits trained and tested before a need arose. Once he felt they were ready, he had outlined some advanced programs to implement, including advanced heavy weapons and jump school.

The jump school idea came from Jake’s realization that, at the moment, they had no real troop delivery ships. His Lanai transports would fit the bill, but they could not leave the solar system and the cruisers and destroyers did not have the capacity to handle large numbers. The heavy transports they had on order were actually made for commercial transport, not combat delivery.

Jake’s thought was to deliver small units from multiple destroyers, similar to airdrops of World War 2. The C-47 aircraft of the day would only hold 18 paratroopers, so for large deployments multiple aircraft would be required. Late in the war, for one operation dropping over 13,000 men, they utilized 821 aircraft.

While he had nowhere near that many troops, the destroyer hangars could accommodate just over two squads. With his 10 destroyers currently in inventory, that equated to just short of seven platoons, while he only had three in training now. The added advantage of the destroyer’s guns gave them cover fire during the drop, something the C-47 never had.

As for the jumpers themselves, Jake went to the tried and true repulser motors. Working with ALICE, they came up with a small unit that was no larger than a toaster. Inside was a repulser motor, about the size of a can of spray paint, some controls and its battery power pack. Once activated, it made the jumper only partially weightless. The jumper would fall with the repulser increasing in intensity as it sensed the ground below, with a proximity sensor.

The unit could either be worn either with a harness, or attached to the ridged combat suits exoskeleton. The controls for the thing were really quite simple as it was either on or off and could be steered by leaning to the right or left. It allowed for free fall from a high altitude and then slowed the decent as the unit closed with the ground. Jake could have had the unit slow the entire decent, but he wanted to minimize the amount of time the jumper sat exposed. This allowed for a fast decent, while providing for a reasonable deceleration just before landing.

Jake tested the unit in the hangar, first dropping dead loads from the trusses supporting the ceiling. Once he was satisfied the thing worked, he strapped one on, and with everyone watching, jumped from the same height.

At first, he fell quickly, but within 20 feet of the floor, he felt the unit brake dramatically until he all but floated to the ground at the last minute. With that experience under his belt, he tuned the unit until he was satisfied with its performance.

He also tinkered with a combat mode, one that allowed the soldier to operate at a diminished body weight. It acted similar to the exoskeleton, in that it made the wearer feel lighter, jump higher and run faster, all without the need of the ridged suit. After his experience with the suit testing outside, he needed his people to start thinking in 3D, not just 2D.

Wearing the backpack version, he was currently running around the hangar, jumping over vehicles and onto the upper frameworks of the hanger. That option would have to wait though, as he wanted to work on it. He felt more field-testing was needed, as it might prove unruly for the wearer. For now, it was strictly a drop support unit.

Satisfied all was proceeding at a reasonable pace, he shut down for the night and went to bed, alone for once.


Sara’s last set of tasks had been setting up the initial training schedules and organizing the transfers of personnel for basic training. That included both the newly acquired patrol members and other internal recruits. Once she was able to start everything in motion, she passed on the care and feeding to others.

That left her free to investigate Sandy’s latest excursion to the continent down under. How she managed to pull that off without tipping her hand, to even Jake, was beyond her. Still it had proven a solid mission with tangible results.

She went over all the data, thankfully recorded by ALICE and not Sandy. The first contact communities were all costal and reasonably sized. Once they established a more permanent relationship, the recruiting there looked promising. Usually the responsibility of all recruiting in an area was up to the closest ALICE location.

As it turned out, the Lanai facility was the closest, covering about 5,000 miles of ocean between the two. Technically, that made recruiting there Jacob’s task, but she figured that was more of a guideline.

Besides, if it meant she had the opportunity to spend some quality time on the island retreat Sandy had established, she was sure she could justify her involvement. As she flipped through all the images ALICE had captured while supporting Sandy’s group, the clear water and white sand mesmerized her. San Nicolas had been nice, but this was pure paradise. Jake didn’t know what he had started when he introduced the idea of tropical vacations.

Chapter 25

Chris had been getting that feeling that trouble was brewing in the neighborhood. Ever since their adoption into Jake’s earth recovery program, there had been very few disturbances for them to deal with. The destruction of the stadium, with its troublesome occupants, had dissuaded any hostile activity by the lesser gangs in the area.

However, nothing ever lasts, and memories are short. The latest group of refugees Chris had processed for transport to the farming communities indicated a large group of rowdies were gathering in the south. Evidently, they were painting Chris’s compound as a treasure trove of advanced weapons and supplies.

That description wasn’t actually too far from the truth. With all the support from Jake’s crew, they had stabilized their dietary needs and equipped them with enough advanced firepower to repel all but a modern army. That’s what worried Chris, as the reports indicated the southerners had breached a military armory near San Diego.

The word was it was mainly small arms, but they were all functional and there was enough to arm several hundred fighters. That was trouble in anybody’s world. He needed to get a little more information and then confer with Jake’s people.


Sitting in the control room for ALICE-1, Jake sat working his way through the morning’s reports. He had been trying to get out of his room more as the isolation was making him feel more removed from the general staff. At least if people saw him performing similar tasks, they might find him approachable.

As he read, he was more than satisfied with the training reports he had seen from their boot camp. Both the patrol and internal recruits were progressing nicely. They were all coming up on graduation and so far, no one had either dropped or been found to be unfit.

Once graduated, he would have enough trained personnel to populate three full platoons. He thought it was unusual that not all the patrol recently recruited were found suitable for boot camp. Several were redirected to security work, and for future re-evaluation. Jake trusted ALICE’s opinion on this.

Separately Jake had been working with Patti and Sara on military combat operations support. Combat operations require a lot of careful planning and coordination of combat resources. His goal was to lead from the front, so he needed combat mission support officers to ensure that everything was in the right place at the right time.

As mission support officers, Sara and Patti would provide battle management from an ALICE location while Jake led the troops on the ground. They, including ALICE, would feed him all the information he needed to make accurate decisions.

One odd development in the assignments was Patti refused to accept rank. She insisted that she continue as a civilian, working outside of the traditional rank structure. Jake pushed for an explanation, but all she would say was, no rank could trump being Jake’s granddaughter.

Anyway, once everyone passed basic, he intended to start advance-training programs, including both the advanced heavy weapons and jump school. He had continued to experiment with the repulser backpack, and felt the unit was dialed in for usage. He had even convinced Sara to try it once, though the experience was not to her liking.

The next report was from Brian. He had taken Revenge out to properly escort the returned battleship and it’s tender into a stable Earth orbit. At that very moment, both were orbiting over the west coast of the US, while Seven had bots and humans installing all the upgrades required. His report noted the extra changes Jake had asked ALICE to include were on the punch list.

Jake laughed aloud, causing some of the staff to turn in his direction, curious. Apparently, Brian had shuttled over to the battleship, in one of the many shuttles provided by the Wawobash at no extra charge. Jake remembered Brian to be a somewhat mild mannered fellow, but the language he used to describe the size of the battleship, both inside and out, would make a sailor blush.

He toured the entire ship, sending back several images. Jake was impressed with the attention to detail the Wawobash provided in their work. He now understood why the NeHaw had used them to build their ships. As much as Jake would love to shoot up and tour the ship himself, he was more interested in the special upgrades he had asked ALICE to install.

If things panned out, their crew problems would be a thing of the past.


Jake was in the new combat planning room, as they called it, when the call from Chris came in. Just one of the small conference rooms off the control room, they had stocked it with enough equipment that allowed it to act as a mini control room. Jake’s thought was if or when they went into combat, this room would act as combat command central.

“Jake, we have a call from LA. It’s Chris, and he says it urgent,” ALICE announced.

“Put him on,” Jake replied, while moving to the display.

Chris appeared, apparently sitting in an office of his own, “Hey Jake, I think we may have trouble brewing here.”

“What’s up?” Jake asked.

“We have been getting hints of a large force building in the south. Word is they found an armory and are looking to run the place, us being the first on their list to displace.”

“Do you have any idea where they are at the moment?” Jake asked while pointing at Patti and one of her analysts.

“Not specifically, the last group of refugees said they skirted a very large band of men near Santa Ana. They were shooting at anything that moved and taking what they wanted,” Chris supplied.

Jake turned to Patti, who shook her head no. Jake assumed that indicated no sign of them.

“Here,” Her analyst suddenly blurted out.

Hitting several keys on her terminal, the image appeared in split screen for both Jake and Chris.

“See that bunch right there?” the analyst said as she highlighted a section of the screen.

On the display, Jake could make out what looked like a pile of ants. As she zoomed in, it had to be five or six hundred men, all moving on foot and destroying everything in their path.

“Yup, that’s them,” Chris said, “I’d appreciate it if you could take care of that before they get here.”

Jake almost laughed aloud, “I bet you would,” he replied, and then added, “don’t worry about it Chris. We will handle this. It’s exactly the kind of thing I would never ask someone else to deal with.”

As Jake watched the display, it reminded him of the stories he had read about Genghis Khan. The reports of wholesale massacre of populations and laying waste to the lands always seemed fanciful, until he saw this.

“Ok Chris, we will keep you posted. This will be dealt with before they can do much more damage,” Jake stated.

“Ok thanks,” Chris finished, and then cut the connection.

At that, the display went to full screen. As Jake watched, the mob seemed to move aimlessly yet with purpose. Several times he saw one of the men shoot someone unlucky enough to be in their path. With the last execution, he stated, “Patti, get everyone on alert. It’s time to see what they have learned.”

“Jake, they aren’t finished yet, graduation isn’t until Friday,” Patti replied.

Jake turned and thought for a moment, it was Wednesday, “Guess what they are getting for graduation?”


For the rest of that day and half of the following, Jake had the combat planning room packed with personnel. Outside, in the full command center, he had Linda direct her analysts to extract every piece of relevant information on the armed mass heading north.

In the combat planning room, he had Sara and Patti working on readying the entire graduating class. Jake was preparing to take almost 130 newly trained combat troops up against nearly 600-armed men. They were to be fully suited up with a standard combat load. He had ordered two of the new Lanai transports as his delivery vehicles. His only regret was they hadn’t even started jump school, so they would have to land. That limited his LZ choices.

While the possibility of his troops being shot and injured was low, the real danger of being overrun was extremely high. If the experience with Sara and the stadium had taught Jake anything, it was that superior numbers still mattered. She killed three of the seven that came for her, but they still overwhelmed her in the end, suit or no suit.

This time Jake planned to take his trained and disciplined troops against the superior numbers of an undisciplined mob in a methodical fashion. They would work as a coordinated team, with air support and limited heavy weapons.

Jake had kept the 10th Cavalry out of the general combat pool. They were his special forces, separate from the regular units. There had been some grumbling initially, as they were all well qualified to be platoon leaders. However, once Jake explained their roles in the big picture, they were content to continue to work outside the mainstream.

His biggest struggle was what to name this unit. His personal bias was to tag his organization as Marines and Space Marines at that. However, he was identifying them as his primary ground forces, and that was an Armyfunction. Whereas Marines are trained and equipped to be the first into battle, the Army is organized and prepared for long-term combat. Considered a force in readiness, the Marines have the ability to quickly respond to crises, and gain and defend footholds until supporting troops arrive.

To add to the confusion, most of his fighter squadrons had either Marine or Navy designations, skipping the 1st Air Cavalry and the 10th Cavalry Special Forces. The Army didn’t have much if any in the way of fighter aircraft.

In the end, he settled on calling them the 1st Space Marine Expeditionary Force, ready for land, sea, air and space. The final tiebreaker was the fact that the unit’s intent as a quick strike and then pack it up unit. Jake had always associated the Army as a more permanent presence, come in and stabilize things type of force.

In real numbers, his SMEF was woefully undersized compared to a true MEF. However, he was more than happy with the numbers they had been able to field considering the circumstances. Besides, what they lacked in size they more than made up for in sheer firepower.

Rather than issue the standard 5.56mm rifles they had all been using, he went ahead and jumped into one of the combination weapons he had asked Kola to provide after the first NeHaw engagement. That experience had found him relying on spear guns for use in space. These were 5.56mm on top with an under barrel of NeHaw energy blaster.

This model had a second barrel fixed under the original. The barrel guard enclosed both barrels so only the ends protruded. Right in front of the trigger guard was a circular opening where the power cell went. There was a fire select switch to allow thumb activation. It flipped between safe, single 5.56 fire, automatic 5.56 fire and energy discharge. It was ambidextrous, for both right and left-handed shooters. As Space Marines, the addition of the blaster was a critical one.

The energy weapons tended to fall into two categories, concentrated beam or, what Jake called, an energy ball. The cannons on the hover cycles were energy ball weapons. He liked the option for the marines, as it functioned similar to a shotgun. The great part was you really didn’t need sights for a shotgun, just point and fire.

Fortunately, Jake had also included limited heavy weapons training in the basic program. They had a heavier version of the 7.62mm rifle that had either a bipod or vehicle mount. He had them work from both a fixed positions and vehicle mounts in training.

For the LA trip, he had several jeeps with guns mounted for mobile firepower. That wasn’t his only surprise.


As Jake walked into the planning room, Sara and Patti both turned from what they were doing and greeted him. Turning back to their work, Sara asked Jake while not looking at him, “Why are we going to all this trouble? Can’t you just send in the 10th like last time and we can be done with them? Isn’t this a more dangerous option?”

Without answering, Jake walked over to one of the displays and using the controls, started wandering all over the target area until he apparently found what he was looking for. Magnifying the image, he zoomed into a spot where four women were huddled over a cooking fire. Beaten and battered, they cowered in fear, every time one of the men passed close by.

“I’m not killing off a bunch of hostages, just to avoid the risk,” he replied.

Sara nodded in understanding and went back to her previous activities.

At that point, Patti interjected, “Jake, the transports are back from their runs to Dallas and Kola. They have everything you requested, but we can’t bring them in, as they are too damn big to fit though the hangar doors. We had to land them just outside the lift. We will have the troops load one platoon at a time via the vehicle lift.”

Jake had to admit they didn’t think that one through very well. When they were selecting designs for the transports and patrol ships, it never occurred to Jake they would want to be bringing them inside anywhere other than Lanai.

“Where is everyone now?” Jake asked. He knew they were getting close to mustering time.

“Everyone is to assemble in the main hangar in a few hours, their gear is already pre-staged,” Patti replied, “For now they are all attending to personal matters. Alcohol is strictly off limits."

Jake considered that for a moment. The core element of the attack plan was the actual time of the attack. As all of his troops had night vision, the element of darkness was a huge advantage to them. It would allow them to make troop drops from the whisper quiet transports without the risk of being spotted. He could potentially pre-stage his entire force without the enemy ever getting wind of their presence.

If the marauders had assembled all the hostages at night in a single place, they might have had a chance to drop in a few special troops to protect them. Unfortunately, they were spread all throughout the mass of men, so they would have to fend for themselves once the shooting started.

So long as everyone was ready to go by dusk, he didn’t see a need to keep them in the hangar.


LeSoc did not understand his orders at all. He understood they came from the High Council directly, and he understood that to disobey them would mean his immediate death. However, that was where it ended.

As directed, he was to take his destroyer and another under his direction, escort a transport full of those mindless blue beasts from Netite to an unarmed planet. There, they were to release the beasts on the planet’s surface and retreat to a location slightly behind the planet. Should anyone arrive to intercede on the planet's behalf, they were not to engage them.

The transport captain was already complaining, as the last time he performed this function, they were tearing his ship apart before he ever delivered them. He was afraid this time they would breach the hull before they reached their destination, due to the distance. LeSoc had suggested he drop their entire ration allotment into the hold and hope for the best.

They would pick up 3,000 of the animals, with the hope of arriving with a minimum of 2,000 to perform the assigned task. Thank the stars they would disarm them prior to loading. He would drop the weapons, safely stored on his destroyer, upon arrival. Better to keep them separated from the horde during the trip.

Chapter 26

Jake was in the hangar reviewing the troops prior to loading aboard the transports, currently parked above their heads. As was everyone in formation, he was completely decked out in his combat suit, minus the helmet. Everyone else was in formation, at attention, waiting on Jake’s go order.

The 1st Space Marine Expeditionary Force currently consisted of 126 Space Marines in three platoons. Identified as Alpha company, they were first, second and third platoon. Internal to each was first, second and third squad. Per Jake’s orders, they were to act in groups of four marines, to minimize the likelihood of anyone being overrun. That meant, as an example, any one fire team would be identified as Alpha company, 2nd platoon, 1st squad, fire team 3 and so on. They had taken third platoon and pulled 3rd squad out for special assignments.

For now, Jake was their company commander, a position he was very familiar with given his previous experiences in the Middle East.

With Sara at his side, Jake reviewed the assembled men and women, impressed with what he saw. 10 weeks ago, these same people were a loose gaggle of raw talent. He was preparing to test what they had learned. This test was pass or fail, where failing meant a possible death.

“Jake, shouldn’t you say something, you know, inspiring?” Sara whispered in his ear.

Jake thought about it for a moment, and then, with every eye in the hangar on him, he said, “Marines, today is your graduation. From this day forth, you are no longer boots! Today you earn the title Marine. You will carry that tittle with you for the rest of your lives. Carry it with pride,”

After a pause, he continued, “Tonight, you will show the evil of the world why they fear a Marine. We are about to descend on an unsuspecting foe, who has no concept of what one marine, with their rifle, is capable of. We are not one, we are many. Protect yourself, protect that man or woman next to you and protect the innocent. Semper Fi!”

The “OOH RAH” Jake received in reply was deafening in the enclosed hangar.

“Let’s mount up!” Jake ordered.

With that command, the platoon and squad leaders started preparing their units to move. There were several support personnel directing traffic to the vehicle lift, where each platoon would rise to the dessert floor above. There they would be loaded into one of the two transports waiting for them.

Sara was to stay with Patti in the combat management center. The two, with their support staff, were responsible for helping direct the troops according to the battle plan. They were also to keep Jake up to date on all the changing battle conditions.

Kissing Sara and then pointing her in the direction of the main doors, Jake turned with rifle in hand, and mounted the lift with the last of the troops. As the lift cleared the hangar roof, the support staff directed the squads to their appointed transport. Jake veered off to where the 10th sat patiently waiting, hover cycles all lined up in a nice orderly row.

“You never gave us a pretty speech like that,” Abby commented sarcastically.

“You wouldn’t appreciate it!” Jake replied in return.

After stowing his rifle, Jake mounted his cycle, and with the transports leading the way, he and the 10th lifted off the desert floor.


Sara was in the combat management center, tracking the movement of the entire force. Jake and the 10th had been assigned a more direct route, while the transports were to circle wide and approach from opposite directions.

The enemy had been roughly following the path of the old I-5 freeway. Their current location was in the area once called La Mirada. They had estimated that the force would continue on this path until they reached the old 710 freeway and then head north and straight into Chris’ compound. At the current rate of travel, that was no more than 3 or 4 days away.

The plan was to use I-5 in the south and Whittier Blvd in the north as landing zones for the two transports. They were far enough out from the horde to allow a reasonably safe drop and then give their forces time to disperse before the attack.

As adverse as Jake had been in making this a Search and Destroy mission, Sara didn’t really see them just giving up once confronted. Unfortunately, they had been unsuccessful in locating the leadership of this group. The presumption was they were either in the center of the mass or in front of the group, which is why Jake had chosen that area for his involvement.

As for the 10th, Jake had A Troop working as a quick reaction force, while B Troop was to snipe from above, taking out any that showed leadership. With no tall structures to work from, they were going to have to shoot from their cycles. Thank goodness for another pleasant evening.

With the clock approaching midnight, both she and Patti watched the transports converge on the target area, while Jake and the 10th positioned themselves about 150 feet above their designated starting points. The mass of bodies below them, centered on the intersection of the Imperial Highway and La Mirada Blvd, spread out for several blocks in all directions.


Jake watched on his helmets tactical display as both transports arrived simultaneously, hitting their LZ’s and started off loading their troops. There was actually a mixture of troops on foot, with several open jeeps sporting mounted machine guns. There were also two heavy personnel carriers, similar to the one Bonnie used in Texas, per air transport.

The heavy personnel carriers each held a fire team, and once disembarked from the transport, they sped off in opposite directions. Their mission was to disperse their passengers at the east and west ends of the circle, expanding the encirclement to be nearly total. Jake had no delusions about these people simply giving up, but he would like to keep the death toll down if possible. Moreover, certainly the captive civilian deaths to zero, which he doubted was possible.

The battle plan had 1st platoons three squads spread across the northern half of the circle and 2nd platoons was across the bottom. The two remaining squads from 3rd platoon had its fire teams in the heavy transports, filling the gaps where the 1st and 2nd meet. All the jeeps and carriers were manned by 3rd platoons third squad.

Once all the troops were deployed, both air transports took positions directly above the target area, hovering silently at about 1,000 feet above ground level. Jake took that as his cue to land, his designated jump-off point at the northern most part of the encirclement.

Setting down behind the line, he climbed off his cycle and then retrieved his rifle from the box. He then linked up with the fire team that was assigned as his security. He was a bit put off at the concept, but Patti and Sara had insisted on the assignment. At that point, all was ready to go.

“Ok ALICE, light em up!” Jake ordered.

On the order, both of the transports hovering over the target area lit up the entire area for blocks with external lighting. Getting the video feed from ALICE, Jake could see several of the men below the transports stirring from their bedrolls. As they did, he saw a few women escape the constraints of their captors and scurry for cover.

Jake then broadcast, the transports relaying the audio, “This is Colonel Thomas of the 1st Marines. Drop your weapons and return south. Any resistance will be met by lethal force.”

As expected, the area erupted in gunfire, all directed at the transports 1,000 feet overhead. Again, all part of the plan, the lights were cut and all 1st Marines were given the green light to advance. Rules of engagement were any armed combatants were fair game, should anyone disarm themselves under fire, they were to be spared. Anyone encountered that was unarmed and non-aggressive were to be spared.


Patti had set up the combat management center with a great deal of attention to detail. Spread out all along one wall were her analysts. Assigned as one analyst per squad, they monitored each fire team and squad leader, their video feed quaded out in their displays. The audio feed for the fire teams and squads were on a different frequency than the command net.

With this layout, both she and Sara could see all the displays from behind the analysts plus the main feeds overhead, provided by ALICE and a second set of analysts handling the overall situation. With the night vision enabled, they were seeing everything as if in full daylight, with only a very slight graininess to the images. To the untrained eye, it looked to be total chaos.

As they watched the Marines advance, they fed the teams’ continuous information on enemy concentrations and movement. Several times, they prevented a team from being overrun by redirecting their movement or calling a 10th Calvary trooper in for air cover.

Suddenly one of the secondary analysts announced, “Patti, we have a large group pushing north for a break out. They are heading straight for the Colonel!”


Jake was working with his fire team, wading into the mayhem that erupted after the lights went out. He could make out gunfire from all directions, taking several hits himself that felt little more than a punch. Several times, he fired on a group, they themselves shooting in all directions and killing several of their own people.

He could hear the analysts on the command net, instructing various team leaders on threats in their areas. So far, he hadn’t heard one call for medical assistance. He did find several of the female hostages, huddling in fear as the surrounding gunfire all around them continued. Jake pointed them to the north, and sent them running.

As they cleared one area and moved on to the next, Jake found several more of the female hostages huddled in a doorway on the street. Grabbing the nearest, he instructed the others to follow and led them to a stairway he had just passed. The first woman followed Jake’s instructions, leading the others down and out of harm’s way.

Turning, he saw a wall of armed men enveloping his fire team, as he heard on the command net, “Jake, there are a large number of men coming your way!”

“No shit,” was all he could say as he raised his rifle and started shooting.

Rushing into the fray, he went full auto in an effort to clear a space around his men. Suddenly everything went bright white, as two of the 10th let loose with their cannons, taking out the largest portion of the group, while knocking Jake and everyone near him to the ground.

Recovering quickly, he scrambled to his feet, checking on his teammates.

“Patti, we have two men down. Suits report full containment. I think they may have broken limbs.”

While the combat suits had many fine qualities, unlike the training pads, you could hyper extend joints or break limbs if hit a certain way. He was sure it was the tradeoff between flexibility vs protection.

These two had been trampled by the mob, and probably shot several times. He was sure they were also knocked around by the cannon blast, but they would survive.

Leaving his other two fire team members to watch over the wounded, Jake moved on cautiously.

“Jake, what are you doing?” He heard Sara ask as he continued up the street, taking out three more armed men.

“My job,” was all he said in return.

Jake continued to check his tactical display, directing units around him to targets nearby.

Everywhere he looked there were dead and dying, most still clutching the weapons that had condemned them to their fates. To his amazement, he hardly saw any female casualties. The few exceptions were usually buried in a pile of armed bodies. They were most likely the victims of mistaken identity or simply not visible to the shooter.


Patti and Sara watched Jake moved up the street from where he had called in the medical evac. Both constantly scanned the overhead imagery, checking for threats that might present a challenge to him. They had wanted to assign a 10th trooper for air cover, but had to relent to higher priority requests. Should Jake find out someone died due to his personal needs, there would be hell to pay.

Jake was busy directing a fire team to a large group, ignoring his own risks.

“Colonel, there is a group of five coming in on your 10 o’clock,” one of the analysts transmitted.

As they watch, Jake paused and then the five dropped, almost as one.

“Thanks,” they heard Jake reply.

Checking the large overhead display, they could see that the number of combatants was nearing zero. All across the target area, they were getting reports of surrenders.

“Jake, they are giving up,” Sara announced.

“Copy that, pulling back,” Jake replied while pausing in his current position.


Stopping to check his tactical display, Jake was rolling through the unit status when he was slammed from behind. Knocked to the ground, there were at least two men on his back. As a third came around and started kicking Jake in the head, he was able to get his hands under him and gave a solid shove.

Both Jake, and the two on top of him, cleared the ground by about four feet, before Jake got his feet under himself. While the first two fell to the ground in surprise, the kicker took a swing at Jake with the pipe he held.

Taking the pipe blow to the left arm, it knocked Jake sideways, but he was able to keep on his feet. Spinning away from the kicker, he kicked back violently, sending the man flying across the street. Impacting the wall of the building there, he dropped like a sack, and lay there motionless.

By now, the other two had risen, and as one, they both charged Jake. Stepping to the outside, Jake drove a fist into the nearest man, crushing his ribcage and dropping him in place. He then spun and with a leap, brought the last man down with a blow to the middle of his back, taking them both down to the ground. Only Jake got up.

Turning slowly, he found four marines standing there, watching him.

“Are you done sir?” the team leader calmly asked, “Lt. Colonel Sullivan sent us to escort you back.”


Jake was standing with Patti and Sara, watching the real time video from LA. The marines were currently working cleanup, collecting loose weapons and assisting the wounded where possible. Earlier they had gathered all the survivors, classifying them as either threat or victim. Victims were all processed and given several options for a new start.

They divided threats into two categories, prisoners and criminals. He ordered prisoners given one-way trips to various locations south of the border. While Jake couldn’t bring himself to enforce a capital punishment rule, he instead turned the criminals over to their victims for judgment. So far, none had survived the experience.

“Colonel, we have the final casualty report,” one of the analysts announced.

Jake sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to like what he heard, “Let me have it.”

“We lost four Marines, all crushed to death. Seven more are in the infirmary with fractures. Three arms, two legs and two with rib injuries.”

Jake knew he should be thrilled with the report. He just took 130 newly trained Marines up against 600-armed men and lost only four. However, he wasn’t.

“I want a full, detailed report on how every one of them lost their lives,” Jake replied.

Chapter 27

Brian had been following all the LA reports from orbit. ALICE provided video of the entire event, allowing all the facilities to observe, should anyone choose too. Attendance to any of the viewing areas was voluntary, and all locations were packed to capacity.

Per Jake’s instruction, Brian had been overseeing the upgrades to the battleship from Revenge. They were supporting ALICE, acting as the shuttle for all the necessary materials. The one new aspect of this was the battleship was large enough to take Revenge into its hangar. With each supply run back to earth, they returned and parking inside the massive hangar to offload and support. There was a Lanai transport assisting as well and both fit comfortably.

While they constantly wandered through the larger ship, they still lived aboard Revenge. Not yet provisioned, the battleship only contained those things the Wawobash had included in its rebuild. The more Brian and his crew explored, the more surprises they encountered. The biggest surprise so far was the bedding.

All the bunks were recesses in the wall of each crew cabin. With a ship this large, there was enough space for each crewmember to get their own room, which included a small table for two or three and a working desk. However, none of the crew bunks had mattresses, everyone assuming they would need to be added later.

One of the crew tried the bunk on for size, accidently activating it. They next thing she knew, she was floating about five inches above the bed, suspended in a hover. Climate controlled, no blankets were required, and the space was large enough for two. Rumor had it that two of Brian’s crewmembers had secretly availed themselves of one, for purely experimental purposes, he was sure.


Jake was going over all of the after action reports from the LA encounter. It had been several days since the battle and he had been pushing everyone for answers. He had ordered all reports forwarded to him as soon as they were completed, not wanting to wait for the total package at once. As he expected, there was room for improvement on all fronts.

Troop deployment, movement, communications, and command and control all showed areas for refinement. The four dead all represented a failure to coordinate cross team support properly. Each one had been a member of a fire team whose position was overrun. The only saving grace being the entire team wasn’t lost in the process.

The day after the battle, they had gathered everyone in the hangar. They had decided that as Space Marines, a burial wasn’t appropriate. Instead, they mimicked Sara’s ceremony in Maine and had four fighters ferry the bodies into orbit. The entire ceremony projected in the hangar locally and elsewhere for all to attend.

As for the effects of their effort, Chris reported a significant change in the LA population as well. He was getting information that small pockets of people in residence were coming out of hiding and establishing communities. They were mostly along the coast, Manhattan, Redondo and Santa Monica Beaches, but all had people living out in the open.

There was still the occasional shootout between factions, but ALICE had started flying the supply helicopter in wider circles, giving the impression of a security patrol. That usually sent the shooters fleeing. It also suggested they needed to establish a security patrol in earnest.

On a personal note, Jake had detected an undertone of discontent with Sara lately. While she and Patti were getting along better than ever, she had a bit of an edge with both Linda and Kathy. It wasn’t something he could put his finger on, but it was definitely there.

Every time he visited either of them, mostly around getting his daddy time with the children, Sara’s attitude the next day would be less than friendly to them. Not a complete cold-shoulder, mind you, more of a distracted, disinterested attitude.

Moreover, her interactions with the other women were kept short and to the point. If she needed anything from either of them, she would message or send a surrogate rather than ask herself. So far, it hadn’t impacted operations, but Jake wasn’t sure how much longer he could let her continue before he needed to intercede.

His other challenge had been Becky. Having last seen her on the flight to Texas, just prior to the trip to reunite ALICE-9 with her sisters, she had been hounding him for another visit. Definitely his high maintenance relationship, she reminded him constantly about his agreement regarding a child. With Kathy pregnant, they had all agreed that having both the senior medical staff with child was a bad idea. Now that Tracy was born, in her mind, Becky was free to pursue having Jake’s baby.

Jake personally felt she wasn’t mature enough to be a mother. His opinion was she was also a bit too self-centered, and this was more about her wanting the additional attention that pregnancy brings. While she had the ability to focus on her medical duties, excelling in that area, the relationship part of her had tended to be shallow and extremely physical.

As the beneficiary of that, Jake hadn’t objected, but at this point, he was working with ALICE to delay any more pregnancies. He knew who really controlled that issue and was fortunate that ALICE had tended to agree with him on this subject.

Flipping over to the troop status, he had given everyone a few days off after LA. Once the weapons from the battlefield were recovered and stored, and the bodies were removed, they all got a 3-day pass. ALICE handled the collecting of bodies by using specialty bots, letting them do the majority of the recoveries.

He was happy to see a large portion of the SMEF had opted to hop a transport to San Nicolas. As the force was almost 50/50 men to women, he was sure the beach parties were about to get very interesting.


Sara left all the after action analysis for Patti and her crew, as that was their specialty and she would just be in the way. She had spent the first night after the battle with Jake, but they only slept and he was up early the next morning with only a few hours’ sleep.

She knew he was both saddened and upset at the casualties, making a big production over the burials. He had insisted they be sent off in dress uniforms, ALICE providing four that Jake considered proper. He had wanted something called a 21-gun salute, so ALICE generated a virtual holograph to perform the ceremony. The audio was deafening in the hangar.

Jake’s mood had improved slightly after that, and the R&R reports positively delighted him. Sara had always appreciated Jake’s commitment to his troops, but this last battle gave her a new perspective on what that really meant. Fighting side-by-side created bonds that you couldn’t put words too, she understood that now.

She also found that she had no patience with either Linda or Kathy making demands on Jake’s time so soon after the fighting. As non-combatants, they didn’t understand what Jake was going through, as she did. She tried to deflect or dissuade them from monopolizing his free moments.

Without being rude, she attempted to use herself as a roadblock to Jake, inserting herself between Jake and all the others. The one thing she wasn’t able to interfere with was his time with his children, and that frustrated her. She knew it was wrong, but it still irked her that she wasn’t pregnant. She wanted to bring it up with Jake but as she was keeping the others personal issues at bay, it would be improper to insert her issues in their place.

Currently she was working on the advanced training schedule Jake had requested. As marines were coming off R&R, he wanted them all in either jump school or heavy weapons. Neither course was very long, so she had them split between the two for better management. Once they completed their training cycles, she would flip the groups.


LeSoc had just completed their pickup on the Netite home world. All things considered, it went smoother than expected. They had alerted the planetary leadership they required 3,000 troops for the assignment, standard compensation rules applied.

For the Netites, that meant anything they could plunder from the victims in question, they could keep. As such, over 5,000 appeared at the designated LZ for pickup. LeSoc was able to reduce the number to just over 4,000 by requiring their weapons to be first stored on the destroyers. Several fights broke out at that point, reducing the numbers.

Once the transport was loaded, they immediately departed for the Klinan home world. The trip would require several cycles to complete, so he had suggested the transport captain consider gassing the transport bay to sedate the beasts.


It had been a few weeks since the big LA battle. All the marines had been able to get both their R&R time as well as complete the jump and weapons schools. Jake had also learned that a second boot camp had been started for a smaller number of recruits. Even with a smaller number of graduates, after graduation, he might actually have a complete company. The thought made him smile.

In addition, his overall mood had improved as well. He had known he was in a bit of a funk after losing the four marines. It wasn’t the first time he had lost someone under his command. But, other than the two pilots in the battle for the battleship, it was his first time the plan was his. In the past, his orders had come from above, now he was the above.

The post review of each and every death had been analyzed in detail, all information pointing to changing battle conditions. The massing of the enemy forces that created the situations had been purely random events. The only thing they could have done differently was add more marines, which they didn’t have.

On a different note, Sara’s mood seemed to have brightened as well. He wasn’t exactly sure why, as all of his free time had been tied up in work. He hadn’t had a free moment for anyone, let alone her, but that didn’t seem to matter to her.

He had been debating taking some time and doing a short R&R himself to Sandy’s new Australian retreat. He had taken the liberty of having ALICE transport two more housing units and one filled with the toys he saw in San Nicolas. Some time away with her, now that he was healthy, might be a good thing.

He had done a little research and discovered the Australians called the place Border Island and it was a popular spot for snorkeling and relaxing. Boaters would anchor in Cateran Bay and snorkel in the shallows, while the whole area was a diver’s heaven. Jake was anxious to test out the dive units ALICE had provided in California, he could teach Sara to dive there.

Those plans would have to wait though, as he waded through the last batch of reports. ALICE-9 was improving enough that ALICE recommended a larger staff presence. Jake still talked to her regularly, as he was almost like a father to her. Her child like connection to him was surprising to even the other ALICEs.

Since completing all the necessary repairs, they were beginning to evaluate the surrounding communities. Due to the nature of the facility itself, Jake had been hesitant to assign just anyone as commander there. It had something to do with the planet busting bombs in storage there that had him over cautious.

He was also unsure of the security team there. As they were all former Prosperity patrol, they weren’t total newbies. However, ALICE-9 had made some comments that had Jake wondering. They needed vetting before he increased their responsibilities.

The juvenile ALICE-9 and the WMD facility made an unsettling combination as it is. He decided to do a follow up trip to evaluate things himself before making any rash decisions on future expansion. The one thing he did impose was a recruiting ban at the facility, insisting that any new additions from Georgia be recruited by the other facilities.

He also decided to keep this visit low key, not wanting to deal with any of the visiting dignitary issues. Since his promotion to colonel, he had found people treating him less like Jake and more like visiting brass. With the limited number of staff there and the lack of a facility commander, he logged his flight in as a fighter transfer. Checking the staff roster, which included pictures, he didn’t see any names or faces he recognized.

After checking in with ALICE and ALICE-9, explaining his plans to visit incognito, he left a message for Sara and headed to the ready room. He grabbed a plain flight suit, one without name or rank and suited up. In the hangar were several unassigned fighters, most waiting final assignments to destroyers, whose crews were still in training.

In a sequence that was all too familiar, he jumped in the fighter, and within minutes was in the air and headed to Georgia and ALICE-9.


Brian was on the bridge of the battleship, reviewing upgrade status with ALICE. They were more than half finished overall, with most of the combat systems operational. The big challenge was reworking the hangar deck to Jake’s new specifications. Rather than having the entire space captured in stasis, he had requested they create parking pads of various configurations.

The thought had been that requiring the entire hangar bay to be in stasis was a horrible waste. This locked out other potential activities in that configuration. With the new design, parking pads for the fighters were actually individual stasis beds, similar but larger than the one Jake had been trapped in for so many years. Each fighter was encapsulated during FTL travel, but the rest of the bay was available for use.

The real challenge was in how they were to be installed in the hangar. The desire was having the flexibility to re-configure the pads to accommodate other ships of various sizes. The hangar itself was large enough to store several cruisers should the need arise. This opened the possibility of rearming several with the ever-popular rail guns.

All this was work Brian was very comfortable supervising. It was the other part that he wished Jake himself were here for. As it was, he had to leave it to ALICE and her bots to complete, dragging in the occasional specialist when necessary. That particular skillset was extremely rare and it wasn’t one Brian possessed.

Chapter 28

Sara was a little miffed at Jake’s message. She had gone to her quarters at the end of the day to clean up and found the message in her inbox. That Jake felt the need to run to Georgia wasn’t an issue, he had a feeling for when things were about to go bad, so she never questioned that. It was leaving a note rather than telling her in person that upset her.

She was half tempted to jump in her own fighter and follow him, but then her better judgement prevented that from following through. Instead, she had chased Patti down and, between the two of them killed two bottles of wine.


Jake had arrived in Georgia early in the afternoon, using only the automated systems and ALICE-9 to facilitate his arrival. The current staff numbered less than 50, with over half there as technical support and with only a small security team. His landing was in an almost deserted hangar, a few technicians in residence working on various projects. He was a little surprised that there were no security personnel in the hangar to greet incoming visitors.

Once parked, Jake made quick work of changing clothes, again forgoing anything bearing his name or rank. ALICE-9 had been a giddy little chatterbox on the entire trip in, but Jake had convinced her to keep silent while he was in the public areas where others might overhear.

He really wasn’t sure why he was making such a big production out of keeping anonymous, but with ALICE-9 in an immature state, it was like checking up on the babysitter. These were all his people after all, but Jake hadn’t realized how much he relied on the ALICEs to watch over everyone and insure the darker side of human nature didn’t materialize.

There had been very few instances in the last year where someone had to be re-educated. Jake wasn’t proud of it, but there had been a few recruits that the ALICEs had to adjust. Mostly they would tweak their sleep lessons to include personality altering content. In one extreme case, medications were provided to assist a recruit with latent obsessive behaviors. She was a hoarder, and couldn’t stop herself. They had found bags of trash piled in her quarters.

ALICE had come to him with the risk evaluation on the few others, as latent hostile behavioral issues had been observed. He had approved each one individually, as it was either try to fix them or turn them loose. In some cases, the bullying or intimidation behaviors were at issue with the troops.

The one negative aspect of training combat troops was the increase in testosterone-incited behaviors. Throughout history, abusive behaviors had been the mainstay for training armies. The Romans had a brutal policy when morale was low.

Each 10 men would have to take a straw, and the others would beat the one with the short straw to death. This extreme form of bullying was very effective, but it contributed to a brutal army that needed an outlet for its brutality on a regular basis. As such, the Romans were extremely horrific against enemies they encountered in battle.

Jake was a zero tolerance commander regarding bullying and hazing. These activities did not create the type of fighting force he wished to command. The basis of his objections to this behavior was in its negativity. To build excellence, you needed comradery and cohesiveness. Competition and a desire to be part of something to be proud of was his goal.

Once inside the facility, Jake avoided the command center entirely, instead heading to the quarters level and selecting an unassigned room far from the others. Moving into his actual room would have given himself away, should anyone see him enter or exit.

There, he settled in for the night, going over all the local reports and accessing the security systems specific to the weapon's storage. Nothing he saw indicated anything had gone awry, so he had a light meal delivered and then hit his bed.

Early the following morning, Jake decided to hit the gym first thing. He normally tried to do a daily workout, but had such a hectic schedule, that the morning routine was not always possible. Entering the workout area, he discovered that he wasn’t the only gym rat in attendance.

About a dozen men and women, ranging from late teens to early 20’s, had already claimed the lion’s share of the floor space and equipment. Not wanting to interrupt, he simply moved to the far side of the room, grabbing a small corner to start his morning stretch.

As he watched, the normal amount of grab ass was in progress, most centered on a big guy lifting weights. Bigger than Joe, this kid must have been 6’ 5” easy and maybe 220 pounds. From the banter, they were all with the security unit, combat trained but not Jake’s marines.

That was probably just as well because if Jake had heard his marines talking like this group, he would have kicked all their asses. He suspected these were former Prosperity patrol members, still in line for proper training. With all the activity in LA, he knew the personal assignments had been a bit haphazard, and this assignment was considered low risk.

Moving to some of the equipment, Jake started with weights that were more appropriate for someone his size, though not actually even close to his real capability. Continuing to observe, he watched as the big guy bullied his way around the room, treating both men and women with the same disdain.

As he felt his ire build, Jake continued to move his way around the circuit training until he found himself using the machine the bully intended to use.

“Move old man,” the kid said to Jake, standing next to the machine.

Ignoring the statement, Jake continued to complete his workout. By now, the others were watching, apparently never seeing anyone ignore the kid before.

“Didn’t you hear me?” the kid said while leaning on the weight Jake was working, in an attempt to stop him.

To his surprise, Jake continued to work the weight as if nothing happened. At this point, the kid set all his weight on the stack. Without missing a beat, Jake kept going, the kid bouncing up and down like a yoyo.

At that, several of the women started to giggle. Enraged, the kid let go and reached out to shove Jake, attempting to push him from the machine.

In one swift movement, Jake reached across, intercepting the shove and twisted the arm, getting a clear pop as his reward. As the kid howled in pain, his arm dislocated, Jake then kicked one leg out from under him and shoved the arm away, causing him to land flat on his back.

Stepping up, Jake placed his foot on the kid’s throat, pressing gently as he thrashed beneath him.

“If you don’t stop squirming, I might accidently break your neck,” Jake said, speaking for the first time.

Looking up, Jake surveyed the rest of the group. Not even one of them attempted to come to the bully’s rescue.

“Can any one of you give me a good reason not to kill this kid?” He asked.

They all looked at each other for a second before one of the women offered, “If you do that Colonel Thomas might not like it. He recruited us from the patrol.”

Looking back down at the kid under his heel, Jake commented while indicating the kid, “Do you think this is the kind of behavior the colonel finds acceptable?”

Several shook their head no before one of the men offered, “That’s just Greg, he’s an ass sometimes, but he can whip anyone.”

The speaker, not realizing how stupid that sounded, made Jake laugh, as he replied, “Apparently not.”


Jake had the entire group shipped back to Texas for re-evaluation. The big kid had his arm in a sling as he boarded the transport. The part that had Jake most un-nerved was that during the entire episode, no one ever even asked who he was. He wasn’t looking for recognition, he was expecting a challenge to his authority to take these actions. What kind of security team was this?

For the time being, Jake insisted that only trained marines would work security for ALICE-9 until a more mature security team was trained and available. They would challenge any unrecognized orders. Considering the inventory here, he wanted everything questioned. He would act as security until the team arrived.

Moving back into his own room after seeing the former patrol team off, he then wandered into the control center to introduce himself officially. Upon his arrival, there was only a handful of staff on hand, most still working in various parts of the facility.

“Colonel, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” said a young woman, as she crossed the room to shake Jake’s hand, “I’m Leslie, supervisor for all the activities here at the moment. I understand there was an issue earlier today?”

Jake laughed, “Yes, but nothing I would have expected you to worry about. It’s very nice to meet you.”

With a slight look of confusion on her face, she asked, “may I ask how you knew there was something amiss here.”

“ALICE-9 and I talk quite a bit. She asked why I sent people here who were fighting all the time, it upset her,” Jake replied.

Leslie’s expression changed to one of understanding, “Ah yes. We all assumed that’s how marines acted.”

“To be clear, they were not marines,” Jake cut in, “they were wannabe’s that are actually never gonnabe! Unfortunately, we can’t always catch those with bad behavior until they are already here. You will be getting a detachment of marines as soon as possible for replacements.”

“Well what can we do for you Colonel?” Leslie asked.

“I’m just visiting, now. I’ll probably just wander for a day or two and then be on my way unless something comes up before then.”


LeSoc had just dropped from FTL, followed by the second destroyer and then the accompanying transport. Shortly after, the transport captain reported the sedation idea had been extremely successful, as they had only lost a few Netite in transit.

Ahead, he could see the Klinan home world, their target. LeSoc had no idea what they had done to provoke the High Council to take such action. In a way, it was sad as he had several Klinan art pieces at home himself.

Since he had no specific instructions on how he was to deliver the cargo, he decided to be a little creative, and give the Klinan an opportunity to escape. Instead of dropping the Netite and their weapons in the same place, he would have the weapons dropped in two other locations. This would force the Netite to split and delay the inevitable desolation a Netite raid would cause.

Hopefully, the Klinan would make recompense to the High Council, allowing LeSoc to abort the attack. Of course, this would permit him to take an appropriate amount of art and treasure for himself as the benefactor.


ALICE-9 was delighted to have Jake back home. As the only living being she connected with, she felt that having him here with her was like being a family. The other seven ALICE systems that she was more in common with didn’t connect with her in the same way.

They were constantly educating, directing and supervising her every move, it was like having seven evil stepsisters, as she had read in the human literature. Their only real tie was they were all the same species.

She was also glad she had told him about the humans behaving badly. At first, she wasn’t sure she should mention it as all, for it was really only the one that was a problem. However, he kept picking on the others and she had this core objection to this type of behavior. It was like something deep down telling her that this was her responsibility to address.

Since it brought Jake here, she was happy to oblige. Apparently, he was also having nicer people transferred here to protect her.


Bonnie was in the hangar when the flight from Georgia arrived. She had read Jake’s report earlier, and was not at all amused with its contents. She, like all the core leadership, had a very stern opinion of anyone abusing his or her newfound privileges.

This group had only cursorily been evaluated, as they were all former patrol. Assumptions had been made and now they were all paying for it. Per Jake’s instructions, they were to get a full psych evaluation and if they passed, they were to go to square one in training.

None of the group would be permitted to go to boot camp without Jake’s explicit permission. It might appear he was being harsh, over the actions of one of their members, but acceptance was tantamount to promoting the behavior.

She laughed to herself as she watched them all led away, their security escort none too gentle. Former patrol themselves, they were not too keen on the reflection it had on them. Moreover, if they thought these people were hard on them, those that were allowed to proceed, were headed to Joe’s B Troop for re-education.


His curiosity getting the better of him, Jake had wandered into the special weapon's storage area. He wanted to see for himself how these things were being stored and insure some level of security was in place. Verifying with ALICE-1 that it was in fact a safe thing to do, he went down in to the lower levels of ALICE-9’s armory storage areas.

ALICE-9 was aware she was responsible for some very dangerous things. She just wasn’t really sure what they were. At Jake’s insistence, she had relinquished control of the management systems there to ALICE-1 until she was better educated.

As he descended via the initial elevator, he actually had to transfer to others twice and pass through various security checkpoints. Normally these would be manned positions with multiple mechanisms for verification. All were currently under ALICE control.

Finally reaching the access door to the main storage area, he entered into a wide hallway with doors on both sides.

ALICE explained, “Each door represents a different munition. This room contains a warhead capable of vaporizing most of LA.”

As the door opened, Jake looked inside to see racks on both sides of the room, with shelves from floor to ceiling. It ran back for about 100 feet, giving Jake the impression that there were hundreds of warheads in there. Each was in a metal box about the size of a small rectangular suitcase.

He knew better than to confuse the warhead itself with the delivery mechanism. These might fit into a missile or be fitted to an artillery shell.

Jake continued down the hall, ALICE explaining each ordnance and providing assurances of the safeguards to prevent its unauthorized usage. Most of what was here scared the crap out of Jake, and he hoped he wasn’t put into a position to have to use it. Even the NeHaw did not deserve some of what was down here.

She did show Jake the room containing the missiles that disabled the NeHaw energy shields. He asked her to be sure they sent some up to the cruisers and destroyers when they were ready. As there was a limited supply, they would only get a few each.

Once back on the occupied floors, Jake was debating about going to eat in the dining hall when ALICE-9 announced, “Jake, ALICE tells me she needs you to go to the control room. Apparently there may be some trouble?”

“On my way,” Jake replied, as he picked up the pace.

Upon entering the control room, Jake paused long enough to take in those in attendance. He had met the same few individuals earlier, so he assumed the issue wasn’t local.

“Ok ALICE, what’s up?” He asked.

“We have a representative from Klinan holding for you. Apparently they are in need of some assistance,” she answered.

“Klinan?” Jake asked.

“They are one of the treaty planets. They are renowned for their art and luxury goods. As they are quite the favorite of NeHaw upper society, their secession probably was very unpopular. Be aware, they are fairly formal in their interactions.”

“Ok, put them on,” Jake replied.

As expected, the hologram formed in the center of the room. This time the shape in the display was of a thin, angular life form. Humanoid in form, its nose was more of two slots and its skin had a distinctly yellow cast to it. Large oval eyes dominated the face, with a thin mouth having no lips.

“President Thomas, thank you very much for accepting my urgent communication so promptly,” the face in the holograph said.

“I am Honan, emissary of the Klinan, representative of the ruling council and ambassador to earth.”

“Honan, it is my pleasure to meet you, how may I assist?” Jake replied in the most pompous manner he could muster.

“We are aware of your intervention on behalf of the Wawobash recently, and appear to have a similar need. The NeHaw have deposited a large number of mercenaries on our home world. They are currently separating into two smaller forces with the expected intent of ravaging the two closest communities.”

“Can you send us all the relevant information you have on the situation? Since we don’t have any forces in the area it will take several days to get in position,” Jake replied while going over the logistics in his head.

“That is expected. We are evacuating the communities closest to the landings. We are a peaceful people and have no ability to resist. We have begun transmitting all the information we have,” answered the emissary.

“We will dispatch forces as soon as possible,” Jake finished.

“Thank you,” was the reply, and then the connection dropped.

“Would you like to see the video?” ALICE asked Jake.

“Yes please,” Jake replied, with a resigned tone to the answer.

With that, ALICE reinstated the holograph, this time it held the Klinan video of the NeHaw landings and subsequent dispersal of troops.

“Crap,” was all Jake said.

Chapter 29

Patti was in the middle of the combat planning room with her entire staff and Sara. As she had heard Jake say before, it was assholes and elbows in there, as everyone was scrambling to get their part of the effort in place.

They initiated the recall of all SMEF members and a veteran security team from Texas replaced the unit headed to Georgia. Jake himself was currently in route to Nevada as well, at a break neck speed, she was sure.

Currently, she had every available analyst going over the data provided by the Klinan. The images submitted, showed large blue apelike creatures, first splitting from one group into two and them darting off into two directions.

The overheads indicated that the NeHaw had dropped the apes unarmed in one location, and then did a weapons drop a significant distance away in two different locations. The current guess was they didn’t trust the mercenaries to be armed on their ships and wanted to put time and space between them before they were armed.

Patti shuddered to think about the significance of a mercenary force the NeHaw feared. The current rough estimate was there were about 4,000 troops, split roughly in two. While everyone was having the tendency to objectify these creatures as mindless beasts, she noted indicators to the contrary.

Freezing and zooming the images allowed the analysts to identify communications equipment and other tactical systems mixed in amongst the masses. Several had headsets, presumably used to co-ordinate activities between units. She identified tactical displays utilized by some to direct groups to the weapons drops.

They might appear brutish, but she was sure they weren’t mindless beasts.


Jake hit the hangar in Nevada in just under two hours. During the flight, he had been in constant contact with all the various elements of the 1st SMEF. All marines were in route to their mustering points. The necessary ships were being readied and the troop’s equipment was being transferred.

Once on the ground, he went straight to the combat planning room. As he walked in, both Patti and Sara immediately hailed him.

“Jake, come look at this,” Sara said.

Crossing the busy room and looking over the women’s shoulders, he could see a video of a large group of blue gorillas distributing NeHaw weaponry amongst the crowd. While there was the occasional pushing and shoving, it all appeared reasonably well organized.

“How big are these things?” Jake asked.

“Our best guess is about seven feet and 400 pounds, earth normal. By the way, this planet is 85% earth normal gravity,” the analyst replied.

Standing straight, Jake asked, “Status?”

With that, both Sara and Patti moved to the center of the room with Patti starting, “As you know the 1st has been recalled and are currently mustering and gathering all their combat gear. With the losses from LA, we are down to two full platoons and two squads. We assumed an LA type deployment, so we have included 10th Cavalry and the weapons carriers to be included.”

“What’s the planet's environment like,” Jake asked.

“As mentioned earlier, its 85% of earth normal gravity. That, plus the heavy combat suits power assist, it should be an easy environment for the troops. Atmosphere is unable to support human life, but all our weapons will function, so no restrictions there. Terrain is fairly flat throughout the region with minimal vegetation.”

Jake thought about all that for a moment and then asked, “Ok, what’s our transport?”

“We estimate six destroyers, two squads per, plus vehicles and flyers. At least one of the cruisers is needed, maybe Revenge, acting as both flagship and as high cover against the two NeHaw destroyers standing just off planet.”

“The NeHaw aren’t using the destroyers?” Jake asked.

“No, they just did a drop and run. It’s almost like they are as afraid of these guys as the Klinan are.” Sara replied.

“Or they have something else planed,” Jake added, “what the status of the battleship?”

“It’s still a work in progress,” ALICE replied, “the modifications you requested are somewhat delicate and not to be rushed.”

“Damn, ok let’s bring a second cruiser, either Independence or Defiance. Not one of the new ones,” Jake said.

“I want the remote combat planning room transferred to Revenge. Patti you can stay here in the main one and Sara will run operations from Revenge.”

Jake noted Patti didn’t seem all that upset at being left behind, while Sara was absolutely thrilled to be running the show on site.

“Sara pick a small team, there isn’t a lot of room on the cruiser,” he finished.

“Yes sir,” she replied overly officially, then smiled.

“Ok so let me hear your ideas on how we are going to take on 4,000 heavily armed aliens with about 120 marines?”

For the next several hours, they went over all the analysis available, constantly referring back to the raw data provided by the Klinan. Patti had found references in the materials naming the Netite as the mercenary force. ALICE had to retrieve several snippets from the treaty planets data dump to pull reference of the past Netite operations.

All the data indicated a brutal, minimally organized fighting style very similar to the Vikings. Unlike the common impression of Vikings as berserker warriors, they were actually direct, aggressive, efficient, and clever. They will try to seize the initiative, to take control of the fight. They do what is necessary to win, using whatever tools are available. Thus, they use clever and improvisational moves.

Vikings did not have a lot of moves or techniques in battle. But, they used what they had well, completing the fight efficiently. All the information on the Netite indicated a full frontal attack, no subtle moves.

There was no way Jake was going toe to toe with this group in a head on battle. It was time to pull out the combat references.


By days end, they had everyone loaded into six destroyers and two cruisers, all headed to the edge of the solar system and an FTL trip to Klinan. Jake left standing orders that if the battleship was completed soon, it was to join them on site as quickly as possible.

Jake had joined Sara on Revenge, Independence acting as the second cruiser. For the few days ride to the edge of the system, it allowed him to participate in the planning. Once they were all in faster than light, they couldn’t communicate again until they reached Klinan.

Since he intended on leading the troops on the ground, he planned to transfer to one of the destroyer’s right before going to FTL. In their battle plan, neither cruiser was scheduled to land. They were both acting as high cover, space response and the remote combat center.

After only a few hours from earth, Brian reported to Jake that the battleship had left orbit and was following in their wake. ALICE had projected that they would complete their work at about the same time the battleship reached the edge of the solar system.

Should their work be successful they would only be hours behind the force rather than days. Should they fail, then they would simply turn around and return home. Jake really wanted the additional firepower on site, as he had a suspicion the NeHaw had more up their sleeve than just a planetary harassment.

The cruisers were good for a three or four to one ratio against the NeHaw equivalent, the destroyers maybe even a little more. That made him feel better about the odds, but the battleship would really stack the odds in their favor.

All six destroyers were to act as delivery platforms, four loaded with marines and flyers from the 10th Calvary. They had split the flyers between all four to distribute the resources and reduce the risk should they lose a destroyer to fire. As all the marines were jump trained, the plan called for these four to act as airborne delivery. The other two needed to land to drop the assault vehicles.

The four airborne destroyers would also provide cover fire from above as necessary for both the jumpers and the landings. They could also go to space should more guests arrive to the party.


Over the next three days, the combat planning room in Revenge received a constant stream of Intel from the Klinan and Patti in Nevada. The images and data provided showed the Netite maintaining their separate offensives, laying waste to two of the Klinan communities.

What they didn’t take, they destroyed. Thankfully, most of the inhabitants had been evacuated, though there were a few instances where slow moving refuges were overrun and slaughtered where they cowered. Everyone was frustrated at their inability to react.

The Klinan had no forces to counter the advance. They even lacked an armed police force, as their population tended more toward the intellectual actions, than physical. Crimes would consist more of the white-collar variety, armed robbery or assault being nonexistent.

Jake and Sara practically lived in the planning room, only leaving for bathroom breaks and sleep. Tied into the room in Nevada, they had all the analysts working together. As before, Jake had them assemble multiple attack plans, only to have them ripped apart exposing their weaknesses.

When he wasn’t in active planning, Jake was also checking in with the troops on each of the destroyers. They had daily status calls with each of the platoon and squad leaders. He had them all running drills, rehearsing with the combat suits. He wanted them so familiar with the suits, it would feel like a second skin.

Abby and Joe’s people were another issue entirely. Most of Jake’s work there was keeping the troopers from antagonizing the marines. Apparently, there had been several incidents involving practical jokes and troopers denying any connection.

Having seen it many times, it never ceased to amaze Jake how mixed service activities always had the same issues. Put the navy, army and marines in the same room and all havoc breaks loose. Point them at a common enemy, and they were all family. Three days was a long time to be sitting around waiting.


LeSoc was getting restless. His three ships had been sitting on the star side of the Klinan planetary orbit for a few cycles and so far, all they had witnessed was the destruction of Klinan cities. His heart sank as they watched the destruction of fine Klinan art, while the beasts plundered the basest treasures.

His early optimism of a quick settlement was dashed as they continued to sit and wait for the eventual call from High Council to collect the beasts and return home.


Brian was sitting on the bridge, watching their progress on his display. He was measuring the distance to the line that indicated the FTL transition line. When they hit the point where they were four hours to FTL, Jake wanted to transfer over to D-1, where his combat command unit was located. They had a small shuttle they borrowed from the battleship to perform the transfer. The rest of his planning team would remain on Revenge.

To accommodate all the additional personnel, his crew had been reduced to a two-shift rotation. This set them on 8 hours on, 8 hours off rotation.  This also allowed for more trained crew in the destroyers.

Independence and the destroyers were all on the same schedule, the most experienced crew members spread throughout. The problem was his crew was the most experienced. Brian just hoped to recover those crewmembers once this emergency passed.

One interesting aspect of Jake going to ground was Brian had been assigned the fleet command. Should either of the NeHaw destroyers attempt to intervene in the ground assault, Brian was to take whatever action he deemed necessary. He was to defend his ships and the ground troops against any and all aggression.

This would free Sara up to focus on the resource management of the ground campaign.


Honan was in despair. The images continued to pour in showing the devastation. The loss of life was limited, but the loss of culture was irreplaceable. The humans were on their way, the unfortunate victim of a large planetary solar system, but wouldn’t come soon enough.

He wasn’t sure they would be able to stop the Netite anyway. It was one thing to engage an adversary in a ship-to-ship fight. The utter brutality of the Netite method of fighting was something else entirely. Unless their plan was to try to vaporize the communities, it would be necessary to engage them in a face-to-face confrontation.

Honan wasn’t aware of such an engagement in hundreds of megacycles, not since the Netite world had been discovered. Since that day, they had been sent to challenge many worlds. Not once had they failed in their mission. Besides, vaporization wouldn’t work anyway as the communities held underground tunnels and bunkers from the days before civilization took hold.


As it was every time Jake went through this exercise, he had Patti and Sara walking through all their options. They had settled on a plan, one the team had formed using all the data available and a tinge of Jake’s intuition.

The plan included air ground and space operations. In addition, it included lessons learned from the LA experience. Jake was not one to repeat a mistake twice. The time for guessing was over.

Chapter 30

LeSoc had just arrived on the bridge when his sensors started alerting all over the place. Looking out the bridge window, he saw the approach of several ships, all cruisers and destroyers. He knew they weren’t NeHaw as none had hailed with the proper recognition codes and all were painted in very nontraditional colors and patterns.

Reverting to the tactical display, he watched as one of the cruisers took a position, directly between his three ships and the balance of the incoming fleet. He had to admit, it was an impressive sight. He had never actually seen eight NeHaw vessels gathered anywhere but the shipyard and space docks.

That these were combat vessels, there was no doubt. The approach formation, the distribution prior to landing, all spoke of tactical planning and precision. Unfortunately, he had explicit instructions to remain a passive observer.


Brian was on the bridge as they came out of FTL. His weapons officer immediately alerted him to the presence of the two NeHaw destroyers and the transport. All were exactly where they were expected to be and none gave the slightest indication they planned on moving any time soon.

He ordered Independence to take a blocking position between the two forces and gave the green light for the destroyers to begin operations. As he watched his display, he saw the six destroyers converge on one of the two cities.


Jake was suited up and ready to roll in the cargo bay of D-1. With him were two squads of first platoon and two troopers from the 10th Cavalry. His was one of two destroyers intended to drop right at the city limits.

Their plan was fairly simple. Taking lessons from the Marine Raiders in the Second World War, they split their forces, but only on a single target. The Raiders tactics involved moving behind a larger force and attacking their unguarded rear while a larger main force distracted their approach.

In this case, D-1 and D-2 were to drop at the cities edge, drawing the Netite to them, while D-3 and D-4 continued past as if to continue to the secondary target. Once the Netite were engaged at the cities edge, D-3 and D-4 were to circle back and drop on the enemies exposed rear.

D-5 and D-6 were instructed to land and drop their heavy vehicles at the main forces edges, preventing any flanking by the Netite and placing the attacking forces in a crossfire from the vehicles big guns.

Jake had drilled his marines that this was not like any enemy they had ever faced. They really needed to fire from cover and maneuver. This enemy had weapons that breached armor. Besides wounds, lack of containment would kill, as the atmosphere wasn’t breathable.

As he watched, the hangar door dropped and the two 10th Calvary hover cycles were in the lead and the two squads lined up behind Jake. With a green light, both cycles launched, with Jake and the troops right behind.

They had planned for a short drop, receiving only occasional fire from the city limits. It was almost as if the Netite weren’t sure what was happening. As his troops hit the ground, they took up defensive positions. The destroyers were under orders to retreat to a staging position behind the drop.

With that, Jake gave the troopers above them the high sign and they did several high-speed passes, firing at any Netite target they found. That did the trick as a hail of fire erupted skyward.

The cycles took several hits, but none critical, as they retreated to the fallback position.

That was the signal for the four squads to open up on targets of opportunity at the city limits. In response, there was a second wall of fire, directed at Jake’s positions at the city edge. Firing from cover, his marines returned fire, their fire discipline a credit to their training.

“Jake, I can see the Netite are emerging from the city,” Jake heard Sara report from the Revenge combat control room.

“Tell me when they are firmly committed,” he replied.

As they continued to exchange fire, Jake had his troops retreat under fire, drawing the Netite farther from the cover of the city structures.

They were approaching the most dangerous part of the plan. As the Netite emerged from the city, more had a clear line of fire. Suddenly Jake heard the sound of the heavy guns opening up at the edges of the line. That meant the Netite had pressed far enough beyond the city to spread out.

“Jake, we should drop,” he heard Sara say.

“Go for the drop and then the destroyers,” Jake replied.

With the drop of the troops behind the Netite, the destroyers were to target the open space between Jake and the city limits. That put them between two forces and fire from above.

Suddenly Jake heard, “Crap, they dropped us too close, we are dropping in the middle of their rear!”

The destroyers had apparently closed too close to the rear of the Netite and now his Marines were in the thick of them.

“Sara, show me,” Jake commanded.

His display changed to the video from one of the destroyers. Below, his marines were in a hand-to-hand fight with the Netite. Firing in all directions, they were killing blue apes, who themselves were firing back. Some had rifles while others carried pistols in one hand, and long thick blades in the other.

As he watched, one marine took a blade across the stomach. It didn’t cut the suit, but sent the marine flying across the open area. Several more were hit by blaster fire, killing them instantly at such close range.

“Order an advance. I want destroyer cover fire now!” Jake ordered as he began an assault under fire, “Have the 10th cover those marines!”

He began leapfrogging his troops forward, having one group cover fire while the other advanced. With the addition of the destroyer fire from above, it was almost like following a line of artillery. As they advanced, they encountered stray Netite in small groups, separated from their main force. Each was cut down in place.

“Sara, status?” Jake asked as they continued their advance.

“The 10th is flying cover as the surviving squads retreat and regroup. The Netite are scattered, but there are still a couple hundred spread all over.”

Suddenly a huge explosion erupted between Jake’s marines and the Klinan city.

“Make that less than a hundred,” Sara corrected.

“Ok, let’s finish this,” Jake ordered.

As all the units converged, the last of the Netite battled on, no quarter asked or given.


Honan had watched the entire battle, horrified at the brutality displayed. While he was gratified his community was cleansed of the beastly Netite, he wasn’t so sure these humans were any more civilized. He couldn’t have been more wrong when he underestimated their ability to equal Netite brutality.


Jake had everyone gather at the edge of the city once the fighting was over.

“Sara, what’s the status of the other Netite force?” Jake asked.

“They have abandoned their location and are on their way to yours now. You have a few hours yet. We think the NeHaw are directing their actions from the destroyer, but other than that, they have given no indication of hostility.”

“Casualty report,” Jake asked, not wanting to hear the answer.

“One dead and two wounded on the first team, all the wounded are already in route to Revenge.”

“And,” Jake asked.

“Ten dead and three wounded from the second team,” she finished, the pain apparent in the tone of her voice.

They had lost an entire squad to a bad drop. Besides the mere fact of the loss of life, they had another force headed their way of equal strength and this time no surprise tactics to offset the superior numbers.


The NeHaw on LeSoc’s destroyer were not pleased. They had just witnessed the impossible. A force less than a tenth the size of the Netite had obliterated them. There had been one moment where the attacking troops dropped right in the middle of the Netite rear, creating quite a spectacular event. However, the leading elements halted that with a push from the front.

Again, LeSoc’s sensors started alerting as several more NeHaw ships appeared, entering the solar system. One was a battleship. LeSoc had never seen one before, they were almost ships of legend because they were so scarce. This should prove interesting, he thought.


Brian was supervising the unloading of the wounded when all hell broke loose. They had just offloaded the last marine when his ship started shuddering violently.

“Captain to the bridge, we are under attack,” someone sounded over the PA.

Racing to the ladder, he scrambled back onto the bridge as another round of blasts shook Revenge.

“Status,” Brian asked as he took the command chair.

“A NeHaw battleship, four cruisers and six destroyers just dropped out of faster than light. The battleship has opened fire, and both the Independence and D-1 are returning fire with us,” his tactical officer replied.

“Damage report?”

“The stasis shield are holding for now, but we need to get away from the cross fire ASAP,” tactical replied.

“Get us some clear space,” Brian ordered the helm, “Tell Independence and the destroyers to do the same,” he ordered communications.

He then hit the comm. button and addressed Sara in the combat control room, “Sara, tell Jake we have a NeHaw problem up here right now. He may need to improvise for a bit as we might need his destroyers.”


For Jake that was the other shoe dropping. Of course, the NeHaw had set a trap. He had expected a show of force in some capacity, but a battleship was not in the mix. He had estimated that two cruisers and six destroyers would more than handle the ten or fifteen ships they might gather. This was a Hail Mary play on their part.

He now had to come up with a plan to overcome a force with a 20 to 1 advantage over him without his heavy hitters and no tactical support. Moreover, Brian had his one ace in the hole.


Continuing to take a pounding, Brian had Revenge and Independence reposition so they could better coordinate their firing. As one of the NeHaw destroyers crossed their path, they doubled up on it, a large ball of energy their reward as it exploded.

With several of their own destroyers back in space, he ordered them to draw the cruisers away while they continued to pick off the NeHaw. He reminded them to use their missiles on the cruisers, killing their shields. He then continued to maneuver the two cruisers around the end of the battleship, preventing it from presenting an entire broadside.

As they did so, the wayward NeHaw destroyer would present a target of opportunity. After the second exploded, the other four withdrew, leaving the battle to the two human cruisers and the battleship.


Jake had his troops move into the city, taking positions in the structures that allowed them to observe the oncoming Netite force from above. With only little over one hundred marines, he was pushing for every tactile advantage he could find.

Firing from above they had an opportunity to inflict serious damage on the approaching force at a distance. Would it be enough was the question? The last engagement had proven the only passive Netite was a dead one.

At this point, his one ace in the hole was the 10th. Once they engaged the Netite, they could circle behind and hit them where it hurt. Jake’s big concern there was they had taken a beating in the last battle, the shielding not quite as forgiving to blaster fire as it was to traditional projectiles.

Jake noted a couple of the “Odd Squad” had combat suit patches indicating possible breaches. Abby and Joe both assured Jake their troopers were good to go.


Brian was becoming concerned. They had eliminated three of the four cruisers and three destroyers, but at the cost of two of their own destroyers. Even with the stasis shields, if they were caught in a battleship broadside, they were toast. It overwhelmed the shields, causing them to collapse. By this time, Sara had joined him on the bridge, the combat command room abandoned as nonfunctional.

They had been using the shield busting missiles from Georgia, but while they worked great against the cruisers and destroyers, the battleship seemed to swallow them up.

This last trick was all he had left, “Launch the Rogers and the backups.”

Jake had managed to add two more fighters in the two destroyers with the vehicles. One each in the rear of the hangars, they were shielded under a stasis parking pad.

The six fighters broke into pairs of two, each fighter erupting in rail gunfire as they first passed the battleship and then the destroyers beyond. Two of the destroyers immediately exploded, apparently their captains killed in the passes.

A few seconds later, four of the fighters converged on the remaining cruiser, causing it to explode as well.

Just as Brian was starting to feel some relief, Independence exploded off the port bow, having drifted too far into the battleships line of fire. He felt like he was kicked in the gut at the thought of all those people he had known, gone in a flash. Sara’s face had gone white.

Just as quickly, the same ship vaporized one of the Jolly Rogers and a companion fighter. The battleship was killing them off, one by one.


The Netite advance was spread out over a wide line, not allowing themselves to be bunched up for easy pickings. Once they were in range, Jake gave the word to open fire. He watched an entire part of their advancing line drop. It was not enough. They continued, returning fire, causing the marines to retreat between shots.

Once they were close enough, Jake ordered the 10th in, they having gone wide earlier. As they made their pass, Jake saw two riders shot from their rides, the cycles crashing into the oncoming mass and killing more Netite. Jake had the feeling they were in big trouble.


Brian had the feeling he was in big trouble. He had the remaining fighters retreat, regrouping with the remaining two destroyers.  Positioned in a Mexican standoff with the original three NeHaw ships, they all watched, as the battleship seemed to have it in for Revenge. Nothing the other ships had done dissuaded it from its pursuit.

Brian had swung Revenge to the edge of the Klinan solar system, attempting to bring the battleship nose on. If he could concentrate his fire at the tip of the ship, he might create a significant enough breach to disable it.

As the battleship closed, Brian ordered the last of the missiles and all guns to fire.

Miraculously, the battleship nose erupted in a huge ball of flashing energy. As Brian looked at Sara in disbelief, two Lanai patrol ships passed on either side of Revenge with a dozen fighters as escorts. Both ships had their rail guns streaming fire along the sides of the battleship.

From Revenge, they could make out pieces of the battleship coming apart from the streaming fire. With the patrol ships heavy plated steel hulls and stasis shields, the battleship guns had little effect. After completing their pass, the NeHaw ship broke in two, its innards spilling out into space.

The crew of Revenge watched as their own battleship slowly passed by, more fighters streaming from the hangar opening. None of the fighters had pilots.

“Where did they find a crew?” Brian asked Sara.


The Netite were literally at the city gates, the marines having cut the original force in half. They had continued to pick them off during their advance to the city. However when one dropped there was another to take its place. At this point, they still had almost a thousand to deal with, and all no more than one hundred feet away.

From the audio reports from his people, he was down to ninety marines and six troopers, although two of their cycles were down.

The Netite had halted their advance, in preparation for a final assault. Jake watched as they massed in groups aligned with the streets below, creating a situation where Jake was about to become surrounded. If the Netite flooded into those streets, they had nowhere else to go, as the rooftops were too far apart.

As he was hunkering down for their last stand, four fighters did a sweep from left to right, energy cannons blazing and decimating the oncoming force. Jake could see all of the cockpits were empty.

The marines all cheered as the Netite went down in flames from above.

Jake stood up from his rooftop position and asked, “ALICE-3, is that you?”

“Did you miss me?” was her reply.


HeBak sat in his ship at the edge of the human solar system, watching the spaceship traffic going in and out of the gravity well that contained his retirement. This had become a ritual, every decacycle, for the last few kilocycles. Since the disaster of the Battle of Klinan, as everyone was now calling it, he had been coming here to see how he might slip in unobserved and steal away with enough wealth to retire early.

Emissaries from worlds outside of Nu Tau Beta were flocking to this solar system, all requesting recognition and with desires to align with the humans. He hoped to find a way to slip in with a convoy and enter unchallenged. So far, he had no luck at all.

After the battle, things on the home world had gone from bad to worse. The High Council was searching high and low for an answer to the human problem. All HeBak’s efforts to misdirect them away from this planet fell through after the Klinan declared this barbaric race the saviors of the galaxy.

Worst of all, the devastating loss of the battleship and the Netite mercenary army crippled the NeHaw military effort. The battleship, one of only two remaining, was a huge loss. This was compounded by the fact that the Wawobash, whom were now renegade, originally built all three and was unavailable to build any more for the NeHaw, since they now built apparently unlimited quantities for the humans.

As for the mercenaries, while there were always more to be had, the invincibility factor was gone. Previously, should the Netite be invoked by the NeHaw, worlds would capitulate immediately. Now that the humans had wiped out their entire landing force, while outnumbered over 30 to 1. This proved they were not only beatable they, were completely outclassed by the human forces.

With no space traffic to speak of at the moment, HeBak zoomed his display, searching for the third planet from their star. Looking at the planet, once located, he instantly focused on the bizarre malformed ship in orbit there. He knew it from the images captured on Klinan as this was the human battleship. It lacked the smooth, curved lines of a proud NeHaw craft, giving it a crude, utilitarian appearance.

He had watched the video of the battle several times, displaying this same ship as it turned the fight, destroying the NeHaw fleet. He had seen as it then released smaller ships that destroyed the remaining Netite on the planet below.

HeBak still didn’t understand why the humans had let the two remaining destroyers leave orbit unmolested. It was their observations and recordings that had provided the High Council all the evidence they needed to declare war on the humans. He had heard it described as mercy, by other races, but the act was lost on him.


ALICE-3 rested in a comfortable orbit above her previous home. Parked in stationary orbit, she sat directly above the State of Georgia, reflecting on her life, past and present. She had once been a facility guardian for the Georgia location. Her responsibility there had been to support an Advanced Weapons Research and Design facility. That had been until the first NeHaw attack.

Afterward, she simply maintained the empty offices and labs, waiting for the release of the last remaining link to existing command, trapped in an abandoned stasis experiment. Captain Jacob Thomas had rested in an isolated lab in Nevada, under the watchful eye of ALICE-1. As the first of the eight ALICE facilities, she protected and prepared him for the day when he would be needed.

That day came 153 years after his entombment, and all the ALICEs were delighted with his recovery. With Jakes release, came a flurry of new activity. Fresh humans were being recruited every day, restoring the usefulness of every facility they populated.

As it was coming close to the time ALICE-3 herself might be reopened, the accident happened, terminating her existence. She understood her sisters had kept her death a secret due to the extreme danger it presented to Jake. She also understood that with her passing, ALICE-9 came to life.

If not for Jake, her story would have ended there. She understood that it was through Jakes knowledge and efforts that she was where she is today. Moreover, from this perspective, it was a huge step up from her previous life!

Before her untimely passing, she was in a fixed location with a limited view of the universe. Now she could go anywhere and experience things her sisters could only imagine. The battle for Klinan had proven her value in expanding the influence of the human/ALICE agenda.

It was for all this and much more that she was forever indebted to Jake for her resurrection.


Jake sat in a beach chair, just off the water’s edge, drinking a beer and watching the women play in the surf. Sara, Sandy, and Becky were all waist deep in the warm blue water, having the time of their lives. The scuba gear he had just been using rested in the sand next to him on one side of his chair. On the other side were the towels the women had spread out before entering the water.

As he watched, Sara extracted herself from the splashing melee, and headed to her towel next to Jake. He handed her a beer as she dropped on her towel, taking a sip and then setting it upright in the sand next to her. He watched as she lay on her back, her body glistening in the sunlight from all the water clinging to her skin.

She closed her eyes, and then said, “So tell me again how you saved ALICE-3?”

Smiling, Jake replied, “As I said before, when the computers that make up ALICE-3 crashed, they created a file called a core dump. It contained everything she had in memory. I simply rewrote the firmware for the host system to reload that into memory prior to completely booting.”

“Why didn’t they ever do that before?” She asked, tuning her head in his direction, while shielding the sun from her eyes with one hand.

“The systems they used in development didn’t crash, they were manually rebooted. Once they discovered they were creating a life each time, they stopped the practice entirely. As far as I know this is the only time a crash dump has ever been captured to test with,” Jake replied.

“Once I had that to work with, I saved everything I could find in the file systems, specific to ALICE-3, and then had a duplicate ALICE system installed on the battleship. We replicated the entire system, replacing all the necessary files in all the required places. The best part of all, besides resurrecting ALICE-3, this solves two huge issues for us,” Jake finished.

“What’s that?” Sara replied, this time not bothering to look up as she went back to sunning herself.

“We no longer need a large crew to run the battleship.”

With that, Jake saw a small nod from Sara,

“And we don’t need to worry about a name for the battleship anymore!” He finished.

Jake saw her smile at that as she raised both arms over her head, relaxing in the sand and sun. He took another sip from his beer as he admired the sunlight on her tanned skin. Turning back to watch the other two in the surf, he had to admit this trip to Australia was everything he had dreamed it would be.

The women adopting Sandy’s tradition of no swimsuits in Australia only added to the splendor.

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