Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wilson "Bob" Tucker 1914 - 2006

Science Fiction conventions are a good place to meet the science fiction writers and one of the first I met was Bob Tucker. He was surrounded by fans, many of them young and female and some known as granddaughters. He held a White Owl cigar and a bottle of Beam’s Choice was being passed around. When everyone of legal age had a taste, we all yelled out, "Smooooooth!"

I had a chance to meet Bob Tucker at his home in Illinois after Bob Cornett and I had received another rejection for our novel Seeds of Doubt. We began to suspect it might be fundamentally flawed. We talked to Bob on the phone and he said he would be happy to meet with us to discuss the book. Such was the kindness of one of the old masters.

When we drove up, he met us at the door and before we could say a word to him, he said, "I have to tell you guys one thing."

Naturally, I suspected the worst. We had screwed up the book in some fashion. But no, Bob, said, "I really enjoyed the book. Which one of you is the helicopter pilot?"

We talked about the book and then we toured, okay, looked around his study. We saw the "Bobby Block Black Block" which looked to be a hunk of two by four that had been painted black and had come from Robert Bloch of Psycho fame. We saw the original of a comic strip that had featured Bob (Tucker... yeah there are a lot of Bobs running around in this). He showed us foreign editions of his books, even gave us a couple of signed volumes (as seen here) and we talked science fiction... and movies.

Bob had been a projectionist during his life. I remember talking about Zulu, a film that somehow became important in Science Fiction Fandom for a while and it appeared on the movie programs at many conventions (I once stayed up all night to see it ... it began at something like four in the morning and the room was packed). Bob Tucker remembered when it played at the theater where he was a projectionist. He said he seen it everyday for two weeks and didn't care to see it again.

I saw Bob at many conventions after that. Yes, he had his cigars, he had his Beam’s Choice and he had his business cards for "Natural Inseminations." But I never saw him take an unwanted liberty with anyone. I never saw him drunk. I just saw a man who enjoyed Science Fiction like the rest of us and wanted to share that enjoyment with as many as he could.

Yes, I knew about the "Tucker Transfer" which was a benefit to raise money so that Bob could attend the World Science Fiction Convention, I think, in England. Bob never made much money as a writer and he had children to raise. In fact, his son, Robert, was the "real Bob Tucker," and the writer we knew was Wilson Tucker.

Anyway Bob (Cornett) and I wrote a time travel novel we called Remember the Alamo? (But the publisher changed to Remember the Alamo! for some strange reason and it was published under that name... it’s the exclamation point she added). In it we used Bob Tucker’s name, and the lead scientist was meant as a tribute to him, and, of course, the time travel process was called "The Tucker Transfer."

Bob (Tucker) was always interested to hear how we, Bob (Cornett) and I were doing with our writing. Yes, the novel he had read for us, after nearly thirty rejections, and several offers to publish (David Hartwell wanted to buy it twice and lost his job both times... no, I don’t blame the book) Ace finally published as Seeds of War... I once explained to the editor why we had called it Seeds of Doubt and she said I should have told her sooner and she wouldn’t have changed the name...

In the last ten years or so, I didn’t make many Science Fiction conventions. Other things got in the way (George Bush called me to active duty for the War in Iraq for example) so that I didn’t see much of Bob Tucker. I knew his health was getting bad and that he had been forced to give up cigars and Beam’s Choice, but not his love of Science Fiction or Fandom.

I was at home when friends from St. Louis called with the sad news that Bob had died. They asked that I call Bob Cornett because they had been unable to reach him. Bob Cornett called me a day later with the same sad news.

I never understood why Bob’s books hadn’t been better received in Science Fiction. He was a superb writer who understood the craft. Some of his books are classics. Maybe it was his slow output, or maybe it was his rather laid back presence. I don’t know. I do know that there isn’t a book of his I ever gave up on and I know that they hold there own in today’s world... okay, Year of the Quiet Sun is outdated because it is a look at the future of our world at the turn of the century and we have passed that now... but the story still works well and the ending is a surprise.

For those interested in this sort of thing, he was born on November 23, 1914 in Deer Creek, Illinois and died on October 6, 2006 in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was married twice, the first ending in divorce and the second when his wife, Fern, died in 2006.

He retired as a projectionist in 1972 and as a writer in 1981 with the publication of Resurrection Days.

He was a fine writer, a good friend and I regret that I waited until nearly the first anniversary of his death to say any of this.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Exploration Chronicles

One of my goals in life was to become a Science Fiction writer. I have had limited success with this, publishing a number of books but only a couple of short stories. I have come close with some stories, but somehow haven’t really broken through into that arena. Here, now, I can publish those stories and maybe find out if I was right about them or if Science Fiction Fandom doesn’t agree.

But I digress. I do have copies of my books and offer them for sale here. First up is the series known as Exploration and made up of the books, Signals, Starship, FTL and The Gate. The series looks at various ways to explore the galaxy, taking into account some of the problems faced by science.

The books retailed at $6.99, but I’ll let them go at five bucks each with five bucks for shipping and handling (and for those of you keeping score at home, that five bucks pays for the envelop and the postage). You can have all four for twenty bucks, but only have to spring for shipping and handling for one, or for a total of twenty-five bucks.

If you would like them signed, please let me know who to make it out to, and if you would like something specific written in the book, let me know. I’m game for nearly anything... but please note, I said nearly anything.

And no, I don’t make a lot of money on this, but see it as a way of introducing my work to a wider audience. And hey, you might enjoy the stories. Thanks.

Send you check or money order to:

Kevin D. Randle
PO Box 10934
Cedar Rapids, IA 52410

Time Chute

It was supposed to be a matter transmitter and in fact, the transmitter worked quite well. Everything I put into it disappeared in a burst of shimmering light that surrounded and then engulfed.

But nothing reappeared. In the receiver I could almost see the screen of flickering electro-magnetism that was supposed to trap and reassemble the objects but which did neither. And nothing I did helped.

The glass of milk vanished completely and I wondered if that was because it was an organic compound that might confuse the receiver. But the folded newspaper that I hadn’t taken time to read disappeared as completely and I wasn’t sure if there had been any organic compounds in either the paper or the ink. The metal ashtray, a relic from another era, and the small polished stone never reappeared even though I left the machine operating for an hour burning up enough electricity to illuminate a star.

I knew that eventually I would solve the problem and teleportation would move from science fiction into science fact just as trips to the moon and planets had done so long ago. The problem was that I didn’t have all that much time left because the government research grant was running out. If there wasn’t something to give them, if there weren’t some positive results, I would spent the next several years filling out papers explaining why my project had cost so much, why it had failed so miserably and why I shouldn’t be charged with fraud. The sandals of the last years from Watergate to Halliburton made Congress suspicious of all research projects funded by the government, especially those that failed.

When the white porcelain nude failed to appear, even after I had gone to the expense of shielding the lab to block all extraneous signals that might compromise the experiments, I was ready to quit. The shielding had broken the budget.

I ran a hand through my hair, realized, once again that it seemed to be thinning at an accelerating rate, and moved slowly to the table piled high with research notes. This failure was particularly unpleasant because it meant that I had run out of ideas.

Flipping through the stack, I climbed on a stool. Resting my elbows on the smooth obsidian surface, I reviewed the math and could still see nothing wrong with it.

The math was right. Or, at least, half of it was right. The transmitter transmitted. If only the receiver would receive. There was always the possibility that the objects would reappear after several days or weeks, having blasted into space to be somehow reflected, but that meant it would no longer be real teleportation. Besides, that really didn’t make any sense.

Elizabeth Anderson, the graduate student who was helping pay for her education as a research assistant, brought in the hot coffee. I was tempted to put it into the transmitter, make some adjustments and try again, but I needed the coffee more than I needed another failure.

Liz shifted the stack of papers, CDs an DVDs from the other stool and sat down. Although she had just come from glass, she was already wearing the white lab coat. She set her coffee on the table, putting it on a paper so that she wouldn’t mark the obsidian, as if she could. I cringed wondering why she couldn’t be that careful with the notes.

As she crossed her legs and put one hand in her coat pocket, she noticed my expression and said, "Missed again, huh?"

From someone else that would have been insulting, but she had the ability to make her voice reflect her concern. Instead of anger, I sort of felt like laughing.

"Yup. Failed again."

"And now what?"

I glanced at the piles of papers that looked more like a snow drift sprinkled with shiny silver disks than a carefully thought out filing system and said, "I guess we take the receiver apart."

She scratched a knee that was just visible below the hem of her long skirt. "We’ve done that. Did you ever think that maybe the transmitter is operating on a frequency that the receiver can’t receive?"

I bit at the corner of my mustache. "Yeah, I thought of that. I just don’t like fooling around with the one piece of equipment that seems to be working."

"But it’s not working, really," she said as she sipped her coffee. "I mean, if you don’t transmit right, you certainly won’t receive."

"That’s good as far as it goes, Liz. But it makes more sense to try to adjust the receiver since it hasn’t ever worked."

"But that’s the point, Steve. We don’t know if it has worked."

I had to admit that there was a certain amount of logic there. I couldn’t see where a disassembly of the transmitter and a careful reassembly would hurt. It certainly couldn’t make the situation any worse and it might, in fact, provide the clue that I needed.

I looked at the clock above the lab door. "When’s your next class?"

She put down her coffee and slid off the stool. "Not until tomorrow afternoon. And then it’s just an English class that I took on a lark. I can miss it."

I took a deep breath and said, "Then let’s get started."

Since we were being careful, recording each move on DVD and with written back up on a Blackberry, it took an extra few hours. We were interrupted once when a teaching assistant stuck his head in the door and asked, "Are you teaching your seminar today, Doctor Connor?"

I waved a no at him and said, "You take it."

He disappeared without another word.

Liz was replacing the front panel as he closed the door. She said, "It looks fine to me."

"Good," I said. "Let’s give the receiver the once over."

Unfortunately there was nothing wrong that we could spot. We put it back together very carefully hoping that a crossed wire, a misplaced chip or printed circuit was the villain.

When it was ready, I said, "I guess we make another test."

I scanned the lab, looking for something to put in the transmitter, something that had no value and wondered, momentarily, if I shouldn’t just stick the receiver in there. It seemed to be the only really worthless thing in the lab. Liz picked up the paper sack, stuffed with the remains of the sandwiches and the Starbuck’s coffee cups, and handed it to me.

"If this doesn’t reappear," she said, "at least we won’t have to find a garbage can."

As I set the sack into the transmitter and closed the door, something flittered across the back of my mind, something about Liz’s words, but I didn’t know why. I let it go, knowing that if it was important, I’d figure it out.

Liz crossed the lab and flipped the switches on the receiver, waiting until the ruby-colored light recessed into the top began to pulsate, and then hit the button on the recording equipment. She picked up her Blackberry, and cleared the screen. She said, clearly, as she used her thumbs to type, "Experiment ten four one, at..." There was a pause as she looked at the lab clock, "Zero two fifteen."

At the control panel, I flipped a switch and then stabbed a button. Behind the reinforced plexiglass, I watch the glow build around the limp brown sack. There was a flash as the bag vanished and I leaped across the room. The receiver was as empty as the Sahara Desert.

We waited for two hours but the bag didn’t return, at least then. I looked at Liz who, extraordinarily, seemed on the verge of tears. None of the other failures had affected her like that.

I put an arm around her shoulder and asked, "What’s wrong?"

I felt her shrug and she said, "Nothing, really. I’m just tired. Really tired."

"Well, I’ll give you a ride home. At least we don’t have to clean the lab."

Liz didn’t return after that. She dropped by the lab once or twice but the department had reassigned her so that she wouldn’t be hurt by any of the fallout for my failed line of research. Not long after that, I was told to clean out the lab so that it could be given to someone whose line of research was a little more promising, or, at the very least, had a more lucrative potential.

So, I worked on cleaning the lab. I went to my desk, which belonged to the university and looked as if it had seen service in the Vietnam War, and opened the bottom drawer. I found nothing I needed and decided to throw it all away. When the waste basket was filled, I realized that I didn’t know where to dump it because the waste basket was always empty when I came in each day. Since the teleportation transmitter had a habit of getting rid of everything nicely, I filled it and turned it on. Moments later, the trash was gone.

I picked up the now empty waste basket, walked back to the desk and started filling it again. As I pulled a handful of old research papers out of the back of the drawer, I suddenly froze, realizing that the transmitter wasn’t a failure. I knew how to make it a success.

Idly, I wondered how many inventions were mistakes that worked out well. I knew that Alexander Bell wasn’t trying to invent the telephone but some kind of hearing aid. At least I wouldn’t be alone and no one had to know what I was trying to do. And this would give me time to work on the real project.

I called Liz and told her to come back to work. If she would be at the lab at three on Thursday, I would show her, as well as the head of the physics department, Doctor Carpenter, the liberal arts president, Sarah Buller, and a couple of Congressional assistants that things really worked.

When Liz heard that, she said, "You figured it out. You finally figured it out."

"After a fashion," I told her. "You’ll have to wait and see."

The new suit that I bought for the demonstration fit all right, but I had to force the store to make the alterations on Wednesday night. I’m not all much over the average height, but I’m thin so that it’s difficult to get a good fit off the rack. I thought the extra money that cost wouldn’t manner soon.

The demonstration was to be held in my lab which I had not vacated yet. Work-study students had cleaned it much more thoroughly than I ever had and then set up chairs for the visitors. I had moved and covered the receiver so that it wouldn’t be a distraction. It was also a reminder that I was only partially successful.

The guests arrived and I ushered them to their seats with the department chairman and the liberal arts president right in front of the transmitter. When Liz arrived I put her next to the department chairman and then seated the Congressional aides, one man and one woman looking like a matched set the way salt and pepper shakers were a matched set, on the ends. The curious and a couple of my friends were in the back two rows.

I stood in front of them, next to the transmitter and said, by way of preamble, "Many of our scientific breakthroughs have come suddenly and unexpectedly. Bell discovered the telephone trying to help the deaf. And sometimes a scientist becomes so engrossed in his or her research that the side benefits of the experiments are sometimes lost as he or she searches for the total solution."

The audience muttered, wondering what kind of hocus-pocus I was planning. But I was winding down anyway, saying, more tongue in-cheek than seriously, "Garbage is one of the biggest problems facing the modern world. We have polluted our streams, rivers, lakes and now our oceans with our garbage. A major objection to nuclear powerplants is that we can’t safely and economically dispose of the waste. It piles up and we try to hide it in mountain caves, leaving it for future generations to find. That is, it was a problem until now."

I reached over and pulled the cover from the matter transmitter. I heard Liz gasp in surprise and I winked at her.

Carpenter stood up and said, "If this is some kind of joke Connor, you’re going to be sorry."

One of the Congressional assistants, and for the life of me I didn’t know if it was the male or female, said, "This is obviously not a joke. Let him finish."

I thought about saying more but figured they understood. I picked up a small box of trash and a couple of bottles. As I shoved them into the transmitter, I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, I realize this invention doesn’t rank up there with space travel, heavier-than-air flight or the micro-processor, but it does solve a minor problem that threatens to become a major irritation."

With that, I pushed the button and the trash vanished. I waved a hand in front of the door as if doing magic and said, "The power required to operate this is minimal, the components are fairly inexpensive, costing about the same as a smaller flat panel TV and it does serve a useful purpose."

Carpenter asked, "Who’s going to pay three hundred bucks for a garbage disposal."

I smiled. I had been waiting for that question. "The same people who pay two hundred dollars for a trash compactor so that they can put all their garbage into a single sack and pay the city five dollars a week to haul it away."

The assistant who had spoken earlier and I realized that it was the woman, asked, "Where does it go? The trash I mean."

I made an educated guess. "The atoms of the objects inside are broken down into their basic components and beamed out of the machine. It makes little difference if they are sent into space, into the atmosphere or into the ground since they are the single, pure atoms. It does nothing to harm the environment."

Now I felt like lecturing, especially when I saw the look on Carpenter’s face. I don’t know if he wanted to cry because of the notoriety this would bring to the department, or cheer because of the funding boon it meant.

So, I said, "As I’m sure you all know, garbage is made of useful things but it’s in the wrong form. We have recycling plants to fix that, but now, if we can break the garbage into it’s basic units, we make it useful again without the expensive plants to convert it. There is no threat to anyone or anything, no matter what happens to the garbage."

The discussion continued for another hour or so, but the moment the trash disappeared, the product was sold. It was useful, practical, cheap and with certain modifications that the Congressional assistants insisted that the product safety people would require, and of course, inspection by the environmental and atomic energy people to make sure I was right, they could see great things for the invention. My funding was secure, my position assured, my fame guaranteed and my fortune made.

The unions didn’t like it. Garbage collectors, truck drivers, land fill operators, junk dealers all over the country were demanding the machines be regulated so they wouldn’t lose their jobs or source of income. Other city employees and the oil companies joined the protest. The machine, they claimed, would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. Manufacturing the machine wouldn’t begin to replace those lost, not to mention the cost of retraining people.

The environmental people didn’t like it either. They said it would lead to more nuclear powerplants and they believed the world had enough of them. The danger was no longer in the waste materials, but the possibility of meltdown.

The machines were denounced as some kind of communist plot or a devil’s invention. We still continued, making several working models, including one large enough to handle the university’s garbage. That angered the city because it was now losing a large amount of money that had been received for garbage removal.

Several huge models were field tested by the feds. The Army used twenty on twenty different posts, cutting the operating costs to almost nothing for garbage removal. Food and Drug, who had somehow gotten into the act, certified the machine as safe for use by the population. The Consumers Union did the same. The Environmental Protection Agency didn’t, saying they wanted to know where the garbage was going first.

And, so did I.

In all my experiments, I had not been able to answer that simple question. All I knew was that it just went, somewhere and the idea that the atoms dispersed into the environment seemed as good as any.

Recording the experiments didn’t help. I had used every trick available to modern science including ultra-violet, infra-red, slow motion, color, black and white, and about seventy-five different filters. I tried all methods of electromagnetic recording without finding a clue. The garbage, or anything else put into the transmitter just vanished.

It was late June when I finally found out where the garbage had gone. I was alone in my office. Because of the success of the garbage disposal, and the scientific breakthrough of atom dispersal, the university had given me a wood paneled, thickly carpeted office with a view of the river and the students circulating as they walked to class. I was alone, trying, half-heartedly, to find out why the receiver refused to receive.

I looked up when someone knocked at the door, irritated because the whole building was supposed to be locked and there was a secretary who was supposed to intercept visitors before they reached the door.

He was a smallish man, dressed in blue jeans and wearing a dark blue windbreaker with NYPD in yellow letters embroidered over the heart. He stood there, looking at me, waiting.


"Doctor Connor?"

When I nodded he said, "We’ve been looking for you."

I didn’t like the sound of that and wondered if campus security was still around. As I set my pencil down, I asked, "Why is that?"

"Doctor Connor, I’m assisting the Greater New York Sanitation Committee on special detail. I’m afraid that it’s my unpleasant duty to arrest you for..."

"Arrest me? Are you out of your mind? Do you even have jurisdiction here?"

The man rubbed his eyes as if extremely tired and then sighed. "Doctor, please. You have been causing all sorts of problems with your machine."

Now I laughed. "Oh, I get it. Well, you’ll have to see the manufacturer about that. I have nothing to do with the operational aspects of the business..."

He interrupted and asked, "Have you ever wondered where the garbage goes?"

To myself, I thought, "Well, of course," but I said nothing.

He said, "You’ll have to come with me."

"I don’t think so. Even if you are a policeman from New York, you’re way outside your jurisdiction. I don’t have to go with you or anyone else."

"Then you won’t know where the garbage goes," said the man simply.

I sat still and said, "Where does it go?"

"Let’s take a stroll down to your lab. You have a working model of your transmitter there, don’t you?"

So I followed him out of the office building, across the grass field in front of the student union, across a foot bridge and into an older section of the university. We entered the building, climbed a set of stairs that had to be old a hundred years ago and finally made it to the door of my old lab. I hadn’t been there very much in the last couple of months.

When I had unlocked the door, the man moved to where a large model of my transmitter stood. He flipped a switch to activate it, made a couple of adjustments to it and then opened the main door, something that I had never done with the machine running.

"Come over here," he said.

I didn’t like the tone of his voice, but I was curious. As I approached, I asked, "Just what do you think you are doing?"

I didn’t notice that he had moved behind me until I felt the push on my back. I stumbled forward, reached out to break my fall and slipped into the interior of the transmitter. Just before that happened, I realized that I was being murdered.

There was a flash of light and I felt a tingling all over which I thought were the atoms in my body disintegrating, which, it turns out, it could have been. But then, the next thing I realized, I was in a room that was bare. Just a hardwood floor and windows in the walls but no furniture, no books, nothing. I had no idea where I was.

I moved toward one of the windows and an instant later there was another flash, behind me, and I turned around. The man was now standing there, looking a little green.

"Where are we?"

"Why, New York, of course."

I was too stunned to speak, not to mention happy to be alive. "What happened?"

"Your machine is not really a transmitter. It works more like a projector. It requires no receiver. You have been sent to New York City."

I really didn’t understand this. I thought he had just explained why the receiver never worked. There was nothing for it to receive. Instead, the machine just projected the material to another location... which, I suddenly realized, is exactly what I had been trying to do. My matter transmitter did, in fact, transmit matter. I just had to figure out how to calibrate it.

Just as all this was beginning to sink in, the man said, "You are to appear before the magistrate at four this afternoon. You will be charged with creating a health menace, unlawful dumping of waste, creating a general nuisance and resisting arrest."

"Wait," I said, feeling the panic rising. "Just wait a minute. How can I be guilty of all those charges."

He walked to the window and pointed down at the street. "That is your fault."

I looked down, but all I could see was a scene that had played out several times. A strike in New York was causing trouble for one segment of the population. Huge stacks of brown plastic bags lining the street. I didn’t see the obvious then because I was lost in the charges and the realization that my matter transmitter worked.

By the time we got to the courthouse using an underground tunnel so that we never set foot on the streets, through the metal detectors at the doorways and passed the guards standing next to them, down a corridor that had glass for an outside wall that looked out over Central Park, it was time to appear before the judge. She glowered down from the bench, wrapped in white robes and was pronouncing sentence on a young woman. The judge mumbled something about the penal colonies and I sudden wondered if this was all a bad dream brought on by too much pepperoni pizza and dark beer.

The judge nodded and a bailiff escorted the woman, visibly crying, from the court. My first instinct was to think she had brought it all on herself, but then remembered why I was there and I developed a total understanding of her plight and a sympathy for her situation.

A different bailiff stepped in front of the bench and said, "Before her magistrate, this twenty-seventh day of October, two thousand, one hundred, eighty-nine, Doctor Stephen Connor on the charges of..."

I didn’t hear the rest. The date screamed at me. Twenty-one, eighty-nine, which was impossible, of course. I kept playing that over in my mind, knowing that it really was just a bad dream but unable to break out of it. Someone poked me in the ribs as the judge was repeating, "How do you plead."

I hesitated and then said, "Not guilty."

"Will the Prosecution present their case."

I was pushed toward the defense table and sat down. The man who had dragged me to this point was sitting in a chair just behind me. I turned and asked him, "How did we get here?"

He leaned forward and said, "Your time projector did it. Once we learned to use it, we could project ourselves whenever we wanted."

The judge looked down at me and I fell silent.

For twenty minutes I watched as a variety of exhibits, many drawn from the Internet, were paraded before the court. They even had the original patent applications in full holographic splendor. They showed the garbage as it sprang into existence in their city and traced it back to my invention and my time. Letters, newspapers, test papers, and anything else I had thrown into the machine was displayed, pointing directly at me as the original source of the garbage.

Finally the Prosecutor said, "I rest my case."

The judge turned to me but I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know what to say.

The judge finally asked, "Did you invent the machine?"

Without thinking, I said, "Yes."

She said, "Guilty. Bailiff, take Doctor Connor into custody. He will spend the night in the county jail and tomorrow, he will begin to clean up the mess he has made.

As deputy sheriff took my elbow to lead me from the courtroom and off to jail, I sighed with relief. First, I had learned where the garbage was going. I learned that I had a projector and not a transmitter. I learned that we could move through time and that it was possible to calibrate the machine so that we could pick a time and a destination. With all this, I could readjust my machinery so that it worked the way it was supposed to work.

And second, how much garbage could there be? There were only a few test models out there and they probably were all set to a different time and place so there wouldn’t be much garbage for me to clean up. Maybe a week or two, living in the future. I laughed out loud now that the tension was broken.

The deputy said, "What’s so funny."

"The sentence, of course."

"Mister, I wouldn’t be laughing if I were you. You have no idea what’s happened out there."

We reached the door and I looked out on the street that had bags of garbage lined along the curb. I thought nothing of them because New York had a habit of letting the garbage pile up.
I said, "It can’t be too bad."

"Monday, it began to rain. It rained all day. The sky was thick with it and it piled higher and higher. It blackened the Sun. Some people were injured before they could get inside."

"What do you mean rain?"

"Garbage. Tons of it. Hundreds of tons."

"But there can’t be that much. The machine has been..."

"Operating for nearly two hundred years, Mister. Two hundred. And most of them sent the garbage here. To this place. Right here. You have to clean all that up."

The deputy pushed open the door and the odor, the stench, nearly overwhelmed me. It was so thick you could almost cut it.

"But that would mean... mean," I stammered, "a life sentence."

"At the very least," he said.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Death of the World

My plan had been to add stories, reviews, and even a list of science fiction conventions to this blog on a regular basis, but I didn't plan on a hard drive crash or AOL deciding that I owed them money. I've been fighting with them for the last six weeks and the latest was that there was nothing to do to resolve the problem they had created. I told them that I could switch my home page to whatever server pleased me but that made no dent in their last position. There was nothing they could do to resolve the problem they had created.
But enough of that. I'll try to add things more frequently, as I get them ready. This next story is one that I wrote in one short sitting, almost as fast as I could type it. I "dreamed" it up one night and got up the next morning and put it down. The dream didn't translate to the computer screen exactly but the modifications were few.
I have never had much luck with short fiction and have only sold a few stories to various publications. I might be the only writer to ever publish a science fiction story in a magazine called Combat Illustrated... but hey, you take the sale where you can get it.
One other point about this story. Since I wrote it, I had the chance to watch a documentary on the History Channel that dealt with meteoric impacts and one of the ways the world, as we humans know it, might end. Their scenario differs from this one, but the two run in parallel.
And as they used to say on HBO... "And now, TSFS presents the original story, Death of the World..."
So, what do you do when you know the day you’ll die and you can do nothing to alter it? No, I’m not talking about a condemned killer or a cancer patient with weeks to live hanging over his head. I’m talking about a much more wide ranging event that will be a disaster for the whole world. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

I have always had a fondness for the military and the moment I was old enough, I joined the Army. This was back when there was a draft and teenagers were being inducted into the military with great regularity. If you planned on college, then you could get a deferment, if you wanted. If you were female, you didn’t have to worry at all, gender being a deciding factor. But if you were young, in the middle class or poor, hadn’t really thought about college, didn’t know about the concept of a safety school, and found yourself graduated from high school, then you were prime cannon fodder.

No, not everyone in such a state would be drafted, but you certainly had none of the protections of those others. Friends had told me of warrant officer flight training which meant the Army would take high school graduates, even those who had just turned eighteen, and make them helicopter pilots. With the Vietnam War heating up and helicopters being one of the things the Army was promoting, it wasn’t difficult to get a slot for training. Staying in, because the Army needed pilots badly, wasn’t difficult, and activities that would have seen you tossed from the program six months earlier were now just another way to get demerits but not find yourself on the outside wondering what happened.

So I made it through flight school and like everyone else in my class, with a single exception, found myself with orders to Vietnam. I had hoped, through school, that the civilians would find a way to end the war before I was called, but, of course they failed. After all, they weren’t going and most of their families wouldn’t be going. Just people like me with no political clot and no real thoughts of self-preservation. I just sort of wandered into this and could think of no real way to get out.

The interesting thing here, see, was that I hadn’t really been thinking beyond the next few weeks, and like every other soldier, didn’t see myself as being one of the unlucky ones to get killed. That was something that happened to others. I’d just drift along, happy, doing what I had been trained to do, and then go home with a pocket full of war stories to impress my fellow students at the bar. I had realized my mistake and college was now clearly in my sights.

One night, sitting in the officer’s club, which was a run down building that had lights strung near the ceiling, walls that were mostly screen and an overhead fan that did nothing but rotate slower than an elephant trying to dance, there were several officers from another unit visiting. Men we didn’t really know, but for some reason found themselves in our club, drinking our cheap booze, and talking to us about their unique experiences.

One of the men, an older guy, maybe about thirty, maybe not that old, wearing faded jungle fatigues which meant he’d been in-country for a while, with the pistoleer moustache, shaggy hair, and attitude of a short-timer, meaning his tour was winding down, got drunk with us. Gripping a glass of bourbon like one of us would try to steal it, he leaned forward and said the most provocative thing.

He said, "I’m not from here."

And I said, "My neither. I’m from Colorado."

So he said, "No, I mean from this time."

Well, I wasn’t very experienced, just having turned 19, but I knew a line when I heard it. Science fiction was fun and I read as much as I could, but here was a guy claiming to be a time traveler. Well, I thought that was what he was claiming, and I didn’t believe him... then.

Martin Cadiz, who was only slightly older than me but who was losing his hair which was bleached almost white, whose attempt at a moustache failed because his hair was so light you could barely see his eyebrows, let alone the moustache, said, somewhat drunkenly, "I don’t understand that."

He said, "I come from the future."

At which point Cadiz leaned back, laughed out loud and said, sarcastically "And I come from the past."

The conversation was taking on a Dickensonian flavor, which was really odd for a bunch of drunken and horny soldiers because the topics usually ran to women and tales from the land of the big PX and the all night generator, which meant in soldier talk, the United States, and, of course women.

He said, slurring the words slightly, and then stopping to reform the thought and speaking precisely, "I can prove it."

"Of course you can," I said.

He leaned in, looked around as if he was worried about spies, and said, "President Kennedy will be assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas. You wait and see." He leaned back, grinning.

"That happened six years ago," I said.

The look on his face changed and then he grinned again. "Oh, yes. I forgot. We jumped forward."

"Me too," said Cadiz.

"Okay. Okay," he said. "The space shuttle Challenger will blow up about seventy seconds after launch in January, 1986. There."

"I don’t know what a space shuttle is," said Cadiz.

"That’s what, seventeen years in the future," I said. "Tell me whose going to win the Rose Bowl this year."

"I don’t know what the Rose Bowl is," he said.

That, I believed then, was a ridiculous thing to say. How could you be an American and not know what the Rose Bowl is? It’s embedded in the culture, like TV dinners, Fords, and Albert Einstein. I mean, you might not care for football or understand anything about the game, but you would know about the Rose Bowl.

"So tell us something that will happen soon."

He leaned back, glanced up at the ceiling as if seeking divine inspiration and said, "Richard Nixon will resign after Watergate."

Well, I knew who Nixon was since he was president but I didn’t know what the Watergate was or that it would eventually become the standard for scandal with everything having "gate" hung on the end of it.

Now that he was talking, we couldn’t shut him up. He said, "You want to get rich, look for a company called Microsoft in the what, 1980s, and buy stock in it. Just a little will make you rich. Buy a lot and retire."

He said, "Ronald Reagan will be president and he’ll surprise people. Bill Clinton will be president and he’ll surprise people with an intern. George Bush will be president twice but we think there were two of them. We’re not sure."

"Well," I said, "if you come from the future, why wouldn’t you know if there were two of them?"

He leaned forward and said, "Fair question. Fair question. Our records are incomplete."

Back then, at nineteen, I didn’t realize how complete records in the future would become. I didn’t know about the Internet, or computers or electronic data storage, but I did know that in the Army I had filled out papers for what seemed like days. Everything we did was documented six ways from Sunday and those documents always seemed to return to haunt us.

"How can your records be incomplete?"

"Fair question," he said again. Then dropping it casually into the conversation, he added, "An asteroid, the size of Mount Everest will hit San Diego on June 12, 2016. The devastation will be worldwide and civilization will collapse in the weeks to follow."

My first reaction was to laugh. I mean, people had been predicting the end of the world for centuries. This was a new variation and it wouldn’t be until the 1970s that I would learn about the cataclysmic event 65 million years ago that created what scientists would call an extinction level event. Here this guy had just dropped into conversation the precise date of an extinction level event.

I thought I saw the logical flaw in this even though I had been drinking as much bourbon as he had, and said, "Well, if civilization collapses and everyone dies, where do you come from?"

"There will be survivors and eventually civilization reappears."

Cadiz took a deep breath and said, "This has been entertaining for a while but now it’s boring. I think I’ll go."

He stood up unsteadily, almost fell, and then staggered toward the door. He didn’t look back. Three weeks later he was killed when his aircraft was shot down near what we called the Parrot’s Beak on the Saigon River. So much for corroboration.

In Vietnam, it didn’t take much to entertain us, so I sat there, wondering how far he would take this charade of his. I asked, "What else do you know?"

"The United States will launch a war against Iraq at the beginning of the next century. Another space shuttle, Colombia will disintegrate on reentry. A mountain in Washington will blow up providing just a little clue about what is coming. Computers will be the big thing and everyone will have one or two. Europe will form an economic partnership and the Soviet Union will collapse in 1991."

I waved that away thinking of it as political events and asked, "So how do I become rich?"

"Computers are the key. Learn about them. Invest in them. But be careful of the dot coms. Lots of people will lose a lot of money in the dot com bust."

He rattled on like that for a while but I grew tired of it. I finally said, "It would be nice if you could prove it now."

He said, "Ho Chi Minh will die this summer and your president Nixon will announce troop withdrawals, but he’ll keep the war going until 1972. Then, just before the election, he’ll announce, or Henry Kissinger will announce a peace agreement."

"Fine. This summer I’ll learn if your prediction is right, though Ho is getting up there in years so saying that he’ll die soon isn’t much of a prediction." I smiled to myself thinking that I was pretty clever, thinking of that through the fog of alcohol.

He leaned back, twisted around slightly and dug into his pocket. He pulled out a handful of coins and dropped them on the table. This was odd because when we arrived in-country we had converted all our money into MPC which was Army money printed to help stabilize the local economies or some such nonsense. Anyway, we didn’t have any real American money. He sorted through the coins and pushed a quarter at me.

"Look at the back."

I turned it over and saw, not the eagle, but a scene of some kind. I flipped and saw Washington, but not the picture I was used to. This was a different Washington and the date was 1999.

"Nice piece of work," I said. "But this isn’t a real quarter."

"Sure it is. They’ll change the design to celebrate the new millennium. Each state will have it’s own."

"So I wait until then to see if you’re right about this."

"No. Look at the date man."

"Nice prop," I said finally. "Where’d you get it?"

I could see by the look on his face that he didn’t like the question and I knew that the answer was that it was counterfeit. He’d had it made so that he could convince people about his story. Here was a con-man, pure and simple, though I didn’t know who he was trying to con or for what purpose. Maybe he was just scamming drinks. Cadiz had bought a round and I had. I couldn’t remember if the guy had or not.

One of the guys at the bar, a man I didn’t recognize turned and said, "Jason, you about ready?"

The man scooped the money up and dropped it back into his pocket. He stood and said, "Sure."

I wished I had tried to snag that strange quarter. Then it would have been an interesting conversation piece. Today, it would have been one of a kind because it was the first of those quarters I ever saw. When the government announced the minting of those coins at the end of the 1990s, I felt little. There had already been so many confirmations of what that guy said that one more meant nothing to me.

He, with his two friends, walked to the door and disappeared into the night.

Davis, one of the commissioned officers, a captain who was nearing his DEROS, which was his date of estimated return from overseas, dropped into the chair vacated by the man. He asked, "What were you two talking about?"

"The future," I said.

"Yeah? That guy," he stopped and pointed at the door, "was asking about the war."

"You mean gathering intelligence?"

"Nope, just general questions. Strange, it was like he didn’t have the basic knowledge and was trying to gather it."

I laughed then. "Well, it takes all kinds. The conversation was interesting for a while."

Davis stood up and said, "I’m off to bed."

So I sat there and thought about writing down the predictions the man had made. I had once gathered, from the tabloid newspapers and magazines, the predictions made for the coming year to see how many times the psychics were right. This was just one more exercise in that "research." But the truth was, I was tired, slightly drunk, and didn’t really care.

And when Ho Chi Minh died that summer, I didn’t think much of it because he was an old man. And when Nixon announced troop reductions, my only reaction was that I would get to go home ten days earlier than I had thought. Nixon had lopped ten days off my countdown to DEROS.

But then Kissinger went to Paris and days before the 1972 election announced that he’d achieved peace with hononr with the North Vietnam. And then, there was a break-in at the Watergate in Washington that kept expanding until Nixon was forced to resign. And then Mount St. Helens in Washington blew up. So I began looking for a company called Microsoft so that I could put every dime I could scrape up into it. I invested heavily, worried that my money would float away on someone else’s dream, but then the Challenger exploded 70 seconds after lift off and I knew that my money was safe.

Everything the man had told me was coming true. It was as if he had read a history book written a hundred years in the future. He knew what was going to happen and he told me. And by 1990, I believed him. I didn’t need to see the quarter design change, or the war in Iraq to know that he knew the future.

Then I thought about something else. Why would that guy, a traveler from the future tell me, a nineteen-year-old kid about his time travels? Why would he give me the glimpses into the future he had? Why work so hard to convince me he was from the future when, if he really was a time traveler, it made more sense to keep that information to himself? But more importantly, why tell me to look for Microsoft and to hint about the future of computers?

By the 1990s, scientists had learned about the layer of iridium in what is known as the K-T boundary. Below that layer, you find fossils of dinosaurs. Above it, there are none. Iridium is an extremely rare element that is most common in meteorites. To produce a worldwide layer of iridium, something huge had to smash into the Earth, in this case about 65 million years ago. It created that extinction level event that the man had talked about.

In the 1990s, after a comet, Shoemaker-Levy Nine, broke up and smashed into Jupiter causing damage that was unbelievable, scientists began looking seriously for Earth crossing asteroids, mapping the skies and charting their orbits. Plans were drawn up with an eye to preventing one of these massive things from hitting the Earth and causing global destruction. Given the history of the planet, it seems to be something we should take seriously.

So now that I have hundreds of millions of dollars, based on my investments in Microsoft and computers, and my dodging the dot com bust because I finally knew what dot com meant, I can fund research. I can help those who are looking for the Earth crossing asteroids. I know that an asteroid, large enough to be detected before it slams into the Earth on June 12, 2016 can be spotted. I know that I can gently nudge some of those scientists into looking in the right place to spot this asteroid, and once it is spotted, things can be done.

I have about a decade to get this thing found and convince the president to do something about it. I have a decade to make sure research goes in the right direction so that when this asteroid is spotted, and because we are looking for it, we’ll be able to push it off its path or destroy it so that there won’t be global destruction.

Thinking about this all these years, I’ve decided that the man was there, in our officer’s club to give me this information. No, I don’t mean me specifically, but some of us, so that we would be able to prepare. I would bet that they flooded the Earth with these people, studying their past and giving some of us a glimpse of our future. Their mission, was not historical in nature, it was preventative. They were giving us fair warning. I just hope that I can get the right people to listen.

Friday, February 16, 2007


What follows is a complete science fiction novel that was published in the 1990s. It was the last of a three book series that dealt with military intelligence in the future. It was an outgrowth of what I was doing for the Air Force in the 1980s and it reflects that.

They entire novel is published, through some of it might need to be accessed through the February 2007 archives. I wanted to publish it in order and started with the last chapters, working forward. I thought it might be too confusing for the first chapter to be at the end.

I know that some people like to know how a book comes together. Robert Charles Cornett and I were writing a short series known as "The Fifty Million Years War" (the first of which was "Seeds of War."). We have envisioned something longer and in the course of putting together one of those books, I realized that I had actually written two short novels. One took place on a water world and about halfway through that book, the action shifted to the world of The Citadel. I realized that the reader might not like that transition. Because of that, I chopped this story out of the other series (and the book which became "The Aquarian Campaign").

But when it came time to write the last of the books in what is known as the "Military Intelligence" series, I thought that his might be a good place to rewrite that part of a book I had edited out. The Citadel was born in that way.

I wanted each of the books to be stand alone, which means that if you picked up the third book first, all the information you needed to understand that story was in that book. It didn’t rely on a reader who had already read the first two books. So, as they refer to the asteroid that had trapped them, they are referring to events in the second book called "The Rat Trap". There is no need to read that book to follow the action in this one.

This book contains the complete text of the published novel, though there have been slight modifications so they do not agree exactly.

So you now have all the information you need to read this book. Enjoy.


"This, ladies and gentlemen," said the Colonel, "is our enemy."

He pointed at the holographic orb that hovered over the conference room table. It was a large ship that they had captured a few weeks before. "We know next to nothing about them," he continued, "except they are the only other living spacefaring race we have encountered."

Captain Joshua Price, known as Tree to his friends, wasn't sure the Colonel was right about using the term enemy. Price had been on the ship, a huge asteroid that had been converted into a ship by encasing it in metal and adding engines to it. As they had tried to explore it, Price and his team had been captured by it and held for testing. Of course, that was a little strong. The ship had been like a giant rat trap, letting them enter but then sealing itself so they couldn't escape. There didn't seem to be a hostile intent behind it. A yearning for knowledge, a way of exploring the galaxy using a device that was ingenius because it was not faster-than-light, but was fully automated. That seemed to be the key.

There hadn't been a biological entity on board for the purposes of regulating the testing or even designing the testing. But there had been one to repair the machinery if it broke down and the self replicating technology needed something a little more individualistic. It had been held in statis until its special skills had been needed.

Price didn't want to be in the conference room or to listen to the Colonel's briefing. He knew more about the internal workings of the "enemy" craft, of the living, intelligent creature found on board, of the whole system as anyone who in the fleet. Hell, the Colonel was reading from a report that Price had helped construct.

"We believe," said the Colonel, "based on what we've been able to learn from the computer systems and records, that the asteroid... the ship, came from a point very near the galactic center."

Price closed his eyes momentarily. There were a dozen things he'd rather be doing. He opened his eyes, turned slightly and glanced at windows, thick blocks of glass that looked out on the blackness of space. The closest stars were light years away. Some were very bright, like Venus when it was near Earth. Others were tiny points of dim light almost invisible in the thick haze of drifting hydrogen atoms and space dust.

The Colonel studied the faces of the officers around the table and saw that they were bored. He grinned and touched one of the buttons in front of him. The orb vanished in a flickering of light. An outline of an alien body appeared, filled in and then turned at the same speed that the orb had revolved earlier. It gave everyone at the table a complete view of the alien but more importantly, something new to look at.

It was a small creature with long hair from the elbows to the wrists and from the knees to the ankles. It was a feline looking creature with pointed ears and yellow eyes. Of course Price didn't have to see the holo of it. He'd seen it when if first appeared on the alien ship and then had worked with it as they tried to construct common ground for his interrogation of it.

As he watched it rotate above the table, Price thought that it didn't look like much of an enemy. There had only been one of them on the ship and it seemed to function as a maintenance man. At the moment there was absolutely no reason to call it the enemy.

"The autopsy," said the Colonel, "revealed a very simplified internal structure. It looked as if someone had taken the human body, figured the best way to restructure it, and then genetically engineered it to a specific function. One adapted to the function that it fulfilled...that is, sleeping most of the time."

Price hadn't been listening closely. He'd been wondering how soon he could get out of the meeting. There were things that he wanted to do. People he wanted to see. And then the Colonel's words sunk in.

"Autopsy?" said Price, not realizing that he had spoken out loud.

The Colonel turned his attention on Price, seemed to pin him to the chair with his gaze. He stared at Price for a full thirty sceconds and then nodded. "Yes, autopsy. I'm afraid that the creature died two days ago."

Price was going to protest, to suggest that it had been healthy enough the last time he'd seen it, and then decided to say nothing. He was not an exo-biologist, knew next to nothing about the study of anatomy and didn't know how to begin. Even with that, it didn't seem right that the alien should have died with no warning.

"Dr. James?" said the Colonel.

James stood up. He was a short man with pasty white skin and jet black hair. There were black circles under his eyes and he had thin lips that made his face look skull like. His hands shook, as if he didn't like the idea of speaking to the group of officers assembled.

He opened a folder, took a sheet of paper from it and placed it on the table in front of him. He glanced at it, looked up at the holo and said, "I have made a detailed study of the internal organization of the specimen..."

Price watched the doctor rather than listening to him. He was standing with his hands behind his back, rocking from heel to toe, speaking in the monotone that put generations of medical students to sleep and giving his information in such detail with so many technical terms that no one other than another doctor would understand it. If, however, he could stay awake long enough to hear much of it.

James wound down and the Colonel took over again. He left the holo of the alien spinning slowly above the table, talking around the problem, letting the ship's chief navigator speak, letting the astronomer speak, and adding his own comments after each.

Finally, when he had dragged it out as long as possible, the Colonel touched a button and alien vanished. He dropped back into his chair, turned so that he was staring into space and said, "A spacefaring race we don't know is a danger to us all. They may know exactly where we are but we can only guess where their home world is."

He paused dramatically and then said, "That is why we have been given a new mission. Find them and fit the if necessary, destroy them."

Chapter One

The intelligence office was a small cabin on the main deck of the flag ship. It was one of the few with a hatch that could be locked because of the nature of the work done on the other side. When Price arrived and centered himself, the hatch irised open without his having to use the combination.

Sitting at the console, her back to him, was Lieutenant Emma Coollege, know as Jackknife. She was looking up at a display screen, her fingers on a keyboard. The information was parading across the screen and was easily visible from the hatch.

"If you're reviewing classified data," said Price, "the hatch should be locked."

She glanced over her shoulder at him. She was a tall, slender woman with delicate features and short black hair, the result of a recent assignment. She was as deadly as any member of the team yet looked sweetly innocent. It was the best disguise she could have.

"I know the security regulations as well as you, Tree. I don't have to be reminded."

Price stepped deeper into the office and let the hatch iris shut. He stood looking at the array of screens attached to the bulkhead. The smaller, satellite screens were dark. Only the center screen was being used.

He dropped into the chair next to Coolledge and twisted around so that he could watch as she worked. Finally he asked, "Is that anything important?"

"No. Idle curiosity," she said. She let her fingers fall from the keyboard and looked at him. "I was trying to figure out the most likely candidates for the home world... Is there something wrong?"

"We lost our major asset."

For a moment she was confused and then said, "What happened? He escape?"

"After a fashion. He died. I just heard the results of the autopsy."

Coollege fell silent and then put her hands back on the keyboard. She cleared the data from the screen, thought for a moment and then tried to access the new data. She couldn't find it on the menu, and tried to access security files from the flag area. When that failed, she tried the medical section, science section, and finally the intell section though she knew that they had added nothing to it. Access to the intell section was strictly limited to only a few people and it seemed logical that someone else who had that access might have added the data in there.

"I find nothing here," she said.

Price had been watching. "The doctor might not have his notes input yet... or it might be under the captain's log or in the regimental commander's private logs."

"Uh-huh." She thought for a moment, glancing up at the top of the bulkhead as she concentrated and then began to type again. When the security screen flashed, she only grinned, shot a quick glance at Price, and typed in a six digit code.

"Where in the hell did you get that?"

Still grinning, she said, "I'm in intelligence and part of my job is to know these things."

The menu came up and she began to scroll through it. "Might be here."

The screen showed a coded document labeled simply, "Alien Harvest."

She opened the document and saw that it was nothing more than a report to higher headquarters detailing the finding on the alien ship, including pictures of the equipment found, the interior of the ship, and a brief look at the powerplant. It suggested where detailed information could be found under various tabs in the supporting documentation.

"Hell of a lot of work when into that," said Price.

"Nothing about the alien being."

Price leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin. He realized that he was going to have to shave soon. As a teenager he couldn't wait for his beard to form. Now it was becoming courser, darker, and the chore of shaving was beginning to annoy him. He thought about having it permanently removed but hesitated. There were still areas where beards were grown and to fit into the local population he needed to be able to grow his own.

"There is something fishy about this," said Price. "I don't like it."

"Why? Because you weren't told that the being had died?"

"That's part of it. We should have been informed immediately. And, I should have been at the autopsy."

Coollege shook her head. "You ever been to one of these autopsies?"

"Hell, this wasn't a human. Nothing to get squeamish about. I would have liked to watch just to make sure that everything was done according to the book."

Coollege laughed. "Talk about your intelligence officer getting paranoid. What in the hell are you thinking?"

"Nothing," said Price. "I just don't like relying on information supplied by others when I haven't seen the source of that information."

"I'm sure the doctor was qualified," said Coollege.

"Yeah," said Price.

Coollege turned her attention to the screen and then the keyboard. She closed the files and returned to the main menu. "I don't know where to look for the data."

"Well, we're authorized to see it, so I guess I'll ask the chief of staff where it's hidden."


"No," said Price. "It's too late for us to do anything constructive anyway. Tomorrow. At which time I'll brief both you and Rocky on the next mission."

"Let me guess," said Coollege. "We're going to make a concentrated effort to locate the alien's home world."

"How'd you know?"

"Just makes sense. We find an alien intelligence out there and the first thing we're going to want to do it learn where their home world is located."

Price didn't respond for a moment, thinking. There was nothing else he could say. The briefing in the morning would cover the mission and until that time there was nothing more to discuss.

Finally he said, "You interested in getting something to eat?"

"You know, Tree, that is the one thing we seem to do all the time. Work awhile and then you want to get something to eat."

"Is that a no?"

"It's merely a comment on the situation. It's more of 'a just a minute and let me get ready.'"

"Shut down the computer and lock up," he said, "and I'll meet you in the corridor."


Chapter Two

Rachel Susan Monier stood at the hatch on the shuttle deck, waiting for it to cycle open. She had arrived on the shuttle, having come by courier ship from Earth and had been told that she would be met. No one had met her, other than to place her on the shuttle. Now she stood at the hatch, her small duffel bag in one hand and her computer, containing her orders in the other. But no one had told her a thing other than billeting would be found outside the shuttle bay, that the regimental office was located near the bridge, and that she was now on her own. They were too busy to have someone take her up there.

Of course she hadn't needed the advice of those others about the locations of the billeting cabin or the regimental office. Even though no one had briefed her on it, she knew where they were. Just as she had known that no one would meet her at the shuttle bay or that the mission coming up would move them all from the explored section of the galaxy into an area where only a few scout ships had ever ventured and from which none had ever returned.

The hatch irised open and Monier stepped through into a dimly lighted corridor. Only a few people were walking along it and none of them looked as if they wanted a thing to do with her. They didn't even seem to see her.

She was wearing the uniform of a first lieutenant, though the rank was more honarary than real. She was a short woman, thin with jet black hair and large brown eyes. There was nothing unusual to distinguish her from any of the others in the corridor.

Without asking directions, she walked aft, studying the corridor. She reached a lift, waited, and then took it to the main deck. She exited, walked down a corridor that was brightly lighted and filled with people doing their jobs. She found the regimental office and entered.

In all the videos and holos she had ever watched, the new man reported in saluting. She stepped to the desk, glanced at the man sitting behind it, tried to salute and said, "Lieutenant Monier reporting in." She dropped her hand.

The man kept working for a moment and then slowly looked up at her. "First, you don't report to me. Second, you outrank me so there is no need to salute. And third, I'm a sergeant. You never salute a sergeant except in return."


"Orders," said the sergeant gruffly.

Monier set her duffle on the deck, shuffled through it and held out the computer disc. The sergeant tapped the desk on the right with his index finger and let her set it there. He didn't pick it up right away, but closed out the document he had been using.

"You reporting in?" he asked.

"Yes, sir."

That stopped him again. He looked up at Monier, at the silver bar on her collar and asked, "How long you been in the service?"

Monier focused her attention and began to understand. She smiled and said, "Long enough, Sergeant. I'm just overly polite to my elders. Now please do your job and let the Colonel know that I have arrived."

"Yes, ma'am." He picked up the disk, shoved it into the disk drive, and watched as the screen lit. He read the information, scrolled down and then laughed.

"I was right," he said. "You were called to active duty just three months ago."

"That's right, Sergeant, but I'm a very fast learner."

He scanned more of the information and asked, "Just what is Long Distance Data Processor? Sounds like something that should be part of the computer."

One of the few things that she had learned was to say as little about her job as she could. There were those with the need to know and those with none. "It means that I work with computers," she lied.


She stood watching as the sergeant added her to the computer data base, checked on the authorization codes embedded on the disk and then removed it from the drive. He held it out. "Here you go. I think before you meet the Colonel you should meet Captain Price. He'll be your boss."

"Price," she said.

"Nice fellow."

"Okay," said Monier. She stuffed the disk into her pocket. "Thanks."

"You go out the hatch, take the mid-lift down two stations. Intell office will be on the right. There is no sign on the door. That's how you know it's the intell office. Everything else is labeled."

"Thanks," she said again.

She left the regimental office and walked to the lift. She rode it down and saw Price leaving the office. Without being told, she knew the officer was Price.



"Good afternoon, sir. I'm Rachel Monier. I've been assigned to your office."

"Nope," said Price. "I've heard nothing about it."

"You will, sir."

Price waited until Coollege joined them and said, "You know Lieutenant Coollege?"

"Called Jackknife," said Monier.

"Right," said Price.

"You've been doing your homework," said Coollege suspiciously.

Price stood for a moment and then said, "You want to join us? We're going to get something to eat."

Monier looked at Coolledge and then at Price. "No," she said. "I think that I should get settled in first. Find my billet." That was a word she remembered someone using to describe the cabin she would use.

"If you are truly assigned to us," said Price, "then this would be a very good chance for us to get to know one another before we start in the morning."

"I believe..." started Monier.

"Join us," said Price. He turned to Coollege. "No reason for her not to join us is there?"

"Nope, Tree. None at all." Her voice had a sharp edge to it that Price ignored.

"Then it's settled."

"I need a place for my duffle."

Price waved at the hatch. "Drop it in there and we'll lock up."

"Yes, sir."

As Monier stepped around him, Coollege leaned close and said, "I thought it was just going to be just you and me tonight, Tree. I wasn't counting on reinforcements."

"She's new and is assigned to us."

"So she says."

Monier tossed her duffle through the open hatch and straighten. She was smiling broadly. "I'm ready."

"So are we," said Coollege.

Chapter Three

Randly Clark enjoyed being a scout. More often than not he was on his own, away from the fleet and in deep space, exploring areas that had only been seen by astronomers. According to the regulations, he had given numbers to the stars that weren't in the normal guides, but he was allowed to name any Earth-like planets he discovered. That was why there was a Clark's World and a Randly's Planet, and half a dozen others named after his family or his current girl friend.

Clark was not a young man by scout standards. He was just over forty and had been flying through space alone for twenty years. At first he had been bothered by the enforced loneliness but quickly grew to enjoy it. There were no commanding officers to harass him about the length of his hair or the fact he hadn't shaved. There were no early morning meetings, no rigid schedules that had to be followed and no reports to be written until he returned to the fleet. Then, most times, he could find someone who would transcribe his notes for him, or he could use a voice access computer and just talk about his trip.

During the years with the fleet, Clark had been assigned a single ship and had been allowed to modify it. That was one of the rewards for being a scout. Too many couldn't stand the lack of human companions. A deep space mission drove them to the brink. Clark didn't mind it and the modifications allowed him to take the longest of the missions. He had a library of old Earth movies, books in the computer, and a computer navigation system of his own design that allowed him to sleep twenty hours a day if the mood moved him.

So, when Clark, who had been launched with a dozen other scouts to explore the center of the galaxy finally located the enemy, he had been asleep. He had been dreaming about a steak dinner, baked potato and green salad. He'd never eaten a real steak, but had eaten salads and potatoes but he d eaten wonderful simulations of them. Or so he had been told.

He snapped awake, his attention focused on the radar display in front of him. There was a single target more than five thousand miles from him. He glanced at the navigation console and saw that the closest star system was more than four billion miles away, the star at the center a bright ball of light and off to his right.

"Okay," he said out loud and reached for the joystick. He touched a button so that he had full control of the scout ship. He pushed it to the left and began a rapid turn. He touched the thruster and shot forward, toward the small ship displayed on the radar.

With the forward view screen at full magnification, he could see that the enemy ship... or rather the unknown ship, wasn't much larger than his own. It was a fat orb with stubby wings and a clear canopy set forward. It looked nothing like a fighter or interceptor or even a space craft. It looked more like a lifting body designed to fall through atmospheres without incinerating itself. It was not like anything that belonged to any group, race or planet that he had ever encountered.

"Okay," he said again. He slowed slightly, but kept his nose pointed at the other ship. He activated the computer voice input.

"Identify craft located four thousand, six hundred miles in front of us."

"No matches found."

"Is the craft manned?"

"Insufficient data."

"Thanks for nothing," said Clark. "Did the craft come from the closest system."


"Number of planets in system?"

"Twenty-two...Six inner planets, two in the biosphere. Three that are rocks. Eleven that are gaseous giants on outer edge of the system."

Clark took a deep breath. He rubbed a hand over his face and then turned his attention to the craft. It was closer and seemed to be coming straight at him.

"Okay," he said. He turned to the right and dropped away from the enemy. "Let's see if it follows."

He activated the rear camera and watched the other ship as it blossomed with flame and turned to pursue.

"Okay," he said. "I get it."

Now he accelerated and pulled back on the stick, lifting the nose and beginning a loop. When he was pointed at the enemy ship, he rolled to the right to level out and continued to accelerate. There was no reaction from the other ship.

Clark raced forward, accelerating as he closed the distance. All sensors, radars and detectors were on. If the enemy didn't know he was there, it would soon see him. He was radiating electro-magnetic waves across the spectrum. He'd look like a small star to a radio astronomer.

"Computer, do you have a reading on any occupants of that craft?"

"Insufficient data."

"Fine. Is that craft armed?"

"Insufficient data."

Clark took a deep breath and kept the nose of his craft pointed at the enemy ship. He didn't waver, holding the stick steady and continued to accelerate, all instruments searching for additional detail.

"There is a ninety percent probability that the craft contains a single air breathing occupant."

"Thank you, computer."

Clark decided that he would buzz the enemy ship, photograph it and then make a run into the planetary system. Then, depending on what he found, he'd head back to the fleet.

"Warning! Warning! Shot detection. Shot detection. Missile has been fired."

Clark jinked right and then left and then fired a flare as he retarded the engine to cut the heat from it. "Type of missile?"

"Radar homing."

"Suppress it."

"Missile launched and homing on intruder," said the computer. "Missile running true. Interception of incoming missile in fifteen seconds...Detonation, detonation. Threat has been eliminated."

"Well, now we know," said Clark excitedly. "We'll go after him."

He pushed the stick forward into a deep dive, and continued on around, rolling out heading for the enemy. He accelerated, forcing himself back in his seat. He fired his laser knowing that the beam would be dissipated by the distance. It wouldn't have the power to punch through the enemy's ship's skin even if he managed a hit. With the laser firing, he launched two missiles, one behind the other.

The enemy ship dipped and then turned, rolling away from him. The dogfight was taking place at over three thousand miles using sensors and radar. Clark couldn't see the enemy ship visually and knew it couldn't see him.

"Beam weapon," the computer warned. "Outer hull is beginning to heat."

Clark jinked right and then left and the beam slipped off his hull. "Status of missiles," he said.

"Running hot and true. Impact in two minutes, fourteen seconds."

Clark had thought about using the enemy's own beam to aim a missile. It could ride the radiation thrown off by the beam for guidance, but that would be wasted if either of his missiles destroyed the target.

"Keep me advised of missile progress."


Clark rolled out, pointed his nose at the enemy ship again and accelerated rapidly. He wanted to close the distance between them and destroy the enemy. At the moment there was too much distance and it gave the enemy pilot too much time to react. A kid with a BB gun could take out the missiles at the distance they were fighting.

"Beam on again. Hull is heating."

Clark jinked up and twisted around, putting a different side of his ship toward the enemy. He began a slow, continuous rotation so that the beam couldn't lock onto a single point to superheat the skin of his ship to punch through it. It was the best defense.

"Two thousand, five hundred miles to enemy ship."

Clark checked the heads up display. The enemy ship was running straight toward him. The closure rate was climbing rapidly.

"Time to impact, one minute, thirty seconds. Missiles running true."

Clark watched them as they raced toward the enemy. The heads-up displayed them as pin points of light, the track marked in yellow and the enemy ship in flashing red.

"Missile destroyed," said the computer.

There was no spectacular explosion. The first missile blip just disappeared from the HUD. The track faded leaving only the second missile and the enemy ship.

"Second missile destroyed."

Clark hadn't expected either of them to get through. He just wanted the enemy to know that he had some teeth too. He continued to roll, twisting right and left, presenting a difficult target for the enemy. He fired his laser, saw it touch the side of the enemy ship and slide away.

"Distance five hundred miles."

Clark nodded, not realizing that he had. He kept his attention focused on the HUD and the enemy. It was beginning a slow turn as if to retreat into the star system.

"Two hundred fifty miles."

Clark fired the laser, aiming at the tail of the enemy ship. Numbers on the HUD told him that the skin temperature of the enemy ship was increasing rapidly. It spun away, dove straight down relative to him and rolled, breaking the beam lock.

"Fire two more missiles."

"Missiles away. One hundred miles."

The nose of the enemy ship seemed to erupt. Clark knew that it was firing at him, but he ignored it as the distance shrank. They were only fifty miles away from each other. Clark flipped a red cover out of the way and hit the button concealed under it. A spread of torpedoes flashed out. Small weapons that homed on the only heat source around. Clark made sure that it radiated heat by keeping the laser beam on it.

"Twenty miles."

Through the tiny windows of the cockpit, Clark actually saw, for the first time, the enemy. The ship was a dark color, barely visible against the backdrop of space and had they not been close to galactic center, Clark doubted he would have seen it.

"First missile destroyed," announced the computer. "Beam weapon superheating hull."

Clark aimed his ship right at the enemy and kept up the pressure with his laser. The second missile disappeared in a bright flash of light and then the first of the torpedoes struck the enemy ship. There was a flash of light near the nose of the ship, a second one a few feet behind it and then a brilliant burst of brightness at the center of the enemy craft. An explosion that was hotter than a star flared. Clark turned his head and closed his eyes.

"Enemy ship destroyed," said the computer.

Clark couldn't resist the victory roll. He aimed at the center of the expanding cloud of debris, then pulled up to fly over it and barrel rolled as he passed it. "Got you, you son of a bitch."

"Enemy craft contained two life forms," the computer announced. "Two escape pods monitored."

"Direction of flight?"

"Toward the star system. Wait one. Target planet is fourth from the star. Intercept possible."

"Life forms on board?"

"Wait one."

Clark turned toward the star system. He couldn't see any of the planets nor could he see the escape pods. They were too small and too far away.

"Probability of lifeforms in pods is twelve percent," said the computer.

For an instant Clark was confused. Why provide escape pods if not for the crew. Then he thought about the intell probes carried in his ship, that were carried by each of the scout ships. They were designed to home on the fleet rally signal and provide data in the event that his ship was damaged or destroyed and he couldn't report.

"Can we still intercept and destroy?" He was searching for the pods on the heads up.


"Plot course for intercept and destroy each of the pods when possible."

The computer didn't respond. Clark felt the ship turn and accelerate. He leaned back, scanning the instruments and then trying to see something through the tiny windows. A pinpoint of light flared and caught his attention.

"First pod destroyed. Second has entered the star system. Course is unaltered."

"Are any of the planets inhabited."

"Sensor scans reveal an industrial complex on the fourth planet."

Clark had been a scout long enough to know that the computer hadn't answered the question that he had asked. It told him that there was an industrial complex but that didn't mean the planet contained any life.

"Second pod has been destroyed."

"Decelerate," said Clark.


"I have the flight controls again," said Clark.

"Ship control relinquished."

"We will make a quiet pass at the fourth planet and then return to the fleet."

"Orders specify," the computer warned in its flat, mechanical voice, "Locate and report all spacefaring entities. The mission has been accomplished."

"I know that," said Clark. He didn't care that he was arguing with a computer. "We will check out that industrial complex first."