Slave-taking Aliens kidnap Bill MacCarthy and Jane Yamaguchi from the remote Rocky Mountains. But the Aliens are in for a surprise! Bill is a retired Navy SEAL and Jane is an Air Force Space Command captain. Together they must breakout from escape-proof cells, fight the ship’s crew, capture the captain and take over the starship–all before they are delivered to Buyers on an Alien world. Along the way they gain Alien allies, including a naive ship AI. But will their escape survive a space battle at the Market world where captives are bought and sold? All that is certain is it was a bad move to kidnap a SEAL!
A SEAL should never be captured by the enemy. Especially if the enemy is a weird Alien from another world. But Bill MacCarthy had been bagged faster than a net thrown across a flock of birds.
One moment he was camping beside Eureka Lake, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains west of Pueblo, after spending the day fishing and catching two cutthroat trout. Which he cooked in butter on a skillet above his campfire. They tasted miles better than the can of cold pork and beans he’d eaten for lunch. The next moment he was asleep in his dome tent, dreaming of the beer he’d enjoy once he met his buddies at Jack’s Deep Six saloon, the place where he and other retired SEALs met for Friday night drinks, a game of pool and eye-balling the lightly-dressed sheilas who gave him and his buddies the once-over from the bar. Then he’d awoken with a start, feeling something was not right.
Retired from the Navy he might be. But instincts honed during Hell Week had awakened him. Quietly he sat up, reached out to grab the Pachmayr grip of his .45 semi-auto and leaned forward to look through the sheer mesh of the tent’s entry. A white light shone distantly. As best he could tell, the globular light was hovering above the lake, near the upslope side of the rocky bowl that contained him, the lake, lots of boulders, gray scree and a few stunted pine trees. Ignoring the coolness of night air at nearly 12,000 feet, he pushed the bedroll top off his bare body, leaned forward on his knees, and slowly, very slowly, unzipped the mesh screen that allowed fresh air to enter. If this was a SEAL buddy making a helo sneak-up on Bill, he was not about to become the laughing stock of Friday night. But a helo, even a stealthed RAH-66 Comanche, should make a faint whooshing sound. A sound he could hear as it bounced over the calm surface of the lake. Pushing the mesh screen to one side with the nose of his pistol, he stepped out barefoot onto the sand and pebbles that fringed the high mountain lake. He was the only person at the lake. Lower down at Hermit Lake were five dome tents filled with Texas drive-in wannabes. But up here, under the white-dotted tapestry of the night sky, he heard only the faint swishing of the mountain air as it flowed down to the lake, across it to him, then over the rocky bowl’s edge to Hermit Lake below. Still in a crouch, he moved sideways to the back of a large boulder that he recalled lay at the edge of the lake. Squatting low, his .45 pointed at the unmoving light, Bill eyed the strange ball of whiteness.
As soon as he lifted his head above the boulder, the light began moving toward him.
Fuck! He’d forgotten about his infrared heat signature. And the few stunted pine trees lying 30 feet behind him were shorter than his 6 feet 2 inches, or two meters of natural height. Gripping his Federal Ordnance .45 semi-auto in the old-style Weaver two-hander, he aimed its nose at the oncoming light. Which was now oblong in shape. And getting bigger. On the chance it was a saloon buddy, he tapped on the red laser targeting light just below the gun’s barrel and ahead of the trigger guard. A thin red beam shot out and touched the middle of the light.
The laser must have pissed it off.
With a loud whoosh the light rose up sharply, then stopped just twenty feet from him. He could see it now, despite the soft white glow. Its shape was that of a fat teardrop, not globular and its edges were rounded. Several domes spotted its front. Whatever it was, it wasn’t a Comanche helo!
“Get the hell away from my camp!” he yelled, ducking down, going flat and rolling to the left of the boulder.
Rising to a half-kneel, he ran forward and dove into the lake’s frigidly cold water. Give him two minutes in the lake and his infrared signature should resemble that of the local pine trees. He shook water from his head and looked up.
The teardrop craft that showed no jet exhausts, no helo blades, nothing external to its smooth skin except for a few dome bulges on its fat nose, now moved sideways to his new position in the lake. He lifted his .45, pulled slowly on the three pound trigger and sent a 230 grain hollow-point at the center of the fat teardrop.
The glow from the bulbous craft stayed the same. There was no spark or indication of penetration. In fact, a faint plopping sound told him his bullet had rebounded down to the lake waters. Backing up until his feet left the water, Bill kept his gun aimed at the hovering, glowing craft. Which seemed unaffected by his single shot. Well, if he could make it back to his tent, he could grab the iPhone he’d started carrying despite the teasing of his buddies and put out a 911 call to Westcliffe. Maybe some cop there knew something about a secret DOD craft that liked stalking solo fisherman in the high mountains of Colorado.
Amidst the soft white glow emanating from the body of the craft, one of the small domes on its front glowed pink, then red, then dark red. The dome swiveled in its socket until a central black spot became visible. Soon the black spot was aimed straight at him. Maybe it was a sensor. Or maybe it was a miniature version of the Air Force’s airborne gas laser. Whatever it was, he was not about to turn his back on it.
“Clang! Clang! Clang!”
Nothing. Bill slowly squeezed the trigger for a fifth shot, knowing he still had two hollow-points in the seven shot clip.
The red dome brightened suddenly.
A thick red beam shot out from it, hitting him.
His chest felt as if a thousand fire ants were crawling and biting him. Then his hands spasmed as if he’d touched a live wire. The pistol fell to the ground. Next came his arms. They waved about as if he was doing some kind of shipboard signaling using the old flag routine. Next came his thighs, then his knees, moving him in a wild dance. As his bladder let loose the coffee he’d drunk earlier, Bill felt himself falling. Falling slowly to the ground. It was the same spot where he’d sat earlier in the day as he tossed a Matt’s Midge fly out into the still waters of a lake blue as the sky above. He felt his back hit the sharp pebbles of the lake’s shoreline. Then he felt nothing more. Sensed nothing more. Saw nothing more.
♦ ♦ ♦
Bill came awake with a yawn, a stretch and a wince as his back told him something sharp had poked him in several places. Glancing up he saw the green fabric of his dome tent. Looking down he saw the clear mesh screen of the dome entry. Bright yellow sunlight shone through it. Which didn’t make sense. His tent faced west. So the morning light only came in when it was late in the morning. Which gave him a jerk. He’d never slept past sunrise, not since he’d gone through BUD/S training at Coronado. It had been an asset during his team’s deployment to Djibouti as part of a Joint Special Operations Task Force based at Camp Lemonnier. The camp was the site of the Naval Expeditionary Base. He and 23 other SEALs had done a free fall chute drop, hiked overland, and attacked the compound of some Somali pirates just north of Adow, Somalia. They’d rescued two demining workers, a Dane and an American. They left behind nine dead pirates. Wool-gathering! He blinked, focusing on the blue waters of Eureka Lake, just beyond the entry to his tent. The lake surface was still. Which was not normal. He sat up and reached to his right for his .45 semi-auto. It wasn’t there.
Bill kicked off the bedroll cover, sat up and reached down for the slim blade of the throwing knife he always kept strapped to his right shin. He felt nothing. His heart hammering at the realization someone had entered his tent in the night and grabbed his pistol and knife, all without waking him, he moved to a crouch. Staring through the mesh at the lake and pebbled shore just beyond his tent, he looked and listened for the intruder. Nothing. He heard nothing and saw nothing, beyond what he’d woken to the last two mornings. A beautiful high mountain lake filled with brook and cutthroat trout, lying isolated and distant from any road or landing strip. Just what he’d needed after the sudden, angry departure of his partner Helen. Who’d said waking up with his hands around her throat, for the ninth time in two years, was too much. Pushing back the pain of that memory, he focused on reality. Someone had taken his pistol and knife. Yet he was alive. And his backpack was still next to him, filled with clothes, dried food, first aid kit and his billfold. He’d checked just after sitting up and finding the pistol missing. He focused again on the lake. Its blue surface was unnaturally still. No ripples showed. And the absence of any sound from the red tail hawk that usually circled above the lake early in the morning, eager for the scraps from his fish roast, was also not normal. Unzipping the mesh entry, he stepped out barefoot.
Looking around, he saw the stunted pine trees to the rear, the football field-sized lake in front, the rocky slopes of Eureka Mountain to either side, and the scatter of gray boulders that rimmed the edge of the lake. What he saw was normal. What he did not hear was not normal. No bird sound. No whooshing of a morning breeze across the lake, causing tiny ripples on its surface. With a blink he realized his bare feet, standing on the pebbles of the lake shore, felt a flat surface. Not the sharp edges of the pebbles that were part of the scree that had slid down from the mountain’s steep slopes. He looked down. At his feet he saw dozens of sharp pebbles atop a brown sand shoreline. But his feet felt nothing sharp. He sniffed. There was no odor of burned wood from his firepit, which he could see lying fifteen feet to his left, just beyond the big gray boulder that he’d sat on top of while fishing with his pole, fly-casting his favorite lures. The pole and fly bag, which he’d left lying next to the firepit, were also gone. The boulder, though, it looked—
“Hooolly shit!” he yelled as the memory of a nightmare flooded his mind.
There had been a white ball of light that he’d awoken to. He’d grabbed his .45 and stepped out onto the same pebbles he now stood on. Which then were sharp, unlike now. He recalled hiding behind the boulder, aiming his .45 at the glow, tapping on the laser sighting beam, then his feeling of surprise and amazement as the light rushed toward him, becoming a fat teardrop craft that floated above the lake without helo rotors, jet exhausts or down-angled propellers like on a CV-22 Osprey. He’d shot at it four times. Then a dome on its front had fired a red beam that hit him in his chest. His chest had burned as if every individual hair were being pulled out. Then his entire body had gone spastic, as if he’d been hit by a . . . by a taser, now that he thought about it. He’d fallen backward, landing on the sharp pebbles. Then darkness had taken awareness from him. Now . . . now he stood just outside his dome tent, at a place he knew well, but a place that did not feel, smell or sound normal. Squatting down, he felt the pebble floor. Flat. Like a metal floor. Looking up at the few balls of white cloud, none of them moved. Which was not normal at 11,936 feet. Looking right and left, he saw the lake shoreline and its boulders stretching to either side. At the right was the steep trail that led down to Hermit Lake. The path he’d hiked up three days ago, with backpack, tent, fishing pole, food and such on his back. A minor load compared to a full combat load chute drop. Turning right, he walked toward the trail start. On instinct he held out his right hand in front of him. The fall last night had been no fun. His back and butt still stung in a dozen spots. He walked across a floor of flat pebbles during a morning of no breeze, no birds, no clouds moving across the sky, no—
His hand felt a curving metal surface despite his vision telling him there was nothing but air between him and the trailhead. The metal felt cool. Not icy. Just cool. When if the Sun really shone down on him, the surface should be warm from solar heating. He reversed course, walked back the way he’d come, then past his tent, toward the boulder and firepit. With his left hand held out in front. Just before reaching the firepit his hand thudded into a curving metal surface. Crap! Heading back to his tent on a diagonal, he stood behind the tent and walked toward the stunted pine trees and ridgeline that dropped down to Hermit Lake. Just before he reached the first tree his right hand felt a curving metal surface. Poking his right foot forward, along the smooth pebble floor, his toes felt the floor run into the curving wall. The juncture was a curve also. Heading back to his tent he stooped down, reached inside for one of his hiking boots, pulled it out, looked up and threw the boot up into the empty sky.
The boot hit an invisible ceiling of sky blue air about five feet above him. The metal rim of his boot’s heel had struck the ceiling, giving him a metal-on-metal contact.
So. He was enclosed in a space that measured ten feet to the right, ten to the left, ten to the rear and five above him. Which left him the lake. He turned around, faced the lake and began walking toward its still blue water, left hand out front. He entered the blue lake water but felt no wetness. A thud at ten feet gave him the last datum. Ten feet forward was also a curving metal wall. He was in a prison cell outfitted with holographic imagery of his campsite. And no prison he’d ever heard of on Earth went to the bother of holo entertainment for its inmates. The fake imagery, combined with the hovering teardrop craft, told him something he’d never believed possible.
He was onboard some kind of Alien craft. Held in an round cell, with no weapons available. Not even his fly hooks. The only stuff that was real were his green tent and the stuff inside. That included his blue jeans, backpack, canteen, hiking boots, red checkered flannel shirt and padded cold weather jacket. And naked him. He looked up, guessing there was a spyeye vidcam keeping watch on him. “Who the fuck are you? And why are you holding me captive?”
A low hum sounded from above and in front of him. At a spot equal to where the glowing teardrop had hovered above the lake. “Captive Human biped, it is good to see you survived your encounter with our collector pod with no ill effects,” said a male-sounding, computer-generated voice that had a mix of accents suggestive of voices from BBC-One, All India Radio and New York City’s WYNC public radio.
No ill effects was bullshit! His back and butt stung. But those were minor compared to the surf torture he’d endured early in BUD/S training. “Who are you? Why did you kidnap me? And what are your plans for me?”
Another brief hum sounded. “Logical questions. So pleasant to hear after enduring screams and threats from other captives.”
Were there more humans also held captive? “Other captives? Are there other humans held captive on your craft? Other—”
“Patience,” interrupted the mech-sounding voice. “You are granted fifteen minutes of orientation questions and responses before all goes quiet in your containment module. Do you approve of the natural landscape where we captured you? Our study of you Humans and other captive peoples indicates the holding of captives in familiar surroundings moderates their shock at captivity. Which allows our transit to your sale and offloading site to pass more smoothly.”
Fuck. He had gone from being a prison captive to being a slave destined to be sold to someone somewhere in dark distant space. “Answer my questions!”
The hum began only to be interrupted. “As you wish. In order of your questions, we are the Collectors, a mixed species crew who direct this starship in its visits to other worlds, thereby to collect sapients with excellent visual perceptor to manipulator integration.” Mentally he translated that to mean good eye-hand coordination. “We captured you, and a . . . a Human female elsewhere in the mountains you occupied. We have also captured sixteen more sapients from nine other planets filled with oxygen-nitrogen air, gravity similar to what is normal on your Earth, and a local culture unable to detect our starship and its collector pods.” A pause ensued that lasted three seconds. During which time Bill realized these Collector people had some kind of artificial gravity control. No floating around like he’d seen for the NASA space station geeks. “Our ship is what you Humans have labeled as ‘stealthy’ in all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. As for our plans for you, they are the same for all our captives. Shortly this starcraft will leave your star system, enter an alternate space-time continuum, and head for a Market world where some or all of you will be sold to Buyers desiring your visual-digital dexterity.”
He grit his teeth. This Market world sounded like the Roman Coliseum on a planetary scale. “The other human captive! Where did you capture him, rather, her?”
A rasping sounded, followed by a hum. “You sexually dimorphic sapients are so amusing! Instinct and hormones drive you to your opposites, even at the risk of survival.” A pause happened, lasting five seconds. “The Human female was captured three of your star rises ago, in a place you call Chasm Lake, a location not far from your capture site. Like you she was resting beside the lake in a fabric shelter similar to yours.”
Bill knew the place. It was in Rocky Mountain National Park. He’d hiked past the lake on the way up to Longs Peak. “Will you bring her to my cell? We humans do not do well in solitary captivity.”
More rasping sounded, followed by a hum. “Entertaining you Humans are. No, the female will not be brought to you. That violates the Rules of Captivity.”
When the unseen voice did not continue, Bill prompted it. “What are the rules of captivity?”
“Good. You progress through your fifteen minutes quite swiftly. Perhaps you will use your remaining minutes to scream and attempt to damage your containment module.” Seven seconds passed and Bill kept his mouth shut. “No threats? Interesting. The Rules of Captivity are simple. They are that no ship crewmember will ever enter your containment module. No captive will ever be allowed to exit his module. Only one captive per module is permitted. Upon sale to a Buyer on a Market world, your module will be detached from our craft and transferred to the custody of the Buyer. Until then food, water and air will be provided to the captive by way of simple delivery outlets, all of which are one-way devices. Waste will be collected in a depression to your left, near the space you called a firepit. Water is provided to your right by way of an exit hole in the wall. Touch the wall and you will feel a mesh. Touch the wall above the mesh and water will exit. You may use your . . . your canteen to collect such water. The water flow ceases when your touch is removed. Food packets will be provided to you by an outlet to the rear of your fabric shelter. In short, there is no escape. There is no threat you can make that will allow you to exit from your module. And if you cooperate, we may consider your good behavior when considering bids from Buyers.”
Fuck you, he thought. “Why do you sell thinking people to these Buyers? For what purpose are sapients bought?”
“Logical you are,” muttered the mech voice. A hum sounded. “Sapient beings are captured on low-tech worlds mainly due to their visual-manipulator dexterity. Such dexterity exceeds the ability of even the most intelligent robotic subsystem.” A pause happened, which ended after two seconds. “Captives are bought by Buyers for multiple reasons. A few Buyers purchase captives to be subjects of biogenetic experiments, where captives are gene-modified, tested, and modified again. Most captives do not survive such experiments. Some Buyers purchase sapients for one-on-one combat in dangerous environments. Such fights are considered entertainment by some species.” Bill thought the voice tone sounded disapproving. “Most captives are sold to Buyers engaged in the mining of asteroids for the recovery of Nokten crystals. Nokten crystals are vital to interstellar navigation through variant space-times and they have never been artificially duplicated. The mining of such crystals requires visual-manipulatory dexterity to avoid fracturing the crystals. Mech devices are unable to exhibit the delicate dexterity that lies within the ability of sapients with excellent visual-manipulatory integration.”
Bill had excellent eye-hand coordination. That was required when doing sniper work, setting a timer fuse on a block of C4, or waiting until the exact perfect moment to launch an attack with the rest of his platoon. In his final training he’d specialized in Breacher, Surreptitious Entry and Technical Surveillance Operations. Which training had now become essential to his escape from captivity. “Well, you picked the wrong human to take captive. I’m a SEAL.”
A hum sounded. “You are not a water-dwelling mammal,” the mech voice said, its tone clearly puzzled. “You Humans are soft-skinned, bivisual, bipedal land dwellers who evolved—”
“A SEAL,” he interrupted loudly, “is a person employed by my nation’s naval force who is trained in Sea, Air and Land combat actions, which include long distance underwater swimming, overland navigation, parachute jumping to a target, demolition of obstacles by use of explosives and deadly engagement with a hostile enemy,” Bill said, trying to keep things simple. Based on the seal critter definition, it was obvious his rasp-laughing captor had access to the internet and its encyclopedia of diverse knowledge. “It means I will use all tools at my disposal to escape this module. Thereafter I will pursue you, capture you, capture your starship and free other captives.”
Loud rasping sounded. “Ahhh, now you resemble most of our other captives.” A pause came that lasted four seconds. “Your module cannot be escaped from. It is one of twenty attached to our ship. And the crew aboard this ship is sufficient to control and monitor all containment modules. You have one minute twenty seconds remaining in your orientation time. Other questions?”
Bill clenched his fists. “How long have you been taking Humans captive?”
A brief hum sounded. “Since your . . . your violence-focused people detonated two nuclear explosions long ago. Those planet-based neutrino emissions were detected by a robotic starship engaged in a life survey of this part of the galactic arm.”
Well, this Collector stuff might explain the vanishings of so many people who went out to the wilderness, disappeared and were never heard from again. “What’s your name?”
A long pause lasted ten seconds. “Interesting. No other captive has sought that information. Among my crèche-mates I am known as Diligent Taskmaster.”
Thinking hard he tried to recall his lessons on interrogation. “What are you like? Are you a mammal? A bird? A reptile? Some kind of—”
“My species calls itself Hard Shell. We . . . we meet your world’s definition of an arthropod. A large insect, I believe.”
The image of a two-legged cockroach filled Bill’s mind. “Well, on our world we stomp on insects. With boots. Tell me, can the chiten of your skull withstand my boot’s impact?”
A short rasp sounded. “That is something you will never know. Be calm, eat your food packs and eventually you will find a new life in service to a Buyer. This ends your orientation time. No further verbal communication will be allowed.”
With that the speaker shut off. No hum sounded. Bill looked around, building in his mind an image of his cell. Maybe this Diligent person believed the containment module was escape proof. He didn’t. There had to be a door somewhere, on some wall surface, otherwise the Aliens could never have put him into the cell. And he had a few ideas for prompting the arthropod in charge to come to his cell, open the door and look inside. He grinned. Survival in air, water and on the land was second nature to him. And it was time for him to apply his Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training. He’d done great at SERE during harsh climates training near Kodiak, Alaska. And he could hold his breath underwater for four minutes. Plus he could jump high enough to touch the cell’s ceiling. He turned and reentered his tent. Time to find some food. Time to build up his energy. And time to think long and hard on what threat would motivate the Alien insect in charge of his cell to violate the Rules of Captivity.