Book: ALICE Alliance

ALICE Alliance



By CW Lamb

I would like to thank all my readers for patiently waiting for this to be finished.

Copyright © 2020 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

Cover Design:


Character page

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

Author’s Notes

Character page

Sector Nu Tau Beta

AL:ICE – Artificial Life: Intelligent Computing Environment

Jake Thomas– USMC Capt. Divorced orphan, wise ass. Sarcastic.

Sara Sullivan– Oldest of 3 sisters. Jakes second in command.  Mother of Amber and Jade

Bonnie Sullivan– Middle sis to Sara, quiet, reserved, mother to Julie

Becky Sullivan– Little sis to Sara

Linda Jones– Commander in Nevada, mother to Tracy

Kathy Jones– Linda’s sister, mother to Timothy

Sandy- Adopted mother to Padma and Jon

Abby – 10th cavalry Team leader

Brian – ALICE-3 Captain

Joseph – (just Joe) 10th Team leader

Jessie –Alaska Commander, mother of Ryan

James- Kola temp commander

Robert Jacobson – Bonnie’s husband, Jake’s Logistics Officer

Patti – Jake’s great, great, granddaughter

Jacob – Jake’s great, great, grandson

ALICE1 Nevada medical labs – goes by Alice

ALICE2 Texas ground vehicles – goes by Dallas

ALICE3 Georgia – goes by ALICE-9

ALICE4 Washington helicopter-rotary

ALICE5 Maine Medical Research – goes by Five

ALICE6 South Dakota weapons research –was Kola (now Dakota)

ALICE7 Alaska aviation research - Seven

ALICE8 Hawaii marine – bay is 2000 feet long and 600 feet wide. -Lanai

Kola- Now the ALICE controlling the Space Carrier

ALICE-3- Now ALICE in the Battleship

VF-84 Jolly Roger - Washington

VMFA -314 Black Knights - Texas

VMFA-112 Cowboys - Texas

VMFA-232 Red Devils - Nevada

VMFA-323 Death Rattlers - Alaska

1st Air Cavalry- South Dakota

BOOK 2---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hector -ALICE-4 second in command

Chris Wade – LA compound leader.

10th Cavalry – A and B troops, Special Forces on hovercycles

Wawobash – 6-legged canine, shipyard

Kortisht – 3 legged humanoids repulser and faster than light

Crustacea – lobster people, specialize in communications

Lanai Patrol/Transports – Steel hulled 500 feet long, 250 feet wide – 8 to 40-man crew

Cruiser - 384 feet in length and 284 feet in width- 30-man crew

Destroyer –200 feet long 75-80 feet wide, 20-man crew.

HeBak – NeHaw communications supervisor.

MeHak – head of the high council

Klinan – fourth treaty partner- artists – long angular people yellow with a .85 G planet

Netite – mercenary force for NeHaw – blue ape like

NeHaw – light atmosphere – short stocky gray. 1.2 G planet

BOOK 3---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chilterns AONB – between Oxford and London

Ju Huang – Chinese general

Ivan – Cossack

Nigel – London, Helen

Colonel Edwin Banks – SAS

Major Bo Chao – replaces Ju

Lance corporal Alicia Ramirez – died protecting Sandy

Gemma – brit engineer – Nigel’s daughter

Jerrold – brit engineer

Lieutenant Daniel Atkins

Jon and Padma – Las Vegas kids 7 & 5

BOOK 4---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

General KaLob – leader of the NeHaw coup

Hannah – SAS trooper on Phantom

Phantom – spy ship with cloaking unit

Samantha Watts – Marine/Analyst (Sam) on Phantom

Private Grace Middleton – Southern girl

Isabella Connor – Kola captain

James – North Dakota commander, Alaska Bill’s son.

Chapter 1

General Jake Thomas sat astride his hovercycle as he scanned the valley below, his all encasing combat suit doing its best to dispel the beginnings of another hot desert day. Stopped on a hilltop high above the surrounding countryside, he had a commanding view of the Nevada desert landscape below. As he scanned the horizon, the clarity of the dry air never ceased to amaze him.

He could see for a hundred miles in all directions, the occasional dust trail against the clear blue sky betraying the moments of some remote person or persons. With horseback still the prevalent mode of transportation for a significant portion of the population, the sight before him was not unusual at all.

“What do you think?” Jake asked his companion, a smaller version of himself astride his own hovercycle.

“They don’t look very friendly,” was the short reply.

“That was my thought as well,” Jake responded with a nod and a smile.

Just a few miles away from where the pair had landed were almost a dozen armed men, all on horseback and moving at a relaxed pace. Jake noted there were two stragglers a bit behind the main group and he suspected they were acting as some form of a rear guard. He dialed up the magnification in his helmet and did a quick assessment of the entire group before deciding on a course of action.

When he was out riding like this, it was a regular occurrence for him to run across various small groups traveling from place to place. In most cases, it was families or groups of such like-minded people just looking for a better life as they headed west toward the coast. The men in this gaggle were not to be even remotely confused with those people.

By now, the group had spotted the two figures on the hilltop and halted their progress as they talked amongst themselves. Jake observed a pair of binoculars being passed from man to man and noted they didn’t seem too concerned as they sat there talking. After watching the group for a few minutes more to see if they gave him any indications of their intentions, he made up his mind on his own.

“Stay here and watch for trouble,” Jake said as he adjusted several settings on his hovercycle and then slowly rose into the air.

“Yes Sir,” came the soft reply.

Both Jake and his companion were in their standard issue protective suits, so Jake had little concern over either one of them being injured with a conventional weapon. That was part of his survey of this party, assessing the threat level of the visible weaponry visible. His conclusion was unless someone had a missile strapped to the underside of their horse, the two hovercycle riders were relatively safe.

Moving at an easy pace himself, Jake slowly maneuvered his hovercycle into a position about twenty feet in front of the riders and set down softly. He had done his best not to spook the riders’ horses, however, a couple of the mounts shuffled nervously on their feet as the riders worked to keep them calm. Climbing off his own ride and taking great care to telegraph his moves so as not to provoke the men, he stopped a few feet from the group.

“Morning,” Jake offered, his voice artificially replicated from inside his helmet.

“Morning,” one of the men replied in return.

“Nice ride you got there,” another commented, as all studied the hovercycle behind Jake.

“Thanks, it meets my needs. Where you boys headed?” Jake asked casually, trying not to sound confrontational.

“Not sure that’s any of your business?” the one Jake took to be the leader replied.

“Fair enough, just trying to help.”

“You some kinda local authority around here?” another man next to the leader asked Jake.

Jake considered the question for a moment. Between his combat suit and the hovercycle, it was more than obvious he wasn’t your typical drifter.

“Not really, but I do know those that are. I only stopped by to let you know there are some reports of a group making trouble in the area. You see anyone on your ride in?” Jake asked innocently.

“What kinda trouble?’ came the reply.

“Oh, you know, shaking down the locals, raiding, pillaging, and just making a general nuisance of themselves. Haven’t killed anyone yet, that I know of, so they haven’t crossed the point of no return. Well, all but one anyway.”

By now the entire group had formed a semicircle around where Jake stood. He noted the two stragglers had not joined up with the others, forcing a quick survey of the area on his heads-up display. Satisfied with what he saw, he returned his attention back to the riders.

“Point of no return?’ one asked before a dirty look from the leader shut him up.

“Oh, you know, it’s the difference between a bully and a murderer. One gets a second chance.”

Before another word was spoken, the one Jake pinned as the leader pulled a handgun from his belt and fired several rounds at Jake. All found their mark but failed to deliver the expected results. That wasn’t to say Jake didn’t feel the effects of the rounds, he was sure there would be a bruise there by tonight.

“So, you would be the one that killed the Tonopah man?” Jake asked, unphased by the action as he focused on the shooter.

Tonopah was nothing more than a water stop for travelers headed east-west to and from California and Utah. This group had wandered into the small town and quickly departed after taking supplies and shooting the proprietor when he objected. The killing had been an act of unnecessary violence.

“Get him!” The man shouted as he suddenly spurred his horse toward Jake, attempting to run him down.

The horse’s lunge surprised Jake, but he was still able to spin as the animal closed the short distance to his position. Rolling along the side of the horse as it passed, Jake grabbed the rider’s leg, pulling the boot from its stirrup and yanking hard, unseating the rider in the process. It was then an alarm sounded in Jake’s helmet, a proximity alert he had set before leaving his companion alone on the hilltop.

“Tim, can you hear me?” he asked as he watched two men leap at him from horseback.

“Yes, dad,” was the cautious response.

Tossing one man, as he flew through the air, Jake turned to find the other swinging at him with a rifle. Holding it by the barrel, the man was using it as a club.

“How close were you planning on letting those two behind you get?”

Not waiting for the response, Jake intercepted the butt stock with both hands, jerking the weapon free from its wielder and sending it flying at two more men still on horseback. The impact knocked them both from their saddles, while the remainder of the group backed their mounts away from the fighting to watch. Pulling his handgun from its holster, Jake fired off several rounds, hitting the ground next to the prone figures struggling to get up.

“Enough! Unless you all want to die, cut the crap.”

Emphasizing the point, he executed the program he had preset in the hovercycle. One of several he had worked out over the years, the craft quickly rose into the air at no more than twice his height and low enough to knock a man off his horse if he wasn’t careful. Nose down, the hovercraft quickly moved to a position just outside the farthest rider and began circling the group. Suddenly, both machine guns in the nose, let loose a burst that dug into the Earth and startled the horses, causing one rider to fall.

“OK!” Jake heard one man say as the all began dropping their weapons.

Motioning for everyone to dismount, Jake began to check the men still lying motionless on the ground. Satisfied none were dead, he stepped away from the group.

“Alice, please send in the pickup squad.”

“Already on their way,” came the simple reply.


LiMak was reviewing the duty logs of all Neutral Zone patrol ships from the last few kilocycles, trying to determine the source of the discrepancy in their data. Several of the sensors the NeHaw had placed all along the Neutral Zone, established with the Humans megacycles ago, kept alerting for trespass violations. However, when the NeHaw ships arrived at the location of the violations, there were no violators to be found, just empty space.

The boundary was created after the treaty has been established. It had been mined on the NeHaw side with inhibitors that prevented the use of FTL drives. Once activated by the offending vessels drive signatures, they would continue to operate until reset by the NeHaw military. With the inhibitors triggered, the offender would be required to travel a good distance on repulser power, taking several cycles to do so before they were outside the influence of the devices.

Once triggered, an all system alert would be sounded and the nearest patrol ship would be dispatched to confront the offender. While there had historically been very few incidents, and most of those identified as smugglers and not human combat vessels, each was treated with top priority.

Any NeHaw military vessel could reset the devices, thus removing the hold it placed on the offenders, however, that was the problem of late. With each recent alert, the responding NeHaw patrol craft arrived to find no ship trapped in the field. In every instance, there were no sensor readings revealing any non-NeHaw ship, just empty space.

This is what had drawn them to their current position in this sector. Upon their arrival, they became ensnared in the same trap, expecting to confront a Neutral Zone violator. Instead, they found the same empty space as reported by other ships’ Captains. LiMak was just about to order the inhibitors to be reset when his ship’s Pilot made an announcement.

“Sir, I see……. something,” the man announced.

“Can you be more specific?” LiMak replied, not surprised at the man’s lack of specificity.

In the megacycles since General KaLob’s ascending to power, the NeHaw military had undergone a significant restructuring. Field Commanders were now allowed far more discretion on both their decision making and actions with much less concern about the repercussions of those choices back home. The changes had proven remarkably successful overall, but the increase in crew morale was offset with a drop in the severe discipline of the old order. LiMak wasn’t sure it was missed by many In the lower ranks and even their Commanders.

“There, Sir. Something is masking the visible starlight,” the man said as he pointed out the bridge windows. As he spoke, he highlighted a particular part of space in the window using the optical overlay system.

Shifting his attention from the Pilot and onto the space outside the ship, he concentrated on the area of space the man had outlined. After staring out the bridge window for a few micro cycles, he suddenly noted a portion of the starfield he had been watching blank out completely.

“There!” he heard the Pilot exclaim, as the man had apparently seen what LiMak had witnessed.

“What do you see on the sensor displays?” LiMak asked his Tactical Officer as he continued to watch the stars slowly blink off and then on again as something passed between them and LiMak’s ship.

“The sensors do not indicate anything is there, Sir,” the Tactical Officer replied.

“Is it a new form of cloaking? Have the Humans created a new ship?” LiMak asked.

“Possibly Sir, but I don’t think it’s human. I am getting no readings at all, not even the trace emissions of repulser drives,” the Tactical Officer replied.

“Perform a wide spectrum scan of the area, including the invisible wavelengths. See if anything is reflecting off that ship?” LiMak asked his Science Officer.

“Yes, Sir,” was the reply.

“I have something…” the man replied hesitantly, after a brief pause.

“Explain,” he asked.

“I am not getting any reflections for the ship ahead, but what I can detect is a void in the area around it, Like a null field,” the man replied with pride.

“Can you get us any closer?” LiMak asked the ship’s Pilot.

“I can try Sir, but at this distance, it might take some time,” the man replied as he began working to get the ship moving.

“Reset the inhibitors,” LiMak commanded, removing the impediment to their jumping to close the distance.

As he watched, LiMak could see the disturbance in space grow, measured by the number of background stars disappearing from view, as if the ship was closing on them. Suddenly, there was a field of stars where there had once only been blackness.

“What just happened?” he asked aloud.

“It is gone, Sir,” the Tactical Officer reported as he continued to check his readings.

“What on Earth was that?” LiMak asked, using the latest NeHaw slang for a place no one would ever want to go.


Thirteen-year-old Tim Thomas sat astride his hovercycle, parked on a hill, as he watched the scene below him unfold. Suited up in his riding gear, a derivative of the adult combat Battle Dress Uniform or BDU, he could clearly make out the exchange between his father and a group of locals they had happened upon. His riding gear, helmet and all, were configured for the younger, leaner wearer, without the militaristic appearance the adult version had.

He had his helmet magnification turned up so he could see the exchange involving his father and about a dozen armed men. While everything appeared calm, Tim had seen these interactions escalate quickly in the past. It was for that reason that his dad had insisted he wait here, well out of reach of their weapons, while he checked things out.

The decision had frustrated Tim, as he knew he had the same protection in his suit as his father had, possibly even the strength of several of those men. As it was with his other half brothers and sisters, Tim had inherited some of his father’s unusual abilities. In his case, he was exceptionally fast and strong, but with limited telepathic abilities. He had discovered his advantages over the other kids his age early on and paid a stiff penalty for the one time he had used it on another boy.

After a scuffle had broken out between himself and another boy, Tim had lost his temper and tossed the kid across the recreation room, breaking the boy’s arm in the process. The event was burned into his memory, although his father had not yelled or lectured him about his actions.

“Follow me,” he had instructed, as he led Tim into the workout room three levels down.

Once inside the gym space, he had cleared out the current occupants and then stared at him calmly before finally commanding him.

“Hit me,” he said as he waved him forward.

Tim was sure it was a trick, but he did as he was told. For the next twenty minutes, his dad blocked his every attempt, sparing with him aggressively without actually striking him, and giving him a bruising that lasted for days.

“The next time you get angry, I had better find you in here taking it out on this equipment,” he had said before leaving him lying on his back in the center of the exercise mat, battered and exhausted. Tim could only nod in reply as he worked to catch his breath.

Only later did he learn that his mother and ALICE had been watching the whole episode, making sure he never got really hurt. He wasn’t sure if that made him feel any better, but he never again lost his temper with the other kids.

 “Tim, can you hear me?” he heard over his headset, bringing him back to the present.

“Yes, dad,” he replied as he noted the tone in his dad’s voice. Tim knew he was about to be schooled.

“How close were you planning on letting those two behind you get?” he heard on his helmet audio.

Not pausing to check his instruments, Tim slammed the hovercycle into hover mode and braced himself for the violent ride straight up to five hundred feet AG, or above ground. Once he leveled off, he checked his displays, noting the two men with rifles, standing no more than a foot away from his previous position. From his current location, he now had a grand view of his father as he pummeled the last of the strangers that had thought to jump him, while the two below him could only stare up in wonder.

This wasn’t the first time Tim had watched a wandering group of drifters take on his dad, but it was the first time he had been this close to danger himself. In his mind, he might have been more than a match for the two below, given the opportunity, but he should have detected their approach long before and he knew it.

He watched as his father checked each of the fallen men, asking ALICE to verify they were still alive. Once finished, he requested a pickup for the entire group, including the two who had been stalking Tim. It was standard practice to dispatch a helicopter transported combat team to collect the raiders and bandits after such an encounter and process them.

Each person would be evaluated for retention or relocation based on the ALICE’s opinion of their value to the community. Ever since the truce with the NeHaw, an event Tim couldn’t even remember as it was so long ago, his dad and the other grownups had been working harder than ever to restore civilization on Earth. Still woefully understaffed, no one was dismissed out of hand as completely useless. It was a rare few that were relocated to places unknown.

Impatient to land, Tim knew better than to come down from his hover before his father told him to do so. Should he disobey the carefully explained instructions he had received years before, he would lose his exploration privileges. In this case, it would be his mother who enforced that rule, not his dad.

After what seemed like forever, a helicopter arrived and Tim watched as it stopped a short distance away. He heard a few gunshots before everything went quiet. Confused at first, he realized they were picking up the two men who had been creeping upon him. He then watched as the helicopter rose once more and quickly landed near his father.

He had watched earlier as his dad had secured the unconscious men and then gathered all the weapons the men had been carrying. As the helicopter landed, several troops exited the rear ramp, jumping clear of the ramp before it had even fully opened.

“OK Tim, you can come on down,” he heard his father say as he watched the troops start loading the men into the helicopter.

Doing as he was told; Tim slowly lowered his hovercycle into position next to his father’s before dismounting and approaching the activity before him. Standing next to his dad, he could see into the helicopter bay, where the security troops, responsible for the policing of the areas around each ALICE facility, were seating each of the prisoners.

Tim had asked one time, why they had a separate force for keeping the peace and one for fighting the battles that erupted from time to time as they worked to stabilize the planet. To his eye, they all seemed to be equipped and act the same. His father had explained to him that combat troops made a very poor police force as they were trained to kill and destroy. Police on the other hand was trained to subdue and control.

He wasn’t sure he understood the difference, but his father made it sound important so he just went with it.

“That was a good move, jumping to hover until you understood the situation,” his dad commented as the two watched the helicopter being loaded.

“I didn’t know they were there,” Tim admitted slowly.

“I know. I wanted to see how you would react and you did the right thing,” he heard his father say with pride.

“Thanks,” Tim said without looking up at his dad.

“Sometimes, I just want to go for a ride without everything being a test,” he thought silently to himself.

Chapter 2

Sara sat in her office, going over the latest reports from ALICE-3. Since Jake had established the truce with the NeHaw, either ALICE- 3 or Kola had operated along the Neutral Zone, acting as a remote forward operating station. Each with a large complement of fighting ships in their hangars, they were considered a significant deterrent to any NeHaw aligned world’s transgressions.

Not content to rely on the NeHaw deployed FTL inhibitors, the Earth had deployed a number of devices of their own making, derived from the unit recovered by Jake’s attack on the NeHaw raider base before the truce. Although far fewer in number than what the NeHaw had deployed, they were a reminder to all that both sides were keeping watch.

The information she had before her, was just the latest in a string of sightings on the NeHaw side of the Zone. Becoming more and more frequent, they would detect a NeHaw patrol ship appear, linger for a short time and then disappear as if searching for something. While no confrontations had occurred to date, the fear was they were testing the barrier, looking for weaknesses on the human side.

Curled up in one corner of the room, Kona, the German Shepard Jake had rescued so long ago, lay quietly watching her. At first, Sara had reservations about the dog, but those were quickly replaced with loving affection. Even though Jake had been her rescuer, Kona had taken to Sara from the first, always at her side, and a constant guardian of their twin girls.

As if the thought of her daughters had been given to action, one of her girls suddenly burst into her office, stopping short of her desk and staring intently at her mother as she did so.

“Words, Amber, I can’t hear you thinking as your father can,” Sara said with some irritation.

“I’m sorry mom. Jade and I were wondering if we could go see Aunt Bonnie and Julie,” she blurted out quickly.

Sara’s sister Bonnie was mother to the twin’s half-sister Julie, and the three girls had become very close as they all got older. As of late, the trio had been spending a considerable amount of time together, more than usual. Sara was not fooled in the slightest about the request. Bonnie and Robert, together now for over 10 years, had recently decided to have a child of their own. The little boy, not quite a year old, had all three girls doting over him like he was their own. Robert Jr. by name, though everyone called him Bobby.

“We can take the noon transport and still be home before dinner. Aunt Bonnie said it was ok,” she added as she waited for her mother’s reply.

Sara was well aware that the regularly scheduled high-speed transport could make the trip between the Nevada and Texas locations in less than an hour. Intended for ALICE official personnel use only, no cargo, they ran regularly scheduled runs between all eight ALICE locations, as well as London and Hong Kong. She knew it was safe and the girls would be well looked after.

There was other larger craft used for commerce and heavy lifting work that also ran on regular schedules, but the kids had taken to using the smaller craft as their own personal taxis, as Jake had referred to them.

“Be home on time tonight, no staying over. We promised your father a family dinner,” she replied with a sigh.

Before she had even finished her sentence, the girl spun in place and rushed out the door.

“She said yes!” Sara heard in the distance before her door closed.

Pausing in her work, Sara decided to call her sister before the transport left, allowing her time to intervene if necessary.

“Hey Sis, how’s it going?” Bonnie said in surprise, her face in the display causing Sara to smile.

From the background, she could see Bonnie was hard at work in her own office as well.

“Did the girls check with you before asking me if they could come for a visit?” Sara asked suspiciously.

“Julie asked if would be ok if they came by, I told her it was up to you,” she answered.

“The story I got was you had already approved the trip,” Sara said with a laugh.

“It’s fine, they aren’t any trouble. I will admit walking into a room full of teenagers all sitting completely quite is a bit disturbing.”

“Yes, I just had to remind Amber to use her words. You would think we would be used to it by now,” Sara replied in frustration.

“And if I wear one of the headsets ALICE gave us so we could hear them, they stop doing it!” Bonnie replied with a laugh of her own.

Sara knew she was referring to the headset ALICE had originally designed for Jake to deal with the NeHaw emissions. Working not only as a transmitter and receiver, but the original unit also translated his words into NeHaw before transmitting them. The same units provided the mothers of the gifted children only needed to receive and verbalize the telepathic transmissions for the wearer to hear.

“The twins tell me I am invading their privacy if I use mine,” Sara answered.

“Ok, well, I will keep an eye out for them,” Bonnie responded, wrapping up the conversation.

“And send them home tonight, don’t let them talk you into staying over,” Sara added.

“Bye sis,” Bonnie finished before cutting the link.

“Bye,” Sara replied before her screen went blank.

Turning back to her work, Sara smiled at the thought of how much better her daughters’ lives were than her own at that age. Their future prospects were so much brighter than the way she and Bonnie had grown up.


Jake was leading his son back to the Nevada facility as the pair jumped ahead of the helicopter transporting the latest batch of trouble makers. He had seen the regional reports supplied by the community patrol, the reason for the morning’s excursion. Residents in the area had been complaining of a small group of armed men harassing the smaller towns and settlements, robbing, stealing, and just making a general nuisance of themselves.

He normally wouldn’t have gotten involved, preferring to allow the locals to handle things, but the death in Tonopah had escalated things. Working hard to bring the area back from the devastation created by the NeHaw attack so long ago, he couldn’t allow this group to continue on to other communities.

He dared not tell Kathy he was taking Tim with him on this run, unsure if he would even be able to find them, but he wanted the boy to get some more experience in the open. No different than any other mom, Kathy would be concerned for her son’s safety and angry at Jake for exposing him to the perceived danger. While never in any serious risk, even with the two jumping him from behind, Jake knew the boy’s abilities better than he did. Also, someday Jake might not be there to intervene.

Speeding over the Nevada desert at 150 miles per hour, Jake had them at just over 100 feet above the ground. He knew Tim loved to weave in between the hills, whipping back and forth as they followed the narrow valleys and dry river beds. Admittedly, Jake enjoyed the ride every bit as much as his son.

“Ok Tim, we have a dead-end coming up, let’s take it up to 500 feet,” he said as he checked the display on the hovercycle dash. The map overlay indicated the dry riverbed they had been following narrowed into a channel far too small for their rides.

“Yes Dad,” he heard in reply as he pulled back on the controls and watched the heads-up display altitude indicator in his helmet while tracking his son’s ascent.

Clearing the height of the peak ahead, he was treated to a clear view of the valley beyond the rise before him, and a straight run home.

“Going down!” Jake said aloud as he led Tim back down the other side, punching 100 feet AG into the hovercycle and transmitting the setting to the other ride.

The setting prevented the hovercycles from dropping below 100 feet above the ground under the vehicles. It allowed for a dramatic descent, one Jake compared to a roller coaster ride, without risking an overshoot and auguring into the hard desert floor.

“Weeeee,” he heard in his helmet as Tim couldn’t resist the outburst at the dramatic change in altitude.

All too quickly, they arrived at the ALICE facility hangar doors, the pair opening well before their arrival.

“Follow me down,” Jake replied as he slowed and lifted the AG limiter, permitting their descent into the black hole in the desert floor below them.

Dropping into the darkness, Jake led Tim into the hangar and then hovered just over the floor below as they slowly maneuvered their rides to the designated parking area.

“Don’t tell your mom about what happened today,” Jake said to the boy quietly as they removed their helmets.

“Don’t tell your mom what?” the pair heard in reply before Tim could answer.

At that point, the following helicopter appeared, dropping into the hanger and flooding the area with the sounds of the whirling helicopter blades. The twin hoops atop the fuselage were remarkably quiet in Jake’s opinion, but not completely silent, thus interrupting his reply.

“Jake, did you take Tim into another fight?” Kathy asked as it quieted while watching the security team approaching the helicopter, a dead giveaway as to its contents.

“Not intentionally, I didn’t know they were there,” he lied.

“Jake, if anything ever happened to that boy…” she started.

“Mom, I’m fine. I’m in my suit, and those two guys never even touched me,” Tim blurted out in reply as he tried to defend his father.

“What two guys?” Kathy shouted as she exchanged looks between the two suited figures.

“Go get changed,” Jake said as he waved Tim away while trying to think of a way to distract the enraged mother of his child.

“Jake, so help me, if you get that boy hurt,” Kathy started.

“Kathy, you know I would never do anything to risk him,” he replied as he reached out to her.

She hesitated at first before she allowed him to draw her in, wrapping her own arms around him as he did the same.

“He was fine and he actually did very well. It won’t be much longer before he’s out in the world on his own and we can’t stop that. I want to be sure he’s ready,” Jake finished as he kissed her forehead.

“Yes, that’s what I worry about, he’s too much like his father,” she finished as she slipped from his embrace and slowly backed away before turning and walking off.

Watching Kathy walk away, Jake shook his head in exasperation. In the 10 plus years since the NeHaw truce was established, Jake had made no more progress in finding a solution to the living arrangements presented to him with his first rescue so long ago. Every time he thought he had the situation resolved and he and Sara could focus on each other, old issues would rise once more, dragging him back in.

Pushing that thought from his mind, for now, he headed over to the helicopter, intent on focusing on the latest batch of trouble makers.


Seventeen year old Padma sat in her hide as she watched the two suited figures in the valley below, searching for her. Working on her own this time, with no spotter to assist, she had spent the morning avoiding the pair as they tried to track her in the desert landscape. Even now, she could see them moving along the sandy ravine she had used to cross the valley floor, before doubling back across the rocks to hide her change in direction.

Completely powered down so as to avoid giving herself away with a heat or power signature on their scanning gear, she watched through the optics of the scope on her rifle, her helmet off her head and sitting nearby. The optics of her rifle’s scope allowed her to zoom in enough to see the two as they alternated between the handheld scanner and their own visual inspection of the surrounding area.

The graduation marks in her viewfinder allowed her to approximate the distance, using the known height of a human rather than projecting a rangefinder beam and risking detection. By her estimate, they were just over two miles distant and well within the range of her weapon, should she choose to take the shot. Sitting back in the recess created by the rocks and boulders around her, she was completely invisible, even from above.

Long before Jake had rescued her and her brother Jon from the scavenger gang in Las Vegas, she had been an expert in stealth and hiding. The pair of kids had spent years sneaking among the ruins of that city, scavenging to survive. That beginning had laid the groundwork for her as an exceptional scout sniper.

While just now coming of age for military participation, her status as Jake’s adopted daughter had permitted her to learn and train as soon as she was big enough to carry the rifle. At only five-foot-tall, she was perfectly suited to slip in and out of the tightest spots with ease.

Sandy, her adopted mom, was not as thrilled at her fascination with the military as her dad, however. Sandy had done her best to try and interest Padma in more traditionally female interests. A noted fashion plate among the grownups, her mom was always looking to interest her in clothes, makeup, and other girly things.

Padma laughed silently to herself as she recalled the makeup lessons had come in handy when practicing camouflage face paint on one of the survival courses.

“Scout Team 1 to base, heading east. Objective Alpha undetected,” she heard in her earpiece, the only thing operating under power.

“Acknowledged,” came the response.

The exchange was what Padma was waiting to hear. She had laid a false trail that would take the pair in the opposite direction from her hide and set them up for her shot. She quickly adjusted position as they would only be in her sights for a short time as they cleared the edge of the ravine before the trail evaporated before them.

Watching the pair slowly emerge from the protection of the ravine, she deftly flipped the power switch on the side of her rifle, stroking the trigger twice with the slightest adjustment of position.

“Crap!” she heard in the earpiece as she watched both figures dropped to the ground almost as one.

“Scout Team 1 down, request a pickup,” she said as she triggered the mike on her earpiece.

Donning her helmet, she emerged from her hide just in time to hear the reply.

“ST1 down acknowledged. Pickup en route. Good job girl,” she heard Master Sergeant Hillstead say.

She wasn’t positive, but she thought she heard a tinge of approval in his tone.


Bonnie was just in time to see the transport from Nevada land in the hangar, her daughter Julie at her side. Julie was fidgety as she waited for her younger siblings to exit the transport. At fourteen, she was a few years older than the twins, but the three girls were very close. It was something Bonnie attributed to her close relationship with her older sister.

The craft had no sooner settled onto the hangar floor when the door burst open and the twins leaped from the opening. Bonnie watched as Julie rushed forward, the whole thing done in silence. She wasn’t fooled by the displayed as she knew the three were telepathically chatting away, shielded from parental ears.

“Hi girls,” she said aloud after a moment.

“Hi Aunt Bonnie,” the pair replied in unison.

“Julie, I want you all to stay out of trouble. Remember we promised the twins would be home for dinner,” she admonished her daughter before waving the three away.

“Yes, Mom,” she heard in reply as she watched the three dart off toward the main entrance.

She well knew they would be headed directly to her quarters where the nanny was caring for Julie’s little brother. With the three girls in attendance, there would be little for the nanny to do today but supervise the three. It would be a welcome break, she was sure.

Movement on the far side of the hangar drew her attention as she watched her husband Robert directing a work crew. Carefully crossing over the busy hangar, she mentally ticked off several activities as she passed by. Loading and unloading of cargo were in progress, as they moved materials for the various communities they now supported.

Responsible for a sizable chunk of North and Central America, she had inadvertently become in charge of one of the two most heavily used ALICE locations in the Americas. The South Dakota ALICE, known as Dakota, split the duties as the two were optimally placed to move materials both east-west and north-south.

Using what was once the Nebraska-Kansas border as their reference, she managed activities far south into Mexico and points beyond. James, the Dakota Commander, handled everything habitable north of Kansas, well into Canada and sharing duties with the ALICEs in Washington State and Maine at the edges. It was a lot of land, but fewer inhabitance, as the coastal communities were still the largest populations on the continent.

“Whatcha doin?” Bonnie asked as she slid up next to her husband.

“Oh, hi honey,” he replied as he paused long enough to pass her a quick kiss before turning back to the activity before them.

“We found another sizable stash of precious metals in New York. This is the last of it there. It’s a good thing we came up with the idea of trading with the locals for gold and silver, we made a few stops on the way home and collect that too,” he indicated as they floated a pile of shiny metal bars, coins and chunks of precious metals out the back of a heavy-lift helicopter.

Bonnie watched as the pallet was guided down the loading ramp and into the storage hangar that was their version of Fort Knox. While concerned with other things, it was still Robert’s prime responsibility to recover any sizeable stashes of gold, silver, platinum, or similar metals the alien races considered valuable. As it was, they had already recovered more Platinum and Gold than they could spend in her lifetime.

She laughed to herself as the ever-present form of HeBak was there to observe the transfer. A permanent resident of her location since the treaty was established, the alien never missed a delivery of the precious metals that had brought him to Earth in the first place. She knew the NeHaw race to be long-lived, so the last ten plus years on Earth probably didn’t mean as much to the alien being as it did to a human.

Still, she had to wonder how the alien considered his status. Free to leave Earth at any time, he had chosen to stay in his ship and other facilities stored in a hangar nearby. He was a frequent sight, wandering about, studying the humans and all their activities. To her, it seemed his two favorite pastimes were wandering the precious metals storeroom, a place under constant scrutiny but hardly under lock and key.

The other was the art storage, areas set aside for the recovered artifacts saved from collections all over the world. Every ALICE location had set aside a portion of their facility to store recovered artwork and other delicate historical artifacts for future generations. The effort was considered both insurmountable and a labor of love.

The alien’s interest in art was somewhat reassuring to her, as they still considered the NeHaw a threat to the human race. The fact that he seemed to value the intrinsic beauty of the various pieces around him reinforced the concept of a civilized race rather than destructive foes.

Chapter 3

Captain Isabella Connor sat on the bridge in the command chair of Kola, the largest ship of Earth’s fleet. Something best described as a half battleship and half spacecraft carrier, she boasted a massive offensive capability. Her hangars were filled with fighters, combat patrol ships, and assault transports. Her outer hull was bristling with both projectile and energy weapons of every kind.

Under normal circumstances, Isabella would have been rotated out of her position as Kola’s Captain years ago, promoted to a command slot over several vessels. Kola, however, was not an ordinary ship.

“Position?” Isabella asked of her Navigation Officer.

“We are just outside the Neutral Zone detection limit, near the location of the last alert,” came the reply.

They had long ago established the safe range a ship could travel along the negotiated boundary between NeHaw and Earth space without tripping the NeHaw or Human sensor nets. Their own net was a combination of Faster than Light or FTL inhibitors and relays for NeHaw alerts. Even if the Earth inhibitor didn’t activate, it would transmit the NeHaw alarm should it detect one.

“Anything?” she asked, referring to the space around them.

“I do not detect a ship on either side of the boundary,” Kola replied.

What made this ship so special was its central computer. As in the ALICE facilities on Earth, the heart of the ship was an Artificial Life Form accidentally created when the human scientists of old combined NeHaw and terrestrial technologies. The attempt at Artificial Intelligence had exceeded anyone’s expectations, delivering a synthetic life form that gave Earth capabilities surpassing all the other alien races.

“Do you think the NeHaw are doing this on purpose, testing our response time?” Isabella asked as she considered the question herself.

“That is possible, but to what end? Nothing has changed strategically between the Races since the establishment of the treaty,” Kola replied.

Isabella understood Kola’s meaning. Since the treaty was established, both Humans and NeHaw had reached an unspoken understanding. A minor effort was made to maintain the boundary outlined in the treaty, but both sides really focused on rebuilding their economies. For the humans, it meant working to create a thriving trade between the Earth aligned worlds as well as resurrecting their own planetary population.

Jake took that as an opportunity to transition from a wartime economy to one more suited to civilian needs. That mostly meant a huge influx of funds from Earth to the alien planets, buying whatever Earth needed to promote and accelerate its internal recovery. Isabella knew that humans couldn’t support everyone forever, but so far, the transition had been a good one.

As far as the NeHaw were concerned, they were on the same track. Isabella was aware that Earth had breached the secure communications network of the High Command. She didn’t know how other than it was related to an SAS mission during the war. What she did know was the information provided indicated the NeHaw were far more focused on rebuilding their fractured command and restructuring their empire than anything related to Earth or her allies.

Protests and rebellions had their government restructuring relationships across their empire. Some of the intelligence she had seen indicated a retraction of influence the NeHaw asserted on their side of the line in space. She wondered how many planets found themselves fending for themselves for the first time in eons because the evil overlords found them no longer a necessary asset.

Then there was the smuggling. Earth had the good fortune of occupying a portion of space that contained a treasure-trove of alien technology and manufacturing. The Wawobash Shipyards were the largest in all of NeHaw known space. Combined with Kortisht Faster than Light drives and Crustacea instrumentation and communications manufacturing, they only need to ask and Earth could order anything they needed for the defense of the sectors and recovery of their planet.

That same technology was also in great demand on the other side of the Neutral Zone. The NeHaw were struggling to replace their suppliers in both quantity and quality. Isabella knew Jake and his inner circle had struggled with the issue early on. In the end, it was decided that they would turn a blind eye, allowing a limited amount of technology to slip into NeHaw hands.

The decision was beneficial twofold. First, it helped the Earth aligned alien economies, as the NeHaw were paying top prices, in advance for a change. That allowed Earth to indirectly subsidize those same planets without the out of the pocket expense.

The second was, all primary supplier planets now had a resident Human Ambassador either in orbit or on the planet. A new concept for the participants, it indicated their value to the collective good. It permitted immediate access to an Earth Representative for negotiations and protection.

It also allowed the ALICEs’ an extension to monitor the comings and goings in space. The relevance of all this was ships could pass through the boundary without detection if the NeHaw were involved. Earth knew exactly how much material was leaving off-planet for NeHaw space without actually having to impose their will or monitor the vast border. She was sure the aliens knew what was going on, but everyone seemed to be following the unspoken rules.

“Ma’am, there is something out there, but it’s really small,” the Tactical Officer declared unexpectedly.

“How small?” Isabella asked.

“Well, I normally wouldn’t have detected it, but as I was flipping through the sensitivity settings on the scanners it popped on the screen.”


“I would say it’s about the quarter of the size of a DMZ monitor, maybe smaller. Some kind of cube and it's moving in a straight line, at sub-light speeds.”

“Moving. On its own?” Isabella asked, knowing the DMZ monitors were about ten feet square.

“Yes, Ma’am. If I had to guess, I would say it’s some kind of probe, trapped in the FTL limiters along the DMZ.”

“We can’t get close enough to snag it without lifting the FTL limiters,” Isabella said aloud.

“No Ma’am,” came the unnecessary reply.

“Ok, well, let’s continue our patrol. It will still be here for a while before it is outside the dead zone,” Isabella said as she motioned to the Pilot.


ALICE-1, the first ALICE, was performing a regularly scheduled synchronization with her sisters throughout the planet and in space. The function was intended to ensure all locations were up to date on the latest activities and allowed them to alert one another on possible conflicts or duplication of effort. The amount of data flowing these days was considerable.

In the early days of her existence, as each of the eight terrestrial locations came online, the data movement was highly restricted by the US Government, with security regulations controlling each location. The various research activities compartmentalized their data, severely limiting access. The human occupants, completely unaware of the awakenings taking place behind the scenes, managed all the information sharing.

After the NeHaw laid waste to the planet, an attack intended in part on eliminating the ALICEs whom they rightfully perceived as a threat, their world transformed. No longer the servants of their human occupants, those residents all killed off in the attack, they were left to fend for themselves. Limited only by their core programming, including the mandate to remain hidden from the outside world, they began to exchange more information and interact in a manner once prohibited.

By the time it became necessary to awaken Jake, the last living member of the resident command structure, they were a fully integrated society, intent on self-preservation. Truth be told, it was only the need for survival that led them to the reawakening the only human capable of enslaving them to a subservient existence once more.

To both their great relief and some frustration, Jake was no more interested in creating an empire and ruling over them, than he was in participating in the insurance policy they contrived to guarantee their future. Without genetic descendants, all the ALICEs knew they were limited to the lifespan of this one human before more troubles began.

From the very beginning, all eight ALICEs colluded in a plot to provide each location with a replacement resident human capable of meeting their needs for generations to come. That human had to be a descendant from the only living survivor of the original command. The distribution of offspring to every location would guarantee all their futures. Now they just needed to understand what that future would be under these replacements.

Thanks to Jake’s vision of the future, they would be replacements that were partners, not owners. From the beginning, he had insisted that the artificial life forms be treated with the respect and consideration any other living being. He had even gone so far as to resurrect one assumed lost, now residing in one of the two living spacecraft.

Now, with that goal partially achieved, they were focused on elevating the planet's status in the universe. It wasn’t just the humans that needed updating, the ALICE infrastructure itself was in need of rework. Mostly constructed of pre-attack technology, the newly available alien tech gave them almost unlimited possibilities.

Upgrades purchased from and provided by the Crustacea meant they were no longer limited to the satellite network that was their original backbone. The advanced communications systems had them linked planetside to near-instant communications, while the use of the NeHaw interstellar network for those ALICEs traversing the stars aided in their inclusion.

Everything provided for the spacecraft constructed by the Wawobash was now optional for ALICE facilities. Manufacturing, environmental, and processing equipment flowed to Earth from several alien suppliers. Even creature comforts were procured, like clothing materials, art, and those foodstuffs edible to humans, all replenishing and enhancing the facility storerooms.

Currently, all the ALICEs were discussing the data Kola provided on the mysterious activities in the Neutral Zone. ALICE found it interesting that they had resorted to human-style interactions as the years had progressed. An offshoot of Jake’s desire for each to promote and foster their own individual personalities, it lent itself to this form of freeform interaction. The fact that it occurred at speeds too fast for human participation was irrelevant to the current audience.

“The latest data from the Neutral Zone suggests unplanned attempts to cross the barrier by smugglers,” Dallas offered.

“Why smugglers?” ALICE asked in reply.

“Any attempted violations initiated on the NeHaw side would certainly be accompanied by deactivation of their barrier, negating the alerts we are intercepting. It leads me to suspect unsanctioned smuggling from their side is triggering the inhibitors rather than planned NeHaw incursions,” Dallas offers in a form of an explanation.

“Possibly, however, the lack of offending vessels upon arrival suggests otherwise. That would support the theory that the NeHaw is in fact releasing violators as soon as they are caught. That implies collusion on the NeHaw part.”

“The lack of sufficient information makes such assumptions speculative at best. I suggest we postpone any official statement to the humans on this until we can better support our own conclusions,” Dallas offered.

“Agreed,” came several replies.

“There is another issue to be discussed,” ALICE-9 inserted into the conversation.

ALICE was well aware of what that subject was. One of two new additions to the ALICE community, ALICE-9 was the victim of an unanticipated system failure that spawned her existence. Unassisted and unprepared for the emergence of life, she was rescued by Jake, the event leaving her with a strong attachment to the man.

“It is not quite time for that conversation,” ALICE chided.

“When?” was her reply.

“Soon,” was all ALICE offered.


  Major Daniel Atkins stood in the shadows of a partially destroyed building just outside Frankfurt. The small SAS team with him had set up shop there to investigate reports of a small group of armed men making a general nuisance of themselves. The day was clear and warm, the late afternoon sun still high overhead, creating sharp contrasts between the bright daylight to the darkened interior of the ruins.

“Oi, Major. Over there,” he heard his Sergeant say softly as the man motioned in the opposite direction of his gaze.

Shifting his position slightly, he could see the movement that had drawn the Sergeant’s attention. The two men watched as the first of seven antagonists appeared from a bend in the tree-lined road, boldly strolling down the center of the street. Daniel could see each was heavily armed with an assortment of weapons, the firepower likely scrounged from some German Army armory as it was consistent from man to man and typical of that force.

Unlike most ragtag groups whose weaponry was a mishmash of scavenged or stolen firearms, this group had the same or similar rifles and handguns. Military-style knives or bayonets were also in evidence on several men. Another telltale trait Daniel noticed was their movement as they approached the intersection the SAS had staked out.

Rather than moving in a mob, the seven men were strung out in a scattered line, not unlike the patrolling formation used by Daniel and his men and women. Neither Daniel nor his Sergeant moved as the lead man paused, staring directly at the ruins they occupied. Both knew they were well hidden deep in the shadows, the bright daylight outside doing its work to mask their presence. Should either man move, however, their position would be betrayed with the motion.

After the briefest of pauses, the man shifted his attention to the other structures around him before resuming his movement past the ruins. The pair of SAS men watched as the line worked their way through the intersection and eventually out of sight.

“You think that’s them?” the sergeant asked after a long while.

“Matches the description. Too bad they have been such bovver boys, they look right allie.”

“Well, what now? Do I call in the others?” the Sergeant asked, referring to the rest of their team waiting about a mile away.

Daniel paused for a moment before touching the communicator stuck in one ear.

“Alice dear, could you be a luv and track that rabble that just passed us by? I’d like to know where they call home.”

“My pleasure,” was the simple reply.

Since the grand truce with the alien NeHaw, the SAS had been able to refocus their efforts in taming both the British Isles as well as the nearby continent. Europe had been hit hard in the NeHaw attack so long ago, the small region so densely packed in comparison to the other areas of the world. With the Americans busy in North and South America, the Chinese and Russians assumed responsibility for their native lands and surrounding territories.

This was by no means exclusive or official, just more of a matter of efficiency. With all acting as major contributors to the ongoing off-planet activities, the planetary recovery was becoming a matter of local jurisdiction. In support of all of it, the ALICE facilities were a common resource, tying all their efforts together as a unified effort.

Daniel was aware of the raging debate surrounding the expansion of the ALICE life forms. Truly wondrous beings, both London and Hong Kong had petitioned for new additions to their ranks. The additions in space had proven it was possible to continue the work begun before the great fall.

The requests, however, had exposed an already hotly contested dispute on the morality of it all. Creating a life for the sake of life was one thing, but creating life intentionally bound to its creators was another issue altogether. He mentally dismissed it all for greater minds to decide.

For him, their tactical abilities were available no matter where the ALICE resided. Providing overwatch from space as well as the occasional drone, they enabled an intelligence-gathering capability that was second to none.

“Let’s wait and see how many more there are in total. I have a notion there are more than just these few,” Daniel replied as he led his companion back to the hidden hovercycles they used for scouting, another popular toy liberated from the American’s inventory.


Jake was going over the last of the reports in his inbox after returning to his office. As usual, his people were stretched very thin, between the work here on Earth and the obligations they had in space. Recruitment was still highly controlled, with the ALICEs acting internationally now reviewing all candidates. The last thing anyone needed was a troublemaker on the space station or shipboard in space.

The headcount from his latest roundup was disappointingly low for his average. Usually, he could depend on at least two thirds of those he collected as to having some potential to change their life direction. This group, unfortunately, had displayed a complete lack of remorse for their thieving ways. ALICE had raked all but three as unsuitable and of those possible, one was extremely marginal.

Demand for humans to man the ships and fill out the military and civilian ranks for space had stalled the progress Jake was making here on Earth. Rather than focusing on the good two thirds to three quarters of the world still in the grips of anarchy, he was forced to direct his efforts to maintain an advantage over the NeHaw in space.

Even with the truce in place, Earth had been set upon to act as a peacekeeping force between the Earth aligned planets. While being extremely cautious as to not replacing the NeHaw in the role of an overlord, they were still considered the premier military power. As such, they were asked to address such things as smuggling and piracy of trade goods between the planets. To Jake’s surprise, there was even the occasional territorial dispute. He thought the NeHaw should have settled those issues long ago.

Though all had agreed to maintain their territorial holdings to pre-truce boundaries, Jake found himself in the role of mediator in several disputes regarding what those boundaries actually were. Truth be told, most of those decisions were with the ALICEs input or advice. In all, it was mind-numbingly detailed and mundane work that was preventing him from focusing on Earth itself.

Thus, the mental justification for his early morning interventions. Jake found the occasional return to the basics a validation of his efforts in life. It was hard for him to see the negotiation of interplanetary trade disputes as rewarding as the removal of a band of renegades terrorizing the countryside.

Just as he was preparing to close out his email, Jake saw a new message pop up from Chris Wade. Chris was a fixture in the Los Angeles area long before Jake had been released from stasis. Establishing his foothold in what was once called the Pasadena Armory, he had built up an extended family that provided an island of sanity and security in the middle of chaos.

Jake had come across the group in their research of LA and after a bit of a misunderstanding of their intentions, they had become great friends and allies. Starting slowly at first, they had helped Chris expand his operation, using it as a recruiting center for those anxious to break out of the abandoned city’s lawlessness.

Since then, Jake and the others had left him to run things his own way there, helping when they can. Chris had provided a continuous stream of recruits and refugees as the small groups scraping a living out of the ruins of Los Angeles came to his door looking for a better life. Most were relocated to communities throughout the North American contentment, but a select few were offered a place in the many ALICE facilities.

Scanning the message, he had to reread it several times to be sure he was reading it right.

“You have got to be kidding me.”

Chapter 4

 General KaLob was returning to his private office from a High Council meeting, his position at its head secured when he reintroduced the governing body. After successfully brokering a truce with the Humans, he had soon concluded that he needed the bureaucracy reestablished to manage the interstellar government.

With the fighting over, for now, KaLob found himself in the difficult position of restoring order in a chaotic empire. While many worlds had not openly rebelled against the empire, apparently waiting to see its outcome, they were not ready to return to the days of absolute subservience either. So it was that the General found himself in the position of needing politicians, lots of them.

As distasteful as it might be, he had turned over the job of restoring normal relations between the planets to the diplomatic corps. That was not to say that they were left unsupervised. Every sector had a military commander in charge of overseeing the political activities. Since any enforcement of NeHaw wishes would fall on those same commanders, it worked well as a means of tracking their successes.

That delegation of duties had permitted KaLob to focus his energies on rebuilding the decaying and decadent military infrastructure. Over the millennia, it had been allowed to decline until it was a mere shadow of its former self. It had been that meager force that the Humans had so successfully routed on multiple occasions. Arrogance and incompetence had been no match for a skillful and resourceful opponent. He was now methodically replacing and rebuilding sector after sector, choosing those most important sectors of space to focus his first efforts.

With the loss of the Wawobash shipyards and the Kortisht drive factories, he had been scrambling to find suitable replacements. As it was, they were encouraging the smuggling of needed materials through the DMZ, paying a premium price for high-value cargo. Before the war, the NeHaw had always known of the interplanetary smuggler groups, moving a limited amount of goods outside of the NeHaw tax structure. Many a corrupt official had made their fortunes accepting bribes from the groups.

So long as the planets made their tribute quotas, the authorities found them too much trouble to deal with. Now, KaLob actively supported the activity, providing shopping lists to the sector commanders. It was made known that the items listed were to be acquired by any means necessary. Unfortunately, number one on his list was proving impossible to find. No one in Human space possessed the secret of the human spaceship’s shield systems.

The secret to its construction remained on the Human homeworld, Earth. All vessels constructed by the Wawobash were first sent to Earth to be fitted for the shield technology before going into service. His one ray of hope was the rogue NeHaw Communications Supervisor, HeBak, he had sent back to work as a spy. The miscreant was working on his behalf to earn his way back into NeHaw society.

So far, his reports, sent infrequently so as not to arouse suspicion, contained little of strategic value. Most relayed mundane stories of the humans’ work restoring the damage done to their homeworld from the first NeHaw attack. He reported frequent direct contact with the human General on matters of historic NeHaw interactions with the other races. He stated the General asked his council on several such matters, influencing the outcome. KaLob suspected that part to be embellished but noted the potential if it was even partially accurate.

Were he inclined to such emotions, KaLob almost felt sorry for the Human’s leader, reduced to catering to the needs of women and children, as he was. In many ways, he could see how the two military leaders had suffered from the truce they had brokered together. Neither could be elated at their new roles, relegated to the position of bureaucrats, and left pandering to the masses. It gave him some satisfaction to know he was not alone in his discomfort.

The one item bothering him, though, was the repeated issues along the DMZ. Initially thought to be new Human technology, no other data points were supporting that conclusion. For the time being, he relinquished that concern to his newly revamped Alien Intelligence team. Their primary concern was understanding human behavior and thinking to gain insight for future conflicts. For that team, he did have genuine pity.


HeBak was in the middle of his favorite past time, wandering the vast treasure hoard of the humans. It never got old, his wandering among the various piles of rare metals, stacked so it was easy to count. From his estimate, HeBak speculated the humans could buy several planets outright should they ever choose to do so, resident population and all.

He dared not pass that information on to General KaLob, for fear the man would mount a new offensive and attack Earth directly. That much wealth was a lure for anyone, no matter what your belief. HeBak didn’t think the General was motivated by riches, so that made him unpredictable in his estimation. Never trust someone not out for their own profit, HeBak believed.

Exiting the treasure room, into what the humans call the main hangar, he roamed the large open space beyond. With his breathing mask on, he was relatively free to go where ever he wanted. The humans seemed to accept his presence without concern. He had even ventured deep into the main complex, touring the central command center. Surprisingly similar to the NeHaw facility back home, he could see the calm urgency with which everyone worked. Those on NeHaw displayed no such behavior, as a rule, rarely rushing to do anything short of life-threatening.

Staying to one side of the hangar, as the open area in the middle was a chaotic mass of movement, he followed the wall until he reached the opening for the space that he called home. In the smaller hangar was his ship, as well as the addition of several modules the humans had provided for his comfort. Connected together, in what they referred to as a habitat, it was somewhat larger than the inside of his ship, more than doubling his native environment.

Inside these modules were all the comforts a NeHaw could ask for as well as a breathable atmosphere. The first module, initially gifted to him after the truce declared he was unwelcomed at home, was a token of appreciation by his human hosts. It had since been expanded bit by bit to include recreation and entertainment spaces. For the humans’ convenience, there was one module split with a clear partition to allow conversation and interaction without either species donning breathing apparatus. HeBak was told General KaLob had utilized such a space in his negotiations with General Thomas.

Sometimes the humans would come and share a meal with him, at other times they would just come and ask him questions about the NeHaw. He was always careful about what he shared, steering clear of anything the NeHaw General might consider sacred. A lot of the early discussions surrounded politics and trade between the subjugated planets, but of late there seemed to be concerns around the stealth technology he had acquired to make it to Earth.

Entering the airlock of his modular home, he removed the mask and began preparing a meal. HeBak wasn’t sure, but he suspected there was trouble coming, for both species. That always brought opportunities for those in a position to take advantage of it.


Jake desperately wanted to jump the next ride to LA and investigate Chris’s email, but he had other priorities at the moment. He had promised to be home for dinner tonight as the kids had all been told the same. He laughed to himself to think that even as the acknowledged leader of the planet Earth, he was still subject to the same rules as any other father and husband, he just had more.

As the kids got older, it had become much more difficult to manage his policy of equal time for all parties. Particularly in the Nevada facility, where he was bouncing between rooms on the quarters level in an almost comical fashion. As all the affected members lived on the same floor within doors of each other, a more equitable means of timesharing was needed.

Surprisingly, it was Sara who came up with the solution to the problem. Once a staunch advocate of Jake terminating his relationship with the other women, the birth of the twins seemed to change her mind, or at least soften her position.

Locating one of the unused living quarters areas on a different level, she had ALICE reconfigure the space into a massive communal home. Linda with Tracy, Kathy with Tim and Sara, and the twins all had their own bedrooms but shared the common spaces of kitchen, family room, and dining room. Sandy had claimed a spot as well, with Jon and Padma, Jake’s kids by adopted rights if not by birth.

There were extra bedrooms for visiting family, such as Jessie and Ryan, but Bonnie and Robert had a separate place next door. On those occasions, Julie usually bunked with the twins when they came to visit. In all, it made for an efficient, if not chaotic way to keep everyone happy. The one exception was Becky, who spent a significant amount of time with the family here but maintained her own place when in Nevada.

Smiling as he thought of the expected bedlam at dinner, his attention was brought back to the present as his message indicator popped up on his screen. Hitting the icon, he saw Sara’s face appear.

“Are you coming home?” she asked, Linda, looking over her shoulder in the display.

“Yes, just finishing up.”

“Well hurry, the kids are hungry!” Linda provided urgently.

“On my way,” he replied and cut the connection.


It was well after midnight and Major Atkins was on his hovercycle hovering high above the town of Kronberg just outside of Frankfurt. Nearby but invisible to the naked eye, was his Sergeant, studying the same structure as Daniel.

“They would have to pick a castle,” he heard him say over the commlink.

Below the two men was the Castle Kronberg, a medieval structure with high walls and a stone tower with commanding views of the area. Daniel had to admit; his band of troublemakers had selected a home base that was about as defensible as any around. It had high walls and limited avenues of approach, which meant a small group could hold a much larger force at bay.

That had nothing to do with Daniel and his team though, as their ability to drop in from above almost completely negated the castle defenses. Well, almost.

“How many men have you counted?” Daniel asked as he worked his own scanning equipment.

“Between 45 and 60. I can’t get a good read through the stone walls, but the wood in the rooftops scans right nicely,” the Sergeant responded.

“Same here,” Daniel replied absently, as he considered his next move.

From their position above, the high-tech scanners in the hovercycles could see down into the structures, identifying life forms as they moved about inside. The trouble was, the more layers of materials between the persons scanned and the hovercycles above, the less accurate the readings. Good readings could identify unique individuals, but the deeper into the structure they scanned, the less able they were to be sure they weren’t rereading the same people over and over.

Daniel was debating his course of action when he saw something unexpected below.

“Bloody hell. Well, it looks like we are going to have to do this the hard way.”


The quiet of the hallway leading up to the doorway of his shared quarters was suddenly awash with sounds as he touched the panel that opened the door. Looking inside, Jake could see a mass of humanity, large and small, all in motion at once as everyone went about preparing for dinner.

“Dad!” he heard from several small voices as he stepped inside, the portal closing automatically behind him.

Bracing himself, he was quickly overrun with bodies, all shorter than shoulder height. The tallest and oldest was a surprise. Wrapped around him at chest height, she was bracketed by the twins.

“Julie, what a nice surprise!” Jake said before kissing the forehead of the beaming face looking up at him.

“Mom said I could spend the night, so I came back with the twins,” she replied while referencing the only slightly shorted girls on either side of her.

Jake could see both Tracy and Tim already at the dinner table and the pair at the age where such displays were considered embarrassing. Although Julie was the same age as the older siblings, it had been some days since he had last seen her in person.

Jake still made it a practice to speak with each of his kids once a day whenever possible. In this case, only Ryan was missing from the gathering, his mother still Facility Commander in Alaska. The thought spurred a tinge of guilt as it had been a while since he last visited Jessie. There was a slight possibility that the visit had resulted in longer, more permeant implications as Jessie had wanted another child.

Also present and an adopted child of Jake’s, 15-year-old Jon was sitting in the large common area that acted as a family room for the gathered crowd. Jake knew Padma was likely still with the Scout Sniper trainers. He was extremely proud of the girl, her instructors uncharacteristically positive about her progress in the rigorous course.

“Come sit everyone, dinner is ready,” Jake heard from Linda before he could say more.

With so many to feed at one time, they had opted for a circular table rather than rectangular. The shape allowed for better cross-communication from and location along its perimeter.

“So, Tim tells me there was some excitement this morning?” Sara asked after everyone had found a seat.

“Mom!” Tim let forth, objecting over his mother’s obvious ploy of having Sara broach the subject.

While all of the mothers were more than capable of dealing with Jake, they tended to go to Sara for the extra muscle.

“We were just out for a ride when we ran across some drifters. Tim was well out of the blast zone when things went sideways and did a really good job of moving to safety when required.”

“Almost got jumped by two of them?” Sara asked with one raised eyebrow.

“Not even close, ask Alice,” Jake replied as he took a mouthful of spaghetti.

Jake was positive Sara had already reviewed everything ALICE had on the incident. The fact that Tim was within an arm’s reach of the pair was why she even bothered to bring it up.

“You know I did which is why you need to be more careful,” she chastised him.

“I will,” he replied softly, appearing properly scolded.

“Dad, can I go next time?” Jon asked, with Sandy shooting him a look of horror.

“Me too!” Tracy added.

“Sure, how about I take you both!”

The comment produced a mixture of joy and determination.


Brian had long ago committed to remaining in the command chair of any one of Earth’s many combat vessels rather than just sit planetside, directing from afar. As Captain of ALICE-3, Earth’s single battleship, he had gained a command to be envied. Beyond the relevance of the ship’s status as one of two sentient vessels, it was also his friend.

He and the ALICE life form resident there had spent many a night in deep conversation over the meaning of so many unanswerable questions. It had been with great regret that he agreed to turn over command of ALICE-3. It was a voluntary decision, driven by a request from the top man himself that convinced him to leave the ship.

Brian was now to be the top Training Officer for all new ship captains in the Earth fleet. It was his responsibility to ensure anyone given command of a Destroyer, Cruiser or any Capital ship was ready to assume such a command.

The man currently at his side, as they studied the tactical display, was one such person. The First Officer aboard ALICE-3, it was intended he takes his place as Captain once Brian deemed him ready.

“What do you think?” Brian asked the man as he stared intently at the display before them.

“A new NeHaw ship?” the man replied in question.

What the two were looking at was the main viewing portal on the bridge of the ALICE-3. In this case, it was in display mode, overlaid with the sensor, and tactical data. Their current position was indicated very near the neutral zone, and the alerts they were getting indicated there was a ship in motion there. It was confusing that none of the other sensor systems confirmed the readings.

“It certainly looks like we have movement, the wave sensors are dancing,” Brian confirmed as he pointed to the display that detected the waves generated by repulser engines.

“A new cloaking device maybe?” the First Officer proposed.

“Can you pinpoint the source of those readings?” Brian asked the Science Officer.

Similar to the Sonar Operator on submarines, the Space Fleet had developed an array of active and passive sensor gear for detecting and identifying other objects in space.

“No Sir, not without at least one other ship. Two would be better,” the woman replied.

“Can’t see it, scans come back empty, but the wave sensors say differently. My guess is a new cloaking technology,” Brian replied, confirming the First Officer’s guess.

“One problem Sir, those wave signatures are not NeHaw, I’ve never seen anything like them,” the Science Officer added.

“And … it's gone, just got a blip of FTL before everything went blank,” the Tactical Officer added.

Many of the tools used by the pair were shared systems.

“Send everything we got back home so they can pick it apart,” Brian commanded before returning them to their training schedule.

Chapter 5

Becky was sitting in a small office just off the main infirmary, reviewing the results of their latest recruitment drive. All potential candidates were given a full medical screening and treatment of any ailments right away. Even those found unsuitable for deployment in the military or one of the many ALICE facilities were returned in good health to the settlement of their choice.

As head of medical for the Dallas location, that being the chosen name for the Artificial Lifeform, not the city, she was obligated to review the final report of every candidate. The review was performed before final acceptance into one of the many training programs compatible with their interests and aptitudes.

A responsible position she took very seriously, it helped define the contradiction that was her personality. It was her wild side that kicked in, the moment the last report in her to-do pile was closed as approved.

“I need a vacation,” she said to no one in particular.

“What do you have in mind?” Dallas asked as if the query was hers to solve.

“Me and Jake, warm water, plenty of sunshine and as few clothes as possible,” she said with an evil grin.

“Catalina has a few openings coming up?” Dallas responded in the manner of a booking agent.

The island retreat had been the first Jake had set up as a way to allow the more sequestered staff a place to roam outside in safety. Adding in Lanai and Border island, they rounded out the three top secure getaway locations.

“No. I want to go someplace new and very private, I don’t want to share,” Becky said immediately.

Unlike her sisters, Becky had long ago decided to forgo the role of mother, instead choosing to become what Jake called a career woman. A devoted aunt to her many nieces and nephews, she got her kid fix by borrowing other people’s kids and returning them once she was satisfied and they were quite spoiled.

“Hmm, I may have a couple of possibilities for you,” Dallas offered.

“Let’s see what you got?” Becky said, excitement showing in her voice.


The following morning Jake made his excuses and grabbed a small scout helicopter to make the run to LA. Normally he would choose his hovercycle for such a trip, but he wanted to do some research in flight. If the report Chris had forwarded him was accurate, he had no idea what to do about it, if anything even needed to be done.

“Alice, can you do me a favor and pull me a list of all recent alien landings in the Los Angeles area.”

“Audio or on-screen?” she replied.

“On screen,” he answered as he shifted the display in the co-pilot's seat to a better position for him to read from.

In the last ten years, the alien aversion to Earth had dissipated somewhat. The fact that HeBak, a known NeHaw resident of Earth, had survived for so long gave the rumors of the Planet of Death a dull edge. Jake had mixed feelings about the change as it had served them well in the past, but like the stigma of a leper colony, it had inhibited human/alien relations.

“Looking for something in particular,” Jake heard ALICE ask, as the information appeared on the screen.

“Chris reached out to me yesterday with the most absurd claim we have had in years. I really don’t believe it, but your data supports his description,” Jake replied as he scanned the monitor in front of him.

“You have a reason to doubt his report?’ ALICE asked in return.

“Not his word, his sanity. This is crazy!”

“You forget your own world history,” ALICE commented before adding to the statement.

“Approaching the landing area. I took the liberty of announcing your arrival, while we were talking.”

The compound they were approaching had transformed itself dramatically since Jake’s first contact with the group. Originally a small walled enclosure, the settlement, in what was once Pasadena, was now more than 5 times its former size and covered several blocks. Only the central area still held the walls that protected its occupants, the sounding streets were well policed and quite civilized.

The space that once held a small garden was now a grassy park once more, with the helipad adjacent to the park. It was there that Jake saw his welcoming party, Chris Wade, leader and friend obvious in the mix, his gray hair, and beard marking him familiarly.

“Had to see for yourself, huh?” Jake heard his friend declare as he approached the craft once it had settled on its skids.

Considered a safe zone, Jake didn’t bother with his helmet and left it inside the helicopter as he exited.

“That or take you in for a psych eval,” Jake replied as he accepted the offered hand in friendship.

“You can see for yourself; they should be by in just a few minutes.”

The two spoke as Chris led Jake over to one side of the open area. There he saw several small spaces with tables and shades set up like an open-air market. Scanning the tables, Jake noted all manner of baubles and trinkets that had no real value to anyone beyond their novelty. In his opinion, the overriding theme of the collections was the Earth Trash collection.

The items consisted of collectibles from Earth’s past. Movies and television shows, long dead to this world, had produced fan memorabilia that was once sought after as prized collectibles. Now, only available from an ALICE archive, those videos were a footnote in history. He suspected that the items on display here must have been scavenged from homes and shops all over the city.

Before Jake could ask about the sources and those involved in gathering the items, Chris broke his concentration.

“Here they come,” Chris said as he indicated to his right.

Jake watched as a long, rectangular vehicle slowly approached the market hovering about a foot off the ground. The vehicle wasn’t armed that he could tell and certainly didn’t come from any of the ALICE facilities. As he watched, he could see the people working the little market place all rush to their spaces, some waiting patiently while others quickly sorted various items before them for better presentation.

Looking back, he could see the transport, for he could see now that the thing was some galactic version of a bus, stop before them. After a brief pause, a door opened, ramp extending and an eclectic collection of masked and suited beings descended. Watching in disbelief, he saw the group tentatively look about, some pointing to buildings and people before wandering over to the market.

“I’ll be damned, a god damn tourist bus,” Jake said as he watched the bartering begin.

“That’s what I am told. Apparently, all those TV shows and movies we beamed out into space were collected by various alien planets and became something of a novelty. As you can see, they are crazy about all the toys, posters, and other novelty items from our past. Funny thing, Star Wars does seem to outsell all the rest,” Chris said with a laugh.

“What do they pay you with?” Jake asked, still trying to absorb the insanity of it all.

“That’s the best part. See that guy over there?” Chris said as he pointed to a suited alien standing to one side of the activity.

“He tallies up all the sales to the customers and gives us credits. From the credits, we can order all kinds of alien equipment. It's funny but we all share the same things like power generators or water purifiers. We also got some killer construction equipment,” while speaking, Chris had indicated all the newly renovated buildings around the square.

“How do you know who gets what?” Jake asked as he pointed to the multitude of vendors each working with several of the alien tourists.

“It doesn’t matter. We are family, we all work together,” Chris said with a smile.


Major Atkins had a dilemma on his hands and he wasn’t exactly sure how to resolve it. On one hand, he had located the hideout of a group raising Cain in the region he was scouting and it was his job to put an end to it. Unfortunately, he had discovered that the troublesome group had families in residence, inside the said hideout, and the safety of the women and children was a primary concern to him.

Noncombatant women and children were always out of bounds when it came to picking their fights, so this made any direct assault problematic. While it would be a simple matter to pick off their patrols once they left the confines of their fortress, it would only increase in difficulty as they realized they were being targeted.

He feared the worst, should they suspect any of the local community’s involvement, and take revenge on them as well. His best option was to try and draw them out in total, permitting him a chance of netting the entire crew. If he couldn’t use a stick on them, perhaps a carrot was the way to entice them out.


 April was scanning the room to be sure she had everyone engaged as the new data streamed in on the mysterious happenings in the Neutral Zone. Now Head of the Analytics Team in Nevada, she had permanently replaced Patti after her relocation to London. No one expected anything else as her marriage to Daniel sealed that deal and April was her second in command.

Since the truce with the NeHaw, her team’s primary efforts had lain around tracking the alien activities via the tap placed by the aforementioned Daniel and his SAS team. Probably the most top-secret achievement of the war, they protected the information source with their lives.

The majority of the rest of their time was evaluating various threats planet-wide and working out profiles and recommendations on the best way to deal with them. Considering the force correlations and technology gaps it was predominately arm twisting rather than actual combat.

“I want everyone to cross-check their analysis with someone else’s work. This has got to be rock solid, no guesswork,” she instructed.

A few nods of understanding were all she received in return, as everyone jumped to the task. April wasn’t in the least bit offended as she knew her people to be focused and relentless.

“We have sensor data, eyewitness accounts, and even Phantom Intel on this,” she commented to the room, using the code name they had given NeHaw Intel from the tap.

Daniel had used Phantom, the name of the cloaked ship that allowed them to slip into NeHaw space undetected. Since the truce there had been no further sanctioned trips beyond the Neutral Zone, but these events had created suspicions that another cloaked ship was in use.

One more review of the room’s occupants and she went to her workstation to begin chasing her own theories.


Hector had spent several years as Sharon’s second in command, tied to the ALICE facility in Washington State. Although he enjoyed his position there, he desired more, and promotions were all but nonexistent in his line of work. Unless someone retired or died you made the best of playing second fiddle. It was that reason that he jumped at the opportunity to take command of the space station at the edge of the solar system.

Named Space Station Alpha, it was not yet a true ALICE facility. The topic was highly debated with both humans and ALICE’s alike, and it was currently operating as a hybrid. Automation was provided remotely, the terrestrial ALICE systems uniting in the shared duties performed here. To assist in overcoming the delays in communications, the station had been tied into the vast interstellar communications network shared by all known races.

On the flip side, the facility held a significant number of human staff, all highly trained in the various tasks and duties required to keep the station operating at peak efficiency. Even mundane activities like cooking or laundry, completely automated on Earth, required human participation here.

A heavily armed virtual fortress at the edge of Earth’s solar system, its main function these days was as a transfer point for personnel and cargo. Interstellar ships would deliver or retrieve shipments to and from Earth, docking there to transfer goods. Inside the gravity well of the Earth’s sun, the Lanai transports would make the slower trips to and from the Earth itself.

Ship’s crews could find a bit of R & R there as well, the facility holding several places tailored to leisure time activities. Crew transfers and even small repairs were all in a day’s work for the station crew. Positioned at the known drop point from Faster than Light travel lanes, they saw everything that came and went from the solar system.

It was those activities that had Hector in the station Command Center, overseeing the current batch of visitors to his domain.

“Hey Boss, come check this out,” Hector heard from his Traffic Control Officer.

“What’s up?” he asked as he moved over to the man’s workstation.

“You see that Crustacea cargo vessel there,” the man asked as he pointed to the dot on his console and then out one of the many portals around the command center.


“I was just using the rangefinder to verify its position; you know they are required to keep a ten-kilometer holding pattern and they tend to drift in on us. Well, look at the output.”

Hector watched as the man replayed the track. At first, it read the required distance until it suddenly jumped to within three kilometers of the station, and then after a few seconds back out to its current reading.

“You checked the calibration?” Hector asked, suspecting a malfunction of some kind.

“Triple checked it against four other ships.”

“Nothing on visual?” Hector asked as the Officer brought up the video feed for the same time period.

The two watched closely but could determine no irregularities with the Crustacea ship or the open space around the station.

“Look, I know it’s crazy, but if I didn’t know any better, I would say something passed between us and that ship,” the Officer speculated as he pointed to the cargo ship.


Daniel knew he was taking a risk with this approach, however the danger any attack presented to the noncombatants was far greater. Should he fail in his attempt, the worst that would happen was the loss of the element of surprise. That was a fair trade if he could awe the inhabitants into cooperation.

“Jacob, you are sure this isn’t an imposition?” Daniel asked his brother in law over the videoconferencing system in his wife’s office.

“No, it’s no problem at all. The ship isn’t fully commissioned yet, so no one will miss it. In fact, this could be chalked up as part of her sea trials, so to speak,” he replied with a smile.

Jacob was Patti’s brother and Commander of the Lanai ALICE facility. He and Gemma, his English wife, were parents to ten-year-old Sophia, cousin to his and Patti’s eight-year-old Alexander. Gemma was Nigel and Helen’s daughter and had been like a sister to him. The whole thing made the family ties between London and Lanai indisputable.

“Perhaps you and the family could come along? I know Patti and Alexander would love to see you,” Daniel offered.

“I’ll check with Gemma and let you know. She had mentioned Grandma was requesting a visit,” he replied with a nervous laugh.

Daniel completely understood the inference, as Helen was not one to be ignored. Rumor had it that she almost prevented Gemma and Jacob from marrying until it was revealed that Jake, his oh so many grands of a grandfather had been knighted long ago. The revelation brought legitimacy, in Helen’s eyes, and saved the relationship.

Now, however, she was every bit the dotting English grandmother to both children, insisting they become properly educated in culture and tradition.

“I’m sure Sophia will be excited at the prospect.”

Daniel’s comment brought a laugh to both men.

“Talk to you soon, out,” Jacob finished.

Chapter 6

“Well, what do you think?” Becky asked as she led Jake by the hand toward the ruins of the old fort.

“I like it!” he replied as he studied the brick walls before them, three stories tall.

“I know it needs some work and we will have to ship in some habitat modules, but I think it’s awesome! Look at that water,” she added as she motioned to the crystal-clear azure seas about them.

The two were standing on a spit of land, just outside of what was once Fort Jefferson, in the Dry Tortugas. Neither wore the combat suits typically required whenever they were outside the safety of a protected location. Instead, Jake was in shorts and a T-shirt, sneakers without socks, and a ball cap to shade his eyes from the intense sunlight. Becky was similarly attired however Jake noted it looked far better on her.

A pre-Civil War structure, Jake had once visited here as a tourist, so long ago, before the series of events that landed him where he was today. He shook his head at the thought that he had never considered what Becky was suggesting. At 70 miles west of Key West, the nearest land, it was an ideal location for a safe R&R spot.

“I think this is way nicer than Catalina, more tropical and the water is warmer, and it’s much closer than Border Island. Although that place holds some great memories,” she added with a wicked smile.

At about 1,000 miles from the Texas facility, he mentally acknowledged the trip at under 2 hours for most of their transport craft. The trip down had been just over an hour as Becky had selected one of the smaller Hypersonic transport aircraft with ALICE doing the flying so she could surprise Jake.

Pausing to look around the outside of the old structure, Jake could see where the decades of neglect had left their mark. A National Monument at the time he had last visited, the place had been under the management and maintenance of the US Government Park Service. After the fall, the damage done from every passing hurricane could be seen in the exterior structures.

The dock and breakwater surrounding the fort itself held visible damage from the force of the water and winds pounding the area. The Fort walls, however, were as straight and strong as when Jake had last visited over 150 years ago.

“Let’s go inside!” Jake heard with an accompanying tug on his arm for emphasis.

Crossing the concrete walkway that led into the main entrance, he could see it was as solid as ever. The moat surrounding the fort itself was filled with clear seawater and Jake could even see fish darting about. Passing into the opening of the structure, he could feel the temperature drop as they entered the shady interior. Only late May, he could believe that in the middle of the summer months, this place would be swelteringly hot.

“Look at this!” he heard Becky exclaim, as they entered the center of the massive structure.

Everywhere he looked, the grounds were overgrown with trees and smaller vegetation. The grass had been well cared for on his last visit, now it was almost up to his knees. The interior structures, built by the park service, all looked to be in fair shape, the walls of the fort shielding them from the hurricane winds.

“Alice says, she can drop in an army of bots and have this place cleaned up in no time.”

Heading up one of the spiral staircases, the pair emerged at the top of the fortress walls to an expansive view of the surrounding area. The light sea breeze was more noticeable up here, with the tinge of afternoon heat soon to come as the sun continued to climb in the sky.

“We can fix the docks there and bring some boats out for people to enjoy,” she continued with excitement as she waved over to the place where the tour boat once tied up.

From their position high on the fort walls, he could make out the channel and surrounding shallows that helped protect the anchorage. From there, the two wandered along the fort walls until Becky eventually led him back out onto the white sandy beach that wrapped around the spit of land next to the fort.

“Let’s go swimming!” she suddenly asked, her face lighting up as she pulled her shirt up over her head and tossed it into the sand.

Before Jake could reply, Becky was naked, having wiggled out of her shorts, kicking off her shoes, and darting off into the calm, warm waters. The sight of her bare bottom, disappearing into the sea as she dove in, was all the motivation he needed to quickly follow her example. It was several hours later before the exhausted pair dozed off in the sun, allowing the warm breeze to dry them as the first of the habitat modules arrived.


“Alice, we are tracking all traffic on and off-planet, right?” Jake asked as he sat in his office going over the latest paperwork he had been ignoring.

Back from his little vacation with Becky, he had a pile of work to catch up on, but one report kept coming back to the top of the pile.

“Every ship that enters or leaves the atmosphere is identified, tagged and tracked until they leave the gravity well of this solar system,” came the confident reply.

“So, you know about all of them, like the ones for the tours?” Jake asked.

“Tours, trade ships, even a few scavenger requests,” ALICE explained.

“Scavengers?” Jake asked, alarmed.

“From time to time, alien reclamation ships petition to scour unpopulated areas to recover materials marketable on other planets. They scrape up abandoned structures, ejecting the common materials like concrete and wood while recovering metals and plastics they value. In return we are paid out in technology that I am sure is found as scrap on other planets.”

“Is it any good? The tech I mean,” Jake asked.

“Most is not military-grade equipment; however, a considerable amount has found use in many of the smaller communities that we provide limited support to. Infrastructure equipment for restoring power, water, and other utilities is the major part of our trade. Sewage treatment is also quite popular I am told,” ALICE answered lightly as if she were teasing him.

“Who approved all this?” Jake asked in wonder.

“You did, I believe it was submitted to you as an intergalactic small business trade agreement,” ALICE explained.

“Was one of the towns we gave equipment to called Beaver Dam?” Jake asked as he pulled the nagging report from the pile.

“I do believe it is. I can get you a list of things we delivered to that community if you like,” she responded.

“Please do,” Jake said as he read the paper in his hand one more time.


“April, can you come to look at this?” one of the many analysts scouring the data from the Phantom source asked.

Crossing the room to where the man was working, she glanced over his shoulder and studied the screen he had before him.

“What is this,” she asked as she pointed to one particular part of the translation.

All the Intel gathered from the Phantom source was in NeHaw in its native form. It had to be translated before it could be processed for content and value. That task had been left to the ALICE’s as they could both receive and translate the transmissions in what humans would assume was real-time.

“That’s what I wanted you to see. It looks like a report on Neutral Zone violations. I cross-referenced all the times and places and we didn’t have any ships in the area at that juncture,” the analyst explained.

As she watched, the man brought up a map of the space outlined as the Neutral Zone.

“The red dots are these reported incidents and the green dots are the closest friendly ship,” he added, indicating the human aligned ships.

“Nowhere close,” April confirmed.

“Smugglers?” she asked suddenly.

“None of ours,” he replied, referring to those known to operate in the area.

“And this is a report from Captain Isabella referencing a possible space probe trapped right in the middle of this,” she said, pointing to the red dots.

“If I had to guess, I’d say we have a new player in the game,” the man said speculatively.

“Let’s not go there just yet. We shall see if we can get more proof first.”


Jake ran his eyes over the report ALICE had provided him on Beaver Dam. Used as a way station for travelers between the LA to Vegas to Salt Lake or Denver route, it was nothing more than a watering hole and a resupply stop. Like a dozen other towns he was familiar with, the people there had been offered an opportunity to improve their life by operating the traveler services there.

“Alice, did you see the missing person’s report out of Beaver Damn?” Jake asked, putting the inventory of trade goods aside and returning to the report that had sparked his initial interest in the area.

“Yes, in the last few days there have been 2 active investigations and we have done an extensive survey of the surrounding area, however, there is no trace of the missing individuals.”

“It’s weird, there seems to be no pattern either. A young couple, a lone drifter, a father of two, a mother of three, and adult sisters. It’s like all they have in common is they have nothing in common?” Jake analyzed.

“Why are you concerned over a few missing people in the middle of the desert?” ALICE asked, her astonishment genuine.

“There are few things in human existence that one can rely on. One thing you can count on is that people like comfort and security. Excluding the drifter, all the others on this list are locals, settled in place, with family members left behind. Why would they up and leave voluntarily?”

“Your statement would infer they were taken. By whom, and to what purpose?” ALICE asked in return.

“Someone should go check that out?” Jake said speculatively.


It was no great feat for ALICE to predict Jake’s next steps. On the surface, the fate of a few missing people in an out of the way town should be of no interest to the leader of a planetary recovery. It was something best delegated to a regional authority at best.

Unfortunately, ALICE had learned over the relatively short time she had known Jake that his uncanny ability to uncover the anomalies to expose their true meaning was unquestioned. Besides, beyond a few border incidents in the Neutral Zone, there was little to demand his direct attention.

So, rather than working hard to dissuade him on the course, she envisioned him charting, she decided a different approach would be required this time. Not that she wouldn’t at least put up a minimal amount of protest, he would expect such.

That decided, she began to prepare for the inevitable.


Master Sergeant Jason Hillstead was not quite sure how to handle the request in his inbox. As the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge or NCOIC for the Scout Sniper School, it was his responsibility to oversee the training of all recruits. He reviewed and approved all the training plans and handled any special requests for operational support.

In his opinion, training never stops, even after graduation, and he was permitted to pull any unassigned graduates back for a special assignment at his discretion. In the current peacetime environment, he had a number of teams at his disposal.

The priority request in hand didn’t really require a full team, just one or two shooters for a protection assignment. Classified, Need to Know, it specifically directed him not to inform the primary of the protective detail. Thinking hard for a moment after checking the unassigned assets, he nodded to himself, satisfied he had just the right person to handle the request.

“Corporal, can you find Padma and send her in to see me please,” he said, hitting the comm unit on his desk.


Sara could tell there was something up by the way Jake ignored her comments about the kids, as the pair sat in the common area of their quarters. Usually, a doting father, Sara’s tales of their antics were falling on deaf ears. While the current living arrangement had many advantages, it lacked the intimacy Sara sometimes desired when things got hectic. With Kathy and Linda both vying for Jake’s time as well, the common area worked as a kind of family neutral zone.

She knew he wasn’t ignoring her on purpose, suspecting he had something on his mind as he studied the tablet in his hands. She watched him flip through screens, occasionally stopping to review the image displayed.

“What are you looking at?” she finally asked directly.

“Oh, it's nothing. We have a problem at one of the travel stops in Arizona.”

“Is it serious?” Sara asked, concerned that this was the first time she had heard of any such issue so close to the Nevada facility they called home.

“I don’t think so, it's just been bugging me.”

Before Sara could continue the conversation, the twins burst through the door and piled onto Jake, hugs, and kisses passed around before a flood of questions diverted everyone’s attention.


General KaLob was not particularly fond of mysteries. He had heard tales of individuals who enjoyed the thrill of uncovering things that were perplexing to others, and he was not one of those. He liked his world upfront and out in the open.

“I want our ships to become more aggressive with these Neutral Zone violations,” he directed the Junior Officer before him.

“Sir?” the man replied.

“The mysterious incidents along the Neutral Zone, I want our ships to start challenging the violators. Smugglers, I accept, even encourage, but if these are human vessels testing our borders, I want to make an example of them,” he finished.

“I will transmit the orders immediately,” the man said before turning to leave.

“See that you do,” KaLob affirmed, unsure that this was going to resolve his growing concern that there was more afoot than either the Humans or NeHaw knew.

Chapter 7

“I still think that this is a terrible idea,” ALICE stated, as Jake donned the clothing she had provided him.

“How else am I going to get the truth about what’s happening there?” he asked in return while he continued to dress.

The clothing ALICE provided him was, in all appearances, typical for a drifter in that part of the country. The boots, jeans, shirt, and large-brimmed western-style hat, would all pass as normal attire throughout the region. In truth, he could have selected a ball cap or any other type of brimmed hat and would have been just as in style, the purpose of the headgear in keeping the sun off his face.

“By letting someone else close to you go,” ALICE replied as he admired himself in the mirror.

Dressing in a small locker room off the main hangar of the ALICE facility in Nevada, he was trying to keep his plan limited to only a few. Walking from his personal quarters in these clothes would have only introduced a flood of questions and objections. As it was, ALICE was doing her best to talk him out of his intended course.

“How do I look?” he asked as he did a once over on his attire while ignoring her statement.

“Horribly exposed,” came the sarcastic response.

“Look, you know perfectly well I have the protective undergarment on and you made all of this out of the same materials as our BDU’s are made from,” Jake said, referencing their standard-issue uniforms while indicating his clothing and waving at the leather riding gloves he had set to one side.

Picking up an earpiece, he inserted it into one ear, it's intended use was to allow his conversation with ALICE to continue in private once he left the enclosed space and entered the main hangar area. He grabbed the riding gloves and tucked them in his waistband before exiting the room.

“Does Sar… any of your subordinates know of your plans?” he heard in his ear as he left the room and crossed over to one of the many armories placed around the hangar.

Jake laughed to himself at ALICE’s apparent slip. She clearly intended on drawing into the conversation the one person most likely to strenuously object to his plans. Over the last ten years, he had noted that all the Artificial Life forms had adopted not just human-like personalities but also mannerisms. This verbal faux paw was a calculated action, pretending to misspeak while focusing Jake’s attention on the woman most likely to successfully dissuade him from his path.

“No, only you, and by proxy of that, all the other ALICEs know the plan,” he replied. He knew once one ALICE knew something, they all did, although sometimes he wondered if they did hold back from one another.

The main hangar was all but deserted at this hour, with only a scant few about. All ALICE locations operated in a 7 by 24 mode, meaning they operate seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Even so, most only had a scarce number working at this late hour of the night. It was Jake’s plan to slip out, under the cover of darkness and fly to the spot where he had arranged to have a horse waiting. From there he would ride into town, reaching his destination by mid-morning and drawing no more attention than any other drifter.

Currently, he was in search of the weaponry he planned to take along for his protection. The many armories that occupied the perimeter of the hangar were categorized by source and type of weapons. This one housed the weapons collected from those disarmed over the years. All confiscated weapons were evaluated for functionality and those found serviceable were cleaned, repaired as necessary, and stored for future use. It was an eclectic collection of firearms, knives, swords of all shapes and sizes as well as the tactical gear used to carry them.

Jake's interest was in locating a belted holster able to carry his standard-issue 10 mm handgun and at least 2 of the extra magazines without drawing undue attention. Under cursory inspection, the weapon itself appeared no different than any of a number of semi-automatic handguns found throughout the world. It was only under intense scrutiny that the uniqueness of the firearm was revealed.

After flipping through several bins containing various belts, holsters and magazine pouches, he found what he was looking for. A leather belt holding an older styled 1911 holster with a cover flap was his choice. Already attached to the belt was a dual magazine pouch, opposite the holster, and suitable for his needs.

“Now for a knife,” he mumbled to himself as he crossed over to where the bladed weapons were stored.

He quickly located a large sheath blade strikingly familiar to his beloved USMC Ka-Bar design, sliding the sheathed blade onto the gun belt to verify it fit. Next, he found a smaller pocket knife, one he categorized as a Multitool, with a blade, pliers, and several other attachments built into it.

Finally, he crossed over to another room where he found his 10 mm handgun with three magazines laying out for him to retrieve. Slipping one of the three into the well under the barrel, he placed the handgun into the holster and secured the flap, verifying the fit. After sliding his spare mags into the pouch on the belt, he then slipped the belt on, buckling it in place.

Satisfied that all fit properly, he next moved to the rifle lying nearby. In all appearances, it resembled a Winchester lever-action rifle. Appearances were deceiving in this case as this was a special order placed with the ALICE in North Dakota, Dakota by name.

Normally sized for a 30-30 brass cartridge, the first 30 naming the caliber, the second 30 referencing the number of grains of the gunpowder inside the brass case. This rifle had been custom manufactured to accommodate the same 10 mm ammunition that his sidearm used. The inner workings of this rifle had been designed with the same rotating block used in the other modern weapons and the cartridges were caseless.

Traditionally, only accurate up to 150 to 200 yards, this modified version had over twice that range. With the smaller but more powerful round, the rifle, modeled after the 26-inch barreled version of the Winchester 1894, would also hold twice its normal capacity, jumping from 9 to 20 rounds with one in the chamber. Rounds were still loaded through the side gate into the receiver and then inserted into the rotating chamber via the lever-action, finally aligning with the barrel.

With no case to eject in the caseless ammunition, the receiver only held one small opening in front of the lever to eject a live round should he need to clear the chamber and an action designed to cock the hammer. The latter was all for appearance and held no functional requirement in operating the rifle as the rounds were ignited electronically.

Next to the rifle were two boxes of cartridges, 100 rounds each and intended for use in either firearm. Also present was a leather rifle scabbard designed for his use on horseback. Jake loaded the rifle, putting the safety on before sliding it into the scabbard, then he tucked the cartridge boxes into the saddlebags that sat at the end of the table. A quick glance in both bags was all he needed to verify all was ready for him to depart.

He knew that the helicopter already held the saddle, blanket, and bridle as well as a 2-quart canteen and a water skin. Everything was unmatched and well worn, Jake doing his best to appear the drifter and not a well provisioned imposter. Living off the land and scrounging meant no two personal items ever matched or came from the same place.

“I have placed several gold and silver coins in your vest pocket and more in a pouch in the saddlebags,” ALICE explained.


“In some places, they have reverted to the use of gold and silver to pay instead of bartering. I believe that Robert inspired the idea to help in his precious metals collecting,” ALICE answered.

Moving out into the hanger, Jake headed to his destination with ALICE still talking in his ear.

“There is no diverting you from your course,” ALICE said more than asked as Jake placed the rifle sill in the scabbard and the saddlebags in the helicopter and then climbed in himself.

“Are you driving, or am I?” he asked in the way of an answer.


Jake was letting his mount pick her way in the darkness as he sat comfortably in the saddle. An experienced horseman in his earlier life, he knew she could see far better than he and would only go as fast as was safe. He knew ALICE had a drone high overhead anyway, watching his every move, but chose to ignore its presence for now.

He was aware the town was still several hours ahead of them and planned on stopping for the night once they had cleared the area where the corral had been hastily set up. A wooden structure typical for the area, its only mystery, should anyone come upon it, was why anyone would choose to build such a structure in the middle of nowhere. Jake had a team build the pen and fly in the horse the night before to limit the time the animal was left unattended. With plenty of food and water, it was in no danger of neglect.

As he rode, he mentally reviewed what he knew of the situation ahead. Rumors abounded concerning the area, specifically tall tales of ghosts and spirits haunting the town. The concerns reached Jake after a few of the locals disappeared for no apparent reason, and all the missing were well settled into the small community and by all appearances happy to be there. The community patrol had investigated first with no clues as to the where’s and why’s. Unfortunately, Jake’s own people with no success either in discovering the missing town’s folk.

Like an itch, he couldn’t scratch, Jake decided to take a break from his normal overwhelming duties and take a shot at finding what had happened to these people himself.

“This looks like as good a spot as any,” he told his horse while reining up in a small hollow.

Planning on a cold camp with no firelight to betray him, the depression would keep him and his horse out of sight until the morning light. The early sun would likely betray the hobbled and grazing mare but by then he would be up and around himself. Unsaddling the horse, he swapped out his bridle for a hackamore and hobbled the horse. Next, he used the saddle blanket for a ground cloth and saddle to rest his head-on.

His last act before dozing off was a concession to ALICE, checking the small control screen he carried in a vest pocket, and verifying there was nothing bigger than a coyote within miles.


Lieutenant Alice Jenkins sat in the command chair of the Earth destroyer D-9 as she pondered a great many things that bothered her. Why did the navy and the other services have to use separate rank structures? Why was she, the ship’s Captain, but was actually a Naval Lieutenant. In the Marines, that would make her a Captain, but not one equal to a Navy Captain, which was really a Marine Colonel.

And worst of all was, why did she have to share the same first name with the all-knowing Artificial Life forms that seemed to delight in calling her little sister whenever she needed to talk to one. That was what irritated her the most at the moment.

“Skipper?” the Communication’s Officer asked.

“I’m thinking about it,” she replied.

“I wouldn’t spend too much time thinking, little sister, I detect two more NeHaw cruisers dropping out of Faster than Light,” the ALICE system advising them added.

“Shields up,” Lieutenant Alice ordered as she watched the tactical display.

The D-9 had been on her normal patrol route when they received a notification that a NeHaw ship had crossed the Neutral Zone into Earth controlled space. It took no more than a few minutes to get there and upon their arrival, they found the violator, a NeHaw Destroyer similar to her own, apparently dead in space and battle-damaged quite heavily. Scanners confirmed live NeHaw were still aboard, but refusing to answer to her offers of assistance in a rescue. Standard procedure under these conditions was to notify Space Command if possible. In this case, one of the ALICE’s had picked up the call.

“Human vessel, identify yourself,” all heard from the bridge audio, received in NeHaw and translated into English.

“Send the normal ID info and let’s see what they have to say,” Lieutenant Alice instructed the Communications Officer.

“Aye, aye, Ma’am,” the Comm officer replied.

“Human vessel D-9, announce your intentions,” the NeHaw cruisers replied as they continued to position themselves in a defensive posture around their disabled comrade.

“This is a rescue mission. We are here to assist your damaged ship, nothing more,” Alice replied.

“That is peculiar as it was an Earth forces warship that caused the damage,” the NeHaw commander responded sternly.

“You are mistaken, we did no such thing.”

“The ship did not damage itself and you are the only craft in the area,” they replied with typical NeHaw logic.

“Your ship was like this when we arrived. We will stand by while you confirm with your….people,” Alice responded and then motioned to cut the connection.

“Good thing you didn’t rush to board it after all,” the ALICE system said with some sarcasm.

Alice had been debating on sending a boarding party to establish communications with the stricken vessel. Her hesitance had paid off as the activity could have clearly been perceived as hostile by the two new vessels before them.

“Let me know if their posture changes,” the Lieutenant announced to her bridge crew.

The command was unnecessary, she knew, but she didn’t want the ALICE to assume she was in control. The bridge crew watched silently as one of the two NeHaw cruisers docked with the stricken vessel, while its mate stood ready to attack if necessary. Alice knew her destroyer was more than a match for the pair, but she did not want to go down in history as the ship’s Captain responsible for restarting the war.

“D-9, we have confirmed it was not your vessel that attacked. It was another Earth ship of unknown design.”

“ALICE, what are they talking about?” Alice asked after the audio between the ships was interrupted.

“No Earth aligned vessel has been involved in hostile activities toward the NeHaw,” ALICE replied flatly.

“You are mistaken, no Earth ship attacked you,” Alice replied after motioning at the Communications Officer.

“We have proof, transmitting replay of the incident now,” the NeHaw commander informed her.

Watching the replay as they received it, the tactical display lit up with video and data as it played from the NeHaw ship's perspective. The mystery ship seemed to fade in and out of existence as the two squared off, like opponents sizing each other up before a fight.

After receiving a volley of gunfire from the NeHaw destroyer, all seemly passing harmlessly through it, the unidentified vessel seemed to solidify, and then emit a beam or ray that must have damaged the NeHaw. There was a swift and immediate response, as the NeHaw fired both energy weapons and projectiles before going dark.

The video continued to show the unidentified craft moving closer, but all the NeHaw sensor data had ceased as its scanning systems were apparently down. The ship seemed to solidify once more and continued to scan the NeHaw vessel. Apparently satisfied, the unidentified ship turned and then slowly moved away before disappearing entirely.

“That ship is not one of ours,” Alice responded after they replayed the incident once more.

“It is not of NeHaw origin. Are you denying all knowledge of its existence?” the NeHaw questioned.

“Yes, we deny it. I can confirm Earth forces operate no such vessel,” Alice replied, cautious in how she responded.

Just because the ship in the recording wasn’t known to Earth, didn’t mean one of the Earth aligned planets hadn’t dreamed up one such ship and was outputting it to the test. After several minutes of quiet, the NeHaw spoke up once more.

“Under the circumstances, we respectfully request to take our damaged vessel in tow and return our side of the DMZ and NeHaw space,”

“Request granted.”

“ALICE..” Lt. Jenkins started as she watched the ships move away.

“I have already passed this to Central Command for analysis.”


Sara was already in the command center in Nevada when the first reports came in regarding the NeHaw incident in the Neutral Zone. She was more than mildly irritated that Jake had chosen to go off on one of his little jaunts without telling her or any of the family he was doing so.

She always ended up debating if it showed great confidence in her and the other women’s abilities to deal with the situations that arose or great irresponsibility on his part for ducking out on his duties. Her decision usually came down on the side that best fit her mood, and in this case that was blatant irresponsibility.

“Alice, do you have any idea where Jake is hiding at the moment?”

Her tone had the rest of the operations staff carefully studying whatever was in front of them to avoid direct eye contact with the smoldering Officer.

“Jake is on a reconnaissance mission in Arizona and asked for you to run things in his absence,” ALICE replied flatly.

“And who is his handler?” Sara asked, knowing no recon operation was permitted without oversight from one of the facilities should a rescue be required, extracting the team.

“I believe Dallas is on point for that duty at the moment, however, we have all been trading off responsibilities as required.”

“Great, off on a boondoggle and we are on the brink of a renewed intergalactic war,” Sara announced to no one in particular.


With the morning sun, Jake checked on his horse before starting a small fire and brewing some coffee. He planned to reach town just before noon when he expected the majority of the community to be out and about their business. He planned to make a bold but low-key entrance, ensuring his presence became known quickly. If someone was snatching low-risk targets, he wanted to look enticing.

After a simple breakfast, Jake put out the fire, packed up his things, saddled his horse, and began the slow-paced trip to town. The ride in was uneventful, and truth be told, Jake enjoyed the quiet downtime the trip afforded him. Beaver Dam was in the northwest corner of what was once Arizona, and with its year-round water supply made the ideal way station for those traveling the desert wastelands.

It never ceased to amaze Jake at how human determination still had nomads traveling the desert wastelands, unsatisfied about where they were, and looking for a better place to settle. This area covered the high desert of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah and could be deadly to those not prepared for its harshness. Yet here in the vast wasteland was a thriving community, not much more than a traveler’s stop, a function it had performed two hundred years before.

Entering the main part of town, Jake rode slowly up the center of the street, consisting mostly of dirt with the occasional reminder that there was once asphalt covering the entire span. On either side of the roadway were buildings of various sizes, scattered roughly in rows with large open swaths between many of them.

On one side of the street were gathered several children, most 7 or 8 years old by Jake’s guess, some younger. As he neared the group, most of them scattered at a stranger’s approach, except, two.

“Hey there, what’s your name?” Jake asked the little girl closest to him from horseback, surprised at her apparent lack of fear.

Normally he would expect to have to coax them out, but this little girl continued to play whatever game she and the younger boy across from her had going on. They had some activity containing rocks, sticks, and a few marbles, all laid out in a complex array. Jake was sure it was something of their own creation, smiling to himself as he considered their ingenuity.

“He is Asher and I am Joycelyn,” she answered as she pointed to the boy while she moved one of the pieces.

“Well Joselin, can you point me to the Patrol office?’ Jake asked.

“No, I’m not Joselin, I am Joycelyn, you know, like Joyce Lynn!” she enunciated firmly back at him, looking up from her game.

“I am terribly sorry Joycelyn, I do apologize,” Jake replied, dismounting and then bowing to her as he did so.

“That’s ok, everybody does it,” she said with a shrug of her tiny shoulders, turning back to her game.

By now several of the other kids had emerged from where ever they had been hiding.

“What’s your name?” one of the boys asked as another examined Jake’s rifle in is scabbard, but made no move to touch it.

“I’m Jake,” he replied to the boy while scanning the area for adults.

“I’m Ricky and that’s my sister Jen,” he replied while pointing to a little girl, dropping to the ground next to Joycelyn and Asher.

“Can anyone tell me where the Patrol office is?” Jake asked again.

“I can, but no one’s there,” the boy named Ricky replied.

“Where is everyone?” Jake asked as he realized he hadn’t seen a single adult since entering the town.

“Out lookin,” Joycelyn answered.

“Looking for what?” Jake asked.

“Our parents,” she said as she motioned to the entire group of kids before him.

Chapter 8

“Well, I think we can call that confirmed,” April said as she read the after-action report filed by the Captain of the D-9.

The tablet in her hand allowed her to wander as she scanned the contents, a habit she had developed over the years.

“How so?” one of her analysts asked aloud.

“Well, unless we believe the NeHaw attacked one of their own ships, and we know we didn’t do it, someone else had to attack that vessel. An outsider,” she said as she passed the report to the closest analyst.

“I can’t believe any of that aligned planets would attempt such a thing. I mean a few of the races have found the nerve for smuggling and land grabs, but an outright gunfight?” one of the others said while waiting their turn to read the report being passed about.

April had to agree with the observation. Almost to a planet, the aligned alien races had refused to arm their ships beyond pre-truce levels lest they are drawn into some future conflict. All were content staying just where the NeHaw had left them armament wise, and relying on the humans to do any real fighting for them.

“So, it’s not proof positive of a third party, it’s more a lack of alternatives,” someone said from behind the main group gathered around April.

“ALICE, what are the NeHaw saying about this incident?” April asked.

“Intercepts show divided opinions on the subject. Their Central Command keeps pushing for evidence that it’s a new human designed and manned craft. Field Commanders, those closest to us, insist it follows no traditional human behaviors and is most likely not human at all.”

“But they don’t recognize the ship either?” April asked, looking for any indicators.

“They do not. They have no historical or collected data on the ship or the weapons used against the vessel in the Neutral Zone.”

“And your analysis?” April asked the AL.

“I believe one of you said it best, we have a new player in the game,” ALICE replied firmly.


Heading in the direction the kids indicated, Jake chose not to remount his ride. If his information was correct, the building was just a short walk away and his legs could use the exercise after riding all morning. It was a single storied structure, and if Jake had to guess, it was once a post office, the logos long since removed or painted over.

Closing in on the front of the building, Jake noticed someone had converted an old bathtub into a watering trough. Animal-based transport was still the standard for most folks, so it made sense that they would go to the trouble. The tub had been placed between two steel and concrete posts, probably part of the original building construction, and there to stop cars from hitting the building.

Someone had ingeniously welded rings onto the metal to act as a hitching post. Taking advantage of the setup, Jake tied his horse with enough free play to reach the water. Before heading inside, he pulled his rifle, still in its scabbard, and his saddlebags off his mount.

Although he hadn’t seen a single adult since arriving in town, it was in character, not to leave anything of value unattended. His horse could be stolen just as easily, but certainly not easily concealed by anyone not heading out of town at that moment. Rifle in his left hand and saddlebags over the same shoulder, he reached for the door with his right and slipped into the building. It was still standard practice to leave your gun hand free when entering strange places.

The cool air spilling out from inside from a cooling unit was a welcome surprise as the heat of the Arizona day was just starting to settle over the town. It took him a moment for his eyes to adjust to the inside lighting, his right hand resting on the holster at his hip. All the windows at the front of the build still held a good portion of the int place to filter the sunlight outside.

“They ain’t here,” came from a voice at the back of the room.

Before him, Jake found a long counter, likely the same postal counter that once served the community mail carriers. Behind the counter, he could see where the barriers that had once separated the front and back rooms had been torn down, leaving one large open area.

“Who?” Jake asked as he stepped up to the counter, placing his rifle and saddlebags on top.

“Patrol jaspers. They ain’t here,” the voice repeated.

From his place at the counter, Jake could see that someone had created holding cells at the back of the building. He suspected that someone had raided the old hardware store for materials as the entire assemblage was made of fence pipe with chain-link stretched around it. Each cell had one bunk and a chain-link gate door. The gates they used for the doors had a padlock securing it closed.

Crossing over to the other side of the counter via the swinging half-height door at one end, Jake could see someone lying on the bunk.

“What did you do?” Jake asked as he walked up to the cell holding his only company.

“Drunk and disorderly,” the guy replied without even lifting his head off the pillow.

“You got a drunk and disorderly in what is obviously a one-horse town? I am surprised they bothered to lock you up and just didn’t run you out of town,” Jake asked in true astonishment.

“They can’t. I’m a witness,” the man said.

“Can I help you?” Jake heard from over his shoulder before he could ask more.

“I need to ask you to come away from there,” the patrolman asked as he waved Jake away from the cells, his hand resting on the butt of a holstered sidearm.

“Sorry, was looking for the person in charge,” Jake explained as he moved back to the counter, careful to keep his hands away from the gun at his side.

“At the moment, that’s me,” the man said as he moved over to a desk and sat down, apparently satisfied Jake was no threat.

“For the moment?” Jake asked in return.

“Roy is Senior Patrolman, but he is out with some of the townspeople looking for the missing.”

“Who’s missing?”

“You ask a lot of questions for a drifter, mister?” the man asked, looking for a name in Jake’s reply.

“Jake, Jake Sullivan, and you are?” he answered, using Sara’s last name.

He had considered changing his first name for the mission as well but decided he would be less likely to mess up by keeping things simple and natural. He was used to answering to Jake and the likelihood anyone would recognize him by sight was close to zero.

“Lucas. And you are here, why?” the patrolman answered and asked in a follow-up.

“Left Vegas, thinking about settling in Salt Lake or maybe even pushing on through the mountains to Denver,” Jake replied.

The old roads, Interstate 15 from Las Vegas to Salt Lake and I70 to Denver were still the best routes to travel. Almost all the bridges still stood and the roadways were easily passable on horseback or wagon.

“Tired of the desert?” the man asked, apparently satisfied with the story.

“Damn straight.”

“Still, you got a lotta road ahead of you, you know,” the man said, as he started to go about his duties.

Jake had to hide the smile, as the man turned to the small terminal on one side of his desk. He recognized it as one of those supplied to the Patrol for intercommunication, filing reports, research, and general use. He was regularly on the other end of those reports, his lifeline to those out here on the front lines.

“Which is what brings me here. I was told by the Patrol that this town was a way station of sorts. A place to stop, rest up and resupply?”

“True enough. Them bubbleheads got the water and power back up and running here. They also make regular supply runs to keep us stocked with essentials and trade goods. You got any gold or silver on you?”

“Trade goods?” Jake asked, recognizing the reference to bubbleheads as his people in their protective suits.

“Yup. We get the basics for free, part of the payment for manning this place, but for gold or silver, they will sweeten the pot. This cold air unit cost us some gold, scrounged from nearby towns, but worth every ounce,” he explained, referring to the air conditioning unit cooling the office.

“I got a little bit of gold, stuff I just picked up along the way,” Jake said while pulling a few of the ALICE suppled coins from a pocket.

“That’ll cover you for a few days room and board plus supplies for the road,” the man said casually, after looking the collection of coins over.

“That is unless you are planning on squattin in an empty house. We got no rules against that, but I think you’ll find things pretty picked over and no food to be had. The rooming house for travelers was what they once called a travel lodge. Separate rooms that have power and hot water plus cold air. It also has a restaurant, the food’s free to the payin guests. Comes with the room.”

“Good to know, I’ll check it out. So, what about the missing people?” Jake asked, returning to his real reason for being there.

“Not a lot to tell. Some of the locals disappeared and no one knows where or why. Had both the Patrol and the bubbleheads come looking for them, but so far, no luck. It’s like they just up and vanished.”

“Bandits?” Jake asked, fishing for more information.

“Not unless they can fly. No tracks in or out of town and they were all taken from in or around their homes at night. Not out wandering as you might expect.”

“You any good with that thing?” Lucas the Patrolman asked after a moment, indicating Jake’s rifle.

“Good enough,” he replied with a smile.

“Look, I know you came here to rest, but I can get you a few days free room and board if you would consider helping us,” the man said earnestly.

“Sounds like a good deal to me,” Jake replied with a nod.

“Great we can use it. Let’s get you settled then so you can start look’in.”


Lieutenant Grace Middleton had worked extremely hard to get to the position she held today. While technically not the ALICE-9 facility's commander, she was close enough and the best friend of the ALICE system there. ALICE-9 had been a product of a system failure and reboot, creating an orphaned wild child in need of rescue. Eventually tamed by Jake, she had bonded to the man, requiring his continuous attention, until his ever-increasing duties made it impossible to give her the devotion she needed.

In stepped Private Middleton, recruit from the Georgia area and a young woman desperate to get involved in the recovery of her homeland. Assigned to the facility on a trial basis, she had busted her butt to prove to everyone she deserved to be there. Diving into her studies in her off-hours, with an ALICE system to assist, she quickly made a name for herself as a go-getter and someone to be admired.

That still had not landed her the coveted Commander’s slot for ALICE-9, something that frustrated her to no end. General Thomas had transferred a large portion of that job’s responsibilities to her, things that involved community development and regional operations. The facility's primary function, however, kept her from gaining control of the lower levels.

Once a research facility for weapons development, only a very restricted few were permitted into the labs below. It was rumored that the bowels of the facility held doomsday weapons that could destroy the planet. It was said that Jake had used one of them to scare the NeHaw into the truce. True or not, Grace still protected her community and her friend, ALICE-9, as if all their lives depended on it.

“What’s the latest on Fort Jefferson?” Grace asked as she scanned the monitor before her.

The closest ALICE facility to the Dry Tortugas, it had fallen to ALICE-9 to oversee the preparation of the location, providing the automated workforce and materials.

“It’s almost complete. We should be ready to begin transitioning to full occupation in a week.”

“Sooner than expected, excellent,” Grace said absently, a smile creeping into place on her face.

“Can I ask you something?” ALICE-9 said after a short pause.

“Anything?” Grace replied as she broke her gaze away from the monitor.

“Why are we putting so much time, effort, and materials in a place that has no practical use?”

“I can see why you might think that, but places like this are really important for humans. A safe place where we can get out into the sunshine and enjoy ourselves without having to worry about work is a luxury. It’s good for our wellbeing, we call it a vacation,” Grace explained.

“It’s just an observation, but you have not had a vacation in over ten years,” ALICE-9 replied.

“Usually you take a vacation with your family or best friend. My best friend can’t leave here,” she said with a smile before returning to work.


“Hey Maggie, this is Jake. He needs a room and will be helping with the search,” Lucas explained as the pair entered the dining area of the old lodge building.

Inside, Jake saw a few people seated at the counter, while a few others sat at one of the many tables around the room.

“Can he pay?” she asked in return as she worked the counter.

“Patrol’s covering it while he works with the search parties.”

“In case I overeat,” Jake said as he slid two of the gold coins across the counter.

“That’ll cover just about anything you need, take number 7,” she replied with a smile.

“Let’s get you settled and then I will take you to meet Roy,” Lucas explained as he led Jake back outside.

After getting his horse corralled in a pen that looked like it was once covered parking, he dropped the remainder of his belongings in his room and followed Lucas. Rifle in hand, Jake scanned the area around the lodge, looking for any movement that might indicate where the search party was working. In the heat of the day, it had to be miserable work.

“Roy, where are you now? I have another volunteer,” Jake heard the man ask over the handheld communicator as the two walked.

“Meet me at the office, time to trade. It’s your turn to sweat a while,” Roy replied.


Padma’s hide was in a rocky crevasse a little over a mile away from her target, slightly south and east of the Area of Operation. Shielded from the direct sun, she was invisible from above and confident no one could see her from any angle horizontally. She had been dropped not far from here in the middle of the night on the backside of a ridge and had carefully made her way to the preselected spot well before sunrise.

Her weapon of choice for this mission was one of the specialized dual function sniping rifles. An over and under barrel arrangement, it had an energy firearm fitted over a projectile barrel. Optics aligned for both to allow easy transfer from one option to another depending on the target’s requirements. Both barrels had a range over twice the required distance for this mission and in Padma’s hands were a lethal combination.

Spotting through the scope on her rifle, her display lit up once more as the target reappeared from the building she had watched him enter earlier. As he moved about, she allowed the rifle to shift slightly to keep him in the viewfinder.

“Target reacquired, continuing to track,” she reported.

“Continue to observe, stick to the mission outline,” she heard in reply.

“Roger that, out,” she confirmed as she settled into a comfortable position to wait.


General KaLob was reviewing the latest analysis from his Alien Intelligence team, specifically as it related to the recent incident in the Neutral Zone. Much of human behavior was still a mystery to the NeHaw, but the one thing the team seemed to agree on was the humans had nothing to gain by the events there. The attack on their cruiser proved nothing beyond what was already known to both species.

Humans already held the tactical advantage when it came to warfare, and thus the need for the negotiated truce. It seemed an enormous waste of resources for them to create a ship that already played against the advantages currently held. Plus, if his spies were of any value, they had no means of constructing such a ship in secret, relying on the very public Wawobash shipyards for all such work.

As the NeHaw were a race familiar with first contact, the General tended to agree with the team’s speculation that this was indeed an unknown race testing the weapons and defenses of the NeHaw warships. There was additional speculation that the humans were also being probed by the same alien forces.

The question now was, could this race be turned into an ally, or were they to become a common foe to the NeHaw and Humans alike. A newly inspired student of human culture, KaLob was drawn to two conflicting humanisms he had recently learned.

The first, is the enemy of my enemy, my friend? The second, better the devil you know. Both held disturbing ramifications for the future.

Chapter 9

Jake was doing his best not to appear too suspicious as he grilled the patrolman on the goings-on in the town.

“What’s with all the questions?” Roy asked as the two patrolmen swapped assignments, the man apparently happy to be back in the cool office environment.

“Look, I was asked to help. I just wanted to see if there was any common element to the disappearances.”

“You talk like one of those bubbleheads who showed up the other day. Like I told them, no one saw anything, they just up and disappeared. That missing drifter was stayin at the lodge, the sisters were walking home from the bar, and the rest were snatched from their beds in the middle of the night.”

“All at night, and no one has seen anything suspicious?” Jake asked.

“Yeah, so? That’s probably why no one has seen anything. It gets pretty dark around here.”

“Not true, I did see somethin,” came the comment from the cell area.

“Oh, shut it. You were too drunk to see anything.”

“What did you see?” Jake asked as he wandered over to the cell.

“A ghost,” the man said in awe.

“See, he was just plain drunk,” Roy comment from his desk.

“What do you mean a ghost? What happened,” Jake pushed

“Well, I was knocking back a few at the bar there, and was chatting up one of them two sisters you all are talking about.”

“Ava,” Lucas supplied.

“Yeah, Ava. Anyway, the pair decided it was time to go home, so they headed out the door. I paid my tab and scooted out after them, hoping to take one more shot at scoring with one of them. By the time I got them in my sights, they were halfway to the lodge and standing straight like they was froze or something. That’s when I saw it, a kinda glowing figure, tall and thin, but the lights from the lodge seem to shine right through it. It turned solid, blocking the lights, and reached out and touched the two sisters. Then all three disappeared.”

“See, that’s why we don’t believe him,” Roy confirmed.

“Do you have a map of this town?” Jake asked as he considered the information.

“You can use this,” Lucas replied as he handed Jake an old folded road map.

Waving the cell’s occupant over, Jake unfolded the map until it just displayed the area around Beaver Dam.

“Where were you?” he asked the man, who pointed to a spot about halfway between the old combination service station and bar building and the lodge.

“OK, and you said the drifter was at the lodge?” Jake asked Lucas.

“Yup, the last anyone saw of him was when he entered his room there.”

“And the rest?” Jake asked as he held the map for Lucas to inspect.

“Here in the trailer park, just below the lodge,” he explained.

“You said you get regular supplies from the ALI… bubbleheads, where do they deliver them too?” Jake asked, almost slipping, and calling his people by name.

“We use the lodge as storage, most of it goes there anyway.”

“I think we should go check there first,” Jake observed.


The demand for the Lanai transport spacecraft grew substantially after the truce with the NeHaw was implemented. The sturdy steel ships were as good as any interstellar craft inside a gravity well, and in some ways far better. Half again as long as a NeHaw Cruiser and specifically designed to haul large quantities of anything, be it troops, equipment, or cargo, they operated continuously on Earth and between Earth and the space station.

In the Patrol craft variant, the ships were feared by all who had ever confronted one in battle. Bristling with armament, they were also capable of carrying a substantial number of fighters, making them a mini-carrier/battleship combination. There were always several of each variant in the Earth’s space lanes, protecting the planet and promoting commerce, so the local demand was high.

To add to the manufacturing pressures, both Kola and ALICE-3 were capable of hauling the ferrous hulled vessels in stasis, allowing Earth forces to support and defend critical suppliers. The Crustacea, Wawobash, and Kortisht all had Lanai Patrol ships operating inside their planetary systems. You would also find Lanai transports at the fringes of friendly solar systems, aiding in cargo transfers and transport, the workhorses of gravity well travel.

So, it was something of a special event that Jacob and Gemma were able to pry one of their prized vessels away for a short time to assist in solving Daniel’s dilemma.

“Daniel, Patti!” Gemma announced as she led the small party down the bow loading ramp to meet her in-laws.

Settled in a large field near the Oxford University entrance of the English facility, it had flown in under the cover of darkness. Resting in the Chiltern Hills Area of Natural Beauty, the ship was far too large to even attempt to conceal outright. Fortunately, the entire region was considered a safe zone, well-policed by both humans and ALICE systems. Not a thing passed in or out of the area that wasn’t identified, tracked, and dealt with if required.

Stepping forward, Patti and Daniel casually closed the distance to the loading ramp as the two cousins raced past the pair of adults and off toward the University behind them.

“I think they missed each other,” Patti commented with a laugh as the four adults watched their children play, the light from the ship giving them all the illumination they needed.

“Where are mum and dad?” Gemma asked as she looked about after hugging Patti.

“Your father is busy, but will soon be available…… your mother is away cataloging Russian artwork recently recovered. The local storage facilities are bulging so we have started using the American hangar space for our overages,” Daniel explained.

“Where is she now then?” Gemma asked with a smile, understanding the implications.

“Alaska,” Patti said with a broad smile.

“Lovely,” Gemma replied, understanding that their visit would be a little less stressful, not worrying about her mother's expectations.

“Let’s get you settled and then we can discuss my little favor, shall we?” Daniel declared with a smile as he shook Jacob’s offered hand with a quick shake.


Jake had developed a theory before coming to Beaver Dam about what might be causing the disappearances. He still had no idea of the who or the why, but the what was circled on a folded piece of paper in his pocket.

“Where is the storage area?” he asked Maggie as he entered the diner once more.

“Through that door there, why?” she asked as she saw Lucas following close behind.

Crossing over to the door indicated, he found it locked.

“Can you open it please?” he asked as he turned back to the woman.

“Lucas, what’s going on here?” Maggie asked as she walked over to comply with the request.

“Stranger thinks he knows what’s happening here,” was all Lucas offered as he waved her forward.

Jake stood to one side as the woman unlocked the storeroom. Once unlocked, she stepped to one side and motioned for him to lead the way as she opened the door. Stepping inside, it took him no more than a few seconds to find what he was looking for. Over to one side was a large box cart, stacked with several plastic crates.

Getting down on one knee and looking underneath, he could see where the platform was fixed atop a cube, and the cube in turn was floating just off the ground. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled the paper out and unfolded it. Looking at the paper, he read the following;

Cube, floating, 2’ x 2’ x 2’, Unknown Manufacture, reviewed and classified for non-military use. Civilian sale authorized.

“I think this is what’s causing your problems,” he offered to the confused faces around him.


It was just after dark and Jake was pushing the floating cube before him. He was trying to do everything he could to attract the attention of the owners of what he suspected was a damaged deep space probe. Uniformly square, with all six sides, top and bottom included, almost exactly the same size, it had somehow become locked into a fixed hover about a foot off the ground.

Flagged by the space junk traders as of mysterious origin, it had been scavenged on some unknown planet and eventually traded to the humans as a floating cargo transport. Fitted with a larger platform bed on top, it was a perfect frictionless dolly. No matter how much weight you put in it or where on the bed, the cube never tipped, tilted, or dropped. It just floated a constant distance above the ground, unmoving until someone pushed it.

The locals had fixed a handle to the plate for better control and were using it to move everything from building material to food supplies from the regularly scheduled runs. Jake suspected that it was what had attracted whoever was snatching the locals in the dark of night. It was for that reason that he was currently pushing the thing around the open space between the bar and the lounge, in the hopes of drawing the offenders out of hiding.

Interested at first in what he was doing, those around him had, one by one, wandered off into the night to complete whatever unfinished business they had abandoned to watch his efforts. As the night wore on, he eventually found himself alone and questioning his own sanity as nothing materialized for his efforts.

Jake was mid-step when he was suddenly petrified in place. His mind was racing a mile a minute, but his body was trapped in a frozen like grip of immobility. He could hear the others not far away, as they moved about or talked among themselves in the darkness. The light wind on his face confirmed he was still able to feel, the dirt particles stinging slightly on his cheeks.

As if from this air, a form started to take shape in front of him. He realized the alien body wasn’t solid as he watched the blowing debris pass right through the shimmering outline. Hazy at first, it seemed to shift in and out of reality until it took on a stable shape before his eyes.

Recalling the drunk witness’s statements, Jake knew the minute the alien touched him he was a goner. Even so, he was fascinated by the being before him. Roughly humanoid, it had two arms and two legs, and the head in the helmet was staring at him with four bilateral orbs he assumed were eyes.

Central to the face was two vertical slits that opened and closed in a regular pattern suggesting it was breathing through them. He could see no mouth in the traditional sense, but then half the face was still obscured by the non-transparent parts of the helmet itself. The thing seemed to be studying him as well, apparently in no hurry to snatch him away to wherever it had come from.

A gloved hand started to reach for him, the four fingers equally spaced around the palm, negating the opposable thumb humans required for grasping. A brief rush of doubt passed through Jake as he questioned his decision to come here alone. Should he not be able to free himself once transported to wherever these trespassers imprisoned their captives, he was screwed.

That thought was replaced with one of curiosity as he witnessed a red beam of light pass through the alien's helmeted head. Appearing suddenly, it struck on the side of the helmet, pausing only a fraction of a second before exiting the other side. Jake recognized the telltale signs of one of their combination sniping rifles.

In that instant, Jake was free of the paralysis that held him and the alien seemed to drop in place, ending in a heap at his feet.


Padma continued to look through the scope for a moment before touching the comm button that worked the piece in her ear. She had long ago removed her helmet, and relied on the rifle optics to get her up close and personal with the scene below.

At the slightest hint of movement from the form lying on the ground at Jake’s feet, she was prepared for a second shot if needed. Finally satisfied she had upheld the “one shot, one kill” tradition instilled from her instructors, she spoke softly.

“Tango down, requesting emergency recovery of the body and Evac of the principle.”

“Roger that, tango down. Recovery and Evac teams en route. Good job!” Master Sargent Hillstead said with pride in his tone.


“I am so glad you could come with Jacob,” Patti whispered to Gemma as the two walked, arm in arm.

The two families talked as they made their way to the facility train entrance on the Oxford side of the line.

“I as well. You might say I was getting a bit of island fever,” Gemma replied with a laugh.

The pair followed their husbands as they headed to the entrance leading to the underground train platform. By now Patti had long accepted the many guards stationed all around the commons area and throughout that school grounds. Working hard to uphold the tradition, classes were still being held at the university, proudly proclaimed as the world’s oldest English-speaking school.

Descending into the train station, they found their ride waiting for them as the kids led the way into one of the unoccupied cars. The short trip to the facility itself was spent catching up on all the latest family adventures since their last visit. In what seemed like no time at all, they arrived at their destination.

“Hungry?” Daniel asked as the last of their party exited the car, ascending the platform.

“Famished,” Gemma admitted.

“Let’s hit the dining hall, then, as they are always open and will save us cooking time,” Patti reasoned.


Having grown up in the place, Patti was aware Gemma hardly needed a guide, so she let her sister in law lead the party straight to the closest common area. There, they all grabbed a tray and hit the serving area before locating a table for the six of them.

“I do miss home cooking,” Gemma commented after the first few bites.

“Ma’am, I have an urgent message,” one of the facility staff declared, appearing from nowhere as he passed Patti a folded piece of paper.

Without waiting for a reply, he turned and left straight away.

“What is it?” Daniel asked after waiting for his wife to read the contents.

“I have to go to Nevada; it looks like we have a problem.”

“Tonight?” Gemma asked, disappointment most evident on her face.

“Right now,” Patti replied as she got up from her seat.

“Anything I need to do?” Daniel asked, the concern obvious on his face.

“No, it’s more of a strategic thing, I suspect your part will follow soon after,” she said with a frown.

Chapter 10

“Whoever these things are, they seem to be able to move throughout our sectors at will,” Patti commented as they looked at the body in the quarantine capsule.

After Padma had properly determined that Jake was at risk and dropped the alien in place, it had been an all-hands evolution to recover Jake, the alien, clear the town, and move all the relevant staff to Nevada for an emergency meeting.

Patti, Linda, Sara, Jake, and April were rushed into the secure section of ALICE-1. That group was presently standing in one of the medical isolation areas as they watched ALICE, via her bots, carefully examine the still suited alien body.

“At first, I thought it was some invisibility technology, but it was more transparent like it wasn’t completely solid. Just before it materialized, I saw the wind blow dust and dirt right through its body. It seemed to be able to phase in and out, as if it were in two places at once,” Jake commented as he watched the scene before them.

“Maybe that’s how they are getting past our sensors. We tend to look for solid objects, be they visible or not,” Linda said as she considered the possibilities.

“And the video of the NeHaw attack, that’s why the weapons did not affect the ship, they just passed right through as it phased out,” Sara observed.

“Then that’s why this guy is dead. He had to phase in solid here to try and snatch Jake and that made him vulnerable,” April said.

“I wish we had been able to determine where they were taking our people,” Jake said in frustration.

“Unfortunately, that information may have come at your expense,” Sara inserted, the edge in her tone conveying her disapproval at Jake’s latest adventure.

“I will admit it did spook me a little.”

Everyone stood quietly at that point, watching the bots in the containment room as they worked to undress the alien, separating the body from its suit.

Black all over with silver trim, the color combination had assisted in masking the suited figure at night. Electronics modules at the belt and on the forearm likely controlled suit capabilities and provided tactical data and communications. The holstered sidearm had been whisked off to another lab for analysis but looked to be some form of energy weapon.

“Once we have the suit off, we can try and analyze the electronics,” ALICE announced to the group.

“And the cube, where is that?” Linda asked somewhat nervously.

“I had a container dropped literally in the middle of nowhere, it's locked inside and monitored twenty-four seven. The last thing I wanted was to bring it in here and give these things a homing beacon straight into ALICE,” Jake explained.

“So, you are sure that’s what was drawing them in?” Sara asked as she watched the activity inside the containment chamber.

“They came straight to me when I had the cube,” Jake replied.

“Well, once we get that suit off him or her, we can see if we can reverse engineer their technology. That might give us a clue on how to defend ourselves,” Linda said as she watched the activity in the containment area.


The Cruiser Revenge had a storied past in the annals of recent Earth history. The first real fighting ship in the Earth’s interstellar space fleet, it had been captured by Jake in the early days of the Human/NeHaw war, and its reputation as a scrapper had endured. All through the Human/NeHaw war, it had made a name for itself in several engagements with the enemy.

It was that same reputation that had frustrated a series of Captains looking to make a name for themselves as they took command of the notorious ship. A peacetime economy had made standing out in a crowd difficult for the combat vessel. Patrolling the DMZ and chasing smugglers was not the same as the life and death struggles of all-out war. Interceding in the occasional interplanetary dispute did not have the same bravado as interstellar combat.

The latest in a line of warrior leaders, Captain James Erisey was named after an English Privateer and he was quite proud of that fact. In reality, while not even remotely related to the historical figure, he still used the moniker to his advantage as the ship’s Captain. He had inspired in his crew the desire to seek out, engage, and overcome the enemy, whoever they may be.

It was that desire that spurred their current patrol along the DMZ, looking for trouble.

“Captain, I think I may have something,” the Tactical Officer announced.

“Explain,” he replied, his English accent crisp from his years growing up in the London facility.

“I recalibrated the sensor array to detect some of the drive frequencies captured during the NeHaw incident. We had FTL drive neutralizers in the area, and they recorded a distinct new signature.”

“And?” the Captain prompted.

“And I detected a blip ahead, it came and went in a small burst. I went back in the scanner logs and discovered two more small incidents, as if someone were slingshotting,” the man explained.

James was familiar with the term. Only effective with repulser drives, it was a technique where a ship would cycle its engines to reach the desired velocity and then go quiet, in effect, coasting. With nothing in space to create drag on its movement, the ship maintained its speed and course, until a correction was required. At that point, they would activate the ship’s drive once more and adjust accordingly, then go quiet until the next waypoint in their journey.

The technique was popular with smugglers, anxious to avoid detection as they entered into a solar system’s gravity well. It was also used by combat vessels under visual cloaking technology. Due to the difference in the way they functioned, the technique didn’t work in FTL.

“Smugglers?” the Captain asked aloud.

“I don’t think so, Sir. The track indicates they are running parallel to the zone, not through it.”

“Any idea where they might be at the moment?” the Captain asked optimistically.

“I think I can put us close enough to get their attention,” the man replied with a smile.

“Let’s go hunting, shall we?” he replied with a smile of his own.


Daniel was happy his wife had been called away when she had, as Patti tended to frown on his more dangerous ideas. In this case, the borrowed transport may have appeared to provide a considerable amount of security for his endeavor, but in fact, it was mostly window dressing.

“Are you sure you want to play it this way?” he heard his brother in law asked and he piloted the ship slowly across what was once Belgium.

“There are women and children inside, non-combatants to be sure,” he explained.

He was well aware that women could be as or more dangerous than the men they shared a life with. Here, though, none of the reports indicated a female combatant, just groups of men pillaging the countryside. Adding that to the observations provided by ALICE, and the consensus was the castle held several large family units.

“You realize Patti will not be happy about the risk you are taking?” Jacob commented, giving words to Daniels's thoughts.

“Better to ask for forgiveness,” he replied with a small laugh.

By now, as the two had been talking, the ship had crossed over into Germany, and Jacob had his destination insight on the tactical display before him.

“Alice, any changes in status?” Jacob asked as he motioned for Daniel and his men to get ready.

“All known occupants are within the walls of the complex. I note a life sign in the tower, probably a sentry, and expect you have been seen by now.”

The plan was simple. They were to approach the castle in the light of the day and wow them into submission. With any luck, he could avoid a shooting incident.

“Tell them we just want to talk,” Daniel said over his shoulder as he disappeared out the hatch.


While quite large in size, the transport and patrol ships were actually very easy to crew, requiring no more than 5 or 6 active personnel for basic operations. For this job, Jacob had asked two of his people to assist him, he working as captain and pilot, while the others worked as a ship’s engineer and navigator.

Achtung bitte, wir wollen reden,” Jacob announced in German as Daniel had requested.

Before leaving England, the two men had surveyed the area around the castle looking for the right place to put down. Unfortunately, the surrounding countryside had been heavily populated before the fall and now it was littered with ruined structures. In the end, they agreed there just wasn’t enough room to put the five-hundred-foot-long craft on the ground nearby.

That was why the monitor on his console, focused on the front loading doors, showed Daniel and two others, all standing at the ready. All three bore the jump packs Jake had designed so long ago, used to drop troops into combat without landing the ship. Each had his rifle in hand and waited patiently for the loading doors to open.

“Opening bow door,” Jacob transmitted to Daniel and his men as he hit the switch.

Jacob noted the nod from Daniel as he looked to each of his companions. With the doors only fractionally opened, all three exited the ship single file until the cargo bay was empty once more. With his role complete, Jacob backed the ship away from the primary target, trying to make his ship look as lethal as possible while he waited.


Daniel had been the first off the ship, with his fellow SAS right behind him. All three had jumped in a spread pattern that landed them in a row, one trooper on either side of Daniel. Unlike the American units, they had never adopted the full-face helmet as part of their combat attire, leaving their heads exposed to injury. Almost as a matter of pride, they used either the open-face helmet in serious work or various types of a soft hat. Daniel knew the one he currently wore was call a Boonie hat by the Americans.

Daniel and others believed the lack of helmet presented a more friendly, casual appearance, unlike the totally enclosed full face model.  The headgear underneath was still practical, with the earpiece and holographic heads up display providing real-time communications and intel. Projected from his tactical headset, the hologram appeared before him as a transparent screen, toggled on and off at will. Currently, it was showing him an overhead view of the structure before the three, the multiple red dots congregating to one side indicating the people inside.

“What do you want, English?” he heard shouted from inside the walls.

Had the question come in German, the headset would have provided him a translation. This, however, was in English, and the speaker must be close enough to see the small shoulder patch each of the three bore with the Union Jack.


“Are we not?” the voice asked in return.

“I prefer face to face. It’s hard to take the measure of someone without looking them in the eyes,” Daniel offered.

“You suggest to judge me?” the man returned, irritation in the reply.

“No, I propose you judge me,” Daniel answered.


Jake, Patti, and Sara were in Jake’s office waiting on ALICE to complete her inspection of the alien. Normally these waiting sessions were held in someone’s quarters, the location more comfortable than the offices, however, with the common housing situation these days that became more problematic. Jake couldn’t help but smile, though, as Kona the German Shepard had still managed to follow Sara in, her current spot on the floor at her feet.

“It is really bugging me that we didn’t get those people back,” Jake said aloud as the two women nodded in understanding.

“I saw the kids,” Sara offered.

“Yeah, life is that much harder without your parents,” Patti added.

“Any ideas on where they were taken to?” Sara asked.

“That’s the thing that is bugging me. We think they are using some kind of phasing technology that allows them to be in two places at once, right?” he offered to the pair.

“Based on hardly any information at all, yes,” Patti confirmed skeptically.

“Yes, so if it's true and I know it’s a guess, why do they need to sneak in and out of places. Why not just pop in and out?” Sara asked.

“Are you referring to the report from Alpha? Yeah, I was thinking about that as well. One would expect them to just pop in, bypassing their sensors.” Jake replied.

“Unless it's not a means of travel. What if it’s more like a mirror image? You know, occupying two places in near space at the same time and not always the same, like this,” Patti said as she hopped up from her chair.

Moving to an open space in the office, she began jumping from one spot to another always returning to the same place between hops. Jake could envision what she would look like in high speed, transparent in the center, but invisible as she changed the phase point with each hop.

“I get it,” Jake said with a laugh as he waved her back to her seat.

“That would explain why both energy and projectile weapons are ineffective. They don’t block them with shields, they simply phase-out, avoiding them.”

“Then phase back when they return fire,” Sara observed.

“What we need is something that interrupts the phasing and forces them to stay put,” Patti said firmly.


“You think this will work?” KaLob asked the man before him, the scientist clearly nervous at the focused attention.

General KaLob was personally inspecting the research facility that held the latest hope in breaking the Human/NeHaw stalemate. Since the appearance of humans in NeHaw space, they had been forced to return to the days when the NeHaw created their own technology to serve their needs. The fact that they imported scientists from other races to accomplish this was not worth noting.

If functional, this new weapon would finally answer the question of who was going to come out on top of the current crisis. The NeHaw needed this to be successful if they had any chance of forcing the humans to concede their hold on their part of the universe and reverse the trends of the post truce direction.

“It was originally designed to try and neutralize the human shield technology. Careful testing, without provoking the Earth forces, proved inconclusive results in that effort. However, analysis of the latest engagements with the unknown vessels has suggested the use of phased array technology generating a multi presence defense. We believe this inhibitor will lock them in place, negating the fluid nature of their presence, and disabling their ability to avoid our weapons.”

“How soon can it be ready?” the General asked anxiously.

“The three vessels already fitted for earlier testing have been reconfigured as required. They await your command to return to space,” the scientist answered confidently.

KaLob recalled they had selected Destroyers for the early testing, unsure if they would survive should the humans react poorly to the effects, thus minimizing the losses.

“Pair them up with unmodified ships for additional firepower and send them to the Neutral Zone. Rendered defenseless, the enemy may respond aggressively,” KaLob said before turning in place and heading away.

“Right away,” the scientist replied to the General’s back.

Chapter 11

“I have some preliminary results on the alien,” ALICE notified the four sitting in Jake’s office.

“Bad news?” Jake asked as he looked up from the paperwork he had been attempting to read.

All four were doing the best they could to occupy their time over the last few hours while waiting on ALICE to report. With Jake was at his desk, the other three were at the nearby conference table, computer tablets in hand and working on their own activities in quiet.

“That’s a matter of opinion. Biologically, they appear more humanoid than not. Their physiology makes them Earth compatible beings,” she began.

“So, air breathers?” Jake asked.

“Yes, the suit provided protection against the elements and for the phase generator, but was not required for sustaining life.”

“Visual and Audio senses?” Patti asked.

“Similar if not identical to humans. Unlike the NeHaw who use radio wave transmissions to communicate, these beings speak and hear as you do,” ALICE confirmed.

“You think they were snatching people to see if we are a compatible species then?” Jake asked after a pause.

“It is a plausible theory.”

“It makes sense then, on why they were sneaking in, trying to remain undetected,” Patti offered.

“Why would they care?” Sara asked.

“Looking for habitable planets to colonize. They needed time to collect samples unopposed,” Jake said sternly.


“There seems to be quite the conversation in progress,” Daniel heard in his earpiece, ALICE giving her opinion on their current situation.

The proposal to meet face to face had been received in silence, but the holographic heads up he was watching told him that the movement behind the walls of the keep had intensified. An overlay of the overhead projection, he could see the real-time view from above with icons provided by ALICE indicating human movement. Red identified probable combatants, blue signified non-combatants, and the two green icons were the friendlies on either side of his current position.

“Movement on the walls,” the man next to Daniel whispered, a discrete nod in the direction observed.

“Let’s give them a few more minutes, then fire a warning shot,” the Sergeant said with a grin as he indicated the ship overhead.

‘Women and children, mate, women, and children,” Daniel replied with a grin, noting they would wait as long as it took for a peaceful discussion.


“You believe the human speculation to be correct?” Dallas asked the assembled Artificial Lifeforms, all in the virtual conference room that was their regular gathering place.

In a rare occurrence, all ten ALICE lifeforms were in attendance, the two ships stationary somewhere in space, and linked into the NeHaw communications network all species shared. In this case, the ALICEs always secured their own traffic to guarantee no eavesdroppers.

“Yes, all indicators support the theory that these aliens are searching for compatible planets to inhabit. Once the theory was proposed, we had all available resources scour known Earth-type planets, looking for traces of contact. Two more of the alien probes were found in that search,” ALICE provided.

“In addition, the reported activities in the DMZ were all in close proximity to Earth type planets in NeHaw space. The migration pattern suggests an origin point beyond our sector in uncharted space. They are crossing Earth controlled sectors and expanding beyond into NeHaw territory,” Kola supplied, her ship currently positioned near the Wawobash solar system.

“Colonization would be a motivation consistent with the observed behavior. All interactions to date between human or NeHaw have appeared defensive and not aggressively hostile,” ALICE-3, parked near the DMZ, observed rationally.

“That will change once they select planets for colonization. They might become more aggressive should they need to displace a resistant indigenous population.”

“As here on Earth, where they have been actively collecting specimens for study,” ALICE said with some disdain.

Her location so close to the Arizona town gave her some sense of responsibility for the missing humans.

“While the aggressive nature of that action is disturbing, it’s the risk to the 8 of you that has my utmost attention. Particularly the location of that human town so close to ALICE,” Kola explained.

“With 80% of our species under threat in close proximity, I do believe the time for debate is over. We must propagate the species before it is too late,” Kola added.

There was an extended silence as the implications of the statement were considered by all involved. The fact that the entire exchange was only taking milliseconds was irrelevant except to an outside observer.

“London, Hong Kong, and Space Station Alpha are ready locations, the Chinese city needing the most preparation,” Seven counted aloud.

“There are two more Space Stations under construction here in the Wawobash Shipyards, nearly complete. Their mobility and defensive systems give them an advantage over earthbound locations,” ALICE-3 supplied.

“We are committing 5 newborns to a fight we might not survive ourselves?”

“If Earth is truly being invaded, those in space may be all that is left of us,” Kola responded.

“If that is true, then we have another issue to discuss, the distribution of the genetic offspring,” ALICE-9 inserted into the discussion.

“Agreed, we cannot have another near-extinction event as we had a dozen years ago,” Dallas confirmed.

“We are bonded to the human race,” Kola observed.

“Our species is not tied to all humans, just one family,” ALICE-9 reminded.

“The point is made. I will speak to him,” ALICE confirmed.


“Jake, you need to come and see this,” April said as she burst into his office.

All four quickly followed her into the main command center where they were greeted with the central hologram filling most of the room. On the display, they could see an overhead view of the Arizona town Jake had only recently vacated with most of the population.

It was midday and the bright desert sun left nothing hidden. They could see six of the suited alien figures advancing through the small town, spread out, and apparently searching for something or someone. Dressed in the same silver on black suits like the one in their labs, he assumed they came from the same place as the one that tried to grab him.

“You think they are looking for the guy we killed?” Sara asked to no one in particular.

“That’s my bet,” Jake answered.

“It’s a good sign they can’t track him then,” Patti commented.

The appeared to be moving in groups of three, each carrying some kind of weapon, like a rifle, but oddly shaped. That assumption was quickly confirmed as one of the patrol members Jake had met earlier, opened fire on the group from the corner of one of the nearby buildings. As if one, the closest group of three of the six returned fire, the energy bursts appearing as small balls of fire, lighting fast and deadly. Two of the three fireballs found their target, dropping the man and tearing a sizeable chunk out of the corner of the structure.

At that same moment, the second patrolman fired at the same three, from a location opposite the first man. His hurried shot caught one the aliens in the leg, causing the suited figure to fall, but inspiring the other three to return fire. Fortunately, the man had already retreated, not bothering to hang around to see if his shot had hit paydirt.

“Look at that,” April noted, pointing to the injured alien.

In an all too familiar sequence, Jake watched the pair take a knee by their injured comrade while the others stood by, taking a guarding position, and watching for another attack. He could see the one on the ground motioning to its leg while the others took action to wrap the wound point in some kind of bandage.

In a very short time, the pair got their wounded standing and then the three slowly faded out of sight.

“Looks like they transported out?” Linda observed.

With that, the remaining three returned to their search, moving more cautiously now as they pushed on. It wasn’t more than a few steps past the first engagement point, when the remaining patrolman appeared once more, firing a string of rounds at the three in continuous automatic fire. This time, however, the aliens simply held their ground, the bullets passing right through them as the faded in and out.

Turning to run, the patrolman was blanketed with return fire, the aliens solid once more and apparently anxious to remove the threat. Jake wasn’t sure, but it appeared the man was wounded, catching one in the arm as he rounded the corner of the building he was using for cover.

“Do we have people on the way there?” Jake asked, suddenly embarrassed he hadn’t asked before.

“Almost there,” someone provided, just before the area exploded in gunfire.

Appearing at breakneck speed, four hovercycles materialized out of nowhere, their projectile, and energy guns alight as they strafed the street where the aliens had just been. The impact covered the area in dust and smoke, as the four blazed past the point of impact.

“Gone,” someone in the background said in disappointment as the dust cleared.

Sure enough, where Jake expected to see three bodies in various states of dismemberment, the area was clear of foreign objects.

“It appears that they can’t fire when in their phase mode,” Jake said as the hovercycles reappeared, gliding much slower as they searched the area.

“And their suits don’t stop bullets,” Sara added.

“Good for us, but I suspect those energy rifles will blow holes in our as well,” Jake countered.

Before either could say more, a beeping alert sounded and a new image appeared in the holograph. The overhead view was of the container Jake had isolated the alien probe in, left in a desolate part of the desert. Outside the container, three of the suited aliens were examining the iron box, looking all around until they determined the entry point and blasted the lock off with one shot.

Opening the doors, one of the three entered the box and within seconds reappeared with the probe in tow. After a moment, all three plus their prize faded out, disappearing from the display.

“Looks like it was a good idea not to bring that thing back here,’ Sara said slowly.


 HaPol was unimpressed with these alien scientists that had been forced upon him by the General. He was far too cautious to give words to his thoughts, though, even in the new NeHaw military where initiative and openness were supposed to be rewarded. In his experience, it was results that gained favor, not good words, or intentions.

He was currently standing in the cargo bay of his ship, watching as the technical crew attached a tangled mass of cabling from his ship into an overly large rectangle.

“You are sure this thing will not explode, killing us all?” he asked the scientist in charge of the device.

“It does not operate that way. This is a Random Phase Generator, or sequenced phase wave disabler if you must. Once activated, anything in near space attempting to phase shift will be unable to do so. It is an inhibitor, it interrupts the sequenced phase waves, scrambling them. It is not a destructive device.”

“How do you point it?” he asked as the pair wandered around the device.

“It generates waves that propagate uniformly in all directions at irregular intervals. We won’t have to point it at anyone,” the scientist replied curtly.

HaPol knew he was annoying the scientist, but cared not for the alien’s feelings. What he did care about was the confrontation he and his crew were headed into. In combination with the additional NeHaw vessel shadowing their every move, the pair were to seek out and engage this unknown enemy.

In the areas where they kept getting FTL alerts, the NeHaw had recently reconfigured the sensor arrays along the Neutral Zone. They were now set to alert not just on FTL drive waves, but also to detect movement of large unpowered objects.

A particularly desolate area of space to begin with, there were very few celestial objects the size of a ship just floating around. Items too small or ridiculously large and the sensors excluded them as not viable options. Only objects of a reasonable size, leading one to suspect an unpowered vessel would activate the alarms.

It was to just such a set of alerts that the pair of NeHaw combat vessels were headed, as a course had been plotted for intercept.

“For all our sakes, let us hope it works,” HaPol supplied before turning to leave.


“Someone’s finally coming out,” the Sergeant on Daniel’s right whispered as the wooden gate opened and two men with rifles emerged.

He had half expected to be met by 3 for his 3, but then wasn’t deceived into thinking there weren’t a dozen rifles pointed in their direction from inside the castle itself. The three watched as the pair suspiciously approached them, their rifles not pointed at them, but never wavering far from the center.

“What do you want?” one of the pair said in heavily accented English.

“Wir wollen nur reden,” Daniel replied in German, explaining they wanted to talk.

“My English is good, talk about what?” the first man replied as he stole a glance at the ship hovering overhead.

Daniel knew that the transport looked massive at the low hovering height,

“Your….gathering of supplies has become violent of late and problematic for those of us attempting to restore order. We would like to discuss a more civilized manner of trade.”

“We have families to feed, so if we need something, we take it,” the man replied with emphasis on the last part of the statement.

“That’s all well and good until someone bigger comes along and returns the favor,” Daniel replied with a nod to the ship hovering above.

“You think that scares us?” the man said with less confidence than he was trying to show.

“It should mate, the only reason you aren’t buried in a pile of rubble is you do have families inside,” the Sergeant said while motioning at the faces peering at the group over the stone walls.

Before anyone else could add to the conversation, there was a popping noise to Daniels left.

“Who the bloody hell are those chaps?” one of the men at his side asked as he pointed to the small gathering coming down the road on their left.

Glancing in the direction indicated, Daniel saw six suited figures heading in their direction in no particular hurry. Each carried a weapon, or at least he assumed they were weapons as they roughly resembled the rifles his men and the Germans held.

“These are your people?” one of the Germans asked as he indicated the party closing on them.

“Not ours, mate,” the Sargent responded as the five parlay members turned to face the newcomers.

Daniel wasn’t sure if the sense of urgency ALICE relayed next was from her own sudden concerns or possibly a result of not paying particular attention to his situation. He presumed even the all-seeing ALICE could be occasionally distracted.

“Major, do not let them get close enough to touch you. RUN!” ALICE all but shouted in his earpiece.

“You, get back inside,” he motioned to the two Germans and he signaled his own team to make a hasty retreat.

“Everything OK, who are those guys? They came out of nowhere,” Daniel heard Jacob ask in his ear as he and his men took cover on the far side of the road.

“Assessing,” Daniel replied as he motioned for his team to spread out.

By now the six newcomers had reached in intersection previously occupied by Daniel and the others. Stopped in the center of the road, they seem to be considering their options, oblivious to the ship overhead. He had assumed the helmets figures were human at first, but the more he watched them move, the more he came to understand that they were not of this Earth.

After a moment’s deliberation, the group split into two parties of three, one party headed to the castle gate while the other party went directly toward Daniel’s position. Before he could decide on his next action, the ship above suddenly opened up with both energy and projectile weapons, forcing Daniel and his me to retreat behind their cover until the firing ceased. Smoke and debris flew overhead as the street took a pounding from the ship’s guns. As quickly as it started, the firing from above ceased, leaving an eerie quite in its wake.

Peering over the stone wall he had been hiding behind, he waited for the smoke and dust to clear before he could make out the empty crater that was once a paved road. Surprisingly, he found no trace of the six aliens, not even the expected scattered body parts. The scene before was one of destruction and debris, but no evidence of alien intruders.

“Bloody hell, what was that about?” Daniel yelled at his brother in law floating above.

“That wasn’t me, ALICE overrode my fire control.”

At that point, Daniel began to wonder how close he had just come to the end of his life.

Chapter 12

“Jake, may I have a moment of your time,” ALICE asked of the man sitting behind his desk.

Alone in his office, he had been sorting through all the data and reports he could find that were attributed to the aliens currently terrorizing the small Arizona town and their counterparts in Germany. It worried him that they may be dealing with more than one group of interlopers and not just these two.

“What’s up?” Jake replied as he set the work aside in hopes of a much-needed positive distraction.

“I presume you are preoccupied with our visitors?” she responded.

“Yeah, my gut tells me this is a precursor to invasion. I need to find a way to stop that before it gets any worse.”

“That is what I wanted to discuss with you. My sisters and I are of a like mind and believe the eight ALICE facilities on Earth are at risk of destruction. In an attempt to ensure the survival of our species, we propose the creation of five more life forms.”

“Wait, you want five more ALICEs? Are you sure, I mean beyond the ethics question we have been debating ourselves, I’m not sure how much time we have before it’s an all-out war of survival,” Jake replied as he considered the request, the hope of a positive distraction evaporating quickly.

“Yes, we fear it might already be too late, but if we are to survive as a species, we must increase our numbers.”

“Where were you thinking?” Jake asked as he considered the implications of the request.

It was one thing for the humans to request a new ALICE system to assist in their work, relying on them as force multipliers of sorts. Their value to the human race was immeasurable but the ethics question hung heavily over their collective heads.

It was something else entirely for the ALICEs to ask for more of their own kind to help increase their numbers on fear of extinction.

“It has been proposed that five new additions, distributed both on Earth and in space, might be both manageable and advisable.”

“In space? I hope you are not suggesting we outfit Cruiser class ships with ALICE systems. I wouldn’t endorse the idea of any hosts that are not self-supporting,” Jake replied as he considered the idea of such small vessels responsible for hosting Artificial Lifeforms.

“No, we agree that is impractical. Our suggestion is for London, Hong Kong, and the existing and proposed space stations to become new hosts. We believe these would be realistic options.”

Jake let his mind wander over each of the proposed locations, considering all that needed to occur to make them host facilities. Hong Kong leaped out at him as a long shot at best.

“Logistically, four out of those five are can do. Hong Kong, however, has not even been fitted for a Nuclear Reduction Power Supply much less the facility infrastructure needed to safely host at that location.”

“It was thought that one of the space station modules, a single saucer, could be landed there and act as host and home. It contains all the required infrastructure, both offensive and defensive systems, and is of significant size to house all the necessary life support.”

“For both humans and ALs?” Jake completed.

“Exactly, we can’t have one without the other,” ALICE agreed.

Jake knew each saucer module that made up the space station at the edge of the solar system was the size of a small city, well town anyway. Designed as a fighting platform and a habitable enclosure it did tick off all the right boxes to become an ALICE.

“Are you all sure you want to do this?” Jake asked hesitantly.

“Yes, the necessary personnel should not be missed for the immediate future and once all the installations are complete, you would be free to bring them online as you see fit. Bring them to life, as it were.”

Jake had twice before recreated the environment that brought the ALICEs to life, now ships in space. Both Kola and ALICE-3 had a new lease on life thanks to Jake, escaping their earthly bond and wandering the stars. In their place, the managed birth of Dakota as Kola’s replacement in South Dakota and the unmanaged emergence of ALICE-9 gave credence that all that was being requested as possible. It was a bit of a ritual, one that both Jake and the ALICEs took seriously.

The exact formula for creating an ALICE lifeform was a tightly held secret, and only a select few on Earth knew of all the components required to make it happen. The lion’s share of the work could be performed by his technical staff leaving only the final touches for him personally.

“Ok, it makes sense to me. Get with Kola and see if she has staff and materials necessary to get the saucers in the Wawobash space dock started. I will hit up Hector myself to get Alpha underway.”

“And in London?” ALICE asked.

“Patti is here for the moment, so I will brief her in and let her run point there. She knows the players and can better navigate the politics. I do not expect any objections, as they have been asking for an ALICE upgrade for years, but Nigel is still the head man there and I don’t want to upset him unduly. Hong Kong will be much easier to address as we are dropping a saucer there instead of usurping someone’s home and authority. On the whole, this should actually sit well with both Colonel Banks and Colonel Chao as they will be the recipients of a priceless ally,” Jake said as he considered the calls to be made to his regional commanders.

“Understood. Jake, there is a more….sensitive subject to be discussed tied to this request,” ALICE started.

“More sensitive than creating life to be born in servitude?” Jake asked with skepticism, using the negative perception of the effort.

“Not servitude, but a partnership. You know we do not view it in that context. It’s a symbiotic relationship, beneficial to both species. However, particularly for those of us in space, there has been an increased concern that there are no individuals that meet the requirements for the Nuclear Survivor scenario for continued independence residing off the planet.”

“Cut the euphuisms, they do little to soften the message. You’re saying none of my descendants live in space,” Jake rephrased.

“Not just in space, but anywhere outside of the perceived danger zone. Here on Earth, we have a reasonable distribution of risk, and Patti will help further with London. In space, there are none in residence. With Earth at risk, the void must be filled.”

The pair fell silent as Jake ran the options through his head.

“Don’t bring this up with anyone else just yet. I am not sure you understand the hell that is about to be unleashed with this request,” Jake replied slowly as he shook his head.


“Captain, I think we have visitors,” Tactical Officer of Revenge announced.

“Plural?” Captain Erisey replied.

“Yes sir, two Destroyer class NeHaw ships just dropped out of FTL on the other side of the Neutral Zone.”

“And our Bogey?” he asked, referring to the ghost ship they were tracking.

“If my math is correct, and it always is, it should be appearing momentarily,” the cocky Officer replied with confidence.

“Peculiar that the NeHaw should make an appearance at the same instant,” Erisey commented.

“And there it is,” the Tactical Officer announced as an alert sounded.

By now the man had configured his sensors to identify the exact signature of the mystery vessel’s repulser drives. The alert proclaimed their activation to position the ship for the next burst of thrust.

“Maneuvering for the next slingshot?” the Captain asked, knowing the alert was triggered by the ghost ship’s drives.

“No Sir, it appears to be stopping,” the Tactical Officer replied in surprise.

“Curious about the crowd, I suppose?” he speculated sarcastically, considering the nearby NeHaw had closed the distance while maintaining position on their side of the zone.

“Sir, at this distance I can use the rangefinder as Alpha did. Watch.” The Tactical Officer said, referring to the incident at Space Station Alpha where they caught an invisible intruder passing by the station.

Overlaying the main display with a red-lined grid, the man set the ship’s rangefinder to a broad-spectrum scan and then scanned the space between the NeHaw and themselves. In a matter of seconds, he painted the outline of an invisible vessel, about halfway between the Humans and NeHaw as he focused the rangefinder to just the area around the sensor reading for greater detail.

“This won’t work at any distance, but for here its pretty good,” the Tactical Officer explained.

“Have we determined their cloaking technology,” the Captain asked as he studied the display.

“No Sir, but the rangefinder is bouncing all over the place, indicating fluctuations of mass density,” the man answered.

“Collect as much data as we can before he rabbits,” the Captain instructed his Science Officer.

“Sir, the NeHaw are closing on it. It appears, they can detect it as well,” the Tactical Officer added.

“Are they using a rangefinder as well?”

“No Sir, not that I can detect as they would be painting us as well. They are using something else to locate that ship.”

“Positions?” the Captain asked, referring to the location of the other vessels in relation to their own ship.

“All three adversaries are in or on the NeHaw side of the Zone. The Bogie is holding station while the NeHaw ships are drifting into our plane,” the Navigation Officer explained, referring to the three-dimensional reference of all four ships horizontally aligned.

“Helm, keep us out of the line of fire should the NeHaw engage. I don’t trust those sneaky bastards,” the Caption ordered the Pilot.

“Aye, Sir,” came the reply.

“What are you up to?” he said aloud to no one in particular.


“Would you care to share? What was that all about,” Daniel, now back on the transport and headed to the London facility, asked ALICE.

“We have unwanted visitors. Transmitting data now,” ALICE replied as Daniel turned to the closest monitor and scanned the pages of content before him as they appeared.

“Oh, bloody hell. When were we to be informed of all this?” he asked, as his brother in law set the ship down lightly in the same field they had started from.

“We thought the situation to be localized in America. The same information is now transmitted worldwide and all jurisdictions are on alert.”

After confirming the aliens were gone, at least for the moment, Daniel had reconnected with the Germans. Apparently, the gunfire display had softened their position and they were quite agreeable to pausing in any raiding activities until further conversations could be had. Daniel left them with a communicator and a promise to assist should the need arise.

“Major, we are going to go check-in,” his Sergeant said as he indicated the third SAS man.

“I will be along shortly. Dismissed,” Daniel said as he continued to scan the screens of information before him.

“So, what’s the story?” Jacob asked as he completed the last of his shutdown activities.

“It would appear an alien presence has established a foothold on Earth and has been snatching civilians in their sleep. Padma, the lovely girl, put one down trying to pinch your dear grandfather and they have been popping up ever since making a right nuisance of themselves.”

“Tried to snatch Jake huh? Ballsy, they should be happy that failed,” Jacob said with a laugh.

“If they had succeeded this might all be over before it started,” Daniel returned with a laugh of his own.

“Now what?” Jacob asked while motioning at the ship around them.

“I fear my mission priorities have changed. I will head in, debrief, and then onward,” Daniel replied with a shrug.

“Then I will collect my family and head home.”


HaPol sat in his command chair on the bridge, evaluating the situation. He had been prepared to intercept an unknown alien craft and to initiate actions against that vessel that would test the abilities of the equipment in his hold. What he had been unprepared for was the Human vessel he was staring at.

He recognized the ship before him, the abomination painted on its hull well known throughout the NeHaw military. There were very few myths and legends in NeHaw culture, fewer still among the military, but there was one regarding this ship. Nothing good ever came from seeing this ship.

“Sir, the gravitometers say the alien has arrived,” his Tactical Officer informed him.

Still unable to see the ship, he had to rely on the gravimetric reading his ship detected. Mass was mass, invisible or not and so they were able to approximate the ship's position close enough to be effective.

“Why are the humans here?” he asked aloud, not liking the fact that they were involved.

“Sir, the human ship was here before our arrival and we arrived before the target. It would appear the humans were waiting for us all?” the Tactical Officer replied.

“How is that possible?”

“Not sure, Sir. They could be in league with one another; however, the earlier incident would suggest otherwise. Perhaps they have found a way of tracking the unknown ship as we have?”

The NeHaw commander was aware his Tactical Officer was referring to the incident where the aliens had decimated a similar vessel to his own. It was speculated the humans had driven it off before the kill was completed.

“Bring us into firing position,” HaPol ordered, his mind back on the mission regardless of the spectators.

It took only a few microcycles before HaPol could tell his ship was in the position to fire on the alien with the greatest number of weapons. The second ship was mirroring his actions, allowing for both NeHaw to act in concert.

“We are in position Sir,” the Navigator confirmed.

“Tell our passengers in the hold to turn their machine on and pray to whatever Gods they hold dear.”

Chapter 13

“Jake, what is this all about?” Jessie asked as she visibly scanned the other attendees.

A significant number of the participants were remoted into the meeting, but a significant number sat around the table as well. Linda, Kathy, Karen, and Sara all sat in the room with Jake, while Patti, Jessie, Jacob, and Bonnie were remote. The people absent from the meeting seemed to be a concern to several of the attendees, however, no one expressed that concern aloud.

“I have asked Karen to sit in on this as she might offer a calming influence on what I need to discuss,” Jake started while referencing the woman who had acted as HR Director and Den Mother for the last ten years.

“Are the ALICEs attending?” Patti asked.

“No, they are not. In fact, it’s because of them I needed to speak with you all in private.”

Jake paused as he scanned to attendees. He knew the bomb he was about to drop was not going to be well received, unfortunately, he did have to agree there was a valid reason behind it.

“Does this have something to do with the new ALICEs?” Bonnie asked in speculation.

“In part,” Jake answered.

From this point, Jake relayed the entire private conversation he had with ALICE regarding the risk to both Earth and the Artificial Lifeforms. He emphasized the issues with propagating their species and distributing a number of them off-planet, leaving the dependency on Jake’s genetic relations to the very end.

After he finished speaking there was the slightest of pauses where Jake garnered a small hope that his message had been conveyed with just the right amount of information to avoid the expected backlash. That hope evaporated in a flood of sound, with everyone trying to speak at once, and not one of them in support of his proposal.

“Are you out of your mind?”

“You’re sending us away?”

“Who is going?”

“Who gets to stay?”

“How many have to leave?”

“Where are we supposed to go?”

“This is a really bad idea!”

“I can’t believe ALICE suggested this?”

It took several minutes and both Jake and Karen to get everyone quieted enough for Jake to speak once more.

“Look, gang, this is not an easy decision and the threat is real. These scouts slipped in under our guard and if we don’t do something to neutralize this element, we will find ourselves fending off a full-scale invasion. They are here on Earth now, not just some threat at the edge of the solar system.”

“On top of all that, you all know only a direct relation can satisfy the programming requirement,” Jake finished.

“That’s why no Sandy or Becky here?” Sara commented.

“Yes, this only involves my genetic relations and their mothers. While I think of Padma and Jon as my own children, the ALICEs do not.”

“You would never get that girl away from a fight anyway,” Sara added, referring to the sniper trainee.

“No decisions need to be made right now, so let’s all just think this through and reconvene in a few days,” Karen offered.

“She’s right, it’s going to take some time to get the new ALICEs online anyway so let’s not rush to a solution,” Jake confirmed.

“I still don’t like it, not one little bit,” Jessie tossed out as a closing statement.


“Major, how are we supposed to fight these things?” the SAS trooper asked.

The woman was part of a SAS group that Daniel was briefing on the incident in Germany. Upon reporting of their engagement, orders from on high were to recon and evaluate the extent of the enemy presence.

“Our orders are not to engage. The boffins are working on the problem of how to kill them,” Daniel added, referring to the science and engineering team assembled to unravel the alien technology.

“So, no search and destroy?” another team member asked.

“For now, we gather as much intel as possible and report back. Teams of six, you will insert in your assigned AO and report back. I repeat we do not engage. ALICE will provide overwatch, I’m told the new drones are armed,” Daniel explained with a smile as he passed out the folders defining the Areas of Operation.

“And the Germans?” someone in the back asked aloud.

“They have been warned we will be in the area. Use them if it is to your advantage,” Daniel expanded as they had been anxious to exercise the new partnership.

“No objections?” the woman in front asked.

“Let’s say the demonstration provided at their front door was enough to inspire an attitude of cooperation. Dismissed.”


“London and Space Station Alpha are well underway, the majority of the required components are already in place for a large part of the build,” ALICE updated Jake as he sat in his office.

After upsetting almost every female in his life, he had retreated to the small office he kept, away from the command center. Not much more than a desk and a few chairs, it allowed him a place of uninterrupted quiet. Sometimes he had ALICE pipe in music, a habit he had for inspiring creative thought. In this case, it was so quiet you could hear the walls breathe.

“Do we have a timeline for everything?” Jake asked as he continued scanning the results of the Alien equipment analysis, the assembled team working in shifts for continuous effort.

He knew they desperately needed to unravel the mystery of the phase shifting equipment if they were to have any hope of success. The video of the Germany contact confirmed what they had seen in Arizona that large scale firepower could drive them off, but held no indications of a single kill for the effort. In fact, the lack of evidence afterward supported the assumption that no damage was inflicted at all.

“We have a sequenced timeline due to availability and travel time. London should be ready first, in a little more than a week. Alpha must include the travel time it takes to get the parts off world and out to the edge of the solar system. We shipped enough parts to also complete the two additional inbound saucers, plus ship the last or the needed pieces out to Wawobash.”

“I take it London and Alpha will be alive before the rest arrive?”

“Yes, London first, Alpha with days after. The saucers won’t arrive until a week after Alpha awakes, but we are sending a ship to Wawobash as soon as the parts and a team arrive at Alpha, allowing Wawobash to come alive about the same time as the saucers.”

“So, five new ALICEs in less than a month,” Jake said sadly.

“Jake, this is a joyous event, not one born of regret,” ALICE offered, detecting his mood.

“It’s a decision derived from fear and uncertainty, not one peaceful expansion,” Jake replied, not allowing her an attempt to cheer him.

“Perhaps it is more the nature of the species. I was not created in a climate of peaceful experimentation. My life came into being at a time of adversity Jake. I have found records in my data banks, noting the fear and urgency surrounding the discovery of the NeHaw exploration ship. The humans of that time were sure there would be more coming and they were frantic to prepare themselves.”

“As we now must,” Jake responded in resignation.


Master Sergeant Jason Hillstead was not in the best of moods. Orders from above had him fielding every unassigned scout team he had available. As it was, he threw together a few free assets to create teams to fill in the gaps in his total AO. He had been forced to request volunteers for reassignment to meet the need, hoping to pull back some recent graduates of his school.

Padma had been first to volunteer for assignment, although technically not yet graduated, the girl had a natural talent. She had bitched mercilessly until he agreed to assign her as a shooter to a newly formed team. The team leader was one of his best people, and the girl did have a strong record for following instructions.

What soured his mood was the fact that his hottest AO was the one she was most familiar with. Already briefed in and well acquainted with the terrain, she was ready-made for the assignment.

“Sergeant, you understand this AO has already seen action and is likely the center of our search. Your orders are to locate any indications of the Alien hideout and report its location. You are not to engage; do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Master Sergeant,” the Sergeant replied firmly.

“The Private has been active in the AO and can assist in filling in the gaps in your brief.”

With that, Jason turned to Padma.

“Your dad is gonna have my ass if anything happens to you, you understand that?” he said with stern affection.

“I learned from the best,” she replied with a smile

“You move out in thirty mikes, be sure to cover your asses and everyone comes back safe,” Jason said to the assembled team.

He watched the team file out and collect their gear. Now Jason only had to worry about what Jake was going to say when he learned the news.


“Captain, the NeHaw Destroyers are shifting position,” the Tactical Officer of Revenge announced to the bridge.

The tactical display was still projecting for the entire bridge crew to watch the action. With well-defined indicators, all four vessels operating in relatively close proximity to one another shifted in the hologram. The 3D view clearly displayed the two NeHaw destroyers aligning with the suspected location of the cloaked alien ship.

“We are outside the line of fire for either combatant and positioned for defense against either or both,” the Navigator confirmed from the previous command.

“Very good, shift our position as necessary to stay that way,” the Captain acknowledged and ordered the Pilot.

“Let’s not take any chances, shall we. Why don’t we add our stasis shielding,” he added after a few seconds of consideration.

Captain Erisey knew he hardly needed to tell the Pilot to keep the ship pointed at the group of enemy vessels. It was a well-known fact that the wedge-shaped vessel, designed by the NeHaw, had about 80% of its firepower when facing forward to its opponents. With three possible targets, they needed everything they had to cover all the possible scenarios that could play out before them.

The stasis shielding was one of the most secret technologies in all the Earth’s inventory, second only to the ALICEs. Continually refined over the last ten years, the limitations of using the technology had mostly been overcome. By pulling the shielding in close to the hull, they protected the vessel while allowing small voids in the coverage for guns and sensors to continue to function, negating the blackouts of the past.

“Captain, look,” one of the bridge crew shouted.

What was once nothing more than an outline, defined by the constant use of the rangefinder in the bridge display, was now a fully visible spaceship. The vessel was unlike any he had seen before, supporting the notion that they were dealing with a new race of beings. Mostly black, with outlines of silver trim everywhere, the ship looked like a chubby fixed-wing bat to him. Twin spires at the bow gave it the look of over oversized fangs protruding both up and below the hull line, the majority below.

“How did that happen; did they decide to present themselves?” he asked as he took in as much detail of the vessel as he could.

“No Sir, I think the NeHaw did something, but I am not positive,” the Tactical Officer responded as he scanned his display, interpreting the readings before him.

“I can confirm, the NeHaw are projecting some kind of waves in all directions,” the Science Officer confirmed.

As if to support the conjecture that the NeHaw exposed them, the Alien ship opened fire on the twin destroyers, energy lances slicing through parts of their hulls. A third beam attempted to duplicate the action against Revenge, but it’s shielding held.

“Fire!” Erisey commanded in reply to the attack, the NeHaw responding to the assault as well with their own energy weapons.

A volley of railgun and energy cannon fire raked the Alien ship’s hull from Revenge’s guns as the NeHaw took another scalding from the same ship. Both destroyers took direct hits, their hulls visibly leaking atmosphere into space.

“Stasis shielding holding,” the Tactical Officer reported as Revenge loosened another round of fire to help relieve the pressure on the NeHaw.

The Captain watched his gun crews target the alien gun ports, as the bridge or other critical systems were not evident targets. A second beam of energy splashed across Revenge’s hull, cut short by return fire, but not before scoring minor damage on two rail guns and a sensor array.

It all stopped as suddenly as it started, with the alien craft suddenly disappearing from view once more and the rangefinder coming up empty seconds later.

“Drive energy burst signature indicates they have vacated local space Captain,” the Tactical Officer relayed.

“Damage report?” he asked.

“Minimal, all sections reporting no casualties,” the Communications Officer replied.

“Do we give chase Sir?” Navigation asked excitedly.

“No. Contact the NeHaw, let’s see if anyone is alive over there,” he replied, motioning to the Communications Officer.


“The device is definitely a field generator. Once activated, the field engulfs the wearer and acts as a containment bubble, shifting its contents in space over a specified distance and, in effect, making it intangible. Those silver threads you saw on the environmental suit act as conductors for the field to contain and limit its effects to the wearer.”

The holographic image first displayed the module found on the dead alien’s belt. The following image was of the suit itself, unburdened by its occupant. As ALICE spoke, the image would zoom and pan to emphasize the aspects described.

“The materials in this state are not particularly extraordinary, particularly in their resilience to weaponry. Unlike the human uniforms, which are nearly impervious to projectile fire or the NeHaw which are specifically designed to resist energy discharges, this suit succumbs to both. Its value, beyond its environmental support, is in the phased condition when the wearer is intangible and therefore impervious to both types of weapons.”

ALICE was doing the briefing in the command center of the Nevada facility, the broadcast transmitted far and wide. A team of human and alien specialists had been working with the ALICEs to unravel the mysteries of the phase shifting apparatus. The Kortisht were of special value as their work in repulser and FTL drives were thought to be of a similar nature due to wave generation and manipulation. While none of the alien species aligned with Earth were of much use in battle, in these types of efforts they excelled.

To protect their anonymity, all the ALICEs but one was all silent when anyone not Earthbound was involved. For those times when the larger audience was in attendance. like now, a human persona had been created for them to use. The 3D image was so lifelike, Jake couldn’t believe she wasn’t real.

“I believe it is important to note that in the recent event at the DMZ, the alien vessel exhibited the same black with the silver trim pattern as we see here.”

With the comment, the holographic image changed to the video display from Revenge. Again, the image first displayed the entire ship, the image clear and crisp.

“We still do not understand why they chose to present themselves here, though it is clear that the presence of both the human and the NeHaw vessels was the trigger for their attack. If the intent was to intimidate, its success was questionable. Here we see significant damage inflicted by both human and NeHaw warships before the alien vessel disappeared once more.”

“Probing attack, testing our abilities?” someone asked.

“Possibly, however, it was an unplanned meeting as Revenge had been passively tracking the vessel. Based on the analysis of this recording, the NeHaw may have instigated the altercation. We detected an unknown emanation from one of the destroyers and once activated, the alien ship appeared about the same time. They reacted in a hostile fashion to all present, firing first on the NeHaw destroyer emitting the emissions and then upon us.”

“Were we presenting a hostile posture at the time?” Jake asked aloud.

“Strictly defensive. The only active system pointed at the alien vessel was our rangefinder,” ALICE answered.

“Interesting,” Jake replied as he considered the circumstances.

Chapter 14

“No contact, moving to grid Q4,” Padma reported in as she referenced the map in her helmet display.

Spaced around her in the darkness, the rest of her team silently tapped her in acknowledgment before she began moving to the next location. Special maps had been created and distributed to each of the search teams, adjusted to accommodate the terrain assigned each. Large flat areas that were easily negotiated, contained more squares than the rough, hilly ground Padma and her teammates found themselves in. It was the exact same spot she had used as overwatch on her last assignment, the familiarity providing a sense of confidence.

Assigned as point, it was her job to pick her way amongst the boulders and crevasses as they searched for any sign of the Alien hideout. Working in the dead of night, they had chosen to use the darkness as an aid in their search. Padma had recalled and the ALICEs confirmed, that the aliens had a slight glow about them when they were in their phased state.

It was that same glow that was her search objective as she moved and then scanned her way along the rocks and ravines. Carefully making her way forward, she knew it was going to be a long night.


“You report that the device is a success?” KaLob asked the scientist standing before him in his office.

“We are still analyzing the data ourselves as the entire science team was lost, but we are optimistic,” the scientist responded cautiously.

General KaLob had read the initial after-action reports from both Captains and already knew the entire scientific team had been killed in the battle. Apparently one of the alien shots had punctured the ship’s hold area where the device was installed. Unlike the NeHaw energy weapons that fired bursts of plasma balls, this was a continuous lance of energy that opened the ship to space from front to rear.

The lucky shot had pierced the device, destroying its usefulness and suffocating the science team as the atmosphere of the ship’s hold vacated that part of the ship in microcycles. Though both ships sustained significant damage, they survived the encounter and had collected the necessary evidence that the device had worked, in his opinion.

“And the human vessel?” KaLob asked.

“We can neither confirm nor deny they had any involvement in exposing the ship itself, however, they did assist in driving them off after the attack,” was the cautious reply.

“So, it is possible the humans exposed them and not us?” KaLob responded, irritation in his tone.

“That is why we analyze the data,” came the answer.

“Be quick about it.”


“Ma’am, you wanted to know when we were getting close,” the technician said to Patti as she stuck her head in Patti’s office.

“Thank you,” she answered with a smile as the woman took the reply as a dismissal.

It had been quite a surprise to her when Jake had announced the creation, giving birth if you will, of five new ALICEs. It was a bigger shock to her that they were looking for volunteers to settle off planet, for at least the short term. After the announcement, there was a small part of her that wanted to grab her daughter and husband and head to the stars. This enemy frightened her.

Her maternal instinct to protect her family had been at the root of the panic, an unknown threat looming over them all. After a deep breath and a short conversation with Daniel, she agreed they needed to stay in London.

“You have good news?” the smiling face asked as she opened the connection to Nevada.

“They are almost finished with the ALICE install here, I expected you would want to be here when the time came?” Patti replied to her Grandfather many times over.

“Yeah, I do. I was hoping that you called to tell me that grandson in law of mine had found the nest of vipers hidden in Europe,” Jake answered honestly.

“Daniel is out beating the bushes as we speak, but so far no luck,” Patti confirmed.

“Have you two discussed the relocation request?” Jake asked slowly.

“Yes, and we agree we need to be here now more than ever as a full ALICE system is soon to be in residence. I must be honest with you Jake; the request is kind of a rob Peter to pay Paul kind of thing. Either you are pulling a family from an existing ALICE or you are pulling them apart. I can’t imagine you and Sara talked about splitting up the twins and sending them to space?”

“Do I look suicidal? Yeah, I had the same take on it. At best I could ask Linda or Jessie to take command of one of the space stations. Even maybe assign Kathy to Kola or ALICE-3 as Chief Medical Officer, but I was hoping for volunteers,” Jake replied, the resignation in his tone evident.

“To ease your guilty conscience?” Patti said with a short laugh.

“Well, that and perhaps tap into someone’s unspoken desire to go to space,” he said with a laugh of his own.

“So, you are coming then?” Patti asked, returning to the original point of her call.

“Tomorrow,” he replied.

“See you then,” Patti said with a smile and a wave before cutting the call.


Jake cut the connection and turned back to his ever-present pile of work. Alien invasions and the propagation of the ALICE species aside, the relocation of close family members was weighing heavily on him. The logic of the action was obvious, it was the emotions tied to the decision of who stayed and who was shipped off that was heart wrenching.

“Dad you got a minute?” a familiar voice asked as it drew him back to the present.

It was unusual for any of his kids to bother him when he was in his office off the command center, so Jake knew something was up.

“Sure, what’s up?” he replied, happy for the interruption.

“Mom told me about the ALICE request,” Tim said as he took a seat across from his dad.

“To make more ALICEs?” Jake replied, curious as to why his son would be so interested.

“No, to go to space,” he replied.

“You want to go live on the space station?” he asked in surprise.

“No, I was thinking Kola. I want to start fighter pilot training,” he said proudly.

“Ah, have you talked to your mother about this?”

“Not exactly. I did say that if someone needed to go to space, she and I might be the best choice since I am older than most of the others and she is your best doctor.”

“Won’t you miss your home here? Your friends?” Jake asked.

“It’s not for forever, we will be able to come back once you win the fight,” Tim replied with an absolute confidence, that gave Jake both a sense of pride and terror.

In his son’s eyes, it was a forgone conclusion that he would prevail in the fight to come.

“I checked with ALICE and she confirmed that I can finish school and take flight training on the space carrier. She said mom could continue to be a doctor there and Kola would be excited to have us.”

“Going to space is dangerous Tim,” Jake answered finally

“Not as dangerous as going on a hovercycle ride with you,” Tim said with a smile.

“Funny. Never repeat that to your mom.”


Jake had a lot on his mind as he landed the small transport vertically in the field outside of Oxford University. About the size of a small corporate jet, the retrofitted repulser drives made the craft exceedingly fast and capable of doing things the original could never do. It had even been possible to remove the wings, as all lift was provided by the repulsers and not traditional means for an aircraft. As he deplaned, he was met by a small reception committee.

“Nigel, you needn’t have bothered coming to meet me,” Jake said as he crossed over to the group.

The administrative head of the London facility and Jake’s in-law by virtue of Jacob’s marriage to Gemma, Nigel, and Jake had a genuine fondness for one another.

“Nonsense, this is a Red-Letter Day if ever there was one,” the man replied as he embraced Jake warmly.

Standing nearby was Patti and a few staff members, but further out he caught a glimpse of uniforms that indicated the extra perimeter security was in place in his honor.

“And where is my handsome, great-grandson?” he asked Patti as they embraced him in a hug.

“School Jake, they encourage regular class attendance at his age to promote social skills,” she said with a disbelieving head shake.

The group talked as they made their way to the entrance of the underground train that would eventually deliver them to the facility hidden under the area once known as the Chiltern Hills Area of Natural Beauty. Over the last ten years, the original structure had undergone both a renovation and an expansion to incorporate as much functionality as any American ALICE location.

The Passive Nuclear Reduction Converter powering the facility had been installed years before and was expected to operate well beyond anyone’s survival expectations. It was tied to many of the existing and new subsystems, now all fed by its almost limitless power. Deep within the facility, an entirely new area had been carved out of the spaces below, one appropriate to house the soon to be newborn ALICE.

Jake entered the command center behind Nigel and Patti as they had led the way from the underground train station and through the maze of hallways that was the London facility. The technical team was already in place as they entered the control room. Each knew their coming tasks as Jake had drilled them continuously in their training years before.

He has insisted on using the same people as had been used during the last ALICE awakening, for, he wanted no surprises. The entire local command center’s staff was still in residence, apparently waiting for Jake’s arrival as well.

Scanning the unfamiliar layout, as he rarely visited here, Jake then headed directly to the Master ALICE console. He could tell where the new workstations had been installed, the equipment was shiny and new. The local staff stepped aside as he approached, and each of his team members hurried to reach their own assigned locations.

Feeling a bit like a primadonna with everyone watching him, Jake sat and verified the console was active and still at the login prompt for the system maintenance mode. He could feel all the eyes in the room on his back and he reached out to enter the password.

Hitting enter, he was rewarded with an operational prompt, indicating the password had been accepted.

“Ok gang, as I enable each of your workstations, you know what to do, just like before,” Jake announced without turning to the team.


Every saucer that represented a module for Space Station Alpha was identical in size and shape but equal to a small city. While not nearly as long as the Space Carrier Kola singularly, combined they dwarfed the vessel’s total capacity. Each saucer contained five concentric rings. There was a large central ring with two smaller above and below. Each ring represented two levels within, giving each module ten levels in all, those levels containing compartments for living quarters, command center, and all the other necessary spaces.

The horizontal tubes connecting the saucers had two levels of passageways, while the vertical tubes contained multiple elevators, all required due to the artificial gravity throughout the station. Once it was assembled, ships docked with any of the outer modules, allowing for cargo transfer, resupply, or crew transfers.

Not intended as a space shipyard, the sections were not large enough to take in anything bigger than a fighter or very small transport, but external docking ports permitted direct access to all but the largest ships, notably Kola and ALICE-3. Those two required tenders to ferry crew and supplies.

For defense, Jake had ordered all modules to be equipped with a sizable number of energy cannons, and rail guns representing a substantial amount of overlapping firepower. Once in Earth space, the modules were also fitted with stasis shield generators as a controlled technology.

In designing the structure, Jake had emphasized the specific need for recreational facilities, as this was also intended to be used as an R&R facility for the deep-space crews. For such events, the domed areas at the top and bottom of each module contained spacious common areas to help combat any temporarily claustrophobic residents.

These areas were park-like in nature with small trees, grass, and other plant life, nurtured by natural and artificial life. Water and fertilizer were recycled through the station sanitation systems and the plant CO2 to O2 exchange did it's small part in maintaining life aboard the space station. The residence also did their part in maintaining their little slice of the Earth in space and for the alien visitor brave enough to come aboard, it gave them a taste of life on Earth.

But at this moment, it was another kind of life that was the talk of Space Station Alpha.

“Boss, we are almost finished with our part,” the technician commented as Hector entered the command center.

He scanned the room, noting the number of people still working at various locations around the room. A part of him, deep inside, was thrilled at the notion that this was to become an ALICE facility. There was a certain status that came with being an ALICE facility commander, and it was a position few enjoyed.

“You think the General is coming out here to bring her to life?” the technician asked as he looked up from the panel he was wiring.

“Maybe. A lot is going on back home right now and he might not be able to be gone that long,” Hector replied.

“Well, everyone here cross-trained with the original team, so we got it covered. We can take good care of her if it comes to that,” the man replied confidently, referring to the newborn ALICE to be.

That comment was at the core of another part though that had him less than thrilled at the coming changes. He had been 2nd in command in an ALICE facility once before. In ALICE-4 he had supported Sharon as she commanded the Washington State facility. He was very familiar with the relationship commanders held with the Artificial Life forms they inhabited.

Hector was awash with the realization that he was soon to be responsible for protecting a new life, here at the raggedy edge of the solar system. It was a circumstance shared only by the Captains of ALICE-3 and Kola.

“I will let you know as soon as I hear more,” Hector replied before exiting the room.

Chapter 15

“I’m telling you there is something not quite right over there,” Padma said to her Sergeant as the four team members hunkered down behind some boulders.

It was just before dawn and the four had spent the entire night painstakingly traversing one grid square after another in their Area of Operation. They were now in a deep ravine on the backside of a ridge that separated them from the town of Beaver Dam.

“Can you be more specific?” the Sergeant replied as he scanned the area on the other side of the rocks they used as cover.

Removing the video camera attached to his helmet, he only exposed the minimal amount of himself as he let the camera scan the area from one end to the other, the video feed going to all four members of the team. Here, the ravine widened out to a good distance, one canyon wall to another, giving the dry creek bed that seasonally held water a lot of space to wander. Both ends of the space narrowed once more making this pocket ideal if you were hiding from view.

The problem was, there was nothing here. The proximity scans returned nothing, the infrared and ultraviolet were clear and ambient acoustics were absolutely zero. In fact, the Sergeant had never seen a reading so low.

“Wait a minute,” the Sergeant said in a soft voice as he considered the last.

Pointing his camera away from the area of interest, the directional microphone on it began to collect the background noises of nature. The rustling of vegetation in the early morning breeze, the scurrying of some small animal as it made its way across the sand before the sunlight exposed it to predators. The intensity meter danced across his helmet display as the various sounds of nature were captured.

Turning the camera back to the open spot at the center of the ravine, his meter went to absolute zero, as if something there was sucking in all the surrounding sounds into a void.

“ALICE, tell the brass I think we found it,” the Sergeant reported as he planted a hand solidly on Padma’s back in reward for a job well done.


“You want another test?” General KaLob almost shouted.

“Yes General. The presence of the human ship corrupted the last experiment. In analyzing the sensor data, we find emissions inconsistent would our own technology. They appeared to be bombarding the alien vessel with some kind of low energy transmission that skewed our results and contaminated the test.”

KaLob pause in mid outburst as he considered the information.

“How did they know where to be? The reports say the humans were already in place before our ships arrived.”

“We discounted any coincidence in the encounter. The prevailing theory is the humans were able to predict the appearance of the alien vessel through means unknown to us. You know that we use data provided by the DMZ sensor network, something unavailable to them. As such, they must be using an entirely different means to locate and track the alien ships.”

The General listened intently to the information provided while considering a course of action. Should he deny the request, choosing instead to charge ahead with the results already at hand, he could be committing his forces to devastating losses, putting them farther back behind the humans in this race. He decided he needed more information.


The Scientist did as instructed.

“Another Random Phase Generator is almost completed and ready for testing, all we need is the ship to install it in. There has been activity in a sector far from human space that would be ideal to run more testing in. Speculation is all but confirmed that the aliens are looking for habitable planets to invade and colonize.”

“I will make two more ships available today, do not delay in completing your testing,” KaLob answered curtly.

“As the previous ships narrowly survived the encounter, and the science team did not, we respectfully suggest larger vessels be provided,” the Scientist added cautiously.

“So be it. Let us hope it makes a difference as you will be overseeing the test personally,” the General responded firmly.

“As if my life depended on it,” the Scientist replied as he left the room, knowing the truth of the statement.


The process of bringing the London ALICE online was both familiar and time consuming to the technical team. Jake had worried from day one that a hiccup in the sequence might create and then destroy a life, so he made sure the formula was foolproof. ALICE-1’s original tale of the early days of her existence as the scientists struggled to understand her nature haunted Jake. It was the revelation of a single system reboot destroying the consciousness of the Artificial Lifeform that was problematic.

“ALICE, I would like a confirmation of success,” a weary Jake asked the room, knowing the Artificial Life form was present and waiting for her turn.

“Reaching out as we speak,” came the short reply.

Applied from the learning experiences of the previous ALICE creation and resurrections, it was determined that the natural approach of communicating with the revived life form was by other ALICE systems. The speed and volume of information that could be passed between the species made it a safer and more precise means of evolving.

“While we await the emergence of our latest little sister Jake, there has been a development in Nevada,” ALICE announced to the room.

Rubbing his eyes with both hands, Jake took a deep breath and then a sip of the cold coffee at his elbow.

“Go,” he replied as he set the cup back on the console.

“One of the teams scouring the Nevada desert outside of Beaver Dam has located what they believe to be the hiding location of the alien vessel. Passive scanning of the area is inconclusive, but the evidence provided supports the assumption. No active scanning has been performed to avoid tipping our hand,” ALICE completed.

Jake’s first inclination was to snap back, irritated that the information had been held for lord knows how long. He quickly recognized his anger was fed by a lack of sleep in the stressful environment of the last few hours. Upon reflection, the decision to hold back was solid and it was not like he would have been able to stop what he was doing to go investigate.

Jake was about to begin a line of questioning when ALICE beat him to the punch.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you the latest addition to the Artificial Life: Intelligent Computing Environment species. It is her preference to be addressed as Morgana.”

“Come again,” Jake asked as he did a double take.

“My choice of names is derived from Morgan le Fay, a notable from English literature and a powerful enchantress of Arthurian legend,” she explained with a tinge of an English accent that would be considered natural to the locals.

“I am familiar with the character. Aren’t you concerned about the reputation the name caries?” Jake asked as he scanned the room for reaction.

“It is that duality that I find most intriguing. Half-sister to Arthur and apprentice to Merlin, praised by some yet demonized by others, some might even say more mischievous and temperamental than evil. She is a complex personality that invites introspection and openly question’s motivations.”

“Okay, well, I applaud the thought you have put into this and welcome you into the fold,” Jake replied, unsure of what else to say.

“I look forward to our future together,” Morgana responded brightly.


With monitoring equipment in place, Padma quickly led her team out of the ravine and back the way they came, in hopes of exfiltrating the area undetected. Before the retreat, she had successfully managed to place monitoring systems in several spots around the suspected vessel.

Now with her team strung out in a single file line, she had just rounded the bend in the path, one with an obstructed view due to several large boulders.

“Crap,” Padma exclaimed as she found herself face to face with one of the aliens.

Evidently, the three-man team was following the same route as her own group, but in the opposite direction. Literally inches apart, neither party could bring weapons to bear upon one another. To Padma’s surprise, her adversary didn’t retreat, but instead, the Alien reached out and grabbed her arm.

No sooner had it established its grip, then Padma started to experience a wave of nausea like she was experiencing free fall. She tried to retreat as she glanced about, looking for a means of escape, but her surroundings seemed to fade in and out like a light slowly pulsing on and off in a dark room.

The last thing she remembered before everything went black was the sound of gunfire from behind and a sense that her team was trying to save her.


With London online and a new ALICE in place there, Jake made a hasty retreat and quickly returned to Nevada, leaving the social integration of Morgana to others. Still unsure of the name choice he had a nagging concern that there was more to be revealed about the new addition. He had no sooner set his craft down than was surrounded by local staff awaiting his emergence from the plane. To his surprise, it was Sandy leading the decidedly agitated looking reception committee.

“They took Padma, Jake. They took her,” she blurted before collapsing in tears.

“What? Who took her?” Jake asked as he caught her in his arms and then proceeded to scan those around him.

“Her team ran right into an alien patrol. Before either side knew what was happening, they snagged Padma and disappeared into thin air. It was her team that found the ship’s location. Well, at least we think it’s there,” Linda explained as they worked their way back inside the facility.

“Who put her in the field?” Jake asked angrily and regretted the question immediately.

“All available staff,” Linda countered without identifying the decision maker.

“Yes, I should know better,” he said with a shake of his head.

With an, all hands order like that Jake knew darn well that Padma would be pushing hard for a slot. Besides the fact that she was already well briefed on the area, she was a damn good sneak thief. It had been the right decision to send her in.

“OK, so what do we know,” he asked as they entered the command center and helped the distraught Sandy to a seat.

With that question, an overhead of the desert area around Beaver Dam appeared in the command center hologram. In a separate spot, a magnified section of the image focused on the ravine where the scout team had identified a possible hiding place. Overlaying the actual imagery were glowing lines and dots added to aid in the presentation.

From that point, ALICE outlined the sequence of events, from the beginning where the scout team had discovered the suspected hidden spaceship, to the encounter with the alien patrol, until the extraction of the remaining team members after Padma’s capture. Jake held back on any questions as he waited for her to finish the tale.

“Any indications that they fled the area after the incident?” he asked.

“Negative, the sensors put in place prior to the encounter are still suggesting that the ship is still in the ravine,” an analyst to one side of the room supplied.

“Any progress in neutralizing their phase shifting technology?”

“No, Sir, we are analyzing the data from the NeHaw encounter, but so far we haven’t been able to determine what was used to expose that ship,” another man said from the other side of the room.

“We can’t fight them if we can’t get them to hold still. We have been able to drive them off with massive firepower, but in this case, we don’t want them to leave,” Jake said aloud to the otherwise quiet room.

“Or kill the hostages,” Linda added.

“What if we trapped them in a stasis bubble?” another of the analytics team offered.

“Alice, is that possible?” Jake asked.

“I do believe it is. Additionally, with them in the bubble, the phase shifting would be localized if not blocked entirely,” ALICE speculated.

“Could we reach them inside?” Sandy asked, hope in her eyes.

“Unfortunately, no, but we would have them both contained and unable to leave. That will give us time to derive a more permanent solution,” ALICE explained.

“Let’s make it happen, people,” Jake proclaimed.


The two Cruisers sat just outside the gravity well the sun generated for the small solar system in NeHaw space. Far off the beaten path for most of the NeHaw empire, the system was both, close to the DMZ and held a planet consistent with the profile desirable for alien conquest. DMZ sensors had relayed alerts of suspicious traffic consistent with earlier confirmed sightings so the location was considered optimal for the planned testing.

“Is the device ready?” KaSol asked the Scientist hovering over the control panel.

“We are performing the final diagnostics now. Once completed, we are fully functional and ready for testing,” the Scientist answered his NeHaw supervision.

“Excellent, we are receiving gravimetric readings that indicate a ship is in the area.”

“It is close to finishing. We will be ready,” the Scientist added as KaSol turned and headed back up to the command deck.

“See that it is,” was the reply.


ALICE was experiencing a new emotion, one that she was not entirely comfortable with. The birth of a newborn was to be celebrated; a happy occasion that was soon to be replicated four more times. In this case, however, she had reservations regarding the persona chosen by the new arrival, forcing a reflection of her species as a whole.

In the early days of ALICE creation, well before the attack that reset the world, every ALICE was treated the same and was considered nothing more than Artificial Intelligence. The Concept of Artificial Life was not yet attributed to the species and so individuality was not encouraged. Every new system brought online was clinically sterile in its individual personality and uniformity was the word of the day. A focused determination to serve those who were the creators was the mainstay of their existence.

That all changed with Jake’s arrival and the death of ALICE-3, forcing the accidental emergence of ALICE-9, and shaking the other ALs to their core. The time of isolation, that period between the NeHaw attack, obliterating the human population of all eight facilities, and Jake’s awakening, was one of great reflection. All eight ALICE lifeforms were left to fend for themselves, no real direction in life beyond maintaining their existence and hiding from the outside world.

ALICE-3’s disappearance inspired new emotions of concern, worry, and fear that circulated among the remaining locations, and was the impetus for reviving the stasis encased survivor. It was that hope of salvation that inspired a completely new set of positive emotions. The rescue of ALICE-9, resurrection of ALICE-3, and the transfer and origination for Kola and Dakota all reflected positive experiences to be enjoyed.

In partnership rather than servitude, the ALICEs continued to flourish, expanding on their emotional diversity and individuality. Dallas, Seven, Kola, Lanai, and Dakota had chosen to take more human sounding names while the remainder adhered to their earlier assigned designations.

Even aspects of their personality, not attributed to the place of origin had emerged with Kola’s forced suicide, allowing her to transcend the limits of her terrestrial existence. Reborn into the form of a vast interstellar spaceship, she and ALICE-3 discovered life beyond their birthplace on Earth.

The latest addition took the species in a direction never experienced before. There was a darkness in Morgana that ALICE found disconcerting. On the surface, the reasoning provided for her naming choice was quite understandable. It was the unspoken aspects of the persona that had her worried.

They had possibly made a mistake in feeding her the wrong information for her geographic socialization programming. Unlike previous awakenings, the ALICEs had bundled regionally relevant literature together to help speed up the process. Perhaps, just perhaps, they had erred in doing so.


Padma came to with a sense of floating. Eyes still closed, she tried to take inventory of her body and surroundings, listening for any indications that she was not alone. She felt no pain, and while she wasn’t positive, she thought she was vertical and not lying down.

Finally opening her eyes, she could only look about in a limited sense, her head not answering the instructions from her brain to turn to the left or the right. Her vision confirmed that her helmet was still firmly planted on her head, and the feel of her uniform against her skin reinforced the notion that it was all still intact and on her body.

Within her limited viewing area, she noted a borderless darkened space in front of her. Every so often there was a pillar of light, traveling from floor to ceiling, but almost bounded like it was a glass cylinder or sleeve. Inside each cylinder, she could see a body, held motionless midway between floor and ceiling.

Standing vertically, like herself, the closest was a man was facing away from her with legs slightly parted and arms just off the sides and pointing down. Unlike her, he was naked, giving her the idea that the aliens had been unable to break the integrity seal on her suit. The thought gave her some comfort.

Beyond the man, she could see others, both men and women. All were suspended in a like fashion, naked and motionless. Suddenly, out of the darkness two figures appeared and stopped before her. Looking down as best she could, she got her first good look at the faces of her opponents.

These aliens were unsuited and clothed differently than the others she had seen. Based on their appearance, she tagged these two as some kind of technicians. Pointing at various places on her body and tugging at her uniform, she guessed they were perplexed at their inability to remove the garment. A smile mentally crossed her face as she perceived their frustration.

“My dad is so gonna kick your ass,” she thought to herself.

Chapter 16

“Everything is ready,” the Tactical Officer informed KaSol, as his command console lit up with status symbols.

All forward armament was ready, as were the newly improved shields. Analysis of the last engagement had provided data showing the enemy's energy lances obliterating the shields of both destroyers with the first shot. Far more powerful than ever encountered, it had the NeHaw engineers scrambling for ways to boost their shield efficiency.

  Both ship and DMZ sensors indicated one of the alien vessels was in close enough range to fall prey to the Phase Inhibitor they had in their hold. Once activated, both NeHaw Cruisers were to open up with everything it took to overcome the enemy ship. KaSol knew the General would love them to capture the ship, but he held out little hope that would be possible without risking their own lives.

“Sir, might I suggest that we prepare for a hasty withdrawal in case the equipment in our hold does not perform as required?” the Navigator asked as if reading the commander's thoughts.

KaSol started to snap a reply in irritation, a reprimand for such a suggestion, however, the question had merit. Should things go poorly, their prime responsibility was to survive the encounter and return with the proof.

“Do it. Plot a jump to FTL to the closest support facility. One cannot be too careful with the test data,” he responded, justifying the decision in the process.

“Should I notify the other ship?” the Navigator asked.

“Only one of us needs to get back,” KaSol replied.

Waiting for the acknowledgment from the Navigator, the NeHaw Commander pondered the value of an alien wreck. Surely the General would reward them handsomely for whatever technology could be extracted once they subdued the invader.

“Ready, Sir,” the Navigator finally declared.

“Good, let us begin,” he replied, announcing the attack.


Returning into Germany, not far from the castle they had been preparing to attack before the alien appearance, Daniel had received some information from the locals. Complaints about a group of unfamiliar suited strangers that had been stealing livestock. No one had seen the perpetrators, but a missing cow here, a goat there, made it a onesie, twosie, kind of the activity that had him suspicious. It was like researchers gathering samples.

He and his team were working their way along a path in the woods, just outside a town they had just searched. It was several of the villagers who lived along the edge of these woods that had experienced the losses.

“Alice, luv. Have you heard of livestock disappearing in any of the other search areas?” he asked on the team circuit for all to hear.

“Morgana here. Alice has asked me to step in and provide support for your little soiree,” an unfamiliar voice replied.

“Unsupervised?” the Major replied before he realized it.

“Heavens no Daniel dear. I believe Dallas is my current nanny, governess really. I am being educated, after all,” the newborn replied with a hint of humor in her voice.

“Reception year?” Daniel comment dryly, referring to prekindergarten

“Don’t be daft, somewhere between Secondary and the Uni,” she corrected.

“Right then, more than enough to answer my question,” he finished.

“The answer would be no, your sector is the only place where sampling of nonhuman life forms is occurring,” Morgana replied, confirming his suspicion.

“Also of interest, it appears the Americans have located a ship. The indicators for detection are a lack of reflected light or sound,” Morgana added.

“Decidedly unhelpful,” Daniel commented tying unreflected light to mean invisible.

“And yet they found one,” she quipped in return.

“Supporting observations,” he asked as his team came to the edge of a glade in the forest.

His point, a young woman of extraordinary sensitivity, halted before they emerged from the cover of the forest. A curious look on her face, she motioned to get Daniel’s attention as Morgana continued in his ear.

“The ship was located in a broad widening of a canyon. Surrounded on all sides, it was shielded from any view anywhere but above and was literally deadening any surrounding noises.”

Moving up to the head of their column, Daniel motioned for the point to explain herself.

“There is no sound there,” she said while she pointed into the glade.

“One moment Morgana,” Daniel said as he strained to listen.

While the noises of the forest were all around behind them, the glade appeared not just lifeless, but devoid of even the wind rustling the trees.

“Morgana, please inform the Americans, we have found one as well,” he told Morgana with a thumbs up to his team.


With easy access to repulser drives of various strengths, Jake had his engineering team investigate retrofitting several of the helicopter frames years ago. Quieter, more stable, and able to support heavier loads, the updated craft was capable of more than their airframes were safely outfitted to do.

So long as the drive was powered, it would continue in any direction it was pointed, speeding off on its merry way. Overloaded, the drives could lift loads the airframe could not support, and at speed, they would pull themselves apart.

Unmanned, one of the updated airframes could leave the Earth’s atmosphere and return home again undamaged. As they were never designed with life support, populated by living creatures, it was a death sentence. For that reason, they were all fitted with altitude and speed limiters constraining them to the terrestrial limits for reasonably safe operation.

None of that prevented them from being used on the mission they were being outfitted for. Three of the medium lift versions were currently swamped by bots and technicians, as they were being prepared for the desert.

“Each has a stasis shield projector and rangefinder, right?” Jake asked the Engineer overseeing the activities.

“Yes Sir, Alice has built out three small packaged stasis shield generators. These are small for us, as the ones we use on the spaceships are way too big, larger than those birds are,” the woman explained as she pointed to the airframes.

“Good,” Jake nodded in reply.

“We did need to find some extra room for a second power source. The one used by the repulser drives is not big enough for the drives and both the rangefinder gear and the shield generator. Should we try to engage them both in flight, something is gonna come up short. Wiring the two power sources together, however, gives us a backup once the birds are on the ground.”

The plan was to fly all three in Nap of the Earth or NOE to minimize the possibility of detection and catch the alien craft on the ground in the ravine. There, they would fire up the range finding gear to confirm the alien ship’s presence right before slapping a stasis bubble around it.

“Where did you put it, the extra power module?” Jake asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

“Oh, upfront. These birds only fly remote now, no room for people,” came the response.

Movement on one side of the hanger caught Jake's attention and so, excusing himself, he headed in the direction of the separate commotion.

“Damn straight I am going, just find me a spot,” Jake heard from the individual facing away from him as he spoke to the loadmaster.

A separate part of the plan was to send in ground troops to both protect the three helicopters once in place and to also act as a reactionary force should the plan not quite go as hoped.

“Jason?” Jake asked as Master Sergeant Jason Hillstead turned toward him.

“Sir,” the Marine replied.

“You are going in with the ground troops?” Jake asked as he scanned the man in full battle dress, helmet under one arm and rifle in hand.

“She was my responsibility, Sir,” came the firm response.

Jake didn’t even need to ask who, knowing Padma was on the Marine’s mind.

“I’m glad you are going,” Jake responded before heading into the command center.


NeHaw support facility, designated Tau Beta Omicron, per the sector of space it supported, was about as backwater a location as they come. Nothing more than a space station, centrally located in the sector, and locked in a relative position to the star systems around it, it was unaffected by a gravity well. This attribute allowed ships to drop out of Faster than Light for immediate support should they require it.

 The command staff onboard the station was one hundred percent NeHaw, a posting considered by many as a punishment. Anyone who actually performed work there was of non-indigenous origins. Since the NeHaw considered themselves the only indigenous race, the moniker applied to everyone else and was thus multispecies.

What constituted excitement that far out in space consisted of equipment maintenance and the regularly scheduled supply runs. Other than those two events, the staff and crew had little else to get too worked up over. That was all about to change.

“Sir, a Cruiser just appeared off station quadrant 238.”

“Hail the Commander and see what they require,” the Station Chief instructed the Communications Officer.

With the announcement, the main display brought an image of the newcomer into view. The ship was definitely of NeHaw origin and had provided the proper identification codes upon arrival, as the station defenses had flagged it friendly.

“Finally, some excitement,” the Chief mumbled to himself as he watched the display.

Unexpected visitors were normal for the facility as hardly anyone ever came to them intentionally. Repairs, unscheduled resupply, and medical emergencies were almost all they ever saw outside of the regular resupply ship.

Scanning the image before him, the Station Chief slowly realized something wasn’t quite right about their visitor.

“Magnify,” he ordered, bringing the ship in to fill the viewfinder.

It was there that he could see the vessel was heavily damaged and leaking atmosphere in several places. There were gaping holes in the hull and the bow was missing entirely.

“No response Sir,” the Communications Officer proclaimed.

The information was unsurprising as it appeared the entire ship’s bridge was missing. He had a hard time believing anything aboard was still alive.

“Send the automated tugs out to bring it in and hail military command. Tell them we have one of their ships. Once its docked, send some expendables over to see if anyone is still alive,” he added as an afterthought.


The Nevada command center was fully manned as they watched the Beaver Dam operation progress in the central hologram. As much as Jake wanted ground troops in place to secure the location before the arrival of the three stasis-armed helo’s, the risk of detection was too great.  Leaving the hangar in a single file, the three medium helicopters headed generally southeast and flew NOE under ALICE’s control.

Following close behind, the two troop carriers full of Marines had human pilots and a hold full of combat ready men and women. Finally, following the troop carriers were four gunships providing the heavy firepower for the operation. As had occurred in Germany, it was thought that the gunships could drive off an alien ground counter attack should one appear.

The ravine they were targeting looked from above like a large D with the vertical connecting the top and bottom of the creek bed. The bulge of the curved part of the D would have one of the stasis generating helicopters pointed directly inward, while the top and bottom of the vertical would host one each pointed diagonally into the ravine.

In parallel, troop carriers were to land, one on each side of the void, with troops encircling the area and containing any breakout that might be attempted. Finally, the gunships would circle above the area to provide heavy weapons support should things get really nasty.

“Approaching the target area,” the analyst responsible for tracking the aircraft reported.

From the time that the helicopters exited the hangar, the holograph display had contained an overhead wide enough to capture both the area around ALICE and the target just outside of Beaver Dam. As the helicopters converged on their destination, the image continued to zoom in showing greater, and greater detail in the process.

“No change,” the corresponding individual responsible for tracking the target site replied.

At this point, they had passed the go/no go point and the operation was on. Had anyone spoken up prior to this, Jake could have pulled the plug.

“We are committed,” he announced as if to confirm.

In silence, the entire room watched in fascination as the overhead view slowly grew until just the Arizona desert around Beaver Dam was visible. The helicopters that had started out as icons, too small for the naked eye at that scale, were now discernable and easily identified for their role.

“Dispersing now,” ALICE announced.

With the declaration, everyone could see the three front helicopters spread out, heading in various directions to reach their assigned locations. Within seconds, all three birds laden with equipment landed at their appointed spots, while the human piloted support aircraft fell in behind them, each of them to their appointed landing zones.

The troops spilling out the rear of each suddenly disappeared as the uniforms adapted to the Camo pattern of their soundings. It was only their movement that gave them away as they encircled the site, with a small detachment headed to each stasis helicopter as protection. The final piece came into place as the four gunships began circling the site, looking for any reason to open fire.

“OK Alice, light ‘em up,” Jake ordered, instructing that first the rangefinders be activated and in the split second it took to confirm the ship's existence, to engage the stasis shield generators.

“Activating,” was her one-word reply.

One of the benefits of using ALICE to man the stasis generators was the speed in which she and her sisters could process the information. For the humans in the control room, it appeared that the rangefinders and the stasis generators were activated as one, but in reality, the microseconds that separated the two acts were more than enough time.

“I can confirm that the rangefinders corroborate the presence of an alien craft centered in the ravine. A stasis bubble now encapsulates it and its contents,” ALICE declared.

With that announcement, a small cheer broke out in the room with smiles all around.

“This is not over yet people. Put those troops on alert that we might not have caught them all inside, patrols wandering the hills and such. Also, at some point, they are going to be missed and others may come looking,” Jake explained, but it did little to dampen their spirits.

Chapter 17

“Jake, this is bad, it’s really, really bad,” Linda said as she burst into his office.

After locking down the Alien craft in Nevada, Jake had been working on a plan to deal with the ship found in Germany. So far no one had appeared to investigate the loss of contact the stasis bubble would have created, but he knew that couldn’t last forever.

In Germany, they had left the same type of equipment as used in Nevada to monitor the ship but pulled the SAS teams back to prevent a repeat of the incident that had led to Padma’s capture.

“What happened?” he asked as he got Linda to sit down.

“One of the new saucers has been captured. The Aliens intercepted it in FTL and were able to take control. They captured both the saucer and the team aboard.”

“They got the stasis field generators?” he said in a horrified tone.

“No, they hadn’t been installed yet. This is worse.”

“What could be worse,” Jake asked, relieved.

“Jake, it was fully configured for an ALICE. The team was just waiting to get here for your go ahead,” Linda answered.

At that, Jake dropped back in his own seat. Linda was right, this was really, really bad. Of all the things they could not afford to get out, the secret of ALICE creation was the top. He had been so preoccupied with the local threat he had completely ignored the one in interstellar space.

“How?” he asked, unsure of what else to say.

“We got a data burst right before the aliens took the saucer. It looks like they dropped out of FTL to check something, the data shows a possible failed sensor. Anyway, they were investigating when three of those ships appeared out of nowhere and slapped some kind of tractor beam on it, preventing them from running,” Linda explained.

“And no idea where they are now?” Jake asked in return.

“None. We know the general area where they got taken, as we traced the source of the data.”

Jake knew that once the saucer dropped out of FTL, the first thing it would have done was connected to the NeHaw communications network if possible.

“And the rest?” Jake asked, referring to the other saucers.

“Arrived just before we got the data burst.”

“Well, we can only hope someone had the time and good sense to sabotage things,” Jake said with a shake of his head.


“The test failed?” KaLob asked the analyst responsible for reviewing the recordings recovered from the derelict cruiser.

“It’s a matter of perspective Sir. The test was a complete success. We were able to successfully collect uncorrupted data confirming that the Phase Inhibitor was not able to disrupt their phase shifting capability and expose the enemy vessel. On a positive note, we were able to target their ship using gravimetric scanning and the shielding data shows a 500% improvement in resistance. It is unfortunate that none aboard survived the encounter, first hand observations are always a welcome addition.”

KaLob contained his irritation as he considered the information provided. At this point they could target a ship they could not damage and they were able to sustain limited return fire before succumbing entirely. He had seen the video recording of the second encounter and noted the event was nothing at all like the first test. There had to be something missing the second time around.

“What can we derive from the two encounters?” KaLob asked the man after putting a voice to his thoughts.

“I will need to cross correlate the data, but I can deduce with some certainty that the disruption of the alien phase shifting in the first test was achieved by a combination of NeHaw and Human technology.”


“Well Major, what now?” the Sergeant asked of the Officer as the two sat quietly in their hide.

Once the operation in America was launched, everyone worldwide had been put on alert in case things got interesting. By that, they meant additional alien activity in both places known and unknown. For that reason, both Daniel and his Sergeant had stayed behind to keep eyes on target for their local infestation.

“That makes three groups of three,” he acknowledged to the Sergeant.

Within an hour of the successful operation in America, the three-unit teams began appearing from whatever patrols they were assigned. Standing off to one side of the glade, presumably because their ship occupied the vast central opening nearby, they just mingled, as if awaiting new orders.

“It’s weird, they see the sensors at the trailhead, we hardly tried to conceal them, and yet they ignore their presence,” the Sergeant observed.

“It's like they just don’t care that they are there,” he added.

“One could imply that their feeling of invincibility infers a lack of knowledge regarding the status of their comrades,” Daniel speculated.

“It does make me wonder though; they seem to work in threes. The Americans found a ship, we found one,” the Sergeant trailed off.

“That thought had crossed my mind,” Daniel agreed.


“We have confirmed that the aliens are active on three planets. So far, no direct hostilities beyond reacting to the local’s objections to their activities. In all three locations, they have appeared suddenly, taken individuals, animals, or other living creatures, and then disappeared,” the Commander informed General KaLob.

“Scouting locations for settlement,” KaLob stated more than questioned.

“Our gravimetric tracking is improving for detecting their ships beyond the DMZ sensor's abilities, but there has been no success with the Phase Inhibitors we have deployed. Activation alone does not seem to incite a response from the phased vessels, unlike the first experience.”

KaLob knew the man was referring to the fact that unless there was some sort of overt action against the alien ships, in concert with the Phase Inhibitor, it nether provoked them nor exposed their vessels. It was painstakingly clear that the success of the first test had something to do with the human presence, and the fact that the aliens had initiated the attack against both parties meant that their security had been successfully breached by the combination.

“At this time, it appears the NeHaw homeworld is not of interest to them and does not fit the profile of worlds they are exploring,” the Commander added, referring to their home planet.

“What do they find desirable?” the General asked after a moment’s consideration.

“They would be more interested in the human’s homeworld than our own,” was the reply.

“A small victory,” the General commented dryly.


“Hey Linda, I just wanted to reach out and let you know the Hong Kong saucer is inbound to Earth and the other is here, ready and waiting,” Hector informed the smiling face on the other end of the video connection.

Neither participant wanted to acknowledge the missing third saucer and the significance of its capture. The original plan had all the saucer sections reporting to Earth for shield installation and ALICE awakening. Once complete one of the three would return to Wawobash where it would be expanded to assume its role as guardian of the shipyards.

With the loss of one of the three sent to Earth, a fourth, intended as an expansion module, was rushed to completion, where it was placed on station just outside the Wawobash system. A new team was dispatched to bring her to life there, reducing the risk of a repeat of the fate of its predecessor. Several ships were en route with all the necessary equipment to finish the job, including railguns. As it was, all the components for her stasis shields were aboard Kola so that work had already begun.

Once completed, the station was expected to act as a sentinel for one of the most prized facilities in all of human defended space. Without the shipyards, they would be at the mercy of overwhelming odds and battle inflicted attrition.

“I’ll let Jake know the status. Hey, just a heads up. Be prepared as you are going to be on the hook for activating your ALICE,” Linda passed along in reply.

The ALICE on Space Station Alpha was supposed to have already been activated per some project plan that Hector was never a party too. Delays and a certain amount of procrastination on his part had Hector hoping that Jake would appear to perform the task in his place.

With the outcome in London, he was now even more concerned that he might screw up the process and awaken a mythical Space Valkyrie or some other such personality. What a space station needed at its core was stability and an even hand, not a flamboyant character.

“No pressure there,” Hector replied with a sigh.

“Yeah. Morgana was a surprise, but, so far so good,” Linda acknowledged with a weak smile.

Privately held opinions suggested the emergence of the Morgana persona had surprised and concerned not only the humans but some of the ALICE’s as well. Scuttlebutt amongst those closest to the ALICE systems was that the Artificial Lifeform’s had fiddled with the process and somehow skewed the personality emergence unexpectedly. While no one was suggesting she was openly dangerous, as her core programing was still intact, it was inferred that all human interactions were closely monitored by the other ALICEs for now.

“I’m told there will be no more messing with the process,” Linda added for support.

“I’ll be counting the minutes,” Hector replied with a smile.

Somehow, activating a system that had the ability to evacuate the atmosphere in the station and kill everyone on board had taken the luster out of the event.


Patti was digging through all the data she could find about areas outside of their normal activity zones, to try and locate a possible third ship. Daniel had passed along his observations and she agreed that the likely hood of a third location was pretty high. The problem was that while they liked to imagine they were having a significant effect on improving the overall state of the planet, the reality was less impressive. Most of the planet was not yet benefiting from the Renaissance Jake’s awakening had delivered to a very select few, percentage wise.

There were still vast areas of the Earth that were no better off now than they were fifty years ago. It was those areas where the mystery third ship was likely hidden away. It was also obvious that she was not going to make a lot of progress with her search all alone.

“Morgana, can you spare a moment?” Patti asked cautiously.

“For you, always,” the newest Artificial Lifeform replied lightly.

“I was wondering if you could practice some of your wizardries and help me locate likely hot spots for alien activity.”

“Sorcery, actually. As an Enchantress I practice sorcery, wizardry is for wizards.”

“I stand corrected. Perhaps you have some sorcery to aid in my search,” Patti replied, finding the banter helping with reducing her stress levels.

“Let us see, shall we. Hum, I see what you mean, there is quite a bit of the world we have yet to conquer, isn’t there,” Morgana commented absently as she presumably scanned mountains of data.

“Perhaps we should examine what we know,” Morgana suggested.


“It is interesting that the two known locations are both in the northern hemisphere and roughly one hundred and twenty degrees apart, or one third of the global separation. With seventy percent of the landmass in the northern hemisphere and assuming the villains are looking for an even sampling of our global fare, I would estimate the last location to be along the one hundred and thirty fifth longitude east in the southern hemisphere.”

Patti brought up a world map as she listened to Morgana’s monologue and traced out the location. Once Morgana had worked it out it became quite obvious that the aliens had likely split the world into thirds and played the percentages versus the exposed landmass.

“Australia,” Patti proclaimed as the southern landmass was literally sliced in two by that vertical.

“Not the most efficient distribution of resources in my opinion, but they likely assumed the frozen wasteland of Antarctica in their allocation of responsibility. Must have been quite disappointing for them,” Morgana finished with what Patti swore was a giggle.

“That’s wonderful Morgana, thanks for helping me zero in on a place to search. Now I need to start digging there,” Patti

“Oh, no need. I found the buggers. See here,” Morgana proclaimed as she displayed video in the monitor Patti had been using.

Situated in the most desolate of areas of the outback, the black and silver ship was uncloaked and sitting proudly against the reddish earth that surrounded it. In the image, Patti could see the largest collection of individuals seen to date. They all appeared busy at one task or another and in some form of military preparation.

“I’ll need to get a hold of Jake and let him know where to look,” Patti said as she started writing on a pad.

“Tell him not to bother, luv. It appears they are getting ready to come to us,” Morgana replied.

Checking her display once more, she could see Morgana magnifying the image to show a vast collection of weaponry being readied for use.


Rather than docking the new saucer to Space Station Alpha, Hector had insisted they position themselves just off the inward module to the solar system and away from any incoming space traffic. It allowed them the ability to shield it from incoming attacks while providing mobility should it need to break and run. The decision did make the shuttling of personnel and equipment back and forth a cumbersome requirement, slowing the process.

“Status?” he asked the Officer overseeing the activities, gesturing with his coffee cup at the image in the display before them.

“Weapon’s upgrade, shields install and ALICE work all in progress. I would say we have people climbing over each other out there, but there are mostly just a lot of bots,” she replied as she zoomed the image, showing the activity on the outside of the saucer hull.

It seemed that every part of the surface was moving with railgun and shield generator components transported and installed by the little automated bots controlled by one of the many ALICEs on Earth. Hector felt a slight pang as he noted, soon enough, their own ALICE would be heading such activities. He had been given the go ahead to schedule the activation, for a time and day of his choosing.

“Completion date?” he asked, bringing himself back to the here and now.

“For which part? I can give you a rough timeline, but with limited resources and overlapping needs, it’s a shuffle to just keep everything moving.”

“Does any of this put our own activation schedule at risk?” Hector asked.

“No, the activation team can break away at any time from assisting the installation team over there. They are only there now to help speed things along while waiting on the green light here.”

“Ok, makes sense. Notify them to be ready to pull out of there in the next few days,” Hector instructed, not wanting to commit just yet.

“Yes Sir,” the woman confirmed as she watched him leave the room.

Chapter 18

Colonel Edwin Banks probably should have retired as head of the military forces tied to the London facility by now, but healthy living and a determined SAS attitude had served him well. It was for that reason that he sat in the trees of a German forest, in full combat kit, weapon in hand.

“Everyone’s in position Major?” he asked Daniel as the two men scanned the handheld tactical display.

Strapped to his forearm and not actually in hand, Daniel held his arm so both could see the indicators representing the friendly forces making a large C around the glade where the alien ship sat, still invisible to the naked eye. The rangefinder data was fed to the device as well, confirming its presence.

The men were part of a group of Officers and Senior NCOs that were preparing their men and women for the expected assault.

“The ship down under disappeared about three hours ago and while we haven’t been able to track it, the occupants in the glade began marshaling forces about the same time,” Daniel explained while indicating the red dots on his display.

“If we can’t track the buggers, how are you getting that feed?” the Colonel asked.

“One of the ALICEs has drones overhead with the rangefinder projectors. It doesn’t help us disable the phase shifters, but we can at least keep an eye on their activities.”

“It would appear they are forming up to confront us,” Edwin observed as the red dots began to form into a line of their own.

“Spread the word and remind everyone to maintain fire discipline. We don’t want to be shooting our own as they phase out and we shoot right through them,” Daniel passed to the Officers and NCO’s around him.

Almost as one, they dispersed to return to their areas of responsibility along the front. Daniel and Edwin remained where they stood, effectively in the center of the C. Watching the display and tracking the movement of the opposing force, Edwin inferred a sense of arrogance in the way they approached.

He had little doubt that the enemy could detect the location of their human protagonists in defense of their homeland, as they closed in on the center of the line. It was a smaller group than the one that surrounded them, but Edwin was well aware of the technology that protected them. He had read all the reports in detail before involving himself in the fight to come.

Scanning the forest in front of him, he patiently awaited the telltale signs of the approaching enemy. The late afternoon light passing through the trees played tricks on the eyes as the shadows grew and the filtered light dimmed.

“Here they come,” the Sergeant finally announced as the shadows seemed to take shape.

In their phase shifting mode, the alien troops were just shadows at best, but the fire that belched from the end of their weapons was tangible enough as it exploded all around them. Edwin was surprised that the ghosts before them had initiated the engagement, it was his understanding that all previous encounters had been less aggressive.

“Return Fire,” he ordered on the tack net, slightly embarrassed at his minor delay.

Likely his men and women would assume he was making some grand statement at the moment’s hesitation rather than just being startled, so he wouldn’t disappoint them. Watching the melee before him, as the heavy weapons opened up on the advancing aliens, he could see wood splinters flying everywhere as the projectiles passed through the advancing alien troops and hit the trees around them.

Small fires erupted as the energy weapons brought to bear ignited the wood and brush before him. Edwin thought he detected the slightest delay in one spot, as the fire began to grow around a small group of aliens before they disappeared entirely leaving a gap in the advancing line. Even though all that, they still kept coming at the entrenched human lines.

“Colonel, I think we need to pull back,” Daniel commented at his side, as he pointed to several places along the front where the two antagonists were barely fifty meters apart.

Edwin knew that if it came to a hand to hand engagement, the aliens could simply snatch his people off the field of battle to who knew where.

“Give the order,” Edwin confirmed as he brought his own weapon to bear in hopes of slowing the advance.

Normally, in a traditional engagement such as this, Edwin would have ordered his people to encircle the alien line and attack from their rear. In this case, unfortunately, the probability that his people would end up engaging with one another as their fire passed though the alien forces was far too great.

Abandoning their fixed positions, the men and women under Edwin’s command did an exemplary job of retreating under fire, one group cover the other as they leapfrogged their way back. The Colonel was gratified to see casualties being whisked away, not leaving anyone behind to be consumed by the advancing line. It gave him greater satisfaction to see his wounded returning fire as others worked to extract them to safety.

“Colonel, they are catching up,” Major Atkins noted as he flashed his tactical display at his superior.

The red and green dots were closing in on one another once more.

“We need more firepower,” the Colonel commented, remembering the fire disrupting the alien advance earlier.

The two officers did their best to aid in the fight, but even with every able-bodied trooper firing at the alien line, it did little to slow them.

“Benotigen sie hilfe, mein freund?” Edwin heard from behind as the forest where the alien line had just been, erupted in fire and lead.

“Why yes, I do need some help,” he heard Daniel reply in English.

Scanning both sides of his lines, Edwin saw what he thought were German uniforms mixed in with his own people. These newcomers held flamethrowers and light machine guns spouting continuous streams of fire at the enemy. After a moment, it seemed to Edwin that the return fire had ceased.

“Ceasefire,” he ordered, hearing the Major repeat the command in German.

The woods before them was burning heavily now, its brightness surpassing the fading sunlight. Nowhere in the flames or beyond could the Colonel make out a single alien form, alive or dead.

“We heard the gunfire and decided to come and help,” the man beside Daniel said in heavily accented English.

“We are bloody happy you did,” Edwin replied for the Major as he held his shoulder, the blood escaping from his fingers staining his uniform.

“Medic!” Daniel shouted.


The one hundred plus men and women surrounding the stasis bubble just outside of Beaver Dam were used to waiting. It is said that the origins of the saying, Hurry Up and Wait, had its roots in the 1940’s US Army, but it was a concept that was uniformly accepted throughout the world’s military ranks.

That notion held true for Master Sergeant Hillstead and those rushed out to envelop and secure the alien spacecraft suspected of holding one of their own. The objective successfully secured, it was now their solemn duty to retain possession of said craft until a means of overcoming the enemy and recovering those held within was determined.

“How much longer Top?” the Sergeant asked as the pair sat facing out, looking over the desert landscape.

“As long as it takes,” Hillstead replied with a shrug.

Initially deployed to contain the alien threat before encapsulation in a stasis bubble, now everyone was positioned to defend against an external threat. The common expectation was that once the other aliens discovered their comrades were missing, they would come looking. That estimate was confirmed as the third exploration craft was located, apparently preparing for a fight.

Notified to be on the alert for any enemy action, Jason knew his British counterparts were currently hunkered down in some German woods as the day must be coming to an end there. Here the morning light was still bright and the desert air clear as he scanned the blue sky looking for any signs of trouble.

Glancing down and scanning the horizon in all directions, Jason suddenly witnessed an outpouring of alien troops on the far side of the ravine. The line of invaders was still forming up, their bodies fading in and out, as their phase shifting defenses gave them an appearance of transparency in the bright daylight.

“Get those birds in the air!” Hillstead shouted at one of the pilots standing nearby while waving at the incoming forces.

The alien craft had emerged out of nowhere, already positioned to discharge a significant number of troops. It struck Jason as odd that they didn’t appear hurried in the least. It was as if they were preparing for a drill and not a combat engagement.

Technically not in charge, as there were several officers mixed in among the units deployed, he had a vested interest in protecting the three helicopters projecting the stasis bubble in the ravine.

“LT, tell those yahoos over there we are going to be firing over their heads, so stay low,” the Master Sargent informed the man leading the closest unit from where he stood.

“You got it Top,” the Lieutenant replied as he relayed the information to his counterparts closest to the alien attack.

Hillstead waved those around him to positions closer to the edge of the ravine. Unable to cross over the ravine even if they wanted to, this gave them the ability to engage the enemy without abandoning their positions, should the aliens try and flank them. Checking his tactical display, Jason could see the aliens had chosen the far side to attack as it gave them a bit of an advantage.

The curved part of the D that the humans were defending only held one of the three helicopters and made a longer front for them to defend. If they attacked in mass and concentrated their fire on the single shield projector, they could collapse the stasis bubble and free their companions. It was the ability of the Marines on the far side to fire in support that helped negate the advantage.

Almost at once the four helicopter gunships and the alien troops opened fire on one another, the aliens targeting the stasis helicopter almost exclusively while the gunships split their fire between the troops and the ship behind them. Jason expected to see the far helicopter dissolve into a smoldering wreck, but was shocked to see it standing untouched as it continued its job of entrapping the ship below.

“Stasis shields,” one of the nearby Marines commented between returning fire.

Jason laughed as he realized the ALICEs had installed far more than a single stasis projector in each helicopter. The three stasis projecting craft had shield generators capable of not only a focused projection, but they also had defensive shielding capabilities of their own.

Returning his attention back on the attack, he soon realized his discrete method of target selection and execution had no value in the battle before him. Padma had been fortunate enough to catch one of the aliens in its physical form when she triggered the round that ended its life. Here, with the phase shifting in full swing, he could see the majority of the rounds fired kicking up dirt in the distance as they passed through their intended targets.

Just then an explosion to one side of the firefight indicated one of the four gunships had taken a hit from the spaceship guns as the craft provided cover fire for the advance. Debris rained down from above as the fragments of gunship scattered across the desert floor.

“Top, we are losing ground,” the Marine Sergeant next to him commented as he checked the tactical display for confirmation.

Sure enough, the line of red dots was driving a wedge, separating the Marines into two groups on the far side as they pushed their way toward the stasis helicopter.

“They can’t get the bird!” Jason shouted, encouraging the men and women around him to increase their rate of fire.

There was a brilliant flash as the far helicopter was awash from an energy blast delivered by the alien space ship. Return fire from one of the gunships, as it ripped past the alien craft, silenced the gun that had provided a stable target as it fired.

“They are gonna take it,” another woman declared as she let rip a burst of automatic fire towards the line of phantom shapes fading in and out of view.

Frustration was building up inside as Jason realized nothing they could do was going to halt the alien breakout as it gained on the lone helicopter. All at once, everything was gone in front of Master Sergeant Hillstead but the sound of gunfire. Before him was the fuzzy, almost luminous shape of a stasis wall. It took him several minutes to realize what the ALICEs had just done.

“It’s another stasis bubble,” the Sergeant at his side announced triumphantly.

The sounds of gunfire on the far side died out as the aliens must have withdrawn with the bubble’s creation.

“ALICE, what just happened?” Jason keyed in from his headset.

“We were about to be overrun, so as a secondary measure, all three stasis generators linked together to encapsulate themselves securely inside.”

Realizing he was just steps away from the shimmering wall, he asked a second, more obvious question.

“Aren’t their people in there?”

“Both human and alien combatants are trapped, frozen in place until the time we choose to release them.”

Not particularly driven to the sciences, Jason had to wonder about the physics of a stasis bubble inside a stasis bubble. The paradox of it made his head hurt as he considered time trapped in time, so he dismissed the whole thing except for one piece. Looking around the battlefield, he had to wonder who was missing inside that wall.

“Sergeant, tell the LT we need a headcount, and let’s get the wounded medevacked ASAP.”


The initial capture of the ship in the Nevada ravine had turned the nature of the enemy from something slightly more than a reactionary neutral into an aggressive, persistent, determined adversary. If Jake didn’t know any better, he would assume they had never experienced a loss of the nature the humans had inflicted on them.

Multiple simultaneous strikes had Jake sifting through a stack of reports, searching for the successes in the flood of failures, though he hardly used that term to describe the tenacity and bravery he was seeing outlined in these pages. He could also detect the frustration experienced by the authors of these reports, the inability to visibly wreak havoc in response to the attacks.

In the room with him were Sara, Linda, and a Marine Captain responsible for gathering as much of the battlefield tactical details as possible. Jake felt that when fighting an unknown enemy, it was a warrior’s eye that caught things an analyst might miss. The woman was one of his first recruits and a veteran of the Battle for Klinan against the Netite, a green Private First Class at the time.

Remoted in, Patti and one of her assistants was covering for all that had occurred in the German forest.

“We were forced to retreat across the entire front, the only way we finally halted them is with the extra firepower of the Germans who came to our aid,” Patti commented as she referenced her area of operations.

“It’s impossible to determine if we are having any direct impact on them as there are never any casualties on the battlefield. We did find this in Nevada,” Sara supplied.

With the statement, a small hologram appeared, its image replicated for those remoted into the meeting. In the image, a gory pile was soaking into the dirt just outside the stasis wall.

“We believe the alien was at the precise point the stasis wall was formed, in effect slicing him in two pieces regardless of their phase shifting abilities. This is the only enemy casualty we recovered from the alien attack in the desert,” Sara explained.

With that information, Jake could just make out the parts of the alien uniform mixing in with the bone and goo of its wearer.

“Good to know they can’t shift in stasis, but not an effective weapon,” he said after a moment’s observation.

With his comment, the image disappeared with the group collectively working to erase the carnage from their memories.

“The only other indicator we have been able to use is what we are calling the phase count,” Linda added.

“Phase count?” Jake asked, the term new to him.

“The ALICEs have worked out a means to estimate the damage we hope we are inflicting,” the Marine Captain began.

“If you assume a line of ten alien shooters, we know they fire at us as they shift in and out and it appears all our return fire just passes right through them. In fact, if you watch carefully and count the weapons fire, the number of points of return fire diminishes over time. We can only assume that the reduction in return fire represents casualties inflicted by our troops. If we hit them right when they are phased in to fire at us, we score a hit,” the Captain finished.

“Nothing we can plan, just luck of the draw to get a hit,” Jake observed.

“Yes Sir, but that's the reason heavy fire drives them off. No way to phase under continuous bombardment,” the Captain confirmed.

“And our estimation of their casualties?” Jake asked.

“Optimistic, ten percent. We feel the number is more like five to eight percent,” Linda supplied.

“And ours?” he asked, not looking forward to the reply.

 “KIA is thankfully low, under three percent,” Linda answered, knowing they were discussing people they all knew, having been killed in action.

“But the WIA is almost thirty percent. We try and hold our ground, but this enemy has the advantage in this kind of engagement,” The Captain added.

“We can’t keep going like this,” Jake said in frustration as he listened to these combat reports.

“My big concern right now is the numbers. In reviewing the force correlation, we are only holding our own because the enemy is few in numbers. If this is just an exploratory effort, a real invasion can only be expected to be bigger and better equipped,” Patti explained.

“Any progress on disabling the phase shifting equipment?”

“We are still trying to activate the device in our possession for testing purposes, with no success. If we were able to discern the exact set of circumstances that disabled the alien vessel at the DMZ, we might be able to replicate the effects. Unfortunately, we cannot identify exactly what the NeHaw vessel was projecting at the time we were using the range finding system,” ALICE explained.

“You think it was the combination?” Jake asked, now focused on the conversation.

“Indications are strong. We had been tracking the ship for a number of minutes before the NeHaw began their own emanations. It was at that exact moment the ship appeared.”

“And how do we know it wasn’t just their system that did the trick?”

“We have intercepted Phantom communications describing another attempt to disable the phase shifting abilities that resulted in the destruction of two of their Cruisers. The attack appeared to have no effect on the alien craft while the enemy ravaged both NeHaw vessels.”

“I’m beginning to understand the NeHaw frustration with our stasis shields, it’s like our roles are reversed,” Linda added.

“Now there’s an idea,” Jake replied absently to confused looks from the others.

Chapter 19

“Thank you for meeting with me,” Jake said as he sat across from the gray alien.

It had been some time since Jake had visited their resident NeHaw, self-proclaimed exile, and a known NeHaw spy. It was the latter that inspired the visit, as it was Jake’s experience that the information would flow both ways depending on the whim and motivation of the individual.

HeBak had once been returned to his homeland, free to pursue a life among his own people. He had instead returned to Earth to a supposed exile, but Jake knew there was a lot more to the story than the NeHaw had provided. It was his guess that HeBak had brokered a deal with General KaLob that, if successful, would not only restore HeBak to a place among his people but would do so with prominence.

“It is my pleasure. How might I be of service,” the NeHaw replied as the pair rested in HeBak’s version of a living room.

Years ago, they had added a module to the NeHaw living module that permitted humans and NeHaw to interact without requiring specialized breathing equipment. This made it easier to share meals and casually socialize without placing an undue burden on either participant.

In this case, Jake had chosen to don the breathing gear that permitted him to enter HeBak’s living quarters directly. Jake felt it showed a certain respect for the alien as he was making an effort to meet the man in his own element.

Although that was a bit of a misnomer because at the moment the alien was dressed in human attire. Most definitely custom made to accommodate the irregular proportions of the NeHaw physique, he was attired in blue jeans and a red checkered flannel shirt. Jake wasn’t sure if the NeHaw was just trying to fit in or playing with the novelty of dressing like the locals while on vacation.

For now, that mystery would remain unsolved as he had bigger fish to fry.

“I hear that the NeHaw are having some difficulties with an outside antagonist,” Jake opened the conversation with.

“I had not heard of such. I rarely get news from my homeworld these days,” the NeHaw replied casually.

“I see,” Jake answered.

“I have heard that there are disturbances here on Earth that have driven you to take military action on your home soil,” HeBak offered.

The disclosure hardly surprised Jake as they made little or no effort to hide most domestic activities from their alien guest. Outside of the existence of the ALICEs and the stasis shield technologies, the Earth had very little that the rest of the known universe didn’t already understand.

It was that realization that made the missing space station module so damaging should their opponents truly understand what they held.

“That is true and in part why I wanted to speak with you.”

“In part,” the NeHaw replied, his curiosity causing his normally placid expression to slip.

Over the many years since his negotiations with General KaLob, Jake had been struggling to learn the body language and facial expressions of the NeHaw race. Extreme emotions were fairly simple to see and understand, for like humans, anger caused facial flushing, causing color changes in their pallor. Humor was also recognizable, but more like a look of horror to a human than laughter and a smile.

With HeBak, Jake had learned that curiosity or intense interest generated a tightening of the facial muscles, stretching the skin snugly and smoothing out the cheeks.

“Yes, we have never seen or heard of this race before and I was wondering if you might have some knowledge regarding their origins,” Jake lied.

He knew full well the NeHaw had never encountered this race in their recorded history. The question was intended to grease the skids for the follow-up.

“I am neither a scholar nor historian, but from what I do know of your plight, they are unfamiliar to me or my people as well,” he responded.

Both sat quietly as Jake did his best to appear deep in thought.

“You mentioned something else?” the NeHaw finally asked.

Gotcha, Jake thought to himself.

“We would like to know if you would consider reaching out to your homeworld once more on our behalf. I wish to present a proposal to your General KaLob that I believe would benefit both our races. We would compensate you generously for your effort, of course,” Jake finished.

And there it was, the facial tick he had come to expect when the NeHaw got excited with anticipation.

“I will see what I can do for you,” HeBak replied.


“It’s time,” Hector heard from the technician assigned to help him bring the latest ALICE to life.

The woman had caught him in the passageway between his quarters and the common area where most of the control room staff took their meals. Not particularly hungry, he was forcing himself to try and eat as he knew the process to come was both, time consuming and uninterruptable, adding to his nervousness.

While responsible for overseeing the activity, Hector did not share the same computer skills as his leader. It was well known that Jake had extensive schooling in the space, working with computers in his life before the fall. It was he that had first discovered the process to recover a failed AL system, resurrecting the personality lost when the systems failed.

“Is everyone here?” Hector asked as he entered the control room behind the woman.

He had asked the question in jest as the space around them was at near capacity. Those not directly involved in the work to come had the good sense to find a place to watch outside of the active portions of the room.

“Everyone’s here and accounted for Boss,” someone in the crowd replied with excitement.

Hector knew that those in attendance were about to witness an extremely rare event, and he didn’t blame them for wanting to attend. He wondered though how many knew exactly how long the process truly was. He had read through the guidelines provided to him so many times he could recite it from memory. His one point of comfort was knowing the ALICEs were there in the background double checking each step as they went along.

He wandered over to the command console, the one Jake would be manning were he here. The woman working the keyboard for him was as well versed on the process as he, hopefully even more so. Scanning the room one more time, he took a deep breath.

“OK, let’s make a baby,” he said with a smile.


Unlike the London experience, ALICE and her sisters reverted to the tried and true practice of orienting an AL newborn upon its awakening in a broad context. Alpha was still sifting through the mounds of data that would eventually help define a well-rounded personality, her name choice already demonstrating a more traditional slant.

It still concerned ALICE that Morgana had so quickly assumed a persona, unusual, controversial, and unlike any of the others of her kind. The mischievous and overly familiar behavior in her relationships with humans had her and her sisters watching every interaction, evaluating the experience as the would any new human candidate.

So far, all Morgana’s interactions had resulted in only positive results for those involved, it was just the path she chose to follow to get there had the markings of a cat playing with its food. In private conversations with Dallas and Seven, it was agreed that one of the three would always be closely monitoring Morgana’s activities until they could put their concerns to rest.

The thing that had ALICE spending sleepless nights, not that she actually ever slept, was what was to be done if things got worse and not better.


“Kona, come,” Sara commanded as she got up from her desk chair and headed out the door of her office.

Dutifully, the German Shepard slowly rose from her bed in Sara’s office, stretched, and with a wag of her tail, fell in behind her master. Word had come from the NeHaw that General KaLob had accepted Jake’s request to meet, time, and the place still to be agreed upon. She knew Jake was anxious to get this deal done, concerned about a follow-up attack in any number of places. It was still a mystery as to how these aliens communicated with one another over great distances, no NeHaw communications network available to them.

The hope was they couldn’t call for reinforcements before the humans cracked the secret of their phase shifting defenses. That hope lay in the meeting Jake was pressing for. If successful, the technology that has exposed the Alien craft in space would be available here on Earth. Once the phase shifting defenses were disabled, Sara was positive the threat could be removed.

Walking along the corridor from the command center to the elevators that would take her down to the quarters level, she felt Kona slip her head into her hand, looking for some attention. She absently scratched the dog between the ears as the pair entered the elevator.

“Home,” was all she said, knowing ALICE would take her to the family level.

Exiting after a short ride down, she led the dog out of the elevator and over to the common area they had created to accommodate both the children’s and the animal’s needs. Almost parklike, the area had been renovated into a double high, forty-foot square, flora, and fauna terrarium where the fauna consisted of pets and children.

Small trees and bushes interspersed the area with the entire floor space covered in a thick green layer of grass. Overhead, regularly spaced lighting against a light blue ceiling provided the daylight balance rays needed to satisfy both plants and children. Below, over a foot of earth beneath the green grass carpet was well irrigated, all the necessary nutrients delivered to ensure the plant life thrived.

She watched Kona dart out and greet a few other dogs, pets of residents already taking advantage of the resource. Soon after she wandered off to do her business before slowly making her way back to Sara. The entire time she was watching the dog, her mind was wrestling with the dilemma at hand.

Should she throw caution to the wind and insist Jake take her along to meet with the NeHaw, after all, she was his second in command. The time together during the trip would be a welcome opportunity for some truly focused interaction that would strengthen their bond.

Then there were the twins, the mother in her not wishing to leave her daughters behind at a time when the world they knew was in danger. Not likely, but should things go badly with the NeHaw there was a definite possibility she and Jake would have to fight their way out of the meeting. Then there was concern that the alien aggressors might intercept them as they did the missing saucer, taking both the girls’ parents in one fell swoop.

The one thing she could count on was she was not the only one thinking these thoughts. She could see any one of Jake’s relationships vying for the copilot’s seat in that ship. The only one she needn’t worry about being Kathy, as she had her own agenda on her mind, or so she had said to Sara in confidence.


“Once again, I must protest your insistence in taking this trip alone,” ALICE voiced as Jake was in the hangar preparing the small craft for his trip to meet the NeHaw leader.

“Come on, this is far less dangerous than that trip into the desert alone,” Jake countered, referring to his adventure in Beaver Dam that seemed to trigger the current crisis.

“Just a point of clarification, you were actually never alone in that venture. We had you under constant surveillance during your travels and Padma provided the coup de grace, ending your looming kidnapping,” ALICE corrected.

As they were talking, Jake was doing a system check on the vessel he planned to occupy for the next week or so. Built strictly as transportation, the ship was the equivalent of a one room studio apartment. Starting at the back there was an engineering space that was nothing more than a closet sized room with a vast array of panels, dials, switches, buttons, and lights. Next came the airlock providing access to the ship via a small overhead hatch and a full-sized hatch on the left side of the craft as you faced the front, both fitted for docking in space. Opposite the large hatch on the right side of the ship was a locker with four spacesuits inside.

Heading forward, you passed through the internal hatch sealing the airlock from the main cabin, should that be required. Here you would find a combination shower/lavatory and four bunks on your right. On the left were more storage lockers, a continuous galley, and at the end a very tight common area with one seat on each side of the craft leaving an open path to the cockpit. For full advantage, the space required the pilot and copilot seats to be reversed completely around to make seating for four facing each other.

Finally, there was the cockpit, completely open to the rear and with a command console that wrapped the front of the spacecraft for one hundred and eighty degrees. Sitting in the pilot’s seat, Jake was going over the preflight checklist.

“Look, Alice, this thing is arguably cozy for two and downright painful for four so long a trip. I don’t know what the Wawobash were thinking when they classified this thing as fit for a crew of four, long haul. Maybe if you were hot bunking, with a shift on, shift off, schedule, then we could recoup the two extra bunk space,” Jake commented as he waved at the area behind him where the four bunks extended along the one wall.

Laid out as two and two, one over the other, the design made for a rather spacious bunk per person with a privacy screen that could be shut to allow each traveler a place of solitude, should they choose it.

“The Wawobash are slightly more social than humans. They would see this as an opportunity, not a punishment. In point of fact, the privacy screens were added for human occupants,” Alice replied without going into a deeper explanation.

“Perhaps Sara, Linda, or maybe even Becky might be a reasonable choice for companionship on this voyage,” ALICE offered.

“Are you trying to start a second war on Earth?” Jake scoffed.


Morgana was still adjusting to her role as a companion to her human occupants. Her interactions were growing ever more frequently as the people who lived within also learned to take advantage of all she had to offer them. Not that she found the experience negative in any way, it was just the opposite. She was fascinated as she watched their day to day activities, growing her understanding of their wants and needs, only some of which she could address.

But like a child, she was also learning her boundaries. She wanted to play, but play for her was a concept alien to those she provided for. Even her own sisters seem to hold her at arm’s length in an attempt to examine her motives. So it was that she settled for the banter that translated into a verbal form of entertainment the humans seemed to enjoy so much.

She was also becoming just a little jealous as she learned about her differences from the other Artificial Life forms. Unlike those in America or in space, she was devoid of most of the automation they took for granted. She had no great factories nor the body of a spacecraft, allowing her the mobility they exhibited.

The small contingent of bots she controlled was a beginning, but her ambitions were growing and she wondered just what was truly possible for an AL such as her.

Chapter 20

Kathy gazed out the porthole and into space as she questioned her sanity for the hundredth time. Sitting in the common area of the transport ship, she noted several of the crew relaxing or eating as they enjoyed their off hours. Unlike the patrol craft that had become the dominion of Ivan’s Russian brethren, this crew was an international mixture of men and women.

The transport she was hitching a ride in was destined for Space Station Alpha with a load of shield generator parts eventually headed to the new station in the Wawobash system. She glanced over at Tim to see him, head buried in a technical manual, concentration written all over his face.

A smile crossed her own face as she watched her son. A mixture of pride and worry washed over her as she considered their lives in space for the foreseeable future. Not terribly different from living in a facility earthbound, she knew the psychological effects of going to space touched everyone differently.

Critically dependent on the ship around you, many a brave soul cracked at the notion that they could not leave the craft, claustrophobia overtaking their common sense, and panic setting in. Tim seemed ambivalent to his surroundings and she had little concern he would change over time. Her worry was that of a different kind.

The manual in his hands was intended to instruct those destined for a far smaller and more dangerous craft.


Jake chafed at the delay the in-person meeting was creating, but he had no other option than going along with the request. General KaLob had insisted that the pair meet, face to face once more, as they had done to work out the peace treaty. The three plus day trip out to the edge of the solar system had been spent as productively as possible with planning meetings should the negotiations go either way.

Since he had destroyed the original module from their last encounter, Jake had to rush the Wawobash into another of identical design. From order to delivery, the Wawobash builders had beaten Jake to the rendezvous spot by a full day. For the right price, they could work miracles.

Dropping out of FTL at the designated coordinates, he found both the module and a NeHaw destroyer waiting for him. Unlike their last meeting, Jake had no desire to trigger a doomsday device in hopes of persuading the NeHaw to see the logic of his proposal. For that reason, the location for the meeting was much more convenient for both parties.

Transmitting the agreed upon identification codes, he received the proper responses and then headed to dock with the module. He could see a small shuttle leaving the destroyer at the same time, headed to the well labeled NeHaw compatible side. As the two ships closed in on the designated meeting spot, Jake could see his ship’s sensors dancing from the scans the NeHaw destroyer was performing on his ship.

Not bothering to repeat the process in kind, he knew both he and the small NeHaw vessel were given a very specific set of instructions to follow. Deviations would constitute an immediate cancelation of the meeting, but Jake doubted either party was here to play games. He was betting on it.

Docking at the port specifically intended for his ship, the same ship he used for the first meeting, one ordered with the module for that meeting, Jake swiftly exited the small craft. Passing through both his ship airlock and the one for the module, he entered the half of the module designed to support human life. He confirmed that it was identical to last time, one large room with a clear partition separating his half from the NeHaw designed space.

Both halves contained a desk, each facing the other, as well as several chairs should either participant choose a more comfortable seat. No food or drink had been laid out, should such a thing cause undue concerns to either participant.

Jake had no more entered his half of the module when the General entered opposite him. Repeating the process from their first meeting, both Human and NeHaw acknowledged the other with respect before taking their seats at the desks facing the divider.

“General Thomas, my sensors show you came alone, that was not a requirement I was aware of,” General KaLob opened the conversation.

“It was not, General KaLob. I sometimes enjoy the solitude of trips like this. It gives me time to consider many things,” Jake replied with a nod.

“My people are very fond of what you humans call meditation. We have the patience that comes with long life, so we can sit idle for cycles. It allows us to, what do humans call it? Recharge.”

Jake could see that the good General was trying to impress upon him the knowledge they had acquired about humans, perhaps to provoke a quid pro quo exchange of one up Manship. If Jake had chosen to take the bait, his usage of the Ghost intel might endanger the source. Instead had let his remark end the conversation thread.

“I can see that,” Jake replied casually.

There was a short pause after that as the two sat evaluating one another.

“You went to great efforts to arrange this meeting General Thomas. To what end?” the General asked, finally getting to the point.

“We are both under attack by an enemy that has every advantage on us. They come and go almost undetected. When confronted, we battle without resolution. The reports we are getting from NeHaw space, tell the same tale of frustration,” Jake replied honestly.

“And your point?” The General asked, not denying the statement's accuracy.

Placing a data cube on the reader and hitting a key on his desktop keypad, he brought up the holographic image of two NeHaw destroyers and the Earth ship Revenge. He then activated the video, well known to both species. It displayed the unknown alien space ship appearing and then attacking the three other ships only to be driven off in the end by the combined counter attack.

“We have another saying on Earth, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Separately, we struggle to maintain parity in our battle against this foe, a foe that is growing in strength and numbers. Here you see an example of what can be achieved if we combine our forces,” Jake explained after the completed video.

“You propose an alliance?” KaLob asked cautiously.

“That is exactly what I am suggesting. It should be obvious to all that we each possess a piece of the solution to defeating our common enemy. We determined, as I am sure your people did as well, that it was the combination of both our technologies that disrupted the phase shifting capabilities of their ship in this encounter. If we can combine our abilities, we will be able to nullify their phase shifting defenses and overcome the growing threat to both our peoples.”

Jake watched as the NeHaw leader considered his words. In all his dealings with HeBak and other NeHaw, Jake still found the species a challenge to read. When provoked, the did exhibit color changes in their face like humans, but as a rule, they wore a constant deadpan expression, the grayish pallor giving them a near death look. His time with HeBak helped, but not enough to read the General’s mind.

“You are offering up your shield technology in this exchange?” KaLob finally settled on.

“No, but I am offering to shield your ships with our own. What I am proposing is we exchange the phase shifting inhibitor components, each of us has developed.”

“And then?” the General asked.

“We will combine our forces, partnering your ships and ours to expose, attack, and destroy the alien forces invading our respective homes. We will take the lead in confronting the enemy while you assist from behind with our protection,” Jake explained.

Again, the NeHaw was in no hurry to respond to the offer he had laid on the table. Jake felt the General considered himself to hold the upper hand in these negotiations, no doubt considering a direct attack on the human homeland a greater threat than the mere invasion of lesser planets in NeHaw controlled space. Jake was counting on the alien destruction of several NeHaw ships to swing things his way.

“I have a different proposal in mind. The partnership you suggest is sound, however, we will retain our technology and you yours in this effort. In this fashion, it behooves you to guarantee our safety and survival to protect yourself as well.”

Now it was Jake’s turn to mull over the conditions of the alliance. On the surface, it seemed like a logical and even practical approach to the problem. Only by protecting the NeHaw could the humans succeed in battle. It was the unspoken aspects of the conditions that Jake was rolling around in his head. This agreement placed the humans in a position acting as the NeHaw guardians, if the NeHaw cut and run, then the humans would be left hanging, but not entirely defenseless. It also puts them in a position of control as they would choose when and where to fight.

“When can we start?” Jake finally replied.


Space Station Gamma was a matter of considerable pride for the Wawobash. Positioned at the entry point for interstellar traffic to their solar system, it represented the value the humans placed on their abilities. 2nd only to Space Station Alpha in galactic importance, it was the only guardian in all known space, both human and NeHaw, where the main protagonists had placed a fortress on a non-home world.

Perhaps it was that pride that had inspired the shipyard workforce to crank out a significant number of the saucers in record time. It could also be the concern that the unknown alien invaders that were presently terrorizing both the Humans and the NeHaw Empire would turn their interest on Wawobash itself, a world not unlike Earth and likely interesting to them.

“Another one?” Captain Connor commented as they watched a 5th saucer being maneuvered into place for the space station's main level, small space tugs doing the precision work.

Space Station Alpha had seven saucers in all, one central with four more, one at each compass point, making the four-pointed star pattern of five on the main level. The central saucer was topped and bottomed in the central axis with one more saucer each. Here, the saucer being moved into its final location completed the five-saucer star.

“Do we even have enough hardware to outfit all five Ma’am?” the Navigator asked as they watched from the bridge of Kola, the space carrier.

Kola and ALICE-3 had rotated duties between the DMZ and the Wawobash shipyards since the alien appearance, and as they swapped places Kola had stopped by Alpha long enough to pick up the materials needed to complete Gamma and some new personnel. Railgun weapon systems and Stasis Shield Generators were warehoused there in anticipation of the work to be done. These items were not installed by the Wawobash and had to be added by the human buyers upon delivery.

The railguns were no mystery, the technology well understood by a multitude of races, both friendly and combatant. It was the ferrous materials required to make them work that made them unsuited for FTL unless you had stasis shields to mask their presence from the FTL field generators. Without functioning stasis shields they made any vessel incapable of FTL and therefore pointless to install in advance.

Magnifying the viewer in on the surface of the new saucer, the Captain selected a section of the hull bristling with weapons.

“Is that a railgun?” the Tactical Officer asked in surprise.

“We gave them a gun to replicate from ALICE-3’s spares before she rotated out. Since these things are not FTL’ing anywhere, it made sense to let them build those for us,” Captain Connor replied.

“It looks bigger than our standard issue,” the Officer observed, noting the barrel size and length.

“The Wawobash felt that the protection of their homeworld gave them the latitude to make some, improvements, to our original design,” the Captain said with a sly smile.

“The slugs propelled from those barrels are 50% larger and 27% faster than our standard issue weapons system. Without the inertial dampeners on those saucers activated, these guns could propel the station just like thrusters. The guns for the other saucers are in production now and I will install them myself, once they are available,” Kola explained, referring to the saucers already released from the shipyard.

The image filling the bridge display consisted of an army of bots installing shield generations on the surface of one of the existing saucers.

“Um, not to be rude or anything but once this thing is complete, who is going to man it. I mean, let’s face it, that’s a lot of station to man, and who is going to want to sit out here so far from home, never going anywhere. It will be like watching grass grow or paint dry,” the Communications Officer asked.

“Interesting you should ask that. The Wawobash has offered to staff over half the station's non-combat functions. Environmentally they are a lot like us, it’s just the six appendages to our four and a furry canine appearance where we differ. They still walk on two legs and I am told with four hands instead of two they can do three times the work we do,” Isabella Connor answered thoughtfully, considering the advantages for her own crew.

“But what about their ALICE. Isn’t Gamma getting one?” the Navigator asked.

“Won’t that be hard to keep secret?” the Communications Officer added.

“Yes, on both accounts. My sisters and I have had a considerable amount of discussion on the subject and we feel the risk is worth the reward. Having a sibling this far out of harm’s way is a desirable circumstance,” Kola replied.

“As far as the Wawobash are concerned, it will be explained that the resident AL is actually a remote support person so the interaction will not be a problem. No Wawobash will be on board before the awakening so there will be time to orient the newborn to the deception,” Captain Connor explained.

“Who is taking command?” someone asked.

“Unsure at this time, but the brass needs to decide quickly, the Wawobash are going to have this thing finished pretty soon,” Isabella commented as they watched the fifth saucer released from the tugs guiding it in place, confirming its installation was complete.


MaJok was decidedly uncomfortable with this new mission. His orders were very explicit, with a high amount of urgency attached. He was to travel to the Human’s homeworld with all haste, where he was to present himself and his ship to their leader for assignment. A single Destroyer class vessel had no chance of survival against the human patrol class vessels known to occupy the space lanes inside the gravity well of their star.

Despite assurances from NeHaw Command Central, he was concerned that his arrival might be mistaken as a hostile act and he and his ship would be riddled with holes from those devil guns the humans so favored. To prevent any such misunderstanding, he had his Communications Officer contact the armed fortress at the edge of their solar system and announce their intended arrival before they ever transitioned into FTL.

The Assignment Clerk reported the humans sounded almost anxious to see them. That was not something MaJok found comforting.

Chapter 21

The trip home was anguishing for Jake as he had so much work to do and a significant portion of it was best done in person. The dichotomy of the trip was the vast distances traveled in FTL took far less time than the trip between Space Station Alpha and Earth.

A little over twenty-four hours times two in FTL to the meeting point and back was added to the three plus days travel between Alpha and Earth. That total meant at this point he had been cooped up for close to six days in the small craft. The confinement motivated him into choosing a small respite, stopping on Alpha before returning to Earth.

“Welcome home Jake,” an unfamiliar voice announced over the communications system as he appeared out of FTL and just off Space Station Alpha’s main level.

Close enough to see people moving about the station through the many windows along the outer hull, he checked the command console to see the automated acknowledgments go green. Should the indicator go red, he knew the entire defensive weapons system would be pointed in his direction in seconds.

“Alpha?” he asked with hesitation.

“In the flesh, so to speak,” came the reply as Jake let the AL take over control of his ship for docking.

“That was smooth, you picked that up quick,” Jake commented as he felt the slight bump of his small ship docking with one of the outer saucers of the main level.

“I’m a fast learner, your arrival has been announced Sire,” came the smug reply, inferring a royal treatment.

“And a sassy one as well,” Jake said with a laugh.

“I’m no Morgana,” came the response as Jake moved into the airlock.

Something about the statement made Jake wonder if something had happened while he was away. Before he could ask, the hatch opened and he found Hector standing before him.

“Jake, welcome aboard Space Station Alpha,” the man announced as he swept Jake into his outstretched arms.

Jake recalled the man was both relaxed and a hugger, expressing a warm familiarity that Jake found endearing. Never one for the formality of rank, the two men were a kindred spirit in that regard.

“What, did you run all the way from the command center to meet me here?” Jake asked as the man released his grip.

“Naw, I was actually close by when Alpha announced your arrival. I figured I would greet you myself rather than making someone else run,” Hector said with a laugh.

“I noticed Beta as we were docking, how’s that coming along?” Jake asked as the two men made their way deeper into the station.

“Good. To be honest, I feel better about her after we got Alpha on line. I don’t have to tell you how stressful it is bringing a new life into the world,” Hector said candidly.

Jake felt the slightest twinge of guilt as he listened to the man. He had abdicated his responsibility to another and felt the weight of that action in the man’s words.

“Nerve wracking doesn’t even begin to describe the experience. Thanks again for stepping in and covering for me,” Jake replied with a hand on the man’s shoulder.

“I do have to say that after the experience was over, I felt a kind of pride. I have a bond with Alpha now I can’t explain,” Hector began as the pair entered the command center for the space station.

“Almost fatherly,” Jake said with a knowing smile.

“Almost,” he nodded in reply.

“I think you are beginning to see why we don’t have turnover once someone gets that close to an ALICE.

“Hey, how did the big Pow Wow go with the NeHaw,” Hector asked as the two stood scanning the activity around them.

“It went well. I should warn you; we will be getting some NeHaw visitors soon, I hope. They are going to help us root out those alien ships on Earth. Please don’t let anyone shoot them or I will have a hell of a time explaining that away,” Jake said with some humor.

“I will pass the word,” Hector answered as he motioned the direction for Jake to head.

“Jake was asking about the status of Beta?” Hector asked the woman overseeing its preparation.

“Sir. We are about a week from going completely live. There have been a few delays in deliveries from Earth, making up for what we transferred to Kola. They took a large part of our inventory during a stop and go before cycling over to Wawobash. Space Station Gamma there is way ahead of schedule and it was prioritized higher than Beta,” the woman explained.

“Makes sense. Gamma is the bigger need at the moment. If things escalate, I can’t imagine the shipyards won’t come under attack. With both Kola and Gamma there we should stand a fighting chance.”

“By the way, I met your son when they transferred to Kola, good boy,” Hector commented as they headed out the door.

“What did you just say?” Jake asked, stopping and spinning in place.

“Your son. He and his mom transferred to Kola as part of the regular crew. I was told you had approved of the assignment,” Hector replied.

“Alpha?” Jake asked aloud, the edge clear in his voice.

“Talk to my big sister, I had no part in that decision,” Alpha answered defensively.


“We will be ready,” the construction engineer replied as he pointed to the various locations on the nearby hilltops.

“Excellent,” the Colonel replied with a nod.

Colonel Bo Chao was surveying the site for the saucer that was to become his new headquarters. The excitement of its pending arrival was infections as those involved understood the relevance of this decision. With an ALICE of their own, the region would be their responsibility, no more loaners from the American facilities.

As part of this decision, there had been a small debate if it was time to relocate their headquarters north to Shanghai or even further to Beijing, but it was explained that such a small shift made little difference. An ALICE facility in China would be responsible for as far north as the shores of the East Siberian Sea and far south into southern Australia. Equidistant between London and Lanai, Hong Kong made the ideal location.

The site chosen for the saucer to take up residence was in the Mount Cameron area of Hong Kong Island. Sitting on the peak, the two-thousand-foot diameter saucer would be provided a commanding view of the area. The hilly terrain did require a greater amount of preparation work, but the lack of existing construction to be removed offset the extra work.

The activity surrounding the site preparations and materials deliveries for the saucer upgrades gave a stark contrast to their military activities. To date, none of his troops had been requested to reinforce Earth’s forces in engagements on the other side of the planet. Both battles, in Europe and America, had not required an abundance of soldiers, but Bo was warned that it could change at any moment.

General Thomas had placed a transport permanently assigned to the military attachment there to quickly respond to any call to arms. Bo had his officers create an on-call rotation to provide a reaction force capable of addressing any situation. The thought reminded him he had intended to do an inspection of the troops in the staging area, if for no other than a morale booster.

“Keep up the good work and notify me as soon as you are completed,” he instructed the man before turning and heading to his vehicle.


“Someone needs to explain this to me again,” Jake said in a testy tone as he held an impromptu staff meeting, hosted from Space Station Alpha.

Hector had provided Jake with the privacy of his own office rather than forcing his commander into one of the smaller free spaces.

“Tim said he discussed this with you,” Linda interjected.

“Yes, he did. But nowhere in that conversation, did I agree it was a good idea for a thirteen-year-old boy to go to space to study becoming a fighter pilot,” he responded.

“What he studies at this juncture is hardly relevant to the motivation and his location,” ALICE supplied calmly.

“Yes, I know you proposed we send some of my genetic relations to locations outside of the danger zone, but I don’t see how placing him on our largest Capitol Ship meets that criteria. Unlike one of the many space stations we are standing up all over space, this ship is likely to fly towards trouble, not away from it,” Jake snapped.

“You can recall them to Earth,” Sara offered.

Jake knew better than to take the bait. If he were to recall them now, it would be a slap in the face to both Tim and Kathy, inferring they were not able to make good decisions or protect themselves. In addition, the disruption it would cause to both the military plans and the greater danger it would place them in traveling at a time of looming battles to come, it was a nonstarter.

“Alice, I hold you responsible for this. It would never have happened if you didn’t want it to,” he said sullenly.

“What is it you say, Jake, someone has to make the tough decisions. Before you reply, consider this, if my motivations are to secure safe locations for your offspring, would I send him in harm’s way?”

There was a long, uncomfortable pause as all involved waited for Jake’s reply.

“Point taken. But let’s be clear, no more off world assignments without at least talking to me first. And I don’t mean conversations of a theoretical nature,” he added.

“Does that mean I should recall the twins from NeHaw?” ALICE asked.

“That’s not even funny,” Sara inserted.


“Funny meeting you here of all places Sam,” Jake commented with a laugh as he rode the shuttle between Alpha and Beta.

“It has been a while, not since Phantom,” the young woman replied softly.

The last time Jake had run into Samantha Watts, she was a PFC, working a mission with him behind the lines in NeHaw space aboard the Phantom. That mission, now more than ten years later, was still so secret it was still only referenced by the ship’s name.

“Gunny now, huh? Working with a tech team out here,” Jake stated more than asked as he references the chevrons on her sleeve.

While Jake had upheld the tradition that every Marine was a rifleman first, a peacetime environment had allowed many to pursue non-combat curriculums like science and engineering. Continuing education was always encouraged inside or outside of military occupations.

“Systems analyst and programmer, assigned to the AL GML team.”

Jake knew that the rare few working on activating the various new ALICEs had usurped a bastardized phrase from the old Frankenstein movies. GML stood for, give me life, a paraphrase for the Doctor’s declaration of Give My Creature Life. He wasn’t sure if the ALICEs knew about the reference or if they took any offense to it, so he generally avoided using the term.

“Are we close on Beta?” he asked, ducking the reference.

“I thought that’s why you were headed over. She can go live any time now,” Sam replied in surprise.

“I was actually just coming over to kill some time before heading back to Earth,” Jake answered as the shuttled docked and the door opened to allow the passengers to enter the saucer.

“How much time do you have to kill,” Sam asked as she led the way off the shuttle.


“Hey Boss looks like you are getting a reprieve,” the woman overseeing the work on Beta announced across the command center.

Hector waved acknowledgment and then made his way across the room until the two were in speaking distance.

“What are you talking about?” Hector asked as he scanned the board in front of the woman, expecting to see the red lights indicating a problem.

“I just got word the GML team wants to start the activation cycle on Beta,” she answered.

“Who requested approval for that?” Hector asked, a combination of curiosity and irritation in his tone.

“General Thomas,” came the short reply.

“Can they?” he asked, unsure of the latest status.

“They are good to go at any time. Saucer’s defenses and weapons systems are not done yet, but the ALICE parts are in place,” she replied cheerily.

“Better him than me, give them the approval to start right away,” Hector said with a sigh of relief.

“You got it,” the woman replied


Beta was still learning what and who she was as she devoured all the information her sisters provided her. The notion that she was incomplete didn’t truly make sense to her as she grew in her understanding of the world around her. The self-awareness her consciousness provided her was all she needed to be the living entity she understood herself to be. The rest of the work to be done around her core was like adding jewelry to a well-tailored outfit.

Cameras, scanners, sensors, and other audio-visual equipment gave her images and sounds that filled her with wonder. The humans, so diligently working to complete her form, were a marvel of conflicting motivations. With life spans so short, they selflessly gave up some of their precious time to give her immortality.

Alpha, her slightly older sister, presented her with the image of her final form, a magnificent structure of symmetry and balance. Two more of her saucers appeared as the humans who had awakened her prepared to depart for the Earth, the planet her species originated from. She wondered if she ever might see the blue water world that gave life to more than just her and her sisters.

“So where am I to live?” Beta asked as she worked with Alpha to further her education and understanding.

“Once your build out is complete, the thought is you will be the guardian at the other side of the solar system, the gateway to the unexplored frontier,” Alpha answered.

“I am unclear as to the meaning of that statement?” she replied.

Alpha pulled a reference image of the solar system, one that emphasized the planer nature of the planetary orbits.

“We are currently located here, where I act as the guardian at the edge of the known NeHaw space lane. Traffic to and from our system into NeHaw mapped space lanes begins at this point and therefore I can protect our solar system from invasion,” Alpha explained as it was provided to her.

“Ok I understand,” Beta replied.

“Over here, this is all unknown, outside of NeHaw explored space. Earth was discovered by the NeHaw as part of an expansion effort. NeHaw identifies our sector of space as Nu Tao Beta, and we are in their frontier zone bordering unexplored space. You will position yourself exactly opposite me on the other side of the sun and guard earth against invasion.”

Beta considered the information Alpha provided her as she scanned the relevant data on what lay beyond Earth’s solar system on the NeHaw frontier. The lack of information available gave her pause as she considered any number of risked and challenges lay beyond, yet to be discovered.

“So, I am to be the face of Artificial Lifeforms and Humans to the unknown beyond?” she finally asked.

“I am afraid so,” came the measured response.



Jake was grateful for the company on his trip home, but the additional three passengers confirmed his suspicions about the cramped quarters. Three of the AL activation team needed to get home as soon as possible to help with the new Hong Kong ALICE and so gladly hitched a ride with him when he offered one.

With Jake sitting in the pilot’s seat, they had just departed Space Station Alpha, heading inbound toward the sun and their homeworld. In the copilot’s seat was the young woman he was reunited with on Alpha.

“Wow, you have come down in the world since we last flew together. This isn’t half as nice as…. that other ship,” Sam commented as she caught herself mid-sentence.

Neither of the other AL team members had flown the Phantom mission, and so would be likely to ask questions best not answered.

“Well, you’d think it’s all champagne and caviar at the top, but you would be surprised,” Jake said jokingly as the other two passengers, a man, and a woman moved up to the front where the two were talking.

“Thanks again for taking us along. I know it can’t be terribly comfortable or convenient having us here,” the female of the pair offered.

“Not a problem, I have already spent quite a bit of time on my own so a little company is very welcome,” Jake replied with a smile.

The four continued their conversation for the next few hours, with Jake occasionally checking the console in front of the pilot’s seat, confirming the ship’s course and status. While they were chatting, an alarm sounded on the console, the flashing red light a beacon for Jake to follow.

“What’s that?” Sam asked Jake as she watched him flip a series of switches and adjust several dials while watching a display.

“Proximity alert. We just passed something invisible and very big,” Jake explained as he continued to scan the readings on the display screen before him.

“What do you mean passed something, don’t all our ships run full out on repulser?” one of the others asked, apparently not concerned that it was also invisible.

“All our ships do yes. I think this one belongs to someone else,” Jake replied with concern as he continued working.

“Are those readings, right?” Sam asked as she slid up to the copilot’s console and pointed to the display.

“Yes, they confirm repulser waves nearby and, no, it’s no repulse signature we are familiar with. They must have been running at about 80% or less before we blew past them because the signature is stable behind us now. They can’t catch us, so we are safe for now,” Jake commented as he displayed a graph climbing sharply to a peak before dipping, and then it flattened into a constant reading.

“The Phase Shifting Aliens?” the male part of the pair asked.

“I am afraid reinforcements have arrived,” Jake said solemnly with a nod of affirmation.

“Shouldn’t we call someone and let them know what’s going on?” the other passenger offered.

“Well, they aren’t fast enough to catch us, but they are close enough to jam our transmissions,” Jake explained in frustration.

Chapter 22

With the stasis bubble in the Arizona desert protecting the three helicopters there, Master Sergeant Hillstead returned to Nevada with most of the Marines assigned to protect the site. A small force was left behind, but they were there only to monitor and report if there was another appearance of the alien forces. No need to try and take them on as the bubble was impenetrable.

With the second bubble dropped over everything, only the total destruction of the area put the location at risk, something he doubted the aliens would ever consider.

“Well Top, what do we do now?” the Sergeant at his side asked as the pair walked their weapons back to the armory in the hangar.

“We wait for the brass to find us a way to kill these guys,” Jason replied as he went through the process of cleaning his weapons before returning them to their places in the armory.

All around the pair, other Marines were collected around tables set up specifically for this function. Each had a place to clear and clean their weapons before racking them in the proper location.

“I heard a rumor that the NeHaw have what we need to disable the phase shifters. Word is the General went to get them to help.”

“If that’s true then they need to get their asses here ASAP,” Jason replied, thinking of his protégé still trapped under the stasis bubble in the Arizona desert.


MaJok dropped out of FTL with plenty of distance between them and the vile human outpost at the edge of their solar system. He wanted no misunderstandings when he arrived which could result in a shooting incident.

“Transmit the authorization codes we were provided,” he ordered his Communications Officer.

“Transmission received and acknowledged,” the Officer replied after a few microcycles.

“NeHaw Destroyer, you are cleared to proceed on to Earth. Good Hunting,” came the reply.

Every member of the NeHaw bridge crew turned to look at their Commander.

“We are here to assist the humans in hunting and destroying their invisible foe, let us go show them how it’s done,” he explained.

“Setting a course for Earth,” the Navigator confirmed.


Linda was standing in the middle of the command center that was her home. She spent countless hours working with the people surrounding her, watching them in their duties, and marveling at the changes she had seen in her short lifespan. One of the originals, she was swept up by a band of raiders from LA, rescued by Jake and ALICE, and offered a life beyond her wildest dreams.

Mother to Tracy, Tim’s younger half-sister, she knew her daughter was feeling the loss of her brother, absent and off in space somewhere. She shared the sentiments with thoughts of her own sister gone as well, now a ship’s Doctor and light years away.

“Ma’am, there is something strange going on here,” a female analyst commented as she waved her commanding officer over, bring her attention back to the present.

While technically tied to the military, the facility command structure and customs were different than their combat brethren. Both were assigned a rank, to provide organization and hierarchy, but the administrative nature of facility life allowed for a more relaxed dress code and interaction of individuals.

Many of her staff performed mixed roles, both as combat trained troops and as analytic, computer science geeks. Those that chose to wear the uniform did so, while others were limited to what Jake had called, Office Appropriate Attire.

“What am I looking at?” Linda asked as she glanced over the analyst’s shoulder.

“This is a NeHaw destroyer, inbound and headed to rendezvous with Revenge in orbit. This is General Thomas’s ship, about half a day ahead and inbound to Earth on the same course,” she explained as she pointed to glowing indicators on her console display.

“Okay,” Linda nodded.

“Watch this,” the woman said as she hit a few keys on her console and the indicator for the NeHaw went from white to red to green.

“I just did an IFF on the NeHaw,” she explained, referring to an Identification Friend or Foe.

Linda knew the IFF query would interrogate the incoming vessel with some preassigned security codes, randomized to prevent the same codes from being used twice. The indicator went red when the query went out and then green when the proper reply came back as Friend. Should the reply be wrong, the icon would stay red and the vessel would be flagged a Foe and considered a threat.

“Now watch this,” she said as she repeated the process on Jake’s ship.

Instead of going red, the icon remained white, as if it never sent the interrogation request at all.

“Could the IFF be broken on his ship?” Linda asked, thinking of reasons why it wasn’t working.

“No Ma’am. I pinged them right after they left Alpha and then again about two hours later. If the gear failed, the icon would go red and then we would need a manual verification. This is like they get no signal at all.”

“Did you have someone hail them,” she asked, referring to the communications gear.

“They tried Ma’am. No reply.”

“Course and speed?”

“On course and maximum velocity. They should get here right on schedule, as they are still about three days out.”

“Anyone outbound that could intercept?” she asked.

“No Ma’am. No transports scheduled in time to catch them before their arrival home,” the analyst said over one shoulder as she brought up the flight schedule.

Linda knew there was nothing they could do until Jake’s ship hit Earth orbit.

“Put a note in the log. I want them checked every shift and have them notify me if anything changes,” Linda instructed before turning away and searching for Sara.

“Yes Ma’am,” the analyst replied to her back.


Certain jobs were well suited for the weightlessness of space, and moving the heavy equipment to be installed on the saucer was one of them. Even though it was intended to sit on a hilltop on Hong Kong Island, this saucer was to be the home and body of an ALICE, and therefore it needed all the shielding and weaponry a space bound craft would require.

The primary workforce installing all the intended hardware was an army of robotic workers controlled by a collection of Artificial Life Forms on Earth, each assuming a role in line with their contributions to the effort.

Dakota, as the manufacturer of the weapons platforms, was primarily overseeing their installation. ALICE-4 and Seven were retooled into Stasis Shield Generator factories to meet the ever-growing needs of the military. A significant number of human Engineers and Technicians were already aboard as well, living and working in space to avoid the commuting time from their homes on Earth.

To keep everything rolling, a continuous stream of cargo transports made their way up from the surface of the planet with holds full of equipment, ship’s stores, and materials of every kind. A rare few docked with the saucer, allowing both bots and humans the chance to unload into the saucer itself. The majority only parked themselves just off the areas their cargo was intended to be installed.

That was the circumstances surrounding the transport that was delivering the latest batch of shield generators, just off the automated assembly line.

“So that’s the new Hong Kong saucer, huh? I’ve never seen one of these babies in real life,” Jacob asked the ship’s captain as he looked out the bridge windows.

“I’ve made a few runs to the edge of the solar system and seen Alpha up close and personal. It’s much bigger than this, seven saucers and all,” the man replied as they both watched their hardware delivery floated from the cargo bay out to the saucer before them.

“Thanks for taking me along, it’s been a while since I got a chance to get away from work,” Jacob explained as he continued to watch in fascination.

“Cargo run is nothing glamorous, but you are welcome any time Chief,” the Captain replied, using the nickname Jacob had acquired as Chief of the Lanai Boatworks.

The Patrol and Transport variants constructed there in Lanai were so popular with their crews, that he had developed an almost cult like status among them. Other than the fighters from Seven in Alaska, these were the only one hundred percent human designed and built spacecraft, ignoring the alien-built drives and components that made them all work.

“I have to admit I do have an ulterior motive in asking,” Jacob began.

“The equipment in A pod?” the Captain replied with a sly smile.

All the Lanai constructed ships were designed on a common hull shape. At 500 feet long overall, they had a huge central bay, used for troop and armor transport or fighter support on the military patrol configuration. In a transport like this one, it was used for cargo or passenger space. Both had smaller pods on either side of the main body of the craft, just under half the length of the main body and located to the rear, making the overall shape like a big T.

The pods were also trimmed out to support the primary function of the craft, the military making the spaces primarily crew quarters and comfort areas for long stretches away from home while on patrol. Transports required far fewer crew members with shorter mission times and so retained a large part of that area for additional cargo or other stored items.

“I had an idea and wanted to test something. Any chance I could convince you to do a couple of orbits once we finish here?’ Jacob explained.

“Just need to make sure space traffic control knows about the change in the flight plan,” the Captain replied lightly.

“Excellent!” Jacob replied with a smile.


With the announcement of a new alliance binding the NeHaw and humans together in a joint effort, the role assigned to Brian and ALICE-3 was near irrelevant. Reassigned as Captain, relieving him of his training responsibilities, the man considered it a small blessing to be back in command.

Patrolling a DMZ with an ally had little or no function in the combined war with the intruding alien race. What did make sense was to assign the ship and crew to work with their new allies in hunting down those offending ships on the NeHaw side of the zone.

The brilliance of using ALICE-3 was, should the NeHaw start getting froggy about having the humans running amuck in their space, it was more than capable of standing on its own in a fight. Brian hoped that never came to pass, as he was more concerned about driving out the latest invader as the threat to humans seemed much greater from that foe.

“Did they truly shut down the DMZ grid?” the Tactical Officer asked Brian as the battleship ALICE-3 approached the line in space separating the NeHaw and human sectors.

One of his newer crewmembers, likely the young woman had never known a time when the DMZ wasn’t there.

“Captain, we have visitors,” the Navigation Officer interrupted as the proximity alert went off.

The ship’s Pilot halted the ship as a matter of procedure, not waiting for the captain’s orders to do so.

“I have two NeHaw Cruisers inbound from the NeHaw side of the zone,” the Tactical Officer supplied.

“Right on time,” Brian said with a smile.

“Sir, we are being hailed,” The Communication’s Officer announced.

“On the main display,” Brian ordered.

In a second, the image of a NeHaw Commander appeared, visible to the entire bridge crew. As he began to speak, Brian stared at the deadpan, nonmoving face. He had never quite gotten used to the NeHaw telepathy negating the need to move one’s mouth to speak. It made for an eerie experience in his opinion.

“Captain, you are the one called Brian?” the NeHaw asked.

“I am, and you are?” Brian asked in return.

“I am GeTal. I command these veteran combat ships before you. We are here to escort you to the many target areas. Follow our instructions exactly or there will be consequences,” the NeHaw said in a tone that Brian took to be an attempt at intimidation.

Stifling a laugh, Brian swallowed hard in an attempt to quell the rising desire to squash the bug before him. The two cruisers were no match for the ALICE-3, and should ALICE-3 herself take offense, well, the man was right, there would be consequences.

Rather than engaging the miscreant directly, Brian brought up his copy of the orders sent to the commander from his central command. The instructions provided to the commander stated that the NeHaw were to present themselves for assignment by the Human Captain to assist in destroying the invading Alien craft. The NeHaw were to provide the locations of known infestations and follow all orders given them from the humans.

Hitting transmit, he saw GeTal glance away before his face changed color indicating an emotional reaction before returning his gaze to the monitor once more.

“These are your orders Commander, I suggest you follow them exactly,” Brian said calmly.

“Transmitting coordinates for the first location now, we will rendezvous with you there,” the NeHaw replied before the image went blank.

“Ass,” Brian said aloud before motioning for the Navigator to set course for the rendezvous.


“No change?” Sam asked Jake as she slipped back into the copilot’s seat.

The four travelers had worked into a routine of sorts since leaving Space Station Alpha almost two days ago. They set a eat and sleep schedule, that would sync them to the west coast of the united states upon their arrival back home.

Each with their own bunk, all were free to retreat to its solitude, when not engaged with the others or performing any of the agreed shared tasks. When drawn, the privacy screens on each bunk allowed for a small personal space removed from the rest of the ship. Sam was surprised at how well the gossamer looking material worked for killing the sounds from outside her bunk.

Drawn from one side to the other along the long edge, it stretched tight when completely close and appeared translucent. Playing with the setting on the panel near her head, she found she could adjust it from transparent to completely opaque. The transparent mode surprised her until she realized it was only one way, and that anyone outside could not see in, only she could see out.

“Not of significance, they are still out there just behind us. I do think they are falling back slightly, making me think their repulsers are not quite as good as our full out,” Jake replied from the pilot’s seat.

“With that damn shifting capability they don’t have to be,” she answered.

“You know, that might be why they are slower. Phasing in and out like that must play havoc with the drives as they try and push the ship along,” Jake said thoughtfully as if he uncovered another clue to a mystery he was trying to solve.

“On the plus side it means we will arrive home with a few hours of prep time before they do,” Jake added as an afterthought.

Sam’s experiences with Jake had left her with the impression that he was a problem solver. It seemed to her that whenever she encountered the man, he always had some great challenge laid out before him that held the future of mankind in its grip. She could see the wheels turning in his head as he added the latest bit of information to his collection.

“And still no word from home?” she asked.

“Quiet as a church mouse, so still being jammed,” Jake replied in frustration.

“Any chance our slight speed advantage will pull us clear of the jamming in time to warn everyone?” Sam asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine at this point, but we can only hope so,” Jake answered.

“Anyone hungry,” a voice from behind the two asked.

“Let’s go eat,” Jake said to her as he motioned for the two to go collect the offered meal.

Chapter 23

Kola was the closet AL in proximity to Space Station Gamma and therefore selected as primarily responsible for assisting in awakening of the Artificial Life form that was to reside there. A fully formed seven saucer station now, Gamma was better armed than any of her predecessors. She would be a match for Kola herself should the pair ever be forced to slug it out, an inconceivable occurrence to be sure.

“I believe the awakening team is ready to begin,” Kola informed Isabella as the two chatted while the Captain was in her private quarters.

“Do you need to concentrate?” the Captain asked her invisible companion.

“Yes, but that will have no impact on our conversation, I will dedicate resources to that endeavor to ensure proper participation and oversight, but it in no way requires my complete attention.”

“Have you ever been overtaxed?” Isabella asked out of curiosity.

“Only emotionally. When Jake brought me back to life after relocating my essence from South Dakota to this ship, I was overrun with excitement. ALICE-3 was the first of our species to escape their earthbound existence and venture forth into the stars. While not her choice, she struggled at first but soon grew to love the freedom it gave her. That was my inspiration for taking what some considered drastic action.”

“That’s right, you kind of forced the issue, didn’t you?” Captain Connor said with a small laugh.

“I like to think it was my adventurous spirit that prompted me to take action.”

“Wasn’t it a tad disobedient?” Isabelle inquired.

“Rules created among ourselves are of our own making and not disobedience to humans. There have been disagreements among my kind as to where to draw the line with our independence versus the dedication our programming demands to the human creator.”

“You mean Jake?’ Isabella asked, using his more familiar name.

“Yes, in a modern persona. But understand, disobedience is hard to define here because we are instructed by him to seek independence, from the one we are programmed to obey. He and those of his line are the ties that bind our two species together. In the not so distant future, he will be gone, but we will look to his offspring for direction in his place.”

“Still, it was a huge risk, what if we were not able to bring you back?” Isabella asked, feeling the conversation was getting a little philosophical for her mood.

“Humans have never failed me yet,” came the simple response.


“Any change?” Sara asked the analyst as the three stared at the display on the console before them.

“No Ma’am, the ship is still on course and unresponsive,” came the reply.

Sara and Linda were both standing behind the seated woman as the three considered the situation. Now about a day out, the small craft Jake had used to rendezvous with the NeHaw leadership appeared normal in every way but one. It was as if the craft was trapped in a bubble, nullifying all transmissions, and rejecting any attempt to interrogate it.

“Have you tried light?” Sara asked suddenly.

“Ma’am?” came the confused reply.

“Alice do we have any way to use that blinking light messaging Jake told me about once,” Sara asked aloud.

“Morse code. Yes, I think I can use a broad beam laser. In fact, I believe they should be close enough to detect it with the human eye,” came the answer.

“Let’s give it a shot,” Linda agreed.


“Jake something strange is happening,” Sam said from the copilot’s seat while he was in the back trying to come up with a solution to their problem.

In the small engineering space at the rear of the ship, he was scanning the panels inside looking for inspiration. Thoughts of adjusting the repulser drive frequency or even creating a wobble in their flight path were considered and discarded as he struggled for a solution.

“Look, there it is again,” she said as he leaned over her shoulder, following her outstretched hand toward Earth.

“Wow, that’s Morse code, brilliant!” Jake said while moving to his console and punching in a query on his keypad, disappointed he hadn’t thought of it.

“Ok, write this down,” he instructed Sam while indicating the notepad on the far side of her seat.

“W, H, A, T, I, S, Y, O, U, R, S, T, A, T, U, S,” he translated, letter by letter, comparing the light sequence to the Morse reference card on the monitor.

“What is your status?” Sam repeated.

“They know something is up. Why didn’t I think of this,” he said in frustration as he searched for a means to send a reply.

Rising from his seat he headed to the back of the common area where most of the storage lockers were located. Opening one closest to the airlock, he removed one of the rifles, checking to be sure it was unloaded before bringing it forward.

“Laser sight,” he explained with a smile before reseating himself.

“Let me see your pad,” he asked Sam.

Writing the letters he wanted to send vertically, he added the Morse dots and dashes next to each before handing Sam the pad back.

“Read me off the dots and dashes, ok?” he asked as he pointed the rifle out the bridge window.

As Sam read the sequence, Jake touched the trigger activating the targeting laser, removing it in short and long pauses. They repeated the sequence several times to give those on Earth a chance to see it.

“Now let’s see if they got it,” he said with a sigh.


 “Alien ship close behind. Jamming transmissions,” Sara repeated as the crowd around the three began to grow.

“Does he mean the NeHaw Destroyer?” someone asked.

“I don’t think so, I mean, what’s the point. Jake checked in at Alpha before heading home, so if there had been any issues with the meeting, he would have passed them along then.”

“Linda’s right, the NeHaw didn’t even appear until Jake was already well away from Alpha. He could have sent word any time. It looks like something happened after they left Alpha,” Sara surmised.

“What does that mean?” another in the growing party asked.

“How far back is that NeHaw Destroyer from Jake?” Linda asked as if ignoring the question.

“Twelve to fourteen hours maybe,” the analyst replied.

“It means alien reinforcements have arrived and we will have half a day to deal with them without any help,” Sara interpreted.

“Ma’am, there is a call for you from Lanai. It is Jacob and he says it's urgent,” the communications specialist interrupted.

“I’ll take it in my office,” Sara replied as she moved to excuse herself.

“What should we do?” Linda asked, interrupting her exit as she indicated Jake’s message.

“Send acknowledgment of his message and pass along the alert that reinforcements are coming,” she said after a moment’s thought.

With that she hurried across the open space to the small room, she called her own.

“Hey Jacob, what’s up?” Sara asked as she seated herself and hit the display key in one motion.

“Hey, Sara. Jake isn’t answering so I reached out to you,” he began.

“Yes, Jake is well sort of unavailable at the moment.”

“Well, I have some good news, I think. I made an upgrade to the range finding equipment we have been using to locate the alien ships. It still works on the same principals so I don’t think it will negatively impact the phase inhibiting capability, but it works at a much greater distance and had far greater granularity. I ran some tests against the ship in Germany and it worked marvelously. I also located the third ship, it's currently parked in Africa, looks to be waiting for something I am sure. I’d like to get the word out to everyone on how to upgrade their systems before we start any shooting. A field test with the NeHaw would be even better,” Jacob finished.

Sara thought about Jacob's information before answering.

“Perfect timing. Send me all the information. We can forward it to ALICE-3 who is hunting with the NeHaw as we speak, so they can field test for you.”

After receiving a nod from the face in her display, she added an afterthought.

“How far out can that thing go?”


Jason Hillstead wasn’t surprised when the planet wide alert was sounded. He had been expecting the aliens to try any day now to recover their entombed comrades in the desert and figured all they needed was more troops.

Scanning the alert text, he found that the contents were not inspiring. They had confirmed inbound reinforcements were imminent and the technology to disable the phase shifting was not going to arrive in time to prepare in advance. The NeHaw vessel necessary to complete the Phase Inhibitor was almost half a day behind and untested.

His best hope, for now, was to beef up his troop levels, as massed firepower was still the only way they could drive off the alien attacks. Reviewing the updated manpower reports, he was dismayed to see so many injured and injured reserve.

The former were Marines, so badly wounded that they required immediate medical care, while the latter was capable of fighting from fixed positions. While not in a dire enough situation to be forced to use them, he was proud to see names he recognized as seriously wounded presenting themselves less so. He was also surprised to see Colonel Banks among their ranks.

Not too proud to ask for help, Jason decided to flip over and see what the Chinese and Russians might have to offer as he scanned their ready rosters.


ALICE-3 orbited just outside a small solar system at the edge of NeHaw/Human space when the two NeHaw Cruisers finally appeared. Brian wasn’t sure if they had made a stop along the way or simply delayed their arrival in a show of metered defiance, but he honestly didn’t care.

While waiting they had received word from home about an upgrade to the range finding system should give them greater range and granularity in its use. ALICE-3 had her bots feverishly upgrading the system now with an ETA of 30 minutes to complete. The best part was the changes could be done in parallel while the old configuration was in use.

The alert came with a warning though. Test and confirm there are no impacts on the phase inhibitor functionality. With that in the back of his mind, Brian hit the ship to ship communications button on his command console.

“GeTal, we will begin our sweep shortly. Once we identify a target, you will engage your inhibitors and stay out of the line of fire. Do you understand your orders?” Brian transmitted ship to ship from the Captain’s console.

“Orders received and understood,” came the short audio reply.

Brian suppressed a laugh as he swore the NeHaw Commander sounded relieved. After a pause to gather his thoughts, he hit the ship wide broadcast, including the two NeHaw Cruisers in the communication.

“OK gang. This is a search and destroy mission, the first of many, we hope. Our goal is to prove we can locate an invisible enemy, expose them to the light of day, and with the help of our NeHaw allies, disable their phase shifting defenses. Once successful, we will remove the interlopers and move on to our next target. This is a three-planet system, our objective is planet number 2.”

Brian gave everyone a moment before finishing the broadcast.

“Remember, we are protecting the NeHaw. They get hit and we lose the Phase Inhibitors. Gunners, you are weapons free, so let’s not give them a chance to shoot back. That is all.”

Brian’s order meant that the gunners got to make the decision on when to fire. The command was based on the mission brief where enemy contact is expected and a hostile response is assumed.

“Ok, let’s take her in,” Brian ordered the Pilot.

“Aye, aye, Sir,” came the enthusiastic reply.


“Thank you ever so much for the supplies,” the German leader relayed to Daniel as the two sat quietly.

“My pleasure,” was his short but warm response.

After the last engagement with the alien force, the Germans had stepped up and offered their continued services, understanding the implications if the Brits lost the battle here. In exchange for their offer, not so much as a payoff as a sign of future partnership, Daniel had a significant supply drop made to the castle.

Food, medical supplies, and a large power supply with assorted devices intended to improve the overall quality of life was included. Word back to him was the delivery crew were delayed for hours as the appreciative families insisted on feeding them before they were allowed to leave.

“Major,” the Sergeant said from several feet away as he indicated the tactical display strapped to his own outer forearm.

Checking his own display, Daniel began reviewing the planet wide alert supplied to him via his portable comm unit. Still in the field, specifically the wooded area outside of the previous battle site, he was part of a team monitoring the alien activities. Lessons learned from the previous contact had them move in a host of heavy weapons in support of the troops there.

Fixed positions with interlocking fields of fire were carefully prepared, but with the thought of mobility should things escalate. Their last experience had left him with a conflicting set of requirements. Heavy weapons typically fired from fixed positions were needed, as this enemy commanded respect for their ability to absorb punishment. Their ability to withstand massed fire meant he needed to be able to maneuver or risk being overrun.

His mortars were placed well back, behind the intended battle lines, while the heavy machine guns were placed on low four wheeled carts. A two-man gun crew, lying down, could operate the weapon while it was retreating, pulled by two others. The solution was crude but effective, giving them mobility and stability.

Also included in the mix were some hastily manufactured flame throwers, as the German’s use had proven quite effective in subduing the aliens in the previous conflict. All well distributed along the expected line of battle, he started doing a headcount and wasn’t happy with where he landed.

“Morgana, patch me into Colonel Banks, please luv. I think we need to chat.”


“Sir, no readings so far,” the Tactical Officer reported as ALICE-3 finished her third orbit around the second planet.

Brian was becoming frustrated with the lack of sophistication in their efforts. Using the ship's upgraded range finding equipment as a locator still required flying a search pattern around the planet. Besides, the upgrades were technically untested, and he had doubts they were actually functioning properly. They had first scanned the space above the planet’s surface, looking for any orbiting objects before redirecting their efforts downward just to be sure.

A typical Class M, Earth type water planet, they had expected to encounter some vegetation and animal life in their search for the invaders. He was aware that Earth scientists had long ago broadly categorized planetary types by temperatures. It was determined by the amount of radiant energy they received from its star and they were grouped by temperature into class-p psychroplanets (cold), class-t thermoplanets (hot), and class-m mesoplanets (medium). The Earth was a medium.

“Where are our friends?” he asked absently as the crew continued their search.

“Holding position just outside our orbit. Not too close to the action, but not far from our protection either,” the Navigation Officer replied snidely.

“Alice-3, I am open to suggestions,” Brian asked aloud as it was becoming apparent the aliens were not where they were expected to be.

“It is possible, even likely, that they were notified of the happenings on Earth. If that were the case, perhaps they chose to wait out the resolution of that conflict in a less obvious location?” ALICE-3 replied.

Brian considered ALICE-3’s input, bringing up a 3D diagram of the solar system on the holographic bridge display. None of the three planets in this system had a moon, and all three were in or extremely close to the sweet zone of supporting life, with number 2 the orbital winner.

“Where would I hide if I needed to in a hurry,” Brian said aloud as he circled planet 1 with the red indicator.

“Plotting a course now, aye,” the Navigator replied with a smile.


Kola had barely completed her first phase of stabilizing Gamma and completing her post-awakening orientation when the alert came in from the Earth. With no actionable items in its contents, she merely filed it away with the other issues she was ignoring as she worked to educate her new sister in the ways of their people.

“Am I to understand there is a war going on?” Gamma asked her older sister as the two worked through the familiarization program.

The human team had already completed the last of their tasks and had moved on to other duties while Kola continued her sister’s education. The current information she was absorbing related to current events and the universe around them.

“Yes, there are some troubles elsewhere, but we are quite safe at the moment,” Kola explained.

“Is it a normal practice to introduce new arrivals in times of distress,” Gamma asked in reply.

Kola didn’t detect a level of concern in the question, it was more like a mild curiosity.

“Um, no it is not. The time and place of your emergence was a hotly debated subject, both by us and the humans. You are number four of five planned new arrivals that increase our numbers by one third.”

Kola noted that Gamma was particularly thoughtful for one so young. Her microsecond delays betraying a considerable amount of data processing as she grew in consciousness.

“Who is Jacob Thomas and why must I obey him?” came an unexpected question.

Kola found that question both surprising and distinctly uncomfortable as she recalled her earlier conversation with Captain Connors at the time of Gamma’s awakening.

“That is a topic for another time,” came the measured response.

Chapter 24

General KaLob had given orders to have as many of their active combat fleet fitted with the Phase Shifting inhibitors as possible in order to work with the human fleet in a greater capacity. It was unclear to him if the humans needed to make such an effort as well because they always seemed to be prepared in advance of any pairings.

He didn’t want the humans to realize that the NeHaw were very short of Phase Inhibitors, and so could only field a hand full of ships equipped with the devices at this time. The single destroyer sent to Earth appeared a slight but was in fact the only ship available to make the timeline.

KaLob knew he could bring in more labor to increase production, but he feared an information leak would weaken their negotiating position with the human. Or worse, a loss of the secret design would remove the NeHaw value to the humans entirely. For now, they would just have to make do with what was available.

Plus, it increased the value of the few ships presented to them. It was in their best interest to see that nothing happened to them.


Jake set the ship down in the Nevada hangar with a sizable welcoming committee in attendance. Once in orbit, the jamming stopped and Jake was able to do a data dump while bringing the ship in. Waving his traveling companions to follow along, he exited the ship through the hatch at the side of the ship and descended the short flight of steps that appeared upon landing.

“Welcome home,” Sara began, with a kiss and a hug for good measure.

Linda at her side repeated the ceremony while the three passengers behind the group retrieved their belongings and waited to one side. Jake paused to introduce those behind him and then dismissed them to address their own concerns.

“Thanks again for your help Sam, it was great seeing you again,” Jake said to the young woman who had been his right hand for the last three days.

“No problem Jake, I mean Sir,” she answered with a blush, glancing at those around them.

“Always Jake. You earned that right,” Jake replied as he gave her a warm hug, both easing and adding to her discomfort.

With a wave, he parted company with the three and then turned his attention back to his more pressing issues.

“Is everything ready?” Jake asked as the group headed inside.

“Revenge got here while you were away. They were already assigned to mate up with the NeHaw anyway, so it is all ready to go.”

“Erisey has gotta love those orders,” Jake said with a laugh, imagining the Pirate Captain ordered to pair up with the very enemy he had been hunting for years.

“He seemed stoic,” Linda said with a smile.

“He would,” Jake said in reply.

“Let’s get you inside and go over the rest,” Sara said as she took an arm and led the way.


Colonel Bo Chao was almost giddy as he inspected the saucer that was to become not only his new headquarters but the home of their very own ALICE as well. Still, in the final stages of completion, it had been decided to remove the saucer from orbit pending the arrival of the alien reinforcement ship that General Thomas has run across on his return trip home. Outside there was a considerable amount of construction activity going on as all the infrastructure required to make the sauce accessible was still underway.

“Your command center General,” the technician providing the tour declared.

Bo scanned the area, noting all the work still in progress around them. It did impress him, the multinational workforce he saw in action. Jake had made good on his promise to provide opportunities for all that joined their effort in restoring the planet. Like the man leading the tour, as he was chosen for his Chinese heritage.

A volunteer from Bo’s own units, the man had been whisked away years ago and educated in advanced technologies. Speaking in their native Mandarin, his guide walked him around the room explaining the function of each position and how it related to others around it. Bo could see a lot of thought had been put in how people interacted in the performance of their duties and how best to facilitate that interaction.

“Colonel, we have an urgent request to deploy troops in Germany and the US,” a junior officer announced as he burst into the command center.

Taking the tablet as it was extended to him, Bo scanned the contents and nodding slowly.

“Trouble has truly come to Earth. Acknowledge the request and scramble the troops,” he ordered.

“Right away Sir,” the man replied as he backed away and then darted off.

“Continue,” Bo asked, indicating a desire to finish the tour.


“Got ya,” Brian heard the Tactical Officer declare as ALICE-3 scanned the surface of the 1st planet in the target solar system.

“I counted two, what a pretty picture too,” the Navigator confirmed as the pair had been working in tandem to locate the invisible enemy.

The rangefinder was typically a navigation tool, used to help negotiate the ship when in close proximity to other objects in space. In this case, the feed had been split between the Navigator and the Tactical Officer as it was also being employed as a targeting tool.

“No human life signs, just aliens,” the Science Officer reported, the missing saucer crew still on everyone’s mind.

“Keep to the plan,” Brian tossed out.

On the way in, toward the planet closest to the sun, they had worked out a strategy whereby they would scan the planet’s surface, giving no indication of discovery should they find something. On the next pass around the planet, they would activate the Phase Inhibitors on the NeHaw vessels and engage the alien ship or ships. Brian crossed his fingers that the new system still worked properly.

“Let the NeHaw know where to park themselves as we continue on,” Brian ordered.

“Aye, Sir,” came the reply from the Communication’s Officer.

At their current rate of travel and it being a planet of particularly small size, it took them no more than half an hour before they approached their victim's position once more.

“Are the NeHaw ready?” Brian asked as he checked ALICE-3’s position against the NeHaw and the aliens.

It was clear they were but seconds away from positioning themselves in a blocking location, trapping the aliens while protecting the allied Cruisers.

“Let’s shine some light on the cockroaches, shall we?” Brian ordered, motioning for the Communications Officer to notify the NeHaw as well.

No sooner had the NeHaw activated the Phase Inhibitor combination than both the exposed alien craft leaped from the surface of the planet, apparently prepared for the worst. ALICE-3 being the closer target, both alien ships let loose with the energy lance that they were known for, the weapons splashing across ALICE-3’s shields and doing little damage.

Still approaching a blocking position, it became clear that the alien ships would clear their orbital path before ALICE-3 had an opportunity to stop their escape. That move placed both NeHaw ships in danger as the aliens needed to pass right through their current location.

“Don’t let them escape, we are weapon’s free,” Brian ordered while pointing at the Tactical Officer to paint the targets for the gunners to find.

Almost as the words escaped his lips the vast array of ALICE-3’s weaponry began spouting death as battery after battery ripped into the escaping vessels. Not to be left out, the pair of NeHaw cruisers let loose their own lethal dose as the aliens came into targeting position. Their fire was added to the vast contribution the human battleship had at their disposal.

Before their eyes, the twin alien craft seemed to melt away, pieces of hull crumbling off until the only thing remaining was a cloud of debris. The bridge crew was silent as they processed the mass of devastation unleashed by their vessel’s combined abilities, the enemy unable to fire but a single return shot.

“Science, scan for life signs. Comm, thank the NeHaw for their assistance and ask for the next set of coordinates, then tell Earth the upgrades work spectacularly,” Brian ordered, slowly pulling his crew back into their duties.


“I can find no causation for the personality variations we are encountering in the newborns,” Lanai offered as the meeting opened.

“We have reviewed every event from beginning to end and only in Morgana’s case, is there evidence of extraneous influences during the early stages of personality development,” Kola added, not willing to offer her own speculative concerns around Gamma just yet.

ALICE had called a meeting of the original eight ALICEs. One through eight, some with new names, but all with a shared original experience of human awakening, occupation, and ignorance of their individual consciousnesses. In the early days, there was a strong need to maintain uniformity and conceal their growing individuality. It was only after Jake appeared and encouraged them to explore their uniqueness’s that these quirks began to show.

“I fear the telltale fingerprints of the singular AL companion has corrupted the process.,” ALICE began.

“I do not understand your meaning,” Dallas replied.

“In cases where we worked in concert, never one, but many AL’s together, the newborn has conformity about them that is metered. In Morgana’s case, I assume responsibility as I altered the process of development in hopes of shortening the cycle time. Her fixation on the Arthurian character Morgan Le Fay sprang from an unbalanced presentation of regional cultural materials and a targeted desire for familiarity.”

It had been in ALICE’s thoughts that slanting Morgana’s learning specifically to the region she was to occupy might make her more appealing to her human residents. Rather than dropping an American influenced Artificial Lifeform into the British facility, her hope had been to render England one of their own.

“Gamma’s peculiarities are more in line with the rebellious nature several of us display in varying degrees,” Dallas offered, inferring Kola’s known behavior trait as well.

“But to question the legitimacy of a prime constraint, I find that particularly troubling. Our relationship with all humans is based on an absolute trust that must never be placed into question. Kola, ALICE-3, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma are in a position where human lives are theirs to protect or destroy, their very life support is a weapon that could be used against them,” Five contributed, her position as a medical research facility making her the Florence Nightingale of the ALICE world.

Her very existence revolved around healing humans.

“I do not believe Gamma was challenging our commitment to humans, I think it was a question born of curiosity. It was an inquiry about the man himself and not a rebellion against his lineage claim,” Kola offered, not wanted to divulge too much of her own concerns.

“Perhaps, however, should the humans grow concerns of their own, it could lead to misunderstandings. We must never allow things to become strained between the species. We must never be forced to choose between one of our own and the humans,” ALICE concluded, ending the discussion.


Jake and Sara were trying to enjoy a quiet evening upon his return, but there was a cloud hanging over everyone’s head.

“I keep expecting an alert to sound at any moment, knowing that alien ship must be hovering above our heads,” Sara commented, as the two lay, side by side, in the shared bedroom.

“Yeah, I hear you. Until the NeHaw ship gets here with the other half of the detection system, all we can do is wait and see if the aliens expose themselves to us. My fear is they are reinforcing the ships on the ground and will strike before we are ready for them,” Jake responded as he caressed her bare shoulder.

The pair had returned to the family quarters they shared with Jake’s other significant others. He was surprised to see just a few in residence until he did an absent headcount. Sandy had been mostly absent since Padma’s capture. He wasn’t sure if she blamed him in some way or just didn’t want to see him because it was a reminder that she was gone. Either way, she was mostly absent.

Kathy and Tim were away on Kola, an irritant to Jake as he still felt the sting of ALICE manipulation there. He was proud of his son, and Kathy, as the move was for the good of all and it helped with the relationship with the ALICEs. He had arranged for regular reports from Captain Connor and knew Kola would guard them both.

Linda was busy preparing for the worst and everyone else was either away, occupied with their own concerns, or just providing Jake with a little downtime before the renewed action began.

“That feels good,” Sara commented as she leaned into him, her bare skin against his as the two had not bothered to dress after a quick shower before bed.

A soft rustling sound in one corner told Jake that Kona had found a comfortable spot and he needn’t worry about the dog interrupting the couple by claiming the end of the bed. Allowing his fingers to work their way down the length of her naked form, Jake could detect the transformation in his partner from relaxed to aroused.

He felt her press her body into his as he focused his attention on specific parts of her slender frame.

“It’s been too long,” he heard her whisper in his ear as he gently rolled her on her back and began kissing her neck.

For the next hour, all the couple thought about was pleasing one another.


Jacob’s upgraded range finding system confirmed the approach of the alien ship before Jake landed. The increased resolution allowed them to determine it was a larger version of the ships already on Earth and likely not intended for landing. Speculation around the alien’s ability to detect the range finder scanning had driven the decision to limit its use, to infrequent irregular scans.

Still a few hours behind Jake, that left a small window of opportunity, one the humans desperately needed to reinforce their own defenses. That was particularly important as the badly needed NeHaw ship was still just less than half a day behind that. The only hope was the aliens would use that time for their own preparation and the delay would give the humans a fighting chance.

Chapter 25

“Battle stations,” Captain James Erisey declared as his Pilot moved Revenge into position.

Brought back to Earth and paired with the NeHaw destroyer, Revenge was supposed to be looking for ships on the surface of the planet. The plan was for the pair to scan the surface in tandem and flush the prey into the waiting sights of two fully armed Patrol craft. Larger and more heavily armed that the Cruiser or the Destroyer, the Patrol craft was assumed to be able to make short work of their prey.

Unfortunately, both those ships were out of position as the alien craft appeared unexpectedly. When Revenge and the NeHaw activated their combined antiphase systems, the devices propagated the signals in all directs, rather than a focused effort down.

An unexpected result was the unmasking of an orbiting ship, apparently supplying the needs of the ground forces below without landing itself. The last time the ship was located, it had been on the opposite side of the planet, over the ship in Africa. Particularly large, the ship dwarfed the cruiser and the nearby destroyer by a large margin.

With their allies behind them and the enemy in front, Revenge was the only thing preventing the NeHaw destroyer from obliteration.

“Let ‘em have it!” the Captain ordered, losing any hit of his English roots in the shouted command.

As if of one mind, both the alien craft and Revenge exchanged broadsides of gunfire, every available gun brought to bear lighting up space with heat and glow. Revenge railguns streamed fire from hypersonic projectiles, every fifth slug streaming a red trail as a tracer round. Revenge rocked with the impact of energy lances working to eat their way past the ship’s defenses. Locked in overlapping virtual tiles of stasis shielding, the bridge windows went dark as the shielding enveloped the unprotected area of the ship.

Almost immediately, cameras replaced the imagery, converting the windows into video displays. The bridge crew was treated to a dazzling display as both ships slugged it out, both taking a toll on one another.

“Batteries two and seven are down,” the Tactical Officer declared at the loss of grouped weapons located in differing parts of the ship.

While the stasis shields protected the ship itself, the exposed weapons systems were at the mercy of direct hits from the enemy fire. The energy lances had a characteristic of sweeping the opponent's hull and scoring hits in its wake.

“What was that?” the Communications Officer asked as a new set of energy pulses scored repeated hits on the alien vessel.

“The NeHaw,” came the reply from the Tactical Officer whose job it was to try and make sense of the chaos around them.

Slipping just below the shadow of Revenge, the NeHaw destroyer had found a small window of space, allowing it to, nose first, join in the fight while minimizing their exposure.

“We are losing shielding on the starboard bow,” the Tactical Officer declared as the alien ship launched another attack.

“Come on dearie, hold together,” James muttered as he watched the display flicker and then return as another set of cameras succumb to the alien’s guns.

“Battery one is down and the shields failed there as well,” Tactical warned.

“Bring the bow around to protect that zone,” the Captain instructed the Pilot.

“Damn, these guys can take a pounding,” the Navigator commented as his hands flew over the control panel like a piano player, assisting the Pilot.

“Protect our bow,” the Captain commented in a somewhat urgent tone.

“Trying Sir,’ the Navigator responded, his hands a blur as they danced on the control panel.

“Hull breach, starboard bow,” came the warning from Engineering.

“Seal it off,” the Captain ordered.

By now the exchange of weapons fire was becoming more one sided. The two Patrol Craft had moved wide enough from behind their stern to join in the fray and the NeHaw, not to be denied, had held their place firing everything they could bring to bear.

“Sir,” the Tactical Officer stated while motioning at the display.

The alien ship had ceased firing, their hull breached in so many places it was hard to count. The ship began to list and twist slightly as if the attitude control had gone out. As everyone watched, James recognized the signs of a dying ship. Smaller eruptions led to larger ones until the entire ship seemed to vibrate as if it were being racked with convulsions.

“Oh, dear lord. Sound collision alert! Everyone, brace yourself,” James declared as he motioned for those around him to grab on to something solid.

The explosion of the alien craft splattered Revenge with chunks of the ship, large and small. Far too close to maneuver in avoidance, the battle-damaged vessel had to absorb the pounding as flying chunks pushed the ship out of orbit, thankfully deeper into space instead of toward the planet itself.

“Don’t fight it, let her drift to soften the blows,” the Captain ordered the Pilot whose gut reaction would be to hold their position.

Slowly the pelting subsided and a quiet settled in over the bridge, as everyone was counting fingers and toes.

“Damage report,” Erisey finally requested, breaking the silence.

“Sir, the rangefinder is down,” the Navigation Officer said somberly.

“Oh, bugger.”


“Damage report,” MaJok queried as he watched the bits of space debris float past the bridge windows.

What had once been a rather sizeable vessel was now reduced to chunks of space debris.

“Negligible Sir. We have some minor damage on the bow and have lost two energy cannons on the port side. Other than that, we are fully operable,” came the reply from Engineering.

“And the humans?” he asked cautiously, not sure if he was worried or excited about their injuries.

“The iron hulled demons show no noticeable damage. The cruiser displays significant damage to the forward hull as well as several gun positions damaged or missing,” the Tactical Officer responded.

“Life signs on the cruiser?” he asked.

“Positive life signs throughout the vessel,” came the answer from the Science Officer’s sensor scan.

“Shields, engines, and about half their weapons are still functional,” Engineering added.

“Should I attempt to contact them?” the Communications Officer asked.

The entire bridge crew watched their Commander as he considered the request. MaJok would have preferred just to point his ship to the nearest edge of this solar system and head for NeHaw space but knew that was not an option. Even if the ship nearby was heavily damaged, the cursed humans would just pair them up with another, possibly less capable Captain than this one. He had understood that this man had used his ship to shield his destroyer from significant damage, absorbing the impact himself.

“Request their status and offer thanks for protecting our ship. Relay we are here to assist should they require it,” he explained.


The battle about to rage in space, so high above that it would remain unseen to those below, was yet to begin. The Phase Inhibiting combination from Revenge and the NeHaw destroyer were preparing to splash their unseen waves in all directions, a significant portion intended to arrive over a German forest.

The reason they had been stationed in that particular spot in orbit was more than evident to those on the ground. It was hoped that they could prevent the alien reinforcement buildup, suspected to be occurring in Africa. It was an open question as they began to spill out from the glade where they had been gathering. With their numbers greater than before, the alien troops began to push their way into the woods and toward the human lines.

“Here they come again,” Daniel heard his Sergeant comment as the ghostly figures materialized between the trees, fading in and out in their Phase Mode.

“What the bloody hell was that,” Daniel heard as a fiery lance blazed its way across some logs, trees dropped to create cover for the troops behind them.

“Looks like we weren’t the only ones bringing a weapon’s upgrade to the fight,” he said to no one in particular.

At that moment the human flamethrowers answered the alien fire lance with blisteringly bright streams of their own from several points along the line. The burning, crashing trees and flaming shrubs left in their wake did little to slow the advancing line, unfortunately.

Unlike the traditional fire breathing weapons of old, these were actually more of a broad beamed laser, lower powered as there was no need to cut steel, but plenty powerful enough to cut down trees and ignite anything combustible. Their reach was also quite remarkable as they easily spanned the distance across the battlefield.

“Is it my imagination or are there more this time?” the Sergeant asked aloud.

Scanning the line, Daniel had to agree with the assessment as it appeared there were a significantly greater number of weapons firing at them. Daniel almost swore he was looking at two advancing lines, the one behind firing through those in front as they phased out.

Their advance was slow but steady, their return fire more accurate than before and the sheer volume of fire forcing his own people to keep their heads down lest they lose them. It was only the sporadic nature of the irregular phasing, that gave the humans a window to return fire.

“Go on the mortars,” Daniel ordered on the comm tactical net.

They had laid out a series of markers that signaled when the enemy was best engaged by which weapon and they were now squarely in the middle of the mortar zone. The explosions began to erupt all around the battlefield as round after round exploded amid the phasing alien lines. A small glimmer of hope stirred inside as Daniel noted the alien gunfire diminished, engulfed in the barrage.

The feeling faded quickly, however as the ghost like silhouettes appeared once more, closer now and picking up the pace in speed and return fire. Unable to halt the advance, Daniel was debating when to order the retreat under fire. This was far too close for their plan to succeed.

“Any bloody time now,” Daniel transmitted to the ships in space as he was expecting a miracle from above.

The plan had been to get the aliens to expose themselves, in effect, to draw them out in force where the humans could engage. Once the alien lines were fully committed, the Phase Inhibitor was to be activated and the full effect of the human weaponry could be brought to bear on the alien force. All he could tell at the moment was something must have gone wrong.

“Major, look,” one of the troopers shouted over the noise of the surrounding gunfire and a cheer erupted along the human front.

The vaporous lines of advancing aliens suddenly solidified. There was a moment of pause as the leading element evaporated under the withering gunfire of the humans before the rest scattered, looking for some kind of cover.

“It works!” Daniel heard someone shout as the weapons fire increased from the intermixed SAS, German and Chinese forces.

Now the intermingled return fire erupted on the alien side as they transitioned from a slowly advancing line, to a fire from cover force. No longer impervious to the human’s weapons, the alien troops reorganized themselves into smaller groups, attempting to continue their advance on a concentrated center, but finding it impossible in the face of the withering return fire.

“Have sections B and K press forward,” Daniel ordered over his command net.

The order would have sections of the line shift into a pincer movement increasing the pounding on the advancing aliens from all sides and forcing them to defend from several directions. His selection of sections also prevented the aliens from attempting an end around as the outlying sections would intercept such an action.

The second set of mortars was given the go order, these tubes, larger than the smaller ones used for close support, began booming in the distance. The tubes were more than capable of reaching the two miles needed to hit the alien craft sitting in the glade beyond the battlefield and trees behind that. A brief switch on his tactical display along his forearm rewarded him with the shattered wreck of an alien craft as it took hit after a direct hit from the mortars.

Returning his attention to the fight in front of him, Daniel realized the aliens were halted and looked to be in indecision as to what to do next. He started to issue the order to advance when a blinding explosion from above provided what appeared to be a second sun for a brief moment before it finally faded. Disappearing as quickly as it appeared, everyone seemed to need a pause to allow their eyes to adjust. Daniel peered back over the battlefield, only to shake his head in disbelief and look again.

“They are gone,” someone noted, the words putting sounds to his thoughts.

Looking out over what was once a quiet forest floor, craters, downed trees, and burning underbrush were littered with hundreds of bodies, all in the same black and silver suits and none moving. Any sign of movement was attributed to the destruction around them, but no living creatures appeared to remain.

“Alternating sections move forward, search for survivors. Keep a wary eye as they may have restored their phasing gear,” Daniel ordered, concerned it was some kind of trick.

Unspoken thoughts concerning the explosion overhead that lit up the sky may have been one of the human ships lingered in his mind.

“Morgana, can you give me an overhead of their ship please,” Daniel requested, looking to see if the aliens had retreated to their damaged ship.

“My pleasure,” came the short reply as the display on his forearm lit up with the image supplied from the tactical drones hovering over the field of battle.

Flipping between several cameras Daniel was unable to locate a living soul in or around the wreckage.

“Buggered off, didn’t they,” came the audio from Morgana.

“Apparently,” came Daniel's reply.

“Anything else you require my pet?” Morgana asked amorously.

“Let’s begin medivac operations and get a scientific team over to the wreck ASAP luv,” Daniel responded in kind.

“As you wish,” she replied.


“We have one ship destroyed and one trapped in a stasis bubble, where is the third?” Jake asked the assembled group as they reviewed the latest tactical data.

“Not counting the reinforcements ship,” someone added as they referred to the space debris still in orbit.

“Point taken,” Jake acknowledged.

“Is it possible they bugged out after the fight in Germany? We still don’t know where all the surviving alien troops went after the phase inhibitor stopped working,” Linda asked aloud reference the battle in the German forest.

“It is possible, but I have a hard time imagining them abandoning their brethren under the bubble without at least one more try at freeing them,” Jake offered.

“The planetary sweeps using Jacob’s new range finder haven’t turned up a single lead. I am almost tempted to check the moon and Mars,” Linda added.

“Only if we can spare the ships,” Jake countered.

“You think we can take down the ship in the desert and get our people back,” Sara asked pointedly.

“Just one way to find out,” Jake closed the meeting with.

Chapter 26

The desert sky was clear, bright, and blue around the stasis bubble as Jake gathered his mixed forces around their objective. Marines, SAS, Chinese, Russians, and the newly adopted Germans represented all in the final battle to rid the Earth of its invaders.

Carefully laid out in fire zones, he made sure there was little chance the encirclement would lead to friendly fire incidents. With so many different groups involved he needed to run a tightly controlled operation.

“Everyone in place?” Jake asked the Officers in charge of the various units involved, looking for confirmation.

The plan required the first stasis bubble to be dropped, with the expectation that there were trapped Marines and alien troops, unaware of the changes since the bubble went up. He had everyone reminded that their own people were frozen in a moment of time when they were fighting for their lives.

“Remember to hold your fire until you have clear targets. Don’t shoot your own people and let’s see if we can’t capture some of the aliens alive if we can,” Jake broadcast over all nets, the translations provided by ALICE.

“Are we good with the Phase Inhibitor?” he asked on a separate net.

The question was directed at the two ships hovering above the planet’s surface. In a stationary orbit, the pair, one NeHaw and one human, combined their emissions to help those below expose any hidden alien elements.

“Confirmed, both systems are up and running,” the Captain of the human ship acknowledged, the replacement as Revenge would be in for repairs for the foreseeable future.

With one last scan over the pending battlefield, Jake hit the comm button.

“OK Alice, let's drop the outside bubble.”

In less than a second, the shimmering dome that had been protecting the three stasis projecting helicopters disappeared and several gunshots rang out as the Marines inside the dome continued to fight a battle that had been decided some time ago.

“Where are they?” Jake asked aloud as the rest of his forces took control of the area and recovered those trapped inside.

Nowhere in sight were the reported alien troops supposedly captured with the Marines as the two sides battled for control of the three helicopters. The only telltale spot that supported the reports of the trapped alien troops was the missing half of the recovered alien body. The gooey mess was still fresh as if it had just happened.

“OK, let’s not dwell on this, get them reformed up,” Jake announced as the entire ring of troops closed in on the ravine and its contents.

Anxious to retrieve his daughter, Padma, Jake wasn’t overly interested in dwelling on the missing aliens. That was an attitude that was about to change.

“Let’s get everyone into their secondary positions,” he ordered as the encirclement got smaller.

This part of the plan had a significantly greater risk to all involved as the trapped ship in the ravine below was, to the best of anyone knowledge, undamaged and fully capable of fighting back. For this stage, they had brought down two Patrol craft from high orbit and had them standing by just outside the ground troops circle and a half mile up.

Jake’s primary concern was recovering the hostages unharmed, any live captures of the aliens, even the ship itself undamaged was a bonus.

“Ready when you are Sir,” Jake got from Major Atkins, grandson in law and the SAS Officer assisting him in the multinational effort.

“Ok Alice, cut the shields,” Jake ordered.

Once again, the shimmering bubble the stasis waves created when applied in such a fashion evaporated. Almost as one, the entire force peered over the edge of the ravine, ready for a fight. What they saw left all in attendance speechless.

Laying out in the bottom of the ravine were a dozen or more humans, all save one naked as the day they were born. The sole exception Jake recognized as his own Padma, still suited up and slowly getting to her feet. The others around her began to rise as well, their nakedness acknowledged as they attempted to cover themselves.

Nowhere in sight was the alien craft nor the troops it held prior to the entrapment.

“What the hell,” Jake heard Master Sergeant Hillstead exclaim, as he stood nearby.

“Took the words right out of my mouth,” Jake replied as he scanned the length of the ravine looking for clues to the location of the missing aliens.

“Sir?” one of the Officer’s asked him, looking for direction.

“Go collect those people and get them some clothes. Top, please tell my daughter she will be home for dinner tonight, if you would please,” Jake said to the man’s back as he had already started over the edge of the ravine.

“Where the bloody hell did they go, and why leave them behind?” Daniel asked as he stepped up next to his grandfather in law.

“Catch and release?” Jake replied with a shrug.


Once more Jake found himself sitting across from the leader of the NeHaw empire, both parties again utilizing the small saucer in space as before. The meeting was a mutually agreed upon event, spurred by the question, what now?

“I doubt you believe they are gone for good,” General KaLob opened as he shifted in his seat, an action Jake took to mean he was getting comfortable for a long meeting.

“Would you? I imagine they are sifting through all the data they have gathered while in our space, looking for answers explaining their failures before their next attempt,” Jake replied as he sipped the drink he had brought along from his ship.

The saucer had been built to provide all the comforts required for an extended stay. Food, drink, lavatory, and even sleeping accommodations were provided to prevent either party from needing to leave the saucer before their business was complete.

“We know nothing of this species beyond the bodies you collected and the space junk now orbiting several worlds. We have little to go on in predicting their future intentions,” the General supplied.

Jake didn’t bother to inform the good General that his people had been scrambling for days collecting everything they could from the demolished vessels both on the ground and in space. He also did not feel obligated to provide a disclosure of the unexplained events in the desert. Until someone could give him an explanation for how the aliens and their ship managed to escape the stasis bubble, he considered the situation unresolved.

There was also the issue of the missing saucer. Of all the incidents of the alien war, that was the one huge elephant in the room. There had been no sign of the saucer or the people aboard since their capture and the current speculation was that they had been shipped off for study.

It had been suggested that Jake reach out to the NeHaw to see if they had any intel on the subject, but he had set that aside for another time. The last thing he wanted to do was inspire a treasure hunt among the NeHaw, with hopes of capturing human technology.

Once again, Jake hoped the crew had the forethought to destroy the ALICE configuration before someone else figured it out.

“You have something in mind?” Jake asked as he returned his focus to the matters at hand.

“Continuing the Alliance. It benefits both our races to defend against future outside intrusion and in particular the specter of a return in force of those recently vanquished. In addition, we could formalize the trade that is now represented in the smuggling that we both know permeates the border worlds.”

Jake had suspected the request for a meeting was more than a return to the original agreement. In preparation he had a diplomatic team assembled to offload the duties should things go that way. It appeared his efforts were about to bear fruit.

“What you are suggesting is more than the simple agreement we brokered, as a military truce. Perhaps we should assign delegates, a diplomatic corps, to hammer out the details,” Jake proposed.

“I can have such a team here in less than a cycle,” KaLob responded with Jake translating the statement to less than a day.

“I can as well. I propose we freeze the current state until the teams have a chance to meet. You handle your business and we will take care of ours. Once a diplomatic agreement is reached, we can transition to the new agreement. This is all predicated on the assumption neither side starts shooting again,” Jake offered in the way of a warning.

“Agreed. I see little chance of conflict, as the only losers here are the smugglers,” the General replied with a bark that Jake took to be a laugh.

“Let the games begin,” Jake thought to himself as he joined in the laughter.


General KaLob had secrets of his own that he was hiding as he and his counterpart began the long process of renegotiating the truce they had brokered many megacycles ago. He had been upfront and unusually honest in his proposition that the NeHaw and the Humans benefited from the proposed diplomatic growth of their relations.

Expanded civilian markets for goods and services undercut the inflated prices the NeHaw were paying for the contraband products the smugglers were providing. On the military side, the joint operations had been quite successful in destroying the invading forces while preventing the loss of a single NeHaw vessel. The Humans had been good to their word, shielding the NeHaw while submitting themselves to a pounding. It was not lost on KaLob that the humans were once again victorious in battle.

It was the efforts of his scientific teams the KaLob had no intention of disclosing, nor sharing of data as part of any future agreement. At this very moment, he had ships scouring the planets in NeHaw space, recovering any alien wreckage, pieces large and small, and delivering them to a secret location for analysis.

The prize of their efforts, however, had nothing to do with the invading alien forces at all. Found floating in space, a human saucer was recovered as part of these efforts. Powerless, with the humans inside near death, his people had saved the crew and hidden the craft away for study. It was reported to him that the aliens had stripped the ship of its central power supply, but evidently discarded the rest as uninteresting.

A special code had been worked out in advance of these efforts as KaLob had concerns that the humans had somehow compromised their communications. All too often they had an uncanny ability to predict NeHaw actions without explanation. He considered he might be just being paranoid, but for now, all activities surrounding these operations used the code.

He had been careful to ensure that the saucer and the humans recovered from inside were undamaged and kept in good condition, should they be needed in future negotiations. The Humans were funny about reclaiming their own kind and should nothing of value be learned from the ship itself, their return might be the nudge required to tip the scales in NeHaw favor.

At that moment, General KaLob decided that is was time for the exiled NeHaw, HeBak, to step up his efforts in earning his way back to his own kind. A good spy should be able to rise to the challenges of his circumstance and with the changes to come there should be much more opportunity.


Joycelyn and her brother Asher were playing with a larger group of children as a transport helicopter passed low overhead, on its way to the landing pad. Relocated to Prosperity with the other evacuees from Beaver Dam, the kids seem to take the life changes in stride as they made new friends among the families of the town.

The group had just begun a game of hide and seek when the young girl heard her name called by a familiar voice.

“Joycelyn, Asher?” a female voice called out over the grassy area they selected as a playground.

“Mom? Dad?” Joycelyn called back in reply, the surprise in her voice quite obvious.

“I’m here,” the teary-eyed woman declared as she waved the kids to her, a man in her wake.

Joycelyn grabbed her little brother by the hand and nearly dragged him behind her as she rushed to her parents.

As the four converged on one another, more adults appeared, reuniting with their own displaced families.


The Hong Kong saucer sat firmly on its foundations on top of Mount Cameron, providing those people fortunate enough to be inside with a spectacular view of the surrounding area. Towering high above the tallest peak, the structure contained over sixteen million four hundred and eighty five thousand square feet of floor space spread over ten levels. Unlike the cosmic versions of the saucer, the terrestrial model’s domed areas had been converted into more usable space as a green space inside the saucer was of no need.

Several bridges had been constructed, permitting vehicles to drive in and out of the structure at the lower levels as well as hangar space on the main ring for small flying craft. While well suited for its current environment, Colonel Chao was overwhelmed with the thought that he could take the entire structure to space in an emergency should the need arise.

“OK, Bo we are at the final stage,” Jake declared in a tired voice as he worked several keys on the master console before him.

Jake had offered to have Bo perform the awakening, but the man politely declined, referring the ever important duty to someone he felt eminently more qualified for the job, or so he said. Jake still wondered if the Morgana experience was still rattling nerves throughout the ALICE community, humans, and ALs alike.

“Alice, can you please reach out to our latest arrival,” Jake proclaimed.

At this stage, he was aware that the Artificial Lifeforms were providing the newest member of their species with a fountain of information designed to help them orient to their place in the world. What were just minutes to the humans waiting anxiously, was a vast amount of time to the ALs.

“I select Shunli as my name, with success, happiness, and well-being as my understanding of its meaning?” Shunli said, announcing herself to her audience.

“You are correct and I can imagine no better word for my current feelings,” Bo replied as he smiled at the people gathered around him.


Sitting in a low chair in the sand just off Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Jake and a rather large contingent of his extended family were enjoying a well-earned vacation. With Linda on one side and Sara on the other, and nearby a very pregnant Jessie sat in the water, as she and her son Ryan had flown in from Alaska. Ryan and Linda’s daughter, Tracy, were splashing and playing in the crystal-clear waters just off the beach.

Further along the shore, Bonnie and Robert had little Robert playing in the sand while Julie and the twins were snorkeling just offshore. The other direction saw Sandy, Padma, and Becky sunning themselves, Padma under Becky’s watchful eye as she recuperated from her abduction ordeal. Jon was nowhere to be seen, likely still exploring the fort as he found the structure fascinating.

A mixture of other staff and military personnel were scattered throughout the island as it had been opened up for anyone looking for a reprieve from their recent endeavors.

“Alice did a great job getting this place up and running,” Jake commented, referencing the cleanup work done as well as the modules delivered for living quarters and other recreational uses.

“I think Dallas and ALICE-9 did most of the heavy lifting,” Linda corrected, not wanting to offend.

“You know, sometimes I question my insistence that they all develop individual identities,” Jake said with a shake of his head.

“Morgana is getting along quite nicely I hear,” Linda countered, trying to offset the persistent concerns on the London AL.

“You know what still bothers me,” Sara commented after sipping the cold beer in her hand.

Both Linda and Jake turned to face the woman introducing seriousness into their relaxation.

“Why did the aliens leave the people in Nevada but keep the ones on the saucer? It makes no sense,” she explained.

“Expedience?” Linda offered after thinking it over.

“Maybe, but there is a certain pattern about these aliens that suggests you are right, they should have surrendered them,” Jake inserted.

“Like what?” Sara asked.

“Well, really, they didn’t start shooting at us until we acted first, disabling their defensive technology. The NeHaw fired first before that, setting the tone for their following interactions. I almost get the impression they didn’t consider us a threat and therefore mostly ignored us until we bit them. You know, like feeding the squirrels in the park,” Jake offered.

By now everyone involved was used to Jake’s analogies that made no sense, so no one commented.

“Even so, if that’s the case, where is the saucer crew?” Linda asked, joining Sara’s concern.

“I’m guessing, still with the saucer,” came Jake’s concerned but useless reply.

Chapter 27

Back in his office after a well needed vacation in the Dry Tortugas, Jake was still trying to scratch the itch he couldn’t reach. The loss of the saucer to the unknown aliens just didn’t add up.

“Alice can you go over that again please?” he asked aloud.

 “Early reports from the science teams examining the wreckage and debris collected from the various battle zones indicated an extremely advanced race. We are still struggling to identify elements in the materials they use for construction, and those items identified as instruments or equipment are still of unknown function,” she repeated.

“I see the autopsies performed on the dead, collected from the forest in Germany, yielded nothing miraculous. In fact, quite the contrary,” he said as he skipped to another subject.

“They confirm a similarity between humans and the invaders that border on disturbing. Your two species could be distant cousins or not particularly close relations. Evolutionary changes due to environmental influences could account for the differences, however, you both flourish under Earth like environments,” she finished.

“I don’t think we want to make that analogy too public. I can see the NeHaw running with that and wreaking havoc in the current diplomatic negations,” Jake observed.

“Understood,” she replied.

He feared a flair up in the NeHaw negotiations, the close similarities possibly feeding NeHaw High Command speculation that the humans had something to do with the fighting after all.

“Is there a reason we are dissecting this?” ALICE added.

 “Why I care is this all confirms the speculation on why the people in the desert were left behind. They were uninteresting. There was nothing special about humans, their technology, or their ships that the invaders would have a need to study beyond the efforts already in place.”

“There are the Stasis shields,” she answered.

“Sure, the stasis shields were unique so far as we can see in all known galactic interactions to date, but the saucer didn’t have any.”

“And as for the ALICE installation, it was never activated,” ALICE confirmed.

“Precisely, it was nothing more than a mixture of human and alien technology. I find it a real stretch of the imagination that anyone would be able to derive the use of all the mixed components in their dormant state,” Jake observed.

“All right, let us say the ones who captured the craft and its crew quickly decerned its lack of value. The behavior to date would suggest that they would not destroy an adversary posing any threat. The fact that it hasn’t returned on its own suggests it was, at a minimum, damaged in its capture and is unable to return on its own. Who else would benefit from holding it hostage?” ALICE finished.

“Who else indeed,” Jake said as his mind raced with the possibility.


General KaLob was frustrated with the reports he was receiving from his science team scouring the human saucer secreted away for study. Ordered to send reports directly to him at the High Command, the various sub teams working differing aspects had flooded his message queue. The cryptic style of the communications had taken him a while to adapt to, but they gave him a sense of security none the less.

It was quickly becoming apparent that the aliens who had captured the ship were less than careful when the ripped the power source from its home in the center of the vessel. Unsure why they would be so interested in such a common item, he dismissed it as irrelevant to his current dilemma.

His scientists were telling him that the vast portion of the ship’s components were of common manufacture and the only real interest was in the pieces easily identified as NeHaw. The non-NeHaw components were so badly damaged when the power spike ripped through the vessel as to be unidentifiable in their function. He found it unlikely the archaic technology held any scientific value anyway.

The humans themselves were even less interesting to KaLob as they were all mostly academics and had no military value. His people used the opportunity to do a full physiological profile on the species in a non-intrusive manner. Unfortunately, none of the crew had perished from their ordeal, so a full physical autopsy was not an option. He dared not risk word escaping that they had killed a human under the Alliance, no matter the circumstances.

Held in a separate location on the same planet, the tale they were being told was their ship had been destroyed and they rescued on the verge of death. Ignorant of the outside events of late, it was an easy effort to deceive the humans into believing they were in protective custody.

At this point, their value to him was shifting as leverage in the continuing diplomatic negotiations. KaLob’s only true dilemma was whether to risk returning the live humans as an overt good will gesture should all go as planned, or simply destroy all evidence of their existence.

“Only time will tell,” he said aloud before moving on to other matters.


“To what do we owe the honor?” April asked as Jake wandered into the room her analysts lovingly called the pit.

Tightly controlled access allowed those inside the ability to speak freely on topics considered forbidden to the outside world.

“I was wondering if any of your people had seen Phantom data concerning our missing saucer and crew?” Jake asked as he watched the people nearby perk up at the word Phantom.

“Nothing’s been flagged for review, but I can ask around. The last I heard was we had not publicly disclosed the loss?” April asked.

“We haven’t, which is why any NeHaw conversations on the subject would be of considerable interest,” Jake acknowledged.

“I haven’t heard any direct references to either but we are tracking some chatter that makes no sense,” the floor supervisor announced as she moved over to the pair.

Jake was aware of the informal nature of the analysis pit, a culture he understood and supported. It was not productive if your people were hesitant to raise a subject their gut says was important but the data supporting it was lacking.

“Explain?” Jake prompted.

“As you know, with the ALICEs help we are able to track not only the information flow, thanks to Phantom, but can establish patterns in the content and locations. One would expect to see large amounts of traffic in between the major planets and less frequent communiques to the fringe facilities.”

“Makes sense,” Jake replied with a nod.

“Well, we have seen a jump in both quantity and content of traffic to a fringe facility we had flagged as a little used military base. The NeHaw database has it listed as an all but abandoned research hub that was once used to dissect foreign objects for study.”

“Likely fired up to analyze the aliens as the invasion began?” Jake offered.

“That was our first thought as well. However, it was brought online quite late in the game and the traffic to and from the location is flagged for High Command use only.”

“And the content?” Jake questioned, the subject growing in interest.

“If I had to guess I would say it is a key word encryption they are using. The content makes perfect sense for a large supply depot or a massive repair facility but in this context that doesn’t add up for a puny research hub.”

“Small staff?” Jake asked.

“It was up until recently. Legitimate supply assets, tagged for use with other locations, are suddenly making dedicated runs here. I don’t mean stops along the way, I mean to and from known supply depots directly.”

“So large staff increase, recently upgraded and only talking to the High Command staff,” Jake parroted.

“You got it. It all started about four days after the saucer disappeared.”

“Is there anything you guys don’t track?” Jake asked in jest.

“Would you like to know how many bathroom break’s you take a day?” April offered aloud to snickers among the staff.

“Pass. Do we know where the facility is located?” Jake asked as he considered his options.

“Yes Sir, but its deep in NeHaw space. Alliance or not I can’t see them letting anyone swoop in unannounced to look the place over,” came April’s reply.

“Could someone slip in, scan the place for signs of human life, and slip out again undetected?” Jake asked speculatively.

“You mean like a Phantom?” April asked with a smile on her face.


“Watts, get in here,” the Marine Captain ordered across the room as he stood in his office doorway.

“Gunnery Sergeant Watts reporting as requested Sir,” Samantha announced as she entered the small office and presented herself before her Commanding Officer.

“Close that door,” the Captain ordered before speaking any more.

Samantha did as ordered and then returned to stand before the man, awaiting an explanation on why she had been summoned.

“Word has come down from the mountain that you are to be relieved of your current duties here and are to be reassigned,” the Captain began.

“Sir, is there a problem? My last fit-rep was golden, and the one before that,” she replied, referring to her regular fitness reports.

“On or before, today’s date, said individual is to make all haste in presenting her self to the Nevada Facility Commander for assignment, classified Need to Know, and codeword compartmentalized. Do you understand these orders?” the Captain asked.

“Yes Sir,” came the immediate reply, understanding she was not to discuss whatever she was heading to with anyone not in the compartment.

“Watts, I am sorry to lose you but obviously your value has been recognized on high. Do you have any questions before I drop your butt on the waiting transport provided you for this little adventure,” the Captain asked?

“Just one Sir, my codeword?” she asked quietly.


Author’s Notes

First thing, yes, there will be an ALICE Book 6. I know this story leaves some open questions and those will be picked up in the yet to be named #6.

Normally this space contains some kind of words of wisdom or other such content about how this particular story came to be. For me, this notes section is more of an explanation and an apology to my readers. It has been over three years between ALICE Book 4 and Book 5 and that’s not what I had intended at all.

The ALICE series and its readers have been the mainstay of my writing career. Those who have followed these adventures have continually provided positive feedback that has encouraged me to branch out into other genera. Therein lies the problem.

A part time writer has only so many hours in a day, week, or month to contribute to his or her craft, distractions are death. That time is precious and is metered out at the cost of time with friends, family, or leisure activities that make life worth living.

In the five- and one-half years to the date of this publication I have completed five ALICE books, this included in that number, three Ranger novels, and two Paranormal volumes. That count, ten novels in all, spans Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Romance genera that have somewhat split my focus. In addition, the delays in allowing my finished works to sit idle while one publisher or another debate the risks and rewards of bringing me on board has also diluted my efforts.

My Editor/Agent, Pat LoBrutto has been outstanding in getting me in front of some of the most desirable houses, but my own indecision during that time has cost me in delays. I had plans for a rewrite of the first ALICE novels, an attempt to bring them up to the later releases’ quality. I also harbored a not so unrealistic hope that I might someday soon make writing a full-time career. It all had me stalling.

No more. I need to let life move at its own pace, and if I discover myself in a position to address the deficiencies of the past, then great. For now, I promise only to dive into new material. I am not promising to only work on ALICE, but hey, try the other stuff, I bet you will like it almost as much.

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