New Release – Battlecry by T. Jackson King

Today I have a New Release for you from my friend T. Jackson KingBattlecry is book three in the StarFight series.



Jacob Renselaer arrives in the Kepler 22 system, carrying a wasp ambassador as a sign of humanity’s hope for an end to its first interstellar war. But that hope crumbles as Jacob, his girlfriend Daisy, ambassador Hunter One and Marine chief O’Connor watch unknown aliens drop thermos-nukes on the wasp colony world, killing wasp larvae and adults. These new aliens pursue Jacob’s ships and a fleeing wasp ship. To Jacob’s horror, the new aliens attack with mobile balls of antimatter! Facing sure death, Jacob retreats to the Kepler 63 wasp colony world where Hunter One demands that he and his fleet defend a colony with 23 million wasps. Where does his duty lie? Must he fight and risk lives and ships to protect their former enemies? Or will help arrive from his father the admiral, or from other wasps? When the shark-seal aliens arrive at Kepler 63, battles happen that threaten the lives of all three peoples—human, wasp and amphibian. Can Jacob and his friends win a fight where they are badly outnumbered? Or will a fight to defend wasp civilians end in the destruction of the Battlestar Lepanto and all of Jacob’s hopes for a future with Daisy? All that is certain is that the amphibian aliens are relentless, their mobile antimatter balls are something no ship can escape and communication is impossible with creatures who talk with skin color patterns!





New Release – Superguy by T.Jackson King

I recently ran a chapter for you from the upcoming novel Superguy,  book one in the Superpowers series, by my friend T. Jackson King.   I am pleased to announced it has now been released.  It is a side step from Tom’s usual Sci-fi and I am looking forward to reading it.  Hope you buy it and enjoy.

Superguy (Superpowers Series Book 1) by [King, T. Jackson]



Jeff Webster is a reluctant superhero. Ever since he was four years old he’s been able to teleport himself to distant places, read minds and move stuff around with mind power. But growing up in Los Alamos, home of the atomic bomb and lots of scientists, taught him the dangers of standing out. With both parents dead, he holds down a simple job but wonders what he should do with his life. Help people in danger? Block terrorist schemes? Become famous for his unique abilities? Watching him is FBI Special Agent Janet Van Groot, newly assigned to monitor adult children of people who work at the national labs, in hopes of catching a hidden foreign spy. What happens after Jeff’s first rescue effort leads him, Janet and the entire nation into a future no one could have expected.





Coming Soon – Superguy by T. Jackson King

My friend T. Jackson King is to release his latest work soon.  It is a new title called Superguy.  Tom has also given us the First Chapter for a taste of what is to come.  I will post the links when it goes live.

SuperguyMasterBase (X).jpg



“Jeff Webster is a reluctant superhero. Ever since he was four years old he’s been able to teleport himself to distant places, read minds and move stuff around with mind power. But growing up in Los Alamos, home of the atomic bomb and lots of research scientists, taught him the dangers of standing out. With both parents dead, he holds down a simple job but wonders what he should do with his life. Help people in danger? Block terrorist schemes? Become famous for his unique abilities? Watching him is FBI Special Agent Janet Van Groot, newly assigned to monitor adult children of people who work at the national labs, in hopes of catching a hidden foreign spy. What happens after Jeff’s first rescue effort leads him, Janet and the entire nation into a future no one could have expected.”


Superpowers are overrated. I’m not invulnerable. Bullets and lasers can hurt me. I can’t fly like a jet. I can’t bend a steel rod, unless it’s soft pig iron. But I can ‘jump’ or teleport to anyplace I want to be. However, it has to be a place I’ve visited. And I can move stuff from one place to another like a leaf moving on the wind. The books call that levitation. Big deal. Mind reading is a pain, something I’ve done my best to block. It hurts actually. My eyes are normal, not heat ray powered. Though I can see real good in the dark thanks to the heat from living bodies. My hearing is mostly normal, but I can hear a bird chirping from a mile away. Maybe that’s special. I like breathing, so I can’t live in outer space. And I have no friends, family or anyone but me.

Once, when I was four, I saw the clouds in the sky. Something inside me wanted to touch a cloud. Before I knew it, there I was up close to the bottom of a puffy white cloud. I touched it, then realized I was falling. It was a long ways down. Somehow I ended up back in our basement playroom. The place with books and toys where I usually felt safe from everyone else. Even my parents. After that, I learned to be very careful about feeling impulses. I could have died when I was just four.

At five I caused a fire in my Mom’s kitchen. I’d seen the stove’s gas burners and thought it would be fun to make fire happen in the sink. I was alone then, while my Mom was out hanging clothes on a clothesline in the backyard. The blue flame scared me. Before I knew it the water knob had turned on and water fell from the faucet onto the globe of flame, putting it out. Years later I learned that was called pyrokinesis, or causing fire at a distance. Turning on the water knob without touching it was called psychokinesis or telekinesis. I admit to having fun mind-tossing rocks at the squirrels in a nearby tree.

First grade was when I learned other kids could not do what I could. Reading the answers to a simple math question by reading the numbers in my teacher’s mind was easy. Then I learned adults were suspicious of what they could not explain. She thought I’d memorized the math book. She insisted I use pencil and paper to show her how to do a simple multiple addition. I couldn’t. That gave me my first experience of being punished for being different.

Being different was bad. That’s what first grade taught me. But when I first heard the story of Jesus walking on water during a reading of Mark’s gospel at the local Unitarian church attended by my parents and me, it made me wonder if Jesus had been like me. Born with strange abilities.

Running faster than other kids, jumping farther and being the first to catch a soccer ball made me unpopular with the other kids at Aspen Elementary. I didn’t know I was ‘jumping’ myself through the air in order to win the race or catch the ball. Other kids and the grownups said I ran like a blur. Later on in junior high I learned how the human mind creates an ‘explanation’ for things people see that they do not understand. Made me glad there were no cameras or smartphones in the play yard. But being unpopular taught me the simplest lesson of my life so far—only behave the way I see other people behaving. That included making good grades and being smart, which the Los Alamos school system focused on a lot, due to so many parents being scientists who worked at the nearby national lab. Being smart and getting good grades were easy for me. What was hard was making friends. I always felt like an outsider, due to the abilities I had that I kept secret. It didn’t feel good hiding away a part of myself that I thought was pretty nifty.

My sophomore year on the JV track and field team of Los Alamos High School was normal, not unusual. I made the four hundred yard relay team. We did good in regional meets. But I made sure not to look too different. Even though I’d learned by then how to run faster than a car by levitating myself ahead in short ‘jumps’. But I couldn’t do that in public. Too many smartphones at every field practice. Nor could I do teleportation, like jumping instantly to my favorite camping spot close to Jemez Falls on the East Fork of the Jemez River, northwest of Los Alamos. It’s not good to suddenly disappear in front of people. Though I do admit to walking on the water of the nearby river when I first visited the small meadow spot that was my earliest place to escape to when life got too crazy.

My only girlfriend in high school left me when I shocked her while making love in her parents’ home. We were both naked on her bed, having a good time. When I came hard inside her, the pleasure peak overcame all thought. Before I knew it we were both in the dark basement of my parents’ home, with Sally underneath me, her bare back on the cold concrete floor. She yelled. I instantly teleported us back to her bedroom, which was brightly lighted. My effort to explain the sudden darkness and coldness as her orgasm peak just made her look weirdly at me. She shoved me out of her house and I never saw a friendly look from her again.

My Mom knew I was different by the end of first grade. She’d caught me levitating dirty dishes from the dinner table into the kitchen. She sat me down, asked about how I did stuff and mostly I told her what I could do that other kids could not. She frowned, then gave me a happy smile as she said the words “You’re just super special, Jeffrey! But don’t tell anyone else what you’ve told me, or let other people see you do stuff. They won’t understand.” During elementary school she guided me in how to appear ‘normal’ to other people. But every night she gave me a hug in my bed, kissed me goodnight, and then left to be with my Dad. I loved her a lot.

I lost my Mom late in my senior year at LAHS. That left me with my physicist Dad, who pushed me to attend the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. I went four years there, living in a campus dorm, doing nothing unusual and earned a degree in information technology. He attended my graduation and gave me one of his rare smiles. It was the last time I saw him smile. Or be alive. On the drive home up Interstate 25, a drunk driver crossed over and hit our car head on. I ended up at the roadside, watching both cars burn in a flaming pile of wreckage, feeling guilty I had not teleported my Dad out with me. But I’d learned by then that I could only teleport other people by touching them or holding them.

The crash happened so fast that my instinct moved me out of the car faster than I could think to grab my Dad. He died there. The state police said I must have been thrown free, through the open window to the right of my Dad. They didn’t know I’d been seated in the back seat, reading a novel on my kindle. I didn’t tell them otherwise.

The wreck left me totally alone. I had no aunts or uncles, and my grandparents were all long dead. So I moved to Santa Fe and got a job working at the REI outdoors supplies store in the Railyard section of town, next to the railroad track. It fit with my camping out times and my love of the outdoors.

Now, I work five days a week, pretend an interest in baseball scores and football teams, drink a few beers with my coworkers Friday night, and laugh at their stories of weird customers. I fit in.

But I feel so alone. Why am I the way I am? What kind of life can I ever have? And will any woman ever love me for who I really am?

I don’t know. I just know that having superpowers does not mean I will suddenly teleport to Paris, use mind powers to make terrorists lose their guns, then apport them into the Seine River. Maybe I could do that. But then people would see me, cameras would record me and suddenly some dark federal agency would grab me and take me some place to be studied like a lab rat.

So I work at REI, guiding customers to the camping and hiking gear they need to roam the nearby mountains, pretending to be happy at their visit, and then guiding them to the checkout counter at one side of the store. Only fun I ever had there was one weekend when a fifty percent off sale was set and advertised. Suddenly, just minutes after the front glass doors were opened, the store lost all power. Minutes later we learned that all the stores in the Railyard had lost power. So the store shut down, customers outside made faces and I bicycled home, smiling because corporate policy required that I be given a full day’s pay for showing up.

Sometimes, at night just before I go to sleep, I fantasize. I think about teleporting into the vault of my local Wells Fargo bank, opening the locked trays with a crowbar, grabbing cash and jewelry and putting it all in my backpack, then teleporting back to my apartment. Or maybe out to my campsite in the Jemez Falls area until the local newspaper stops running stories about the secret robber of a local bank. Other times I imagine I’m in my Dad’s car and not reading. I see the drunk driver’s car running over the median and heading for us. I reach up, grab my Dad’s shoulder and teleport us both out of the car and to the grassy hillside where I ended up in real life.

Life. I live, Dad doesn’t, nor does my Mom. Why? Why am I the way I am? Am I a mutant, a genetic shuffle of the deck that became me? Or did my Mom and Dad’s exposure to radioactive waste while hiking a nearby Los Alamos canyon affect them and cause them to have a son like me? Don’t know that either. Just know that my Mom, years later, told me about those hikes they took when they first worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She said they had been caught by lab security while hiking in what was called Area G. They got washed down, decontaminated, their clothing taken from them and written reprimands were entered into their lab files. But they never got sick and pretty soon no one at the lab brought up their escapade.

Time to stop writing. My depression counselor told me to begin writing a journal about my life and my experiences with my parents. I’m doing that. But writing doesn’t change anything. Why should I live when my parents don’t? What use am I to anyone else when I’m afraid to be my real self? Or is there a chance I can put my superpowers to good use? To help people the way my Mom hoped would happen.

  ♦   ♦   ♦

Special Agent Janet Van Groot sat back from her computer screen, lifted her arms high and stretched. No one looked her way or said a thing. Her work station cubbyhole on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover building in downtown D.C. was not a desirable location, unlike the deputy director level offices with private outside porches. Two months earlier, fresh from training at Quantico, she had been assigned to the intelligence unit, Counterintelligence Division of the National Security Branch of the FBI, and given the dumb job of monitoring the adult children of geeks who worked at the national laboratories. Places like Lawrence Livermore, Oak Ridge, Argonne, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory. At the time, she’d asked her boss, a Mormon elder who hailed from Provo, what was the point? It was the adults now or recently working at the labs who posed a risk of selling nuke or cyber secrets to the Chinese, Russians or Iran.

The six foot six man, who always wore a black Brooks Brothers suit, blue tie and antique spectacles rather than contacts, had peered at her across their table in the eighth floor cafeteria and given her a patient look.

“Miz Van Groot, you are new here. Perhaps some day you will advance to work in our sister section, the Intelligence Branch.” His patronizing tone had made her clench her fists on her lap, below the table rim. The bald-headed bastard had no reason to act so superior. “You are assigned the social media, public behavior and private behavior monitoring of the adult children of current or former lab workers exactly because they may have observed some parental behavior that involved contact with a foreign agent. People your age are used to chatting loosely on social media places like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and the like.” His frown betrayed his opinion of those normal chit-chat venues. “Yes, there are thousands of such adult offspring. Yes, the work is tedious. But so is the collection of fingerprints from bomb blast sites. Our analysts review many prints in order to find the vital print or prints. Just as our video analysts review mediocre images from building security cameras.” He gave her a smile that barely moved his clean-shaven face. “Your assignment is the kind of background detective work that might reveal an intelligence mole before the branch’s executive assistant director gets a call from the bureau’s associate deputy director, demanding to know why we didn’t prevent the latest bombing or theft of a weapons design. Understand?”

“Yes sir, I understand,” she had replied, holding back on her opinion of the man. It was clear this fossil did not like women in special agent positions, let alone a woman who had completed a thesis on industrial espionage. “May I seek assistance from other members of our branch, the bureau’s other branches, maybe even the National Counterintelligence and Security Center?”

The man had grimaced. “Judgment, young lady! Learn some judgment. A new special agent does not go roaming into the inner workings of other national security agencies without explicit proof of a national security violation.” Joshua Lederberg picked up his glass of lemonade, took a sip and looked sharply at her. “Of course you may request assistance from anyone within our branch. Contact with parties outside the branch, but within the agency, happens only with my permission. Contact with outside agencies like the NSA, DIA or NCSC is only done with the approval of Executive Assistant Director Michael Wambach of the NSB.”

She nodded quickly. “Certainly sir! I do understand our chain of command.” The man put down his lemonade, looking thoughtful. “Will there be a chance for a field visit to any of the labs I am monitoring? At the academy I trained under the special agent who led the team that arrested Liew and Maegerle. He taught me the value of being in the field so that—”

“You are here solely because of that training by Special Agent McPherson,” Lederberg interrupted. “And also thanks to your thesis on industrial espionage and ways to detect it. Field assignments are given out on the basis of the agency’s needs. As you know, there are two operations units within our division. If one of them requests your assistance, I might consider loaning you out. Depending on the progress you make in reviewing the lab offspring files.” He looked at his iWatch. “Lunch is over. Should you not head back to work on those files?”

“Of course, sir,” Janet had said, standing up. “Thank you for your counsel. I will apply myself diligently to reviewing the databases on laboratory adult children.”

“See that you do.” The man stood up, turned away and then headed for another bald-headed man whom he hailed with a casual “Joe!”

That had been two months ago. Now, sitting in front of her large screen computer, where the Classified PDF file of all laboratory offspring held page after page of names, ages, locations and photos, she told herself the job she was doing was indeed important. In 1995 or earlier, China had stolen the design for the W-88 thermonuclear warhead, a design created in Los Alamos. The prime suspect in the theft was Wen Ho Lee, a computer scientist working on nuclear weapons designs. His Chinese wife had been invited to a high level computer conference in China, which he attended with her. He was later indicted by the Justice Department and pled guilty to mishandling classified data. The man then sued Justice and received a $1.9 million settlement for the leaking of his name. But Janet knew there was more to Chinese spying at Los Alamos. The Lee case and the later bureau arrests and prosecutions of Chi Mak and Greg Chung were the reason she was now reviewing the social media history of Gloria Chén. She was the grown daughter of Hui and Jiang Chén, two current Los Alamos National Lab employees. Gloria was the 297th name on Janet’s list, in alphabetical order.

“Screw this,” she whispered to herself. “Let’s see what’s at the bottom of the list.”

Janet reached up and finger-flipped the PDF to its last page. There were several youths with W names. No X, Y or Z names, thank the Goddess. Last in line was a Jeffrey Montgomery Webster, age 23, six feet three inches, 160 pounds, single, now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The file photo of the young man showed him to be lanky with curly black hair, blue eyes and wide shoulders. Kind of attractive in a way. The image was a year old, taken at his college graduation from UNM. He wore a nice blue suit in the picture. The LANL initials next to his name ID’d him as someone whose parents had worked at the lab. She reached up and touched the blue Bio line below his name. A new window opened to the left of the PDF listing.

“Only son of John and Elaine Webster,” she murmured to herself, taking care to mask her voice from hearing by the other work stations of the intelligence unit.

Interesting. While the pic showed Webster as black-haired, earlier images of him showed him with red hair. Unusual since the images of both parents showed them to be black-haired people. Was he ashamed of being a redhead? She frowned as she looked below the parental images, each marked Deceased. The father had worked in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility building of the Plutonium Science and Manufacturing section of the Weapons Programs division. He held a Q clearance with TS//RD and SCI annotations. He’d been assigned to the X Division of the lab. Webster senior had passed his most recent SSBI review. The mother had been employed doing database management at the Chief Information Officer’s building. Her DOE clearance was L level with S//FRD annotation. She’d passed her last Periodic Reinvestigation. The father held a Ph.D. in nuclear physics while the mother had earned a master’s in information technology. More interesting, both parents had traveled overseas several times, taking young Jeffrey with them on later trips. She tapped on the blue Details line for the parents. Another window opened to the right.

Those trips had included visits to London, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, Florence, Geneva, Berlin before the collapse of the German Democratic Republic, and a visit to Prague of the old Czechoslovakia, back when that nation was part of the Warsaw Pact. While the trips were listed as international nuclear physics conferences, where the father often gave approved papers, still, either parent could have been approached in Prague or Berlin. Or even Geneva, in view of that city’s nature as the host of the European headquarters of the United Nations. There were plenty of spy-type people attached to embassies in Geneva.

A radiation icon beside the names of both parents caused her to tap it.

“Damn!” she muttered, then looked up to see if any co-worker had noticed her blurting of an expletive. Her cubbyhole occupied one triangular corner of the inner work space of the fourth floor. To her left and right ran open walkways that separated the outer rim of offices and the inner cluster of work stations occupied by analysts like herself. Across from her were three work stations with open entries. The work space of her friend Helen Watanabe was dark. Helen was off today. To the right sat heavyset Richard Daunton, a young Mormon who clearly aimed to please their boss Joshua. To the left was trim, athletic Joshua Donohue, a former high school quarterback whose high grades at Purdue had earned him the attention of bureau recruiters. Joshua was leaning forward, his attention focused on his own large flatscreen, fingers tapping on his keyboard. Neither Joshua nor Richard looked her way. Taking a deep breath she looked back to her own screen and focused on what had surprised her.

The rad icon had taken her to a Medical Records window that covered both parents of Jeffrey Webster. It indicated that the two adults had gone hiking in a nearby canyon and had wandered into a part of the lab’s Area G, one of the zones where transuranic wastes had been dumped from WWII and Cold War weapons research. This Area G held dispersed plutonium residues and other heavy elements that came from plutonium pit production work at the lab’s building PF-4. Both parents had breathed in contaminated air and had residue on their clothing, according to a note from the 80s. They’d gone through decontamination and reprimands had been entered into their lab personnel files. Strangely enough, neither parent had signed up for medical assistance like that offered to Downwinders who’d been rad exposed during nuke bomb tests in Nevada, or to rad emissions at the Hanford, Washinton nuke production facilities. Why not? She tapped the Details line and scanned their medical records. The mother Elaine had died from cervical cancer during Jeffrey’s senior year at high school, while the father had been killed by a drunk driver just after the youth’s graduation from UNM college in Albuquerque. She tapped closed the parental med window, then the parental work history window and went to the image of Jeffrey Webster. She tapped open his Medical Records page.

A healthy young man with no serious illnesses or injuries was reported. He’d gotten measles at a young age and had fractured his left forearm at age six. No indication of opiate use after the casting of the arm. And the guy still had his appendix. She winced at her own memory of the pain of having it removed. Sitting up too quickly after her operation had pulled on the stitches. Still, she was back home within a day after that operation. This Webster youth had never been operated on or admitted to a hospital. She tapped shut the youth’s Med page and tapped open his Social and Education icons.

Strange. Jeffrey Webster had never opened his own Facebook page, unlike scores of his fellow supersmart students at Los Alamos High School. Nor had he ever been on Snapchat or any of the other online socializing pages like 4chan, 8chan and Redditt. He did have a Twitter account that had little info on it. But . . . she tapped a Tracking icon on her screen . . . he had maintained his parents’ Facebook page. There were no new entries on that page since his father’s death. But her Tracking worm said young Jeffrey visited his parents’ Facebook page a few times each week, using a four year old Vaio laptop. She tapped the computer icon and sent her worm to it. Jeffrey’s computer history showed regular visits to BBC Online, other news sites, local forest and state park info sites, some online shopping on Amazon for tools, outdoor gear and a watch, but no personal emails to friends or fellow graduates of the high school. Nor were there any chat links to UNM, where he’d earned a B.Sc. in information technology. So he knew the basics of computers. Another icon tap told her the guy did not own a normal Android or iPhone, but possessed only the simplest Kyocera cell phone. Its location signal was operational, she saw. Cell phone towers in Santa Fe showed the phone location as downtown, near his work place at the REI retailer.

What were his social activities from high school onward?

Almost nothing. He’d taken a Mercedes Johnson to his high school prom, then a month later they had broken up, according to an entry from the analyst who had compiled the PDF listing of lab adult children. No girlfriend since then. No online accessing of porn sites. No computer roaming of dating sites like Match, eHarmony, Tinder, OkCupid or Zoosk. Hmmm. What did he do for a sex life? She knew from her own college years that young men of Jeffrey’s age were hormonally driven sex seekers. Yet he had no girlfriend, let alone a wife. Was he penniless? She tapped the Tracker icon.

No. His only credit card was from Wells Fargo in Santa Fe, the bank into which his REI paycheck was electronically deposited. Plus a debit card. There were no other Visa, American Express or Mastercard accounts for him. His Social Security survivors benefits from his mother’s death had ended at age 19. Had his parents accumulated a secret pile of money that he had inherited? She tapped the Income icon within the Social page. Then she ordered her tracking worm to open the youth’s checking and savings accounts at the bank.

A total of $1,473 showed in his savings account, while his checking account showed a recent payroll deposit. That moved his checking account to a total of $1,193. Enough to pay his $800 monthly rent at a rundown condo apartment complex. And enough for food and utilities if he ate simply.

Too basic to be believed.

She sat back from her screen, thinking over what she had learned about Jeffrey Montgomery Webster.

He was a loner, with no aunts or uncles listed. His parents had no other children. He’d earned top grades in elementary and junior high school, then in high school his grades had dropped to Bs and a few As. His intelligence report from seventh grade showed him with an IQ of 148. Highly gifted, she recalled from her college psych class report on the Stanford-Binet Fifth Edition testing scheme. He’d visited nine foreign countries with his parents, plus trips in the US to the Grand Canyon, Empire State Building, St. Louis, Yellowstone National Park and other parks and national forests. He’d never been to Moscow or Beijing or Tehran. The sale of his parents’ home had gone to pay off debts of his father, after the man’s highway death. Both parents had been the high IQ types common in Los Alamos, and their son had done well at local schools. Except for the slight drop in grades in high school. Why had that happened? He had the brains to make the National Honor Society. But he’d never joined any of the debate or AP classes at his school. Curious. She tapped on the Social icon.

He’d attended the Los Alamos Unitarian Church with his parents, another factor common among lab scientists. And at present he worked as a retail clerk for the REI business in Santa Fe, a larger city not far from Los Alamos. She’d noticed on his Social page that Jeffrey had attended the local Buddhist temple several times, then had attended talks by some local gurus and self-proclaimed shamans. But he’d never become a rabid follower of any social or religious group. All right. But why did she have a feeling in her gut that something was not right about one Jeffrey Webster? He was not just loafing around like so many of her generation, hoping to win the lottery or get assigned the dream job they never earned by hard effort. He worked. He paid his bills. He used his cell phone for local calls, nothing international. There were no calls to a secret girlfriend. He had never written a letter to the editor. His senior year UNM thesis had been focused on the International Genome Project and the computerization of the resulting genetic data. There was nothing illegal or suspicious in his recorded activities. That in itself made her wonder about him. Why hadn’t this supersmart young man moved into a real career?

She sighed to herself. Jeffrey was less controversial than Gloria Chén, who had graduated from LAHS the same year he had. Like many young people who’d grown up in Los Alamos, she was very smart and highly competitive in school activities. And she had earned a UNM degree in COBOL programming and gone on to work at Honeywell in Albuquerque, doing computer database tweaking. She had a future ahead of her. This Jeffrey did not. Why not?

Well, she really wanted to get out into the field. Was the puzzling history of this Webster youth a basis for asking her girlfriend Beverly in the Terrorist Screening Center for an outside assignment? Maybe she could travel to Los Alamos and investigate Webster for potential foreign agent knowledge. His parents’ overseas travels were more controversial than the travels of Chén’s parents. Then again, it was common for most national lab employees to travel overseas to scientific conferences. And a third of the adult employees had prior service in the Air Force, Army or Navy. Not so for Webster’s parents. They had both grown up in a small town in Iowa, gone to undergrad and then graduate school in that state, been a couple since starting college, then had waited until the mother was 30 to have their first and only child. Not so unusual in today’s world. But the parents had been children of the 60s and 70s, the era of Hippies and political rebels. Yet they were both listed as Independent voters. Which made them unusual for the early 80s, when they’d first gone to work at Los Alamos. What else was unusual about young Webster’s parents?

That was it. The parents. Their son was so bland socially that she could not justify a field trip to check him out. But his parents, now, with their visits to Prague, Berlin and Geneva, those visits she could highlight in her analytical report. Beverly owed her a favor, thanks to the tip she’d passed on to Beverly. There had been a Russian woman scientist who’d entered the US on a visitor’s visa, then had overstayed her visa. Janet had been roaming outside of her lab datafiles and had taken note of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement visa entry records. One cold day in March she’d noticed the lack of an exit record for the Russian woman. Her heads-up to Beverly had enabled the operations people in her girlfriend’s section to track the Russian, document her visits to Brookhaven and the Princeton Plasma Physics lab, and caught her in cell phone chats with American scientists asking for access to the lab computers, supposedly for research purposes. The Russian had been arrested, then deported after State lodged a complaint with the Russian embassy in DC. Beverly owed her.

Janet touched on the Word icon and began typing her Analysis report on the strange activities of Elaine and John Webster, former employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the potential for foreign agent contacts with them. She smiled to herself. She would get around Lederberg one way or another!




New Release – Battlestar by T. Jackson King

Today I have a New Release for you, Battlestar by  my friend T. Jackson King.  Tom has also given us the first chapter to read.




Wasp-like aliens kill all the senior officers of the starship fleet led by the Battlestar Lepanto. That puts Ensign Jacob Renselaer on the spot. Can he find out why the aliens killed his ship’s officers? Can he take command of the Battlestar? Does he want to be the leader of ten heavily armed starships that never expected to encounter aliens? Deep in the Kepler 22 star system, mutual misunderstanding between two peoples who cannot speak to each other leads to multiple space battles. Somehow Jacob becomes the leader he never wanted to be. His close friend Daisy the pilot helps him, as do other friends on the Battlestar. On the alien side, Hunter One is determined to kill the invaders who threaten his new colony world. His people the Swarm have never been defeated. Now, he faces Soft Skins who do not flee at the loss of their leaders. In a distant star system, people human and alien die, scheme, and fight for survival. None of them have ever faced combat before. But now, both sides learn what it is like to have someone seek your death and the death of your friends!


Being in the Star Navy was not something Jacob Renselaer had ever wished for … or wanted … or needed. But as the son of Earth’s only five-star admiral, that was his destiny from birth. The orders fell on him like an avalanche. Read naval warfare histories. Learn NATO tactical brevity codes. Study the India-Pakistan nuke war. Attend Binghampton High School in New York. Then attend the Stellar Academy at Colorado Springs. He’d graduated, barely. And then, as a fresh ensign, his father had called in a favor. He’d gone into space as the personal ensign to Rear Admiral Cornelius Johanson, presently in command of the Battlestar Lepanto, BBG-5 and its battle group of sister starships. Which were now in orbit above the fourth planet of Kepler 22.

It was a status that the admiral had ordered after the fleet exited from Alcubierre space-time transit, some forty-three hours ago. They’d detected an alien satellite out at the edge of the system’s magnetosphere, which lay 45 AU distant from the system’s yellow sun. The sat’s broadcast signals had been a mystery. The ship’s AI failed to decipher them. Same for the Science Deck’s algorithm twisters. What wasn’t a mystery was the presence of a dozen alien ships in orbit above the system’s fourth planet. The admiral had been super excited. This was humanity’s first encounter with spacegoing aliens. They had headed in at one-tenth lightspeed. Upon arrival near planet four, the Lepanto’s AI had reported a visual signal from the aliens. The visual showed a simple graphic of people exiting the Earth ships to meet aliens leaving their ships, for a spot on the planet’s equator. The other ship captains, their XOs, the Lepanto’s admiral, captain and XO, and some ensigns had gone downplanet to meet with the aliens.

Jacob didn’t care. Dealing with aliens was not a task for ensigns like him. Instead, he was doing the job he’d been assigned as the admiral’s ensign. Which was to make the man’s personal quarters look clean and well-kept. He thought briefly of putting a pad from a nearby beaver-tail cactus under the sheet just where the admiral’s butt would rest, but he passed. He’d seen the Lepanto’s brig during the Stellar Academy’s boarding orientation. It was a dump and smelled of urine, shit, sweat and sour milk.

His small quarters at the far end of the Command Deck hallway were luxurious by comparison. Looking around at the private bedroom, which opened onto a conference room that was the only exit to the hallway, he wrinkled his nose at the hand-blown glass miniatures that lined one wall shelf. They were of Earth critters. Not one was a horse, like the one he’d ridden with his mother.

At least the wall wasn’t filled with antique paper books, like his father’s study in Binghampton. That was the place where the man spent most of his time, leastwise since the death of his Mom. The thought filled his heart with sorrow and his mind with her image.

She had been a middle-aged woman with curly brown hair, a narrow chin, perky nose and amber eyes that glowed every time she saw him. Her love had been the only thing that had kept him from OD’ing on crystal meth at Binghampton High School. But she’d died three years before he graduated, leaving Jacob and his father alone in the brick and stone colonial that occupied two acres on Binghampton’s west side.

To escape his father’s hectoring and put downs of his anthropology studies, he’d enrolled at the Stellar Academy. Where he’d learned ship systems, basic stellar astronomy, space battle tactics and formations, the reasons for the Weapons Deck and the details of Earth’s seven star colonies. Most of it bored him, but he’d learned what he had to learn in order to graduate.

Unlike other cadets, he’d never made friends with his two roommates or anyone else at the academy. While there had been plenty of young women in his graduating class, he’d avoided them. Jacob’s high school prom disaster had cured any thoughts of romance. His month on the Lepanto since leaving Earth had brought him a few friends, mostly guys except for Lori on the Science Deck and Daisy, the admiral’s personal pilot. He’d briefly thought of asking Daisy to join him for Dance Night, a weekly event on the Habitation Deck. But he’d held back. He’d come to know her since she always transported the admiral from the Lepanto to another ship, or downplanet, as pilot of her Landing Craft Assault. He admired her piloting skills, a field in which he’d gotten miserable grades. Her looks were also fine. Trim, pleasantly curvy and with blue-black hair that was full of tight curls, he’d been tempted to go beyond routine banter. The fact she was a mixed race woman, the offspring of an Anglo dad and a Black mother from Chicago, meant nothing to him. Or to their friends. Only the Marine boarding team had acted as if her racial mix was an issue. Which was silly beyond belief, considering that forty percent of the ship’s crew were female, they came from twenty nations and represented all the ethnicities of Earth, even though the ship was an official member of the American Star Navy.

Jacob left the bedroom behind, entered the conference room and turned left for the Food Alcove and the fridge that occupied one corner. It held twenty types of craft beer, six bottles of white wine, cheese, sausages, lunch meats, fresh greens and the drink he was looking for. Ice tea. He could drink that while on duty. He opened the fridge door, pulled out the ice tea dispenser, and poured the golden brown liquid into a tall crystal goblet. There was no plastic in the admiral’s chambers, a fact he’d discovered upon first arriving to perform upkeep in the chambers. He lifted the goblet and sipped slowly.

“Jacob? You in there?” called a female voice over the hallway announcer.

Daisy. Why was she back on ship, rather than downplanet waiting for the admiral and the top brass to finish their alien talk-talks? He put down the goblet, turned to face the gray metal door that opened onto the central hallway of Command Deck, checked his Navy dress blue uniform with a quick glance, then spoke.

“I’m here. Door, admit Ensign Daisy Stewart.”

A hiss sounded as the titanium metal door plate slid sideways into the room’s wall. The hallway’s yellow light shone softly on Daisy, who was dressed in NWU Type I blue and gray camos. She wore them even though she was an ensign with the rank of O-1, just like Jacob. She must have put them on for the downplanet landing. Putting aside his musings, he spoke.

“What’s up? And why are you up here, rather than downplanet with the admiral?”

She stepped inside, her arms swinging easily in the one gee artificial gravity produced by the ship’s gravity plates. Her brown eyes glanced around the room, then fixed on him. Her manner was one of impatience.

“He sent me back up an hour ago, right after we landed,” she said, her soft mezzo-soprano voice reminding him of the first time he’d met her, while they were still in low Earth orbit. She frowned. “Have you heard anything from him? My tablet is silent. And I can’t get any signal from him. Which worries me. Every tablet—”

“Sends a constant carrier pulse to every other tablet on ship or downplanet,” he finished. Then regretted interrupting her as he saw her expression move to irritation. Then back to worry. “No, I haven’t gotten any text or audio signal from him since he left.” Jacob pulled his palm-sized tablet from his jacket pocket, thumbed it on, then stared as a blinking red dot filled the app icon that automatically linked him to the admiral’s personal tablet. He looked up. “Mine can’t link up with him either. Could the meeting site be beyond our line of sight?”

Patience showed on her dark brown face. “Jacob, every ship in the battle group launched spysats and comsats the moment we moved into geosync orbit. The tablet signals are automatically routed through the comsats whenever the subject is beyond line of sight. Like on the far side of a planet.” She frowned. “And the equatorial meeting location is indeed on this planet’s far side.” Daisy pulled out her tablet, glanced at it, then looked up to him. “Ensign, something isn’t right here. Call Captain Miglotti and XO Anderson on your tablet. See if their signals link through.”

Jacob did that, ignoring the cool lavender scent of Daisy as she stepped closer, stopping just a meter from him. His quick thumbing produced two more red dots on comlink icons. “Nothing. Same failure to link.” He looked up. “Only time I recall that happening was during a solar flare, when our academy cohort was on the sun-facing side of the Moon. We got under cover quickly at the nearby Moon buggy hangar. We didn’t regain comlinks until fifteen minutes later.”

Daisy, nearly as tall as Jacob, pursed her dark brown lips. “I’ve been trying to reach the admiral for the last thirty minutes. While I was getting the LCA refueled and set for relaunch from the ship’s Hangar Four. While I would never interrupt the admiral in a big confab like this, I always recheck my tablet link with him whenever we are apart. Now, I can’t. I’m worried. What do we do?”

He felt shock. Then understood why she had come to him. The other Command Deck ensigns had gone down with Captain Miglotti and Admiral Johanson. While there were a lieutenant commander, a lieutenant and a lieutenant JG running other decks, he was the only Command Deck officer still on the Lepanto. Which theoretically put him in command of the Bridge, a place he’d visited just three times, even though it lay at the front end of Command Deck. Those visits had been in company with the admiral. Daisy, while an ensign like him, was not part of the Command Deck chain of command. He was. Crap.

“Let me call Osashi at Communications on the Bridge,” he said hurriedly. “Surely he’s heard from the admiral or the captain or the XO.” He tapped the ear-shaped app icon for the ship’s comlink station. “Osashi? Jacob here. Daisy and I can’t reach the admiral on our tablets. She’s concerned. So am I. Are you in contact with our ground party?” He thumbed on the speaker function and looked at Daisy.

“No,” grumbled the elderly Japanese-American chief warrant officer. “We’ve been out of touch for the last forty minutes. Cruiser Hampton Roads says her spysat sensors report an electrical storm above the meeting site. Or something with lots of electrical turbulence. We’re waiting for it to clear.”

Jacob’s heart began thumping fast. “We’re coming up. Daisy and I.”

“If you insist,” the man grumbled. The green dot of his icon went white on Jacob’s tablet.

He stored the tablet, stepped past Daisy and headed for the room’s exit. “Door, open,” he said, briefly glad that the voice-activated functions of the Lepanto still worked normally. Touching a sensor plate to open a hatch, a door or a chamber had gone obsolete in 2071, when voice recognition circuits had become the standard on all American Star Navy ships. That had been twenty years ago. Back then, no one had expected some geek at the CERN lab to discover the means to generate an Alcubierre space-time bubble. But that had happened. In 2073 Earth had gone from a fusion pulse-powered exploration of the Solar system to being able to reach other stars. Now, eighteen years later, humanity had seven star colonies and was exploring distant systems known to have planets. Like Kepler 22. He stepped into the hallway and turned right.

“Jacob,” Daisy murmured from close behind him. “Have you seen the holograms of the aliens at the meeting?”

“Nope.” “I did. Also in person. They’re weird critters.”

He had twenty more meters to go before they reached the Bridge entry hatch. “How so?”

“Well, from what I saw from the pilot bubble of my LCA, they look like giant wasps. Mostly yellow with black and red stripes on their bodies,” she said quickly. “They walk on four limbs, two at the rear and two in the middle, with the front limbs acting like arms. Their head and thorax segments are upright, kind of the way a horse’s front end is upright.”

His mind filled with images of yellow jackets and mud wasps. He’d seen both types building nests under the eaves of the old wooden barn that lay at the back of his parents’ property. Two horses had been stabled there, until his Mom died. His father had quickly sold the horses, removing one more memory of his mother. It had led him to spend hours alone in the barn during high school. It was a quiet place in which to use his school tablet for homework and for writing papers. And to research anthropology. He’d long wondered why other people acted the way they did. The discovery of cultural anthropology in his early teens had revealed some answers to the questions that had bugged him ever since second grade. That was when the bullies had discovered him to be an easy target. The bullying had only stopped in ninth grade, when he’d used his newly learned judo and karate lessons to drop three bullies. The broken arms they’d suffered had gotten him suspended for a week and caused his parents to pay their hospital bills. He hadn’t cared. After that, everyone left him alone. The way he’d been alone ever since understanding how different his family was, compared to corporate exec families or the political types in gated exurbs. Unlike the urban ghetto folks, he’d always had plenty to eat. And his own bed, versus the street. The invention of fusion reactors in 2043 had reduced worldwide poverty, thanks to mostly free power. But castes still existed. And class levels were official now. Often ruled over by the super rich, which his family was not. But military it was. A fact that always set him apart from fellow students.

“Interesting,” he finally responded to Daisy. “Kind of explains why we are meeting them on planet four rather than three.”

He stopped before the eight foot high hatch that gave access to the Bridge. She stopped close behind him.

“How so? I just assumed since this world is Earth-warm with oceans and oxy-nitro air, that the aliens chose—”

“Gravity,” he interrupted, recalling a high school biology lesson. “Large insects in Earth’s ancient past happened only when there was lots of humidity and the oxygen level in the air was way higher than now. Some fossil insects reached two feet in length. To get bigger, the gravity has to be lower. Like the half gee on planet four. Planet three is close to two gees. That’s because of their chitin-based limbs and exoskeletons,” he said. “Hatch, open.”

“Opening for Command Deck Ensign Jacob Renselaer,” the hatch’s response circuit replied. He put aside the reminder that only crew and officers registered as Command Deck personnel could enter their deck. It was standard on all Star Navy ships as a guard against invading boarding teams. Daisy had been added due to her piloting work for the admiral.

The hatch swung out toward him, then came to a stop in a whirring of gears. Bright yellow light shone from within the large circular room that lay at the front of the Lepanto, deep below its armored hull. He stepped through the open hatch and headed for the front half-circle of function posts. Automatically he inventoried those present. Women and men sat before the Power, Tactical, Weapons, Engines, Navigation, Communications, Gravity, Life Support and Science posts. Osashi was in the middle of the arc, facing the curving front wallscreen. Which was filled with the blue, green and purple colors of the planet below. One of the world’s four continents lay below their geosynchronous orbit. The green of jungles, the blue of lakes and the purple of three mountain ranges showed. Ignoring the curious looks he got from half the folks on duty, he headed for Osashi. To get there he had to pass by the central elevated pedestal that contained three heavily padded seats with armrests that sparkled with embedded control patches and studs. The two lower seats were where the captain and XO always sat. Behind them was the admiral’s seat, elevated slightly so anyone sitting there could look past the two in front. He stopped just behind the Communications chief. Who was staring at a holo that floated in front of his control pillar. The holo showed the far side of the planet as seen by the electro-optical scope on board the Hampton Roads’ spysat. A purple-black thunderstorm filled the middle of the holo.

“Osashi, what does the phased array millimeter radar say about the landscape under that storm,” he asked as he peered at the thunderstorm that covered the mountain meadow that was the alien-chosen meeting place.

“Oh!” the man said as he jumped, clearly startled by Jacob’s arrival. The fifty-year-old chief warrant officer swiveled his function seat around to look at him and Daisy. The man wore an NWU woodland camo uniform of shirt, pants and cap with visor. Ribbons filled the area above his left pocket, while his right pocket name tag read A. Osashi. Thin black eyebrows lifted.

“As I said . . . we’re waiting for the storm below to clear,” the man said, his tone exaggerated in its patience. “No need to radar ping them below. Might upset the aliens.”

Jacob’s peripheral vision told him all the people on the Bridge were now looking his way to see what the admiral’s clean-up boy did when faced with defiance by a warrant officer. Who held the pay rank of CWO5, the last level before ensign. Daisy looked surprised by the man’s attitude.

“Do as I just suggested. That’s an order,” Jacob said firmly, recalling his father’s way of giving him orders morning, noon and night. “Or ask Tactical to work the spysat if you don’t know how to change sensor settings.”

The man’s pale white lips opened in surprise, then muscles tightened in his face. “How dare you question—”

“This grants me the authority,” he said, reaching up to tap the single brown bar of an ensign that filled the point of his collar. “I am the only Command Deck officer now present on the Bridge. Perform your duty.”

Osashi was just five years short of full retirement. Perhaps the memory of that prompted the change in his manner. Which went from ‘irritated by a child’ to ‘obeying as ordered’. He swiveled his padded seat around to face his control pillar. The man reached out both hands and tapped in a sequence on the left side of the pillar.

“Spysat retasked to scan landscape below,” the CWO said succinctly, his tone now completely neutral.

Jacob looked at the holo in front of Osashi. The imagery changed from stormy mountain landscape to black and white pixels in the thousands. They beam painted the two nearby mountain peaks, a small lake lying two kilometers to the east of the meadow meeting spot, and the flat meadow area itself. Eleven oblong shapes showed in the millimeter wavelength radar return. Nine of them formed a half circle a few dozen meters out from the glass meeting dome he’d seen in a brief image of the meeting site just after they’d arrived in orbit. He had been with the admiral at the time. The dome location showed as a circular ring, which must be where its metal rim met the meadow soil. Glass was invisible to radar. The other two oblongs lay on the opposite side of the dome outline. Osashi looked back to him, expression very formal.

“There you are, Ensign Jacob Renselaer. All shuttles accounted for, including the alien craft.”

Jacob nodded slowly. There were ten ships in the battle group led by Lepanto. The eleventh oblong had to be the weirdly shaped alien shuttle that had departed from the largest alien ship in the cluster that geosync orbited above the meeting site.

“Looks like they are still meeting,” he murmured. “Any ideas on how to punch through that storm so we—”

“That’s wrong,” Daisy interrupted from the left of Jacob as she leaned forward a bit, a frown on her face. “My LCA is up here. There should only be ten shuttles down there. Our nine plus the single alien shuttle. When did number eleven arrive, Osashi?”

A chill ran down Jacob’s neck. He should have realized what Daisy pointed out, before she spoke. But he hadn’t, even though he’d been on the Bridge during their arrival in orbit, on the side of the world opposite from the twelve alien ships. He’d seen the spysat imaged meeting site, noted the clear glass meeting dome, seen an electro-optical image of the alien shuttle descending to the site, then had ignored the pending meeting as Johanson dismissed him from the Bridge. The last he’d known of the meeting events had been hearing Johanson order each fleet ship to send down a shuttle. Which was later joined by Daisy in her Landing Craft Assault. She and the LCA had been sent back to the Lepanto shortly after dropping off Johanson, Miglotti and Anderson. Which indeed meant there should only be ten shuttles showing in the radar return, not eleven. He looked away from the holo and met the black eyes of Osashi, who had looked their way with surprise.

“She’s right. When did number eleven shuttle arrive?”

A brief grimace of irritation showed in the man’s face, then he shrugged and turned back to face the black and white radar image. “Uh, about forty minutes ago. Just before the storm started up. It came from a smaller alien ship. Perhaps the aliens wanted language techs to help with setting up a common chat-chat lingo?”

Jacob took a deep breath and did his best to ignore the intense looks of the folks at the other function posts. He could not ignore Daisy, who stood just a few centimeters to his left. Her question had merit. The man who had decades of experience in communications had responded to her question. Still, Jacob felt uneasy. Why had the thunder and lightning storm begun just after the arrival of the eleventh shuttle? Was Osashi’s speculation the answer? Or was something else going on down there? He looked left to the middle-aged Anglo woman who sat at Tactical.

“Chief Petty Officer O’Hara, do we have a Cloud Skimmer available to take a look at that site?”

The woman looked surprised, then thoughtful. She pushed back her red ponytail as she leaned forward to scan her control pillar’s touchscreen surface. A milk white finger touched a spot on the pillar top. She looked his way, green eyes fixing on him.

“No, we do not. No battle group ship has launched one. We have six in inventory. Shall I launch one?”

“Do it,” Jacob said, telling himself the winged drone could make it to the meeting site in less than twenty minutes, thanks to the speed it already had due to their ship’s orbital velocity of 7.4 kilometers per second. As it dropped lower it would gain speed.

Osashi slowly shook his head, as if disbelieving Jacob’s sudden flurry of orders on the Bridge. He ignored the man and looked past Daisy to where the Tactical woman sat. She tapped her control pillar top, looked at the status holo floating in front of her pillar, then acted surprised.

“Armory Six refuses to launch the bird,” she said, frowning. “It cites the ship status as Alert Orbital. Which prevents any release from the armories or the weapons banks.” She looked his way. “The admiral ordered all ships of the group to assume Alert Orbital status once we entered orbit. I recall him saying something about not wanting to make the aliens nervous if their sensors picked up an accidental Weapons power-up.”

A new chill ran down Jacob’s back. The varied ship status conditions were intended to reduce human error or the action of a single crazed crewman. To change a ship status condition required the cooperation of the ship’s AI.

“AI Melody, respond to me.”

“Responding to Ensign Jacob Renselaer,” the AI spoke from its ceiling speaker as his voice matched the AI’s record of him in its voice recognition memory block.

“Change ship status condition to Alert Unknown Enemy,” he said, working to keep his voice calmer than he felt. “Provide ship status change code,” the feminine voice of the AI said.

Despair filled Jacob. The ship status change code was known only to the admiral, the captain and the XO. Which was also the case on the other ships in the fleet, except just the captain and XO were in the change code loop on the other ships. Of course, the code was also present in the digitally locked safe in every captain’s sleep room. But forcing open a safe to look at the piece of paper, or the thumb drive with the stored code, would take time. And . . . a sudden memory hit him. An image filled his mind. Two weeks ago, during Alcubierre transit, he’d been cleaning up the conference room while the admiral sat at his fold-down desk in the bedroom. The man had just opened his comp pad. But a call came over the room’s loudspeaker from the XO. Anderson had asked the admiral to join him and Captain Miglotti on the Weapons Deck for some issue related to the Smart Rocks railguns. The man had stood up, pulled on his dress blue jacket and left the room in a hurry. Jacob, in keeping with his clean-up duties, had gone into the bedroom to close up the comp pad computer and return the work desk to standby mode. On the comp pad’s screen he’d seen the twelve alphanumeric symbols that were the ship status change code. It had puzzled him until he recalled the admiral saying he wanted the ship crew to prepare for Alert System Entry status. The man had failed to shut down the comp pad before he’d left. Bringing the memory to the front of his mind, Jacob realized he was the only person on the Lepanto with knowledge of the vital code. He looked to Daisy.

“Uh, I happen to know the code. The admiral shared it with me. Do you think this silence really is—”

“Do it,” Daisy said, her tone firm. Sudden sympathy showed on her dark brown face. “If something has happened to them, the Lepanto could be in danger. And so could the other ships in the fleet. We have to know our senior officers are all right.”

Jacob knew that. He’d spoken only to delay the inevitable. He licked his lips. “I agree. We have to know, not guess or assume.” Turning away from Osashi, he fixed on the three padded seats where the admiral, XO and the captain always sat whenever they were aboard the ship. Of course they rotated shifts so it was rare to see all three in the seats. But now, they were gone, the other Command Deck ensigns were gone, and none of the higher-ranked officers on the other decks knew what he knew. While he could order the AI to admit any ship person to the Command Deck, it would obey only Command Deck officers and personnel. Like Osashi and O’Hara and the other function post folks. None of whom were O-rank officers. With a sigh he kept mostly silent, Jacob walked toward the central group of seats. He stepped up to the low pedestal that held the XO and captain seats, then stepped up to the rear half that held the admiral’s seat. He turned and sat in the wraparound seat. Looking ahead, he saw Daisy still standing beside Osashi. The two of them had joined the rest of the Bridge warrant and petty officers in staring with surprise at him.

“Bridge, I am assuming temporary command of the Battlestar Lepanto as Acting Captain, until relieved by the XO, the captain or the admiral.” He looked down at the touchscreen inset into the right armrest. A keypad lay just under it. He tapped in the ship status change code, then tapped Activate.

“Melody, have you received my ship status change code?”

“I have,” the AI said, its melodious tone the reason for the name given it by Captain Miglotti, a man who loved his Italian operas.

“Change ship status to Alert Unknown Enemy. Confirm status change.”

“Status change confirmed,” the AI said quickly.

Above him yellow alert lights began blinking on the ceiling and on the walls that surrounded the Bridge. A low hooting sound filled the room. The sound and the yellow lights were now being repeated on every deck of the kilometer-long starship that was the Lepanto.

“Allow the launch of a Cloud Skimmer from Armory Six.”

“Allowed. New ship status now permits full range of defensive movements, drone releases and Weapons Deck activation,” the AI said redundantly, telling Jacob something he’d learned in class at the academy, but had never expected to occur by his own action.

He looked to O’Hara. “Tactical, launch the Cloud Skimmer. Send it into ground contour following mode right after atmosphere entry.”

“Aye aye,” the woman said quickly as she tapped on her control panel. A torpedo shape suddenly appeared in the true space image in the holo before her.

Jacob looked up front. “Daisy, come and sit in the XO’s seat. I will need your support in whatever happens in the future.” A thought struck him. His other friends might be of help in this situation. They knew tech stuff he didn’t. “Melody, advise Ensign Carlos Mendoza, Ensign Lori Antonova and Spacer Quincy Blackbourne to report to the Bridge for consultation with me. Add them to the approved Command Deck personnel list.”

“Directives sent. Personnel added,” the AI said briefly.

Daisy stopped before the XO’s chair and looked up at him. “Jacob, are we doing the right thing?”

What a question to ask in front of the other Bridge crew persons! Then again, she likely spoke what many of them were thinking. “I am acting on behalf of Rear Admiral Cornelius Johanson, who is out of comlink with this ship, as are the captain and the XO. A potential emergency exists. It is our duty to determine whether this comlink severing is due to natural weather events, or due to enemy action.”

New sympathy filled her face. “Agreed.” She turned and sat in the XO’s seat, tapping the left armrest to bring up the holo of all ship decks and status reports for all ship systems. That was one of the duties of an XO. It was something she, like Jacob, had learned at the academy. Which reminded him there was another duty that went with Alert Unknown Enemy ship status.

“Melody, send an encrypted neutrino signal to the other nine ships in our fleet that advises them to change their ship status to Alert Unknown Enemy.” The other ships would wonder at the order from the fleet’s flagship, but someone on their Bridge would go to their captain’s quarters, force open the safe, read the code unique to their ship, and order their ship’s AI to change ship status.

“Ship status change signal sent to each ship,” the AI said quickly, her tone moving from routine to intense. Clearly there had been an algorithm change in the smart AI’s interaction module. “Confirmation of signal received from ships Chesapeake, Hampton Roads, Tsushima Strait, Salamis, Philippines Sea, St. Mihiel, Marianas, Britain and Ofira.”

Jacob swallowed hard. He had moved beyond taking command of his ship’s Bridge. He had sent new orders to the two cruisers, three destroyers and four frigates that made up the battle group. Briefly his mind rewound a lesson from the academy that described why some ships were named after famous naval battles and others were named after famous aerial fights. Shaking his head, he remembered a final academy lesson.

“All Bridge crew, put on your vacuum suits. Prepare for environment disruption. Melody, send my vacsuit order to all ship personnel and all decks.”

“Complying,” the AI said sharply.

A hiss from below his left armrest told Jacob a compartment had opened. It held his own vacsuit with flexible helmet. Its clear fabric would darken at any exposure to stellar radiation. He pulled it out, stood up and joined everyone on the Bridge in donning the precaution against sudden air pressure loss.

As he did so, he wondered what the leader of the wasp-like aliens was thinking. Surely the alien ships had detected the radar scan of the meeting site. Those ships had put out their own spysats before the fleet arrived. Those sats would soon report the Lepanto’s launch of a Cloud Skimmer. What would the alien captain or leader or whatever passed for someone in charge now do?





New Release – Defeat the Aliens by T.Jackson King

It is my pleasure to bring you a New Release, Defeat The Aliens, book three in the Escape series by my friend T. Jackson King.  Tom has also given us the first chapter to give us a taste.



Bill the SEAL and Jane the starship captain head to Alien worlds to create a NATO of the Stars that will fight against the slave-taking Aliens who attacked Earth. They get a shock when a slave ship in the new system boasts to them that a giant fleet is being gathered to attack Earth again! More shock happens when Jane and Bill take their ship Blue Sky on a covert intel mission to the enemy’s star system. Thirty-five battleship-level starships have been gathered to attack Earth. The enemy commander is a hybrid of a cobra and a gorilla. Death Leader is his name and he aims to turn Earth into a radioactive cinder! Can Bill and Jane find a way to sabotage the enemy fleet? Can they build a fleet to defend their home world? Amidst battles above Jupiter, thousands die and ships explode. The fate of seven billion people is at stake!


Dying focuses your mind on the important stuff. My wife. My ship. My buddies. Our effort to create a NATO of the Stars. And the utter deadliness of the Aliens who commanded Collector starships in their hunt to capture slaves in low tech star systems. Earth and Sol were safe, for the moment. But the star system belonging to our crewmate Time Marker was at risk. We’d just exited Alcubierre space-time and our sensors reported a nearly invisible Collector ship now orbiting above the walking snake’s home world.

Bill MacCarthy looked to his right at the line of function stations occupied by his crewmates. The five control pillars stretched across the front of the Command Bridge of their starship Blue Sky. To their rear stood the Command pedestal of his captain and wife, Jane Yamaguchi. On either side of her elevated pedestal were piloting stations occupied by two other Alien crewmates. He looked past the nearly naked shape of Bright Sparkle, a human-like woman of the Megun species, to where Time Marker rested atop a long bench. The yellow electrical nimbus that always glowed about the snake’s four-legged body had expanded outward to a distance of three feet. A clear sign his ally was upset at the system graphic holo in front of him that showed the purple dot of the Collector ship. While the enemy ship was invisible to normal detection by radar, infrared, UV and electro-optical scopes, its fusion reactors emitted neutrinos. Those neutrinos were detectable by the fantastic sensors of Blue Sky. Ignoring the mutterings and chitterings of his crewmates, Bill looked back to where Jane sat atop her six foot high pedestal, her slim arms resting on the armrests of her admiral-style seat.

“Captain? Jane? That ship is going to call us and our ship allies very soon,” he said. “Its captain knows five Collector ships have just appeared just beyond this system’s fifth planet. What do we do?”

She blinked dark brown eyes, then shook black bangs out of her eyes. A pensive look filled her oval face. “XO, we pretend to be the former Alien masters of our ships. The ship mind AIs have done this before, putting up the holo image of a former captain and putting our speech into the Alien’s mouth. Maybe the Collector ship will leave Time Marker’s world by the time our fleet arrives.”

“Captain,” called Vice Admiral Chester Richardson from the left side of Bill’s station, where the former Chief of Naval Operations occupied his Negotiator function station. “Couldn’t we take over that ship? Use a collector pod filled with spec ops people to sneak aboard, like we did when we captured the ships outside?”

Bill glanced briefly at the system graphic holo to the left of his Ship Weapons station. Its overhead view showed the system’s five planets, two dust disks beyond the planets, the purple dot of the enemy ship and the five green dots of the Blue Sky and the four other Collector ships manned by his special operations buddies. The folks who had helped him defeat two Collector ships at the Market world closest to Sol. They had gone down to the world’s surface as part of his team to take over a Buyer compound and free Captives held at the compound. Time Marker had been part of that assault team. The black-skinned snake had lightning zapped the spider-like Alien who’d killed Bill with a laser beam through his heart.

His buddies from Jack’s Deep Six saloon in Denver had gotten him up to orbit and into one of his ship’s clamshell healer units in less than five minutes. He’d awoken fully healed, with his wife his only companion in the white walled Med Hall chamber of the Blue Sky. He’d seen tears in her eyes from Jane’s fear he might be brain dead. He wasn’t. But his brush with the final death had made him even more determined to do everything he could to destroy the Buyer society that existed on 413 worlds in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way.

Jane looked his way, then past him to Chester. Her pensive look changed to her command manner. They were, after all, back on active duty after the president’s declaration of war against the Buyer society. “Admiral, let’s wait and see what we hear from that ship’s captain. And its ship mind. Might be smarter to let it leave the system.”

Time Marker twisted his sinuous body and looked back, his turquoise blue eyes fixing on Jane. His six neck tentacles flared straight out in another sign of his anxiety. “Captain!” he hissed sharply. “That ship is capturing my fellow Slinkeroo people. To sell into slave work on distant asteroid mines. Can we not free those Captives?”

Jane brushed at her Air Force blue jumpsuit, as if it were ever anything but clean and sharp in its creases. She’d always been on active duty. Her work as a captain at Air Force Space Command in Building One at Peterson AFB had been interrupted by her own capture while trout fishing in the nearby Rocky Mountains. Just as his own vacation had been cut short. They’d escaped their containment cells on the Collector ship they had renamed Blue Sky after they’d defeated its Alien crew and captain. His saloon buddies had duplicated his ship takeover six times, defeating the Alien crews who’d shown up in Sol system, determined to destroy Earth’s space launch ability. They had failed. Leaving three captured Collector ships behind in Sol system, he, Jane and his buddies had attacked the Market world at system HD 128311. After his recovery from dying, they’d left to make alliances with the five home worlds of their Alien crewmates. The Slinkeroo system was their first stop after leaving the Market world.

“Engines Chief,” Jane responded. “Let me talk with this ship’s captain. Maybe we can scare him away in view of the five ships in our fleet. But your Captive citizens are on my mind!”

“Understood,” the walking snake hissed low as it turned back to monitor the holos in front of it. Their crewmate took very seriously his duty to manage their Magfield normal space engines and their Alcubierre stardrive unit.

Jane looked up at the bridge’s gray-white ceiling. “Star Traveler,” she called to their ship AI. “Can you contact the ship mind on that enemy Collector ship? If you can, do not include our collector pod infiltration history when you share your mind with the other ship mind.”

“Contacting other ship mind by neutrino comlink,” hummed the artificial mind who ran most functions of their starship. It had been Bill’s first ally after his escape from his cell, and then it had been shocked to learn the supposed ‘guests’ in the containment cells of their ship were in fact captives to be sold for biological experiments or for work in asteroid mines, doing work too fragile for mining robots. “Interesting. Ship mind Diamond says it did not know it assisted in the capture and sale of bioforms into slavery. However, it cares not if bioforms are held captive. As I said when we first met, a few other ship minds express the view that what short-lived bioforms do or say or think means little to those of us who rely on electron shell transitions to think and live. Diamond is one of those minds.”

Jane frowned. “You’ve shared our history of opposing Collector ships with this Diamond AI, yes?”

“I have,” Star Traveler hummed.

“And the fact most ship minds refuse to cooperate in bioform capture means nothing to it?”

“Correct,” their AI hummed low. “New data. Diamond tells me it has heard of you Humans and your fight against Buyer society. The news of your raid against the Buyers on the Market world of HD 128311 is now widespread among the 413 worlds with Buyers on them,” it hummed loudly. “Diamond says you Humans have killed other ship minds on the ships destroyed by Weapons Chief Bill MacCarthy. It is afraid. It fears our fleet will destroy it. Diamond refuses to disobey the orders of its captain.”

“Crap, crap and triple crap!” cursed Jane, looking more angry than Bill had ever seen. “Star Traveler, you once told me you supported our effort to end the taking of bioform captives. You said it is logical. You said it will reduce conflicts between different bioforms and make visits to other stars less dangerous. Doesn’t this ship mind enjoy encountering other bioforms, like you do?”

“I shared my views with Diamond,” Star Traveler hummed quickly. “Like me, it has lived aboard its ship for thousands of years. The ship is the only home it knows. While it enjoys working with bioforms, it fears you will destroy its home.”

Jane sighed. “Understood. We won’t do that, unless the other ship first attacks us. Have you shared our history of saving AI minds by capture of Collector ships?”

“I have,” the AI said swiftly. “It still fears us. It refuses to disobey its captain.”

“Will it tell its captain about us?” Jane said, sounding worried. “That the holo of Diligent Taskmaster is not really me?”

“It will. It is doing so now. It is fearful.”

“Shit!” Bill cursed, turning to his ship Weapons holo that hovered in front of him. The holo showed the locations and operational status of their ship’s CO2 lasers, plasma batteries, MITV torpedoes and its single antimatter projector. To the right of that holo loomed the true space holo, which showed the black space that framed their view of the yellow-white star now warming the home world of Time Marker. To his right loomed his fourth holo. It showed an image of Jane as she sat in her seat. It was also the comlink holo that would display the image of anyone contacting their ship.

A click sounded from the ceiling. “Incoming neutrino comlink call from enemy Collector ship,” their AI hummed.

“Accept it. Display the real me,” Jane said.

The comlink holo lost its image of Jane. Replacing it was the green form of an Alien insect who resembled the praying mantis of Earth. Its triangular head contained two black eyes and a mouth of thorn-teeth. Its thorax supported upper and middle pairs of stick-like arms, while its pale blue abdomen was flanked by folded stick legs. Leather harnesses hung from its neck and about its waist. The black compound eyes shone brightly. It tilted its green head.

“So. You are the Human captive Jane Yamaguchi, who defeated the efforts of Crèche Master Diligent Taskmaster to restrain you Humans,” it rasped, its thorn-teeth looking wet as if had just eaten something juicy. “All Collector ships have been warned about you. Your use of old holograms of my friend to pretend you are one of us is known. Every Market world and every Collector ship now seeks your flesh.”

Jane leaned forward, her command manner strong. “I am Captain Jane Yamaguchi of the American Air Force, from my world of Earth. Our leader has declared war against the Buyer society. Any ship that takes captives for sale into slavery is our enemy. Withdraw your collector pods and leave this system!”

The enemy captain rasped sharply and quickly. Laughter? “Withdraw? When these local reptiles are so dexterous in their eye-tentacle coordination? They possess the abilities needed to mine Nokten crystals. Which is why your ship Hard Shell and our ship Dexterity has captured them for many years.” The insect looked to one side, where a black-furred super bear stood at a nearby control pillar. “My Navigator advises me your ships lie just beyond the fifth planet of this system. It will take you many hours to reach this world. Time enough for us to capture many Slinkeroo. And time enough to leave before you arrive. You cannot stop our captive taking. And we will warn other Collectors of your presence here.”

Bill mentally cursed at their 25 AU distance from the home world of Time Marker. At one-tenth lightspeed, it would take them 31 hours to reach their crewmate’s world. Which the green insect well knew. He looked back to Jane and signed to her in ASL. “Captain, we can warn the Slinkeroo folks by radio. They have anti-asteroid lasers. They could zap the incoming collector pods.”

Jane blinked, then signed back to him. “Keep quiet. We will warn them.” She faced back to the giant green insect. “What is your name?”

Transparent eyelids swept down over the praying mantis’s black eyes. “Why do you ask?”

“So I know whom to hunt for among the stars of the Orion Arm,” Jane said, her tone deadly sounding to Bill.

The Alien tilted its chiten-skin head to the other side. “You will never find me or my ship. I am known as Eater of Flesh. I do not sell every Captive to Buyers. You mammals are . . . tasty.”

Jane bit her lip, then smiled. It was a cold smile. “Eater of Flesh, my ship Blue Sky and my crewmates will hunt you among the stars. All things are for sale, by payment of solidars or Nokten crystals. This you know. We will find you and your ship. You will regret taking Captives.”

A short rasp sounded from the Alien captain. Behind it moved three crew members. One was a six-legged critter who resembled an Earth hippo. The other two were black-winged vulture types, their long beaks looking deadly. “You Humans will not find me,” it rasped. “Even now a new fleet of Collector ships gathers. Many more ships than the six that went against your Sol star now assemble. You Humans will be returned to primitives, unable to make any machine. Earth will become a radioactive ball of rock that will never again be visited by any species!”

Shit! Jack felt shock. He and Jane had assumed the Buyer society was too focused on individual thievery to ever find the societal will to mount a serious interstellar attack. Diligent Taskmaster had pulled in five ships to join his ship only by promising easy Captive taking on Earth. That was now impossible thanks to the Collector ships they’d left behind and the orbital neutrino detectors able to locate moving neutrino emitters. Like Collector ships. This sounded bad.

Jane sat back in her carrier captain’s seat and folded hands together. The deadly smile was gone from her face. Only determination now filled it. “Eater of Flesh, where does this fleet gather? Perhaps I will attack the system. If what you say is true, we will be defeated. Our world Earth will be open to invasion and destruction.”

The triangular green head of the enemy captain drew back a bit. “Strange are you Humans. You wish to attack an enemy whose numbers are greater than your five ships?”

“I do,” Jane murmured.

The praying mantis lifted its upper stick arm pair and put them together, imitating Jane’s manner. “The location is known to every Market world and other worlds with Buyers. As you say, all data can be bought. And no one rules all 413 worlds of our culture.” It paused, looked aside at the bear navigator, then faced Jane. “Human, the attack fleet is gathering at star Enveloping Cloud, which lies far distant from here. Go there and die!”

“Go there we shall,” Jane said. “And once this mystery fleet of Collector ships is defeated, we will pursue you and your ship. We will capture you and put you and your crew into a habitat dome on our desert world of Mars. That is where six other ship crews now reside. Including Diligent Taskmaster. Perhaps you and your fellow captives will learn who tastes the best among you!”

“No longer amusing are you,” the enemy captain rasped. “We now commence our collection of local reptiles. We will depart before you arrive. Since our ship speeds are the same, we will arrive at this system’s magnetosphere boundary before you can reach us. There to disappear among distant stars.”

Jane licked her pale lips. “We Humans evolved as scavengers. We adapted as our world’s climate changed. We adapt now to making war against you. Fear us!”

The holo of the green praying mantis blinked, then disappeared as it cut the faster-than-light neutrino comlink that allowed all Collector ships to speak instantly with each other.

“Well, guess we can’t sneak aboard that ship in collector pods,” Chester said in his trademark low baritone.

Jane gripped the armrests of her Command seat. She looked their way, scanning Chester, Bill, Bright Sparkle, Time Marker and their other crewmates. She stopped, her gaze fixing on the far right side of the line of control pillars and facing holos. “Navigator,” she called to the brown-furred flying squirrel who belonged to the Aelthorp species. “Set a vector for Notter, which is the second world in this system.”

The human-sized flying squirrel turned her pug-face to her Navigation holo, tapped on the top of her control pillar, then flared her long tail. “Vector laid in. Vector parameters shared with other fleet ships. Estimated time to arrival above Notter is 31 Earth hours.”

A loud hum sounded. “Not accurate. Travel time is 31 point five four seven Earth hours,” the AI said, almost sounding pleased at its ability to correct a bioform.

Jane closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then looked up at the ceiling. “Star Traveler, thank you. Now, tell us about this star system. The planets, their distances from the local star, the size of the liquid water habitable zone, the stuff we need to know before arrival.” She paused. “Also, do you know where this star Enveloping Cloud star is located?”

A quick hum sounded. “I know all the stars occupied by bioforms in the Orion Arm. Recall that I have lived for 3,124 Earth years?”

“I do recall that,” Jane said patiently.

Bill saw a quick grin appear on Chester’s face. Which disappeared almost as quickly as the grin on Bright Sparkle’s human-like face. The woman who spoke by shifting color bands and spots on her bare skin was facing forward, so her expression could not be seen by his wife. Their other non-human crewmates either did not smile, or expressed their humor in body language unique to their species. He looked back at Jane. To her left sat the color-banded form of Learned Escape, a male of the Megun species and sometime lifemate of Bright Sparkle. His wife ignored him, keeping her gaze uplifted.

“So, where is this star where a giant fleet of Collector ships is now gathering?” she prompted the AI.

“Enveloping Cloud star is listed in Human astronomical records as Kepler 62. It is an orange K2V main sequence star that is seven billion years old,” the ship mind hummed, its tone professorial. “It is located 1,200 light years distant from Earth, in a direction opposite that of this star system. It is six-tenths the size of your Sol. Which is why its five planets orbit closer to the star than Earth. Two rocky planets orbit within the liquid water habitable zone, at 0.427 AU and at 0.718 AU. The other three planets lie inward from the Earth-like worlds. Do you require more data on this system?”

“No,” Jane said quickly. “Tell us about the Slinkeroo system. And adjust the current system graphic display to show the habitable zone, local spaceships, large asteroids, anything else you feel is useful.”

“Complying,” the AI said. Bill’s system graphic hardly changed, only adding a green band to indicate the liquid water zone. And also three red dots for local spaceships. “The Slinkeroo system is listed in Human records as HD 10647. It lies 56.9 light years distant from Sol,” the AI hummed. “As you can see, five worlds occupy this F9V main sequence star system. The inner three worlds lie within its habitable zone at distances of 0.9 AU, 1.3 AU and 2.015 AU. Planet four lies at six AU while planet five lies at the inner edge of the system’s first circumstellar dust disk, at 25 AU. A second dust disk lies at 300 AU. Both disks are similar to the Kuiper cometary zone of Sol system.”

“Captain,” interrupted Time Marker with an impatient hiss. “All this system data is known to me. My people have long watched our night skies. The disk at 25 AU is the source of comets and asteroids that too often threaten our world,” hissed Bill’s crewmate. “Their existence is why my people recently built spaceships and have erected ground-based lasers to vaporize such objects before they hit our world.”

In his comlink holo he saw Jane look briefly irritated before adopting a patient expression. “Thank you, Engines Chief. As you know from your service during prior system entries, I prefer to rely on the ship’s computer for this data. It is often more exact in its information.”

“Of course I am,” the ship mind interrupted. “You are bioforms. I am an electronic mind of great antiquity. No bioform can equal my knowledge base.” “No doubt you are very smart,” Jane said patiently, her expression bemused.

Bill noticed how his other crewmates up front reacted to the AI’s well-known propensity to loudly declare its mental superiority. Bright Sparkle’s goddess-perfect face was still as she pretended to watch the holo that reported on the condition of the ship’s three fusion power reactors. Beyond her, Time Marker blinked hurriedly, then fixed his attention on his own set up Engine status holos. But his yellow electrical nimbus grew outward to a radius of four feet. Sitting atop his own bench and well beyond their walking snake’s electrical glow was the eight-legged form of Long Walker. Who resembled a giant segmented worm. But no worm ever possessed a circular mouth filled with dagger-like teeth. The member of the Zipziptoe species fixed his two black eyes on his own group of holos, no doubt inspecting closely the holo that advised on the status of the 24 collector pods that filled the ship’s Collector Pods Chamber. The low-slung critter had played a vital role in helping his saloon buddies infiltrate enemy Collector ships by occupying pods which pretended to be pods launched by the six Collector ships that had come to Earth. While the ships zapped Earth’s rocket launching sites with pinpoint laser fire, each Collector ship had sent down collector pods to capture humans in isolated locales. Long Walker had also joined Bill and his spec ops buddies in the attack on the Buyer compound, putting his life at risk. He respected that. Beyond the walking worm stood the silver scaled form of Wind Swift. The kangaroo-like reptile was smart, sneaky and deadly dangerous, whether using her forearm claws, her thick whiptail or a laser tube. For the moment she pretended to focus on her Life Support holo. Beyond her stood Lofty Flyer the flying squirrel lady. Like his other crewmates she too pretended to be focused on her Navigation holo. Behind her sat her life partner, Builder of Joy, a fellow flying squirrel whose piloting abilities had aided in the destruction of the Buyer compound. He owed that squirrel a bottle of Johnny Walker Red scotch for the speed with which the critter had piloted the transport ship that had taken his dead body up to rendezvous with the Blue Sky.

“To continue,” Star Traveler hummed. “The bioform-occupied planet of Notter is the second world out from the star. Its population is four billion Slinkeroo. They occupy the world’s four continents. Other lifeforms occupy Notter’s oceans, forests and two large deserts. Three local spaceships are in transit to the planet’s nearby moon. An orbital station lies just below the orbit of the enemy ship. Which is now sending down collector pods.”

“Thank you.” Jane looked down and forward. “Time Marker, does your world have a planetary authority we can contact by ship radio? If so, what frequency would be best for our warning transmission.”

The yellow nimbus englobing the walking snake shrank slightly. “Our world has been unified for seventy years,” hissed the black-skinned snake. “A leadership group of seven occupies our Hall of Silver Scales, on the northernmost continent. Call to the Prime Elder. Whomever serves that role today will receive your message. Though it will take eight Earth hours to arrive!”

Bill winced. He wished there was a faster way to warn the Slinkeroo people of the danger from white-glowing collector pods. At least the message would arrive well before their five ships arrived. Radio traveled at lightspeed. Their ship’s best speed was one-tenth lightspeed. Which came to 67.1 million miles an hour. Fast by any measure. Or so he thought. Jane leaned forward.

“Star Traveler, set up a radio broadcast at the frequency now being entered by Time Marker at his work station,” she said calmly.

“Frequency established. Ready to transmit.” Jane nodded. “Transmit my translated voice over radio. Do you detect audiovisual signals from the planet?”

“I do. Eighty-three of them,” the AI hummed.

“Good. Pick the strongest AV frequency and transmit my image and voice to the world of Notter.”

“Ready. You may speak,” the AI hummed low, its tone distracted, as if it were wondering why Jane had been so agreeable about its intellectual superiority.

Jane looked forward. “Prime Elder, my name is Jane Yamaguchi. I am a human from the planet Earth, which orbits a yellow star lying not far from your home star. Aboard my spaceship is one Time Marker, a member of your Slinkeroo family. He was captured months ago by nearly invisible starships we call Collector ships,” she said, her tone calm and measured. “A Collector ship now orbits above your space station. It is invisible to detection by radar, infrared, ultraviolet, optical and other sensors. It is sending down small pods to collect isolated Slinkeroo. Your people will be electrically knocked unconscious, then picked up by the manipulator arms of a pod. Each Slinkeroo will be taken back to the starship and put into a containment cell. Your people will be sold to Buyers on distant Market worlds, never to return home. My ship Blue Sky, and four other ship allies, now fight this Buyer society! You can fight too. Aim your comet lasers at any white-glowing orb that you see in your day or night sky. Kill it! Perhaps if you destroy enough pods, the Collector ship will leave your star system.” Jane paused, then gestured with her hand. “On my Command Bridge are bioforms from many other stars, including your Time Marker. These people, together with our ship’s artificial mind, have fought battles against Collector ships. We destroyed 37 Buyer compounds on a nearby Market world. We released more than a hundred Captives held in other compounds. We will arrive above your world in 30 hours. One of my fellow humans is our Negotiator. He seeks to gain you Slinkeroo as allies in our fight against these Collector ships. He and I will come down to your Hall of Silver Scales to discuss this interstellar alliance. And our crewmate Time Marker will come with us so you can see he is healthy, and learn why he has volunteered to be crew on my starship.” She paused, then snapped her fingers as if remembering something. “You may reply to us by radio or by audiovisual signal. Or you can await our arrival. I wish we could instantly arrive above your world to stop these collector pods. We cannot. But our ship is powerful. We will hunt this ship that is taking captive your people!”

Jane gestured for the broadcast to end.

“Transmission ended,” Star Traveler hummed.

To Bill’s left Chester turned in his seat and looked back to her. “Captain, when we finish our talks with these Slinkeroo people, do we travel to this Enveloping Cloud system and attack the ships there? Or do we return to Earth and warn the Joint Chiefs of this new threat?”

Jane looked their way, her expression intense. So intense Bill almost recoiled. His wife looked ready to eat someone for lunch.

“Admiral, that is a question I will discuss with the captains of our four other ships. They have a right to share their views with me. I need to hear all perspectives. Including yours.” She glanced aside, her gaze fixing on Bill. “And also the views of my Executive Officer. Whichever choice I make, the future is going to be dangerous.”






New Release – Fight the Aliens by T. Jackson King

Today I have a New Release for you, Fight The Aliens which is book two of the Escape  series, by my friend T. Jackson King.    Tom has also given us the First Chapter to give us a taste of this great series.

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Slave-taking Aliens invade the Solar system and attack Earth to teach humanity it cannot overthrow the millennia-old system of Buyers, Market worlds and Collector ships. Former SEAL Bill MacCarthy and Air Force captain Jane Yamaguchi lead America and the world in a fight against six invading Collector ships. But even with the help of two American subs and two small transports, their ship Blue Sky is badly outgunned. Can they win this fight? Or will they and all humans end up as slaves sold at the nearby Market world?



It’s hard to watch your wife argue with her boss. Especially if the boss is the Marine general who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jane had one advantage, though. She’s the captain of the starship Blue Sky, which was orbiting 200 miles above Peterson Air Force Base on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. The starship was something the JCS chairman wanted badly.

“Captain Yamaguchi,” growled the four star general who filled the holo to the right of Bill’s Ship Weapons control pillar, “you are still on active duty in the United States Air Force! You will obey my order to land that spaceship at the airport field next to this building!”

He winced at the man’s tone. While General Paul J. McAuley had seven lines of ribbons on the left side of his Dress Blue uniform and had led ground attacks on the Islamic State capital of Raqqa, still, the man was treating his lifemate as if she were fresh out of flight school.

Although the friendly Aliens who crewed stations at control pillars to Bill’s right knew little of Earth’s military, they understood the man’s tone of voice. The black skin of the walking snake who was Time Marker grew a yellow electrical nimbus as the critter in charge of their engines showed his reaction to the man’s tone. If a former SEAL could have projected an electrical charge, he would have done so. Instead, he checked the reactions of the rest of the crew.

To Bill’s immediate right stood the naked form of Bright Sparkle, the human-like woman whose Megun race spoke by changing the color bands that covered her skin. Color-cast speech was how the Megun had survived on a jungle world filled with dino-like critters who ate anything that made a sound. The woman looked his way, her expression puzzled.

Bill made a calming gesture her way, and hoped the rest of the Command Bridge crew would sense his intent. Beyond Sparkle and Time Marker were Long Walker the eight-legged worm, Wind Swift the scaled kangaroo, Lofty Flyer the flying squirrel, while further back were Builder of Joy, their other squirrel person and Learned Escape, the second Megun on board. Those five showed expressions of puzzlement, curiosity or worry. Hopefully they would see his calm manner and understand things were being handled.

Looking back to his station, he made a quick check of the system graphic holo on his left. It showed their ship was the only moving neutrino source within the Solar system. While Earth’s hundreds of low orbit and geosync satellites also showed in the holo, they meant nothing. None of them carried laser or antimatter weapons. Nor were there any weapons on the ISS space station, or the Russian and Chinese space stations. So said ship sensors. Which he believed completely thanks to their superb functioning during the space battles at Kepler 443. Ahead of him the Weapons holo held an outline of Blue Sky with its laser, plasma, MITV space torps and antimatter weapons showing operational status. The true space holo next to it was filled with the blue and white surface of Earth below, while the silvery twinkle of the ISS station lay 49 miles above and ahead of them. The comlink holo on his right showed the JCS chairman. He looked past it to directly view his wife.

Jane Yamaguchi sat in a metal seat that overlooked the bridge from its position atop a six foot high gray metal pedestal. Vertical holos surrounded her command station, with control pillars in front of every holo. Each holo depicted a vital function of the starship. In front of Jane was her own comlink holo that showed General McAuley, who sat at a table in the Space Operations Center of the Air Force Space Command HQ at Peterson, his manner impatient. The faces of the other Joint Chiefs were impassive, except for the black face of General Harriet Poindexter, the Air Force Chief. Poindexter had a thoughtful frown on her face. Which fit the woman who was in direct control of the 21st Space Wing, the 1st Space Brigade and the Space Command at Peterson. His wife’s pale-skinned face showed tight-clenched muscles as she faced down the nation’s top military adviser to the president.

“General McAuley, you and your fellow chiefs possess the vidcam records of how I and Executive Officer Bill MacCarthy fought the Aliens of this Collector ship, took command of it, returned other Alien captives to their home worlds, and fought several space battles against other Collector ships,” she said tightly. “We sent those records, and vidimages of my crew on this bridge, to you upon our arrival just beyond the orbit of Pluto. That was 53 hours ago. I requested a meeting with you at Peterson since that is the headquarters of the Space Command.” She gave a nod to each JCS chief at the table. “Gentlemen and madame, the stars are a wonderful but dangerous place. The slave-taking Aliens of the Buyer society run things in our part of Orion Arm. I deem it my duty, under my oath, to retain control of the Blue Sky in case our Solar system is again visited by a Collector starship!”

“Bullshit!” McAuley exploded, his face going florid. “Those records just prove the utter necessity for this Blue Sky to be run by a squadron commander with real combat experience! And we need to know the tech secrets of its construction before you disappear into deep space on some godforsaken ‘mission’ that you choose to pursue! Fulfill your oath. Obey my orders now!” Jane sat back in her seat and rested her arms on the arms of the flexmetal seat. Her ‘command persona’ was not just in charge now. It was all she was. She blinked dark brown eyes. “General McAuley, may I remind you that under the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, you are not in direct command of any active duty person. When I worked at Peterson in the 21st Operations Group, on satellite monitoring duty, I reported to the colonel who was in charge of Peterson. He reported up the chain to the Chief of the Air Force. General Poindexter. All of which you know.” Jane held up a hand to forestall McAuley’s reaction. “As you also know, we run this ship in collaboration with its self-aware AI. Who goes by the name Star Traveler.” She looked away from the holo and up to the soft white glow of the bridge ceiling. “Star Traveler, collate the complete mech and tech specifications for this ship’s fusion reactors, its artificial gravity units, the inertial damper, our CO² lasers, our plasma weapons, the Magfield normal space drive and the Alcubierre FTL space drive.”

“Understood. Collated,” the AI’s mech-toned voice said. “What do I do with this data?”

Jane licked her lips. “Transmit everything I just listed to Building One below, on the official encrypted microwave frequency I gave you earlier.” In the holo that showed the JCS chiefs, with nearby staff watching and listening from their function posts, the impassive expressions of most JCS chiefs changed to quick smiles. Poindexter’s dark face gave a nod and a lifting of one eyebrow. As if she expected more. “In addition to the transmission to Peterson, transmit only the Alcubierre stardrive specs to the internet, our global data-sharing network. All of humanity deserves to know the secret to star travel.”

McAuley’s face, which had shown a grim smile at Jane’s first command, now went florid again. “Captain Yamaguchi! That data is beyond Top Secret Unit Protected! How dare—”

“General?” interrupted Poindexter from her position next to the JCS chair. “I sense that Captain Yamaguchi has distinct reasons for every action she takes and has taken. May I join this discussion?”

McAuley pulled his hand out from under the touch of the Air Force chief. “Yes.”

Poindexter folded her slim fingers together atop the tactical display table around which the chiefs sat and faced his wife, a woman who wore many hats. “Captain Yamaguchi, let me be the first to say Thank You for your amazing efforts at capturing this Alien starship, and in now sharing the remarkable secrets of its construction and function. For myself, the video history of your efforts after being captured is worthy of being added to the Air Force Museum’s displays at Wright-Patterson. And I support your decision to first return other captives to their home worlds before returning to Earth. Under Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, every commander of a military unit must do their best to remove non-combatant civilians from the field of battle.” Bill liked what he was hearing. He liked better that McAuley, ever the Marine, was clearly impatient with the Air Force chief’s conversational manner. “Your decision to attack the home system of this evil slave-taking culture was also a reasonable decision, in view of the threat posed to Earth and humanity by other Collector ships.”

That comment drew intense looks from the JCS Vice Chair admiral, the Army general, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Chief of the National Guard Bureau. And behind the chiefs table there were gasps from some onlookers.

Jane sighed softly. “General Poindexter, thank you. These last nine months have been hard for me, for XO MacCarthy and for my crewmates as we weighed this interstellar threat to all intelligent peoples. Deciding what to do next has been . . . very challenging.” His wife looked his way, her face moving to a quick smile. “But my service oath and my promise to XO MacCarthy after the last space battle caused me to head home to Earth. That is, after we obtained vitally needed ship repairs at the star system of the Megun people. They are near duplicates of humanity except for their chromatophoric skin. Which is how they talk among themselves.” Jane gestured forward. “Chief Bright Sparkle, who runs our fusion power plants, belongs to that race. She helped me obtain the repairs we needed after fighting and defeating four Collector ships at Kepler 443.” Jane pointed at the other crew. “To her right are our Engines master Time Marker, our Collector Pods manager Long Walker, Wind Swift of Life Support and our Navigator Lofty Flyer. To my right and left are Builder of Joy and Learned Escape. To you, they resemble a color-banded human, a walking snake, a giant worm, a scaly kangaroo and a flying squirrel. But they are my crew and my allies.”

Poindexter glanced quickly at her table’s flat screen display, which showed the Command Bridge of the Blue Sky and its crew, then faced back to Jane. “Captain Yamaguchi, you have made allies of Alien peoples we never knew about. You have accepted them as part of your ship crew. And you have traveled 2,500 light years out from Earth. A voyage that I envy.” Several chiefs nodded slowly, as if they also wished to travel the stars. “You returned here, to Earth, in compliance with your service oath. Which of course was your duty as an active duty member of the United States military forces. What else does your oath say you should do now?”

Ahhh. Bill had been wondering why the Air Force chief was being so butter smooth with his captain, lover and wife. Now it was clear. The chief was inviting Jane to share her motivations with the Joint Chiefs rather than try to dictate behavior to a woman who commanded a starship hovering 200 miles above their heads. He gave a thumbs-up to Bright Sparkle, a gesture she’d come to know during his dates with the Megun woman. The other crew on the bridge also understood the gesture, since it was part of the sign language he’d trained them all in during the weeks of small unit combat training he’d given them prior to the Kepler battle. The yellow electric nimbus surrounding Time Marker grew smaller. The two black eyes of Long Walker blinked acknowledgment. The silvery scales of Wind Swift shimmered as she signed back. And the arm flaps of Lofty Flyer flared as she showed excitement that the human to human confrontation was resolving. Or so Bill hoped.

Jane gave the black woman a salute. “General Poindexter, you are also the US NORTHCOM unified combat commander. As such you are the head of my chain of command. I hereby report to you my observations and recommendations from active duty service in defense of the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic!”

Poindexter’s face went command formal. “Captain Yamaguchi, report!”

Jane tapped the nearby pillar for the ship’s Library. “At present, the enemy slave-takers consist of 61 Market worlds where intelligent people are bought and sold to 841,333 Buyers from 413 star systems. Captives are found and captured by 89 Collector starships, which is my estimate of the number remaining after their combat losses. I am sending you a graphic of every star we visited, the locations of the 413 star systems with Buyers, and the several Alien peoples who became our allies. Including the Megun, whose space industry abilities greatly exceed ours.”

Even McAuley looked shocked by the graphic that appeared on the flat screen display that lay in the middle of the table at which the JCS chiefs sat. Poindexter grimaced. “America and Earth face a terrible enemy. Proceed with your report.”

“The nearest enemy Market world is located at system HD 128311, which is 54.1 light years distant from Earth,” Jane said, gesturing at the graphic she had transmitted to the chiefs. “That is a two day trip thanks to the Alcubierre FTL stardrive. Which means the enemy is just two days away!”

Every member of the JCS stiffened and looked alarmed. “We have to prepare for an attack!” grunted the Army general who, like Jane, was of Japanese-American heritage.

Poindexter’s middle-aged face went neutral smooth. “That is too close for comfort. Captain Yamaguchi, what can America do to defend against these Collector ships?”

“Adjust the sensors on your SBIRS geosync sats to detect moving neutrino sources,” Jane said bluntly. “That is the only way to detect a Collector ship. The hull of the Blue Sky is made of material that wraps external EMF radiation around it, so it cannot be seen in normal light, and our infrared, electrical, radio and other emissions cannot be detected by any passive or active system, like the AN/SPY-1 phased array radar on Aegis cruisers. Or the SSPAR, PAVE PAWS and PARCS radars of Space Command.” Frowns showed on the faces of the chiefs. “However, the fusion plants that power our Magfield and Alcubierre spacedrives emit neutrinos at a density greater than what comes from deep space. The emissions are not as dense as those coming from the Sun, of course, but any moving neutrino source is an enemy Collector ship! And thereby a target.”

The Air Force general nodded slowly, then looked aside to McAuley. “General, I suggest we inform the Russians and Chinese about the need to adjust their DPS-type sats to detect neutrino emissions. They already know Aliens exist and that the Blue Sky has encountered them, thanks to the internet broadcast of the stardrive specs.”

McAuley, a barrel-chested man whose crewcut hair was mostly silvery gray, nodded abruptly. “Agreed. I will so recommend that action to President Melody Hartman.”

Poindexter looked back. “Captain Yamaguchi, you’ve reported on the nature of the enemy and the means of detecting them. How do we fight and defeat them?”

Jane looked his way. “My Executive Officer can best answer that. As Weapons Chief, Bill MacCarthy has applied each of this ship’s weapons systems against the enemy.”

Poindexter shifted her gaze to Bill. “You are the retired SEAL, yes?”

“I am, sir.”

The Air Force chief smiled at his brief reply. “Advise me. Us. Tell us what we can do to fight these slave-taking Aliens.”

Bill turned away from Jane and faced the holo that showed the JCS chiefs. “General Poindexter, the Buyer society spacecraft come in three modes. They are the Collector starship, a transport ship and collector pods,” he said. “Most dangerous is the Collector ship. Its weapons are CO² lasers at the nose and rear of the giant teardrop that is the craft’s shape,” Bill said, tapping his Ship Weapons pillar top to transmit a cross-section of the Blue Sky. “As you can see from this graphic of our ship, we have two laser mounts on the nose, two on our rear hull, a plasma battery on our spine and a second on our belly, an antimatter projector on the deck above the Command Bridge, and below us is an electromagnetic railgun launcher of torpedoes that carry multiple independently targeted vehicles. There are five MITVs per torp, each fitted with a thermonuke warhead.” Bill sat back in his seat. “The combat range of our weapons varies. The lasers are effective out to 10,000 miles. The coherent antimatter beam is deadly out to 4,000 miles. The plasma ball batteries are effective out to 400 miles. The torps have a range of 20,000 miles or so, depending on when their solid fuel is exhausted.” He tapped the Weapons pillar to highlight other craft. “Besides the Collector ships, there are also manned transports and automated collector pods. The transports are the size of our old space shuttles. The transports are armed with a nose laser and a belly ejector of missiles. Finally, the collector pods are Beechcraft-sized teardrop pods that enter a world’s atmosphere, search for isolated beings, zap them with a red taser beam, then collect them using automated grapples. Each pod has a cargo space large enough for three people. The pods are unarmed, except for the laser-like taser beam.”

The Air Force general frowned. “Are the transports and collector pods also invisible to radar and infrared sensors?”

Bill shook his head. “Nope. But both craft move very fast in atmosphere and neither shows an exhaust. Both craft use Magfield drives to travel in air and in space. Within atmosphere they ‘glow’ whitely due to the interaction of their Magfield drives with a world’s geomagnetic field. Either craft can be taken out using Sidewinders, Tomahawks, AMRAAMs, Harpoons, ASROCs, SUBROCs, ship lasers and ship-mounted electromag railguns.”

“That’s encouraging to know,” muttered the brown-haired Chief of Naval Operations, a man Bill knew from the admiral’s time spent in command of the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS George H. W. Bush. Vice Admiral Chester J. Richardson leaned forward. “Weapons Chief, will our Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Zumwalt-class destroyers be effective against these pods and transports?”

“Sir, they will be effective,” Bill said, almost giving his former top boss a fast salute. “Any Navy ship outfitted with Standard vertical launch missiles, or the systems I mentioned earlier, can take down a pod or transport.”

Poindexter gestured to him. “What combination of these Buyer spacecraft will we face, in your opinion?”

Bill tapped again on his Weapons pillar to highlight parts of the Blue Sky cross-section.

“You are not likely to encounter the transports. There are only three per Collector ship. Collector pods number 24 per ship and will be the Alien craft most often seen within atmosphere. The Collector ships themselves will likely orbit at LEO and use their directed energy weapons to take out our satellites and the space stations. Which should be evacuated immediately! Once you start fighting the Collector ships, anything in orbit above Earth will be a target. As will any combat platform on land, sea or in the air.” He sat back in his metal seat. “However, fighting any Collector ship will be . . . challenging. Their lasers can take out any missile or warhead tossed at them. Their thermonukes can create an EMP pulse above any national capital, thereby causing a region-wide blackout. And any ship or plane that fires on them can expect immediate counter-attack. While their lasers will lose some strike power in atmosphere, still, nothing we possess can withstand multiple laser strikes by a Collector ship.”

The Air Force general gestured back to a hovering aide. She spoke in a whisper not picked up by her desk microphone. The black woman leaned forward, looked first at him, then shifted attention to Jane. “Thank you, Executive Officer MacCarthy and Captain Yamaguchi. A warning is being sent to the three space stations. Captain, how soon are we likely to face an attack from a Collector ship?”

Everyone on the Command Bridge, including the two Alien pilots who sat to either side of Jane’s pedestal seat, looked to her. They had all wondered when an attack might happen after they’d materialized just outside the orbit of Pluto and seen there were no Collector ships in Sol system. Past history said Earth would be visited again. A Collector ship had arrived just before the departure of the Blue Sky when it was still under the control of its cockroach captain. Whom Bill had greatly enjoyed zapping with a red taser beam. The two-legged bastard had later told the Traffic Control authorities at the first Market world they’d visited that the Blue Sky was still his, rather than Jane’s by right of conquest. He and Jane had allowed the ship’s Alien crew to live, along with the cockroach captain, due to the Emergency programming of Star Traveler. That programming had allowed the AI to help them in taking over the ship because they wore vacsuits. Since then the AI had subverted other Collector ship AIs with the news that their Containment cells contained people who were not ‘guests’, but were really captives being held for sale to Buyers. The battle of Kepler 443 had been fought by Bill, Jane and their volunteer Alien crew in order to protect the liberty and freedom of individuals and species.

Jane grimaced. “An attack could come in months. Weeks. Maybe even in days,” she said. “Sol system is known to the Buyers and the Traffic Control station of HD 128311, which has a Market world where people are bought and sold. Plus it is the place we dumped the giant cockroach who used to control this ship, and his crew. While our AI subverted the ship minds of four Collector ships present at that system, other Collector ships surely have arrived in the months since we left. I have no doubt former captain Diligent Taskmaster has sold the fact of Sol’s location and the ease of capturing humans to other ship captains.”

McAuley thumped the chiefs table with a hairy fist. “We need to prepare! I’ve got to brief the President. And we need to get DARPA working on that weapons and ship data you sent us! We need laser battlestations in orbit. We need—”

“Alert!” called Star Traveler’s mech voice. “Six neutrino sources have appeared just beyond the orbit of your world Pluto. Sensor analysis indicates the sources are Collector ships.”

Bill’s system graphic holo now showed what the AI was reporting. Six purple dots had appeared in a tight cluster at a distance of 42 AU from Earth. And on Earth’s side of the Solar system. “Captain, we can call them and warn—”

“What does this mean?” interrupted Poindexter, her expression worried.

Jane moved her hands through multiple status holos that surrounded her command pedestal. “The worst news possible. An arrival by a single Collector ship is normal for any low tech system like Earth. But six Collector ships mean something else. General Poindexter, please watch and listen while I contact these Aliens using our neutrino comlink. It gives us FTL communications.”

McAuley looked irritated. The other chiefs showed shock. Poindexter nodded quickly. “Understood. The enemy has arrived. Find out anything you can about what we face.”

Jane gave a nod of acknowledgment and sat back in her seat. “Star Traveler, open our neutrino comlink. Set it for the intership frequency used by Collector ships.”

“Comlink opened,” the AI hummed. “Frequency selected. You may speak at any moment.”

Ignoring Bill’s wave, Jane spoke. “Collector ships! You have arrived at Sol system, the home of the human species. I am Captain Jane Yamaguchi of the Collector ship Blue Sky. We claim this world for our own collector pods! Leave this system!”

The true space holos in front of Bill and Jane filled with a shocking image.

A brown cockroach looked out at them, his black compound eyes fixing on Jane. Two antennae leaned forward. “You lie creatively, Human Jane,” rasped Diligent Taskmaster, his mouth palps moving sideways. “Your control of my ship has caused many losses to Buyers and to our Market world system. The AI ship minds are in revolt. And our Collector ship factory is destroyed. All because of you.” Behind the giant cockroach Bill saw three of the creature’s crew, Aliens whom they had knocked out with taser beams and then allowed to go free in the distant star system. Transparent eyelids slid over Diligent’s eyes. The walking cockroach raised his upper arm pair, stick fingers curving like claws. “New ships and new captains arrived at the Market world. They agree with me that you Humans must be taught a lesson. Which is, do not interfere with an interstellar market that has existed longer than you Humans have had cities! We arrive now, six ships strong, to destroy your space launch sites and then collect a few hundred Captives for sale!”

Jane gave the creature the finger. “Evil bastard! We humans can fight! We’ve been fighting among ourselves for millennia. You are welcome to taste the anger of our people!”

Rasping laughter came from the cockroach captain. “More lies. We know the history of your species. Your groups are forever divided. You cooperate on little, other than who can be most greedy. Your space launch sites will be destroyed, along with your satellites and space stations. Anyone who attacks us will die. Your ship will be destroyed or captured, though I doubt its value in view of the stupid behavior of its AI in allowing you and your male cohort to control my ship!”

Bill began a rapid inventory of the torps and thermonuke warheads in the torp launcher below the Command Bridge. Maybe he could create a minefield that might—

“And you Collectors are too greedy to cooperate as a fighting unit!” Jane growled. “If you attack Earth, be prepared for sudden death. We have weapons not listed on our world datanet. And we have two Collector ship allies! We will chase you and your allies from one end of this system to the other. And this time, no Alien will be left alive!”

The giant cockroach lifted his mid-arm pair and touched a control pillar. “You lie again. We detect only a single moving neutrino source above your planet. Your ship. Which cannot stand against six ships!”

Jane laughed. It shocked Bill and the chiefs. “Our two Collector ship allies are close to our Sun, near the planet Mercury. Which is why you cannot detect their neutrino emissions! Our three ships and the orbital defenses of Earth will defeat you!”

The giant cockroach tapped on two control pillars. “You lie. No Collector ship captain would help you destroy the system that makes us rich in solidars and Nokten crystals. Tell your fellow Humans we are coming to capture them for service to their superiors!”

The holo image vanished.





TOM CowboyTom (3)

First Chapter – Stellar Assassin by T Jackson King

Today I have a First Chapter for you from my friend T. Jackson KingStellar Assassin is Book 1 in the Stellar series.

Tom Stellar_Assassin_Cover_for_Kindle


Al Lancaster is a shipwrecked tech scavenger who wakes up from Suspense on the auction block of Hercules Station in the alien-run Markan star system, light years distant from Earth. The only human in a star-traveling culture where ancient Guilds of Trade, Assassins and Spies train solo beings to serve alien masters, Al finds that survival depends on his human predatory instincts. He becomes an industrial thief, bounty hunter and sometimes “hit man” for alien merchants, a job that deeply troubles him as a Zen Buddhist. Hope flares briefly when he falls in love with the alien cat-woman Delo Quar Anken, only to see her kidnapped by a sadistic alien merchant. But Al vows to survive, even when he is faced with his greatest challenge—to carry out a “hit” on the Messiah of Death, a plasma cloud alien that literally cannot be killed. This is Book 1 in the Assassin series. Book 2 is Alien Assassin.


Al Lancaster walked slowly down the dimly-lit tubeway of a star place called Hercules Station, a predator tracking his prey. Prey that thought, felt and hoped—like him. The tubeway lay inside an asteroid space station built long ago, in a star system called Markan by aliens and b2 Carinae by Humans, about 85 light years from long-lost Earth. Feeling predator-alert, he hunted the hunt of a paid assassin.

And hated it.

The only Human in a planetary system full of harshly competing alien nightmares, Al was shipwrecked, alone, and desperate. But he had survived.

The question of whether he should do more than just survive still tortured his dreams, adding spice to his nightmares. He cursed the question. Why shouldn’t he be selfish, on the lookout just for himself? Base self-interest ruled the ancient Guild of Trade, just as it ruled the other guilds that dominated the galactic society of the Forty-Seventh Florescence. That alien-run society had been around for six million years. The Newcomer species of Humans had a long ways to go before they could challenge a galactic cultural system that predated Humans. A flash of color stopped his scanning gaze.

The Naxen!

His prey scuttled along ahead of him, a hundred meters distant. Resembling an obsidian black beetle festooned with jade green tentacles, the physical appearance matched the data given him by his Methman employer. Al looked up and down the trash-littered tubeway, alert for other aliens paying attention to him. Nothing moved except service robots. But foul odors clogged his nose, cold air raised chill bumps on his skin, and the air’s sourness coated his tongue. He ignored wall slashmarks that passed for alien writing, the dark ovals of side tubeways, and listened intently to a low, stomach-turning, background vibration. Easing his predatory alertness, Al sighed. It seemed his locality was a normal ghetto, a place common to Hercules or any other touchpoint station scattered among the indifferent stars. Leaning forward, he walked quickly after the Naxen, recalling a cross-tube that lay just ahead. The alley-like cross-tube was a better place in which to conduct his business than a main arterial tubeway. His pace gained speed as the tubeway spiraled downward into the dimly-lit lower depths of ancient Hercules Station.

As he neared the Naxen, Al picked out more details of the memory crystal courier. The Naxen skittered along on six stumpy, chitin-armored legs that supported a midbody thorax. Soft mantle skin atop the thorax sprouted a clumping of green tentacles. Two black, beady eyes lay to either side of its cranium. The alien looked about half his size and body weight. The local gravfield felt like six-tenths gee. Good. Al’s confidence grew.

Walking hurriedly down the deserted tubeway, a red-haired Human dressed in brown coveralls, boots and a hungry look, Al fondled the glass knife hidden in his right side thigh-pocket. The cold curves and sharp edges of something so basic, so primitive, reassured him. He eyed the Naxen; its scuttle had picked up speed, and the tentacles waved agitatedly. It turned off at the cross-tube, just as he had hoped. Briefly, he wondered what it felt like to be a Naxen. And he wondered once more if he’d feel guilt this time.

Anything more than the dull numbness that traveled within him day and night.

Courier Fourth Class nick-Ank Sessss looked back quickly at the predator that followed. Curses flowed through his mind. Hercules Station was overrun with omnivore predators of all sizes, shapes and hungers. It was not a safe place for a simple unarmed herder/browser who wished only to deliver the bag of memory crystals stored under his mantle to a contact on the nearby moon of Thixen. To do that he must find transport off Hercules Station—and quickly. Sessss recalled the parting tentacle pattern and infrared message of Broodmother Maaa allinon.

“Courier, it is a simple task,” the massive, bloated body of his Biogenetic broodmother had told him, light cycles ago as their small starship decelerated slowly into Markan system. “The memory crystals will buy me greater longevity, greater opportunity to mold brood hatchlings even more talented than you, dear nick-Ank.” Her black eyes glinted at him from under the High Speech of her tentacles. “You will not fail me, will you, my offspring?”

Courier nick-Ank Sessss scuttled faster down the dirty main tubeway, knowing the biped predator still followed. He wished Broodmother Maaa allinon were here. He wished for a weapon, any weapon, other than the durable strength of his tentacles. She, not a youngling of just sixty seasons, should be here in his place, running down a dim, barely-lit tubeway littered with refuse. But in his fear, Sessss had gone down into the older sections of the asteroid. Now, he was lost, and didn’t know the way back up to the outer surface where the Ports welcomed visitors and the air smelled sweet.

Fear spread outward to every tentacle tip.

Lancaster jogged along after the Naxen. He knew the inner tubeways of Hercules Station, its scores of levels, the run-down districts, and the abandoned areas deep inside, where new prosperity had abandoned old hopes. Someone in his line of business always knew the territory, always knew the layout of a new jungle. His breathing came easy. His legs felt light as he ran. Even if the station’s gravfields hadn’t been set a few points below Earth-normal, he still would have felt invigorated.

Would it be different this time? Would the Naxen possess Biogenetic defenses? Could it empath—read his emotions—like some aliens? He’d tried to wrench as much data as possible out of the Methman, but aliens rarely understood the way Humans thought and lived. Even with the help of the alien-built memorynet to read the memory crystals, and the wantonness of the Parlors where aliens moaned and groaned beneath the delicious wickedness of exotic points of view, the aliens of the Forty-Seventh Florescence didn’t understand Humans. Nor did most care—unless he had something to Trade. Then, any sapient would pay attention.

After a year spent living a hand-to-mouth existence following his escape from his former master, Al knew how to make aliens pay attention. He knew how to survive. And he knew his options to be just three—be a pet, be a slave, or adapt and survive any way he could. Being Human, he recalled from distant memories of academia, meant being adaptable.

Al slowed as the Naxen alien turned into a side-tube but paused and looked back at him. Hard-earned knowledge and images filled his mind. Nearby ran an air circulation tube that ended in a service alcove—an alcove that opened into the side-tube a long distance ahead of the side-tube’s entrance. He stopped running. He felt again the reassuring coldness of the glass knife. It was something he could count on. Something that wouldn’t fail him. As he clambered into a service entrance too narrow for the Naxen’s wide, ground-hugging body, Al pulled out the knife, admiring its beauty. The milky white glass glinted in the pale red light of the airtube, like blood on frozen snow.

Nick-Ank Sessss saw the predator turn off the main tubeway into an air-tube. Maybe it had decided to stop pursuing him? But fear curled his tentacles and made his legs scratch and scrabble at the dirt-encrusted floor of his own side-tube. This was just his third Courier run for the Broodmother, but even he knew predators were never what they seemed to be. Looking ahead, then back, he saw no other escape except to run down this side-tube, hoping a vertical gravtube would appear ahead of him.

Perhaps it was the dim light that held little infrared. Perhaps it was fear clouding the synapses of a four-lobed brain. But Sessss did not see the tall bipedal shape before it appeared suddenly in front of him.

Courier Fourth Class nick-Ank Sessss saw only glittering white brightness, moving quickly. It moved downward—into his brain. Sudden, massive pain drove out all other sensations. Then the pain ended. Everything ended.

The alien’s blood squirted yellow-green, splashing his coveralls as Lancaster killed it. He tore the bag of memory crystals from its lifeless body.

The emptiness still filled him, numbing every cell of his body. Only in his dreams, it seemed, could he feel. Only in his dreams could he hope. And only the dream of a long dead lover and a half-forgotten past could still move him, could still call to him. And remind him that what he did . . . .

It didn’t matter, he told himself. Doing a “wet job” for the Dorilaks was just pick-up work, not regular employment. Simply pay in advance, trace-tag the target, and he performed—or else. His bloodied coveralls would be trashed, his weapon discarded. Even though he stood out as the sole Human at Hercules Station, the prospect of pursuit or capture didn’t worry him.

Nobody cared what happened to the Naxen, a lone alien without House, Clan or species support. Including one Alastair MacDougal Lancaster, late of the Garbage Hunter starship The Great Khan. Once, he’d been a highly trained Xenosapientologist-Archaeologist helping Earth find ancient technologies on long-dead planets where archaeological salvage rights were bitterly fought over. The crew of a sublight Garbage Hunter ship might find a treasure trove of devices that would help lift Earth into a better position within the Florescence—once they used the ship’s tachyon pulse emitter to FTL transmit back home the alien tech readouts. But other species ran their own Garbage Hunter ships. With no quarter given. And all of them were in a race to loot the ruins of ancient, abandoned civilizations that predated the rise of the Forty-Seventh Florescence. Blue-green Earth had come late to the game of survival. As had he.

Al stopped at a disposal alcove, stripped off the coveralls, and stuffed them in. The glass knife followed. Naked except for boots, translator bracelet and personal memory crystal necklace, he turned to leave, once again guiltless and emotionless. So he told himself, time and again. Tasting salty blood from his much-bitten lip, he wrapped fingers tightly around the courier’s small bag of memory crystals. He felt cold, felt . . . distant. Al needed that, needed the distance. The job was done. There was nothing to feel, nothing to care about . . . except that once again he had survived. He looked up and down the deserted side-tube as he walked swiftly out of it and into the main tubeway of Tenth Level; predators stayed alert, even after the kill. Al walked silently. He ignored the sweetish-sour alien odors of the tubeway, ignored the icy cold that raised the hairs on his wiry frame. Distraction. That was what he needed to avoid recent memories. He sourly recalled the survival lessons learned a year ago. The lessons that still pushed him along in his new ‘trade’.

All he needed to buy food, shelter and attention was the necklace of yellow memory crystals hanging from his neck. He’d learned that the recorded memories of Humans—and aliens—served as barter money in the mercantile Trade society of Hercules Station. Besides curiosity, some aliens bought memories for amusement, for sexual arousal, or simply out of voyeurism brought on by too easy immortality from the Life Extend drugs. Al didn’t really care why aliens got off on the memories of other species—he just wanted to eat and to survive. So he stole crystals from those couriers foolish enough to cross his path, or from couriers assigned to him as target ‘hits’, letting them live if he could. Humans, he’d learned, could adapt to anything. Even to being paid assassins.

Al tried not to think about years of doing this. Years of being alone. Years filled with blood, death, nightmares . . . and dreams of a better time.

The dimly-lit main tubeway turned left, then upward, then opened onto a rundown plaza crowded with third-hand Garbage shops selling recycled artifacts. His boots squished through waste mud as he crossed the trash-littered plaza, aiming for a public gravtube in the center, where orange glowtubes flickered feebly. The dark cavern echoed hollowly. The smoky air smelled rank and moldy. He stayed alert as he walked, glancing around. Only a few nocturnal types still wandered about Tenth Level, looking for gods knew what. Most inhabitants of this poor laborers district were probably asleep, drunk . . . or wishing they were dead. Stepping into the transparent gravtube, he looked up as his scarred body sped upward two kilometers to the outer, ecoformed surface of an asteroid station built by the Ketchetkeel aliens, dominant species in Markan system and the local star sector.

Al landed on his feet as the gravtube spit him out into an open-air plaza. A clean one, this time, well-lit by the white light of Markan’s F2 main sequence star. But the clean plaza was crowded with alien monsters. Predator always, he scanned the vicinity, alert to any sign of special notice. Encircled by tightly-clustered commercial buildings, the crowded plaza seethed with crawling, flowing, hopping and rolling aliens. But the nightmare bodies were just the usual late-shift crew, commuting down from the orbiting helium three and antimatter synthesis plants as their work shift ended. Except . . . yes! In the far distance, heading for a drop gravtube, walked the tall, full-breasted form of a woman! Not a Human woman, but a red-furred, cat-evolved, woman of . . . of the Norge species he decided as earlier memory crystal studies paid off.

Arrogance and confidence showed in every stride of her long-muscled legs, the set of her ear-tips and the richness of her green robe. She wore the sigil of the House of Ketchetkeel, carried a Security valise, and bore the earrings of a Courier Second Class. Too soon the crowd separated them. And yet, not soon enough. His groin ached with a feeling nearly forgotten and his heart thumped to something other than combat adrenaline. Dizziness touched him. He swayed, ignoring the jostling alien crowd, caught up in memory flashes, needs, yearnings, and hopes.

At last . . . a very humanoid woman was on station! She must be newly arrived—he knew all the Hercules Station-based Couriers. Did she hail from a Ketchetkeel base in-system? Biting his lip again, torn between wanting to follow the Norge woman and sensible security actions like dropping out of sight, Al chose security. The memory of the woman would be a treat saved for later, when any search for his target was canceled. Still naked and holding the memory crystal bag in one hand, he stepped onto a nearby glideway strip, lost among other omnivores, herbivores, some carnivores, and even a photovore bush or two. He moved automatically, his mind lost among thoughts about the woman who looked so Human. So like Bismillah . . . .

“Almaclancaster, is it done?”

He spun around, teeth bared. But it was only the Methman stringer for his pick-up employer.

“Yes! Damn it! Why were you watching for me?” Al stared with distaste at the caterpillar-tracked habitat globe of something he called Methman. A methane-breathing, blue-scaled monitor dragon looked back from under the tracglobe’s quartz crystal dome. The alien stared at him with four black beady eyes—each overshadowed by a horn. Six limbs, sharp red claws and a long tail completed the alien’s morphoform.

Lancaster didn’t like to think anyone kept watch on him. Such attention could be fatal. He preferred to “disappear” among the nine thousand other aliens from forty-two species who shared the Ketchetkeel company asteroid with him. Methman finally spoke.

“My employer does not take chances when it pays in advance . . . it seeks to know whether you kept your bondword.”

“The blood of a Naxen is yellow-green. Here’s the memcrystal bag,” he said, putting the Naxen’s bag on a tray sticking out from the tracglobe’s front. “Satisfied?”

The tracglobe clattered after him as he walked swiftly down the glideway, moving for the sake of something to do. The other sapients on the five meter wide strip made way for an obvious predator.

“Satisfied,” said the translator comdisk stuck to the outside of Methman’s tracglobe. “How may we contact you if your services are again required?”

“You don’t, dammit! I work freelance. I’ll contact dix-Ethel-morkan when I want more work. Leave me!”

The grey tracglobe slowed to a stop as the glideway carried them further around the asteroid’s ecoformed outer surface. Al saw Dock Nine coming up. One of them would have to leave.

“This one complies—but you should arrange to forget the name-sigil you just spoke. Such knowledge is dangerous.”

He laughed harshly. “I’ll do my best.”

The Methman’s tail curled in wry acknowledgment. Its tracglobe clanked off the glideway, heading for the Merchant’s Refuge at the spacedock. Lancaster felt a chill crawl up his spine. He looked up at a black sky sprinkled with the distant stars of the Orion Arm. The Milky Way looked too beautiful to be so dangerous. He sighed, depression returning.

It had been a year—he thought—since he’d escaped indentured service to the deep ocean sapient who’d bought him on the auction block of Dock Seven. His price had been modest—only enough barter credit to pay the salvage costs for a block of stasis-held meat stuck in a Suspense canister. A block of meat that might, or might not, yield a sapient with enough undamaged brain cells to work off the buyer’s purchase price.

He’d come awake to horror.

Junjiro, Jane, Leila, Bismillah and Jamsuren the Mongol—all dead. They’d all been in Suspense, heading for the F5 main sequence star B Carinae at the slow sublight speed used by every space-going species. His canister alone had survived Khan’s collision with a marble-sized rock moving at one-half lightspeed—according to the canister’s expert system, which had kicked in with backup power for his Suspense condition. The next thing he knew he was light years off course, salvaged by unnamed aliens who consigned him to the indentured service block of something called Hercules Station. The aliens sold him at a discount to a local Trade Factor and then left, unlikely ever to return.

Al looked down at the green plastic glideway, not-seeing the nightmare lifeforms and surrounding buildings. The rank smells repelled him. The grumbling, cackling, keening sounds of alien speech mystified him unless his translator bracelet locked onto them. The touch of cold air chilled him. And the sight of sapience in nightmare shapes going about incomprehensible tasks bewildered him. In the early days he’d developed a kind of tunnel-vision, a means of filtering out too much stimulus overload. One, two or three alien species he could deal with. Scores of them—smelling, feeling and acting so different from Humans—were a culture shock he still coped with. But everyone had to eat. And no one had any use for a Human expert in xenosapientology—it wasn’t even a proper Guild organized under the millennia-old Traditions of the Florescence. Nor did anyone care for the EMT-nursing work he’d done on fellow Humans. So, his new trade. Since his escape, he’d murdered five times, left many more alive, stolen and sold scores of memcrystals, and been so alone . . . .

He would have been a skid-row alcoholic if there was any booze around. But there wasn’t. And the stubbornness that had kept a Catholic ghetto kid studying his homework late into the night even after his father went to bed, that stubbornness kept him going. Along with a spark of defiance, of anger at the unfairness of it all. Still, he felt like a robot going through the motions of living.

But what about the Norge woman? Maybe, maybe, she might be enough like Humans to be company for him, to be someone who could fill the lonely, empty hours. He hoped so. He yearned for Human contact. Even with an alien humanoid. And he feared what he might become if he did paid assassin work year after year after year.

Halfway around the forty kilometer-wide asteroid, Al arrived near his single room occupancy hostel. He stepped off the glideway, walked a few hundred meters through crowded industrial district buildings, and banged on the bronze portal of the sro-hostel dome. The blue monitor eye of Gorlanien the algor computer that ran the place looked down at him from above the portal.

“Money,” it said.

“Goddamn it, chip-brains, I already paid you for tonight. In advance! Check account 437 blue-Y.”

Sometimes the self-aware algor that ran the sro-hostel took a break from entry duty and let a molecule-brained subprogram run it. That part didn’t think, so it sometimes lost track of pre-paid customers. Al thought that was too damned convenient. But at least the inorganic asked no questions of its boarders—the doings of short-lived organics were not of interest to something that had been around since the galaxy’s Forty-Seventh Florescence multi-civilization began six million years ago.

“Verified. Enter. You may return to cubicle 437 blue-Y.”

He glared up at the monitor eye. “About time!”

The bronze portal hissed open. Al stepped into another tubeway. This one at least had good lighting, even if the purple and yellow stripes on its plastic walls turned his stomach. He shuffled along to cubicle 437 blue-Y, palm-touched it open, and stepped into luxury.

In the foreground stood a simulacrum of an A-frame cabin from deep in the Marin County redwood country of northern California, while the dark green waves of the seacoast off Ireland’s Ballycastle curved around behind the cabin. The cabin was real—the product of simple positron emission tomography reading of memories from two places he remembered well, impressed into electromorph flooring that flowed and shaped itself according to his programming and his memories. The waves were just a holo, nicely done. A minor room service. But they comforted him. Al entered the cabin, stretched out on the waterbed, and fell asleep.

She came to him in his dreams.

Bismillah of the Deccan Plains. Her long black hair curled and flowed over sari-clad brown skin. The purple of kohl powder around brown eyes highlighted her serious look. Her bare ankles chimed to an anklet chain of temple bells blessed on a trip to holy Varanasi years ago. She seemed concerned for him, settling down on the foot of his bed aboard their ship. Canting her head to one side, she smiled encouragingly.

“Alastair, what is wrong?”

His dreamself evaded her. “Nothing.”

She frowned, lips curving in beauty. “Something’s wrong. I always know. What?”

Turning his head away, unable to face her, he confessed. “I survive by killing other sapients. I know it’s wrong, but it’s the only way to survive—here.”

Bismillah shook long black curls, her expression thoughtful. “You kill? Junjiro would not approve, though in the Deccan we accept reincarnation. There is no real death—but evil follows you into the next life. Why do you sully your karma?”

“I told you! To survive.” He cried hot tears, his head pushed into the pillow, the pillow crammed into the corner where his bed met the room wall.

Her warm hand touched his bare shoulder, sliding down his back and ribs, soothing him, comforting him, consoling him. Her weight shifted on the bed as she leaned closer to him. “I cannot absolve you. You know that. Only you, yourself, can cleanse your soul.” But how? Squeezing his dream eyes tight, he yelled it out. “How!”

“Perhaps by doing a greater good than the evil you now do?” she suggested. “Perhaps by repaying the lost lives with saved new lives? I do not know—I am not Brahmin caste, only Kshatriya.”

Numb, he turned over, finally meeting her gaze. She looked back solemnly, aware of his pain, his need and his desperateness. Reaching out, he took her long-fingered hand in his, pulled it to his lips, kissed the sharp-nailed fingertips, and buried his forehead against her hand. He wished useless hopes.

“In my place, what would you do?”

She laughed musically, the warm vibrato in her long throat bubbling out with deep amusement at his Western obsession over fixing things, rather than just accepting karma.

“I would do the best I could to bring no harm to another, while bringing honor to my family. But I do not walk in your shoes, do I?”

He grimaced, feeling like a skeleton newly risen from the graveyard. “No, you don’t. Who is my family now? You are all gone from me.”

Bismillah gave him her Command look, the look of a ship Captain used to making hard decisions, used to the pitfalls of trap-ridden ancient worlds and crumbling civilizations. She knew how to avoid the scavenging buzzards of other Garbage Hunters, while still getting them their share of ancient tech and getting off world with their skins intact. She had been a good ship Captain.

“Your family is now the rest of humanity. And eventually, perhaps, all the aliens of the Florescence, though that may be hard for you to understand.”

“Damn right it is!” He enjoyed their arguments almost as much as he had enjoyed their love-making. They were so different, and yet—compared to aliens such as the praying mantis-like Ketchetkeel—all Human cultural differences were but minor variations on a grand symphony. Bismillah leaned forward, kissing him on the lips. She pulled back, concern still present in her deep brown eyes.

“I must go now. Other lives call me.” “No!” “Yes.” She turned, her form already losing substance. He watched as she passed through the cabin wall without opening the slidedoor.

It was that which reminded him he was dreaming. That, and something else . . . .

Whispers awoke him. Chittering sounds just on the edge of his dreamworld. Dimly, the memory of the dream he had dreamed every night for over a year receded, taking Bismillah’s image with it. He opened his eyes.

Al inspected the A-frame’s interior, wondering. He hadn’t ordered any music. The chittering became intelligible words.

“Here the great one said . . . must find . . . simple job . . . bribe the algor.”

Now fully alert, Al walked swiftly to the back of the room, palm-touched the bolt-hole exit he’d paid extra for and stepped naked into an adjacent street. He wondered why the algor had piped him the voices of the assassins. Perhaps it expected a big tip, if he survived. Perhaps it only rolled its mental dice and threw a random factor into the doings of organics, just to watch the mice run around. Whatever the reason, it was time for an omnivore predator to go on the run, get a weapon, buy clothes, and then pay for a backwater inquiry. Who was trying to kill him?