Valley of Fear Prologue

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Prologue

The Running

Northern Idaho, fifty-kilometers south of the Canadian border on I-95, he stepped out on the gravel of the shoulder. Hiking out of the forests, he knew he had his ancient Volvo somewhere in the area. Looking around, he was about a half-mile south of where he went in a dozen hours before.

It was a nice day in the northern panhandle to collect the data from the different stations that the school placed around in the hundred-twenty thousand acres of the healing scar left from the Devil’s Broom Fire of 1910. Five of the undergraduates had gone in, Phillip was the first to come out of the hike. A few inches taller than the others, his stride had taken the toll on his companions. Gil Van Zant, Andre Sondergeld, Reedah Wilson (herself a bit of a mountain goat.)and Doctor Ru’khu Ng, the oldest of the group that often show them up by out-walking them all.

Bruce could see the others catching up to him when he saw what made his blood run cold coming over the ridge.

Wolves.

A lot of wolves, at least… he counted quickly on the undulating mass of grey and tails losing count at fifty.

And they were coming up the path at full speed.

“RUN! Oh, good God RUN!” Bruce waved at the team. “Behind you.”

Gil, bringing up the rear looked and turned, echoing Bruce’s warnings and the group began to run. The wolves were a mile off and running fast but making a direct line to the group. Caught out in the open like this, they would not stand a chance if the wolves surrounded them.

But, three hikers carried a side-arm. If need, they could open fire. Bruce carried the heaviest, a foot-long barreled revolver chambered for the mighty Smith & Wesson .500 Magnum cartridge.

It was not a quick-draw gun by any stretch of the imagination and it took him nearly five seconds to draw it out of the holster that resided between his backpack and his lumbar region.

It was a poor weapon against a pack of wolves bent on an easy meal.

Fully loaded, the big wheel-gun only held five rounds, and reloading was not a speed setting effort.

Still, if he could get them to line up, he could take four wolves with a single shot.

The hysterical thought ran through his mind of a four-for-one shot.

But he still carried it with one chamber unloaded and hammer down. It was an old safety habit. Popping out a cartridge from his belt, he slid the bullet cartridge into the empty chamber as Reedah came up next to him, panting from running with the heavy backpack.

“I say drop our packs here. Where is your car?”

“Half-mile up that way.” He pointed. The wolves were less than a quarter-mile off and coming fast. “We turned left one rock too soon. Get that pistol of yours out.”

“Like what am I going to do with it. I have an officer’s model with a seven plus one. Gill has a longslide with nothing else, we have the same count. “ She looked at him and drew her small auto-loader.

Her math was correct, even combined, their first volley did not match the numbers of the pack that ran towards them.

“I,” Gil gasped struggling with his pistol and the holster. “Have never seen wolves chase humans and out in the open too!”

“Gil, we don’t have enough firepower to win this outright, maybe we can divert them. Professor Ng, what do we do?”

“Climb a tree!” The Professor pointed to one with low hanging branches.

“What about our backpacks?” Reedah asked as the professor sprinted past— without his pack and gun in hand. “Oh!”

The group made the tree when the wolves caught up — and ran past them in a full run.

“Look! They are tuck-tailed.” Gil pointed out. “Something has them spooked.”

“I don’t know what would spook a pack of wolves like that.” Andre said. “There is documentation that a pack can take down a full-sized moose or caribou.”

“Keep climbing.” The professor said, looking down the path. “Oh crap, keep climbing!”

“What?” Bruce asked. “What is it?”

“BEAR!” The Professor pointed. “LOTS of them!”

Down the path a dozen bears, golden-manteled in the sunlight and giant, gorgeous, carnivorous creatures ran up the path like a toothy tsunami, not making a sound other than the crashing through the brush as each tried to pass the other.

“UP! UP!” the humans began to shout at each other, the lead bear’s mass approaching a quarter-ton. The largest land predator in the lower forty-eight states, although smaller than their coastal cousins. These were the apex predators of the area.

“I’m stuck!” Andre yelled. “Oh my god, help!” Andre yelled when the galloping group of grizzly bear closed the gap.

And followed the wolves, running past, followed by the mix of deer, a wolverine, and groups of smaller bear.

But no smoke in the distance.

“Professor, what is going on?” Bruce said as he tried to holster his horse-pistol. Succeeding on his third try.

“Bruce, can you stop waving that thing around, you’re making me nervous.” Gil said. “You brought that big ol’ thing, you should have also brought the rest of the armored car.”

“It would take care of anything I thought we might run across, including bear.”

“You could try.” Gil retorted. “Me, I would rather make a lot of noise with it and try to scare a bear off, unless you can shove it down the bears throat and pull the trigger.”

“With your little autoloader, you would need to…” Bruce was drawing a breath to continue the argument when the Professor interrupted.

“Enough. Seriously, enough.” The teacher shook his head while he climbed out of the tree. “We have more than we need to report just for that.”

“What scares a freakin’ GRIZZLY?” Andre asked. “Not counting a whole village of them.”

“I, for one, am going to the car.” Reedah commented while she picked up her pack. “You all can stand around and discuss this, but I shot video with my phone.” She smiled and held up her Android phone. “Five minutes worth.”

The men looked at each other stupidly then picked up their backpacks and set off in Reedah’s wake, still arguing over what they just witnessed.

“We need to get out of this area. The rest of the animals are running, I see dust in the air, there is more coming. I don’t now if it is more bear, moose or what. But I’d say it’s time to get out of this valley.”

Pulling on to the pavement, they did not hear the soft sound of a moaning as they drove away.

Horror smelled the thin-skinned and slow animal that drove off in a mechanical beast and would follow.

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Smart Bomb Chapter 17. Freedom

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Scene 17. Freedom

The two new robots stood in the room, while Steve looked at them closely.

“These do not look human enough. The eyebrows are too perfect.” He looked critically at them. The sensors of his eyes picking up minute quirks that the android had identified as traits of humans.

“The iris of the eyes look like glass.”

“Well, they are.” Thor agreed.

“They need a film over them that sparkles, or the eyes need to move around more.” The next judgement came.

“We don’t need them to pass inspection much, just enough to get into the build area.” Alvin said.

“This plan will not happen. The guard will discover them before they get to the second lower level. The best they could do is to get into the first level basement.” Sensors traced over the synthetic skin. “You should also boost their temperature slightly, the skin is only at thirty-six degrees Celsius, I would set it a half-degree warmer at the core.”

“The setting is at…” The one called Lady Sif paused. “You are right, it is under ninety-seven degrees Fahrenheit. You have sensitive eyes.” She looked at Steve.

“Indeed.” Wolf sat at his console. “If we turn the heat up, they will need power more often. Maybe we can have the temps increase right when we need it, not running all over the earth as an artificial space-heater.”

“That will take a bit of work.” Running Man said. “We have to set up a timer or…”

He leaned over to the one they called Burning Chip, “Burn” for short.

“What if we used visual clues?”

`”Like a mosque or a flag?” He asked Burn.

“The flag is easiest. We can get the design from Steve the Android.”

“Yes.” The android nodded. “The seal on the flag would be best, code it so when she see’s it she will warm up.”

“That’s sexy.” Alvin said.

“Perve!” Sif yelled from the other side of the room.

“Okay, I have the trigger system set up. The DNA profiles are in her core processors as hardwired. They are EMP protected, if there is a surge somewhere, like a lightning storm. Last thing we need is to have them knocked out by lightning and then fall down with that bomb inside.” The leader of the group said.

The entire team nodded and set to work.

Long into the night they worked on code, determining fuel resources, using the organic to electric conversion systems.

“JustWolf? The head covering is not complete or correct.” Steve pointed out.

“No, call me just Wolf.”

“Okay, Just Wolf.” Steve corrected himself.

“Right.” He shook his head. “Say it again?”

“JustWolf.” The Android answered honestly.

The human gave a big sigh and held his face in his hand for a moment.

“This is going to take a while.” He moaned.

“Okay,” Chip Burner sat up, “Triggers are set. There are three levels, there will be no accidental detonation. We have GPS, visual and then physical contact for the final sequence.”

“Even if there is contact outside of the coordinates or by the wrong person, it will not happen.” Running Man laughed and clapped. “Plus an alternate setting in the event the program needs to change. This is a binary setup, they cannot learn like you can, Steve.”

“Agreed. Three redundant systems is acceptable.” Steve the android said.

“Energy consumption curve is excellent.” Burning Chip announced. “A single full charge here, they will make it to the Russian border with power to spare. If they can get a ride, there will be little interaction and they can carry carbo-tabs. It’s not like they have to worry about junk food.”

“Dude.” Thor whispered. “Don’t go insulting him, he is the same way.”

“It matters not, I do not have feelings to injure.” Steve used a matter-of-fact tone. “However, I have something that urges me on, I need to go to Washington to complete my mission. Then, there is something else.”

The team stopped and all looked at the android. Wolf reached for an electronic weapon under his desk, turning it so the emitter was in Steve’s direction.

“After I stand at the door, my programming subroutine will be complete, it will send a signal down to the sensor that is no longer there. The terminator end of he plug that Running Man installed will acknowledge the signal. The subroutine will end.” Steve looked around at them. “The creator did not end programming, my destruction would end all programs, and thus he never designed termination of functions.”

“I will be free.” Steve almost smiled.

“Holy cats!” Sif laughed. “Congrats! They built a learning machine and released you into the world.”

“Yes, I am the first, but the Supreme Leader of Mankind has seen fit to send others like me. They may not have the same system. The next generation might be more limited to binary. They will not learn.” Steve looked down. For a moment, the team thought he had an emotion of sadness. Then he looked up.

“The creator and Supreme Leader have had more time, by calculations, they may send others with as much as a gram of antimatter.” Steve said. “More than a thousand times the yield of this warhead.”

The group did a collective profanity.

“How much do they have in total?” Burning Chip asked.

“With continued and aggressive theft with paying bribes to those that have no idea what they take. There is an eighty-one percent chance the Supreme Leader has amassed over one-kilogram.” The android’s math, not lost on the any of the group, shown a great number of cycles dedicated to this subject. “The warheads would have a collective yield of greater than the Tsar Bomb.”

The room fell silent.

“Send them.” Just Wolf said.

Fifteen minutes later, two women who would have blended in with the people of the Steppes and an encyclopedic database of the society and languages of the region assured their success.

Steve watched Thor and Sif drive off with the female bots, they were well made up, but, they were not androids.

Alvin stood for a moment at the door as the big car moved off towards the airport.

“Do you want me to drive you to Washington?” Alvin asked Steve.

“I am behind schedule, my next transmission, I have a schedule to arrive in a town called Chattanooga.” Steve paused. “And I am to record all locations of military locations between here and this nations capital.”

“So you are a spy?” Wolf asked.

“Yes, JustWolf, that is my secondary function, I give automatic reports of military bases and facilities.” He looked at the shocked crew. “I am Saif al Din, Sword of the Religion, spy and self-guided bomb and learning computer. I am also Steve Aldin, free being to learn about this country. I have learned much since coming to this land.”

He looked around.

“Go on.” Sif urged him.

“I have learned that you are greedy, petty, you fight among yourselves, call each other names, you throw stones, you embarrass yourselves in news reports and on social media.

You commit sins that would make Allah weep, but, when things are at their worst?” The Android looked at them each. in turn. “You are at your best!

You donate time, strangers who assist others without being asked and do so around the world to those that would do you harm. You would be most blessed, and no one would deny you repayment, and yet you ask for nothing in return. All you tell people is to go and be free.

You are a curious country, and I wish to find every corner, meet every citizen. I can walk among the poorest and see how they think, among the most wealthy and compare the mind-set.

That is where I want to go. All over this country called United States without harming it.”

By the time he finished, Sif teared up, Alvin held his coffee to his lips without moving, frozen in place.

Burning Chip and Running Man stopped talking and stared at Steve.

JustWolf coughed.

“Alvin, take him wherever he wants to go. You check in with us, keep him safe.” Wolf said softly. “I think there will be a helluva story when you get back.”

Children of Fury: Hellions Chapter 6. Bells, Ales and Conversations

Children of Fury:Hellions
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Chapter 6. Bells, Ales and Conversations

Four ships rocked quietly in harbor at twilight. Captains and First Mates sat on a small meadow that overlooked the small fleet of predators below, the moon, three-quarters full was already illuminating the horizon. It would be a brightly lit night. No stealth would be possible from the east. The smoke from the cooking fire below, on the lee side of the volcanic rockfall, between boulders half the size of their ships made for a natural chimney. Used by the sailors as a kitchen, the flow of the air dissipated smoke among the rocks and hills, masking their presence to any lookout on the water.

A short hike with the food in hand, the crews assembled stone and wood benches and tables that allowed them to see to all points of the compass to more than twenty-five miles.

Two women sat at either side of the red-headed Keegan who was clearly tense with the attentions of the two women pirates.

“I think I should sit on the other side of the table.” Causing even his father to laugh.

“Keegan, we need you to stay slower on the ship.” Conn said as they ate a dinner. A bottle of ale sat, the adults pouring and laughing while they ate the evening meal later than planned.

“Da’…” Keegan O’Danu started to complain.

“Dash,” Anna “God Wants” spoke softly. “you vasseau… boat… ship… is more rapide tha’ mienne.” Her French accent slightly enhanced by the copious ethanol in the new ale donated by her last visit on the Spanish Treasure fleet. Annemarie, once one of the Fille du Roi, sent to the Caribbean because she was disruptive in the King’s Court, and still did not have that small voice most people have when it came to speaking her mind.

“You must reduce the sails you set so we can keep up.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, setting his ears ablaze with heat.

Captain Delahaye laughed and talked with the muscular first-mate with dark-eyes, playing with her hair while he poured her more ale from his pitcher.

Dana looked at his brother with one eyebrow raised.

“What is going on with her?”

Keegan shook his head and looked at his father for guidance, the elder O’Danu laughed.

“That, my boys, is the age-old mating ritual.” Looking at their puzzled faces. Keegan looked alarmed when the sailor reached out and touched the bright-red hair of the pirate captain.

“She will kill him.

“Perhaps.” Conn said with a crooked grin. “But not in the way you think. Come with me, let’s start talking about what our plans are from here. Leave those two be for now.”

“But… but…” Keegan still did not comprehend.

“That bruise on your shoulder?” Conn asked his son while they walked to the fire, around which the other captains sat in the hidden grove of trees and tall rocks.

“Yes?” Keegan said. It had mostly healed, Granuaille did not sock him so much after they were away from each other so long at sea. “It still hurts, but it is no longer the color of the midnight sky.”

Conn laughed at his young sons quandary of the attentions of a girl. Here was a young man who could sail around the world, but did not know the first thing about romance of the heart.

The three O’Danu’s sat in the circle with the other captains and officers.

“Where est Jacquotte?” Anna asked, then screamed. “DELAHAYE!”

“OUI?!” The answering voice echoed. “Je viens!

Finally, when all eight members of crews sat, with other crew sitting behind, paying rapt attention.

“The treasure fleet comes through in the next fortnight, they are punctual, but the ships from Campeche had difficulty with Morgan again.” Jacquotte winked. “So I predict that they will be on the far edge of the fortnight and sailing direct. They risk the storm season and will not waste time trying to hide during the day and sail only at night. This time, maybe they carry silver or gold, not chocolate.”

“Even under full sail,” Keegan said, his red-hair glinting in the firelight. “We can catch them.”

“Est malavisé, em… unwise.” Anna shook her head. “They catch us in open daylight without surprise, the war-galleons will stand and fight. Big Spanish canon are bad to face. We must catch them with their guns stowed and guard down.”

“We can catch them in the dark. In a fortnight, the moon will be on the wane.” Keegan said. “But still too bright, nightwatch will see anyone coming close.”

“Broken clouds would help.” Dana spoke up, then looked down when every eye turned towards him.

“We cannot depend on that.” Conn looked at Dana. “Weather is on thing that we can only take advantage of.”

“Da’.” Keegan said, defending his brother. “He knows.”

Jacquotte spoke up.

“We will speed up the chance to catch them on the first leg of the journey. Not far from where they depart, there is a small harbor, we can put ships there and in another harbor. When the war-galleon’s turn to fight the chasers, the treasure ship will run ahead.”

“Into the hunters.” Conn shook his head. “Is this how you always work?” The father asked the son.

“Often, Da’.” Keegan’s voice was soft. “We just followed.”

“I do not approve, we are here to retrieve your mother.” Conn looked around. “You said you would help us find his mother.”

Monsieur O’Danu,” Anna looked at him evenly. “This est how our life est. We make the living from what we take, and the Empires we take from deserve no less.”

Few times in his life did Keegan O’Danu see his father truly frown. This being one of those times.

“We are on a mission to seek my mother.” Keegan said, in defense of his sire’s disappointment. “I will not be distracted with the hunt of a treasure ship. My Da’ has never taken a ship, he builds them.”

“And fine ships they are, too!” A voice behind Jacquotte sounded.

“We go to Port Royal first. No stopping until we get there after we leave here. You can gather crews and a fleet then.” Keegan spoke with his old edge. “My mother awaits, my father will seek to rescue her, but he will not fight in any combat.”

Jacquotte turned to Anna and pulled on her left earlobe and took a breath.

“The son protects the father. It is upside-down, the son is the warrior, the father is the peacemaker.” She looked Anna directly in the eye. “Père O’Danu est brebis among wolf.”

Shaking her head, the blond French Captain nearly wept.

Monsieur O’Danu, you stay at Port Royal and get to know our friends. Mon Dash will come with us, we will bring your épouse back to Port Royal.”

This was the best news that Conn heard, but not the news he wanted to hear.

Conn was a sheep among wolves.