Smart Bomb. Epilogue

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Chapter 19. Epilogue

In a valley of the Two women with their faces draped with dark cloth against the intense light of the sun, walked towards the religious school where several masked men dressed all in black stopped them.

They whispered just loud enough to tell the enforcers of morality where they were traveling and who they were to meet.

“Trykon.” The chief inquisitor echoed the woman.

The other men backed away. Consorts of the Leader of the Truth were given way, so long as they headed to their destination without leaving the path. Deviating from the route to the church of the One True Path was punishable by the choice of the Holy Leader.

It was the destiny of such women to submit to Trykon the Leader. Anyone who would dare touch the women’s skin, would be put to death in the most hideous ways possible. A favorite way, they enclosed the condemned in a giant terrarium filled with South American driver ants. The victim’s death was long and agonizing, then days later, nothing but bones were left, plucked out with care and tossed to dogs.

The guard led the pair of young women to the inner sanctuary, where the guards searched for weapons or explosives. The men who examined them, did a strip search to their undergarments, but the visual investigation uncovered no threat, just two pretty women.

A single guard led them below to the first sub-basement, past tables where male androids were partially constructed. Then down an elevator two stories underground to an opulent room with a raised dias.

The fifty-one year old Supreme Leader and Prophet stepped out from behind a massive, bomb resistant door after told that the women were local converts who wished to submit to him for blessings.

“Women, what honor do you wish to perform?”

“Oh wise one, first, before I give you my heart, I humbly request one thing.” Her eyes glittered with sensuality behind the pastel-colored drape of silk. She held out a graceful, delicate hand with just the index extended. “Pull my finger.”

Dateline Russia, WorldNetNews

Today the United Nations announced that sensors had detected an extremely large disturbance, possibly an explosion in the remote area of the Russian Federation. Russian authorities deny that weapons of mass destruction were tested and the cause is under investigation.

There are no other reports coming from the area that the Russian authorities have closed off to all traffic. Downwind in the polar jet stream a large amount of dust has drifted over the northern latitudes in the upper atmosphere, but no radiation is detectable.

Theories are it was possible that the cause of the explosion was an undetected comet or meteor. More news on this developing subject as it becomes available.

Elswhere in the news, typhoon Felix has taken a northerly track out to the open ocean…”

Thor turned off the video display while Lady Sif, Burning Chip, Running Man, Alvin and Walter were pleased with “Operation: Return to Sender” began to toast each other.

“Antimatter threat has been neutralized.” Alvin said quietly.

“JustWolf,” Alvin flinched at the death look Walter gave him, then used his real handle. “Lone Wolf, We can relax now.”

“No, it hasn’t. Just this one threat. Each time we will do this, there will be more, but we have discovered ways to win that problem.” Walter said as he typed more nicknames on the screen.

“Whoa! What do you mean “Each time”? Sif’s eyes were wide. “We do not have that kind of network.”

“We have something better.” The round-faced computer whiz smiled. Turning the monitor, an image shot from a helicopter of columns of smoke drifting out of a two-mile-wide crater with a subtitle:

You are always my brothers and sisters. It is a new term I have learned and I will use when I think of you every day. Love Tin Man.”

The image less than six hours old, intercepted from the most secure network the Russian Military had.

“Steve’s still with us.” Walter smiled.

“Antimatter explosions do not leave radioactive fallout.” Running Man fistbumped Burning Chip.

“No new android bombs.” Burning Chip said with a smile.

“We hope.” Thor wished. “If there is another, how do we catch a shape shifting android?”

“Walter.” Alvin said. “Reply to Steve with our worry. Like it or not, we are a white-hat team.”

“No! I don’t want to be a white-hat, thems are real nerds.” Walter grumped and continued to mutter his dissatisfaction about how life has done them all wrong as he tapped the keys to answer Steve. Then sighed. “Damn. Damned white hats, anyway!”

Walter, the unwilling White-Hat made the rest of them laugh with the irony.

***

The tall mixed race Hawaiian and African man in his tailored suit strode down the hallway carrying an ultra-secure notebook computer. His ID badge over his pocket said T. Lieutenant, his only identification he carried. The man stopped in front of an unmarked door where green and red dots marked his body while his image was taken, along with retinal imaging, then matched wirelessly against the ID chip in the name badge before he was buzzed in by someone sitting in a remote office.

The laser generated light beams turned off as weapons systems behind him powered down to standby mode.

“Lieutenant. Good! I have something to show you.” The technician had T. Sergeant on the lapel. “There was something seriously wrong about that kid that had that seizure earlier today.”

“His brother said he has diabetes, but it struck me as wrong. The older kid was lying.”

“Excellent observation. He was, listen to this conversation between the third male and the one that said he was ‘Brother’.

“We can’t leave him here like this, how long will it take?”

The third male asked.

“You known him longer. You should know.”

The heavyset one that called himself brother answered.

“That’s not the best part. Watch the video, just before we alerted you to a medical emergency out on the sensor pad.”

Sergeant played the video. The boy was on the ground but looked odd.

“See how it’s blurred?”

“That’s odd. Our cameras should keep it in tight focus.” T. Lieutenant said as he pulled up a chair and sat down to look closely at the display.

“Right. So I slowed down the playback frame rate. We can capture a hundred frames per second, when I slowed it all down to half speed?” Sergeant looked at Lieutenant. “This is where things really go off the reservation.”

The two government agents watched the video in ever more detail and slower playback. Noting both color and physical shapes the boy took during his “seizure”.

“Sir. I don’t know what you had out there. But one thing for sure, the boy is not human and there’s something significant that happened.” Sergeant stared at the screen. “These two men with him were surprised, so this whole event appears unexpected. We kept them under surveillance with long-range cameras for the best angle.”

A few taps on his keyboard.

“I have more audio, but it needs to be run through the filters some more. But, the older males were unprepared and frightened by what happened. However, the boy recovered and ate like teenagers do, he sucked down a full meal and drank a pink colored frappe thing, a brown drink – we suspect an iced mocha. Then he went to the back of the deli. That’s the last we see of him.”

Sergeant held up a finger before the Lieutenant said anything.

“Then a small event. A female, caucasian, redhead sat near them, ate a sandwich. Spoke with them from behind a paper she was reading, so there is no transcription of what was said. She kissed them and walked out.”

“We got part of that transcription from long-range mics.” The Lieutenant said. “’And my life.’ Is the last thing said.”

“That’s not all.” Sergeant said. “We tried to track her?”

“Yes?” Lieutenant said.

“She turned the corner, and we never picked her up again.”

“You have a multi-billion dollar, state of the art, super tracking system and you are telling me you lost two persons of interest in the span of a few minutes?”

“Yes, sir. And not for lack of trying.”

“We need to find these guys and see what all this was about. Find the girl and find the boy.”

“As far as we can tell, the boy never left the building. I am checking all video cameras now in the area. He went into the back to the bathrooms and never came out. There is no exit, no windows in that area of the deli.” Sergeant said. “I think the girl was the kid.”

“Why do you say that?” The Lieutenant already knew the answer.

“That batch of images of so many people laying on the ground at once, in one body? I don’t know what it is, but I would say it’s related and obviously unexpected. It might have been an aborted attack of some kind.”

Lieutenant hung his head for a moment.

“That is what I thought, I just wanted to hear you say it, too. Thank you. I need to call the Captain now.” He said as he inserted a micro-telephone in his ear.

“C. Captain please. T. Lieutenant.” A pause. “Captain, I have information you need to see. We need to meet in private. Five minutes. Thank you, on my way.”

“If we’re right, Sergeant, we’ll need a team to track these boys down. I’m going to drop your name to be with me.”

“Yes sir. Wherever this person is, we’ll find him.”

“Good. Now I need to go meet with the Captain.” And he turned to leave.

The door clicked softly behind him.

T. Sergeant looked back at the slow video playback of the body on the ground, counting the distinct and different sizes and shapes that appeared in each frame of the video. He stopped counting at two-hundred. Two-hundred distinct body shapes, colors and sizes. 

“I don’t know who you are, but we’ll find you.”

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Married by MIstake Epilogue Or: Chapter 59. In This Corner, The one, The Only…

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Epilogue Or: Chapter 59. In This Corner, The One, The Only…

‟TOM!” Kaylee jumped in his arms and hugged on him, as if she would never let go for all her days. ‟Where did you come from?”

He paused in mid-hug for a moment and gave a crooked smile with his inappropriate humor on the verge of words, pointed down the hallway.

‟Over there, the men’s room around the corner.”

‟Mr. Harte, I am Maxwell Silverham. We have met with these two women here to find a way to have you brought back to the United States. Please, tell me where have you been if you weren’t in Asia?”

‟Yup.” The cowboy hat had a distinct shape to it as he nodded. “I was in Asia on business and had a spot of trouble, but with the help of a local crime lord…” Tom pulled off his hat and scratched behind his ear. The long, red hair that once hung to his collar, now was shaven to a stubble.

‟Crime lord?” Beryon asked.

‟Yes, please don’t interrupt,” Tom gave the lawyer a hard look. “The term is my own. In any event, a well-connected citizen of means,  who’s interested in my children’s books of Leonard the Leafy Sea Dragon and wishes to open up the market in southeast Asia to publish the book series. He helped me out of Singapore. But at a cost.” Tom smiled. ‟He gets another eighth-cent per book sold.”

“We anticipate a lot of children’s books sold.” Tom rubbed his head. “Hate this haircut but it was necessary.”

‟Very well, but where did you go?” Max asked.

‟From there, I got my plane back, but the custom inspectors took saws to the cabinets, walls and whatever else they thought might have a hidden cache of drugs, they even tore up the carpet.” Tom frowned. “They even shredded my bed with razor blades.”

‟But the lawyer advised  me to leave Singapore with haste. The window for legal departure became more difficult with every minute that ticked past.” Tom took a deep breath of a man who ran for his life, and succeeded if just by the smallest of margins. “So I went to Australia and did my book tour.”

“While I was there, I paid a cabinet company to rebuild the bathroom and bed. All the other cut-up bits and parts were in boxes, I dumped them in Oz. I left my kitchen and laundry machines in Brisbane. It was a long and miserable flight back.” Tom made a sad shake of his head. “But,I got some extra range out of the Pacific Wizard because of the reduced weight. Without the cabinets and furniture, it increased the range by a measurable amount.”

‟Wow.” Melanie looked out the window for the big jet. ‟Where is the plane now?”

‟Well,” Tom smiled. “The Pacific Wizard is in Arizona with the cabinet builders to have a new interior built. I just paid a six-month lease here for the Sea Dragon to have month by month service until I get the Pacific Wizard back.”

‟Serviced here?” State Department Maxwell Silverham asked. ‟Can you elaborate? What do you have done?”

‟I have the plane hauled out and the hull cleaned of sea life.” Tom said as if he described it to a child. “They use a variety of methods, pressure and steam-clean technologies. Then repaint if needed. It is a low copper paint for environmental considerations, but it eliminates cross-contamination of species.”

‟Very good. I think my presence is no longer required here.” The United States agent nodded. “Mr. Harte, welcome back. I have someone contact you for a statement, a mere formality. You have cleared customs?” Max asked.

‟Yes, in Arizona.” Tom said. ‟Not that there was much to hide. It was in locked containers or on my person. Pain in the neck to live out of, but perfect for inspection.”

‟My services are paid in full by Leticia Nesmith on your behalf, Mr. Harte.” Beyron added. “You don’t wish my services?”

“I thought you were free from the Attorney General?” Kaylee asked.

“For you, yes.” Beyron nodded. “In the case of Thomas Harte, he got himself into that situation, my charges are in effect for him.”

‟Please leave me your card, I will need some representation with business contracts of the Singapore business society.” Tom said.

‟I don’t do business law.” Beryon said with his smile faltered.

‟No, perhaps not, but do you know someone who could? In your legal group, maybe?” Tom smiled. ‟Plus, I might still need some representation in the criminal courts before I go back. I won’t go back if the court there wants to prosecute me.”

‟Excellent.” Beyron nodded and his smile widened. “I look forward to see our company to do business with you. I’ll have my secretary find someone and contact you. Let’s do dinner. My wife makes a rum-cake that is to die for and we can burn a few steaks, then map out a strategy for a business model for both legal protection for you and assure that you don’t lose money in the international taxation of the different governments.”

He shook Tom’s hand then turned and walked with Max to the limousine.

“One shark teased and soon ignored.” Tom whispered to Kaylee and Melanie . “He would never leave without questions otherwise.”

‟Why did you go to Arizona with the yacht?” Kaylee asked as the government limousine left. “I thought a better place would be a yacht factory on the coast?”

‟The company in Yuma did the original cabinetry work, I liked  the material’s quality then, and since they have improved on the material technology. They can make the same kind of cabinets with less weight. I can save two-thousand pounds, and still have more cool stuff!” Tom shrugged with a smile. ‟And it is a renewable, fire-resistant wood.”

‟Wait. Wood is fire-resistant?” Melanie asked.

‟It’s treated at the factory.” Tom chuckled. “Spared no expense. It is all custom-built now. In a twisted way, when they gutted the entire plane, it saved me money, a rather uncomfortable ride, but I got my computer and tablets back, and all the rest of it is replaceable.”

“They looked at the drives, one officer recognized a story and told me that he reads it to his children every day.” Tom chuckled. “It helped me get the computers back, the stories on it that one officer didn’t wish to interrupt the book series. Although I think he took copies of the next couple books.”

‟Well, let’s go look at it, you will need an artist’s eye and a woman’s touch.” Kaylee said.

‟Why would I need a woman’s touch?”

Kaylee looked at Melanie and the sisters laughed.

‟This has all the promise of fun and excitement.” The younger sister clapped and laughed while Kaylee kissed him. ‟Tom, welcome to the family. Wait’ll mom and dad meet you. If you live through that, you’ll be famous.”

*I might be safer in Asia.* Tom gave a nervous laugh.

<fin>

Married by Mistake Chapter 58. Thomas Harrison Harte

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Chapter 58. Thomas Harrison Harte 

‟Well, Miss Grant and Miss Grant,” Beyron nodded to Melanie . ‟We will try to find Mr. Harte. And get him out of the system in Singapore. If there is any luck at all, we might be able to have him released to us before the investigation into his situation is complete.”

‟The State Department has limited influence in Singapore, the Singapore government has taken great pride in numbers of convicted drug smugglers for minor amounts of drugs, and has hanged many others. In the event they convict him he for the amount that you describe and what they say they have found, he faces a maximum sentence of a decade in prison, or he could be caned a maximum of two-dozen times. To be honest, they may give him a reduced sentence because of his age and his popularity in that part of the world.” Max said. ‟He might be able to find a legal way out, or have help of someone of influence in the political structure there.”

Max pulled at his earlobe for a few moments in thought.

“Australia has attempted more than once to recover Australian nationals with limited success. Our influence is less than Australia.” He said at last.

‟So he’s punished for my stash.” Tears welled up in Kaylee’s eyes.

‟Yes. And you are sure it is less than two-ounces?”

‟Yes. I stressed out to the max when he was in the hospital.” Kaylee admitted. “I smoked quite a lot of it.”

‟We will make a press release, but your request for a passport to go to Singapore will not happen. The process will be too long for you make reasonable plans to go to Singapore, and my advice on this?” Max coached Kaylee gently. “It is a bad idea in the extreme. Do not attempt to rescue him by confession to the government in a Singapore court that the drugs are yours.”

Max Silverham pondered a minute more. Never a person to comment without deep thought.

‟I have to let your lawyer here say his part and ask the questions. But, I have one now. I look around your apartment, I do not see indications of the financial base to pay the salary that Mister Ferguson, and this master of law that has brought me out of where I belong to come here. Yet, you said you married Mister Harte?”

‟Excuse me, the financial base for the young lady is not relevant to the situation.” Beyron advised. ‟We decline to answer that.”

‟I’m not a judge.” Max said.

‟Just so you remember that.” Beyron said. ‟I am her advisor, not yours, you have your own. But the advice you have given is good advice so far. Just the question is inappropriate in this context.”

‟I withdraw it. I do have further questions on where he stored his aircraft. He flew from one part of the world and landed in their waters? You said he has a float-plane?”

‟Yacht, flying yacht.” Kaylee corrected. ‟Or flying-boat. Sorry, he gave too many corrections on that detail and I picked up the habit, but you have to see it to understand. It is a glorious home.”

‟We have to look into this, this airborne palace might have contaminated our harbor with exotic marine species.” Max sat up and began to write. ‟Where did he have his plane hauled out.” Pause. ‟Yacht.” Pause. “Er… Craft.”

‟A couple miles down the road at Harbor Bay Airport.”

‟Care to join us in an excursion to the airport?” Max Silverham asked. ‟You can show me where he serviced his plane at.”

Kaylee puzzled.

‟Don’t you have staff for that?”

Max smiled.

‟Perhaps you don’t know my rank, or it’s just misstated by Mister Ferguson here. I am the staff. I just rank a little higher and liaise between the civilian and military sides of the same mission, but I am still the staff, I answer to the real politicians.”

A half-hour later, with Kaylee ’s car in the lead, Beyron sat in the front passenger seat the group drove into the car lot of the private plane owners.

‟That hanger there, is where he had the Pacific Wizard serviced and kept when it was out of the water.”

‟You have been here of late?” Maxwell Silverham asked. ‟You mentioned that you came back to look for him?”

‟Yes. But they wouldn’t tell me any information.” Kaylee said with a sag to her shoulders. ‟I couldn’t get them to tell me the time of day. Only the lead tech would to talk to me.”

‟Well, let me see if I can loosen some lips.” Max smiled and his eyes sparkled with determination when they walked towards the office.

‟I don’t know him very well, but I know the type.” Beyron whispered in a conspiratorial voice to the sisters . ‟Loves the hunt.”

With an air of importance, Max stepped up to the counter in the office, flanked by the two uniformed Marines. Max got immediate attention.

‟I will help you, my manager’s indisposed with a potential client.” A petite First-Nation’s woman said.

‟I need access to your records on one Mister Harte, Thomas. When he was here and if he has an address out of the country.”

‟You need to wait, then. I cannot access the history of our clients without cause.”

‟The cause is because I told you.” Max said firmly. ‟Do you know who I am?”

‟No, and I don’t care. You need a few forms filled out first.”

‟Ma’am, I have identification, two marines and I carry the authority of the United States Government. I do not need to fill out forms for this.”

‟Then you don’t need what I have.” She looked at him with black eyes without so much as a blink of fear. ‟Warrant, police, and my faith that you are not some asshat that thinks you can walk in here with two weapons on each hip.” She pointed at the marines.

One marine broke character and gave a small smile for the briefest of moments but never deviated his eyes from the straight forward.

‟Now, you sit down, shut up or leave.” She hissed. ‟White man, black man, marines, you think you can still push my people around. Guess again.”

Then to Kaylee and Melanie, she smiled.

‟What can I do for you ladies?” The eyes softened and she became helpful.

‟We are just here to do some business for Tom Harte, the author? He had his plane here for service. I would like to pay any balance on a bill.” Kaylee presented the shiny black card with her married name engraved on it.

‟Oh!” She looked at the card with Kaylee’s image on it. ‟Just a minute.”

She handed the card back to Kaylee, she nodded, smiled and walked down a hallway then disappeared out of sight.

Two minutes later, she returned.

At first Kaylee noticed the cowboy-hatted male who walked down the hallway and sported a hideous scar on his forearm, recently healed.

Then the familiar smile, a sparkle of an emerald eye, she knew that face. It was one she had kissed more than once and made her heart dance.

It was Thomas Harrison Harte.

Kaylee ‘s once and future husband.

Married by Mistake Chapter 57. News Channel Gone Dark

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Chapter 57. News Channel Gone Dark

In her apartment, every moment Kaylee spent outside of class, her computer logged in and a bluetooth connection to her television to watch it with her sister.

Melanie paced around the apartment in agitation. The news website out of Singapore at first uploaded the few still images and fewer videos had no recent enough updates to calm her irritation.

One high-quality video, the news reporter explained that Singapore authorities detained an American, Thomas Harte, while they investigated the charges that he smuggled marijuana bundled for transportation and a bottle of unknown liquid that investigators suspected as a narcotic. Cleared of drug-use by medical examination, the prosecutor planned to use the reports against him in a court and prosecute the United States Citizen as a smuggler.

‟He was cleared by a blood check? How can they use that he was clean against him?” Melanie said.

‟There, it said it. If he had it in possession and he’s clean, they know he was trafficker.” Kaylee held both hands to her tear-streaked face.

‟I’ve called Lettie, she called the government here. I talked with a lawyer that Lettie set me up with, he will set me up with the state department and we will see if there is any help I can do.” Kaylee said.

‟How can you help?”

‟The stash was mine.” Kaylee said. ‟It was in with my massage oil. I know that’s what they are calling as narc-oil.”

‟You left it? In his plane?” Melanie clapped her hand to her forehead. ‟You never planned to stay with Glenn.”

‟I, uh…” Kaylee stammered, then her temper flared. ‟Screw you.”

That just made Melanie the Monster and kid sister laugh harder.

‟You say that and that means I’m right. Tom got you to love him.” She smiled at her sister and poked her older Kaylee over her heart. “He writes about airship pirates, but he is the King of Pirates who stole your heart. Thomas Harte is a thief of hearts.”

 ‟Shut up, Melanie or I’ll tell mom.” In an empty threat. “And don’t poke me.”

Melanie quieted down and giggled for several minutes.

‟I’ll need to tell the State Department that Tom and I had gotten married and then annulled.” Kaylee rubbed her forehead. ‟Dad will poop a pinecone.”

‟Yeah, a whole tree of them.” Melanie smiled, but her tone was sad. ‟You know those crazy paparazzi with cameras will be here. You won’t be able to walk or drive to classes.”

‟I’ll live on campus then.”

‟The wait list is two years long, you won’t get a place until after you graduate.” Melanie shook her head. ‟If you tell the State Department, you can save him, but you will lose your chance to graduate in peace. The photographers will be all over you like flies on a dead fish.”

‟What…?” Kaylee interrupted. “Mel, the feed just went down. Just have a four-zero-four ‟Not Found” code.”

‟Just go back a page.”

‟I did, Online Network News only has other countries in the menu, Singapore is not there. Not even weather.”

‟Wierd. Try alternate news feeds.” Melanie suggested and sat next to her sister at the computer.

‟Okay.” Kaylee typed in the addresses of the different sources.

‟Those are old images we’ve seen. Tom might be free. Oh!” Kaylee smiled. ‟Lettie has sent an email.”

Then the excitement turned into crestfallen defeat.

‟She says Tom’s locked up in jail, Singapore police have confiscated his passport. She looked at the laws, sent me the link.” Kaylee clicked on the highlighted text. ‟That is harsh. He might get ten-years for the weed and forfeit all his possessions and death penalty is mandatory for the narc-oil.”

Melanie looked at her sister.

‟Death? But that is only aromatherapy oil, right? That essence of rosemary I gave you for your birthday.” She shook her head. “And they took… His plane?”

Melanie kept reading over Kaylee’s shoulder.

A phone rang, and both sisters looked at their phones before Kaylee picked it up.

‟Hello? Yes. Yes, at home. Yes. Las Vegas, three weeks ago. My address is…” Kaylee looked down off the balcony. ‟You know where I am? Yes. Right away? I’ll be here.”

‟That was the lawyer. He and a State Department rep are on their way.‟ Looking down, ‟Oh… Drat! I need to get dressed in something nicer than my t-shirt and jeans.”

‟At least put on a bra. You’re kind of on point since you have been on the phone.” Melanie pointed out.

‟What! ACK!” Kaylee squawked and ran to her room to change clothes, covering her chest up with her hands.

‟Why did you cover and run? It’s only me.” Melanie laughed again. The younger sister enjoyed when the elder stressed out.

‟Oh my god! Omygodomygod I can’t find what to wear.” Sounds in her bedroom echoed as she slammed drawers and closet doors.

‟Wear your dark green skirt, boots and your black silk blouse with the pocket.”

‟You borrowed my skirt last month for the class interviews, have you brought it back?”

‟No, it’s in my laundry.”

‟Crap. Mellie, help, I am in a panic, I need some advice.”

‟Okay, black skirt?”

‟Yes, past my knee. Heeled boots, black silk blouse and the gray jacket.

‟Yeeaah… I would leave the jacket.” Melanie said and looked out the window. ‟It’s too hot to dress in those extra layers.”

‟Yeah. Yeah… I will meet with some important people, I don’t want them to think I am just a college kid.”

‟Well. You are, and he is a lot older, you might not get away without that label in their minds, then they would say it.” Melanie mused as she helped her sister adjust the collar on the blouse.

‟I don’t know what to say.” Kaylee said and walked out of the room. ‟The lawyer will be here in a moment.”

‟Okay. Okay.” Melanie said as the sibling turned around. ‟Okay, you look good. Wait, did you put a bra on?” Another squeak of profanity from her Kaylee who disappeared into her room again.

A short few minutes and she was ready. The sisters opened the door to walk down to the sidewalk and both sisters screamed in surprise.

Four men stood in the hallway, two in military uniform in places on either side of the door. Two in civilian office clothing, one looked like he had swallowed some vile drink.

‟Miss Grant?” The dark-skinned man held out a hand. ‟I’m Beyron Ferguson, attorney at law. The G.I. Joe here is the secretary of the local state department office, Maxwell Silverham.” he indicated the sour-faced man.

‟Local?” Melanie said. ‟I didn’t know we had a local one.”

‟And you are?” Beyron said.

‟She is my sister, Melanie Grant. I would like to have her here while you interrogate me. Should I get a lawyer?”

‟Please call me Max.” The older white-haired man said. ‟No you don’t need a lawyer, and local is a relative term Miss Grant.” He nodded with a smile to Melanie.

‟May I get you a glass of water?” Kaylee asked.

‟No, thank you.” Max said. ‟May we sit?”

Motioning to the breakfast table, they all took a seat while Beyron pulled out a notepad.

‟For the record Miss Grant… Kaylee. I am your attorney, appointed by the Attorney General of the United States, pro-bono. That is no charge to you.” Beyron explained to the two women. “I will give you advice, but I will do what you ask, even finding a replacement if I do not fulfill my job to your satisfaction. Mister Silverham here is the government investigator in charge. He would like to ask about your relationship with Thomas Harte who is now in custody in Singapore and will stand trial for drug possession in the next few days. This is not a criminal investigation, but I am here to protect your rights in any event his questions stray into private areas that are not relevant. If at any time you wish to stop talking with Mister Silverham, we will bring this to an end. Do you understand all that?”

Kaylee nodded.

‟Before we start,” Max said, ‟What is your relationship with this author who seems to lack a street address.”

Kaylee held hands with her sister and relaxed, she felt more confident than ever and explained the events of the past summer.

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta Chapter 7. Heartbreak and Happiness. Plus one Idiot

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Chapter 7. Heartbreak and Happiness. Plus One Idiot.

Fae flipped the holographic files ever faster, in a concerted search for her father when she nearly flipped past his name.

“Thea. My dad was hurt in a fire, he helped put it out and saved over eight-hundred lives that were in hibernation.” Fae laughed, her memories of the patriarch of her family as a selfless and focused man. “He suffered burns on his back and arms. The doctors dressed the burns and rushed him to the pods. It says here that he has signs of burns to the inside of his mouth and throat, so he is in a special numbering profile and will wake up only when the medical staff activates it.”

Thea shook her head.

“Burns to the lungs are serious, but we have the repairs for that. Nanos can fix cell walls and the micros can repair the larger damaged structures”

The mini-bot walked through the holographic display. Looking at the other files that Fae set aside.

“Fae, this one you called boyfriend is older, by far, than you are. This one, Thomas Metive, is in his forties.” She looked at Fay.

“No, I saw him.”

“You saw someone who looked like him. We need to keep searching.”

A flashing light on Rudy the Dragonfly-bot got Thea’s attention.

“We have another problem, the power supply in here is overheating. Core System just sent a message that the display needs a full power-down.”

“What? Why?”

“There is an electrical fault, the circuit board is ten-degrees higher than normal. These circuits have not been active for a long time. We will need to have service bots in here to find and fix the fault.”

“How do we do that? I am a systems engineer’s assistant, I understand electrical but this is more of an IT problem, this is a different kind of electronic world.”

“Well, I said it would take nanos and micros for medical, we can do that to the circuits.”

“How long could that take?”

“Not long, a few months.”

Fae sagged. Months!

“Could we speed that up somehow before we have other things overheat?”

“We would have to wake someone up that would know the systems.”

“That would be in the second-tier reanimation.” The mini-bot said. “Those would be the specialists for design and maintenance of the systems.”

“Second-tier?”

“After the engineering and medical teams, computer specialists come next. The systems the specialists maintain keep the three legs of reanimation in balance. That is why the schedule for government leaders to reanimate last in the first cycle.”

“Who is first of the computer nerd-pops to put in the toaster?”

“I am making a request to the Core System for an override and giving your argument.” Thea paused for a moment over the top of Rudy the Dragonfly-bot, looking at a tiny display.

“You have fifteen-degrees or five-minutes, which ever one is shorter.”

“Okay. Let’s quick do a search, who is the most accessible one.”

“That will be easy.” Thea said tapping her own, nearly microscopic display. “Check second-tier reanimation schedule. Section 2. Zone HU-N3Y Pod number SL-1027DM.”

“No name, but he’s listed as a service tech with years of seniority.”

“Set up that pod for reanimation. Let’s go see if he can help us last longer than fifteen minutes at a time.”

It was the longest two days Fae had ever lived. Pacing, she had confirmed the pod she found was not the one Peter the Boyfriend was in.

In the med-bay recovery, she looked at the doctors that fussed over the reanimation of this tech that they felt was out-of-order. Medical personnel needed to be first out to care for any malfunctions that may have happened.

And many malfunctions had occurred.

Fae flinched as she read the preliminary reports that came to her and Amsi, they began to work longer hours to check and recheck pods.

One surgeon in stasis lost the vitrification preservative and the argument whether to try to reanimate the body went long into the night.

Percentage numbers of the thousands of preserved humans began to climb.

Predicted failure rate of pods did not match the measured failures. Nearly a third had lost the non-crystalized fluids, leaving desiccated bodies with only liquid helium around and inside every cell and blood vessel.

One domesticated farm animal the humans preserved suffered the same fate. When the medical staff attempted to reanimate the sheep, it crumbled into dust before body fluids could be replaced.

All arguments stopped on efforts to awaken the failed pods, helium maintained with those victims until a process to prevent the bodies from collapsing when the helium boiled away.

In bed 211-S, the computer-tech made angry growling noises with a touch of Gaelic accent.

“Coffee! Just get me some and do not lecture me about waking up from hibernation and nutrition.”

Then…

“What do you mean you don’t think there is any? It is in the tenth-guarantee of the planet’s federal declaration! Coffee must be present at all times!”

Minutes pass and voice of the tech remained frustrated.

Fae looked at the tech as he stood, broad-shouldered, pale with a galaxy of freckles over his chest.

Looking down, he swore.

“What is this? I don’t have freckles.” Looking at his image on a display. “This is what I am going to look like?”

Doctor Ofir Bhabel shook her head.

“No, not after you produce your own red-blood cells. Your color will return and your freckles will fade.”

“Well, alright then. I am not reverting to my childhood and have my big brother hold me down to play dot-to-dot on me again.”

“Excuse me?” Doctor Ofir asked.

“Old childhood issues. Until we find out what you are, I am not telling you anything more.”

“I explained to you already. I am your doctor and a bot.”

“Yeah, yeah. You are a visual hallucination. Until I see you in full size, I am not talking to anyone. I am probably only making noises to the outside world.”

Doctor Ofir flitted in front of the techs face.

“You are human, I am bot, I am also your doctor and I have overseen three-hundred animations. The other humans are busy assisting in the warming process.”

“Doctor?” Fae asked. “May I help?”

“Miss Fae. Please.” The Doctor motioned her in.

“I scheduled him for early reanimation. He is needed to help with failed circuitry.”

“That explains a lot, his personality is not compatible with sentient artificial intelligence.”

“Who is not compatible?” The green-eyes sparkled with offense. “I can get along with anyone. This is just not right, my perceptions are off is all.”

*This is funny* She laughed inwardly. *He’s convinced he’s in a hallucination*

“Sir,” Fae smiled. “I assure you that this is all real.”

“Who are you?”

“I am Fae MacLir, Assistant to the Chief Engineer of operations. I was the first one to wake up. Doctor Ofir is a good friend and she is only as tall as your hand from middle finger to the heel of your hand.”

“No kidding.”

“This calls for some coffee.”

“We told you, there is no such thing right at the moment, they are all in hibernation, the rest grow wild in places around the world.”

“This world sucks, I may want to go back in to the pod.”

Fae laughed again.

“You spend a lot of time laughing at a man just woke up without coffee or Uisce Beatha in my hand.”

“What’s that?”

“Whiskey.”

“Okay, what is your name?”

“You don’t know who I am?”

“Should I?” Fae asked.

“We have only your pod number, so if you wish to be known as Ten-twentyseven,” Doctor Ofir  walked up to him with an injector of an amber fluid. “You will tell us what you like for a name.”

“What’s that?”

“This will help buffer your system. Your pH is too low.”

“What is it?”

“They are nanobots.”

“Um. If I don’t take them, would I be in danger?”

The doctor made a sound that reminded Fae of a sigh.

“It will take you longer to recover fully.”

“Fair enough. I have a horrid headache from no coffee, anything to get rid of that will be appreciated.”

“I have an analgesic for that.”

“Does it come in a glass?”

“No, but I can give it to you as a pill. No injection.”

“Sold.” He nodded. “Is it possible to get some exercise, walk around. I have a hobby of archery.”

“Ar..What?”

“And my name is Archer Fletch Bowman.” He looked at the women. “Do not blame me, it’s the idiot that gave birth to me and typed in the blanks”

Doctor Ofir shook her head, not getting the humor, but Fae laughed.

The Archer Fletch Bowman, with a hobby of archery blamed the idiot at the keyboard for his name.

Smart Bomb Chapter 15. A Bum, A Bomb and A Belle

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Chapter 15. A Bum, a Bomb and a Belle

He told people to call him “Lone Wolf”, but the nature of the man was akin to more of a walking marshmallow than a predator.

Anti-government, a conspiracy theorist, still holding out that JFK was, in fact, still alive, in reality kidnapped by a nebulous group, possibly aliens, and the person in the limousine was in fact, not a person but a very advanced animatronics mannequin.

To this point he had little evidence other than opinions.

Walter “Lone Wolf” Whitbred, chewed on another handful of almonds.

“So.” Another handful of nuts. “You are telling me this guy says he is an android and you believe him with no evidence?”

Alvin looked quizzically at the leader of the small group of conspiracy theorists.

“You accept that the President meets regularly with aliens, but you have doubts this man here is an android?” Alvin shook his head.

Walter looked at Stephen for a long moment.

“Convince me.”

Alvin looked at Steve and shrugged.

“Show him like you showed me.”

The change was abrupt, the dark hair coloring to black as he became a short, broad Asian woman, then a tall, blue-eyed and red-headed fugitive from some Norse legend.

Walter uttered profanity at each change when Steve went through a pantheon of shapes, changing from male to female, covering the gamut of every shade of human in the database in a few minutes.

Sitting down and spoke gently.

“I need to recharge, that takes a lot of energy.”

Walter shook his head.

“Dude do you know how much someone would pay for that? Can you record anything you see?”

“Everything.” Steve responded. “Anything I see. I am able to see from one-hundred micrometers to one-hundred nanometers, so I see a lot.”

“Nanometer range? You can see in UV!”

“Yes.” Steve did not understand why Alvin laughed.

“Walter, you are being Admiral Obvious now.” Alvin chuckled. “Now, this is a problem we need to take care of.

Alvin explained the recent history of discoveries, Steve the Android filling in gaps while Walter paced around holding his head as if it were all too much to take in.

“My head hurts.” Walter moaned. “Everything I have ever worried about, killer robots, smart cars that serve the government to spy on us.”

“Sleeper does not serve the government.”

“Sleeper? SLEEPER!?” Walter gaped. “You NAMED it?”

“It was named by other cars.”

“Other!?” Walter sat down. “Oh… shit.”

“Have I said something wrong?” Steve asked Alvin.

“No,” Alvin chuckled. “You showed someone with an edge of paranoia that he was not as paranoid as anyone ever called him.”

“Do you know what this means? The government has spied on us for, Oh my god, I don’t know how long! How old is that car you bought? Is it new?” Walter began to tap on the keys. A metal frame around the room began to rattle down, a copper mesh covered ever inch of the mobile wall, except for the door solid steel door they entered, a copper framed screen door he built into the cage.

“A Faraday cage, no signals in, no signals out. How does that make you feel Tin Man?” Walter addressed Steve the android. “A little woozy? Like you lost signal? Can’t have your human driver pushing buttons to tell you what to do?”

“I feel no change, am I supposed to? No human drives, me, I am autonomous. I have one program, to reach the James Madison power generation unit near the Capital.” Steve looked quizzically at Walter.

“The closest power facility in Washington is underneath the White House and it’s power cell driven, alien tech and gives free power from the earth’s magnetic fields.” Walter walked around and pointed at maps on the wall with push-pins and strings. A technological counterpoint to the displays and computers that littered the inside of the abandoned building.

“The government has had the tech to give us all free power for dozens of years.” Turning to Alvin. “How old is your car? A dozen? That’s how long the government has had the power generation perfected.”

“No, it is older than that.” Steve said.

“It’s pre-war tech.” Alvin added.

“What war?” Walter stopped in mid-rant.

“Last century, west coast?” Alvin slowly spoke the words to maximize the impact.

“Ho..Ly.. Shhhh… “ Walter paused. “Bull! No, they have not had the tech that long.”

“This car, built by the Terran Green Machine corporation, by components designed and built by a small sub-contractor company, NeverFail.” Steve informed both men.

“How do you know this?” Walter eyed the android suspiciously.

“Sleeper told me.”

“Sleeper?” Walter stroked his chin.

“The car, Walter.” Alvin said.

“I told you not to call me that! Lone Wolf or just Wolf.” Walter said.

“The car uses a Z-bus system.” Steve the Android told Walter. “It was extremely advanced systems then, it is comparable to what I use now, a balanced ternary operating hardware system. The car is more massive than mine and draws about three times the power. There are signs of corrosion and failed circuits.”

“Failed?” Alvin asked.

“Yes, the circuits failed recently, the power was off at the time and the reason is not recorded.”

“Um… That might be my doing.” Alvin admitted. “I pulled some plugs, broke a few wires.”

“That would explain the corrupted files in the memory, the wires will need repair or replacement.” Steve turned to Walter and following his desired name. “Me Lone Wolf, we need your best minds in the group to build a flesh covered robot for one mission.”

“No, not Me Lone Wolf.” Walter blustered. “You make me sound like an Asian Lupus, call me just Wolf, Okay?”

“Okay, call you Just Wolf.” The android nodded. “I will store that in permanent memory.”

“Right.” Walter nodded. “Now, how do we build a robot to do what you do? We can build one, but they all are obviously what they are. Most use treads and never use transporters.”

“We can just build a singular program. Not many countries scan people for this kind of explosive.” Alvin said.

“Now what about this bomb you are telling me about?” Walter asked.

“Steve?” Alvin looked at the android.

“The warhead is one point one milligrams of antimatter by weight.” Steve looked into Just Wolf without blinking. “This has a nominal yield of eight-thousand six hundred pounds of TNT as America measures it.”

“Jeezzzuz.” Walter mumbled. “And it is where?”

“Just behind and above my xyphoid process. Near where a heart would be. Should the local police shoot, they shoot center mass of a torso and it the creator considered a high chance level of hitting the container and causing an explosion. The creator estimated the total devastation range at four-hundred meter radius.”

“That’s over twelve-hundred feet! In one direction.” Alvin gasped. ”You didn’t tell me that at my warehouse.”

“You didn’t ask.” Steve said innocently.

“Okay, okay. So how do we get this…” Walter stopped. “How do we get this bomb out of you without blowing ourselves up?”

“It is self-powered for a short time, it can last three days without external power safely. It also has a permanent magnet core as a backup, but it is temperature and shock sensitive.”

“How sensitive?” Alvin asked.

“Dead circuits? Without power, an impact on a solid surface at greater than ten feet per second would suffice.”

“How do you get that kind of energy?” Walter asked.

“A drop from one meter.” Steve answered.

“In American?”

“A drop from your card table over there.” Steve pointed where a half-eaten pizza sat.

“Jeeezzzuss.” Alvin whispered. “My mom got mad once when I dropped a glass of milk off the table, this is a little worse.”

“Alvin, just shut it.” Walter shook his head. “I need to smoke some weed.”

“You don’t smoke weed.” Alvin said.

“I’m going to start.” Walter shook his head. “So what kind of android or robot are we going to build, where are we going to send it.”

Steve looked at the two humans.

“My point of origin, make it appear female. I will give the basic program.” Steve instructed.

“Okay, a pretty girl?”

“Indeed.” Steve’s eyes blinked twice. “I have the trigger and we can grow the flesh to cover her well enough to pass inspection.”

“Okay, I have Opticon coming, Thor and his girlfriend the Lady Sif, Burning Chip, and Running Man are all on their way.” The conspiracy fanatic said. “The Belle of the Bomb will make her way back to your home from here.”

“Extinction”

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Urgency

He had long named his car “Red” which was a touch of humor, being as it was black. The pair sped along the highway, sensors on the self-aware car kept them from losing control around the dumb modes of transportation. They moved along faster than the flow of traffic.

He was late. He ordered the emergency call to the leaders of geneticists, physicians and associated scientists the night before. But on his exit of his gated community, Anti-Vaxxers blocked the road, protesting his teams newest vaccine that suppressed genital warts in those that had it and prevented infection to those that were not previously exposed.

And now he was late, having to wait for the police to respond and clear the road of the two-dozen people who based their objections on the preachings of a holy man who declared that the vaccine interfered with the wrath of god on women having out-of-wedlock sex.

Doctor Camane Minouche raced in his small car. The picnic blanket sliding back and forth on the small shelf behind him as he took corners that challenged gravity. He was held in his seat only by belts and the intelligent post-war car that used the some fifty-thousand sensors around and inside the machine to keep the Doctor safe and secure.

Into the parking lot they flew, dust and cats ran from the speeding, wheeled missile. The team of machine and human. The Doctor spoke to the car, but it was a one-way conversation only. Long ago, the car chose to keep the self-awareness and abilities to it’s own heart.

“Faster, faster.” The Doctor whispered out loud while he typed the finishing touches on his presentation and saved the graphics to the fingernail drive. “Flippin’ late!”

The car calculated he would be five-minutes behind the clock no matter what it could do, they had made up twenty-minutes on the highway, blowing through a speed-trap and a drone traffic enforcement attempted to pull them over, but was left far behind as the small car jammed radio frequencies and applied greater power to the wheels while the Doctor read and re-read his report and talked on the phone.

Only once did Camane look up and give the command to throttle back, he became alarmed at the speed that the stripes in the road were passing by.

They were traveling over two-hundred kilometers-per-hour at that time. So Red-the-black-car dialed the speed back.

Never would the Doctor know that their speed was nearly fifty-percent faster before he looked up.

Tires smoked slightly when Red wheeled into the parking lot, Camane jumped out of the small car and ran up the steps to the door, nearly forgetting his briefcase in the process.

The picnic blanket slid to the edge of the seat, filling the interior of the car with its piquant odor of grass, sun and laughing memories that were lost to the Doctor as he headed to the meeting with the panel of public health care leaders.

Still straightening his tie, Doctor Minouche set his papers on the podium and cleared his throat and put on some reading glasses.

He did not need the glasses, he had read the reports so many times, he had it memorized.

Pulling out a fingernail sized USB memory stick, he pushed it almost flush into the display and picked up the remote control, advancing forward to the infographics.

“Thank you for your patience, there are some folks in this world that don’t seem to appreciate my appointment schedule.” The audience chuckled as he drew a breath. “Ladies and gentlemen. Due to an undisclosed cold-war era disaster, the human race has approximately two-hundred years of viability left.”

He looked up and moved the informational graphic forward one frame.

“In the latter-half of the twentieth century, countries that had ruled with racist laws to keep people separate, developed a short-lived virus based on a s-oi virus, they then released this virus in general population of a prison in a country on the African continent to reduce the numbers of “Undesirable elements” in their society. During this time, one United States Warrant Officer stationed at the Embassy there, returned home on leave in a three-to-twenty-one day window after the government inoculated prisoners with this virus with aerosol dispersion.” He flipped the page and changed to the next infographic. “Sometime during this period, one or more of the prison population escaped or released. The airborne infection at the time was mild-to-moderate and considered a failure by the government.”

The infographic leading up to a negative response.

“This resulted in a failure of followup on infected and released prisoners.” He pressed the button on the remote again and changed to the US. “In the meantime, Warrant Officer Pers Hershey was exposed, left without feeling any symptoms and returned to the United States. Records indicate that he passed through the system at Fort Dix, but portions are missing. We only know he was  seen for a low-grade fever and mild vertigo. At some point he came in contact with other recruits and became Patient-Zero for the swine-flu outbreak in and around Fort Dix.”

The Doctor clicked forward to the next frame, showing infection rates among recruits.

“At this point, one death and a number of people infected with this virus that could be described as a collection of poorly assembled DNA moving about in loose formation.” He pointed to the Capitol of the United States. “At this time, alerted to the outbreak, the government issued vaccines against the H1N1 Swine flu. The debacle that followed was poorly understood as why it occurred. Theories focused of the vaccine’s adverse reactions.”

A click again, changing the screen of his infographic presentation.

“This was, in fact, a reaction to the existing infection that was ongoing but alerted no one due to the mild nature of the infection. While they intended the vaccine to prevent infection, due to the influenza that the laboratory overseas constructed with, considered even by mid-seventies standards as archaic, no one realized they dealt with an ongoing infection.”

Another infograpic of two virus’ interacting.

“The unintended response of the existing virus to the vaccine that the government distributed nationwide, the virus was altered and increased the transmission rate and capability while mitigating the physical symptoms of fever and muscular aches.”

A hand raised.

“Doctor…” The woman spoke up. “I’m Doctor Sheena Westlake, Director of Emergency Services at Metro-Memorial Medical Center. This is not an emergency, you are giving us ancient history, both our vaccines and detection are generations past those days.”

“Hi Doctor Westlake, we met a few years ago at a coffee Klatch conference.” He nodded. “Yes, this is history, but please bear with me, I am nearly finished.” He smiled. The dark-skinned woman was beautiful, if built like a door with square shoulders and the look of a warrior when roused . “The combined DNA of the first generation technology influenza and the vaccine combined and created a world-wide pandemic that was so mild in symptomatology, no one pursued the effects.”

He pressed the forward button again, displaying a slide of twenty-three chromosomes overhead.

“Y-mediated infertility has been the problem since the seventies. It is progressive and becoming widespread. The mild nature of the influenza, no one followed up on the effects of the virus. The damage is irreversible and the results are no male children are born. Since ten-years after the initial pandemic that the rare person ever saw their doctor and fewer still had bloods drawn. “

“So Doctor what are you saying?” Doctor Westlake asked again. “Boys are going to be born brain-damaged?”

A chuckle from one side of the room.

“Aren’t they all? At least until they are eighteen.”

Doctor Minnouche laughed.

“In this case, you are correct. Male versus female births have fallen out of balance in recent years.” He continued. “In short, at the rate of damage and the skewed birth ratios between genders with female births dominating at this time in history, in the next few generations, the male of the human race will become an endangered species, pushed towards extinction in about one hundred-fifty years, and the human race will become non-viable in about two-hundred years.”

“I’ll take questions now.”

Another hand raised.

“Professor Fenix Stone, Atlantic Bay University of Biological Sciences, Bar Harbor.” An older man, with intense black eyes, seemingly born before there was hair. “How can you estimate the damage to the y-Chromosome from that one event?”

“Thank you professor.” The Doctor frowned. “We have had samples from a broad spectrum of people for hundreds of years. My team, consisting of over two-hundred professionals as of last month, have collected said samples from every source that could be dated. The y-chromosome has been steadily decreasing in size over millions of years, but since the swine flu of the mid-seventies, the gene that was part of the genetically modified virus has spread, and destroyed parts of the male gene. We have the good fortune, if you would like to call it that, to have obtained a sample that has remained frozen and forgotten in the biological research facility where they kept this virus in deep-freeze storage, along with the notations of one Doctor Van Skeet, who, as best we can ascertain, died in an accident relating to his research.”

The Doctor paused.

“He became infected with his own monster with a lack of sufficient protective protocols.”

“This is wrong. There is no way to target just the y-chromosome.” A voice from the back called out.

“Actually, yes, just because it is not in our history of doing so does not mean we cannot. We have identified genes on bacillus and virus for years and creating vaccines against them.”

“Can we stop this damage to our genome?” Another voice asked.

“No, the damage is done. It was a biological weapon designed to do what it did, but the government then assumed the illness was self-limiting, which was a fail, and affect only a specific group. Another fail.” The Doctor gave a big sigh. “As of today, the current birth rate of viable human males has dropped below twenty percent. The reports based on this information on records dated thirty-months ago. The birth rate has certainly dropped since then by a few tenths of a percent.”

“You are incorrect.” A tall, dark-skinned man with an Australian Accent stood up. “Doctor Syd Gayiri, Headmaster of the School of Biotech Sciences at Toowoomba University. There are boys born in my community every month. My sister just had a healthy baby boy.”

“Correct, he is healthy for now. The odds, however, that his children will be girls, or there will be a child born to him with special needs. The degradation, by limiting the scope of DNA mixing is much worse. Thus we propose to keep communities robust is to promote outside family marriage and children in close-blood relations minimized, this improves the length of time the human male genome will become non-viable.” Doctor Minouche. “We will need to evolve into a mono-parous species to survive.”

The Doctor pointed at a severe looking woman sitting in the front row.

“Sonja Gutierrez has two sons, oh, sorry.“ Sonja is from the University of Spain, Madrid. But you all have read her paper of the stresses of caring for two special needs children. I would venture that it is both the boys?” Camane asked.

“Yes. Is this to do with the damage to the gene?” She asked.

“It would take some testing, do you remember getting ill with the flu during that time?”

“Doctor, I am not that old.” Doctor Gutierrez laughed. “That was before my time.”

“My apologies. Do you have any brothers?”

“Um. No. No brothers, I had one, but he was sickly and died very young…” She trailed off. A cold feeling crept over the room.

“Anyone else here have patients, family members, co-workers, classmates that have had problems with children— and were the health problems with boys?” Doctor Minouche traced a line on the projected infographic with a laser pointer. “Damage to the y-chrome is a pattern that we can follow. Initially it looks random, but if you watch as the gaps fill in on a chart, there are patterns. Closed communities that have had contact with the virus, the interbreeding magnifies the damage. A given group that mixes with others mitigates the damage.”

Taking a deep breath, he continued.

“Segregation, isolation, and staying with a small community will accelerate and magnify the damage. It’s proposed that the y-chrome could be extinct in more than one-hundred thousand years, however, at the current rate of change, computer models show between one-hundred and three-hundred years, with two-hundred being the mid-point.”

“So, Doctor, you are saying that we could see the end of male births in our children’s lifetime?”

“Yes. Perhaps, in a worst-case scenario, our own lifetimes.”

Tapping on tablets sounded, pens on paper, disbelief evaporating like a coastal fog on a summer’s day as the scientists and physicians crunched numbers. Writing notes on personal digital assistants, notepads and tablets.

“We have a century and counting. If  two-centuries pass, and if we do nothing, there will be no naturally born males and the human species will be dependant on engendering fertile males with an XX karyotype or en vitro fertilization.” The statement hung in the air.

“Each of you has submitted an email to attend here, the transcript and graphics are being sent to you as we speak.” He nodded to an off-stage assistant. “Every page that we displayed here we researched and signed off, including the Surgeon General’s office of the United States is on board with this. I must remind you, this is not for public dissemination, yet. We are looking for this panel to bring forth something larger than my team can, we are reporting only what we find. The effort to repair the human genome before it is beyond fixing is up to us. If this information is released for wide-spread publication, it is possible we will set off a world-wide self-destruct in all religions, this requires the opposite of what religions demand. Secularism is the only way to go, no borders, no religious prohibitions. It is time that we look at ourselves as one race or dwindle into extinction.”

“Doctor, do you have the fix in your proposal? Are there repairs of the y-chrome that we can  act upon?” A man in a black business suit with long gray hair pulled back into a ponytail, flanked by two young men with shaven heads and sharp eyes that constantly scanned the room. “Doctor Simon Connery MD MPH PhD, Director United States Centers for Disease Control.”

The secondary introduction made Camane nod.

“Simon, you have spent too much time in school, and welcome.” A chuckle from the audience. “At this point, we do not have any genetic repairs to speak of. We do need the resources of the CDC and everywhere around the world to focus on saving the human race.”

He looked around the room.

“Or we may as well have never met and make plans to fill a time capsule for the next rise of intelligent species.” The grim tone of his voice hung in the air. “Without cooperation, we are soon to be endangered.”

“Doctor,” A younger man approached him. “I’m Steven Rivers, senior reasearch geneticist at Southern California University at Dinuba. Although I may not have a cure for the birth rate of males, I may have a longevity plan and increase the number of years for research.”

“How much of an increase?” Another voice sounded.

“I will have to share my work, but it depends on the gene we work on.”

“Telomere work is ongoing, nothing new.” A male voice sounded.

“Not telomeres, something new…”

“Ladies, gentlemen. Please.” The Doctor brought them back to focus on the issue he was speaking on. “Let us read and discuss what my team has worked on and schedule a meeting, not an information release to this esteemed board

“Speak for yourself,” A woman’s voice sounded from the back. “Women will rule.”

It would be funny if not for the serious tone of the presentation.

Gathering up their notes and tablets, the group filed out.

Walking to Red, the car. He held his one-way conversation to the best friend a person could have in a non-organic entity.

“No one believed me. Except the boy-genius from California.” He told the little car built at the old car building company, Terran Green Machines, before the military absorbed the company by decree. “Red, we are screwed.”

Dragon Master University Chapter 18. Veil of Vale

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XVIII. The veil of Vale

Jona walked into the courtyard, Professor Vale was once again shifted his shape to a smaller dragon, basking in a shaft of sunlight that glistened off his ruby scales.

“Professor? I would like to ask a few things.” Jona asked, his head full of questions on what he had just seen. How much was history, how much was fiction and how much was truth.

“Yes, Jona, speak your mind.” The Old dragon looked at him with good humor, he liked Jona it pleased  the professor to help or answer any questions.

“Professor Koos was lecturing me on lore and law, gave me a view of some lore.” You were once human and had to change into a dragon to save your wife?”

Vale nodded, “Yes, no one bothers to ask me, but the one time that the historians did, they used the crystal to record what had happened. The lady with gray and red hair that assists me now and again?”

“Yes, professor, she is you wife?” Jona asked.

Professor Vale looked at Jona for a second and continued while clearing his throat, “Well, now we know you have attended “Obvious Recognition 101″ at one time or another, what I was going to say, she has spent many years looking for the single spell I used. Rumor has it that I cannot speak the spell due to magic, but the only magic was that I could not speak any human speech at first and by the time I was able to, the spell I thought I used was incorrect.” Vale sighed, “So now she uses her knowledge of magic to stay young as possible, she ages about one year for every one hundred.”

Jona stopped and thought for a moment. “The story I saw from the crystal showed you and her as a young couple.”

“Indeed,” Vale nodded, “We had not yet started a family, no children. In fact it took me years to learn how to change size, I can do a little shape change now, but I am always dragon.”

Doing the math at first, “The story then is very long ago.” Then adding, “You had children since then?”

Vale nodded “Yes, it was long before the current history, many years have passed. She was only twenty-two summers old and beautiful as a sunrise on a snowy day.” then nodding again, “We had a number of children that have had both qualities of the race of dragon and man. Kolo and Kola are both related to me, although many times removed, twenty-five generations or so.”

“My friend Kolo and her brother?” Jona asked

“Yes, not all dragons lay eggs, depending on the clans or branch of the family tree.” Nodded the Professor.

“Clans?”

“This is my break time,” the professor said, sitting up. “but as you want to learn, let’s go to the master room of the Garnet House. Climb aboard.” Vale said as he swelled in size, a four-winged dragon as he changed size, Jona climbed on his back into the saddle area– that was not fully developed as in the racer dragons, but then, Vale was a much older dragon and racing had not been a sport back then.

At the top of Professor’s aerie. There was stone tables of granite and soapstone of verdigris color, with a full view in all directions, Jona gaped at out the lead glass windows, mountainous peaks from all his view were magnificent.

“Dragons are family oriented, mothers are as protective as any human parent. Old stories of virgin sacrifices were simply overstated and elaborately told stories of rogue drakes that were just like any

other being on this earth with prejudices and hatred to others. Some were equal opportunity hate mongers. Ultimately, the councils of dragons gathered and the first peaceful meetings with humans happened.” Vale opened a very wide scroll as it lay over a wide table of intricately carved soapstone. “The first meetings you see marked here on the time line were with the Pirate High Council, perhaps the most free and dangerous group of humans to empire or govern.”

“Pirates? Robbers of the sea, correct?” Jona asked, he knew the stories of the seagoing raiders. “They come ashore, burn and pillage. I have had teachings of such things.”

Vale nodded, “In the most basic sense, they are barbarians and robbers, those are the ones you hear about that are the most unskilled at the bottom of the pirate food chain. They are not they pirates that were here. The pirates that put on the show are those that live outside of the government’s influence and do not pay taxes to an entity that gives diminishing returns. Instead, they donate funds, goods and services when they wish. This is outside of the control of government– another irksome thing for those that desire power above all. They call these men and women pirates as a result, it is easier to prosecute a ban on trading with the people.”

Vale continued, “These are the people in the early days the dragon councils met. It was the pirates that suggested a school, first for just dragons to learn, but then to bring forward a school for teaching the teachers. This is why you are here. A teacher must understand the relationship and be able to teach past the prejudices of both dragon and human. You will be a Master of dragon knowledge to dragons and humans. You will be a Dragon Master, but I digress, you must know what you ask.”

Jona nodded, lost in the history time line as it was laid out before him.

“Dragons live for a very long time, some say forever but that is not the case, they do age and become elderly, but the length of a dragon’s lifespan has not yet been firmly established. No deaths of natural causes as of yet, that have been recorded.’

Vale corrected himself “All but for one, not long after the first peaceful contact with humans there was a dragon named Koshenkpough, a fire dragon. He befriended a human orphan boy when his mother was a victim of a governments abuse of power. His father was a bookmaker and was never around. The child learned much from the dragon and was unable to ever speak his name properly and he nicknamed the dragon, who liked the name and has since been known as “Puff”. Puff was the first Dragon Master to a human, though they did not have the title at the time.”

Jona nodded, “I saw a column with the name of Puff on it. I wondered why such a strange name for a Dragon. So it was a nickname?”

“History is known for renaming people and dragons,” Vale nodded, “Places and events that did not reflect the real names at the time. Let’s continue. Dragons, and although I am one, I am human inside by thought and feeling, but after living as a dragon for so many years, I have learned a few things.” Vale smiled, “One of which as you know I can change size, but not quite shape or I’d be human in a heartbeat.” Vale chuckled. “It would make sitting by the fireplace with RedNova– that’s my wife’s name– Possible. Or go visit her father.”

“He is still alive?” Jona asked.

“Yeah, he is REALLY old.” Vale winked. “He is studying spells for all this time to break what I cast that day.”

“Wow, there is so much more to the world.” Jona was looking over the scroll and the time line that was drawn upon it.

“More than you know now, even.” Vale nodded. “Dragons have developed close ties with humans over the years. The biggest heartbreak that any of them have is that, although dragons live forever, humans do not. Remember Puff and his human friend, the boy grew up and left to live his human life in time, Puff returned to his cave.  Some say Puff was the boy’s mother who had been transfigured, somehow, like I have been. Others say that Puff changed his name and just disappeared into the crowds and might be among us today. We have never established what happened.”

“So if, say a human and dragon were married, they could raise a family?” Jona asked.

“With the right kind of healer and medicine, yes. It might be odd for both of them as the offspring are usually a blend of traits. The curiosity and inventive nature of the human side, the long life and learning capacity of the dragon, occasionally there are different results, some good, and some — well to say evil might be too harsh, but the outcome has been…” Vale paused, “Unfortunate.”

“What is this notation here about vampires and lycan?” Jona asked while reading small print on a time line.

“That, my young protegé, is for later studies. Just keep in mind, any mix of dragons and the other two is fraught with disaster. Already between lycan and vampire exists a war as the two are diametrically opposed.” Tracing his crimson colored hand down the page, ” Here, lists how clans of dragons exist. Some indicate live births, others the day they have had eggs hatch. No one is to say which is better, but smaller dragons tend to have live births and the laying of clutches of eggs seemingly is on the wane over the years. It seems to make a stronger bond to the parent-child relationship in the dragons.”

“How many clans are there?” Jona asked as he traced his finger over the parchment.

“How many clans are there in humans? No one knows.” Vale chuckled. “It has only the main course of history, this does not detail clans and the branches. That would be like trying to follow a drop of water in an ocean.”

“Why do humans hunt dragons?” Jona asked, “Seems that it would be better if the two races would work together.”

“It is the same way on both sides,” Professor Vale nodded grimly. “A few make it impossible for the many. That is why you are here at the school, to help survival of both.”

Jona tingled with the thought of that. A huge responsibility, but a lot to learn still.

“Thank you Professor, I have a lot to learn.”

“Homework, Jona, without it, your grades will not improve.”

“Yes, sir. And I need to practice with Eva on racing, we are working out in a full team race, four of us are doing the course today.”

“Good luck, Jona, do not fall off.” Vale smiled softly.

Flee Chapter 10. Ocean and Freedom

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10. Ocean and Freedom

 

The Calliope gathered speed, passing ten-knots and they turned south. Following the shore with the land on the right, they sailed into the gathering darkness.

Captain Roberts sat back and sighed contentedly.

“We are clear. Radar shows us with no traffic near and sonar shows that the water depth is increasing nicely. We are in the channel.” The Captain nodded. “Now… I have something to celebrate our escape.”

Hopping off his seat Captain A. J. Roberts opened up a trunk he had lugged from Maribella without a word on what he had inside.

Bottles and bottles of exotic liquors. The largest of which he pulled up.

“RHUM!” He laughed. “All the way from the Caribbean! I bet you have not seen the likes.”

The Archer laughed.

“Actually,” Archer said softly to Rachel, “I have drunk that brand for years.”

Rachel laughed. “I have a bottle of that in my house now.”

The drinking went on for some minutes, The Archer was working on his second cup over ice to the Captains third. The two were seemingly getting into a race.

Suddenly the radio crackled and the Captain choked on his fourth cup of the dark liquor.

“Emergency channel is working! Huzzah!” He grabbed the microphone and called.

“Emergency caller, this is the Calliope out of Brisbane bound for Sydney. Go ahead with your traffic.”

“This is Royal Australian Navy Destroyer Guardsman. Reverse your direction and return the way you came.”

“Negative, Guardsman, we are out of Brisbane, all on board are healthy and are seeking asylum from the chaos of the area.”

“Calliope, this is your last warning, the quarantine now extends to Brisbane, come about now and return to your point of departure.”

“Guardsman, we have women and children on board, we cannot return. Do you wish to condemn them to deal with the collapse of government there?”

“This is Captain Monroe of the RAS Guardsman. Calliope, please reverse your course, I do not wish to fire upon you. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

“We are making our way to Sydney. Board us there.” The Captain Roberts replied to Captain Monroe.

“Heave to, or we will fire.”

“Captain.” The Archer was looking out a window. “We have a problem.”

In the air, a heavily armed helicopter suddenly lit up with navigation lights in the failing twilight of the coming evening. Already airborne, missile pods were visible on the sides of the rotary-winged gunship.

Captain Roberts looked out.

“Oh f’kn’ bloody brass nuts.” The Captain said loudly. “If you folks believe in a hell, you might wish to call ‘em an’ ask if they have exchange programs, it is about to become worse than that here. Guardsman is a Hobart Class ship, that there bird be one o’ its hammers.”

“What are those?” Stormy asked as two, then four pinpoint lights seem to move towards them from a mile out.

“Archer?” Andrea asked, pointing out at what Stormy saw.

“Incoming! They’ve opened fire!” The Archer yelled. He reached down to his quiver and pulled out a rolled up plastic bag. Holding two locks of hair close to his heart, he watched the missiles track towards them at unimaginable speed.

“I”m sorry.” He whispered to the last remains of his family as he dropped the baggie over the rail of the yacht. “I’m so sorry I failed.”

“OUT! Abandon ship!” Al was like a bull shoving everyone he could reach towards the railing. The only time in his life he used his hand to hand training to shove a group.

“Abort! ABORT! Do not fire! ABORT! ABORTABORT! We are…” The Captain screamed into the microphone.

It was his last conscious thought as the missiles impacted into the bridge of the Calliope. High explosive warheads sent shockwaves through the vessel. Compressed air heated to thousands of degrees shattered doors and bulkheads as the yacht disappeared in a fireball of continuing weapons fire as the helicopter crew their weapons repeatedly into the remains of the Calliope.

Only after the shattered, burning hull slipped beneath the surface of the water did the gunship return to the Guardsman while the haze and smoke slowly dissipated.

There would be no rescue boats launched as the Guardsman followed orders to set course back to its assigned patrol.

 

Dear Universe: letters from the past

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Dear Universe:

Letters from the past

Dash McCallen

1. A Letter From Dad

I don’t know yet if you are a boy or a girl, but WELCOME to the family. I apologize right now for all the mistakes I will do– You don’t have an instruction book. I have asked your grampa a few things and all he has done is laugh that I will find out!”

She read on, the words written in business like block lettering with a pen on a notebook that looked as if it had been written on a vibrating surface of the helicopter that he rode in.

Right now, we are flying into the back country for a fire spotted by a mountain lookout. I am in a helicopter with eleven other firefighters, the person next to me is Linda Martinho and she says “Hi from the past!”. A nice lady, quite, pretty and tough as they come. (A secret, she is tough, but smallish, about the size of your gramma Ida). We are flying in to the fire lines, we have to cut lines around a big burn and… Will have to finish this later, we are landing now.”

The smell of smoke was still on the paper that was also stained with his perspiration after riding in his pocket for an unknown amount of time.

She held the paper to her nose and close her eyes. Imagining her dad young and strong. Appearing as he did in the pictures. Broad shouldered, smiling, soot covered. He was handsome as they could come. Her mom always talked about how he looked in the cut-off jeans he wore in lieu of swim trunks, she almost always blushed and giggled like she must have when she was only eighteen.

Tall and red-headed. Her dad often told her stories about the history of their family with the joy of the legends of the O’Danu family dancing in the glittering green eyes. As she grew, his red hair became laced with white.  There was no middle ground with her personal hero.  Like him the hair would not find an in-between color of fading red. It was red — or white.

2. be Continued

Smoke was heavy as the “heelo” came in for a landing on the mountaintop. Winds were unpredictable but the hand crew deployed quickly as they expertly handed out the tools of their trade.

Brush hooks – a kind of ax that looks like a shepard’s staff with a razor’s edge that they used to cut and drag brush out of the fire break

Pulaski grubbing tools – An ax on one side and a trenching and grubbing tool on the other. Looks like a cousin to a pick.

McLeod – a hoe and rake combination built on the toughest proportions. Probably the least favorite tool that the crews used, but the most useful.

The R-5 Fire shovel. A short-handled round nose shovel with a sharpened edge for cutting through roots and digging quickly. Used for scraping ground and throwing dirt on fire for direct suppression. Often used to do final clean up by the firefighter crew and are last in line of a firefight often called the drag shovel.

Firefighter bodies trained, hardened by repeated morning abuse called “Physical Training”. The team of men and woman would perform a series of stretches and aerobic exercises that ended with a five-mile run. All before sunrise and breakfast.

All summer, they would sweat more before breakfast than most people did all day. Polishing and sharpening their tools, checking equipment, then a half hour after breakfast they would load up and head to scheduled  projects for inspection or maintenance of brush clearing on roadways in the back-country. Gloves and hard-hats worn, and test or inspect construction areas. There was little area that they did not step foot in, a thousand square-miles that they protected with their brothers of other stations. Dad often called her “Princess” and tell her of things he did during the days he was away.

Continuing: It is twelve-hours later, we have cut almost five-kilometers of line in an area that is too hazardous for bulldozers. I’m seriously tired, but we have to eat here in a bit. I see a comfy rock that we are going to sleep on in a little while. In the meantime, my meal is cooking in a can. Someone brought some spam (Yes, I know, but when you are hungry and tired, everything is a banquet!) and we are cooking it over a candle powered stove in its own can.”

Cassie made a face at the thought of can-poached spam.

We have to eat and then get back to the line, we are to join up with another crew that is cutting towards us. The fire is about two miles off.. probably you use metric when you are reading this so that would be a little over three kilometers and moving in our direction. We are cutting this line below the ridge top and backfiring as we go. (That is, we are burning it up to the ridge.) Food! Be back later. Don’t go away.”

She laughed. Writing on paper and he puts her on hold. “Don’t go away.” She remembered his sense of humor.

Back! It is now another ten-hours later, I am on a hike out. We had crews airlifted in, but we were out of position to get a ride, so… While we are on a break from our walk out I had to catch you up. We cut a line around this old hill and hooked up with the Pine Mountaineers crew. Your mom’s old party station. My crew, Iron Canyon Kings and the Blue Mountain Forest Rangers did a backfire that did not go as planned. (HAHAHA!) The small backfire kinda backfired. But it stopped the main front in the end. It was USFS’s game plan, but the vegetation was dryer than predicted and a bit of an uphill wind did more than expected. No one was hurt, but I don’t think the US Forest Ranger will handle a drip-torch like that again. HAHA! The backfire flared a bit more than planned and there were a few moments of a significant pucker factor.”

She laughed. His stories of the line were always of adventure.

Anyway, I have to get hiking again. We have fifteen miles to go, after that? I get on a bus and head back to the deployment area. We have been out here for two-weeks now and I expect the fire  will be fully contained by the end of our down-time. Three days before this all started your mom said we were expecting you to join us in less than a year. This is simply awesome! Anyway. Not much to write as far as a letter goes. This little bit o’paper will get stuffed into a file somewhere along with many others I hope. Anyway. Love you, (baby boy or baby girl!) Dad.

PS. Have to get used to that now, don’t I?”

She missed him, wherever he was. The advertisement in the magazine for wildland firefighters to go to a third world country that was suffering from a severe drought and fires that were threatening to devastate the ecology and economy.

The salary offered was too good to pass up. So Dad went when it was winter in the northern hemisphere to fight fires at the bottom of the world for six months.

And never came home.

A year later, a the government sent a half-dozen boxes back. The helicopter transporting firefighters crashed with only one broken radio call for help. The pilot called the identifier with “Mayday!” then silence. Destruction of the air transport was complete and some of the local war-clans had stripped the aircraft and burned the rest. Of a dozen-firefighters and two pilots in the flight, the charred remains of the only ones that could be identified were in coffins.

The search and rescue reported that the area around the Blackhawk transport was:

Complete combustion of airframe and personnel.”

Official speak for nothing was left.

So she sat there with a file folder of hand-written letters, looking over the rail of the bridge and a jar of ashes that a fire liaison had collected at the scene and sent to the remaining six families.Five years since the crash, mom still talked as if he were just about to walk through the door.  When she was fifteen, it made an odd sense of being closer to him and she was wishing she was a witch practicing “white magic” and had said a spell over a few hairs she had recovered from a brush he used and some glitter that they used to make a family portrait frame years ago. She and mom had a huge fight over that, it was disrespectful mom said.

It was the last time she tried any kind of magic, until now.  Now it was in the water, the final act of the spell.  She had one last thing to do, it was an immature effort, perhaps.

Cassiopeia O’Danu dropped a yellow rose into the waters as they flowed out into the Pacific ocean with the wish.

Dad, come home.”

3. Dad’s Next Letter

“Hello and good morning!  My first day home and I’m up before the sun. Ugh!  Your mom is still in bed and I am making some chamomile tea and sitting on the back porch.  The only one else that is up in the house is the dog.  Cats barely moved out of my way when I got up.  But I was too tired to sleep from so many days on the fire line that I could not sleep. I am still so tired I can’t think straight, so a letter to you while everything is quiet. It is a Saturday and your mom will not roll out of bed until noon. Here I am, stuck on the porch with the dog looking at me like I am about to throw the pen across the yard. Oh! Just a moment!  Tea is ready.  Don’t go away.”

She smiled. He even drew time notations in his letter in the form of an hourglass going empty.  Her dad was creative, she had to give him that.

Somewhere in the world was a red- going white- haired man that she needed to find.

“Back, some diphenhydramine (an antihistamine known to make me sleepy) and chamomile tea.  I’ll write this until the tea is gone and I go to bed.  Again.”

He drew a frowning face. It was a glimpse into the part that she remembered as a little girl. Sometimes he sat on the back porch alone and looking unhappy.  She would go up to him then, and he would always smile.  Sometimes, she got the feeling that he was very sad.

One time Cassie asked the great god of her life.

“Why are you sad, daddy?”

He had smiled, hugged her tightly.

“I miss some people.  Friends who were in a plane crash.”

“Okay baby girl or baby boy.  I’m going back to bed.  I think Buzz the dog even has gotten tired of my tossing the stick so early in the AM. For a puppy, he goes until he is pooped.  He does not sleep– he recharges.”

She had not thought of the Irish Wolfhound in a long time. He lived until he was ten-years old — for a Wolfhound, that was ancient.  She still loved that old dog.

She packed up her letters.  The teenage spell completed, but with the lack of hope of a cynical adult.  She knew it was a wasted effort.

Maybe. The wish in the back of her mind tickled annoyingly.

4. Leaving (and written) on a Jet Plane

Dear Princess! Last few months I have done all this training to go to a country to help with wild fires they are having. The entire country is smaller than Texas they say, and half of it is burning. They have had a tremendous drought there, so now we go to the country of eastern Quo Rhea. Their national bird is a Rhea, I think that is interesting. It would be like the United States Calling itself United Eagle or some such. Britain could be Bulldog Kingdom. Anyway. I’m sitting in the plane, if I look hard, I think I can see you waving. I will be missing your fifteenth birthday, I apologize. When I come back, we will have a belated party, just you and I. You have your diving license now, so maybe a dive in Lake Tahoe? Or a week in Hawaii and dive there. Such a birthday it would be. What do you think of that?

Anyway. Plane is now rolling, I have twenty hours of flight with a stopover in Australia. We have two-hundred firefighters on board, every one of us in uniform, and another hundred in support staff I think. It looks like a weird kind of convention.

Odd don’t you think that while the glaciers have begun to spread again, that there is a fire disaster in a tropical jungle? You will have to explain that one to me when I come back. They allow us in the country no longer than ninety-days. When I come home, we will have another six weeks before they call me up again for the fire season at home. I will be home a lot more often, there is a change in schedules coming. I will take the best one. Tuesday through Thursday and every other Friday. Not counting working fires of course. So you and mom have me every weekend. Like it or not. (Hahah!)

That’s it for now. I’ll write more tomorrow, we land in twenty hours, so I am not sure I will have much to write about, so I might write after I get situated at the fire base.

Just know I love you, Cassie.

Dad”

The tears crept down her cheeks. He never wrote again, it was his last letter. Catching a whiff, a long ago spill of his favorite drink. Water with lemon. Dad never drank his rum when even close to being at work.

5. Government Fail

Cassie was driving home when the phone ran. Tapping her wireless earphone her mother’s voice filled her ear.

Cassie, I have a letter from the government. I think it says I owe back taxes because your dad is not dead and I have received survivor’s benefits.”

Mom, what?”

I have a letter. Your dad is not dead, according to the letter. We need to get him declared dead I guess.”

Mom, I’m fifteen-minutes away in my car. I’m coming over to look at this letter.”

She broke the line and tapped the button again.

Dial Union lawyer” She was going to get this snafu taken care of right away.

She almost thought that the mobile phone had dropped carrier when it was quiet for so long until the most annoying voice in the world came on and the pre-recorded greeting gave her a dozen selections for languages, if she wanted to hear the latest news, inquiries for contract negotiations. Upcoming elections in the union.

I’ll drive there faster! Sheesh!”

Then the-most-annoying-voice announced the option that she wanted.

Checking her mirrors and all around for any law enforcement, she glanced down and pushed the number to select.

And a motorcycle officer pulled up behind with his lights flashing.

Cassie’s heart fell, until he drove around her with his siren blaring and shifting gears as he accelerated away.

Holy crap, that was close.” Cassie broke out in a nervous laugh. “Damn non-voice activated automated voice menu systems.”

A voice email of Tyson Reddit said he was not in and to leave a message.

Hi Tyson, it’s Cassiopeia O’Danu. My dad was one of the firefighters that went down on the helicopter? Anyway, I’m heading to my mom’s house right now. The government has sent her a notice that she has unpaid taxes because my dad is not dead? They are the ones that said there was no survivors in the crash.”

She broke the connection and turned right at the next corner towards her childhood home.

6. Bluetooth Insanity

The phone rang and she tapped her earphone.

May I speak to Cassiopeia O’Danu?”

Speaking. Hi Tyson.”

Hi Cassie. I have spoken to several people today. You are not the only ones to have received the letter. I have been on the phone most of the morning with the tax rep at the IRS. We have some serious information that we need. We have…” The earphone was unintelligible…” meeting in the case of that helicopter crash.”

What? You broke. Say that again.”

There has been a development. The radio that the pilot used while flying – their identifier. They were Fire-Crew Two? Someone used that identifier again to talk with air traffic control.”

WHEN?! How? Who?” She had too many questions and the bluetooth headset was not responding.

Tyson, hold on. I’m pulling in front of my mom’s house now.”

Trading the wireless headset for the phone, she turned off the engine of her car.

Now, what are you talking about.”

The United States base in T’Sett got a radio contact on an emergency channel with the pilots call sign, he was calling a mayday and that they were on foot. The signal was lost then.”

Who is ‘they’?”

The people I have talked with don’t know. The signal was lost, whoever was speaking turned off the radio.”

When was this? We need to start a search in the area.”

There was silence on the phone for a heartbeat.

It was, um…” the sounds of papers being moved around. “February of last year.”

Cassie was about to scream in fury.

EIGHT MONTHS AGO? Tyson, I want someone’s ass!” Cassie said. “That is… that is… just wrong!”

Cassie. It’s worse than that.”

How could it be worse?”

It was not LAST February, it was a year ago last February. February of LAST year.”

It was Cassie’s turn to go silent.

Quietly, she said into the phone when she could think again.

I am getting my mom and we will come down to your office right now.”

Bring the letter you mom has, there are other families here, we will meet and I will tell you all what I know.”

Thank you I will. Have you spoke with my mom, yet?”

No. You are the first one of your family I have talked with.”

How long have you known this development, Tyson?”

About an hour. The phone calls started yesterday afternoon.”

7. Speechless in Stress

Cassie almost ran up the steps to the door of her mom’s house. Opening the door with her key, she yelled for her mom immediately.

Cassie! Why are you rushing so? It is a letter, no one is here.”

Mom… Mom…” She could not get it out. Looking around, nearly five years had gone past since dad was here last. His clutter he left, mom had picked up but his chair was still there. His laptop was gone, stored somewhere but now hopelessly out of date. “Mom…get the letter, we are going to the union office to meet with Tyson Reddit now. There has been someone down in that country that called on the fire radio.”

What? What country? What radio? Cassie, you are not making any sense.”

Mom, just get the letter, I’ll tell you in the car.”

They rode for the first two blocks in silence.

Cassie?”

Mom.” She realized she was crying. “They got radio contact with someone from dad’s fire team. Maybe the pilot.”

Mom gasped as the thought sank in.

Mom. It was almost two years ago!” Cassie almost screamed the news. “They heard and never let us know. Now the IRS tells us he’s alive in a back-handed way.”

He’s alive?”

I don’t know. But if they have not started any rescue teams, it is way too late now.”

They pulled into the union parking lot, it was exceptionally crowded and dozens of people were standing around outside the door.

Are you waiting to see Tyson?” Cassie asked the woman who stood near the door. The woman looked familiar.

Then she remembered! Suzanne Riley, the sharp-eyed woman who had her husband only two years before he went on the fire fighting job. She had immigrated from South Africa to avoid apartheid. Although she was ten years older than Cassie, they looked the same age. Her skin still glowed with the smiles she carried within, but her children were now walking.

Did you get a letter too?”

Suzanne almost burst out crying.

They say I owe all the money back, because August is still alive. I have to prove he is dead, and I have no body. They never brought anything back. No funeral, no flag. All I have are papers that said he was missing.”

Several others gathered around. One Cassie recognized as being the son of one of the firefighters, he was easy to recognize. Same eyes and build, it was not hard to tell that the seed did not fall far from the tree.

Tyson finally walked out to the lobby.

Folks, if you please walk with me, we have a room set up for you and I will explain this serious issue.”

A serious issue? Thought Cassie. This is getting better all the time.

8. The Meeting Room

Take a seat, please. Every one in? Good, good. Okay…” Tyson started, he was wringing his hands in a slow cycle. He was not nervous, but looked like a man who had a big secret to tell.

Tyson.” A voice came from the door. “Phone call, you need to take this.” An young man with thinning hair stood behind Tyson.

Folks, excuse me.”

Cassie was fidgeting and then opened the file and pulled out another letter dated six-months before she was born.

Dear baby-bump.

Training day! Pain in my knees! Dang, we are hill-humping hose packs up mountains with tools, I’m on lead shovel at the moment. I usually do lead hook, but we have some new folks that need to train in that position. I am training others on how to throw dirt and how to clean up those things that the pulaski’s leave behind. There is very little with my crew. HAHA! Still, after so many seasons, I am getting aches in places I did not know I had places. Still, the competition for fire crews is a month off. We need to have everyone up to speed. Cross training on engines and in hand-crews is tough. But we won the golden-nozzle two years ago and the golden-shovel three years in a row, but we missed last year. We came in sixth. We were just were tired from a long spike and then we had to travel overnight to get there. We just were too tired to make a line fast enough, our tools and chain-saws were dull. I needed a bottle of aspirin, a bottle of rum and about five days sleep. Oh well, this year will be better!

Okay, we are on the move again Baby-bump! I’ll write later. We have a doctor’s appointment when I am off duty next week. We’ll get a sonogram and find if I start buying pink or blue. I want to buy hunter-green and black paints (for shadows) and paint a forest in your room, but mom has already crushed that idea.

Love you!

Dad

PS. When you grow up? Do not do what I do! Be a doctor! I don’t care in what. Doctor of Law, a veterinary, dentist! I want you home, always. Being in my business would not let that happen.”

Tyson walked back in and sat at a table with a laptop that he plugged in a cable.

Sorry about this old-school connection to the monitor behind me. But I do not want this being picked up by any snoops outside the office. I have just had this sent to me. It is a transcript and one other thing that has been found. Using an Earth-veiwing software.

First the transcript. I will preface this as it is not verified who it is.

Tyson tapped a few buttons and a .pdf file opened on the screen.

Unknown source: Any station any station. Fire-crew strike team two. Mayday mayday. Any station any station. Mayday mayday mayday. Fire-crew strike team two out of Iridium Fire Base calling any station. Mayday.

Remy Radio Control: This is Remy Naval Station on emergency channel. Go ahead with your Mayday traffic.”

Unknown Source: Remy Station, Fire-Crew Two…

Remy Radio Control: Fire-Crew two, go ahead with your emergency traffic.

Remy Radio Control: Fire-Crew Two, go ahead with your emergency traffic.

Remy Radio Control: Fire-Crew Two. This is Remy Station, do you copy?

Remy Radio Control: Negative Contact. Remy Radio Control clear of emergency channel 1506 hours local time.”

Tyson stood up and pointed out the timestamps on the file. “From the first call of ‘mayday’ to when contact attempt ended was five-minutes. We do not know precisely who it was. They ran the voice through some-sort of secret systems and still can not tell who it was. I have asked to have the recording released to us so we can identify the voice. But I have had no calls back on that note yet. I have worked on these things in the last eighteen hours. Mr. Yount, you called and left the first message at about quarter to five. I started making calls the minute I got the message. About five minutes later. No one was in at that time, I stayed until midnight last night and emailed everyone I could think of. Ninety-minutes ago, I got this file when I took that call. Officially we do not have this transcript.”

Who is keeping it? Who is saying we do not have the right to know anything?” It was Reberto Emba. The father of the Captain of the fire crew.

I do not know specifically – yet. I can’t tell you if it is military, cia, nsa ..or any of the -ia things. All I know so far, is it seems that the IRS knows more than we do. I have a couple calls in to different people. This is why I need your letters. Stanford will be coming around and collecting your letters to make copies, I’ll have your originals returned to you. I might be able to find someone in the IRS to do two things.” Tyson smiled. “ONE. Get your taxes deferred or eliminated and TWO! We will find out more information on your missing family that the government is not providing. The IRS is not overly secretive, they want their money. If we work with the IRS, they can get their money and we get information on where these missing firefighters are.”

A hand raised up. “Question?”

Mrs. Yount. Yes.”

First, my name was Baker. Kate Baker, my husband worked in Yountville.” Tyson had the look of a man shot in the face with a horse tranquilizer. “Now my question: my husband was in a box that I put in the ground three-and-a-half years ago. I remarried and I am four-months pregnant with my new husbands child. You are telling me that my dead husband is – maybe – not dead? One other thing, there were twelve crew on that ship plus a pilot and co-pilot. I count twelve families here.”

Everybody went quiet at the implication. The IRS sent letters to every family that was there.

And one other thing!” Kate Baker’s temper was rising. “WHO the FUCK DID I BURY?”

Tyson, obviously without the information he had, now also got angry.

Mrs.” He stopped. “What is your married name now?”

Castro.”

Mrs. Castro, I will find out. We will use the IRS to crack open this problem. What do they know about your loved ones. You have that right under the tax laws. They cannot tax you without cause, so what is the cause? They have to tell us what they know or scrub the amount you owe. They will not let money go without a fight and there are very few people who can push the IRS around. Not even the President of the USA.”

Can we make a class action with all of us to sue for the information?”

Tyson nodded. “We can sue anyone for this. The most difficult is finding which of the government is involved who we want to address. We can drag the feds in and win, but they would shrug shoulders and say “We don’t know” to the demands of the judge. But there is something more.”

He tapped on a world view software, bringing in to focus the island nation.

This was found by my assistant last night. We cannot be the only ones to see this.”

As he zoomed in on the southern most end of the island, the closer he got, there appeared numbers cut into the forest near a community. Tyson moved the mouse around and zoomed in on one number, 4440 then 4488 then another number 2500.

Gasps all around. The lines cut in the jungle were unit and station designator number, someone had cut the numbers into the forest along strangely appearing fire breaks.

What is the date on those images.” A uniformed man asked. “My wife was among those not found.”

“The dates on these images are,” Tyson looked at the copyright date. “two years ago.”

The families exploded in anger with Tyson holding hs hand up for deflection of the attacks.

Please! Please! Don’t kill the messenger. I am sharing what I know at the moment. We will know more in a day or so. I need to email more people tonight and call more in the Internal Revenue Service. I will need all your email addresses. Leave them with my assistant, he is moving around taking down the emails as we speak. Us finding anything useful out tonight is unlikely. Please return home and check emails often. Also if you can, please make sure I have your current phone numbers. Please call tomorrow, or I will call you by one o’clock in the afternoon. It  will be a conference call. You won’t have to come down here, there is more to this to discover if each family received a letter from the IRS.”

Kate Baker spoke again as they headed out. “Tyson, you have done us well. You get this taken care of, please.” Her eyes glittered with anger.

Cassie was in tears, biting her lip. The number 4440 was well-known even outside the area that used it. One of the chiefs that used those numbers was famous outside of his own ranger unit until his death in an accident when he was off-duty. Struck by a car on a dark night in winter, a fractured skull and other severe injuries, Chief 4440 never woke up.

Her dad had nothing but great things to say about the chief.

Subtle and striking, if the firefighters those numbers…

If? Who else would cut such lines? Without anyone knowing, it would take great skill and speed to cut eighty-foot long numbers in a jungle. Cassie knew this well. Golden Shovel crew can do such a thing in an hour.

IF IT WAS THEM Cassie’s mind yelled at her.

10. Hope

During the ride home mom became animated and talking like a child loaded up on soda and candy on Christmas eve.

We have to get the house cleaned up. I need to dust his chair off. He won’t like it if it is in the wrong spot. I need to go on a diet. Cassie, do you think he would miss the oak tree I had taken out after it broke the main branch? We need to go to the store and buy his brand of ale. He never liked those little yellow beers. OH! And rum! Remember that, Cassie. Rum.”

Mom, slow down. Dad is not coming home tomorrow. We have some information that makes it look like that someone of their team is alive. It has been five years, mom…

Mom- Beulah Kate Archi O’Danu was not listening, she kept talking. Deaf to her daughter’s words. In her mind, her best friend inthe world, the only man she had ever loved was alive and coming home!

“MOM! Calm DOWN. Take a deep breath. Dad is not coming home today.”

CASSIOPEIA GRANUAILE O’DANU! You do NOT talk to me like that. Your father said he was coming back, he is late, but he keeps his promises! And I am your mother and…”

And high-priestess of the women’s druid society, yes, I know.”

Mom’s eyes got glass-hard and she turned away. Saying nothing for the rest of the ride home.

Mom, what I mean is we have not yet found dad. The information they have is almost two-years old. Why they have not done a rescue? Why, oh my god why did they not tell us?” Cassie’s voice broke into sobs so deep she had to pull over.

Mom never turned her head or said a word.

11. Night Life

The expensive German luxury car was weaving too much to remain unobserved by law enforcement. Intersection cameras designed to catch red-light violations photographed a car driving through the traffic light at speed. Even midnight, it was illegal to go through controlled intersection. The traffic citation generated was mailed within a few minutes.

By the time the company processed the citation, law enforcement pulled in behind the weaving car and attempted to pull it over, although not going fast, the import’s erratic moment was getting progressively worse. Illuminating the interior of the car with the intense spotlight of the patrol car, the two officers saw the head come up and the expensive go-fast car pulled over, climbing up the sidewalk and destroying part of a picket fence. The officers called for backup in the event the stop turned into a chase.

The driver’s door opened and the driver leaned out the car, commands shouted to stay in the car by the officers, until the driver got out on his hands and knees – covered in blood.

We need medics at our location code 3, we have a man down and bleeding. Looks like a throat cut.”

Tyson Redditt went into cardiac arrest before the arrival of the paramedic unit, even with the early attempts to stop the bleeding by the EMT certified officers, his heart could not be restarted despite the best efforts of Medic-27 and the fire department.

The investigation that followed video camera’s back to the parking lot showed Tyson had worked late this night and then stopped at a convenience store where he bought a coffee, small bag of ice, the most expensive single-malt scotch in the cheap store and a large bag of pretzels. Outside of the store, two men with hoods over hats approached Tyson as he got into his car, it appeared that one of the assailants punched Tyson in the head and then the two figures ran off.

Tyson drove out of the parking lot and stopped at the next red light before proceeding through. One minute later,three-quarters of a mile down the road, his image of him driving and running a red-light was taken. The image showed that Tyson was driving with both hands on the wheel but was bleeding down the front of his shirt, looking as if he did not know that his throat was cut just under his left ear.

12. Morning Call

Cassie called the union in the morning. Tyson’s line kept going to voice mail, so Cassie called the receptionist.

O’Danu for Mr. Redditt? Yes, ma’am, please hold.”

Hello, Mrs. O’Danu?” It was not Tyson, this voice was more clipped and slightly deeper. “This is Detective Todogs. What is your business with Tyson Redditt?”

He was getting some information regarding my father. We had a phone meeting arranged this morning.”

Yes, well, when did you happen to see Mr. Redditt last?”

About four-thirty yesterday with all the different families.” She paused then asked.“What is going on officer? Is Tyson in trouble?”

“Someone killed him last night in what appears like a robbery and assault, someone cut his throat after he left the office.”

They spoke further for a few minutes and he confirmed her address with the one that the secretary gave him.

We have a couple of detectives driving to everyone’s home now, you are available for a few minutes to do an interview?”

Yes. Oh god, am I a suspect?”

Should you be?”

No, and I take offense to the question.” Cassie said coldly.

Well, then you have nothing to worry about.” The voice was unapologetic.

I will be here with my mom.” She broke the connection. “MOM! Oh my god, MOM!”