Confederation Preview Page

Here is the first five chapters of the third book in the Gaea Ascendant series. Be forewarned – this is the first draft and you’re likely to find errors, although there shouldn’t be any misspelled words. My convention is to put all mental communications – telepathy – in italics.

Enjoy the start of the book – don’t hesitate to comment if you like or dislike anything. You might find your suggestion incorporated into the final product.

I expect to release the finished book in July, 2015.

Namaste!

Eric

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Chapter 1

“The Fourth Turning” by Strauss and Howe predicts many of the societal problems that have appeared in recent history. Perhaps most ominously, their theory indicates that one outcome of the current intellectual and spiritual malaise could be “an omnicidal Armageddon, destroying everything, leaving nothing. If mankind ever extinguishes itself, this will probably happen when its dominant civilization triggers a Fourth Turning that ends horribly. For this Fourth Turning to put an end to all this would require an extremely unlikely blend of social disaster, human malevolence, technological perfection and bad luck.”

Strauss and Howe forgot to consider the possibility of a devastating alien attack as the trigger point.

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The engines of the large shuttle craft shut down with a whirring noise. The things were nearly silent in flight, but always reminded me of a jet engine spooling down when they were turned off. I glanced around the cabin at our group. Our two Sunny pilots, Whistle and Frazzle were at the controls. My beautiful, blonde wife, Liz, was seated beside me and my two old friends, Joe and Rudy were in an adjacent row of seats. Despite the seats being a little too narrow for humans, they were more comfortable than any human-made military aircraft. The only one of us who had difficulty with the seating was the Sim-tiger leader, Kasm. His five-hundred pounds plus of six-limbed, muscular body just wouldn’t fit in the seats. He’d settled between two vacant rows and braced himself against them, saying that he was fine. His position still looked uncomfortable to me.

A couple of minutes prior, we’d arrived over the grounds of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. We were flying the larger of our two, captured shuttle-craft. It was now sitting on the remains of the old parking lot.

It had been obvious to Frazzle that the parking lot, cracked and disintegrating as the asphalt was, was the best place to land. It had been almost five years since the Pug-bears had destroyed our civilization with the EMP blasts they’d set off when I had destroyed their matter transporter network. The parking lot had not been maintained since and the mountain climate had nearly destroyed it.

The shuttle was not a light-weight craft and it sank into the surface as its weight came down when the engines were shut off. We climbed out to be greeted by a group of rather barbaric-looking men who walked over to stand guard over the craft. They looked us over carefully and one man greeted Joe and Rudy by name. Those two had been loosely allied with the warlord’s men in the last great battle against the Pug-bears and Pugs and were well known. They glanced at me, but didn’t comment.

The Sunnys and Kasm, on the other hand, elicited a buzz of low conversation. There were around forty of the Sim-tigers currently on Earth and they were not unfamiliar to residents of the Denver Metro area, but there weren’t enough of them around to make the sight of one commonplace. The two small, furry Sunnys were the only two currently on Earth. They were not awesome fighters like the six-limbed Kasm, but the men pointed at them and I over-heard a comment about their technology that sounded positive and envious.

We walked in a loose group across the unkempt lawn towards the battle-damaged building. It was a clear day and the springtime sun shone brightly through the thin air. I looked around with trepidation. The Warlord’s men posed no threat, yet I was still getting the feeling of impending danger. In me, it manifested as a tingle on the back of my neck and it was going off strongly.

The wind was from the northwest and carried the chill of the snow-covered mountains. Jake, the Eastern Slope Warlord and his party were already at the hotel and were waiting for us on the large veranda. We waved as we approached and Jake raised his hand in a solemn salute in response.

Almost as if his wave had been a signal, I heard the buzz of a high-velocity round as it flew by about knee high. It struck the ground right under Kasm throwing pieces of asphalt that bounced off his green-furred stomach. He let out a snarl and leaped forward, turning as he did towards the nearest trees. I shoved Liz towards the hotel. It was now closer than the shuttle and offered the nearest shelter.

Rudy and Joe passed me and Rudy grabbed Liz’s arm dragging her along with him as she tried to turn to come back to follow me. I was close on Kasm’s track, heading for the trees.

As I sprinted, I extended my mental perception, searching for the source of the shot. There was a second and, immediately after, a third shot. They were aimed at the rapidly moving Sim-tiger, but he was zig-zagging in his path and they missed.

I mentally located the source. The aura I received was human and hostile. The shooter was in a building about four-hundred yards to the south. I linked with Liz and showed her the location. She was huddled in the shelter of a boulder by the front steps. When she received my thought, she yelled at Rudy and Joe to lay down suppressing fire on the location.

Jake was quick to follow suit and the entire porch of the hotel erupted with a series of shots as the men blazed away with various calibers of weapons. I couldn’t tell if they were hitting the building, but there was no more incoming fire.

I caught up with Kasm in the shelter of a stand of spruce trees. He glanced at me and we connected mentally, that being his normal mode of communication.

Dec! That was too close. The shooter is moving now. I can sense him. He’s heading to the east behind that row of buildings,” he sent.

OK. You cut him off and I’ll follow up around the west end. We’ll catch him between us. Be careful! You were the target and I don’t know why. Let’s try to capture him in talking condition,” I responded.

He dashed down the line of trees, sprinted across a vacant space and dropped into a depression that would provide some cover. I took a chance and ran out towards the west, heading diagonally towards the building to the right of the shooter’s original location.

Our target was moving and I followed him mentally. He wasn’t thinking about shooting at the moment, just getting to some other point that might provide cover or the opportunity for a fourth shot. When I sensed that thought, I turned and headed directly for the west end of the original building. It was about three hundred yards from my position and it took me longer than I thought it would. I guess that getting older has its drawbacks. I was gasping for breath as I rounded the southwest corner of the building.

I belatedly remembered that I was running into a potential ambush and jumped back behind the building’s side. I dropped to the ground and peeked around the corner, but there was a loading dock directly in front of me and I couldn’t see around the abandoned box truck backed up to it. I jumped up and sneaked around to the front of the truck. There was nothing showing along the strip of buildings.

I stepped back and dropped into a meditative state. It didn’t take long before I could sense Kasm’s presence. He acknowledged me with a mental flick almost as if he said, “Don’t bother me. I’m working.” He was moving in my direction, taking cover where he could, behind junk and rusting cars that hadn’t moved since the EMP blast had killed them about five years ago.

I widened my mental search and located the shooter. There was a kind of curious mental doubling about him. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I now knew that he was aware we were after him and had set a booby trap on the door into the part of the building where he was lurking. He was hiding near the front windows with their view over the Stanley property and I could tell that he was still looking for a target. Sensing nothing else, I jumped up and ran as fast as my burning lungs would let me move towards the door.

Kasm saw me in the open and taking that as a sign that it was safe, he charged towards the same door. I linked with him again as I ran.

Stop! There’s a bomb on the door,” I sent. I received a close mental analogue of a frustrated snarl in return.

He arrived at the door before me and flattened against the wall. There was a window on the side of the door I was approaching. I ducked under it and paused to examine the door. There was no sign of a trap, but I was sure it was there.

I’d run past an abandoned length of electrical cable partway down the building, so I went back and brought it up. Kasm stayed in place, in case the guy should change his mind and come out again.

It was pretty simple to tie the wire onto the levered handle, back up to its full extent and yank the door open. There was a momentary pause and then an explosion that I recognized as a military frag grenade. Some pieces flew out past us, but we were about a hundred feet away behind a defunct pickup truck. Kasm dashed back to the wall beside the door, while I lay down so that I could see under the truck. It was then that I realized that my .45 had come out of its holster somewhere during the run and all I had was a splinter gun.

This was an unwelcome development since I wanted the shooter alive. If I hit him with one of the poisonous glass splinters, he’d almost instantly die. There was no wounding with the weapon.

I explained my problem to Kasm and he grimly responded, “That’s what you humans get for relying on weapons. Just leave it to me. I won’t hurt him too much; maybe a bite or two.”

Try not to bite him so that he can’t speak. I want to find out what he was trying to accomplish by shooting at you. We need to know why he is here and who sent him” I answered.

He thought back, “You’re taking the fun out of this. Be quiet. He’s coming now!”

I saw the man’s feet in the shadows of the doorway. The tires of the truck I was crouched behind were flat and I couldn’t see much through the space between its bottom and the ground. I could sense the man’s puzzlement. He’d expected a body, but there was nothing in sight. I didn’t want him to look around the corner and see Kasm, so I let out a low groan, pretending that the blast had wounded me.

That worked like a charm. The shooter stepped out of the door just in time to find out what it felt like to be hit by a leaping and enraged Sim-tiger. By the time I got there, Kasm had one fore paw on the man’s chest and was holding the guy’s arms with his secondary forelimbs. His manipulating arms were at least as strong as those of a strong human and he was restraining the shooter’s attempts to reach a pistol that was holstered on his belt.

I removed that and grabbed the rifle that he’d dropped when Kasm hit him. Kneeling down, I frisked him with one hand. He had two knives and another pistol in an ankle holster. I stepped back, saying, “OK, buddy. I’m going to have my friend let you up. You can’t outrun him and you can’t out-fight him, so don’t get any ideas. We’re going to march back over to the Stanley Hotel and you’re going to tell us everything we want to know.”

Kasm stepped back and the man cautiously climbed to his feet, eyeing the large alien with fear in his gaze. I got the man’s attention when I asked, “Why did you shoot at my friend?”

He just shook his head in denial. At first I thought he meant he didn’t do the shooting, but then I inserted myself into his mental aura. He feared the Sim-tiger and had been instructed to kill it. The thoughts were fragmentary, but it was clear that someone else had sent him.

“Who sent you and why do they want my friend dead?” I was getting a little impatient, even though we had only gotten started.

“No one sent me!” he snarled.

I knew that wasn’t true, so I asked again, “Someone sent you. Who was it?”

This time I got a momentary picture of our prisoner in uniform, facing a superior officer. He had little natural mental shielding and I was able to read his thoughts easily. The only problem was he just wasn’t given to much in the way of mental dialogue.

“OK. So you are in the military and you’re on some kind of spying mission,” I said softly.

His eyes grew wide in alarm, “They told me that some of you freaks can read minds! You’re not readin’ mine!” He grabbed something from his belt and jammed it into his mouth.

I jumped forward and grabbed his arm, but the poison pill had already taken effect. He was frothing at the mouth and gasping for breath. Instead of wasting time trying to help him. I shoved a strong mental probe into his frantic mind. The sense of mental doubling intensified and I followed it to its source. The man had some kind of implant in his brain! It seemed to be acting as a store of information, but it was also linked into some areas of his brain that were related to sensations of pain. I backed away from the thing. It had a dirty, nasty feel to it or something akin to that. It’s hard to describe mental sensations verbally, but that was what I felt. I regrouped and tried again.

Brushing off the desperate, struggling thoughts, I quickly sifted through as much of his normal memories as I could access before his mind stilled in death. It was like being in a large room as the lights gradually went out in sequence. I exited before the darkness reached me. I didn’t know what it would be like to ride along with a mind on its descent into death and I didn’t want to find out.

I blinked a couple of times as I came back to my normal state and then bent to inspect the body. There was a scar behind his right ear. It had been some kind of implant. I wondered who had that technology, especially now. The scar looked relatively new. This was something that I found very alarming, but without any additional facts, there was nothing that I could do except to shelve the issue for later.

I turned to Kasm and spoke aloud, “He was a member of the military of what used to be my nation. He came from the east to spy on us. I got the impression that they’re planning on attacking the front range area. They’ve expanded their hold across the eastern half of this continent and are now approaching Jake’s territory. They know something about your people and I believe they want to purge the planet of all alien creatures. It seemed almost like a religious thought in his mind. He viewed it as his sacred duty to rid the planet of invaders.”

Kasm shrugged his secondary shoulders slightly and headed towards the end of the buildings. I glanced at the body and followed. It seemed callous, but that was the way things were in the here and now. There had been too much death in the past few years to waste time with a corpse.

As we walked, we conversed mentally. Kasm could speak some English, but it was difficult for him. On the other hand, his people were telepaths as was I, since my mind had been irrevocably altered by my encounter with the powerful leader of the invading Pug-bears years ago. I’d killed the leader, but his mental attack had ripped my mind open in a way that led to me developing the latent psychic abilities that all humans have. Through constant practice and many hardships, I’d grown very powerful in my own right.

Kasm, the man was a member of a group that was a department in our old government. This continent was mostly ruled by a central governing body that eventually grew so powerful that it dominated all of the people – ”

I paused as he interrupted my thought stream. “That would never happen with my people! No single group could control everyone. We’d leave their area.”

I responded, That couldn’t happen here. It did in the past, but for many years, our population has been so large that there was nowhere on the planet that a dissenting group could go. Besides the central government was too powerful. It somehow grew to control everything; all the resources; all of the people.”

He looked at me and drew his lips back, exposing his large fangs in distaste. I continued, “They controlled travel and long distance communication and food. They used resources as bribes to keep themselves in power. I’m afraid that my people were so focused on their own needs and desires that they were easily led and then captured in a self-induced misery. They set up organizational structures that seemed unchangeable to those mired within them. I’m not proud of it, but the fact is that our species was not progressing quickly either socially or scientifically. The invasion of the Pug-bears and Pugs, despite killing nine out of ten of us, might turn out to be the event that allows us to progress. If I can figure out a way for us to work with your people and the Sunnys, together we might create a confederation that will provide a better way forward for all of us.”

He stopped showing his teeth and replied, “That may well be. I confess that I was ashamed of my people also. We’ve lived for many generations, content to be simple hunters on our planet. We’d reached an equilibrium in our population. No groups fought with other groups and each tribal group had its own territory. Natural and accidental deaths balanced out our birthrate. We were happy in our existence until the Pugs attacked. That was a shock! We didn’t know how to cope with their advanced technology at first. It was fortunate that they were so easy to ambush when they came into the jungle.”

He changed his topic suddenly, “I’ve been thinking about the same thing, Dec. I’d like to see if your people and mine can live together peacefully. There’s no question about the Sunnys.” He snorted, making a derisive sound. “They can’t even consider fighting without having a near breakdown.”

I sent back, “Yes, but they are plenty devious. They have methods of defending themselves, even if they are far more pacifistic than either of our peoples.” My concentration was suddenly disrupted by the discovery of my old Sig-Sauer lying near some dried weeds. I remembered stumbling as my foot caught in them and realized that must have bounced it out of its holster. I picked up the pistol and returned it to its normal place. The safety strap was intact and snapped shut. I thought that I might have bumped it against something, unsnapping it without noticing. Kasm had paused momentarily while I recovered my weapon, but turned almost immediately and continued. I hastened to catch up with him.

I continued our discussion as I followed, “That sniper was a member of a group that used to be called Homeland Security. I read in his memories that they are now an occupying force in the lands to the east. They are ruled by a single individual they call ‘The Secretary’ and that person desires to project his power and dominate all of the lands and people available. In that way, they’re much like the Pug-bears.”

We walked for awhile without communicating, then he suddenly added, “And, Pugs. That one wasn’t a Pug-bear. He was just a sneaky, ambushing and stinky Pug.” He simultaneously sent a comedic image of one of the aliens trying to hide behind a tree with its rear end sticking out.

I laughed out loud at his humor. We were approaching the porch of the Stanley and Liz came running out to embrace me followed by Rudy and Joe.

As he passed Liz, Kasm brushed his shoulder affectionately against her and trailed his manipulating arm across her behind in a way I would have resented if he’d been human. He liked her and that was just his normal greeting. Inter-species etiquette was somewhat of a moving target. He had done it to me too, although it had shocked me the first time he’d patted my ass.

 

Chapter 2

We walked up the long flight of stairs and I shook hands with Jake. He looked at me, still holding my hand and asked, “Did you get him?”

“Of course. Kasm captured him, but he took cyanide before I could get too much out of him. He was a member of the left-over federal government, I think maybe a member of the Homeland Security forces,” I answered.

Jake’s eyes shadowed, “I’ve heard word of those guys. They’re setting up all across the eastern half of the country. Dominate everything east of the Mississippi now and are moving through Missouri and eastern Kansas. I’m going to have to fight them, I think.” He shook his head and continued, “Let’s discuss it later. I’ve set up a party for us. Let’s eat and recover ourselves. We’ve got a lot of topics to discuss later.”

That was true. We had tentatively agreed to set up some kind of working arrangement whereby we could exist as close neighbors without conflict. The second issue was what we were going to do about a possible third attack by the Pug-bears and now we were presented with the undeniable presence of a hostile group of humans with eyes on our territory. I nodded and moved to shake hands with his second-in-command, a large and hairy mountain of a man.

Jake took his time, greeting everyone as if we were all equal, although, if the truth be told, he controlled far more territory and men than were in our little community over the mountains at Grand Lake.

I guessed that we more than made up for our lack of manpower with our alliance with the Sunnys and Kasm’s people, not to mention the captured FTL space ships that we controlled. The armed FTL carried three anti-matter weapons that could easily devastate any part of the Earth. It was obvious that Jake knew and respected that power and, I suspected, was trying hard to figure out a way to gain control of it.

We’d only seen the one EMP burst over Kansas, but the Pugs had set off several others over the face of the globe. The electro-magnetic pulses generated had successfully destroyed almost all of humanities electronics and the electrical grid. One moment, things were much as normal and the next, there were no working automobiles, trucks or airplanes and our communication network had failed.

It had been a hard five years after that. The original invaders were dead or were killed shortly after the bursts, but millions of people had starved or died of medical problems in the first month. The death toll gradually declined and leveled out, but we’d estimated that nine out of every ten humans had died before we figured out how to survive. The average human now lived a life that was on the level of a seventeenth century man. Nearly everything that we’d taken for granted existed no longer.

Jake, a retired marine, had somehow taken over the Denver area and now ruled the entire front range from Pueblo up to Fort Collins. He had no interest in coming over the mountains since there were not enough resources in the Grand Lake area to make the effort worthwhile. That made us neighbors, although the initial relationship was uneasy. We’d worried that he might attack us, until the second Pug-bear invasion was underway.

Three of his people and I had gone through the new matter transporter that the Pugs had sent to Earth and had freed some of the Sunnys and captured an FTL space ship. We’d used the ship to help liberate one Sunny planet from the Pug-bears and then we’d flown to Kasm’s planet in search of allies. It had been difficult, but the decision was a good one. The Sim-tigers were fierce fighters, easily capable of defeating a Pug-bear and together we’d formed a rough alliance that allowed us to defeat the second Earth invasion in the early winter of last year.

We’d spent the rest of the winter consolidating our forces and relationships. Now, I’d determined that we absolutely had to carry the attack to the Pug-bears. It was obvious that they wouldn’t leave us alone unless we rendered them incapable of further aggression.

They were a primitive race and had no real civilization. Their ability to telepathically attack and capture prey paired with the symbiont-induced intelligence of some of them had allowed them to capture a Sunny exploration group and their space ship. The acquired ability to travel in space had hit the Pug-bears like a bolt of lightning. They read the Sunnys’ minds and quickly realized that there were an untold number of planets available for them to attack. Since their ambition was to dominate as much territory as possible for each individual, they quickly captured the Sunnys’ six planets and then the planet occupied by the Pugs.

Using the iron-age Pugs as troopers and menials, the Pug-bears forced the Sunnys to build more space ships that they used to attack and dominate many other planets. They’d completely destroyed four or five alien civilizations that I’d heard of, only being stopped by Kasm’s people and now, humans. I suspected that they’d come back in more force and continue to try to capture the earth, unless we took direct action against them.

Since we didn’t have enough people, I wanted to come to a working agreement with Jake that would allow us to use his men. It could be beneficial to both sides. My concept was to build a confederation of independent states, including both the Sunny civilization and the Sim-tigers. The Sunnys had technology that was far advanced over that of humans and I believed that with the right organization, we could benefit from it. They would benefit by our providing protection for them. They were congenitally unable to engage in violence, even to protect themselves. Kasm’s people were highly intelligent telepaths who lived as roving hunters on their own world. They had no technology, but were so flexible in outlook that they could easily adopt it. Of the two friendly aliens, the Sunnys and the Sim-tigers, the Sim-tigers were the closest in worldview to humans. We had a lot in common, considering that we were vastly different in physiology.

Kasm initially looked familiar. He was shaped like a large, stocky tiger with no tail, six limbs, and green stripes. His middle limbs were manipulative appendages with hands that allowed him to use some of our technology. His people had never seen the need for weapons, however, since they were heavily armed naturally, with razor sharp claws and fangs.

He and I had discussed our differences and I’d come to the conclusion that at least part of human advancement was a direct result of our lack of natural weapons. Probably the first tool used by primitive man was a stick or rock pressed into service as an improvised weapon. One thing led to another and we progressed. Weapons technology often leading the way. For example, the transistor which led to integrated circuits which led to the digital age, was an outgrowth of the nuclear missile program. Vacuum tubes simply could not stand up to the launch stresses placed on them by early rockets.

We moved through the hotel and out onto the back patio where the Eastern Slope people had built a huge fire and were barbecuing two hogs and what looked like the rear quarters of a mule deer. I looked at Jake and he smiled, saying, “We’ll talk as we eat. I’m not one for formality and this cool air makes me hungry.”

“OK,” I answered, “sounds good to me. Do you have any of that deer left over that hasn’t been cooked? Kasm doesn’t believe in applying fire to his food.”

That was a significant understatement. The Sim-tigers only ate raw meat and Kasm had initially been horrified that humans preferred to burn their food prior to consumption. His people had discovered that they loved mule deer and elk, so they were able to spread out over the mountains and hunt; something that fit into their traditional lifestyle well.

We lined up by the fire and loaded up on food. The cooks had reserved the rest of the deer for any Sim-tigers that would show up, so that was no problem. Once we’d helped ourselves, we sat at some of the tables that had been cleaned up and arranged across the patio.

The last time I’d seen those tables was prior to the EMP bursts. A large group of Pugs had been using them as shields during the pitched battle between Rudy’s group and my own, smaller group. It hadn’t helped them. I’d used an anti-matter rifle to dissolve a lot of them and Rudy’s people had killed the rest.

Jake was paying particular attention to my wife, Liz. They had not previously met and he was making every effort to be charming. We sat down at a table and she moved her chair close to me, letting him know with a smile that his effort was not unappreciated, but showing that he didn’t have a chance.

We began to discuss the situation as we ate. Two hours later, we were still talking. The main issue finally resolved to whether or not Jake would get his own space ship. We agreed on the confederation idea and having Jake’s men help us as fighters was not an issue, but he was holding out for one of our two FTLs. I didn’t want to give them up, seeing the need for the transportation and fighting ability of the two, even though one was as yet unarmed.

Jake had been very impressed with the spaceships’ capability after he’d seen the results of the single, low-orbit pass while firing the anti-matter cannon on burst mode. It had wiped out the majority of Pugs and Pug-bears, along with a huge swath of real estate, neatly dividing the city of Boulder into two parts.

He was worried about the Homeland Security horde that was heading our way. Apparently there were thousands of men in their army and they were razing villages and killing anyone who showed any signs of resistance. On hearing some of the tales, any residual loyalty to the prior order that I still held faded quickly away.

We were doing all we could, maintaining our way of life and gradually working back towards a civilization. There was no way an invasion by a bunch of rapacious semi-barbarians would contribute to our survival.

I agreed to provide orbital support for any military action he would be forced to take against the remnants of the old government, should they attack and that led to him agreeing that I’d keep our spaceships as long as he had dibs on the next one we captured. I didn’t speak my mind, but inside, I wondered if a space ship might not lead him to think of becoming some sort of glorified space Viking or pirate. His reputation was good among his men, but he had conquered a lot of territory and showed no qualms about conquering more.

The meeting went on into the night hours as we worked out details of creating what was to be the Earth’s first space force.

Chapter 3

It had been a long two months. I was pretty hard pressed to cope with the tasks involved in setting up an expeditionary force to attack the Pug-bears, but now we were on our way, moving out of Earth orbit and heading slowly towards Uranus. We were still training our crews and were in no hurry, so we kept the acceleration very low. At the rate we were going, it would take us three weeks to approach Uranus.

We’d recruited enough men who had military experience prior to the EMP. We had enough to provide each of our two ships with a couple of small squads of what I’d tentatively named Space Marines. Each ship also had a small crew that was supposed to handle flight duties. I kept the title of expeditionary force leader for myself and appointed Rudy to captain the second, larger ship. Joe was his Exec and Whistle filled the position of pilot, ship-driver, and also maintenance engineer, should there be any mechanical or electronic problems. That last was doubtful, since the Sunnys built their ships with multiple redundant systems, but it was still a possibility.

There was a Lieutenant under Joe and Rudy to command the marines and a couple of general crewmen along with a cook.

The cooking wasn’t too difficult. The Sunnys had created a full set of food synthesizers, some of which were set to create human specific food. Granted, it didn’t taste too good, but Frazzle was working on tuning the machine’s output. I’d noticed that my meals were gradually getting more tasty.

Rounding out the crew of each ship was a small group of Sim-tigers. At Kasm’s insistence, we’d asked for volunteers from his people and gotten ten out of the original fifty six that were left after defeating the Pug-bear forces on Earth. Most of the Sim-tigers were spread out over the front range where they gave every appearance of enjoying life as the apex-preditor. Some of them were loners, but most had loosely affiliated themselves with human families or individuals. The two races got along well and something about the mutual relationship seemed to fill a space in the Sim-tigers’ world view. They certainly were appreciated by the humans. Having a Sim-tiger living near or even with you made you a lot less desirable target for any outlaw that happened by.

Even so, there were ten who felt strongly about carrying the battle to the Pug-bears. We divided them into two groups of five, one on each ship. They were nominally marines and integrated with the humans, but their true role was that of shock troops. A squad of five, armed with their now preferred weapon, the katana, could easily overwhelm double their number of Pug-bears and any number of Pugs, providing the Pugs were unarmed. Pugs with anti-matter weapons were a different matter entirely; one that required human assistance.

Liz stayed on the smaller ship with me. I’d refused to leave her and our two children behind. I’d done it previously and nearly lost them and I wasn’t going to leave them to get involved in the next wave of fighting.

The final member of our crew was our battle-scarred tom cat, Jefferson. He had been with us for nearly five years and had an unerring instinct for locating Pugs. He hated the aliens intensely and had shown that he was perfectly willing to risk death by attacking them directly, although there wasn’t much he could do against one of the tough-hided creatures. Liz and I had thought about leaving him at our homestead, but were unable to trust that he’d be OK. Besides, he had such an outgoing personality that everyone on the ship liked him.

Liz was plenty busy. She doubled as my Exec, something she was very capable at, and as mother to an active five year-old boy and our four month-old daughter. Frazzle and Mrs. Frazzle, commonly known as “Red” seemed to enjoy the presence of my children and Red quite often served as nanny for the two. Despite her petite size, she was quite able to control Michael and she quickly learned how to deal with a human infant.

The Sunnys were egg-layers, but then carried their babies in their arms until they were more mature. Red had her own ideas about diapers. Having a full coat of multi-colored, reddish fur that she was inordinately proud of, she was reluctant to risk getting human waste on it, so she was very careful with diaper changing. It was actually kind of cute to watch her carefully wiping Rowan’s nether parts. I don’t think any human baby had ever had such a clean posterior.

This was something that I’d never considered. Having an alien nanny, I mean. It’s one thing to think about being friends with a being from another planet, but it’s totally different to think about them caring for your child.

Our ship had a smaller contingent of marines. We had less space. I had recruited a cook and a couple of ex-submariners, thinking they would help me organize the crew. It seemed to work. Even though I had no idea about the challenges we’d face, things were moving smoothly.

We’d set up classes so that the Sunnys could teach our people about safety issues and what to expect from the ships during daily operation. The marines were a little restive at first, but then the Lieutenant in charge, Mr. Holmes, came to me and asked for permission to use the ship’s largest area, the loading bay, for exercises and drills.

It so happened that Frazzle was nearby at the time and he came up with a good suggestion. “Dec, do your fights people (the marines) need strength?”

I stopped my response to Holmes and turned to him. “Yes. That would be helpful. I’d like them to be ready for all possibilities when we start operations against the Pug-bears.” I’d taken to circumlocution when it came to talking about possible violence. The Sunnys were so adverse to fighting that even speaking about it caused them to flinch.

“I can set de gravity ups in the hold,” he said. “Would dat make them stronger?”

“As long as you don’t set it too high. We don’t want any injuries due to too much stress on them,” I replied. Mr. Holmes’ mouth was hanging open in astonishment. I don’t think that he’d even considered the rather remarkable fact that the ship had its own gravity field.

“Sir! That would be great. Could we make it so weight is increased by twenty-five percent?” He was already planning exercises and I had a brief twinge of sympathy for the marines. Then I felt even worse when I realized that I’d have to participate. I was one of the fighting force and I didn’t want the men to think I was going easy on myself or any of the crew. With a brief thought of “What am I getting myself into?” I agreed.

It was ridiculously simple. Frazzle turned back to the control boards and made a couple of adjustments, then turned back to us and said, “Watch outs when you go into de hold. Gravity is now up and your foots will be heavier when they cross the entry to the transporter. You be careful and don’t fall down.”

Holmes, Kasm and I strode over to the inter-ship transporter and re-materialized in the hold side. The door opened and, just as Frazzle had warned, I almost stumbled. My leading foot and leg suddenly weighed more as I swung them through the door. I recovered myself and carefully walked into the hold. I suddenly weighed about another fifty pounds and it was like carrying a heavy backpack.

Holmes was experimentally doing squats and then he went down on his knees and moved into a prone position. He went through twenty-five quick push-ups and then climbed back to his feet with a grin, “Those are much harder than normal. I usually don’t feel this kind of burn until I reach a hundred. This will be great for working the boredom out of the men!”

I nodded and sighed, then got down myself. Twenty-five push-ups later I was breathing heavily. I climbed back to my feet, ruefully and glanced at Holmes. He immediately said, “That was very good, Sir!”

Kasm, who had shown no response to the additional gravity, except for a brief sigh as he took on the load, snorted and sent, “Dec, you’d better be in here with me every morning. I don’t want you to run out of energy, just when things start getting interesting.”

I don’t know how he managed, but he could add a slightly disparaging overtone to his mental communication. I quickly responded aloud, “No worries about me.” Then in response to Holmes’ inquiring glance, I added, “Holmes, you don’t have to try and flatter me. I know I’m not in as good a shape as I’d like to be. I know it took me twice as long as you to complete those. I’m going to work out with your men daily and so are the other ship staff personnel. We all need to be in fighting trim when we engage the Pug-bears and Pugs.”

“Yes, Sir. You don’t have to be so hard on yourself, though. You’re a lot older than me,” he replied.

“I don’t call ten years older,” I sighed. But, it was true. Even though I had been living a rough and ready life, Kasm was correct, my fitness wasn’t what it had been.

Going back into the transporter was funny in a sort of silly way. Just as my foot had dropped when I stepped out, it flew up higher when I stepped in, making me look like I was attempting a clumsy goose step over the threshold. I grinned at Holmes as he tried it, “I guess we’ll get used to the change with practice.” He nodded. Kasm snorted sardonically.

Work outs proceeded on a daily basis and everyone including Liz, who insisted on participating, benefited. After the third day, I got the idea of teaching the men to maneuver in zero gravity and thereafter, we moved from heavy workouts to flying about. I reasoned that the change was good for the marines. There was no telling where they’d be called upon to fight.

The most difficult problem I encountered with the zero-g workouts was the habitual orientation of the guys. Everyone initially wanted to orient as if the floor was the floor. It stopped after I lectured them with my feet hooked under a beam on the ceiling of the hanger.

“When you’re fighting in space, the soldier who insists on viewing things as if they were on the ground is at a grave disadvantage,” I started. “There is no right or wrong orientation in zero gravity. The primary orientation you need is towards your objective. If we’re assaulting an enemy ship, the ship is the target. Call it ‘Down’ and then things become easier. The target is always down. Let’s make that a habit.”

There was some discussion, but after that, the men loosened up and it wasn’t long before they were sailing around the room in all sorts of positions relative to each other. It definitely made the concept of attacking easier when you didn’t have to stop and try to figure out whether you were upside down or your cohorts were.

The exercise got more interesting when the Sim-tigers decided to participate. We worked on drills and coordinated attacks that used the strengths of both groups. Humans armed with unpowered, anti-matter weapons and Sim-tigers with padded sticks in place of swords. Several days of such training led me to the conclusion that our force would be more than able to out-match a reasonable number of the enemy.

After the marines worked out, Liz and I would take Michael and our daughter, Rowen, into the zero-g environment. I wanted them to become familiar with the sensation. It might be vitally important should the ship ever be damaged so that the artificial gravity went off.

Regardless of the importance, both children had a blast. I had to train them not to bash their heads on the walls, but after they became used to the idea of rotating and landing carefully, both became adept at moving around the large space. Rowen could not yet walk, yet she quickly learned to push herself gently off the hold’s wall. She would drift slowly across the space with an excited grin on her face and somehow stick out a foot or arm just in time to fend off the wall as she approached.

After watching her, Liz and I agreed that the children would probably become far better at zero-g movement than we’d ever be. That night, Liz woke me. The kids were asleep as was most of the crew. We’d set up two main periods, but the alter-day crew was only one human who sat watch and either Frazzle or Red who stood by, should the ship need attention.

 

Chapter 4

It was alt-day shift and most of the crew were resting in their cabins. Liz grabbed my hand, shushing me with her finger held across her lips. We slipped out of the door to our room and she shut it carefully.

“The kids will be fine for thirty minutes or so,” she breathed.

“What’s this about, Liz?” I was curious. I thought I knew what she had in mind, we were so closely linked mentally, but I wanted to hear her say it.

“I’ve been wondering about something and I want to find out,” she answered.

We went through the transporter to the hold. It was still in the zero-g mode, that being a little more economical on the grav-system. When the door opened, we floated out, both giggling like kids. Clothes sailed off in various directions as we came together in mid-air.

It was a work-out. We had to hold tight to each other and there was no gravity-assisted coming-together. Even so, it was exhilarating. We were able to take positions that would have been far too difficult with gravity. In the interest of decency, I’m going to leave our actions to your imagination.

Thirty minutes later, we floated back into the transporter, stepping down into normal gravity. As I activated the thing, Liz embraced me with warmth, still radiating passion. “Dec, that was the most amazing thing! We have to do that again,” she breathed.

“I agree, but it might be a little difficult, if the men find out what we’ve been doing. There aren’t any other women on board and I’m pretty sure they’d be very envious,” I said.

“Yeah. Why is that, anyway? Why no women?” she asked with a frown.

“I guess I thought I was outfitting just a fighting force. I should have been a little more thoughtful. Women can handle weapons too. And, zero-g fighting would more than equalize any strength differences, unless it came to grappling.”

“We should pick up some women crew members at the first opportunity,” she responded. “Make sure they’re willing to fight. I don’t want them to sign up thinking they’re just here to keep the men happy.”

“OK. We’ll come back to Earth and add some crew eventually. We’ve got to get the Pug-bears out of our system first, though.” I was considering the grappling concept. “Liz, you’re trained in judo. What do you think would work in zero-grav? You can’t do throws the way you would on the ground.”

She paused to consider, “No, obviously not, but I think that joint locks and things like arm-bars, or chokes would work fine. We ought to get the marines working on those sorts of things. They’ve just been practicing with unloaded guns so far.”

“Yeah,” I responded. “We should see about using knives, too. I think that would be handy.”

As a result, we began to work out techniques in human-style hand-to-hand. The process fascinated Kasm and his people. They even went so far as to join us. I cautioned them about claws and teeth before they joined us. Kasm told me not to worry. His people was completely aware of the natural advantages they held over us puny humans. I wasn’t so sure about their ability in zero-g. Strength is fine, but leverage is critical. As Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and I can move the world.” Or, something like that.

We entered the hold and the Sim-tigers watched as we did our normal work-out. One experimentally jumped a couple of times to see how the heaver gravity affected him. He was so strong in the legs that it didn’t seem to affect him. He easily jumped high enough to touch the ceiling with his manipulating arms. The others joined in, leaping around for a few minutes. Then they laid down at the side of the room and watched us sweat our way through the rest of our grappling work-out.

When we were done, Frazzle gradually lowered the gravity and we relaxed into zero-g. The Sim-tigers didn’t seem bothered by this. After a minute or so Kasm gently floated over to where I was.

“Dec, show me how some of those hand-grabbing things work,” he rumbled in his growling voice.

“I’m not sure how they will work with you,” I answered. I tentatively caught one of his manipulating hands. In response he pulled me close and wrapped his front legs around me. I started to pull back, but felt his claws against my back.

This is not to your advantage,” he sent. “I can dig my claws in and simply pull my arms apart. You’d be seriously injured.”

“Yes, and you can bite too,” I agreed. He was holding me loosely and I hooked a leg across his hips spinning myself as I shoved up under his chin. The maneuver allowed me to slip downward and simultaneously twisted him around so that he was facing away from me. His manipulating arms were jointed roughly like a humans and I held onto his wrist as I floated free. I had been thinking about the concept of an arm-bar and it seemed natural to slip one leg on each side of his arm and across his chest and then pull. It was exactly the type of thing a human wrestler would try on another human. It worked. I was able to extend his arm, but then he used his rear paws to shove my legs towards his head twisting me out of my position.

That was interesting,” he admitted. “You might have been able to hurt my arm. It’s not as strong as my legs. I still could have bitten your leg, though.”

I grinned and shrugged, “Well, I don’t think any human would voluntarily get in a wrestling match with you. Let’s try this.” I spun around and shoved off the ceiling while holding to his arm. My momentum dragged him around and I let loose as he started to turn towards me. The end result was he went sailing away and I flew towards the wall. He fetched up against the opposite wall and leaped towards me, but I shoved at the floor with my hand and gently moved beyond his reach as he went past. I got a sense of amusement from him as he mentally sent, “We could dance around like this for a long time without touching each other.”

I answered, “Striking with a blunt object like my fist or foot wouldn’t work very well, I’d just fly off the other way and the blow would be weaker than if I was standing on the ground. Your strikes would be more damaging simply because of your claws. Perhaps we’d be better off using knives or your sword.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” he growled aloud. Then he sent, “I can see how I’d have a little more trouble with the sword. I’d spin away from the blow in reaction, but I think my target would be cut, nevertheless.”

I sent “That’s right. Every action would have an equal and opposite reaction. Your added mass would make you more dangerous than a human, though. The thing is a zero-gravity fight would probably be in hard vacuum. We don’t have a vacuum suit for you, but if we can create one, your sword and claws would allow you to penetrate an enemy’s suit and the vacuum would kill them, if nothing else.”

I want vacuum suits for my people,” he responded.

“I’ll ask Frazzle if we have the facilities to make them for you,” I said aloud.

The rest of the time was devoted to human-on-human practice. Kasm spent the time communicating with the other four Sim-tigers. They were analyzing what we were doing and trying to figure out if they could use some of the same techniques. The problem was that none of the marines wanted to practice with them. They definitely were intimidating.

Things were going about as well with Rudy. Whistle was a competent pilot and kept the larger ship within a few hundred yards of ours. Rudy reported that his marines and tigers were working out in heavy g and in zero-g, just as ours. He wasn’t participating as yet. He was still undergoing treatment on his injured arm.

He’d taken a bullet in an ambush over a year ago and his left elbow was locked, rendering him unable to straighten his arm. The Sunnys’ medical device was gradually stimulating a gentle healing and he now had recovered almost his entire range of movement, but Whistle refused to allow him to endanger the arm.

“Rudy, you got to keep de arm from being hurt,” he cautioned. “De regenerator works, but arm not strong enough to do much yet. Let it heal for long time and then I tell you when it ready to work hard.”

Rudy followed his advice and stayed out of the wrestling, only doing some of the exercises in heavy-g to keep in shape.

We gradually approached Uranus. The in-system Em-drive was so powerful that we could have gotten there much faster, but I felt that we really needed the time to get used to our new environment and get organized into at least a semblance of a fighting force.

The day came, though, when we were close enough to see Oberon with our naked eyes.

 

Chapter 5

We slowed our approach to a relative crawl and I called a meeting in the bridge to discuss how we were going to proceed. We’d been scanning the planet carefully and there were no changes that I could see. The surface had transparent domes scattered about in the few level locations among the many craters.

I’d taken the time to learn a little about Oberon prior to setting out and found it very interesting. It was a curious moon, but most likely it wasn’t going to be a nice place to visit.

I’d learned that Oberon’s mass places it ninth out of the entire solar system. It was discovered by Herschel in 1787 and was named after the king of the fairies in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The aspects of Oberon that make it curious is that its orbit is the most distant of Uranus’ five major moons at 584,000 kilometers and it is almost right over Uranus’ equator. The moon moves quickly, making one revolution around Uranus every thirteen and a half days. By coincidence, Oberon’s rotation is the same length, making it similar to our moon with the same face always pointing towards the gas giant. There is heavy bombardment by the solar wind, since Oberon is so far away from Uranus that it’s not protected by the planetary magnetic field.

The most unexpected fact that I found was that Uranus has a polar tilt of almost ninety degrees, orbiting the Sun lying on its side. This means that Oberon spends one half of the planet’s year with its poles in complete darkness and another half with them in complete sunlight. Since Uranus’ takes about eight-four Earth years to revolve around the Sun, this makes for long days and nights on parts of the moon. The surface is rugged with lots of craters and steep mountains; all told, not what a human would call the garden-spot of the universe.

Because of the roughness of the place, the domes were scattered widely. There were craters inside craters and each of them seemed to have mountainous piles of ejecta surrounding them along with steep central mountains. After studying the moon through high magnification, I concluded that it was going to be nearly impossible for me to determine how many domes there actually were. Giving up in disgust, I relied on my normal fall-back tactic. I asked Frazzle, “How many domes do the Pug-bears have on that place?”

He considered with his hand rubbing his stomach. I’d noticed that he tended to do that while meditating. I was relatively confident that his brain was in his skull, so it must have just been a habit. Finally, he answered, “I don’t know, Dec, de Great Ones, er… Pug-bears might have moved more of their kind onto the moon in the time we were going to Kasm’s planet. We know that one new FTL arrived. I don’t know how manys of dem were on that vessel. Nor, how many Sunnys or Pugs either.”

“Can we contact the Sunnys with radio?” That had worked in the past and I was wondering if there was a chance of it working now.

He answered with a negative sounding chirp, “Not working well. I been listening for radio calls, but nothing is happening. Dere no space traffic and no mining, so all is quiet.”

I considered in turn, “Let’s try calling on the frequency that your people usually use for their own radio traffic. Just say something innocuous. Maybe pretend you’re lost or something, just in case the Pugs might be listening.”

The Pugs sometimes monitored radio traffic, but they were of a more primitive mind-set and didn’t habitually do so. As for their masters, the Pug-bears, they could care less about radio communications between what they considered the lesser peoples and they weren’t physically equipped to create or use technology anyway. Their claws were designed for hunting and fighting, but not for fine manipulations, so they depended on the Pugs when it came to such tasks.

Frazzle turned to the communications console, dialed in a frequency and made a brief whistle that was his version of an interrogatory sound. Nothing happened for several minutes, but then a cautious set of whistles and clicks came back. He responded and shortly was in an animated dialog with the Oberon Sunny contingent.

He paused after a bit to explain to me. “Dec, deys all Sunnys in just a few domes. There not many Pug-bears; only three, but a whole bunches of Pugs. De Pugs and Pug-bears have their own habitats and don’t stay with my people.”

I started to say that was a favorable set-up for us, but he held up a webbed, furry paw and lifted one of his stubby fingers, so I paused.

He quickly said, “De problems that the Pug-bears have a bunch of Sunny servants. There always some of us with dem and separating the Sunnys to where the transporter link is can’t be done. Maybe we have to go down and rescue Sunnys in person.”

It made me grin a little. His reluctance to engage in violence or to even consider it led him to phrase things oddly. What he meant, in plain terms was we’d have to attack and clear the domes on foot and that was a very risky business. Both the Pugs and the Pug-bears were difficult to kill along with being deadly fighters.

I didn’t want to risk my men clearing out a group of enraged Pug-bears, if there was any possible alternative. Fortunately, Kasm came wandering into the bridge area and I mentally posed a question to him.

“Kasm, we’re going to have a problem getting the Pug-bears away from the Sunnys and the Sunnys to the Oberon transporter. Any suggestions?” I sent.

He answered quickly, “How many Pug-bears?”

“Only three, but they keep a lot of Sunny servants with them at all times,” I answered.

The cat-like alien paused briefly and then sent, “Here’s something that might work. When they invaded our planet, we found that some of them made nests and laid eggs. We learned that the hatchlings’ distress calls would cause any nearby adult to quickly come to their aid. It made a great way for us to set up ambushes and traps for the stupid things.”

He was exaggerating a little, something that he often did, tending to be a little over-confident in his personal outlook. The Pug-bears weren’t stupid, or at least the symbiont-infected ones weren’t. They were quite cunning, but still acted in an animal-like and ferocious manner. Those that did not have their brain augmented by the symbiont only functioned on their natural animal level and were only as cunning as perhaps an earth bear. Even so, I could imagine that either kind would come charging in response to a distress call.

“So, what you’re suggesting is that we set up some sort of ambush for them?” I asked. I still couldn’t see what he was getting at. The presence of the more intelligent Pugs would complicate matters. They would fight hard, if they discovered us.

“No, silly!” he sent. “All we have to do is to broadcast a hatchling distress call from a distant dome and the three Pug-bears will do everything in their power to get there quickly. They’ll leave the Sunnys behind, but they might take a force of Pugs with them. Then all we have to do is to destroy the dome.”

To be honest, I was preparing to argue with him about being called ‘silly’, but his idea made so much sense that I forgot about it. I realized for about the hundredth time that I continually under-estimated him. It was easy for my human eyes to simply see a large, green-stripped tiger and we aren’t used to thinking of tigers as quite so devious.

“That could work. We’d have to figure out how to get a recording of a hatchling, though,” I thought out loud.

“Let’s ask Frazzle to find out from his local people,” he replied. “It might be that the Pug-bears have laid some eggs somewhere and maybe we could steal one.”

Frazzle called and almost immediately found out that the Pug-bears had a separate dome that they used for breeding. They had been on Oberon long enough to lay several nests worth of eggs. One of the Sunnys was assigned to turn the eggs periodically. Apparently, that was something that helped the embryo develop, but the Pug-bears weren’t noticeably concerned with domestic chores and gladly assigned the task to a hapless Sunny. He was in constant fear that the eggs would hatch and the hatchlings would attack him. He was also in fear that they wouldn’t hatch and he’d be blamed.

The first batch of them were showing signs of readying for hatching. The eggs became more brittle immediately prior to the event, so that the young spider-like hatchlings could easily break out.

When I asked the location of the hatching dome, Frazzle showed me by pointing at the video monitor. It was near the main Pug-bear residence dome and connected to it by a long, meandering inflatable tube. The Pug-bears avoided the matter transporters for the most part. The symbionts that gave them their intelligence were hyper-sensitive to the transporter process and would die if the Pug-bears undertook more than an extremely short jump. This meant that the Pug-bear would arrive at its destination in its feral state. It could eventually regain intelligence by consuming parasite eggs until one of them attached to its brain, but that often took a long time. This situation was not optimal for the Pug-bears, but it was all they had. Transportation between domes via matter transporter was limited to Sunnys and Pugs. The Pugs had no problem with the transporters and neither did humans, Sim-tigers, or Sunnys.

There were no transporter heads in the egg dome and this made it difficult to formulate plans to raid the place. It promised to be a chancy venture. We’d have to slip into the Pug-bears’ habitat and then travel down the tube with the attendant possibility that they’d discover us.

I briefly considered wearing a vacuum suit and just shooting my way through the outside of the dome, but that would undoubtedly evacuate the entire complex and kill the Sunnys I wanted to rescue. So, that wasn’t an option.

From our insider information source, the Pug-bears’ habitat dome had a transporter head that was used by the Pugs and Sunnys when they were summoned by their masters. The transporter was near the entrance to the tunnel that led to the nesting area and it seemed like it might be possible to slip through undetected. Then I happened to realize that there was an almost equal possibility that the Pug-bears would sense any unshielded mental emanations and attack before we could go through. That meant that only the Sim-tigers and I would be able to go. The Sim-tigers naturally shielded their minds and I was confident that my mental shield would keep the Pug-bears from sensing me. The rest of the humans did not have the ability or were too weak in their shielding, as in the case of my wife, to be able to sneak through undetected.

It was at this point that Liz came through, “Dec, you’ve been looking at this thing all wrong. Why do you want to capture a hatchling? To record its distress cries in order to lure the Pug-bears into an ambush. Well, the creatures are all in one dome now. Just go in and kill them and try to save as many Sunnys as you can. Forget the egg dome.”

I felt like slapping my forehead and saying, “Doh!” She was right, of course. I sent a thought message to Kasm, “How long will it take before you and your friends will be ready to attack the Pug-bears’ dome?”

The answer was immediate, “We’re ready now! We’ll be at the transporter waiting for you.”

They were as good as their word. The marines and I arrived together and were greeted with Kasm’s guttural voice asking, “What took you so long?”

The Sim-tigers were all armed with their choice of swords, some with an extra weapon strapped around their mid-section. The marines and I were carrying anti-matter weapons. I had no doubt about my ability to use the weapon sensibly, but the marines, having been recruited shortly before we shipped out, didn’t inspire my confidence. Considering the fighting abilities of the leathery-skinned Pugs, I had decided that it would be best to bring two marines along with Joe and me. We’d be armed with anti-matter pistols backed by the two men who’d have anti-matter rifles. That would allow maximum maneuverability paired with stealth.

I decided that I’d better have a brief talk with them. “Listen up! The rifles you’re carrying are incredibly destructive. They will easily shoot a hole in anything you point them at. That includes the dome structure we’re going to raid. If one of you is careless enough to dissolve a hole in that dome, it will evacuate and we will die. There isn’t enough atmosphere on this moon to count and what there is, isn’t breathable by any stretch of the imagination. All shots must be single shots; no pulse bursts! And, all shots must be backstopped by either buildings or other aliens or the dome’s floor. If you shoot downward, you’ll be less likely to kill us all. Understood?”

Joe just looked grimly amused as the two chorused back a muted, “Yes, Sir!”

Sighing, I judged that was the best I could do. I looked at Kasm and he made a face that I had come to recognize was indicative of him finding something humorous.

He sent, “Don’t worry, Dec! We’ll most likely have them down and dead before your people come through. There will be no need to shoot.”

I only hoped that he was correct. I looked at the marines again as Kasm and the small group of Sim-tigers entered the ship’s transporter and disappeared. We entered and I pushed the button and things got blurry for a moment as they always did, then we came out into the alien’s dome.

There were two dead Pugs directly in front of us and nothing else was visible. I could hear some fighting coming from the far side of the dome. The place was like the first dome I’d ever seen. There was a garden or plot of uncultivated vegetation in the center and a number of cubicles spaced evenly around the perimeter. The vegetation was between us and the fighting. I could hear some Sim-tiger snarls mixed with the weird, moaning noise that the Pug-bears made.

I waved half of the men towards the left and led the other half around the right side of the central garden, taking care to stay well back from the alien vegetation. Suddenly, a huge Pug-bear broke through the plants coming right towards us. It was missing a couple of legs on one side and there were some deep slashes in its carapace on the other, but it was coming fast and it was obviously enraged.

I shrugged off the impact of its mental attack and then realized that neither of the marines or Joe could do the same. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the three of them standing, paralyzed with their weapons drooping. The Pug-bear had come out somewhat behind my position just as one of the riflemen was passing close by the central plants. I should have warned them, but I hadn’t foreseen the layout.

Before I could complete my turn and aim, the swollen, spider-like alien had slashed the marine with one of its venom-tipped claws and was reaching for the next. I brought my pistol up and then had to step to the side because Joe was standing, stunned, between me and the Pug-bear. It struck at the next marine, but only succeeded in knocking his weapon out of his grasp. Before it could try again, my anti-matter pulse had burned off two more of its legs and dissolved a basketball-sized hole in its side. It wavered, staggered and then fell over, still reaching for its last target. The remaining marine was standing just a little out of its reach.

The thing wasn’t dead and I suddenly sensed a difference in its mental sending. Instead of commanding that its prey stand still, it switched instantly to summoning them. The targeted man shuddered and then turned, starting to step towards his death as did Joe. The alien lifted its remaining fore limb to strike, but a green-stripped fury charged by and struck with its sword, lopping the threatening fore-leg off near the carapace.

The Sim-tiger then turned and chopped with all its considerable strength, cleaving the Pug-bear’s skull in half. There was a stunning mental shriek that emanated from the thing’s symbiont as it died. Then all was still.

I stepped over and pushed the semi-paralyzed and stunned man away from the venom-dripping claws. There was no sense risking an accident. As I moved him away, Kasm came up beside me and sent, “I don’t think your people should fight these evil things. Most humans can’t resist their mental commands the way you can.”

“You may be right. I’d forgotten just how powerful an intelligent Pug-bear can be,” I sent with a mental feeling of regret. My lack of preparation had resulted in the death of one of my men and I didn’t feel worthy of command at the moment. I’d made a stupid mistake.

Kasm brought me back to the immediate situation. “How many of these things were there supposed to be here?”

“Only three, according to our informant,” I responded.

“There are three dead ones on the other side of the plants. This one is the fourth and I think there were some others that ran down the tunnel to the hatching dome.” He was still worked up over the fight and finished his mental sending with a ferocious and loud snarl, making the nearest marines jump.

I turned to the last marine and ordered him to set up a guard over the transporter portal. It wouldn’t do to have enemies arriving behind us when we were in the tunnel. Then I said, “Joe, please check each of the cubicles. Carefully! There could be a Pug-bear in any of them. I’ll have one of the Sim-tigers go with you, just in case.”

The marine stepped towards the portal and Joe headed for the nearest cubicle along with one of Kasm’s people. As for me, I turned and followed the rest of the Sim-tigers into the tunnel.

End of chapter 5

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