Monday, July 14, 2014

Scout's Duty - Epilogue

< Chapter 120                                                                                        Scout's Law Chapter 1 >
With a child on the way and his family around him, our hero is ready to go home.

Nothing which happened during the ensuing three weeks came close to matching the joy I felt seeing my family again and learning Callan and I were mere months from having a family of our own.

My wife, Rupor, and the other Aashlander political representatives benefited greatly from their new implants.  They had all received diplomatic implants — which provided language translations, cultural traditions, and the governing laws of the Federation but not Boost — and made good use of their newfound knowledge.  A commerce treaty was hammered out, along with an agreement to provide naval patrols for both ends of the wormhole.

Martin became a media darling, as the newsies played up his “mischievous boy gone bad boy gone hero” story.  Martin managed to pull me into the limelight, as well, and much was made of the romance between Callan and me.  I was never comfortable in front of the vid cameras and, after three dreadful interviews with me, the newsies decided to get all their stories from Martin.

Megan’s music proved to be Aashla’s first export.  A musician visiting the military base heard Megan performing traditional and original songs for our marines.  He whipped out a pocket recorder and recorded part of her performance.  The musician asked permission to upload the performance to the net.  Megan agreed, but only after conferring with Martin and Callan.  Two thousand years of isolation from the rest of humanity had resulted in a musical evolution far from anything found in the Federation.  With trillions of people looking for new and different entertainment, Megan’s performance was an instant hit.

With her captivating beauty and animated interviews, Callan became the face of Aashla.  Newsies packed into her public appearances and vid cameras flitted all around her.  Harris took it upon himself to organize an escort of armed marines, keeping the newsies at bay and clearing a path for her with bared teeth and, sometimes, bared blades.

Two days after my family arrived on the station, Harris asked me to formally introduce him to Sandra.  My sister couldn’t decide whether to be offended that Harris had come to me rather than her or to be relieved that Harris had finally picked up the signals she had been sending.  Callan explained Mordanian dating customs, mollifying Sandra.  Their first date went well right up until Harris was arrested for brawling.

According to Harris, a group of drunken young men voiced vulgar approval of certain parts of Sandra’s anatomy.  They refused Harris’s demands they apologize to my sister and then compounded their error by questioning Harris’s parentage.  Three of the men were unconscious when station security took Harris into custody.  According to Sandra, the comment wasn’t anything she hadn’t heard before, but Harris’s defense of her honor surprised Sandra and, according to Callan, pleased her no end.

Chapman and the pirates were turned over to Federation law enforcement.  We recorded hours of testimony against them for use in their trials.  Chapman made matters worse for himself, challenging Heidi’s Mordanian citizenship and the divorce granted by Callan.  A judge ruled the matter lay outside of Federation jurisdiction and told Chapman he would have to argue his case in a Mordanian court.  The day after the ruling, Chapman and the pirates were taken to the planet below to await trial.

After three long weeks of preparations, the navy assembled the ships necessary to clear the Aashlan end of the wormhole.  I’m told the clearing operation was quite a sight when witnessed from Aashla.  It also served as notice we were coming home.

A huge crowd gathered to watch the Aashla’s Hope, escorted by half a dozen Federation Navy fighters, land outside Morda.  Callan and I were the first to descend the ramp from the ship.  Before us stood Callan’s parents.  Next to them stood Kim, smiling and craning her neck to see around us.  The moment I had been dreading was at hand.

Kim focused on us as we approached.  Our somber expressions told her we brought bad news.  Tears ran down her cheeks as we stopped before her.  The queen put her arm around Kim as I told her of Milo’s sacrifice.  Leaving Callan comforting Kim, the marine commander and I spoke with the families of each marine who gave his life on the mission.  It was the hardest thing I had ever done.

That evening, Callan announced her pregnancy.  It lifted the mood around the palace, where Milo had been well-known and well-liked, even drawing a smile and congratulatory hug from Kim.  Callan’s parents were overjoyed at the prospect of a grandchild and heir.  The rest of the kingdom rejoiced with them when the news was proclaimed throughout the land.

In the following months, Federation delegations took up negotiations with many Aashlander countries and the first trade missions arrived.  Nist and Kim were married in a small ceremony.  Martin and Megan were married in a huge ceremony, making news across the Federation.  Callan convinced her parents to fund a medical school in Morda and put Tristan in charge of it.  And, in the largest wedding Tarteg had ever seen, Rupor made good on his promise to Heidi.

Nine months after we had left on the Aashla’s Hope, Callan went into labor.  I was by her side as Tristan guided her through the delivery and placed our newborn son in her arms.

“Welcome to the world, Robbill Milo Martin Edwar Rice Villas,” she said to him.

“That’s an awfully big name for such a little guy.  Do you think he can live up to it?”

“Of course he can, David.  Just look at who his father is.”

Callan laid her head on my shoulder and my son caught my finger in his fist.  Then time went away and all was right in my world.

A brand new story, featuring brand new characters, is about to begin.  Be here Wednesday for Chapter 1 of Untitled Space Opera.  I’ll be open to title suggestions as the story unfolds.  Use the comments to present your suggestions.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 120

< Chapter 119                                                                                                   Epilogue >
David has been anesthetized to allow an army of medical nanites to check for internal damage from all of the Boosting he’s done.

I hovered on the edge of consciousness, dreaming I was at home with my parents and sister.  Mom was talking to a nurse about me.  For a few seconds, I wondered why I was having such a boring dream.  Then I came fully awake.

“According to your son’s medical report, medical nanites had to do a lot of internal reconstruction.  The reconstruction puts a strain on the body, but nothing a little sleep won’t fix,” the nurse said.

“And you’re sure he’s just sleeping, now?” my mother asked.

“Well, I was, Mom,” I said, my throat parched, “until you woke me up.”

My mother, father, and sister all crowded around my bed, hugging and kissing me and generally making it hard for me to breathe.

“You should pour him some water, ma’am.  He hasn’t had a drink in two days,” the nurse said, smiling.  “And do let him come up for air every now and then.”

“We’ve been so worried about you, David!”  Tears rolled down Mom’s cheeks.  “You’ve been missing for nearly three years.”

Dad clapped me once on the shoulder, a big smile on his face.  Then he was pushed aside by my little sister, who promptly punched me on the arm.

“Don’t go off and get lost again.  Have you got that, lunkhead?”

Yes, she and Callan were going to get along famously.  I sat up to pull her into a hug then found myself just staring at her.

“What are you staring at?  Have I got something on my face?”

I shook my head.  “No, Sandra, I’m just wondering when my awkward baby sister turned into a beautiful young woman.”

“Mom, something’s really wrong with David.  He complimented me!”

A slight cough sounded near the door.  Harris stood there, watching the scene with a fond smile.  Seeing my eyes on him, he snapped to attention and addressed me in Mordanian.

“Her Highness only left your bedside to attend an appointment with a doctor.”  Alarm must have crossed my face as he added, “I’m told it is a routine matter.  Perhaps it’s associated with the implant she had installed yesterday.  I’ve taken the liberty of informing her that you’ve awoken.”

“Thank you, Harris.”

Harris nodded and withdrew.

“Who’s that?” Sandra asked.

“Harris?  He’s a marine from the world I’ve been on for the last two and a half years.”

“He’s cute.”

“I hadn’t noticed.  I’ll be happy to introduce you.”  I looked past Sandra to my father.  “Don’t worry, Dad, Harris is as honorable a young man as I’ve met.  We can trust him with the brat.”

Sandra punched me on the arm again.

“So, how did the three of you get here so quickly?”

“The Scout Corps brought us on one of their fastest ships,” Mom replied.  “We only got to the station half an hour ago.”

“Did anyone tell you anything about what had happened to me?”

“No, son, they didn’t know anything except you’d been crashed on some lost colony and had just resurfaced.”  Tears welled up in Mom’s eyes again.  “You can imagine how we felt when they brought us to a hospital!”

“You always said you were going to find a lost colony someday,” Dad said.

Sandra flashed a wicked grin.  “Yeah, but did you also meet your spacebabe?”

A lilting voice spoke from the doorway.  “What on Aashla is a spacebabe?”

Seeing Callan for the first time, Sandra’s eyes went wide.  “Wow.  I guess you did meet her.”

“Mom.  Dad.  Sandra.  This is Her Royal Highness, Princess Callan, heir to the throne of Mordan and-”

“Seriously?  The spacebabe is a princess, too?”  Sandra gave me a hard look.  “Are you putting us on, lunkhead?”

“Sandra!”  Mom blushed and attempted a curtsey to Callan.  “Please forgive my daughter, Your Highness.  She has been raised with better manners than that!”

Callan laughed.  “No apologies are necessary.  But the ‘spacebabe’ comment still intrigues me.”

Dad stepped in.  “A retired scout lived across the street from us when David was a boy.  The man filled David’s head with stories of lost colonies, daring rescues, and a beautiful princess.  Growing up, David was sure he was going to become a scout, find a lost colony, have adventures, and rescue a beautiful princess.  Even if, to quote his seven year old self, it meant kissing a girl.”

“I see.  Am I supposed to be the beautiful princess?”

Sandra turned an incredulous look on me.  “Do they have mirrors on her planet?”

“Yes, we have mirrors, brat.  There’s one more thing-”

Callan interrupted, “And kissing a girl, David?  Did that turn out to be as onerous as you feared?”

I grinned.  “Well, not when it’s the right girl.”

Sandra was quick on the uptake.  “Oh my gosh!  Do you mean-?”

“Yes, brat.  I met the spacebabe.  I kissed the spacebabe.  And then I married the spacebabe!”

Mom dropped onto the side of the bed, shock written on her face.  Dad gave me a big grin and a thumbs up.  Sandra gave me a big hug.  Then Callan came to Mom and wrapped her in a big hug.

“David is too modest to say it, but he did more than just meet me.  He has saved my life countless times.  His courage and conviction in the face of overwhelming odds serves as an example to all in my kingdom.  His love and compassion have given me hope when all seemed lost.  Thank you for raising such a son.”

Callan sat down and drew me into an embrace.  “I only pray I can do half as well when our child is born.”

I pulled back and looked into Callan’s eyes.  “When?

“Yes, darling.  I saw the doctor today to confirm it.”  Callan guided my hand to her stomach.  “You’re going to be a father.”

I hadn’t thought I could ever be happier than I was the day I married Callan.  It turns out I was wrong.

Be here next time as the Aashla’s Hope returns home as Scout’s Duty wraps up with the Epilogue, coming Monday!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 119

< Chapter 118                                                                                                   Chapter 120 >
Escorted by one hundred marines with swords drawn, our heroes arrive at the military base.

Admiral McGillis, the base commander, turned our marine escort over to the base's marine commander with instructions to make them comfortable and debrief their commanders.  She led the diplomatic representatives, Martin, and me into a well-appointed reception room.  The aide from my brief comm call waited within.

"I was in the middle of some business when I received word of your approach."  McGillis turned a steady gaze on me.  "Scout Rice, never bring an armed force onto my base again without my express permission.  Are we clear on that?"

I was prepared to acknowledge the statement and move on.  Callan was not in as forgiving a mood.

"We most certainly are not clear on that.  David did contact your office, where this person," she waved at the aide, "made it quite clear our ship, our men, and our actions against the pirates were of no consequence when weighed against the arrival of your precious task force."

Callan folded her arms and gave Admiral McGillis her best princess glare.  And it really was Callan's best.  I only know of one person who could have stood against it unmoved, and Rob had been dead for two years.  I'll give McGillis credit, she figured out Callan was Someone Important long before her aide did.

"Admiral, I was-"

"I don't want to hear it, Smitts."  The admiral's tone was so sharp the aide drew back as if he'd been cut.  The admiral smiled at Callan.  "With whom do I have the honor of speaking?"

Never let it be said I don't know my cue.

"Admiral McGillis, may I present Her Royal Highness, Princess Callan, heir to the throne of Mordan, and my wife."  McGillis's left eyebrow rose and I turned to Rupor.  "And this is His Royal Highness, Prince Rupor, heir to the throne of Tarteg."

Martin added, "Mordan and Tarteg are two of the most powerful and enlightened countries on the lost world of Aashla.  Good relations with those two countries, as well as the countries represented by the rest of our diplomatic mission, will be vital if the Federation has any hope of bringing our world into the Federation."

McGillis got a faraway look for a second.  "Scout Martin Bane, isn't it?  I note that you refer to their world as your world."

"I've called Aashla home for seventeen years."  He put an arm around Megan.  "And, like David, I'll be marrying a local girl."

"My congratulations to both of you on your nuptials, past and pending.  And please allow me to express the Federation's relief that both of you have returned safely after such an extended absence.  No doubt you're both aware the Scout Corps would like to debrief you.  Would you be averse to getting that out of the way as soon as possible?"

"Of course not, Admiral."

"Thank you.  Smitts will take you to the base scout commander."

Smitts was uncomfortable playing escort to those he had snubbed earlier.  Neither Martin nor I did anything to put Smitts at his ease.  Perhaps he would learn something from it.

The Scout Corps office was a flurry of activity when we arrived.  Smitts attempted introductions.

"Scout Commander Collins, may I present-"

Collins cut him off.  "David!  It's good to see you hale and hearty!  And Martin, back from the dead!  It's a grand day for the Scout Corps, indeed."

Oblivious to Smitts' discomfort, Collins said to him, "David was one of the best cadets I ever taught at the academy.  And Martin was one of the best troublemakers."

With a quick nod, Smitts excused himself and fled the office.

"Now that we're free of that twit Smitts, let's get comfortable and start that debriefing, shall we?"

Martin raised a forestalling hand.  "I would suggest a full medical workup, first."

Collins gave Martin a quick up and down glance.  "You do look as if you've had a rough time of it, recently, Martin."

"I'm healing quite well, sir.  It's David who should receive the medical attention."

"He looks remarkably fit to me."

"Oh, he looks great on the outside.  I'm worried about possible internal damage from over-Boosting."

Collins gaze sharpened.  "Is this true, David?  Have you been over-using Boost?"

"I Boosted only when necessary, sir.  Unfortunately, there have been times when it was necessary to Boost often."

"And long.  I personally watched David Boost for thirteen straight minutes."  Gasps sounded from the personnel in the office and the color drained from Collins' face.  "We got his heart started again, but it was a close thing."

Fifteen minutes later, Collins had me inside the base hospital about to go under anesthesia in preparation for a full scale invasion of my body by medical nanites.  I refused to be put under until Callan arrived.

Worry was etched across her face.  "What's going on, David?  Why are you in the hospital?"

"It's just a precaution, dear.  Martin has them all worried about my Boosting and they're going to check me out."

"Martin's not the only one, darling."  Callan kissed me lightly.  "Cooperate with the doctors."

She backed away so the doctors could approach.  Her lovely face was the last thing I saw as I went under.

Have David’s heroics harmed himself without his knowledge?  Find out in Chapter 120, coming Friday!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 118

< Chapter 117                                                                                                   Chapter 119 >
The Aashla’s Hope has arrived at the the nearest space station.

We docked at Velron Station, orbiting the border world of Darthan.  Planets on the edge of Federation territory could rarely afford multiple space stations.  Darthan was no exception.  The single space station served both military and civilian ships and personnel.  As seems to be typical in these situations, space for military ships was limited.  The Aashla's Hope docked in the civilian section.

The first hint of trouble came when some of our crew -- all men and women formerly held by the pirates -- ran out to help the station crew attach magnetic grapples and seal the airlocks.  Thirty seconds later, they all ran back into the ship, sweat-faced and short of breath.

Martin and I exchanged a glance before I spoke to one of the crew.

"Is there a problem, Nora?"

Her wide eyes focused on me and her breathing slowed.  "It's crazy out there, sir!"

"What do you mean by crazy?"

"It's wall-to-wall newsies out there, sir!  Half a dozen of them surrounded me when I tried to help the station crew, all of them pushing and shoving to get my attention, shouting questions the whole time.  I- I'm not used to crowds like that after all the time I spent with the pirates and then you Aashlanders.  I panicked."  Nora looked around at the others who went out with her.  "We all did."

I patted her on the shoulder.  "Why don't you and the others go to the med bay.  Ask Tristan to give you something to calm you down."

Thumbing my comm unit, I said, "Heidi, please have the senior staff meet Martin and me in the Captain's office.  Also, can you tap into the station's vid feeds and find a view of our docking bay?"

"I'm on it, David.  Do you want me to scan the news channels, too?"

"Good idea. Be ready to route what you find to the screens in the office."

A moment later, we stared at the images Heidi sent to the office.  Nora hadn't exaggerated describing the docking bay.  Hundreds of men and women pushed and shoved to get close to our ship’s exits.  Vid cameras swooped over the crowd, somehow managing to avoid colliding with each other.  As bad as that was, the news vids were worse.

One newsie exclaimed, "Word on the station is those aboard this very ship stormed the base of the infamous pirate captains Caudill and Quint, slaughtering every last one of the pirates!"

Another reported, "We have been told that these people from a long-lost human colony lost all technological knowledge but may have gained powerful mental or mystic abilities.  Frankly, viewers, it's the only logical explanation how a band of barbarians could have defeated these pirates."

Callan, Rupor, and Tristan bristled at the speculation.

"Darling, did that man just call us barbarians?"

"Now, Callan-"

Laura pointed to a screen. "Look, it's David!"

An image of me in my cadet uniform filled one screen.

Martin burst out laughing.  "Isn't he adorable?"

His laughter stilled when my image was replaced by one of Martin in his cadet uniform.

Megan wrapped an arm around Martin.  "Don't worry, Martin, you look much cuter than David in that uniform."

Everyone had a laugh at our expense, but I'd seen all I wanted to see.

"Heidi, cut the broadcasts to the office and then get me the commander of the military base."

Several minutes passed before Heidi reported, "I've got an aide to the commander, David.  It's the best I could do."

A harried face replaced Heidi's.  "I have a task force docking as we speak and do not have time for civilian inquiries.  You have thirty seconds."

"I am the reason the task force is here, so you will make time for my inquiries."

"Look, I don't know who you are and I don't care.  I-"

"I am David Rice, Scout First Class and captain of the Aashla's Hope, formerly the ship of the late pirate captain Caudill.  I led the forces which took the base of the late pirate captain Quint.  On board my ship are two future heads of state and diplomats representing a dozen other countries on the lost colony of Aashla.  While you dither about your task force, my people are under siege by a mob of newsies!"

I'd taken exactly the wrong approach with the aide.

"Then I suggest you stay on board your ship, Captain Rice.  We'll contact you when we have time for you."

With a ridiculous flourish, the aide ended the call.

"Back home," Rupor mused, "I could just send some troops to clear out that rabble."

I grinned.  "Well then, let's pretend we're back home!"

The diplomats, former prisoners, and one hundred marines gathered in the cargo hold.  The marines formed up around the civilians and diplomatic personnel and I ordered the cargo hold's airlock opened.

With the marine commander, I led the march through the airlock.  Newsies surged forward when they caught sight of us.

"Commander, if you please?"

The commander's voice carried over the clamor of the newsies.

"Present.  Arms!"

In unison, one hundred swords slid free.  The newsies ground to a halt.

"Marines.  Yell!"

A wordless roar rose from the marines behind us.  The newsies closest to us began inching backward.  The commander motioned with his arm and the marines marched forward.

We stopped for no one and no one dared stand before the bared swords and roaring marines.  Five minutes later, the base commander met us at the entrance to the military section.  With no expression beyond a cocked eyebrow, she welcomed us into her domain.

The civilian reaction to our heroes’ arrival was…boisterous.  How will the military react?  Find out more in Chapter 119, coming Wednesday!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 117

< Chapter 116                                                                                                   Chapter 118 >
Finally, the navy arrives at the pirate base.

The navy's medical ship was fully staffed and supplied.  The med team swarmed over our wounded, injecting swarms of medical nanites into those with the worst wounds.  Tristan could only watch in awe as wounds beyond his ability to heal closed as if by magic.  Once those on the brink of death had been dealt with, the doctor in charge of the medical team sought out our doctor.

"Are you Doctor Agrilla?"

"Yes, though after watching you at work, I'm not so sure I should call myself 'doctor' any more."  Tristan's gaze swept the organized chaos in his makeshift hospital.  "Thank you for saving those I am too unskilled to save."

"It's not skill, sir, it's superior technology.  Without the nanites, I doubt my team could have done anything more than you did."

Tristan's eyebrows rose.  "Really?"

"Yes.  In fact, I wanted to ask you about some of the procedures you used."

Gesturing to some of the wounded men, Tristan and the naval doctor fell into a technical discussion well beyond my capability to follow.

Once the initial rush to help the wounded and establish naval control of the docking bay was over, the navy reverted to its thorough, though tedious, routine.  Armored marines swept the rest of the base section by section, rounding up the last of the pirates.  The records of the pirate captains were secured and unsold plunder recovered.  Naval repair crews even fixed the landing struts on the Aashla's Hope.

Thirty-five hours after they arrived, naval demolitions crews rigged the base with explosives and we finally got underway to the wormhole.  All who were onboard our ship watched the sensor display as the pirate base was blasted into a thousand pieces.

The only thing worth noting during the trip to the navy base occurred when Rupor, Heidi, and Megan approached Callan.

"Your Highness?"

Something in Heidi's tone caused Callan to go into princess mode.  She stood straighter.  Her shoulders drew back.  Her gaze sharpened.

"Yes, Heidi?"

"I have a problem I hope you can solve, Princess Callan."  Heidi continued with the formal tone.  "In the Federation, divorces can be complicated, even if both parties agree to the divorce.  I doubt Erwin will cooperate."

Heidi stopped and met Callan's eyes for a moment.  Callan nodded for her to continue.

"Megan told me that you can issue a royal proclamation of divorce."

"I can, but only for Mordanian citizens."

"Megan also told me you could grant Mordanian citizenship by royal proclamation."

"I can do that, also, but Rupor can do likewise for Tartegian citizens."

Rupor cleared his throat.  "As I have an interest in this outcome, I felt it would be more seemly if the proclamations came from someone other than me."  A bright smile crossed Rupor's face.  "Besides, Callan, at one time my subjects expected me to marry a Mordanian citizen."

Callan smiled in return.  "Heidi, I don't have the oath of citizenship memorized, but I've accepted nontraditional oaths in the past.  Do you swear to uphold the laws of Mordan, obey the monarch, and support Mordan in peace and in war?"

"I so swear."

"Then by the powers granted to me as a princess of the realm and heir to the throne, I accept your pledge and welcome you as a subject of the kingdom of Mordan."

Applause broke out around the bridge and Callan raised a hand to request quiet.

"It has come to my attention that you are unhappy in your marriage to one Erwin Chapman and wish to terminate the bond of matrimony between you.  Is that correct?"

"Damn right it is!"  Heidi blushed when she realized what she had said.  "I beg your pardon, Your Highness.  Yes, that is correct."

"Again, by the powers granted to me as a princess of the realm and heir to the throne, I hereby dissolve your marriage to Erwin Chapman."

Applause broke out again, louder than before.

Callan looked at Rupor, who wore the widest grin I'd ever seen on his face.

"Rupor, stop grinning like an idiot and kiss her!"

He did and we all cheered.

Thirty minutes later, we docked and emerged into a madhouse.

What kind of madhouse must our heroes face?  Find out in Chapter 118, coming Monday!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 116

< Chapter 115                                                                                                   Chapter 117 >
Slumped unconscious after David’s beating, Chapman is at the mercy of our heroes.

"Your Highness?" a marine asked as we turned toward the ship.  "Should we space Chapman, too?"

Callan glared at the man slumped against the wall.  "No, corporal.  I'm not kind enough to give him the easy way out."

Without another word, she led the way to the ship.

"Please excuse my ignorance, dear, but this must be some new definition of 'kind' I'm not familiar with."

"That's because you haven't spent enough time among the sycophants in court, David."  With a smile Callan took my arm.  "There are people for whom status is everything.  They must belong to the 'right' groups and be seen with the 'right' people.  Those people would rather die than lose status."

"You're saying Chapman is one of those people?"

"Absolutely.  If we dig into his past, I'm sure we'll find a high status education and a high status job.  All you have to do is look at Heidi to realize she's his high status wife."

"Okay, but that doesn't explain why he sucked up to the pirates like he did."

"Of course it does, darling.  Different societies have different definitions of high status.  Whatever gave Chapman his status before his capture did nothing for him in a society of pirates.  He had to change who and what he was or face being a low status outsider.  That was the one thing he couldn't accept."

That explained a lot about Chapman's behavior.  "And spacing him would spare him being dragged back into galactic society as a traitor against his fellow prisoners and a spy for the pirates.  God above, even other prisoners will despise him!"

A grim smile played across Callan's lips.  "I have no sympathy for the wretched man.  He brought it on himself."

We climbed the ramp into the Aashla's Hope and headed for the bridge.  Crewmen were hunched over each of the ship's sensor displays.  Laura stood next to Heidi as the comm officer scanned subspace bands for any activity.

"Have you found anything, Heidi?" I asked.

She shook her head.  "All of the bands are clear, David."

"Try broadcasting an SOS on all bands.  And put the comm on speaker."

Heidi's fingers flew across the keyboard.  The sound of the automated SOS signal filled the bridge.  We received a reply within seconds.

"Unidentified ship, what is the nature of your emergency?"

The response was fast and professional.  It had to be a naval ship.

"This is David Rice commanding the Aashla's Hope.  We are currently moored in a pirate base docking bay-"

A new voice broke in.  It held the no-nonsense, take-charge tone you find in experienced officers.

"How dire is your situation?  We're on a hard burn toward the coordinates you provided in your drone.  Can you hold out for another twenty minutes?"

"There's no need to rush, sir.  We've taken the base.  The pirate captains are all dead and the surviving pirates are our prisoners."

There was a pause.  "Then why did you broadcast an SOS?"

"We've taken the base, but there are many wounded, and we have insufficient medical supplies and personnel to attend to them all."

"Understood.  We have a fully equipped medical ship and will make all haste to the base."

"Thank you, sir.  Rice out."

Callan and I went out to the makeshift hospital.  Callan's eyes welled as she looked at the rows of neatly laid out dead, each draped in the flag of his native country.

The marine commander approached.  "Your Highness?  Perhaps you could say a few words?  It would mean a lot to the men."

"Of course, Commander."  Callan touched her comm.  "Heidi, please broadcast my comm through out the docking bay.”

"You're on, Princess Callan."

Callan walked in among the wounded, looking each in the eye and flashing her dazzling smile.  She raised her head and her gaze took in the unwounded marines around the docking bay.

"My brave warriors, Tartegian and Mordanian alike, your world owes you a debt of thanks.  You have fought well."  She looked back to the rows of dead.  "Too many of you have died well."

Callan turned back to the living.  "Today, we have lost friends, brothers-in-arms.  Back home, though they do not yet know it, families have lost fathers and sons and brothers.  Yet these sacrifices have saved lives untold.  Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters.

"We shall never know how many of them have been saved by your actions here today.  More, those saved will never know they've been saved.  They will sail through space and arrive safely, all because men of honor and courage dared to venture beyond their home world.  They may never know, but I know.

"And I swell with pride to know our countries — our world — produces men such as you.  Well done, gentlemen.  Well done, indeed."

The docking bay rocked with cheers as Callan knelt to speak with one of the wounded.  She was still comforting the wounded when the navy arrived.

Our heroes have survived confrontations with pirates on their home world and in the pirates’ own base.  But how will they handle galactic civilization?  Find out in Chapter 117, coming Friday!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 115

< Chapter 114                                                                                                   Chapter 116 >
Quint, the last pirate captain on the base, has been spaced.

Quint's still and lifeless body tumbled away from the pirate base, shrinking until it was too small to see.  I gave myself a mental shake and pulled my gaze away from the airless abyss beyond the atmosphere shield.

Chapman, a smug smile pasted on his face, stepped in front of me.

"Well, Rice, I guess you're pretty happy I was around to save everyone!"

My fist flattened Chapman's nose.


"Don't you dare proclaim yourself a hero!"

"But I stopped Quint!"  Chapman's voice rose with each word.

I punched him in the stomach and heard his breath whoosh out of him.  Good.  That would shut him up for a few minutes.

"This whole situation is your fault, Chapman."

I hit him with a left cross and he stumbled back a step.

"If you had simply kept your mouth shut and stayed on our ship, none of this would have happened.”

My right fist cracked into his eye and Chapman reeled back against the wall of the docking bay.

"If you had kept your mouth shut, you wouldn't have been challenged to a duel."

I grabbed Chapman's shirt in both fists and pounded him against the wall.

"I wouldn't have had to join the fight just to keep you quiet."

I smashed Chapman against the wall, again.

"My wife and friends wouldn't have had to put themselves in danger just to keep our story intact.  The story you were determined to reveal!"

Chapman sagged as I thumped him into the wall a third time.

"Dozens, maybe hundreds, of men -- marines and pirates, alike -- would still be alive."


"Milo would still be alive!"










I heard a voice from far away.  "You're on a private channel, Your Highness."

"David?  Talk to me!"

I released Chapman and he slid down the wall to the floor.

"Callan?  Are you safe?"

"Yes, darling, we're all on board the ship.  We're all safe."

"Milo's not safe.  He'll never be safe again."

"No, David, he'll never be in danger again.  He'll be at peace."

"Do you truly believe that, Callan?"

"After all that's happened to us, how could I not?"

I paused to consider her words.  Callan couldn’t see it, but I nodded slowly and pushed my emotions down. Having mastered myself, I turned to survey the scene in the docking bay.

"All right, time to get back to work."

Rupor stepped forward and placed a hand on my shoulder.  "We can handle this, David.  Take the time to properly mourn the dead."

The marines did appear to have everything under control.  Squads of marines herded the pirates into small, manageable groups and disarmed them.  Others directed the collection of the dead and wounded.  Medics moved among the wounded performing triage.  Beyond the atmosphere shield, our ship's remaining pinnace detached and maneuvered into the docking bay.  Tristan bounded out as soon as the hatch was open and rushed to tend the wounded.

And then Callan emerged and ran across the docking bay to me.  She flew into my arms and kissed me.  It was long and tender and I felt my emotions rising again.  This time I did not try to hold them back and the tears flowed.

Tears of rage and relief.

Tears of  loss and love.

Tears for Milo.

Tears for the marines.

Tears for Martin and Megan.

Tears for the woman who held me.

Some time later, I became aware a marine stood silently ten feet away.  Callan and I rose from the deck and looked around the docking bay.  The Aashla's Hope was inside again, floating on repulsers but tethered in position.  Tristan still moved among the wounded, barking orders and tending patients.  The pirates were sitting, hands upon heads, in small groups scattered around the bay.

"Yes, private?" I said to the marine.

He snapped off a salute.  "I'm sorry to interrupt, sir, but you're wanted aboard the ship."

"Do you have any idea why?"

"Yes, sir.  They said to tell you the wormhole has opened.”

Who has come through the wormhole?  Find out in Chapter 116, coming Wednesday!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 114

< Chapter 113                                                                                                   Chapter 115 >
Quint is about to open the docking bay to space!

Time slowed to a crawl as I watched Quint's finger stab toward the button.  Once pressed, the button would drop the atmosphere shield protecting the docking bay from the vacuum of space.  The old pirate was too far away for me to reach him in the second it would take to press the button.  Unbidden, my mind conjured images of hundreds of men swept into the void, still living but beyond any power in the universe to save.  And I would be swept into space with them, safe in my vacuum harness, mute witness to the last seconds of their lives.


Chapman barreled into the pirate captain.  Quint's finger missed the button and the two tumbled to the ground!

There come times in every man's life when inaction is more dangerous than action.  In that moment, even the coward will act.  Quint had pushed his useful idiot too far and Chapman had snapped!

Every man in the docking bay stood frozen, transfixed by the drama playing out beneath the keypad.  The keypad with the still-active button which would drop the atmosphere shield!

"Now's your chance, lads!"

My cry still echoing around the docking bay, I charged to Chapman's aid.  With a roar, pirates and marines alike charged with me.

Quint's pirate guards saw the tidal wave of humanity sweeping their way.  Abandoning their leader, they scrambled to escape into the airlock.  A band of pirates piled in behind them.  From the cries of rage and the screams of pain and fear, I was happy I was on the outside.

Quint and Chapman flailed at each other, rolling about on the floor of the docking bay.  Quint was a wily fighter and the stronger of the two men, but Chapman was berserk.  The fight could go either way.

"Martin, can you disable the button on the keypad?"

"Already on it, O fearless leader."

Pirates and marines joined me around the struggling pair, cutting them off from everything else.  None of us interrupted the fight.  None of us liked Chapman and we all agreed he was a useful idiot.  But in this moment, he was our idiot.  Even if he had acted in his own self interest, Chapman had saved hundreds of lives.  He had earned this chance to pound on Quint.

A moment later, it was over.  Bloodied and battered, Chapman rose from the moaning pirate captain, Quint's vacuum harness gripped in one hand.  With an animal roar of triumph, Chapman thrust the vacuum harness into the air.  Hundreds of voices roared with him.

Chapman looked around him, his eyes bright with fervor.

"Let's give Quint a taste of his own medicine!  Space him!"

I was elbowed aside as men pushed to reach Quint.  A dozen hands hoisted the pirate captain over our heads.  Marines and pirates alike passed Quint from hand to hand toward the entrance to the docking bay.

"Space him!  Space him!"

The chant rose in volume and drowned out my calls to stop.  Hemmed in by the crowd, I could do nothing but watch the mob -- for they were no longer pirates and marines -- pass Quint, struggling and flailing, toward his doom.

Martin's hand fell on my shoulder.  "There's nothing you can do, David."

"I wanted Quint to face justice for all he's done, Martin."

"He is facing justice, lad.  It's rough justice, but so was beheading the pirate who attempted to space Callan and Megan.  Quint has earned this a thousand times over."

Martin was right.  I wouldn't have chosen this, but I couldn't claim the earlier execution was right yet claim this was wrong.  

I made myself watch as Quint, finally facing the terror he had inflicted on countless others in his long career, was heaved through the atmosphere barrier.

I made myself watch Quint's futile struggle against the void.

I made myself watch Quint die.

Quint is dead.  The pirates are defeated.  What comes next?  Find out in Chapter 115, coming Monday!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 113

< Chapter 112                                                                                                   Chapter 114 >
The Aashla’s Hope has been freed from the docking bay clamps but the fight against the pirates rages on!

A cheer rose from the marines as our spaceship majestically glided out of the docking bay.  Over the comm, I could hear the ship's crew preparing to pick up Callan, Megan, and the wounded marine.  Around the docking bay, I watched the fight go out of the pirates and swords begin dropping to the floor in surrender.

"Cap'n David, sir!"  Heidi's voice held more life than I'd heard since her husband had dragged her off the Aashla's Hope many hours before.  "A rescue team is assembling in the airlock.  We'll have Her Highness and her companions back on the ship in two minutes."

Tightness I hadn't even realized gripped my chest loosened.  I let out a long sigh, dropped Boost, and turned back to the airlock into the base.

"It's over, Quint.  My ship is free and your pirates are defeated.  Do the smart thing and surrender."

Quint punched one more key on the airlock controls and the airlock door hissed open.  To my surprise, Quint didn't dash into the airlock.  Instead, one of his men walked through the door.

"I don't think so, scout."

"Do you remember the wormhole alarm a few hours ago?  That was a messenger drone we launched just before entering your docking bay.  The drone carries the location of this base, the approach path, and the identity of the senior captain.  Honestly, I'm surprised a Federation Navy task force hasn't already popped out of that wormhole."

"I figgered that out when you done told us who you was, boy."

"If you knew the navy had been alerted, why did you bother fighting us?  Why didn't you just let us go and get away while the getting was good?"

"Yer askin' me why, boy?  Take a gander 'round you.  You think a place like this jest pops up all set and ready ta use?  I remember when ol' Caudill and me stumbled 'cross this place.  It was jest a big rock chock full o' caves.  Me 'n Caudill got us some lads and worked our tails off ta build this place.  My blood 'n sweat be in every nook and cranny o' this place.  You think I's gonna let the man who be takin' it from me just fly away?"

The man in the airlock began handing something out to each of the pirates around Quint.  I couldn't see what they were passing around, but all of my mental alarms were ringing.

"So this resistance of yours was just a big pity party because you're going to miss your old pirate base?"  I sniffed and pretended to wipe away tears.  "I feel your pain, Quint.  Really, I do.  I feel it so much, I wish all the victims of your decades of piracy could be here to shed a tear over your loss."  I waved my sword toward Quint and his men.  "Escape is impossible.  Stop whatever it is you and your men think you're doing and surrender."

Quint's fingers danced across the keypad again.

"Yer right 'bout one thing, Rice.  Escape be impossible fer most o' me men.  It ain't fer me and these lads with me."

"Martin, I'm tired of talking to this old man.  Time to take him down."

We strode toward Quint.  Quint's fingers touched two last keys then hovered over a button.

"Take another step, boy, and I'll drop the atmo shield and flush ya all out inta space!"

We stopped.  Four of us still wore vacuum harnesses, but none of the marines had them.

"You know you'll kill more than my men.  You'll kill your men and yourself, too."

The pirate from the airlock came out wearing a vacuum harness and carrying another.  As that pirate slipped the vacuum harness around Quint, the rest of Quint's guards donned harnesses, too.

Chapman looked wildly around him.  "H-hey, where's my harness?"

Quint shook his head.  "Why would I be wantin' to save you, Chapman?"

"But I helped you!  I told you who these men were!  I was useful to you!”

"Yep, but there be plenty o' useful idiots in the galaxy.  I 'spect I's gonna find you right easy to replace."

Quint looked around the docking bay.  "Sorry, lads.  Wish I could save ya all, but that jest ain't in the cards today."

Quint looked me in the eyes.  "An' now I got ta git busy makin' that impossible escape."

Then Quint's finger stabbed toward the button!

Are our heroes, the marines, and the pirates about to be swept out into space?  Find out in Chapter 114, coming Friday!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 112

< Chapter 111                                                                                                   Chapter 113 >
David attacks the pirates!

Charging with me, my three companions joined in my battle cry.  "For Milo!"

One hundred and sixty marines raised their voices as one.  "For Mordan!  For Tarteg!  For Milo!"

The marines charged the encircling pirates.  Unnerved by the marines' precision, both in maneuvers and in voice, the pirates fell back before the onslaught.  I'd have to congratulate the marine commander's choice of battle cry later.

"Heidi?"  My voice boomed out across the docking bay.  "Route me back to the ship's channel and cancel the broadcast."

"Done, sir."

The four of us engaged half a dozen pirates, steel clashing against steel.  We pushed the pirates back a couple of steps before they found a rhythm of their own.  Precious seconds ticked away as we traded blows.  They were seconds Laura's teams would use to place the charges on the landing struts.  They were seconds Quint or Chapman might use to disappear into the base.  They were seconds I could not afford to waste on these men.

"I'm going to Boost in ten seconds.  Get out of my way."  The pirate in front of me looked at me in disbelief.  "Yes, I'm talking to you and your friends.  Surrender or I'll cut you down where you stand!"

"Believe him lads."  Martin's voice still sounded rough, but the pain from his burns was driven away by the excitement of combat.  "David takes duty very seriously and you're standing between him and Quint."

Comprehension dawned on the pirates' faces.  They dropped their swords and moved aside.


Adrenaline poured into my system.  Time slowed.  Fatigue faded.  Vision sharpened.  Muscles surged.  I flew across the docking bay, an arrow aimed at Quint and Chapman!  My focus was so tight on Quint that I was halfway across the bay before I realized I was not alone.  I looked to my left.  Martin was with me, stride for stride, lips stretched wide in a savage grin.  Footsteps pounded behind me.  I risked a look over my shoulder.  Rupor and Harris sprinted for all they were worth, almost keeping up with us.

A squad of Quint's pirate guards blocked our path, swords raised to defend their captain.  I lowered my shoulder.  Martin did the same.

I switched from gal base to Mordanian.  "I'm going to go low past the first row and come up in the middle of them."

"Make sure to swing to your right.  I'll be on your left."

As one, Martin and I dropped and rolled between startled defenders.  We rose to face pirates unprepared for immediate combat.  I swung my blade in a wide arch.  It cut three pirates and drove all of them back a step.  Behind me, Rupor and Harris engaged the pirates Martin and I had bypassed.

Confusion reigned among the pirates from our surprise arrival in their midst.  Martin and I took advantage and attacked.  I thrust my sword into the side of a pirate.  He screamed as I ripped it free and slashed the man next to him.  I blocked a swing from a third pirate and kicked him in the groin.  I grabbed his collar as he doubled over in pain and threw him into the back of a pirate battling with Rupor or Harris.

I looked for Quint.  He, Chapman, and his remaining guards were headed for the airlock!

"Quint's getting away!"  I hacked off a pirate's sword arm.

"Not if I can help it!"  Martin pulled his sword from the shoulder of another pirate.

One pirate stood between us and Quint's retreat.

I pointed my sword at him.  "I want Quint, not you."

The pirate's eyes widened in panic and indecision.  Martin's sword flashed and the pirate crumpled to the deck.

"He took too long to make up his mind."

Clear of the pirates, Martin and I raced on.  Quint and his men reached the airlock.  The captain looked back at us and punched buttons with frantic haste.  I had to reach him before he could flee into the base!

A thunder clap drowned out the sounds of battle.  Fighting paused and the docking bay reverberated with the sound of the explosions.  The airlock door reflected the scene behind me.

Aashla's Hope floated free and moved ponderously toward the docking bay exit!

The ship is free but will Quint get away?  Find out in Chapter 113, coming Wednesday!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 111

< Chapter 110                                                                                                   Chapter 112 >
David, Martin, Rupor, and Harris are about to lead an attack against the pirates in the docking bay!

I pulled Callan to me and kissed her.  "I'll be back for you soon."

Her cheek tight against mine, she whispered, "You'd better be!"

Martin and Megan broke apart at the same time Callan and I did.  Then the four of us swam off toward the lip of the docking bay.

"Laura," I called over the comm, "have you got your teams ready to go?"

"It took some persuasion on my part to keep them from taking up swords to join you in your glorious charge into the docking bay," Laura replied, "but they've got the charges and are getting into place now."

"Good.  Blow the charges as soon as all your teams have gotten to safety.  Pick up Callan, Megan, and the wounded marine before you do anything else.  After that, you're in command until Martin or I get back on board.  Follow your instincts."

"Aye aye, Captain Rice!" Laura said.

There was something in the way she snapped off her response that made me ask, "Are you saluting, Laura?"

Laughter erupted over the comm.  "Um, yes, sir."

"At ease, Chief Engineer!"

We reached our position just below the lip of the docking bay.  I pulled myself up enough to see what was going on.  I guessed there were at least four hundred pirates taking up positions throughout the bay.  Half of them were formed up around the Aashla's Hope, swords sheathed but close at hand.  Most of the rest took up various positions close to vital controls, leaving a couple of dozen formed up guarding Quint.  Chapman stood just behind Quint, subservient and available should Quint wish to speak to him.

I looked at my companions.  Rupor wore a grin of suppressed excitement.  Martin wore a grimace of suppressed pain.  Harris wore a set face of suppressed nervousness.  I could only imagine the faces of the marines on board the ship.  I felt as if I should say something before we charged out against such superior numbers -- something to settle their nerves and calm their excitement.  I was drawing a blank until I remembered something from ancient Terran history.  Without a hint of shame, I stole it.

"Gentlemen, Tarteg and Mordan expect all men to do their duty."

Next to me, Martin spoke but his voice was drowned out by a roar from the men.  Martin stopped trying to speak and just gave me a thumbs up.  Then we pulled ourselves up and into the docking bay.

The pirates glanced about, nerves set on edge by the roar they'd just heard.  Heads turned toward Quint, looking for guidance.  Irritation crossed Quint's face and he prepared to speak.  That was just what I'd been waiting for.

"Heidi, broadcast my comm outside the ship so everyone can hear me," I said.  "And crank the volume."

"You're on, David!"

"Git yerselves under-" Quint began before I drowned him out.

"To all pirates within this base, in the name of the Terran Federation, I order you to lay down your arms and surrender!"  I began walking forward, flipping my sword in the casual manner of one who has been forced to live by the blade.

A few pirates spotted us and pointed.  Within seconds, all eyes were upon us.

"Yer an idiot, Rice!"  Quint was shouting but his voice was still weak compared to my amplified one.  "We got you outnumbered four hunnert to four!"

"Marines, form up!"

With a whoosh, the airlocks opened and the marines charged out, taking up positions around the ship.  The pirates surrounding the ship stirred nervously.

"You miscalculated the odds, Quint," I said.

"Maybe so, but we still got more than twice yer numbers!" he shouted back.

"And if you were facing a bunch of merchant spacers or the crew of a space liner, that might make a difference."  I waved my arm toward the marines.  "Do these men look like they're afraid of you?  You pirates are used to being the foxes rampaging through the hen house.  Now your fox's den has been invaded by wolves."

I pointed my sword at Quint.  "You can stop the slaughter, Quint.  Surrender!"

Quint glared across the docking bay at me.  "I'd rather die first!"

"So be it."  I raised my sword above my head and cried, "For Milo!"

With a roar, we charged into battle!

The battle lines have been drawn and blood is about to be spilled!  Find out what happens next in Chapter 112, coming Monday!