Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 14

< Chapter 13                                                                                                 Chapter 15 >
Trapped on a mountain, David and Callan hear the unmistakable sound of an approaching airship!

I caught Callan’s hand and pulled her toward the scree. “We’ve got to get out of this deathtrap before the airship attracts the trogs!”

Sticking to the side of the scree, I used one hand to pull myself up using the smaller rocks lining the edge of the slope. I used the other hand to pull Callan up behind me. We made surprisingly good time, all things considered, and this method allowed me to concentrate on climbing and Callan to serve as lookout.

“Can you see the airship yet?” I asked between pants and gasps as I strained to get up the slope as fast as possible.

“Not yet. I think it’s on the other side of this mountain.” Callan was breathing nearly as hard as I was even though I was climbing for both of us. She’d exerted too much with very little rest. “Let’s hope it stays there, too. If it swings around to our side of the mountain, it’s bound to draw the trogs along with it.”

Surely the crew would spot our wrecked airships and swoop down for a look. That, alone, ought to keep them busy for far longer than it would take Callan and me to climb this slope. Unless, my mind handily reminded me, they’d already investigated the wrecks and were searching for survivors.

We passed the halfway point in our climb and I found myself wondering how the trogs would react to the airship. With blaster rifles, they could very well blast the ship out of the sky if it came within reasonable shooting range. Would the trogs fire on the ship or just hide and wait for it to sail away. Then I remembered the wind storm from the night before. Whoever was in charge of this place was pretty keen on keeping it a secret for as long as possible.

“The airship is slowing, David, and I think it will come around the mountain very soon.”

“Almost to the top, dear.”

“You’d better hurry, darling. The airship just flew into view.” Callan was silent for a couple of seconds then spoke again. “And now the trogs are on the move. I can hear them walking on the loose stones.”

“Can you get the attention of someone on the airship? A rain of crossbow bolts on the trogs will come in very handy if the trogs spot us.”

I felt Callan stand up and her left arm began shaking a bit. I didn’t have to look to know she was waving her right arm frantically, hoping someone on the airship spotted her.

“I just saw light reflect off of glass! Someone must be checking us out with binoculars.” Callan waved even more frantically. “Yes! Someone waved back at me!”

“Good. Try pointing in the direction of the trogs. Even if they don’t spot them, the captain should understand that there’s danger nearby.”

I hauled myself up to the top of the scree, pulling Callan up beside me. The sound of trogs walking through stone was much too loud for my tastes. I headed away from the approaching trogs, pulling Callan along with me. With a steep, bare slope rising above our little path and a rocky wasteland falling away below it, I didn’t hold much hope of finding a hiding place.

“David, someone on the airship is pointing at the top of the mountain and motioning up. I think they want us to climb to the top so they can pick us up!”

Praying the trogs never chose to look our way, I left the path and led Callan up the wide open slope. I could feel her flagging as hunger and thirst and exhaustion took their toll. There was no way she could make the two hundred yard climb to the mountain top.

I took a look over my shoulder and saw the first trogs march into view. In the distance, the airship swung around for a pass over the mountain top. I thought I saw crossbowmen lining the rails before the airship turned bow forward to me. The ship’s engines roared as the captain put on more speed. At the same time, a trog fired a very poorly aimed blaster shot. It missed the airship by a wide margin, but it served notice that the trogs weren’t planning to let the airship get away.

Worst of all, I realized Callan and I had no chance of reaching the summit before the airship got there. There was only one thing to do. I turned and swept Callan into my arms. “Hang on, dear!”

Boost!

Adrenaline surged through my veins and time slowed. Callan wrapped her arms around my neck in slow motion as her expression gradually shifted from exhaustion to concern for me. I charged up the mountainside, my legs churning faster than any normal man’s could. But we Scouts aren’t normal men—science and technology have seen to that.

I took another glance over my shoulder at the approaching airship. More blaster bolts blazed into the sky, but it looked like the trogs hadn’t worked out the idea of aiming ahead of a moving target. Most of the bolts passed through the airship’s wake and the rest missed to port or starboard. A volley of crossbow bolts launched from the airship, arching down toward the trogs. I couldn’t see if any hit, but the trog shooting stopped and trog voices rose in alarm.

Then the bow of the airship passed over us. Men peered down at us waving arms and urging us to climb just a bit higher. Ropes dangled from the ship’s railing, still too high for me to grab. Knowing Callan would kill me if she realized what I was doing, I toggled off my implant’s safety overrides. I swung Callan up over one shoulder as more adrenaline hit my system. I gave one final burst of speed and, just as the last rope passed overhead, I reached the mountaintop and leapt for the dangling line.

My fingers wrapped around the rope and strong arms pulled us to the safety of the deck. I carefully put Callan down then toggled on the implant safety overrides. The flow of adrenaline cut off and, for the first time since I’d originally arrived on Aashla, I fell unconscious before I even hit the deck.


Are David and Callan safe from the trogs and whoever is leading them? Find out in Chapter 15, coming Friday!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 13

< Chapter 12                                                                                                 Chapter 14 >
With Callan hidden under piled stones, David hides atop a boulder as two trogs slide down the slope toward them.

With my heart hammering in my chest, I listened as the trogs slipped and slid down the stony slope toward the hidden body of their dead companion and my very living wife, also hidden beneath carefully piled stones. When I was certain the trogs were too far down the scree to spot me on top of the boulders, I crept up out of the crevice I’d hidden in and quietly drew my sword. I breathed through my mouth to reduce the already slim chance an exhalation might give away my presence. There was nothing I could do about the hammering of my heart.

I strained my ears, listening for the slightest change in the sounds made by the trogs. When the scrape of trogs sliding through rocks changed, it was so obvious a deaf man could have heard it. One second I heard two trogs noisily sliding and climbing and the next second the sound cut neatly in half. Either one of the trogs reached the bottom already—something I strongly doubted—or one of them slid into the corpse near the bottom of the scree.

A few seconds later, one of the trogs grunted in surprise and called to his companion. The call definitely didn’t come from the bottom of the slope, meaning the trog found the dead guard. My mind raced ahead, planning my response depending on what the trogs did next.

I fervently hoped they would simply climb back up the slope and go report to their leader. Callan and I could use that time to get out of the scree and find a better hiding place. I feared most that they’d yell for help, forcing me to attack and pray I not only killed the trogs quickly but could just as quickly find a better hiding place for Callan and me. Of course, the trogs didn’t do either one of those things.

I listened to the trogs talk for a few seconds, my body tensed and ready to spring to the attack if either of them raised their voice.  I heard the unmistakeable sound of a trog climbing the rest of the way down the scree, joining the other trog at the bottom. Then I heard a spear plunge into the stones piled at the bottom of the scree and that made no sense to me.

Surely the trogs didn’t think the person who killed the guard was also hiding down here? Okay, I was hiding down here, but there was no logical reason for the trogs to suspect that—especially since they’d already shot Chris running from this area. Their actions made no sense.

No, that’s wrong. Poking spears into the rocks at the bottom of the scree made no sense based on my knowledge. So what did the trogs know that I didn’t know? Lots of stuff and none of it was important at the moment. One of the trogs was directly below my boulder and mere feet from discovering Callan!

My tensed muscles uncoiled and I sprang from my boulder. I saw the trog below me jab his spear into stones piled against the boulder. Some sense warned the trog trouble was near because he looked up just in time to see me dropping toward him. His mouth opened to shout and he tried to raise his spear in defense. With the spear stuck a foot deep in the stones that was never going to work. Before he said anything, I rammed my sword through his right eye and out at the base of his skull.

The trog collapsed beneath me as I pulled my sword free. The other trog whirled at the sound of his companion hitting the ground. The trog’s eyes widened at the sight, but his surprise didn’t slow his reactions. With his own spear plunged into piled stones, the trog abandoned it and grabbed for the blaster rifle slung over his shoulder. The barrel of the dying trog's blaster stuck out from underneath his body. I’d never free that rifle fast enough to shoot first, but the other trog was too far away for me to reach before he fired.

I grabbed the trog’s spear with my left hand and dove to my right. The spear pulled free easily and I readied it for an off-hand throw as I rolled to my feet. The trog swung the blaster rifle my way as I hurled the spear. It was a surprisingly accurate throw for a right-hander, flying arrow-straight toward the trog’s chest. It was not a particularly hard throw and the trog deflected it easily with the blaster rifle. But that was my plan all along.

In the brief time the trog spent concentrating on the spear, I charged. While the spear clattered harmlessly off the rifle barrel, my sword thrust came up under his breast and skewered his heart. The trog stumbled backward, blue blood bubbling up out of his mouth and flowing freely down my sword blade. I pulled my sword free and, as if the blade was all that held him up, the trog collapsed.

I heard a sound behind me and spun, my sword held ready. A dirty and dust-covered Callan yanked at the barrel of the other trog’s blaster rifle, struggling to pull it out from under the trog’s body.

“It’s okay, Callan, I got them both.”

“I can see that, darling,” she replied, wiggling the blaster to work it free. “But how long have we got before someone else comes looking for these two?”

I snatched up the blaster at my feet and ran to help Callan. “That’s exactly the sort of question I should have thought of.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, David. You were rather busy.”

I rolled the trog up and off of the blaster rifle, releasing the body once Callan pulled the weapon free. “Okay, let’s climb out of here and see if we can find a place to hole up until the trogs stop looking for us.”

Callan looked up at the boulder I’d leapt from. “There’s no way out of here over the boulders?”

“Maybe, after a lot of dangerous hopping from boulder to boulder we might find a way to safety. We might also find ourselves having to double back and climb this scree after all. But we can try—”

I interrupted myself as a new sound reached our ears. The droning of propellors told us an airship approached!


Can our heroes flag down the airship? Find out in Chapter 14 of Scout’s Law, coming Wednesday!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 12

< Chapter 11                                                                                                 Chapter 13 >
The trog patrol is climbing the rocky slope toward our heroes hiding place!

I motioned for Callan and Chris to back away from the crest of our part of the mountain. We slithered down as quickly and quietly as possible. Once the trogs couldn’t see us if we stood, I rose to my feet and unbuckled my sword belt.

“What are you doing, David?” Callan whispered, her voice barely audible above the sound of the trogs slogging through the scree on the opposite slope.

“Trade swords with me, Chris.” I held my sword belt out to the ensign. “There is no way I’m letting Rob’s sword fall into trog hands.”

Callan scowled at me and her voice took on a brittle edge. “Darling, I asked you a question.”

Chris froze, his head swinging back and forth between the two of us, his sword belt only partially unbuckled. I shook my sword belt under his nose.

Now, Ensign!” Turning back to Callan, I said, “I’m going to distract the trogs and give you and Chris a chance to either hide or find another way out of here.”

“Let’s find that hiding place or another way out—together. All three of us,” Callan pleaded.

“This is who I am, Callan, and this is what I do. And you knew that when you married me,” I said, smiling. “Remember, a kingdom needs a monarch and it needs an heir. Your father is safe, thank God, and I’m about to ensure his heir is safe, too.”

Callan nodded reluctantly, wrapping her arms around me for a quick, perhaps final, hug. That’s when Chris dropped his sword belt and bolted back up the slope!

“I’ll distract the trogs! You must protect Princess Callan!”

I grabbed for Chris’s arm but the boy timed his break perfectly. With Callan’s arms entwined around me, I couldn’t lunge after Chris. My fingertips brushed against his sleeve and then the boy was out of reach.

The flash of sunlight momentarily blinded me and memories of another sixteen-year-old boy flooded my mind. I saw a pinnace flash past, meters above me and heard Milo’s last words.

“You’re not dying if I can help it! Take care of Kim for me.”

My vision cleared and I saw Chris raising his arms as he reached the top of the slope. Much as I wanted to charge after the boy and protect him, my duty lay with Callan. Honoring Chris’s last plea, I turned away from the ensign and dragged Callan around the rocks and out of sight of the top of the slope.

A blaster rifle fired, followed closely by a second. Even as I carefully led Callan down the steep scree we’d used to hide the trog body, I waited for Chris’s last cry as the bolts blasted the life out of him. Instead, the trog leader shouted something. No third shot came and I realized one of the two shots must have killed the boy instantly.

Tears welled up in my eyes and I harshly crushed the emotions which drew them forth. With no idea how long Callan and I had before the trogs investigated further, I simply couldn’t afford the luxury of emotions, much less tears. I gave Callan a quick glance and saw her wipe at her eyes, but also saw a look of grim determination settle over her face. Between the two of us, we would make the trogs pay dearly for Chris’s life!

We slipped and slid past the point where the trog’s corpse was buried under the stones. A dozen feet later we reached the boulders piled at the bottom of the scree. Callan and I quickly scanned the area, hoping for a narrow passage between boulders, and came up empty. Far away, the trog leader issued more orders and I had to assume he was ordering his warriors onward.

I dragged Callan off to the side of the scree. “Lay down, Callan, and I’ll cover you with stones. If I handle it right, maybe the trogs won’t spot you.”

With a nod, Callan laid down at my feet. As I scooped loose stone up around her, she asked, “What are you going to do, David?”

“Once you’re covered, I’ll Boost and jump up on top of the boulders.”

“Won’t that put you in plain sight from the top of the hill?”

“If I planned on staying there, it would. I’m going to find a crevice or gap between boulders and slide down out of sight.” I smoothed the rocks around Callan to appear more natural. Stroking her cheek once, I carefully piled stones around and over her head. “Stay as still as possible dear, don’t say or do anything until I come for you, and remember that I’m nearby. I love you.”

A muffled voice responded, “I love you, too, darling.”

Upslope, I heard trogs moving closer so wasted no time issuing a command to my implant.

Boost!

Adrenaline flooded my veins and time slowed as strength surged through my body, driving away all my fatigue. I crouched and leapt up between two boulders. There were no handholds, so I simply pressed both arms against the sides of the two boulders. Boost-enhanced muscles locked against the rock, giving me the chance to swing the rest of my body up and over the top of the smaller boulder. Without Boost, my attempt would have been impossible. With Boost, I was over the top of the boulder and crouched in the crevice where two boulders met in less than ten seconds. Once I was safely out of sight, I dropped Boost.

I made it just in time. A few seconds after I dropped from sight I heard several trogs stop at the top of the scree. A discussion of some kind followed, resulting in what I assumed was a call for the leader. The crunch of feet in loose stone announced the leader’s arrival and I heard yet another discussion. The leader gave an order which resulted in what I could only interpret as a complaint. The leader spoke more harshly and the complainer shut up.

At long last, I heard many trog feet trudge away from the top of the scree and slowly fade away. Relieved, I started a slow count to thirty, planning to go pull Callan out at the end of the count. It’s a good thing I waited. When my count reached nine I heard the unmistakable sound of two trogs climbing down the scree toward us!


Will the trogs discover the corpse or find Callan? Find out in Chapter 13, coming Monday!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 11

< Chapter 10                                                                                                 Chapter 12 >
The trogs have discovered their guard is missing!

I handed the blaster rifle to Callan and whispered, “Both of you keep quiet and stay out of sight.”

Moving with caution on the scree, I crept up to the small crest over which we’d carried the trog’s body. Trog feet crunched in the loose stone outside the cave entrance. I tried to gauge their numbers based on the noise the trogs made but it proved well beyond me. I turned onto my left side, closed my left eye, and carefully peered over the brow with my right eye. A hundred feet below me, something like two dozen trogs milled around the entrance to the cave. One stood aloof—their leader, no doubt— watching two more trogs scanning the ground for tracks of some kind.

Chris and I had left obvious tracks as we lugged the corpse up the hill but now our tracks were almost entirely gone. Callan must have smoothed out the stones behind us. Being far lighter than the combined weight of two men and a dead body, she’d managed to walk over the same terrain leaving hardly a sign of her passage. Would that prove enough to send the trogs off in another direction?

Two agonizing minutes crept by before the trackers returned to the leader and reported. He considered their report for a moment before issuing orders to his patrol. All but four trogs fell in behind the trackers and their leader, who led them off the way we’d originally come.

I quietly released a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. Four guards still blocked our only known path away from our hiding place but I felt certain we could take out those four if it proved absolutely necessary. With the same caution I’d used ascending to the crest, I returned to Callan and Chris.

“A good twenty trogs are following the wrong trail in search of us.” I took Callan’s hand and kissed it. “That’s all thanks to you, dear. If you hadn’t covered our tracks in the rocks, we’d be prisoners of the trogs right now.”

Chris gave me a puzzled look. “Didn’t you battle at least that many trogs when you first met Her Highness? If you Boosted, surely you could handle them without any problems!”

“You’re a smart lad, Chris,” I chided gently. “Stop thinking of me as some invincible hero and start thinking about what’s different between then and now.”

“Well, you’re older now,” Chris said more to himself than to me, “so that might slow you down a bit. But even if it did, Her Highness or I could lend supporting fire with this blaster rifle and—. Oh.” The ensign shook his head in disgust. “The trogs have blaster rifles, too. Even Boosted, there’s no way you could dodge that much massed fire.”

I gave Chris an encouraging smile. “Exactly.”

“How could I be so stupid? I should have realized that from the beginning!”

Callan placed a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I know quite a few naval officers who wouldn’t have figured it out as quickly as you did. Why are you so hard on yourself over something little like this?”

Chris just shook his head and turned away from us to stare at the rock giving us shelter. Callan turned a questioning gaze my way. I had an idea what was bothering the boy, but only because of a comment from Dr. Mach, the expedition’s surgeon. Chris was plenty smart, but I got the idea he felt his intelligence was his only asset and put enormous pressure on himself to be quick on the uptake.

“You know, I remember my first Scout Academy expedition when I was a cadet. I had all the coursework down cold and was certain I was going to set some kind of record for the best first cadet cruise ever.” Chris didn’t turn around, but his head shifted slightly so he could hear my words better. “I was so busy imagining the honors that would be heaped on me that I hardly even paid attention during the tour of the ship and only noted my duty station in passing. After all, it was a three-week cruise. I’d have plenty of time to memorize the ship’s layout. Can you guess what happened, Chris?”

The boy nodded. “Right after the tour ended, an alarm sounded and you were ordered to report to your duty station.”

“Yep. I was completely lost. When I asked another cadet for help, he told me to follow someone else assigned to the same station. It was good advice and better than I deserved—only I didn’t know which cadets were assigned to the same station. When the officers began their inspection tour, I was still running around hoping to stumble into my station. Instead I stumbled into the captain—literally. I knocked him flat on his butt.”

This revelation drew a look of horrified fascination from Chris. “They didn’t throw you out of the academy for that?”

“No, they just gave me all the worst cadet assignments for the rest of the year.” I smiled ruefully at the boy. “Smart people make mistakes, Chris. Smarter people learn from their mistakes and move on.”

“What if being smart is all you’ve got?”

“Then you’re selling yourself short!” Callan insisted. “In the last two days, you’ve survived the wreck of your airship, avoided being killed or captured by trogs, found David and me, tracked the trogs to their hidden lair, and helped David hide a body. Not to mention catching me when I was overcome by the heat yesterday afternoon.”

“I know you were just pretending yesterday, Your Highness.”

Callan raised an eyebrow imperiously. “A princess never pretends, Ensign. She chooses alternative means to accomplish her goal. But if you knew, why didn’t you protest and remain with the men at the grave site?”

Chris blushed furiously and ducked his head.

Taking pity on the boy—after all, I understood the appeal of wrapping my arms around Callan—I said, “A gentleman never questions a lady’s request for assistance.”

“Then it was done quite gallantly, Ensign, as have been your actions since then. I shall have stern words for anyone who would cast aspersions on you or your behavior.”

After that little discussion, we settled down to rest while waiting for the trog patrol to wander farther from the cave entrance. I did my best to clean the blaster rifle during that time but could only blow out the dust and brush at the sand with my fingers. I judged the gun in more serviceable condition when I was done, though the rifle was far from clean.

An hour later, the three of us crept to the crest to spy out the situation. Four trogs milled about the cave entrance, with three relaxing and one keeping an actual watch. None of them was looking our way. Assuming the rifle’s sights were true, four quick blaster shots should clear our way. I was just lining up the first shot when Chris caught my shoulder and shook his head.

“The patrol is returning,” he whispered.

Thank God for the boy’s young ears because several seconds passed before I heard the patrol. Shortly, they came into sight and rejoined the four guards. Trog voices rose in discussion for a minute or so, then the leader turned and looked up the slope toward us. I ducked out of sight before he saw me but it didn’t matter. The leader issued an order. Right after that we heard the unmistakeable sound of trogs climbing up the slope!

Can our heroes fight their way free or find a way to escape from the trogs? Find out in Chapter 12, coming Friday!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 10

< Chapter 9                                                                                                  Chapter 11 >
Exploring the cave at the end of the trogs’ trail, David finds the hidden entrance to another cave!

The tunnel took a sharp turn to the right, deeper into the mountain, a few feet past the entrance and I wanted to get a look around that turn. I sidled into the new cave quietly and carefully, keeping my chest pressed against the right-hand wall. My ears probed the cave ahead of me, alert for the slightest indication someone was coming. That saved me.

I heard the sound of fabric against rock, the barest of unnatural susurrations, but it told me I wasn’t alone. Without a second thought, I dropped into a backward somersault. Just as I tucked into the roll, a trog jumped into view. He fired his blaster rifle from the hip and the bolt ricocheted off the wall I’d been pressed against half a second ago.

The barrel of the rifle tracked my way as I came up out of my roll. Planting both feet against the left wall, I leveled my sword and lunged at the trog’s chest. My blue-skinned opponent brought his blaster rifle up in an attempt to parry my thrust. He deflected my blade up and away from his chest—and into his throat! Hot blood sprayed from his neck as my sword ripped veins and arteries.

Gurgling, the trog dropped the rifle and clawed at his throat in a futile effort to stem the fatal flow of blood. He stumbled forward, eyes wide and glaring at me. The trog dropped to his knees then pitched face-first onto the cave floor.

Snatching up the blaster rifle, I waited for fifteen tense seconds but no more trogs leapt to the attack nor did I hear shouts or cries of alarm from deeper in the cave. Confident I was alone, I cleaned my sword on the trog’s tunic and sheathed it. Leaning the blaster rifle against the wall, I picked up the heavy corpse and draped an arm over one shoulder and a leg over the other. Careful with my ungainly burden, I grabbed the stock of the blaster rifle and staggered back the way I’d come.

I’d been in the cave for no more than ten minutes, but the sunlight was dazzling and felt almost unnatural in comparison. Callan and Chris rushed to help me when I emerged. Chris looked particularly pale, staring at the dead trog with troubled eyes.

“I swear I didn’t see the trog, sir!” Chris said as he took some of the trog’s weight off my shoulders.

“Are you all right, David?” Callan asked, her eyes flicking all over me in search of any wounds.

“I’m fine, Callan. All of the fresh blood on me is blue.” I gave an encouraging smile at Chris. “I know you didn’t see the trog, Chris. There’s another cave branching off behind that big boulder at the back of the cave. This guy was in there, probably standing guard. You couldn’t have seen him.”

Despite my words, Chris looked down, refusing to meet my gaze. “I should have found that cave.”

“You most certainly should not, Ensign Marlow!” Callan snapped, her sharp tone catching the lad by surprise. “You were under direct orders from a member of the royal family to be careful and avoid unnecessary risks—such as exploring a cave by yourself.”

“Before you lay into him further, dear,” I said, handing the blaster rifle to Callan, “could we please find a place to stash this body? It’s rather heavy.”

“We’re on a mountain, David. I’m sure we can find dozens of places to hide the corpse.” Callan looked about quickly before leading us upslope. “Why did you even bother bringing it with you?”

“I don’t see any point in advertising our presence any more than necessary.”

“Won’t the trogs figure out what happened when they discover all the blood inside the cave?” Chris gasped, struggling with his half of the heavy burden.

“I’m going to go back and scatter dirt over all the blood,” I replied. “It might make a particularly dim trog think this guy came outside to relieve himself or something.”

Callan pointed beyond a jumble of rocks. “There’s a steep scree over here. If you toss the body down it, it should be pretty easy to push more rocks down on top of it.”

We did as instructed then spent the next thirty minutes pushing rocks down to cover the body. It wasn’t perfect, but it was far better than I’d hoped for.

When we were finished, the three of us settled down to rest in the shade of an overhang which was out of sight from the cave entrance. I took that time to take a look at the blaster rifle. A cursory examination showed the rifle wasn’t complete—much of the outer covering was missing, for instance.

The missing pieces didn’t affect the rifle’s function, but they might affect how long it functioned since the covering existed to protect the more delicate inner workings from the elements. Without constant cleaning, dust and sand could completely disable the internal electronics. Looking at this one sample, cleaning hadn’t been high on its owner’s list of things to do.

“Are you going to explain all of those murmured comments and grunts you’re making, David?” Callan asked.

“Sorry, dear, I wasn’t aware I was making them.”

“You never are, darling.” She smiled fondly to make sure I understood this fell under the category of ‘endearing trait’ rather than ‘annoying habit’. “So, explanations?”

“First, the rifle is rather crude by galactic standards. It looks like whoever built this repurposed a lot of electronics to function as a blaster rifle. The Federation restricts weapon components for this very reason, but someone quite clever figured out a way around it.” I pointed to different interior components of the rifle. “These are quite common electronic parts—you can probably find them at every Federation research station on Aashla—but they’ve been combined in such a way that they work entirely differently than designed. That explains how those two rogue researchers got this stuff past Federation inspectors.”

Callan and Chris exchanged a look before Callan said, “We non-technical lost colonists will happily take you at your word. That explains the muttering. What about the grunts?”

“That was just me expressing professional disdain for the trog’s weapon maintenance. This thing is filthy. Dirt can mess up the operation of weapons as simple as crossbows. It’s about a hundred times worse in something like this rifle. I’m surprised the thing works at all.”

Callan patted my arm. “Well, hadn’t you better get started cleaning it?”

“You know me so well, dear.”

Chris leaned in, keen interest written on his face. “Will you teach me how to clean this weapon, sir?”

“Sure. And how many times do I have to tell you to call—”

Suddenly, a trog voice rose in the distance. I didn’t have to understand the language to recognize the tone of someone issuing commands. The trogs must have discovered their guard was missing!


Will the trogs discover our heroes? Find out in Chapter 11, coming Wednesday!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 9

< Chapter 8                                                                                                  Chapter 10 >
Callan and David are reunited with Ensign Marlow, who has found an empty cave at the end of the trogs’ trail.

“Did you go into the cave?” I asked.

“Of course, sir, though not very far.” Chris bowed slightly in Callan’s direction. “I promised Her Highness I would be careful.”

“I told you to call me Callan,” my wife gently admonished the boy. “And thank you for honoring your promise.”

“How long did you stay in the cave? Did you give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness?”

“Yes, sir. I stayed inside for five minutes. The cave is less than thirty feet deep and only ten to fifteen feet wide.” Chris shrugged. “I don’t think I missed anything.”

A trog trail leading up to an empty cave struck me as far-fetched in the extreme. As a race, trogs are very direct with an almost in-your-face approach to life. That lack of subtlety had led humans on Aashla to assume the trogs were simply stupid. Since Aashla made contact with the wider galaxy, properly equipped researchers have shed a lot of light on the race. The short version is that trogs are genetically disinclined to such deception. The two missing human researchers, on the other hand, were probably quite skilled at deception.

“I don’t doubt your observations at all, Chris, but I’d like to check out the cave for myself.” I motioned back the way the ensign had come from. “Would you lead us to it?”

Chris snapped off a salute, spun about, and all but marched down the path. Smiling and shaking her head, Callan took my hand and we followed the boy.

“He’s quite an earnest young officer, our Chris.” Callan leaned close to me and kept her voice low. “Doesn’t he remind you a bit of Milo?”

“If by ‘remind’ you mean ‘is the complete opposite of’ then I’m right there with you. Though, like Milo, he does have the good taste to be smitten with you.”

“Oh pish and tosh, David. I’m just an old married woman from Chris’s point of view.”

“If I may be so bold,” Chris said over his shoulder, “Her Highness does herself an injustice. I would be the envy of all my fellow ensigns if they knew I was serving you directly.”

I grinned. “Okay, now he reminds me of Milo!”

“You heard everything we said, Chris?” Callan asked.

“Yes, Your Highness. An officer in the Royal Navy must be aware of all that goes on around him—especially the mutterings of the men in his command.” Chris looked back at us. “I’m also the youngest of seven children. Keen hearing is a survival trait in such a large family.”

“Perhaps I should whisper my most intimate comments into your ear, dear,” I said to Callan. “I’d hate to embarrass the ensign.”

The back of Chris’s neck turned red and his back stiffened. “I would never intentionally listen to a private conversation, sir—especially not one between a husband and wife!”

“We know, Chris.” Callan quickened her pace and put an arm around the boy’s shoulders. “You have our complete trust.”

I watched Chris’s right arm twitch and almost wrap itself around Callan’s waist. The lad caught himself, though, and turned to see if I had spotted his almost-move with my wife. I quickly looked off into the distance. The boy had enough to worry about right now without worrying about attracting my disapproval, as well. Sixteen was half a lifetime ago for me, but I still remembered what it was like.

Then we rounded a turn and spotted the cave entrance less than fifty feet ahead of us. It was right out in the open where anyone walking the trail would see it. That didn’t mean much, seeing how the mountain was at the edge of a desert. Probably only a handful of people in the history of Aashla ever laid eyes on the cave mouth.

“You two wait here,” I said, striding past them. “Ensign Marlow, if anything happens to me your one duty is to get Princess Callan to safety. Is that clear?”

Marlow snapped to attention, saluted, and responded, “Absolutely clear, sir!”

“Aren’t you being a tad melodramatic, David?” Callan asked.

“At ease, Marlow.” I turned to Callan and gave her a brief but tight hug. “No, I’m not, Callan. Besides, you ought to be used to it by now.”

“It’s been six years since our last adventure, darling. I’d rather hoped you’d have gotten over your ‘Captain of the Princess’s Guard’ fixation.”

“And risk having Rob come back to haunt me? No thank you!”

“Fine, darling. I promise to do everything Ensign Marlow tells me to do.” Callan pecked me on the mouth. “Do you feel better now?”

“Immensely.”

I trotted over to the cave entrance, stopping outside and listening. Once I was satisfied all was quiet inside the cave, I slipped through the opening and stepped to the side of the entrance and out of the direct light. My eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness but I still waited a half a minute after that before moving deeper into the cave.

There wasn’t much to see inside. A lot of rocks—ranging from fist-sized to ones three or four feet across—were scattered over the floor. Near the back, one huge rock leaned against the left side of the cave. That was the only possible hiding place in the cave, though I dutifully checked all around the larger rocks on the floor as I worked my way to the boulder in the back.

Once I reached the leaning boulder, I squatted down and looked into the space between it and the cave wall. It was even darker than normal under there and I almost stuck my hand in to check the wall. Then I remembered the poisonous many-legged desert creature that almost bit Callan during my very first night on Aashla. I drew my sword instead and tapped along the wall, neither finding an opening nor flushing out any creatures.

I slowly walked around the boulder, pushing against it to make sure it wasn’t precariously balanced. The thing was firmly wedged in place, so I stepped around the far side of the rock and into the small space between it and the back of the cave. I was so certain I’d find nothing besides cave wall that I actually jumped back a couple of feet when I spotted the entrance to another cave hidden behind the boulder. More surprisingly, dim light flickered deep inside that cave!


What lies hidden in this new cave? Find out in Chapter 10 of Scout’s Law, coming Monday!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 8

< Chapter 7                                                                                                   Chapter 9 >
Callan and David set off after the returning trog patrol, hoping to find out where the trogs took the survivors from the wreck of the Vanguard.

Had Callan and I been well-rested and unconcerned about being spotted, our longer legs would have made it easy to keep pace with the loping trogs. Instead, they drew steadily farther and farther ahead of us as our exhaustion and caution slowed us down. By the time the trogs reached the feet of the mountains before us, they were half a mile ahead.

We dropped behind some bushes in case one of the trogs chose that moment to look behind them. Callan’s head hung down and she gasped for breath. Sweat made tracks in the thin coating of dust on her face. She swiped a hand across her brow and brushed at her cheeks, smearing the dust.

Without looking up, she said, “I’m worn out, David. Go on without me. You can come back when you’ve found the village.”

I took a moment to master my own ragged breathing then shook my head. “You’ve already convinced me that staying together is the safest thing to do. I’m not about to ignore the advice of the heir to my kingdom’s throne. That hill looks like one big pile of loose stones and the trogs are leaving quite a trail behind them.”

Callan lifted her head and straightened her back to peer over the bushes. Slumping back, she asked, “So we’re going to rest for a while?”

“Yes.”

“Good. You take first watch.” Callan toppled my way and settled her head into my lap. Seconds later, her breathing deepened and her face relaxed as she fell asleep.

I took a few minutes to survey the desert around us. Nothing moved except the band of trogs trudging up the mountain ahead of us. I gently rearranged Callan into a more comfortable position and pulled the hair away from her face. Despite being covered in grime—not to mention giving birth to two children and enduring the stress of taking the lead in guiding Aashla toward membership in the Terran Federation—she still took my breath away. She brought sanity and meaning and deep, abiding love into my life. There was nothing I would not do and nothing I would not give to keep her safe.

A voice jerked me from my reverie. “Is Her Highness hurt?”

I looked up to find Ensign Marlow crouched fifteen feet away. His uniform was torn and covered in dirt and blood. Dried blood tracked down his face from a gash on his forehead. The lad looked like death warmed over and yet his first concern was for his princess.

I waved the boy closer. “She’s fine, Ensign, just worn out—as I’m sure you are. Why don’t you lay down over here and get some sleep, too.”

Marlow took a good look around before sitting down beside me. He strove for a neutral expression as he said, “I should take watch and let you sleep, sir.”

“Meaning I’m so tired you were able to sneak up on me, so it would be safer for you to take watch.”

Shock crossed Marlow’s face—probably as much because I’d spoken the thought aloud as that I’d guessed correctly. “I’d never say such a thing, sir!”

“I know, Ensign,” I chuckled, “that’s why I said it. And you’re right, too, though it pains me to admit it. I had to Boost as our airship crashed. I haven’t done that in years and it’s taken a toll on me.”

Marlow’s eyes lit. “Oh, I wish I’d been there to see that!”

“I’m glad you weren’t.” A hurt expression flashed across Marlow’s face before I continued, “It was a violent crash which no one else survived. If you’d been there, you’d probably be dead, too.”

“Oh.” The ensign thought on that for a few seconds. “Then I thank God you were there to save Her Highness.”

“You and me both, Ensign,” I replied. “What’s your first name, Ensign?”

“Um, Chris, sir.”

“Christopher Marlow?” I smiled broadly.

“Is there something wrong with my name, sir?” Chris’s tone grew just a tad prickly.

“Not at all, Chris. You just happen to share the same name as an ancient playwright who lived on Terra centuries before mankind found his way into space.”

“Oh.” Chris thought on this for a moment. “Were his plays any good, sir?”

“I honestly don’t know. I’ve never seen one performed. Also, when it’s just the three of us please call me David.” At Chris’s shocked expression, I added, “I can make that an order if it will make you feel any better. And my wife will insist you call her Callan.”

That was too much for poor Chris. He sat bolt upright and said, “I couldn’t do that, sir! Er, David. Sir. It wouldn’t be right for a commoner to be so familiar with a member of the royal family!”

“Who told you that?” The sleepy voice came from my lap as Callan cracked a single eye open and looked up at Chris.

“My mother, Your Highness. She always taught me to be respectful to my betters.”

Callan turned her open eye on me. “This one is going to take some work, darling. Remind me to get right on that—after I sleep for another year or two.”

Callan’s eye slid closed again. She was asleep in seconds.

I looked back at the young ensign. “When did you sleep last, Chris?”

“I was off-shift at the beginning of the search, sir.” At my raised eyebrow, Chris sighed. “David. So I had several hours of sleep before that strange windstorm.”

I rearranged myself to lie down next to Callan, all the while cradling her head in my arms. “The storm was strange because it was manmade.”

Chris’s eyes widened. “But that’s against all of the treaties!”

My eyelids dragged themselves down over my eyes. “Yes, it most definitely is.”

The next time I opened my eyes, the sun was halfway up toward noon. Desert heat surrounded us but did not beat directly down upon me. At some point, someone dragged me into the meager shade provided by the bush. I rolled onto my back and found Callan sitting beside me, taking advantage of some of the shade, as well.

“Good morning, darling.” She bent over and kissed me.

I sat up and looked around. The wreck of the Vanguard still smoked as the last of the fires burned themselves out. Other than the rising smoke, nothing else moved. The smoke, though, told a tale I definitely did not care for.

Seeing my gaze locked on the rising smoke, Callan said, “We’ve got to assume the other ships were caught in the storm, as well. Even if they didn’t crash, they have to be damaged beyond the ability to fly. It’s the only explanation why no one has come looking for us.”

That was my take on the situation, too. “Where is Chris? You didn’t send him running into the desert in a panic over the idea of calling you by your first name, did you?”

“Of course not, David. He insisted on scouting ahead and, once I was certain he wouldn’t do anything foolish, I allowed him to go.”

“How, pray tell, does one convince a teenage boy not to do something foolish?”

“I teared up a bit at the way his mother would react when I visited her to tell her of her son’s untimely death.”

“And that did the trick?”

“I may have also mentioned two or three young ladies I felt certain would find him fascinating, should he live long enough to return to the palace with us.”

I shook my head in admiration. “You play dirty, my dear.”

“I play to win, darling. In this case, winning means surviving.” Callan rose to her feet and I followed suit. “I told Chris that we’d follow if you awoke before he returned.”

We set off toward the rock-strewn mountain, which proved just as difficult to scale as I thought it would. The trogs’ trail proved dead easy to follow, though. Their trail headed up at an angle and out of sight around a pile of large boulders. Reaching the boulders, we found Chris on his way back.

“Did you find the trog village, Chris?” I asked.

To my surprise, Chris shook his head. “The trail doesn’t go to a village, David. It ends at a strange cave.”

“What’s in the cave?”

“That’s what is so strange, sir,” Chris said. “The cave is empty.”


What happened to the trogs? Find out in Chapter 9, coming Friday!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 7

< Chapter 6                                                                                                   Chapter 8 >
As Callan and David near the wreck of the Vanguard, trogs armed with blaster rifles attack the airship’s survivors!

I tensed, preparing to charge into the fray far ahead of me. Callan’s hand caught my forearm and pulled back on it. She wasn’t strong enough to stop me—I could have easily shaken off her hand—but Callan wasn’t trying to stop me physically.

“You won’t reach them in time to do anything, David,” she told me with quiet force. “All you’ll do is make me a widow and leave your children without a father.”

The tension flowed out of my muscles as the wisdom behind her words overcame my natural tendency toward action. I nodded, accepting her counsel even as I looked around us for some form of cover. Half a mile separated us from the slaughter and the bright light from the fire surely destroyed the trogs' night sight but was the band attacking the Vanguard’s crew the only trog force in the area?

Callan spotted a small patch of scrub brush off to our right and we hurried to it. Pushing into the center of the mass of stiff branches and prickly leaves, we discovered the brush grew over a shallow depression. During rare rain storms, water probably pooled here, making it an ideal place for the hardy bushes to grow. For us, the depression let us lie down beneath the lowest branches, providing even better cover than we’d originally hoped for.

By the time we settled in, the distant crack of blaster fire fell silent. Guttural trog shouts floated to us across the desert. Every now and then a human cry or shout reached our ears, as well. Some of the crew still lived, at least. I would have given a lot for one glance at the scene next to the burning hull. It seemed likely the trogs were taking the survivors prisoner—we would hear more men shouting if the trogs were simply executing them—but I couldn’t be sure without at least one look.

My chances of getting a quick glance and dropping back into cover struck me as very good, so I carefully brought my knees up under me. Callan gave me a quizzical look. I replied by pointing up then miming looking around. She considered it for a couple of seconds and nodded once.

Then we both nearly jumped out of our skins when we heard footsteps approaching our position. Silently, I lay flat again then we both went as still as stones. Our hopes of hearing the voices of fellow Mordanians were crushed when a trog spoke from no more than ten feet away. He was right next to our hiding place!

Another trog replied to the first one and the two conversed for something like three years. My implant said it was only half a minute, but it sure felt thousands of times longer than that. Finally, the first trog gave what had to be an order. The second trog gave a single grunt in reply. Seconds after that, a spear pierced the bushes above us, coming within five or six inches of Callan’s hip.

We both carefully rolled from our sides onto our backs, getting as far from the probing spears as possible. Another spear thrust into the bushes from another direction, stopping seven or eight inches above my head. Five times the spears thrust through the bushes and five times the spears missed us. The closest stopped less than two inches from my leg.

Unaware of the depression which protected us from their spears, the trogs were soon satisfied no one hid in the bushes. The leader growled a quick command and the patrol headed in the direction we’d come from—doubtless to check our wrecked airship for survivors. Of course, they wouldn’t find any. Nor would they have any way of knowing we had been on the airship.

Callan and I waited a full five minutes before we even allowed ourselves to take more than shallow breaths. Then Callan rolled toward me and laid her head on my shoulder. I felt the warm splash of tears as she softly recited the prayer for the dead in its entirety. I just held her close and, equally quietly, joined in the prayer.

When the prayer came to an end, she surprised me with one addition. “Lord, watch over the survivors and keep them close in Your sight until David and I can rescue them.”

I waited a few seconds until I was sure she was done. “Dear, what was that last part of your prayer?”

“I think it was pretty obvious, darling. And are you going to honestly tell me you weren’t planning on rescuing those crewmen?”

“Of course I’m going to rescue those men. It’s the ‘David and I’ part I question.”

“I know you’ve already considered the chances of a rescue party coming for us any time soon, David.” Callan held up a hand and ticked off on her fingers. “The Sky Runner is only a few hours into its two-day flight to the closest Federation consulate and has no idea what’s happened here. We know the Vanguard is wrecked. It’s a safe bet the Norris and Hawk are wrecked, too. If they weren’t, we’d have heard their engines as they came to investigate and we’d have been subjected to another windstorm. Did I miss anything?”

“Yes, there are heavily armed trogs patrolling the area and guarding the survivors,” I replied.

Callan bestowed a smile on me as if I’d just helped prove her point. “Call it three days until rescuers arrive.” She raised her eyebrows and I nodded in agreement. “We have no water, no food, no supplies except the sword at your side.” Without eyebrow prompting, I nodded again and she continued. “Now comes the hard part, David. What do you think my odds of survival are if I stay out here all alone?”

Instinctively, I opened my mouth to spout something reassuring, paused, then closed my mouth again. I quickly ran through all of the options in my mind. Placing my hand gently on Callan’s cheek, I said, “I want nothing more than to keep you safe, Callan.”

She kissed me softly. “I know, David, and the best way you can do that is to take me with you. Left alone out here, I’ll probably die of thirst, get caught by trogs, or killed by a tammar or something. If I’m with you, you have an extra pair of eyes to keep watch and another brain to help solve problems.”

I sighed. “It’ll be extremely dangerous—but no worse than leaving you alone in the desert.”

Callan kissed me a second time. “That wasn’t so hard, was it darling?”

My glare had no effect on her, so I gave up and turned to making plans. My wife was right about one thing—having another brain working on the problem helped a lot. Half an hour later, we had our plan. Details were sparse, but I reiterated the plan anyway to make sure we were both on the same page.

“We’re going to take turns sleeping and keeping watch until that trog patrol returns. If it’s still dark, we slip out of this brush and follow them at a distance. If it’s light, we watch the way they go and then try to pick up their trail once they’re out of sight.” Callan nodded and I continued. “We can’t plan much beyond that because we don’t know what the situation will be at the trog village. So we play it by ear after that.”

Then we settled in to wait. I took first watch, letting Callan catch some much needed sleep. We traded off a couple of hours later and traded again two hours after that. Midway through my watch, I heard guttural conversation coming our way and woke Callan.

Dawn was still hours away, so we waited quietly for the trogs to reach us. They passed no more than fifty feet from our hiding place. Five minutes later, Callan and I carefully pushed free of the scrub brush. Keeping low, we set off on the trail of the trogs.


What will David and Callan find when the trogs reach their destination? Find out in Chapter 8, coming Wednesday!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 6

< Chapter 5                                                                                                   Chapter 7 >
David vows to discover who is behind the weather control sphere and put a stop to their plans.

Callan nodded, fatigue etched on her lovely face. “I guess five years between life-threatening adventures is the best I can hope for. We start by searching for survivors, I assume?”

We set out along the path our airship took as it bounced across the desert. “You know, Martin or Rupor would have met my declaration with some kind of affirmation—‘We will make them pay for this’ or whatever. Probably something a lot better since they’re both much better with words than I am. Even Nist would have given me a fierce grin.”

Callan patted me on the shoulder. “When this is over, I’ll step aside graciously if you want to marry one of them. But if you want some kind of affirmation…” Callan kissed me gently. “Don’t die. And to show I’m a fair-minded woman, I promise I’ll do my best to follow my own instructions.”

I took an extra few seconds to extend the kiss. “Now that is what I call an affirmation!”

It was the last sweet and gentle moment we had together that night.

We found Simms first. He lay tangled in a pile of wreckage from our airship, his head bent at an impossible angle and sightless eyes staring up into the night sky. I closed his eyes as Callan recited a short prayer for the dead. I wanted to cover his body with debris to protect it from scavengers, but we couldn’t afford the time as long as there was a chance of finding survivors.

We found the other two airmen from our ship a few minutes later, both also dead. With the flames from the Vanguard flickering in the distance, we still couldn’t spare the time to protect the bodies. Both times Callan spoke prayers for the dead and then we set off for the distant wreck.

By some miracle, we stumbled across an intact water bottle before we got clear of our airship’s debris. The warm water cleared the dust from our mouths and throats and revived us both a bit. Even so, within thirty minutes we were supporting each other as we trudged across the rough terrain.

My mind tried to wander during the trek and each time I forced it back to consider our situation. Four airships took part in the search. Obviously, the windstorm destroyed our ship and the Vanguard, but what of the Norris and the Hawk? The search pattern Marlow devised sent those two warships well away from the mountains and the weather sphere.

Did the sphere possess sufficient power to extend its windstorm far enough out to get those two ships? If so, they almost certainly crashed, too, leaving the messenger ship as our only hope for eventual rescue. If the two other ships were beyond the storm, the ships would come steaming to our rescue the moment they figured out what happened to us. And they’d probably get blown out of the sky by another windstorm once they were well inside the sphere’s range.

After wrestling with possibilities and plans for half an hour, I finally decided to assume both ships were down and Callan and I were on our own. That’s when Callan pulled me away from my contemplations.

“David, look!” She pointed toward the flaming hulk which had once been the Vanguard.

Backlit by the fire, I saw figures moving around the wreck. Some of the crew had survived! We were much too far away to even try shouting, but some of our exhaustion fell away, our steps lightened, and we picked up the pace.

We watched men dart about the flames and sometimes into the flames. Many times the distant silhouettes emerged from the burning wreck carrying or supporting others. It stirred my heart to watch these brave airmen risk their lives to save the lives of their shipmates. Callan and I tried counting figures, hoping to get an idea how many of the original four hundred crewmen had survived, but it was an impossible task. The best we could determine was that many—far too many—members of the crew were dead or trapped inside the burning wreck.

On and on we marched and slowly, ever so slowly, we drew closer to the brightly lit scene of destruction and heroism. On and on our aching feet carried us as we ignored our weary legs. On and on to the safety of bright light and greater numbers.

We were but half a mile from the downed airship when everything changed. Pops and cracks sounded in the distance, which we believed came from the burning hull. Then we saw tiny silhouettes falling and not rising again and realized something worse was going on. Suddenly, a mass of figures charged in from the darkness, running in a peculiar short-legged stride I recognized.

“Trogs!” Callan cried, recognizing the new figures as quickly as I had.

I watched one of the trogs stop and raise what looked like a stick to his shoulder. A crack sounded and an airman fifty feet away pitched backward and lay still.

“Dear God,” I whispered, “they’re armed with blaster rifles!”


What are trogs doing out here and where did they get blaster rifles? Find out in Chapter 7, coming Monday!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 5

< Chapter 4                                                                                                   Chapter 6 >
Somehow, David and Callan survived the crash of their airship.

Callan and I huddled into our bare shelter from the slashing wind, hiding our faces against each other’s chests. The gale shrieked so loudly talking was all but impossible. And then, it was gone, leaving behind an eerie quiet.

After a few seconds, I dared to look up. Dust slowly settled all around us, but that was all. “Let me take a quick look around, Callan. Stay down just in case the storm resumes.”

“Stay close in case it does.”

“You know me, dear—I never take chances.”

Callan’s snort turned into a cough as she cleared dust and sand from her lungs. Once I was certain Callan wasn’t choking, I stood cautiously and stepped out of the small shelter afforded by the rocks. Light from the planetary ring lit the sky and shone down upon us, turning each dust mote into a tiny diamond sparkling in the air. Under other circumstances, I’d have found it beautiful.

“It’s safe to get up,” I said to Callan.

I brought my gaze back to the desert around us, searching for signs of other survivors. Burning timber lay scattered along the path our tumbling airship had taken. A much larger fire burned far off to my right. I felt certain that fire was the wreck of the Vanguard.

Callan put an arm around me. “What happened? I’ve never seen anything like that sudden wind nor heard tales of such.”

Slipping my own arm around my wife, I said, “That’s because it wasn’t a natural storm.”

Callan stiffened. “We don’t have any weather control devices on Aashla. Our treaty with the Federation forbids them.”

“We didn’t have them—until two researchers killed the rest of their team and ran off with all sorts of high-tech equipment. I saw a small control sphere on the mountain just before I ordered the ship to land.”

“Aren’t satellites used to control the weather on Federation planets?”

“Yes, but you can also find smaller devices like the sphere. They’re usually reserved for farm lands and other places with special weather requirements.” My gaze returned to the distant fire. “And now they’ve been used to crash airships.”

“But why?”

“I don’t know, but I’m going to put a stop to it—and God help anyone who gets in my way!”


Can David and Callan find out what is going on? Find out more in Chapter 6, coming Friday!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 4

< Chapter 3                                                                                                   Chapter 5 >
A huge windstorm hits our heroes’ airship and the airship topples over!

I just managed to grab hold of Callan before we fell off the tilting deck of the tumbling airship. We fell for twenty feet before our safety lines snapped taught, stopping our fall with a painful jerk. I did my best to cushion Callan from the effects of the drop, but I felt the breath go out of her.

The wind howled around us as I tried to see what was happening. We hung between the airship’s hull and its envelope, but that wouldn’t last long. Even as I got my bearings, the envelope spun out from under us as the airship tried to right itself. More by luck than anything else, I was facing in the right direction as the ship’s wooden hull spun out of the darkness at us. I just managed to bring my legs up so they took the brunt of the impact and kept the hull from smashing into Callan and me. One thing was certain—we would get battered to death if we couldn’t secure ourselves somewhere.

“I need my hands free,” I yelled at Callan. “Can you hold onto me?”

She nodded, tightly wrapping her arms around me. Once she was secure, I hauled hand-over-hand on my safety line and walked up the side of the hull. The airship continued tumbling as I did this, but the spinning actually helped me maintain my footing on the side of the ship.

Just as I reached the railing, the ship plunged straight down for a few seconds and we found ourselves dangling again. I didn’t lose my grip on the safety line, though, so we found ourselves hanging five or six feet from the deck. Once again, the envelope pulled the ship back around and we crashed to the deck. Even as my breath blew out in a whoosh, I grabbed an inner railing. Holding us in place with one arm, I wrapped the other around Callan and pulled her to the railing, also.

The world continued spinning and the air was filled with flying debris. A belaying pin bounced painfully off of one of my kidneys and the tattered ends of broken ship’s lines whipped at us, but at least we weren’t out in the middle of it all.

Then Callan yelled, “David! Look aft!”

Rising flames lit the back of the airship and I realized the fire in the boiler had spilled free. I felt sure we’d be smashed into the ground before the fire reached us, but that wasn’t exactly a comforting thought. I needed a chance to get my bearings so I could concoct some kind of plan, but the world was moving too fast for me to do that. So I decided to slow it down.

Boost!

My implant flooded my body with adrenaline and time slowed. All about me, bits and pieces of the airship flew as the ship continued it’s uncontrolled tumble, driven toward the ground by the raging windstorm. The fire, hungrily devouring the dry timber of the hull, cast illumination into the deep darkness of the desert. The ground was no more than a hundred feet below us and rushing up fast. But, if the ship kept tumbling the way it was, the envelope should hit first and cushion our landing. If I timed things just right…

“Grab onto me again!” I yelled at Callan as I drew a knife.

She did as I asked without question. Meanwhile, I threaded my left arm through the railing, more or less maintaining the hold anchoring us to the deck, then grabbed both of our safety lines with my now-free left hand. With a quick glance at the ground—no more than ten feet below the envelope by this time—I sawed through both safety lines.

Then the envelope hit the ground. The lines connecting the hull to the envelope—previously held taught by the spinning, slackened as the hull dropped and the envelope bounced up. I dropped my knife, jumped to my feet, and wrapped an arm around Callan. I dove for the outer railing and caught it with my right hand. With Boost-assisted strength, I swung the two of us over the railing and away from the tumbling, burning airship.

We plunged fifteen feet to the ground below. Boost gave me plenty of time to right ourselves, catch Callan with both arms, and land feet first. Letting my knees buckle—not that I really had any choice—I dropped and we rolled. And rolled. And rolled. My back smacked into something hard and rough. A few sharp points scraped my skin through my shirt.

Dropping Boost, I pulled my head back and examined Callan—only to find her doing the same thing to me.

“Are you okay?” we both asked and smiled in response to each other.

Sand and dust blew all around us, but we had managed to end up sheltered by the rock painfully jutting into my back and a small rise behind it. Grit still scoured our exposed skin, but it was nothing compared to the flaying we’d get if we moved away from our rock.

Through Callan’s wildly blowing raven hair, I saw the last of the lines holding the hull to the envelope break. Freed from the weight of the hull, the envelope quickly swirled into the sky and out of sight. The hull continued rolling across the ground, scattering flaming wood all across the desert. Within seconds, our little airship was reduced to scrap.

We were stranded in the desert without food or water and hundreds of miles from the nearest city.


Can our heroes survive in the desert? And what caused the windstorm and what happened to the other airships? Find out more in Chapter 5, coming Wednesday!