And now, presented again for your enjoyment, the third installment of a short story featuring the origin of one of my central characters in Exodus: Empires at War. I will present this story in four parts. Anyone interested in reading the story in its entirety can go to my website, Imagination Unlimited, or directly to the story page at Exodus Shorts. The story can be downloaded in Word, PDF or Kindle format. Or you can see all of my books at my Amazon Book Page. The fourth and final part should be out on Labor Day.
I had been planning to put out Refuge 3: The Legions, on 08/28/2013, but circumstances beyond my control have intervened. I am going to DragonCon tomorrow, and just didn’t feel comfortable with the edits to the novel. I received a bunch of manuscripts to read and comment on for the workshop I am attending, and I need to get to them today. The book will be out by Labor Day or soon after. And I am about 100K words into the fourth book of the Exodus Series, the books I get the most ‘when is it coming out’ questions about.
DragonCon will be my first big scifi/fantasy convention. I have signed up for a professional workshop on Thursday and Friday. I have put together a costume based around my Indian Jones hat and jacket, which were purchased just because I thought they were cool for general wear. Now I have a whip, holster, fake revolver and gas mask bag, so can go in costume on Saturday without a mask or makeup. DragonCon will give me a chance to meet some of my favorite authors, people like Larry Niven, John Ringo, Robert J Sawyer, Jim Butcher and Kevin J Anderson. There will also be appearances by William Shatner, George Take, Avery Brooks, Richard Dean Anderson and Christopher Judge. And let me not forget Jeane Stein, from whom I took an online Urban Fantasy course last year. I want to see them all, and many others, but really can’t figure out the schedule yet. I will probably be stressing out the whole time there to get to one panel or another, and cursing when two people I want to see are having panels in different places at the same time. I will blog extensively about DragonCon, possibly while there, definitely after. It should be exciting.
And now, without further adieu, here is the third installment of A New Life.
Cornelius walked slowly through the forest, placing his feet with care, trying to move like a shadow. The birds, or what passed for birds on New Detroit, sang, croaked and twittered from the trees. At times they would go silent, and the crunching of heavy footfalls would come to his ears. Damned tenderfeet, he thought of the nobles he was leading through the forest. They were here at the invitation of the Duke to hunt this planet’s version of big game. And big it was. Today there were on the trail of a five ton carnivore that was this planet’s prime predator. And it was his job to get them a kill without losing any of the idiots along the way.
And if they keep making so much noise we’ll be lucky if we don’t see any King Tigers. And if we’re unlucky, one of the noble assholes will become food for the beast.
Up ahead was the small river that watered this acreage of the forest. The watering point for the herbivores, and therefore the prime hunting ground of the carnivores. Cornelius spotted the blind that was his favorite in this area. It was masked with native scents, sprayed earlier by other foresters working for the Duke. Today’s prey would not smell them if they reached the blind without notice, which was what he was worried about. Kings had a great sense of hearing, and every kind of sound masker tried had just ended up attracting their attention.
Cornelius settled himself into the blind and looked through the scope on his particle beam rifle. His was the only military class weapon out here. The rest of the hunters were here to bring home trophies, and a beam weapon didn’t leave a good hide. But someone had to be ready for the unthinkable, to save the hides of the rich bastards if one of them made a critical error.
The three men he was leading settled into the blind, setting their rifles on the edge and looking through their scopes. Two of the men, a balding fat man and a thin as a rail elder, were clumsy in their movements. The third handled himself and his weapon with quiet efficiency. The Marine, thought Cornelius, nodding at that man with approval. He was a distant cousin of the Duke, and a serving Captain in the Imperial Marines. And the only one to treat Cornelius or his father like they were actual human beings.
[Only fire at the ones I designate as targets] sent Cornelius over the com link. The Captain acknowledged immediately. The other two stared at him like he was a pack animal that had just learned to talk.
And then they waited. Several herbivores, from delicate antelope like beasts to plodding armored things that weighed twelve tons, appeared at the river bank to drink. The bald man raised his rifle to shoot at one of the later, and Cornelius grabbed his barrel and pushed it down.
“How dare you, you common pig,” said the fat man.
[We’re here to get Kings] he sent over the circuit. [If you want a Parson’s Rhino, then by all means we’ll take you on a hunt for one. But these other gentlemen are here for Kings.]
[Ease up, Humphrey] sent the Marine, putting a hand on the fat man’s arm and squeezing until the other guy groaned. [I want a King. And I won’t hesitate to mount your fat hide on my wall if I don’t get one.]
Humphrey nodded his head, and the waiting began. Eventually something rustled the bushes, and a heavy dark form came loping out of the foliage. It stopped, crouched down on its six legs, while its ears moved independently to scan the area. Its striped coat of purple and red moved with the play of muscles. Cornelius admired the animal as it bent down to drink, knowing that this was not one they were after. It’s still a baby, he thought of the six hundred pound beast. Which means momma and the others are around here somewhere. He didn’t want them to shoot a baby, or a mother that was still taking care of the young and teaching them to hunt. This one was more independent than his littermates, and had come on ahead. He scanned the jungle up from the river, hoping that a big male would appear. Kings hunted in prides, and where there were young, there were sure to be adults.
The young King at the river howled, and Cornelius swung his rifle to get a look at it in his scope. The animal was falling to its knees, blue tinted blood staining its beautiful coat.
“I told you not to shoot at anything I didn’t designate as a target,” he said, pulling the rifle out of the fat man’s hands.
“But it was standing right there, you low born ape,” growled the man.
“It was a juvenile,” said Cornelius, staring into the man’s eyes without flinching, making the noble recoil. “They are protected by law.”
“It looked big enough to me,” said the man, looking down.
“Look out,” yelled the tall thin man, and Cornelius turned in time to see an enormous female King Tiger come running at the blind. He quickly got behind his rifle and pulled the trigger, sending a dark red beam into the jungle. A tree exploded from a hit, and the guide pulled the beam into the carnivore. With an explosion of flesh and blood the beast went down.
“That was the momma,” said Cornelius, glaring back at Humphrey. “The daddy will be out there as well, and now he will be hunting us.”
“So if we shot him wouldn’t she hunt us?” asked the thin man.
“It doesn’t work that way. If we killed the male the mother would have run off with the young to protect them. That’s her instincts. But the male will seek revenge for his mate, that’s the way he’s wired.”
“So what do we do?” asked Humphrey, his face a mask of fear.
“We stay put, and wait for the air rescue car to come to us. And hope maybe the male does something stupid, and puts himself in our sights.”
“Is he likely to do that?” asked the Marine Captain.
“Not really,” said Cornelius, shaking his head. “He’s most likely waiting out there in the jungle for us to come to him. He saw what happened to his mate, or at least what remains of her. He knows what we can do, and will try not to attack where we can get a shot at him.”
“How smart are these things anyway?” asked the Marine, the only one who seemed to be keeping his head.
“Not as smart as us. But a lot smarter than your house cat. They can reason enough to make them dangerous.”
So they waited, until the com came in from the rescue craft, which put down in the small clearing near the river. The door gunner kept the other side of the clearing covered while Cornelius led his charges to the car. They were almost there when a roar erupted from the jungle and five tons of angry male King Tiger came charging out. Cornelius tried to get his weapon around in time, realizing that he wasn’t going to make it, and the animal was headed right for him. The crack of a hypersonic pellet sounded, and the beast staggered, then fell as another round struck it in the center of its chest. The carnivore fell, and Cornelius turned to see the Marine Captain standing in a shooters stance, his mag rifle to his shoulder.
“That was great shooting, my Lord,” he said to the noble. “And thank you.”
“At least we have our trophy,” said the Captain, looking over at the other two nobles. “Or at least I have mine.”
On the ride back to the manor the other nobles stared at Cornelius with hostile looks, and he heard whispers about how they were going to complain about the hunt, and how the game keeper had bungled it.
“And I will tell my cousin that you fools almost ruined it for us all,” said the Captain, smiling at Cornelius. “I had a marvelous time, and I will name you both cowards if you say anything at all.”
The rest of the flight was in total silence, and Cornelius realized that not all nobles were bad after all. Just the majority.
* * *
“So what the hell do you think I had to do with it?” asked Cornelius, looking across the table at the three interrogators, one from the factory management, one from the police, and one from the Baron himself.
“Directly,” said the Baron’s man, “nothing. But we understand that Parker Murphy was not only your line mate, but your friend as well. And that you were there the night he talked about getting back at the Baron.”
“He didn’t say he wanted to get back at the Baron,” said Cornelius. “He called the people over him bastards, but he never said he was out for revenge.”
“And you didn’t think to tell anyone about the incident at the bar?” asked the detective.
“You all arrested him,” said Cornelius, trying to keep his voice calm. “I would think you would know what he said. I gave a statement to your men.”
“But you didn’t tell us,” said the manager, pointing his finger at Cornelius. “We might have been able to prevent the sabotage if we had been given advanced warning.”
“What did you want me to do? He didn’t work here anymore, and he didn’t make any direct threats. This is a free society, or at least I thought it was, and we are free to speak our minds.”
“Do you like working here?” asked the manager. “Any complaints you would like to voice?”
And lose my job, thought Cornelius, shaking his head. Not me. “I have no complaints. You have been very good to me.”
“And have you had any contact with Mr. Murphy since that night?” asked the detective.
“None,” said Cornelius, knowing he was telling the truth, but still nervous under the scrutiny of the other men.
“It would be a good idea if you kept your distance from Mr. Murphy,” said the Baron’s man. “That’s all. We’ll call you in if we need to talk with you some more.”
Cornelius walked out of the room with mixed feelings, fear and anger. This was supposed to be a free society, where people could live their lives as they liked. But it’s a lie. Live like a free man and they can slap you down. Maybe not legally, but they control the economy. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea, leaving the core worlds and going to the frontier.
An incoming call chirped on Cornelius’ link as he was flying home. The connection showed him his father as on the line. Wonder what he wants. I’m going to see him in a few days anyway. Hope the hunt isn’t off. “Hey, dad. What’s going on?”
“I have some bad news, Cornelius,” said the sad voice of his father. “It’s your sister.
“What happened to her?” asked Cornelius with a sinking feeling. She got caught, her and Larry. How the hell did they think they could get away with it.
“The police came for her today at her job,” said his father. “And Larry as well. They were arrested for illegal procreation.”
“Do you know what’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know, son,” said the elder Walborski. “I’ve contacted a lawyer, but what he told me really doesn’t get my hopes up.”
“Mind wipe,” said Cornelius in a quiet voice.
“We can hope not, but I’m afraid that’s a possibility.”
“Are you still going to do the hunt?”
“I’m obligated to it,” said his father. “If you want to bow out, that’s fine. I can get another man to help.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head, then looking at the cityscape passing below. “Katlyn lost her job with the Baroness, and I need to make up that loss.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” asked his dad.
“Was there anything you could have done about it?”
“Maybe,” said his dad quickly. “Probably not. I don’t know. Did the Baroness say she was going to blackball her.”
“That was the impression I got, dad.”
“Then probably not. At least not at the moment. Give me a little time and I might be able to get her on with someone else.”
The next day his father got in touch with him again, and gave Cornelius the news he had been dreading.
“Mind wipe,” said his father in a hushed voice. “She’s gone to us.”
“Didn’t take them long, did it?” said Cornelius in a growl.
“The evidence was irrefutable,” said his father with a sob. “She was pregnant, and there was only one way that could have happened. So they aborted the baby and took away her memories, and those of Larry. We’ve lost her, son. The body is still alive, but there is nothing there that connects her to us. I’m glad your mother isn’t here to see this.”
And I wish she was, thought Cornelius. Mom had died years ago, in an aircar accident that hadn’t left enough of her around to reconstruct, unless they resorted to cloning, which, of course, was highly illegal. Cornelius still missed her terribly, as he was sure his father still did, as he had not sought any kind of female company since her death. But his father also had a point. The sentence would have ripped the heart out of their mother. Mind wiped offenders were given new personalities, with new lives, and families were not permitted to have contact with them.
Katlyn took it no better than he did. “It was a stupid thing to do,” she said, tears in her eyes. “But to kill her like that. And the baby.”
“If they let anyone get away with it they wouldn’t be able to stop unlicensed reproduction.”
“You sound like you’re defending the assholes,” yelled Katlyn, glaring.
“I’m not defending them. Hell, they just took my sister away from me. I’m just saying how things are, and how they will remain, as long as we remain here.”
“Your poor father. God, what he must be going through.”
And she didn’t take the hint about remaining here. Maybe we need to pack up and move to the frontier. Hell, the Fleet protects it, and there are troops on every planet. Maybe not as many as here, but enough to keep the pirates away, and that’s really the only worry we would have out there. “Have you thought about leaving New Detroit?” he asked her.
“Not really. Maybe for a developing world. At least they have some civilization.”
And a couple of hundred million people who have already gotten all the good stuff. “We would do better on a frontier world. Get some land, turn it into more land. Maybe even be rich someday, and have lots of kids.”
“And I heard that frontier worlds are dangerous,” said Katlyn. “Almost no medical facilities, and everyone walks around with guns. No, I want no part of them.”
After Katlyn went to bed Cornelius tapped into the net and routed some vids to the trivee, letting it immerse him in another world. He started with a map of the Empire, looking at how the worlds were situated. Of course the center of it all was the Supersystem, the eight stars in orbit around a black hole, each with two or more habitable worlds. And all with the same restrictions as New Detroit. And out from it in a globe to two hundred light years, the core worlds, ninety-eight worlds in the same class as New Detroit, all populated to the legal limit. And out from them, the twelve sectors, all of them with some contact with an alien polity. Sectors I and IV with the least contact, meaning they were also the least likely to be invaded. And ten thousand developed, developing and frontier worlds in those sectors, with more being opened all the time, or terraformed to be compatible with human habitation.
Next he scanned down a list of frontier planets in sector IV, looking for those with low enough population that they would be considered true pioneers. One on the list caught his eye, a world with less than a hundred fifty thousand inhabitants, that had been colonized for about thirty years. So they know enough about it that there shouldn’t be any surprises. And it’s on the short list of planets under consideration for a Fleet base, which means more security than most frontier worlds. Sestius IV. Doesn’t even have an Archduke yet, only an appointed Governor.
He linked into the trivee and let a vid of the planet fill his room. The small city loomed ahead, then the farmlands around it, with actual livestock. Real food, he thought. Not just tank grown protein and factory processed vegetables. The vid moved out, and he was surrounded by a lush jungle, then a plane, with massive creatures grazing on the grass like ground covering or the trees at the edge of the open area.
He finally delinked after what seemed like mere minutes, before he realized that hours had gone by. I don’t have to work tomorrow, he thought, remembering the images he had been immersed in. And that place doesn’t look so bad, especially if it becomes a Fleet base. Now, I just need to talk Katlyn into it.