Friday, May 30, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 102

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 101                                                                                                   Chapter 103 >
Caught in the open, our hero is about to burned by laser fire!

Three pirates had their lasers tracking toward me while the fourth pirate fumbled to replace his discharged energy pack.  There was no cover available and the pirates could burn me before I covered the twenty feet separating us.  That left only one option.

Instead of reaching forward for my next swimming stroke, I planted my right hand at my side then pushed hard to the left.  Laser blasts flashed where I had been a split second before, but I was five feet to the left now.  As the pirates swung their aim in my direction, I pushed off a lump of rock with my left hand and passed right under the pirates' aim before they realized what had happened!

After missing me twice, I didn't think the pirates would overreact to my movement again.  But I thought they would expect more of the same from me.  Rather than zigging back to my left, I pulled my knees in tight and then kicked out and down.  Pushing off that hard and at any kind of upward angle should send me flying off the asteroid and into empty space -- and it would have if I hadn't barreled into three of the pirates!

Two of the pirates went tumbling backward with arms windmilling and legs kicking.  Both lost hold of their lasers, which went spinning off who knows where.  The third staggered back and tripped over the fourth pirate, who had crouched down to reload his pistol.  The tripping pirate smacked his head against the rock the pirates had been using for cover and dropped his laser.

That left me standing over the fourth pirate.  Made clumsy by his haste to replace his laser's energy pack, the man dropped both of them.  I grabbed the straps of his vacuum harness and heaved him straight up.  The pirate's mouth opened in a scream I could not hear as he flew off into the void.

The pirate who had hit his head was groggy and unresisting as I stripped off his spare energy packs and sent him up to join his fellow.  I picked up both lasers, reloading the empty one.

"Martin?" I called on the comm.  "I've got a couple of lasers.  Two of the pirates are out of the fight and two more have been disarmed.  Where are you?"

"Having less success than you, it appears," Martin replied.  "Assuming you're responsible for the two pirates heading into space, I'm maybe forty feet west of you, pinned down by laser fire."

Now that I knew what to look for, I spotted laser flashes to the west.

"I'll be there in a few seconds.  In the mean time, do as Megan instructed and don't get yourself killed."

"Thank you for that advice, David.  It would never have occurred to me!"

I was already swimming in the direction of the laser flashes when I replied.  "Don't thank me.  I was just relaying Megan's orders.  If you like that advice, just wait till you're married!"

"I heard that!" Megan said over the comm.

"So did I," Callan added dryly.

"Um, the stress of combat makes men say things they don't really mean?" I offered as I came up behind the two pirates firing at Martin.

"Yeah, what he said!" Martin said.

My shot burned a hole right through the pirate on the left.  The pirate on the right reacted as if he had been in normal gravity, spinning and jumping so fast he lost his footing and rose off the ground.  Martin swam up, grappled the laser from the pirate, then sent him to join the other two in orbit.

"Are either of you dead?" Megan asked.

"No, sweetheart," Martin replied.  "Thank you for the invaluable advice on dying, which I shall always endeavor to follow to the letter."

"You'd better, dearest," Megan growled.

Martin looked at me.  "I've decided I don't really like pirates any more.  Let's finish this!"

Without another word, Martin and I slithered off toward the remaining pirates!

Still heavily outnumbered, can our heroes defeat the pirates and escape back to their ship?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 101

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 100                                                                                                   Chapter 102 >
David and Martin plan to go for a swim — on the airless surface of an asteroid!

Megan asked the question which was on the mind of every Aashlander.  "Swimming where there's no water?  Is this some kind of Scout thing?"

"Asteroid miners named it and the name stuck.  They do teach it in the Scout Academy," I answered.  "It's a fast way of moving across uneven surfaces in very low gravity.  You lay down and pull yourself along with your hands and feet, pushing off the surface just enough to stay a few inches above it.  The miners called it swimming because it looks more like someone swimming underwater."

"So we're all going for a swim?" Callan asked.

"More or less.  Martin and I are going to use it to get close enough to attack the pirates," I said.  "The rest of you will use it as best you can to get closer to the docking bay."

"David, what makes you think your fellow fighting men would not follow you into battle?" Rupor asked, bristling just a bit.  "Leave a man or two to guard the women, of course, but do not presume that we are unworthy to join you!"

"Rupor, would you take an untrained soldier into battle?  One who had listened to a very brief description of the principles of swordsmanship but had never held a sword?"

"Of course not, but swordsmanship is a complex science while this swimming you describe sounds quite simple!"

I pointed to a high outcropping about twenty yards away.  "Tell you what, Rupor, if any of you reach that rock before Martin and I reach the pirates, I'll withdraw my objections and you're welcome to join us fighting the pirates."

Rupor nodded, both satisfied and more thoughtful.

Callan kissed my lips.  "Don't get yourself killed."

Megan scooted up next to me and kissed my cheek.  "Don't let Martin get himself killed."

Rupor pulled himself past me.  "I'm not going to kiss you, but would appreciate it if the two of you came back alive.  Your deaths would put quite the damper on my courtship of Heidi."

"I wouldn't want my death to inconvenience you, so will endeavor to stay alive," I replied.  Turning to Harris, I said, "You've got good instincts, Harris.  Pay attention to them and I know you'll get the women safely back to the ship."

"If you're quite finished kissing your wife and being kissed by my wife-to-be," Martin said, "perhaps we could get on with this?"

"Yes, O jealous one.  You go northwest and I'll go northeast."

"Got it.  Last one to the fight buys the drinks when we get back to civilization!"

With that, I swam quickly away from my group.  Swimming across the surface of an asteroid looks easy and sounds easier, but it takes a lot of practice to achieve a balance of upward push and forward pull.  It had been over two years since I'd last had a chance to swim across an asteroid, but I had practiced a lot before crashing on Aashlan.  The rhythm came back to me within seconds and I flowed across the asteroid's surface as fast as I could have run in full gravity.

A couple of laser shots flashed around me, but neither one was close.  I was too low to present a good target and too fast for accurate aiming with a hand weapon.  Meanwhile, the shots told me where to find the pirates.  I slithered and swam around rocks and craters and ridges until I was behind the pirates' position.  Then I headed straight in, hoping to catch them by surprise.

I came upon a band of four pirates moving and shooting toward the ridge we had hidden behind.  With a grin, I pulled myself forward at top speed.  Then luck turned against me.  One of the pirates looked down at his belt to get a fresh energy pack for his pistol and must have seen me out of the corner of his eye.  We were on different comm channels, so I didn't hear his shout but his friends did.

I was twenty feet from the pirates when they spun about, pistols raised to burn me to a crisp!

How can our hero avoid the aim of the pirates?  Find out in Chapter 102, coming Friday!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 100

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 99                                                                                                   Chapter 101 >
Pirates swarm across the surface of the asteroid firing lasers as they come!

"We've got to get under cover before their aim improves!" I shouted.

"David, let's split into two groups," Martin called.  "Once everyone else is under cover, we can figure out what to do."

Doubling the potential targets while making them half the size struck me as a very good idea.  "Sergeant, Rupor, let go of each other!"

Our low gravity conga line broke in two, leaving me with Callan, Harris, Megan, and Rupor.  Fortunately, the asteroid was pockmarked with craters and rubble from countless collisions with smaller asteroids.  We should be able to get under cover in a matter of seconds.

Bright light flashed at my feet and past Harris's head, reminding me that we might not have a few seconds!  The pirates were getting the range and it was only a matter of time -- a very short time -- before they scored a hit.  I had to put rock between us and the pirates now.

I'd been heading for a very low ridge only a few feet away.  Our slow pace meant it would take too long to get us all behind the ridge; but I had an idea.

Wedging my foot under a tiny outcropping, I said, "All of you, hold onto each other as tight as possible.  Those of you at the end of the line brace yourselves!"

Wrapping both hands around Callan's wrist, I pulled her up and over my head.  In the light gravity, the five us combined weighed no more than a child did under normal gravity.  Callan arched up and over me with the other three trailing like a whip cord.  My foot pressed against the underside of the outcropping as the line of men and women pivoted about that one spot.  My wife came down on the uncovered side of the ridge, but the rest came down just over the crest.

Slipping my foot free, I said, "Harris, pull us over with you!"

The young guard's hard yank brought Callan and me barreling into him.  The three of us flew past Rupor and Megan.  I was afraid we might spin off the surface of the asteroid and out into space when, with a hard jerk, we came to a stop and slammed down onto the rocky surface.  Glancing to the other end of our line, I saw Rupor hugging a small spire like a lover.

Next to me, Callan's weak stomach gave way and she retched miserably.  Megan reeled Callan in, wrapped my poor wife in a sisterly hug, and tried to comfort her.  I longed to do the same but our lives were at stake.

"Martin?" I called over the comm.

"That was quite a show you put on over there," he replied.  "Is everyone okay?"

"Scrapes and scratches, but we'll live.  Do you think we have piratical eavesdroppers?"

"There's no doubt about it.  All the harnesses were set to the same channel."  Martin was silent for a couple of seconds.  "Were the seniors still playing the search and rescue prank on plebes when you were at the academy?"

"Traditions die hard at the academy!  Switch now."

Every plebe in the Scout academy spent one night in a two man ship, monitoring channel five sixteen for orders to move in on a pirate ring.  It was the space-based equivalent of a snipe hunt.  I changed my channel, showing the others how to do it at the same time.

"Do you read me, Martin?"

"Loud and clear.  Now that we can have a private conversation, have you had any bright ideas?"

"Yes.  I think you and I ought to go for a swim!”

Has our hero lost his mind?  How can he swim on the airless surface of an asteroid?  Find out in Chapter 101, coming Wednesday!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 99

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 98                                                                                                   Chapter 100 >
Our heroes prepare to escape from the pirates by heading into the void of space!

Callan glowed in the nimbus of the air-preserving forcefield her vacuum harness projected around her body.  I would have loved nothing more than to admire her heavenly form, but we had to get away from the horde of pirates bearing down on our position.  Martin had just finished showing the others how to activate their comm units, so I stepped through the gravity field and into the almost-nonexistent gravity on the surface of the asteroid.

"Keep your movements controlled and gentle after coming through the gravity field," I warned.  "One wrong step could send you spinning off into the asteroid field!  In fact, it would be best if we all clasped hands.  It will slow our progress but we will all be anchored to each other."

Taking my hand, Callan grinned with excitement and stepped through the gravity field.  Her grin faded and she turned a slight green.

"Oh, I feel like I'm going to hurl!" she moaned.  "What's wrong with me?"

"It's just a touch of space sickness," I explained.  "Most people suffer from it the first time they experience low or no gravity."

And, indeed, the rest of the Aashlans suffered from it, though none quite so badly as my wife.

"You usually look lovely in green, my dear," I said, trying for a light tone, "but that shade just doesn't suit you."

"Ha, ha.  Maybe I'll throw up on you and see if green suits you."

"Perhaps a change of subject is in order."

"Good idea, husband."  Callan still looked sick, but at least there was a bit of humor reflected in her eyes.

"Martin, how many harnesses are left in the locker outside the airlock?" I asked.  "We need to prepare for pursuit."

"Not from that airlock, we don't," Martin replied.

"Our good Captain Bane had each of us grab extra harnesses," Rupor said.  "We piled them next to the airlock exit and they were blown into space when the air rushed out."

"Clever, Martin!"

"I think 'obvious' is more appropriate -- at least to anyone familiar with vacuum and pirates," Martin said.

"Fine, we'll go with obviously clever," I said.  "The upshot is the pirates will have to find another airlock before they can come out after us.  With luck, we'll reach another airlock or the docking bay before they find us."

"Sir?" Harris asked.  "How do you know where to go without a sun to guide your direction?"

"My implant has a fairly accurate idea where we are in relation to the docking bay.  I'm just following the map it's constructed of the asteroid -- both inside and out."

"So our lives are in the hands -- figuratively speaking -- of that tiny machine you tell us is in your head?" Rupor asked.

"Welcome to my world," Callan said.

I recognized Rupor's and Callan's words for what they were -- banter meant to keep everyone's minds off their roiling stomachs.  I was preparing to answer in kind when a bright light flashed across my vision.  Looking to my left, I spied a squad of pirates about a hundred yard away.  They moved with easy familiarity on the surface of the asteroid.  Far worse, they all carried laser pistols!

With most of his party inexperienced in low gravity and armed only with swords, how can our hero hope to escape the pursuing pirates?  Find out in Chapter 100, coming Monday!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 98

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 97                                                                                                   Chapter 99 >
With the void of space on one side and pirates on the other, our heroes are trapped!

The pirates continued to crowd into the corridor fifty yards away.  Silence fell over them as each pirate took in the scene before the airlock.  Bodies and pieces of bodies lay scattered around us, with splashes of crimson breaking the monotonous beige of the rock from which the pirate base had been carved.  A couple of the pirates said something.  It was reduced to a murmur by the distance, but his fellow pirates heard him clearly enough -- including the one in charge.

"Shut yer trap, Benson," Quint ordered.  "This ain't no ball, crimson or t'otherwise.  Now git down there and take 'em, men!"

“Martin," I asked, "any bright ideas?"

"Maybe.  See if you can delay them for a minute or two."

Turning my attention back to the pirates, who were just starting to shuffle our way, I called, "Hey, Quint, if you want someone to 'git' us, why don't you step to the front and lead by example.  Bring my old pal Chapman with you."  I held up my blood-stained sword.  "I've got a few pointed remarks to make to him!"

Some of the pirates laughed.

"Stop laughin' and git moving!" Quint bellowed.

Once again, a few pirates took steps in my direction.

"I've got to say, Quint, you do seem to have a way with commanding men," I yelled.  "How do you manage to get them to go to their deaths while you stay in the rear, ready to run if the battle goes against you?"

The pirates who had started forward stopped and looked behind them.

"Did Quint tell you what he did just a few minutes ago, when we met in a different corridor?"

"Pay him no never mind and charge!" Quint commanded.

"Maybe you could ask Chapman about it.  He was right by Quint's side throughout the fight."  All the pirates were looking back at the pirate captain, now.  "Quint, they all know Chapman for the coward he is.  What's it say about you that you've been shoulder to shoulder with him every time we've met in battle?"

Quint's face had gone so red I thought he might be about to pop an artery.  Grabbing Chapman by the arm, he dragged the hapless turncoat through the crowd to the front.

"Ain't nobody gonna git away with callin' me no coward, Rice!" he yelled.  Turning to look back at his men, he shouted, "Let's git 'em!"

Sword in one hand and dragging Chapman with the other, Quint led the charge.  Their faith in their captain restored, the pirates roared and charged after him.

"Martin, how's that idea coming?"

"Surprisingly well, David," he said.  "You did such a good job distracting them, I don't think any of the pirates noticed me rummaging around in the storage locker at the end of the corridor.  It held more vacuum harnesses than we need.  Once you put on your harness, we can get out of here!"

I sprinted back to the airlock.  Martin tossed me a harness and started closing the inner door.  I slipped into it quickly and was ready by the time the door closed, cutting off the shouts of the pirates.  I grabbed the safety strap looped along the wall and wrapped an arm around Callan.


Martin pressed the emergency release.  There was a brief rush of air escaping as the outer door opened.  Then I led the way out onto the airless surface of the pirate's asteroid base!

Can our heroes escape through the vacuum of space?  Find out in Chapter 99, coming Friday!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 97

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 96                                                                                                   Chapter 98 >
By some miracle, Callan, Megan, and Harris survived the cycling of the airlock!

At last convinced that this wasn’t a dream from which I would awake, that Callan truly was alive, I stopped smothering her with kisses and simply held her close.

“How?” I asked.  “I saw the airlock door close.  I saw the pirate cycle the airlock.  How did you survive?”

“Ask Private Harris,” Callan said.  “He’s the one who saved us.”

Martin and I both turned to the private, who looked uncomfortable under our gazes.

“Go on, Harris,” the sergeant encouraged.  “Tell them what you were telling me.”

“Well, sir, I realized we were in an airlock as soon as Her Highness and Miss Megan,” and here Harris turned to Megan, “I’m sorry ma’am, I don’t know your family name.”

“It’s Tuttle, but you’re more than welcome to call me Megan.”

“Like I was saying, I figured out it was an airlock when we ran out of room to retreat.  I mean, it would be stupid to make a corridor that didn’t go anywhere!  Then when those bast- uh, pirates jumped back, I figured out their plan, too.  I remembered all that spaceship safety training we got from those ladies who were on the ship, especially how airlock doors won’t open if the other door isn’t fully shut and sealed.”

Harris held up a bent sword.  “I jumped forward and stuck my sword between the door and the wall.  The door looked like it shut and it sounded like it shut, but it didn’t shut.  Of course, we’d have been in real trouble if you and Captain Bane hadn’t shown up, sir!”

“That was quick thinking, lad!” the sergeant said.  Turning to me, he added, “Like I told you, he’s a smart one.”

I grasped Harris’s hand.  “Thank you.  Those words are inadequate, but they’re all I have.”

Martin followed suit.  Then Callan and Megan surrounded Harris.  He blushed a deep scarlet when they both hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.  Finally, Rupor pumped the private’s hand, offering a hearty, “Good show, lad!”

“I hate to interrupt, sir,” the sergeant said.  Pointing at the lone surviving pirate, the one who had tried to cycle the airlock, he added, “But we need to decide what we’re going to do with him and then get out of this corridor before some other pirates trap us in it.”

The pirate was still huddled on the deck, staring at me with wide, wild eyes.

“He’s guilty of the attempted murder of a member of the royal family of Mordan,” I said.

The pirate started shaking his head violently.  “I can’t be guilty unless I have a trial!  It’s the law!  I’ve got to have a trial!”

“What a staunch defender of law and order you are,” I sneered.  “What due process did you follow before attempting to murder my wife?”

“I didn’t know who she was!”

“Well, ignorance won’t be a problem for you much longer.  There is only one penalty for your crime — death by beheading.”

“You can’t do that!  You’re a sworn officer of the Terran Federation!  You have to follow the law!”

“Damn me, but the man is right,” I said.  “Neither Martin nor I can carry out the sentence.”

“My planet is not a member of this federation,” Rupor said.  “Perhaps you would allow me the honor?”

“By all means,” I replied.  “Does anyone have anything to say in this pirate’s defense?”

All of them shook their heads.  The marines dragged the pirate to his feet and away down the hall.  He blubbered and pleaded.  Then Rupor’s sword flashed and the pleading stopped.

“They- they just killed him!” a voice spoke from down the corridor.

 Pirates were crowding into the corridor from the same air duct we’d come through moments earlier.

We were trapped!

How can our heroes escape?  Find out in Chapter 98, coming Wednesday!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 96

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 95                                                                                                   Chapter 97 >
Callan, Megan, and Harris have been forced into an airlock.  Charging to the rescue, our heroes can only watch in horror as a pirate presses the button to open the airlock to space!

Through the small window in the sliding airlock door, Callan caught sight of me racing down the corridor.  For a second, hope flared in her lovely face.  But as Harris lunged toward the closing door, she realized there was no way I could reach her in time.  Hope gave way to despair before my view of her was blocked by pirates crowding around the window to watch the three meet their doom.

I felt as if my heart had burst inside my chest.  A red haze fell across everything before me and my vision narrowed until I could see nothing but the closest pirate.  From far away, I heard myself vent a howl of inarticulate rage and remorse.  Beside me, Martin did the same.


The pirate at the end of my tunnel vision was just turning around when my sword cut him in two.

Come one, come all to the Crimson Ball!

As the pieces of the pirate fell away, another pirate appeared at the end of my red tunnel.  His sword was just coming up when I severed his arm at the elbow.  Terror etched itself on the man's face as I drove my sword into his chest, stopping only when the hilt hit his breast bone.  With a heave, I flung the body over my head, yanking my sword free as the dying man fell to the corridor behind me.

There's a Scout on your left, and a Scout on your right
And Boosted they'll be when they join the fight!

On the edge of my narrowed vision, I saw a pirate trying to edge around me.  My left fist shot out and crushed the man's throat.  The gurgling, gagging man slid down the wall, doomed to a slow death by asphyxiation.

With a wink and a glance, they'll ask you to dance.
Then blades will flash and cut and slash!

The next pirate tried to back away, both hands held before him imploring me to spare him.  Pirates behind him shoved him back toward me.  My blade flashed.  His throat was slashed.

Your heads will fly and each will die.
Then we'll paint the hall red with the blood of your dead!

With no chance of escape, two pirates charged at me.  With a broad sweep of my sword, two heads bounced off the corridor wall.

So come one, come all to the Crimson Ball!

Finally, I came to the man who had closed the airlock door.  The man who had pressed the button and consigned my wife, my reason for life, to the cold void of space.  He was huddled against the wall, hands raised in supplication.  Tears streamed down his face and his mouth moved frantically as he begged for his life.

I was not in a forgiving mood.

Sword raised to give the man a faster death than he deserved, I stepped toward him.

"David!  No!"

Oh, God, I could almost hear Callan's voice calling to me.

"Darling, stop!  For me, for us, stop!"

Green eyes appeared at the end of my red tunnel.  Soft, loving hands wrapped around my neck and pulled me toward the eyes.  I dropped my sword and, not daring to hope, reached out toward the vision before me.  My hands met warm, live flesh and I pulled Callan into my embrace.

My vision cleared.  Hearing returned.  I was vaguely aware Martin and Megan were similarly entwined.  Covering my wife's face with kisses, I rejoiced.

Callan was alive!

How did Callan and Megan survive?  Find out in Chapter 97, coming Monday!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 95

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 94                                                                                                   Chapter 96 >
Our heroes have routed the pirates but the man they left in the air duct to guard the princess and Megan is not answering their calls!

Afraid of what I'd see, I leapt into the air duct.  Martin was right behind me.  A quick look  around told the story well enough.

A new opening yawned in the side of the duct, up toward the arena.  If I looked through the opening, I was certain I'd find a metal plate and a maintenance tunnel.  I assumed Chapman had told Quint about the tunnel and Quint had sent men through it to either cut us off or attack us from behind.  It would have worked, too, except the pirates found easier, more tempting prey waiting for them in the air duct.

"Looks like Harris killed one of the pirates and then took off with Megan and Callan," Martin said.

"And the pirates chased after them instead of attacking us,” I added.

Bent double, I set off down the duct as fast as the cramped conditions would allow.  Martin was right behind me.

"Keep up with them, lads," the sergeant ordered.  "Our captains won't be thinking clearly 'til their women are safe!"

Part of my brain -- a very small, very remote part -- knew the sergeant was right.  The animal part of my brain and the husband part of my brain was already picturing me hacking every last pirate into very small pieces for what I feared they'd done to my wife.

"Harris is a smart lad, sir," the sergeant called, perhaps trying to convince Martin and me to show more caution.  "He'll run if he can and fight if he has to.  He'll keep the ladies safe."

It was a good try and might have worked if we hadn't come across the blood stain.  It wasn't much, a smear of blood on the side of the duct.  It might not even have been Harris's blood.  Even if it wasn't, it was evidence of more fighting.

Rounding a bend, we saw the duct end in the side wall of a hallway.  As we drew closer, I saw the grating leaning crookedly against the far wall of the corridor, red blood shining from a spot in the middle of the grate.  Harris must have barreled into it without slowing down, clearing an exit for Callan and Megan.  It also told us Harris was wounded.

Exiting the duct, Martin and I rose to our full height and looked both ways down the corridor.

"There!" I shouted and set off running to the right.

A knot of pirates hacked and slashed with swords at Harris, who stood resolutely between the pirates and the two women.  With every stroke he exchanged with a pirate, Harris and the women retreated a step.  The marine bled from half a dozen minor cuts and a wound to his left shoulder.

We were fifty yards away, shouting and charging toward the pirates.  The sounds of their own battle must have drowned out our voices, because none of them turned our way.  Then Callan and Megan ran out of room to retreat and Harris was forced to stand and fight.  The pirates pressed the attack for a couple of seconds then suddenly pulled back.  One of the pirates hit a control on the wall and a heavy door slid between the pirates and the trio.

The pirates had pushed them into an airlock!

Harris must have realized it, too.  Through the window in the airlock door, I saw him spring forward.  He was too late.  Steel hit steel as the door finished closing.  Without taking his eyes from the airlock window, a pirate slapped the control to open the airlock to the void of space!

Is this the end for Princess Callan and Megan?  Find out in Chapter 96, coming Friday!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 94

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 93                                                                                                   Chapter 95 >
Despite being outnumbered twenty to one, our hero charges to battle the pirates!

All the pirates were watching me and didn't see Quint's face go slack and his eyes go wide when I charged.  He backed away from his men, opening his mouth twice before finding his voice.

"Ha!"  The sound was closer to a cough than a laugh.  "I goaded him right good.  Twenty thousand credits to the man who deals the death blow!"

The gleam of greed replaced fear in many of the pirates’ eyes.  They stopped retreating and readied their blades.  Over their heads, I saw Quint and Chapman turn and run back down the corridor.  I wanted to Boost, jump over the men, and chase Quint, but there were too many men to leap and the ceiling was too low.    I'd have to settle for Boosting and taking my frustration out on the pirates standing before me.

"Boarding party discipline, sir!" called the sergeant from close behind me.

That made me pull up short of the pirates' line.  A second later, Rupor, the sergeant, and a private stood beside me.

"Hold to the drill, gentlemen," Rupor said, "and we'll set this rabble on their heels!"

The sudden change in tactics had the pirates edging back again.  With Rupor calling the cadence, we stepped forward in unison and engaged the pirates.

The popular image of pirates is of a vicious band of cutthroats swarming throughout a ship, cutting down all who dare to stand in their way.  For once, the popular image matched reality.  But 'vicious' is nothing more than an attitude and 'swarm' is a tactic long abandoned by military-minded men.  Pirates only fight the military when they're cornered or can overwhelm their opponents through sheer numbers.

The pirates outnumbered us five or six to one, but the confines of the corridor kept the number of men actually engaging us to four.  As we slashed and stabbed with coordination and an economy of motion, the pirates fell into their preferred fighting styles.  They hacked and slashed with big, strong strokes and were as likely to get in each other's way as force one of us to block the blow.

With seconds of the first clash of steel, blood dripped from our swords and four new pirates stood before us.  Rupor blocked a pirate's attack and immobilized the blade.

"Bind!" he snapped.

The private's blade stabbed into Rupor's pirate as the sergeant and I shifted into defensive mode, covering the two men dealing with the pirate.

"Clear!" Rupor called as the pirate fell away from him.

Five more pirates fell before they realized they had no chance fighting against four blades working as one.  Our opponents turned and ran, abandoning the three men still engaged with us.

"Your fellows have left you," Rupor said.  "Be smart chaps and drop your swords.  If you do, I give you my word we won't kill you."

Three swords clattered to the deck.

"That's the first smart move I've seen all day," I said.  "When you see your fellow pirates, tell them we want to get back to our ship, nothing more.  If they don't get in our way, we won't kill them.  Now, scram."

Pirate footfalls faded quickly and we headed back to the air duct.  Martin and his marines finished routing their pirates as the sergeant called to his man.

"Harris?  It's safe to come up now!"

Harris didn't answer.  Heart leaping to my throat, I rushed to the opening.  A dead pirate lay in the duct.  There was no sign of Harris, Megan, or Callan!

What happened to Harris and the women?  Find out in Chapter 95, coming Wednesday!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 93

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 92                                                                                                   Chapter 94 >
Chapman has led Captain Quint and his pirates right to our heroes’ location!

Rupor, who was about to ascend into the corridor, sighed.  "My apologies, David.  I shouldn't have suggested you try to save Chapman.  I don't know what I was thinking."

"You were thinking about the woman you love, Rupor," I said.

Rupor's eyebrows shot up.  "Is it that obvious?"

Moving up next to Rupor, I pulled myself up into the corridor.  "By now, everyone on the ship has probably figured it out.  So, yeah, it's that obvious."

Rupor rose from the air duct to join us in the corridor.  "Then, if the chance presents itself, you know why I must be the one to kill Chapman."

"He knows nothing of the sort!" Callan called from below.  "David, don't let Rupor kill that slime unless there's no other choice."

"The same goes for you, Martin!" Megan sang out.

"But-" Rupor began.

"Your Highness," growled the sergeant, "a wise man listens to what women have to say concerning affairs of the heart!"

Rupor stared at the marine for a second.

"I've been married nearly as long as you've been alive, Prince Rupor," the sergeant said.  "After that many years, a man either learns a few things about women or spends a lot of cold nights on the couch.  Now, gentlemen, could I suggest we turn our attention to the pirates?"

Our section of the corridor was getting a bit crowded.  Two more marines had climbed up to join us.  One more marine, the young private I'd fought next to only a few minutes ago, was about to join us.

"Stay down there, Harris," the sergeant ordered.  "If we can't break through the pirate lines, it's your responsibility to get the women back to our ship."

"Yes, sir!" Harris replied.

We turned our attention back to the pirates.  Two groups stood to either side of us, blocking all exits except the air duct.  Despite having the numerical advantage, the pirates were just milling about.  Quint, arms folded, glared at us from behind one group.  Chapman, eyes bright and looking all the world like a weasel, stood next to Quint.

"Why aren't they attacking?" one of the marines asked.

"Quint's probably waiting for even more men so he can overwhelm us," Martin said.

"Then let's not wait for them to attack us," I said.  "Marines, stand aside and give Martin and me clear paths to the pirates."

Stepping forward, I looked in the eye of each pirate on the front line.  Switching to gal base, I said, "There's an indigenous race on my adopted planet.  Do you know what their name for me is?"

"Um, no?"

"Pay him no never mind, boys!" Quint called.  "We got 'em outnumbered."

"Then why aren't you attacking, Quint?" I said.  I turned my attention back to the front line.  "They call me the Hand of Death.  Stand down or my hand will deal your death!"

The four on the front line exchanged nervous glances.

"Ignore his yammerin'!" Quint commanded.  “He be outnumbered.  Ain’t no way he attacks!"

Sword raised, I charged!

Badly outnumbered, our hero charges into battle!  Find out what happens next in Chapter 94, coming Monday!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 92

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 91                                                                                                   Chapter 93 >
Our heroes have escaped from the arena in an air duct!

The hubbub surrounding the arena faded as we hurried through the air ducts.  Martin had slipped around everyone to take the lead while I stayed at the back to guard against pursuers.

"That was nicely done back there, my love," he said to Megan.  "When did you have time to come up with that song?"

"I just made it up as I went."

"Callan," Martin said, "could I suggest you have Megan appointed as the official bard of the Mordanian Court when we get home?"

"Please ignore Martin," Megan said to Callan.  "My songs are meant to be sung in taverns, on trails, and on street corners, not cooped up in a stuffy palace filled with stuffy nobles!"

Megan suddenly remembered she was talking to a noble who lived in the palace.  "Um, no offense, Your Highness."

Callan laughed.  "None taken, Megan.  I hope you'll agree to perform at the palace someday, but you have too much wanderlust to be happy stuck in one place.  How fortunate for you that Martin shares your love of the itinerant lifestyle.  You'll give us enough advance notice to catch up with the two of you for the big day, won't you?"

"What big day?" Megan asked.

"Your Highness, has anyone told you that you are much too observant?" Martin said.

"I am sorry, Martin," Callan said, contrition creeping into her voice.  "You've always been one to act once you made up your mind, I just assumed..."

"Would someone mind letting me in on this big secret?" Megan said, her voice rising.

"I'd hoped to be on one knee rather than bent double running through an air duct, but it seems the universe had other plans."  Martin looked over his shoulder.  "Megan, will you marry me?"

"Oh, is that what this was all about?" Megan asked.  "Sure."

"Until we have more time, please consider yourself thoroughly kissed, my dear."

"Consider my heart to be all aflutter and me near to swooning, dear heart.”

“You’ve made me the happiest man in the air duct!”

"My congratulations to the both of you," I called.  "Can you see a way out of this duct, Martin?  My back is killing me!"

"David, you'll be my best man, of course," Martin called back.  "And I see a grating about fifty feet ahead."

"I'd be honored," I said.  "Do you hear any sounds from ahead?"

"Excellent!" Martin called.  "I don't hear anything.  We can assume there isn't any fighting above the grate, at least."

"We might as well complete the wedding party while we're down here," Megan said.  "Callan, would you be my matron of honor?"

"'Matron' makes me sound so old!  I'm only twenty-two, you know."

It was Megan's turn to laugh.  "There is a specific connotation to 'maid.'  Unless you're saying David and you-"

"Matron it is," Callan interrupted.  "And, like David, I'd be honored."

“My compliments to the happy couple," growled the marine sergeant, "but could I suggest you hold off setting a date until we're back aboard the ship?"

"Good idea, Sergeant," Martin said.  "The corridor above sounds empty.  We won't have a better opportunity to get out of this duct."

At a nod from me, Martin lifted the grate and climbed out.  Two marines had followed him when Chapman's voice rang out.

"There they are, Captain Quint!  Just like I told you!”

Chapman is back and, yet again, is attempting to curry favor with Quint!  Will our heroes survive yet another encounter with Quint and Chapman?  Find out in Chapter 93, coming Friday!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 91

Scout's Honorthe first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 90                                                                                                   Chapter 92 >
Boosted, David and Martin plan to cover their party’s retreat from the arena!

The advance of the pirates was slowed as the pirates argued over who would be on the front line.  It appeared everyone wanted the first crack at us.  That gave Callan and Megan time to express their opinions of Martin's plan.

"Isn't that always the plan?" Callan asked.  "Danger looms, David Boosts, and his life is shortened because Boost abuses his body.  I didn't marry him just to watch him Boost himself into an early grave!"

"And, speaking as the expedition's bard, do you have any idea how hard it is to find rhymes for Boost?" Megan added.

"There's always loosed," Martin said.  "As in 'The men did Boost, and death was loosed.'"

"Dearest, I'd have starved years ago if I had your way with words!" Megan replied.

"That's it!" Callan exclaimed.  "Megan, tell the pirates what will happen to them if they attack us again.  Be colorful."

Megan grinned,  grabbed Martin and me by the arm, and stepped toward what would soon be the line of battle.  "Come on, boys, let's put on a show."

Facing the pirates across ten feet of corridor, she began to sing in gal base.  Seriously, she sang to a blood-thirsty gang of pirates!

Come one, come all
To the crimson ball!
I've a Scout to my left,
And a Scout to my right,
And Boosted they'll be,
When they join the fight!
With a wink and a glance
They'll ask you to dance.
Then blades will flash
And cut and slash!
Your heads will fly
And each will die.
Then we'll paint the hall red
With the blood of your dead!
So come one, come all
To the crimson ball!

The grisly song was all the more jarring for the spritely tone Megan used -- except for the last two lines.  Those were delivered in a tone so menacing I felt a shiver run up my spine!

"All fun aside, boys," Megan said into the silence, "you will end up looking like a girl's dolls after her spiteful little brother finishes playing with them.  Look at the bodies you just dragged aside.  Hacked and slashed as they are, those are pretty corpses compared to what David and Martin will leave behind!"

Turning toward the air duct, Megan looked back over her shoulder.  "Or you could just say we slipped away when you eager lads from the arena crashed out into the stalwart fellows in the corridor.  It's such an easy story to remember and who could say otherwise?"

With a parting smile, Megan began walking away.

"Let's go, everyone," she hissed.  "I don't know how long they'll dither!"

While Megan was singing, two marines had pulled the grating up from the air duct.  One by one, we jumped into the duct.  Dropping down last, I yanked the grating back in place.  Bending double, we hurried through the duct, unsure where it would lead!

Our heroes have escaped from the arena, but what lies ahead?  Find out in Chapter 92 of Scout’s Duty, coming Wednesday!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 90

Scout's Honor, the first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 89                                                                                                   Chapter 91 >
Outside the pirate captains’ box, our heroes find their escape route blocked by pirates battling Mordanian and Tartegian marines!

"Martin, find us a way out of here!" I called, spinning to guard the door I'd just stepped through.

"Already on it," Martin replied over the clash of weapons.

"Marines, withdraw from your position slowly until the door Captain Rice is guarding is in front of you," Rupor ordered.  "You'll be surrounded, otherwise."

Sword at the ready, Rupor joined me at the door into the captains' box.  He lunged as the door swung open and was rewarded by a cry of pain from inside.

"Takes you back to when we stormed the pirate spaceship a few months ago, eh what?" he grinned.

I slashed an extending sword arm and the blade dropped to the floor.  "What, heavily outnumbered and too close to the dark edge of death?"

"Exactly, my friend!" Rupor enthused, parrying a hastily jabbed pirate sword.  "A man is never more alive than when he's defying death.  It makes the blood sing!"

"Last time, my blood leaked and in large quantities.  And I recall that you were captured."  I lunged at a face inside the door.  The face disappeared as the pirate jumped back and tripped over someone behind him.

"True, but we have your friend Captain Bane with us this time," Rupor enthused, pulling his sword from the belly of a pirate.

As if on cue, Martin called, "I've found something!  Keep up the fighting withdrawal while I get the ladies into the duct."

Air ducts?  Not bad, and they might even get us safely behind our own lines if we didn't get hopelessly lost in them.  But I could see one problem with that escape route.

"How are we all going to get into the ducts without leaving some marines behind to die?"

The sergeant leading the marines replied, "That's our job, sir, and we're damned good at it!  The pirates will pay heavily before they get past us."

The marines' fighting withdrawal reached me and I fell in beside a young private.  The boy couldn't be more than a couple of years older than Milo!

"Martin, there's got to be something we can do to give all of us a fighting chance!"

Rupor fell in beside me and we backed down the corridor from the door.  Overeager, the pirates inside the captains' box rushed into the corridor and smashed into the pirates’ front line.  It was a golden opportunity and the marines took full advantage of the confusion.  Swords flashed and men screamed.  Seconds later, nine pirates lay dead or dying and the pirates paused to regroup.

In the comparative silence, Martin didn't have to shout.  "I've got an idea for getting all of us away from here."

Martin's tone was as casual as possible under the circumstances, but there must have been something in his look.

"What kind of idea?" Callan demanded.

"It's simple.  We take advantage of the confusion and all retreat into the duct!"

Before us, the pirates were already regrouping and their confusion hadn't lasted long enough for Martin's plan to succeed.

"And what, exactly, is going to cause this confusion?" Megan asked.

"David and I will," he replied.  "Attacking the pirates while Boosted.”

Even Boosted, can our heroes hold the pirates at bay long enough for everyone to escape?  Find out in Chapter 91, coming Monday!