Edition 1: Serial Fiction: Avoiding The Searchers (Part 1 of 5) by M.F. Burbaugh
In this, the first part of five, MF Burbaugh introduces the reader to a time not too far in the future, where Earth has taken on a rather distasteful role among the scattered planets that humanity has now colonized. Enjoy this pulp-style science fiction, through the eyes of a teenage boy. GH.
Damn it! I almost said out-loud.
I found my mouth was dry and my heart was pounding. The buzzing was grating on my nerves. I ducked behind the rubble as the noise got louder. It meant the damn Searchers either heard me, or smelled me, or, if I was lucky, someone else. Ya right.
The buzz moved away a bit so I shot a glance. There were two, doing a pattern search, which meant I’d be found if I stayed and I would be seen if I ran.
Only six months ago all was fine, we were fine. I was finally getting my diploma from high school and would leave Jackson’s Hole, for Eperia, only a few spaceweeks away, to attend its university. I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted to study, other than the girls, which I had heard were quite fine there. At sixteen I found my hormones raging—I was told it was normal by my mother, but I would be in big trouble if I was caught trying to do anything about it before getting committed. Then this crap.
Our planet was small, not in size, in population. We had been in existence for only a few hundred years as part of what came to be called, The Great Bust-out. Earth was dying from overpopulation, high taxes, and lazy people. Sometime in the past they had funded sixteen other planets who swore allegiance and wound up owing most of their wealth to the corrupt Earth.
Dresdin was one planet that soon found it couldn’t afford Earth’s burdensome taxes. On the sly she set up other planets like ours and Eperia. Soon all the rest were doing it too.
Today I was fighting to stay alive. I needed to try and get to the big sewer pipe. It slowed them down enough so I would be able to get away.
When I had left the hideout the Searchers weren’t out here. I had just wanted to see what was keeping Fred and James. Now I knew.
I gripped the baseball bat tighter as I was calculating the distance from here to the pipe and how fast the Searchers were. I had my escape plan. As the buzz got close then started to recede, I bolted in a straight line toward the pipe at my fastest run—I just made it as I felt the heat of a laser scorch the back of my leg. Close.
Searchers were remote piloted vehicles, RPVs. Mini-helicopters with teeth and A.I. systems. Each carried two small, but deadly, rockets and a two-shot laser. These had only one purpose, man-hunters. The blades on these bigger ones were about two feet across. We knew from experience that both the A.I. and the remote controllers were good. They had a smaller electric RPV with blades a foot wide and a single rocket they tried to use in the mines when they could find them. The pipe I was running down was a little over three feet wide; these Searchers had gone down them before and survived. The advantage was speed. In the open I stood no chance, in the pipe they crawled along, carefully avoiding the sides. I had played the game before, but this time I had been caught in the open. They caught David a few days ago, blowing him to mush with the missiles.
I made two right turns to where the drain had a smaller one coming into it. They knew it was there, but I had done a little work. I strung a steel wire across the darkest part of the pipe. As I ran I crouched low and ducked under the wire. I heard a Searcher hit it and crash, then, to my surprise, I heard the second hit into the first.
I waited in the dark and silence, listening and trying to reason yet again the whys.
I was told the cause of the war was simple.
My understanding was that before The Great Bust-out, if you wanted to leave Earth you paid a huge sum to your country, then another to the Earth Government in Geneva for a special passport. If that wasn’t enough, you paid a huge fuel tax, a huge resource consumption tax, a large excess CO2 production tax, and a finders preregistration fee to cover whatever you found in space. Of course you also continued to pay taxes to the Earth Government at a staggering rate after they allowed you the honor of leaving the planet for one of the chosen sixteen.
After the bust-out, people were leaving without paying a dime, the planets were running bootleg shuttles—they needed people. Earth had gotten mad at the sixteen planets now making more wealth and refusing to share it with their mother planet as promised. Its governments were going broke as their real workers fled to the stars to relieve themselves of their oppressive tax burdens, and their planets rebelled on paying their fair share. How dare they? Geneva asked. They had decided to ‘punish’ us upstarts, daring to go against earth and its so carefully crafted societies.
Earth waited a few hundred years, seething and scheming; they finally sent out ships of their own. We believe the idea was to destroy a few of the small upstart planets so that the rest would come crawling back into line on hands and knees. Well, I don’t know how other planets felt, but ours was totally pissed off. Tens of thousands of these Searchers were dropped on us without warning. They killed thousands upon thousands of us. Helpless old people, young babies, anyone else that didn’t have time to hide.
Our planet was a small mining co-op group; we had a lot of tunnels and drains which caught the earth forces off guard—that was funny. I still wonder what they thought a mining planet was? They found they couldn’t catch us all in the open as they had planned.
For six months it had fallen on the fastest of us to lead the battle to secure food, still growing in the fields, and pass the messages among us that kept us full of hope, and hate. We moved our families into remote corners of mines, set up defenses, and started to get organized to fight back.
Earth invaded us with eighty-three ships. We found, at the cost of many lives, that sixteen were packed full of control gear. These became our primary targets, the Searcher controllers, but we wouldn’t tell the earth forces that. We still waited, plans in place. Waited for the word to retaliate.
The A.I. part of the Searchers was okay, they could hunt a programed pattern and react to movement or smells. It was when they were RPVs that things like drain chasing or mine searching could be done. Without the control ships, they would lose. None of the Earthers seemed to be real fighters or military, though some claimed they were. They had depended on surprise and technology. A big mistake.
I listened, all was quiet, good.
I went back to the main drain pipe and ran down it, deeper into the bowels of the mountain as I counted off six side routes before I took the next left into the smaller drain; a few side routes down from that and soon I was in Golson’s old silver mine. I ran to the north end of what looked like a drain connection room, five smaller pipes came into the room to hook up to the big one. I went where the pile of boulders lay and moved one large fake boulder, exposing our little underground HQ pipe.
HQ or headquarters is really an improper name. We were just a small outpost of a few survivors, as were many others. Still, it sounded cool so we all used it.
All the pipes were called drains, some were. We had several water lakes, set high in the various mountain ranges that tended to leak into the mines. Still, most were actually air pipes, some with huge fans that blew fresh air in, and the drains allowed the stale air and gases to get out. Air drains or water, made no difference. All cut straight and true with our industrial mining lasers.
Milda was there, she was sweet on me, she was okay, but I found I really had no great desire for her as more than a friend. Maybe I exaggerate her friendship, maybe I underestimate my liking of her, either way, I felt the middle of a war was not exactly ideal for testing those type waters.
Our HQ was small. Mother was standing by Milda. She had been with me when they attacked. We had been picking Horp nuts. It is an indigenous tree with seed pods about four inches long that can be broken open, then the five seeds harvested, dried, and stored. We had cultivated them into a major food crop since they actually needed very minor care, gave bountiful harvests, and lasted almost forever if kept dry. Milda and Tonie were half-sisters. They, David, James, myself, and mother, had been at work most of the day picking the harvest on Dad’s farm.
He had taken his silver ore and some copper into town to get it assayed and sold off to a collection point. He was never seen again, and the Earthers had made it clear they had no interest in taking prisoners. He was named Steven Frasier. My famous uncle, who lived on Eperia, was Vincent Frasier, I am Johnathan, John for short. I was named after my mother’s grandfather. He was the original owner of this farm and our small mine. The farm produced a few vegetables, some wheat, and fruits, but our main crop was the Horp nuts.
Luck had been on our side in that it was the end of the season on the normal crops, much had been already canned up or dried out. We were good for food, as with most miners, we kept a two year stock of almost everything for the dry spells you get in mining. It would tide you through until a new vein of ore was found.
As I went in I set the bat in the corner. We had real weapons, but the people in charge did not want the invaders to know it. Not yet anyway. I thought it silly; almost all our mines used heavy lasers and explosives, we all protected our claims with whatever level weapons we either could afford or felt comfortable with. Dad had a few good rifles and scopes as well as pistols and other various war items. Uncle Vincent was a weapons developer. We had moved a few years back from the high risk mountains up north a few miles to here when my mother’s family left for Lunders Rest. A planet just opening as a retirement center and resort. We were now in a relatively safe area of the planet, two large cities with police nearby had reduced the threat levels. Well, until the Searchers came.
Following the rules, you left your weapons behind when going into town. If you felt you had a valuable load, you paid a few coins to the police and they would escort you in. He had done that. All our weapons were still well hidden near our home.
“Mother, I got a two-fer at the mouth, but they tagged my leg,” I told her.
She raised the pant leg, examined the laser burn, and applied a little ointment on it. “It will be fine, but be more careful.” I knew she was worried from her tone, but mining women knew the dangers of life far better than many, and learned to deal with it. James said it stood them well in the current situation.
Milda asked, “Did you get through? When are we going to fight back and quit playing these games? Do they know David died playing these stupid games? Do they?”
“They are not stupid games,” I said. We’d argued before. “We are close to attacking. They wanted a full count on how many had NV devices, TI scopes, and sniper rifles, so they could plan. I told you that three weeks ago, Milda. Fred sent them the info. I was not trying to get anywhere, I was just looking for Fred and James when the Searchers found me.”
“Oh, okay, never mind. I forgot.”
Most miners had switched to Night Vision goggles long ago. Solar charged, non-explosive, and they would last four hours without a recharge. A small spectral analyzer attachment detected metals. We all had at least a dozen per family. The Thermal Imaging scopes were a little different. A lot of us liked to hunt and eat the Tiger Bats. They weren’t really bats, but their wings reminded the early settlers of them. I was told they were night fliers similar to Owls, but had light brown and black striped fur and really were tasty. They were also a big pest. The easiest way to get them was with rifles using TI sights as they seemed to sense the NV units. You waited near a mine entrance and got them as they either came out or went in. Shotguns couldn’t get the range needed to stay out of their sensory area, which meant only good shots with rifles hunted them.
James came in just about then and put his bat down next to mine. “Johnathan, I saw they almost tagged you, also saw the two wrecks. Good job, but you really need to move faster. I recovered the wire.” He handed me the little spool. “Fred took the Searcher missiles and batteries up to HQ.”
As he walked by, he rubbed Michael’s hair. The child was only five and had been found wandering outside one day. Our last person was little Milly. She was a darling, mother named her that, we didn’t know what it was before. We think she is about two; she laughs and runs around. We knew Michael’s parents—they were dead—but we knew absolutely nothing about Milly. She was found by Fred, playing by the lake one day. He has repeatedly checked for bodies or people searching for her, we have no idea where she came from or who she belonged to, but she was one of us now.
I had planned to move the missiles later, we didn’t want them near us, they were armed electronically and only our higher HQs had the means to disarm them. Just a bump on the tips and boom. The higher HQs were making progress toward a few Searchers of their own from the broken parts. Well, rumor said they were, they didn’t confide in us.
For almost six months we hid and clawed out an existence as more and more of us were starting to get an itch to kill. The higher HQs kept telling us all to wait, bide our time and let them get the Intel and a plan together first. All understandable, but rumor also said the Earthers had been getting resupplied. If that was true we didn’t dare wait too long. They were taking us out here and there, like David, when we had to venture out for food. Somehow he was caught in the open. Just a second of inattentiveness and you wound up dead.
Fred said that the highest HQ had listed in one of their rare reports that of the 185,000 citizens known to have been alive on our planet at the time of the invasion, they had accounted for approximately 43,000 hidden in caves and mines. Mostly kids like us, and the miners who were actually working at the time. A few smaller towns received the word and safely evacuated to mines and tunnels. Three fourths of us were dead in but a few hours, and it hurt. We wanted revenge.
Milda and her sister lost all their family, as had David. James found out his mother and a younger brother were alive and they were at the Ghostwater mine complex near his town. He had been down here only to help us harvest and ogle Tonie. His mother deemed it safer for him to stay put. He says he thinks she just wants better odds of someone from the family surviving. Apparently Ghostwater is a large complex with far more likelihood of being found by the Earthers.
Fred is an old miner, well, over thirty anyway. Strong as can be from the years digging in the mountains. He was working a branch of this mine when they attacked. He found, and has taken care of us. He was the one who set us up as an official HQ in the underground.
Our HQ was one of a series. Someone thought the Earthers may use drugs or torture to get info, so the idea was you were only directly involved with a single HQ higher up than your own and only three below. Well, we had no one below us. This way, if caught alive, only five spots could be identified, in theory. Fred got news from our higher HQ, they got it from higher up, and so on. We were assured that at the highest levels people were planning a great retaliation, and soon. Problem was a month ago they said the same thing.
Milda came over and took my hand. “Really, I’m sorry, I know what you said, it’s just David and Tonie, and the others. Well, you know. I get frustrated too.”
Tonie was older, as was David; they were considered an ‘item’ before the war. Tonie still had not recovered from David’s death, she stayed up in an empty part of the mine, mostly alone. Mother took food to her and said she just needed time. We saw her occasionally.
While we hid here, four of our friends had died from one or another Searcher attacks. Jerrie was caught at night in the open about two months ago, when lasers cut her down. She had her entire HQ wiped out after they followed the boy and her back to their hiding spot. We really had to be very careful of things like that.
While I was reliving the past, Fred came in. “Well, they claim they need one more month to co-ordinate the attacks.” He shook his head in clear disapproval.
“That was what they said last month and the month before. All I hear is lies and promises. I watch us die, flesh and blood and bones. What dies on their side? Metal and batteries. In six months we have not killed a damn one of these Earthers!”
Tonie appeared at the back of the tunnel. “David is dead, Jerrie is dead, all my family except Milda are dead. No, I don’t want to hear any more promises, I want results, damn it!” She started to shake with sobs and sat down hard on a small pile of rubble, and cried.
“She is right, Fred, I think there is something wrong. We should have done some real damage long ago, if for no better reason than to force them to keep their heads down,” Mother said.
I think we all held similar feelings, even Fred. But he kept his own counsel. I felt Mother was getting a bit sweet on him, I wasn’t sure if I liked that idea at all.
“Listen, we all have had similar feelings, but the highest HQs say wait,” Fred said.
Milda said something I hadn’t thought of. “The highest is full of our old leaders and politicians. How the heck do we know that they didn’t sell us all out to save their own miserable lives?”
Fred sat heavily next to Tonie and hugged her shoulders. She was still sobbing. “We, um, I and a couple at the next HQ have asked similar questions. Tonight I talked to Earl Horton. He said a few in the next HQ up are saying similar things as well, but we have nothing to go on. If there are real plans we could destroy them by a rash act.”
“Damn it,” I said. “Do these Earthers look different from us? No. Do they fight better? No. Yet it is us that hide on our own damned planet! Why do we hide and they don’t?”
“Look, I wasn’t going to involve you all yet, but we have a problem. Earl was going to try to find two volunteers to scout both our main HQ and the Earthers compounds to see if either get visitors, but it really is dangerous. He sent two of his best, neither has returned. He asked if I’d provide two more to try. At the same time he doesn’t want anyone known to them, nor high enough to lose cells—that falls to us at the bottom. Either here or he says three other small groups now that Jerrie was compromised. We have thought about doing it for a few months.”
I instantly volunteered and Mother instantly said, “NO!”
“But, Mother, I get everything you said I need! Fresh air, lots of exercise, and fresh picked food,” I told her jokingly.
“Which part of ‘no’ didn’t you comprehend? Your father is missing, dead, and you know it. You are the last male in line on this planet and I am not sure if your uncle Vincent is still alive on Eperia.”
I was going to stay with him until I found a job and my own place while I went to school. Such are the plans of man.
“I’ll go,” Tonie said. “Nothing to live for with David gone now.”
Milda shouted, “NO!”
“Sorry, Sis, you don’t control me. I will go, alone if necessary. I will leave tomorrow, Fred. Tell me what I am looking for and where.”
“Tonie, please, you’ll get over him, give it time. You’re still young, what, eighteen?” Fred implored.
“Oh, I am not doing it to commit suicide or anything, jeez. I want some revenge, some real payback. I think I have cried myself out, now I want to do something.” She sounded like she meant it.
James said, “Well, then I guess I better go too. She can’t do it alone, she hasn’t faced Searchers before.”
“No, sorry, James, I need you here with us. We are too well known and we both know more than is supposedly permitted,” Fred said. He was officially the HQ leader. “Look, let me think about it tonight, if I volunteer anyone, someone else will be mad, but understand, I will pick them if I think they can do the job, and they will go. And the rest can be mad at me, that is fine, it is my job. James, go tell Earl we will take the mission so he doesn’t involve the other cells yet.”
Later that night I heard Fred and Mother arguing. As the two official adults among us, it seemed logical they would discuss it. I have just turned seventeen, Milda was sixteen, Mother was still only in her early thirties as was Fred. James was twenty, in a few months he would be classified as a man. Tonie has just turned eighteen. David had been twenty-two and he and Tonie were to have been committed soon. I had heard them sometimes being quiet in the love shack.
We all slept back in the actual mine, we had three old mine shacks where Golson stayed, sometimes with his crew, sometimes with his girlfriends. The first was the bunk house with nine bunks and the shower. Another was a blasting and equipment storage. It used to be they only brought in a daily supply of blasting gel, the rest was stored in an old concrete bunker down the mountain a way. When the war started Fred had us move it inside. Dangerous, but necessary. We had left a few in the bunker on purpose—when the Searchers found it there was no doubt, the blast shook the ground, and Fred smiled. At least that shack was down a small side tunnel by itself. Fred said it wouldn’t matter, if it blew we’d be dead just from the overpressure.
The third was Golson’s love shack. Not really, just three beds and the cooking station. But we had heard stories. Our only toilet facility was attached outside like a connected outhouse, those pipes were a separate septic system. Fred and Mother spent more time in the shack lately, usually arguing this or that, but sometimes it was rather quiet—never mind, don’t want to think that.
All our water came in through the cracks and ran into a cistern. There was a small lake further out, on the backside of this mountain, and it was a little higher than we were. At first Fred had worried about them poisoning the water, but as a major operator, Golson had more money than many of us. He had rows of reverse osmosis bottles, found only in the best mines, all hooked together, some tagged used, others new. Something Fred knew about. At the right times he’d close one off and open another up. It all worked through three systems for power. A windmill outside that Searchers had destroyed long ago, a set of solar arrays scattered in treetops and hidden in rocks. We had spread them out as far as our wire supply would allow. Some had been found and destroyed but enough remained to keep the batteries and capacitors charged most of the time, and we had a fair stock of spares. During violent storms we ran the third item, a little diesel generator to charge them. The Searchers couldn’t fly in high wind, but Fred still worried about satellites and thermal imaging—it was used very sparingly. He had us run the exhaust into a barrel of water. It muffled the sound and cooled the thermal exhaust signature, he explained.
Although we had it, the long-wire sonic transceiver was never used, but always on. All messages went by memory through runners. In our case, usually James.
I slept against the wall in the bunkhouse, which sat next to the love shack, which was why I heard things. As I lay there Milda came and sat on the edge of my bunk. “You know Fred won’t pick me; too clumsy and too young, I know it.”
“Well, too young anyway,” I said.
“That is a sweet bunch of bull,” she smiled. “Look, as I see it, it comes down to you and Tonie. I don’t want sis dead, John, I mean it. She is all that is left of my family. Promise you’ll at least try to protect her?”
“I think Fred will have to go himself or send James. Neither Tonie nor I are tested fighters, you know that.” I didn’t really think Fred would choose me.
“No, he will, I’m sure. Oh, another thing, two really. Your mother and Fred, I heard them talking. They want to stay together but she is afraid you wouldn’t understand. Especially so soon after your dad dying, but they both have needs. You need to tell her it is okay before you leave, just in case.” She had taken hold of my hand and squeezed it lightly.
“But it isn’t okay. It has only been six months, it is too soon. I don’t think I can accept that,” I told her.
“John, we have been friends since we were kids. I know we played the like/hate game, I also know I never want to lose you as a dear friend, but I was going to marry Jeremiah Folt from Boulders Bluff. We had already talked about it. He was in Jerrie’s HQ. You didn’t believe me, but it is true. Anyway, do you know why I bring it up?”
“No, not really. What has that got to do with Fred sleeping with my mother?” I didn’t see any connection at all.
“John, are you still a virgin?” she asked pointedly.
“Of course not! I’m seventeen now.” I lied and she knew it.
“John, sweet John. Listen, try to understand. I’m not, we went a little beyond petting several times. After the first time you get an urge, an itch that needs to be scratched. You don’t yet understand that. Both your mother and Fred have that itch and it can drive you crazy not to get it scratched. Tell her it is okay before you leave, please? For me?” She leaned around and gave me only the second kiss ever. “If necessary I’ll let you scratch my itch to help you understand.”
Damn, she loved this Jeremiah guy but is willing to have sex with me so I will say it is okay for my mother? “Okay,” I said.
I think it caught her off guard. She gave me a funny stare then shrugged. Got up and said, “Come then.”
She took me back deep into the mine as feelings raged in me, most against what I so wanted to do.
She stopped by an old couch, used by miners past, to rest and eat lunch. She let go my hand and slowly got undressed, she lay upon the couch and said, “Okay.”
I stared at her, my friend, the one I had dreams about doing this very thing with, and I couldn’t.
I sat next to her as she raised up. “Milda, I can’t. I have had dreams, but the reality isn’t right. It can’t happen this way. I won’t let it happen this way.” I started to get up and she put her hand behind my neck and gave me a real kiss.
“Thank you,” she said.
I got up and walked back to the bunkhouse, got undressed and crawled into bed. She came in a bit later humming to herself and went to her bunk. I was really confused.
It was the next morning (almost a misnomer when you’re hiding in a hole in the ground, but the big clocks always know). There were three in the mines, all used the 24hour clock system. A 0630 time left no doubt it was morning outside.
I was up and grabbed a towel. James was in showering as I went in. The stalls held four people. I showered and got dressed and, after combing my hair, I watched James cut himself several times as he tried to shave. I didn’t have more than a little fuzz, but my time was coming.
He saw me watching and looked around. “You told her no, didn’t you?”
“No, what?” I tried to play dumb.
“It’s okay, I’m proud of you, doubt I could do that. I heard her conversation with her sister earlier. Really, John, it is an itch that never goes away until you die. Some people become obsessed with it, but most handle it well. She understands life more than many; feel proud of the offer at least.”
“Well, for argument sake, I have no idea what you are referring to. And yes, she is my friend,” I told him.
He patted my back. “That she is, you’ll never know how much of a friend you almost lost last night.” He had a big grin as he went back to cutting himself.
As we finished up, the women shooed us out and took over the stalls.
I went to the love-shack for breakfast, thinking about what everyone had said. I felt I may have had the itch they talked about, seeing Milda there, naked and willing; well, more resigned I think.
I watched Fred. He was the only one who actually lived in the main shack, all the rest of us stayed in the bunkhouse. His face showed he was resigned to the plight we were in, yet he always managed a smile when one was needed to soften a bad moment or applaud an accomplishment. In those regards he was a lot like my father. I still felt the hole, the loss, the emptiness. Then it struck me, the emptiness I felt was nothing compared to my mother, whom dad loved and gave tender moments to. Her mental emptiness had to be far deeper than mine, so why should I deny her an attempt to fill it in, even if only a little, or for only a little while?
As I was thinking this Milda came and sat next to me. I leaned over and whispered, “I really should have, you know.”
She patted my cheek lightly. “No, John, you proved my faith in you. Though for a minute I thought I was wrong after so many years.” She smiled wanly. “You never answered me, either about your mother or Tonie, you know.”
“I have been sitting here comparing Fred to Dad—a lot of similarities. I was seeing a large hole in Mother’s heart and he fills it in, at least a little.” I guess it was what she wanted to hear, she smiled and squeezed my hand.
“And Tonie?” she asked.
“You know I would do anything to keep her alive, so why ask?” I told her.
“Well, more than alive; she has the itch too.”
“What?” I almost hollered, her implication was clear. I said it loud enough that Fred looked away from the stove where he was fixing us pancakes.
“When he picks her, well, just keep her alive.”
I smiled at her. “Still think it will be James.”
“Last time you were right about anything, other than last night, was in first grade when you said you could outrun me.” She laughed. We were bussed to town from our old home for school. I’d known her a long time.
Soon everyone was there and mother was trying to feed the baby without her getting all sticky from syrup. Small talk all around, but we all knew it was coming. As I finished my coffee and the last smidgen of pancake had sopped up the last drop of homemade syrup, Fred cleared his throat.
“Okay, I talked it over with James and Marsha (my mother), though both strongly disagree I have decided on Tonie and John.” I saw Mother dart her eyes to me, then as quickly away. “I have several reasons. Both are young and fast, though a little out of shape. Both have excellent eyesight and good reflexes. Unfortunately neither have personal combat experience, but hell, six months ago none of us did.”
Milda smiled at me with her told you so look and stuck her tongue out. I had to laugh. I glanced at Tonie and she just seemed resigned to her task.
Mother said, “Fred, I forbid this, he is still a minor and I still control him under the law.” I heard them discussing it most of the night and she had never said she would allow me to go. Then she looked me in the eyes as she said, “With an exception.”
It caught Fred off guard too. “Exception? What exception?”
“They go by my house and he arms up. No damn baseball bats. He and his father are… were…the fastest and deadliest bat shooters on the planet. Both had the trophies to prove it too. If not, then he can’t go. I don’t give a damn what any HQ says, they have the right to defend themselves.”
“Hum-mm, James?” Fred asked.
“Look, if what we think is happening is true, then they just want to keep us unarmed, as easy kills. I talked it over with Earl last night. They are about to arm up as well, and higher HQs can all go to hell,” James said. “Earl is sending an—oh never mind, not important.”
“Marsha, I can agree to those terms. Tonie, can you shoot?” Fred asked.
“A little, never was into it. Father and mother had no mines that needed protecting. David had shown me the basics with a real pistol, and we did the team paint balls in town of course.”
“Okay, settled then. John, you have anything to say?”
I felt proud but fought it. “Well, a map to see where we are going would be nice.”
“Already done,” James said, and smiled.
“Okay, if nothing else then James and I will set up the packs we think you will need. They must be as light as possible, so don’t expect all the amenities of home.” I saw Tonie nod with understanding.
“You will leave around sundown, bring NVs but try not to use them—the amplifiers can be detected and we are pretty sure Earthers have that ability. You have permission to try and carry any weapons you two are comfortable with, just remember weight.” Fred looked to Marsha, who nodded. “Okay, I want you two down and out, you need to rework your bio clocks. Get back to your bunks and down these with water. See you when you wake, we will have everything else ready.” He handed us each a green and a small yellow tablet.
I eyed them dubiously.
“I was a pilot, we used them all the time. The green one will knock you out for exactly ten hours and the yellow one will stop the nausea and headaches. Go, take them and sleep,” he commanded.
I headed to the sink for water and took the pills. Mother was there behind me, smiling with tears in her eyes.
“I’ll be okay, Mom, honest,” I told her.
She gave me a hug. “I know.”
Well, might as well get it over with . “Mom, while I’m gone I won’t need you to protect me in the barracks from all the girls. Maybe you could move in here and help Fred tidy the place up? None of the beds have been made in weeks.”
She gave me the strangest look, glanced at Fred, and hugged me and really started crying. “I love you, John, and I loved your father, you know that, don’t you?”
“If I didn’t, I could never understand.” I smiled through my tears as well.
I felt sleepy; Tonie had already left.
Born in the post war era of 1947 and raised in the farm country of upstate New York, MF Burbaugh writes in the sci-fi/fantasy genres. He has published a large number of short fiction, as well as two novels, Circle of Seven (fantasy – IFWG Publishing, 2011) and We Were Legends (scifi – IFWG Publishing, 2011). He has two more novels coming out in 2012. He now resides with his wife of forty years in El Paso, Texas.
MF Burbaugh’s bio page at IFWG Publishing