FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Michael_Kroh, Jan 28, 2007.

  1. Michael_Kroh

    Michael_Kroh Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2006
    Location:
    Northern CA
    First Contact: The Iron Horse
    By James Curtis Snyder


    Book One


    Lily Sloane gripped the aft railing and clenched her jaw tightly, refusing to vomit. She welcomed the refreshing downpour overhead but cursed the boiling Atlantic Ocean below her feet. Her fingers were of steel; her stomach of jelly as the tiny Erlkonig chopped on westward through the gray day.

    "Doctor Sloane!" called a heavy Russian voice from behind. It belonged to the man-mountain Verda, her junior physicist from the two-classroom Sloane Institute of San Francisco. He’d insisted on escorting the warp physics pioneer on her perilous outing.

    Their overseas rendezvous with the representatives of NASA, the Planetary Society, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, (SETI) the British National Space Center, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and a host of others was truly exhilarating.

    Lily had spearheaded the collective years ago, following the events of First Contact with Vulcan some fifteen years prior. Her friends from around the world were eager to industrialize a generation of registered starships, and improve the warp drive technology Dr. Sloane had helped to create. These would be the goals to shoot for while they taught fresh new minds at the proposed United Earth Starfleet Academy.

    The twenty-four members of the new United Nations of Terra, along with the Global Transport Affiliate and the Terran Credit Monitor, had deliberated for six weeks on the proposal to fully fund the Academy. This would require substantial resources; personnel, industrial concerns and commodity lines that were already stretched thin while keeping the fledgling global democracy moving forward.

    The good news came first. The citizens within the UNT offered many volunteers and ample donations for the effort, ready to relocate to San Francisco. The GTA had endorsed the Academy’s potential for deep space exploration, and pledged to relocate key persons and material for the project.

    But the final decision of the Credit Monitor was not so flattering. These were still desperate times. There were many post-atomic horrors to banish from the Earth before humanity could reach for the stars on such a grand scale. No credit was available for the new blood Lily needed to build the Academy. She pondered the project would now take decades to complete and would break the backs of its founders.

    Lily was grateful for the people’s support but was truly upset by the lack of funding. Her enthusiastic cadre had been quieted by the news, and they parted with solemn but friendly words as they made their separate ways home, unsure of what would come next.

    Verda respectfully approached Lily and offered her a steaming two-pint steel mug with a plate lid.

    "Earl Grey tea, Miss Lily. Hot." She remained frozen to the rail; he set the mug on the deck and quickly reached in his coat for a small flask. "And vodka, if you wish. I find it helps." The Erlkonig rose and fell, rose again and fell again, endlessly.

    Lily nodded slightly and whispered over the ocean. "Thank you Verda. Leave me alone, now. Please." She was just fine with the storm; she didn't want tea or booze or
    anything in the world but to make the churning stop. She knew she was going to puke, oh God there was no way around it....

    Verda nodded his head and stepped back.

    "Make it so, Doctor. There is no shame."

    Lily felt like a great burden had been lifted, and for a few seconds she nearly disappeared as her torso leaned over the ocean. She coughed deeply and spat in the seawater, feeling a little better. She slumped to the deck and leaned her forehead on the rail. Seawater rushed over the deck in sheets, soaking her further.

    She turned her head slightly to finally acknowledge her student.

    “I’ll have that tea now, thanks.” She closed her bleary eyes and focused on breathing steadily. He held the large cup steady as she sipped.

    She nodded lightly. “Help me inside, please.” Verda lifted her as he would a sleeping cat, easing her to her feet. He brought the teacup along and deftly moved her inside.

    It was dark and dank below deck, but Lily’s stomach was more receptive to the atmosphere now. Verda hoisted Lily to a fireman’s carry and moved carefully through the dim light.

    “Here we are,” he whispered. He unlatched the door and gently set Lily down on her own two feet. She shuffled a few steps into her tiny quarters and crashed on the lower
    bunk, soaking wet and already fast asleep. Verda swept a rough but clean blanket from the top bunk and covered the exhausted scientist. He turned the lock and stepped out.


    **


    Lily was in much better shape eight days later, when the Erlkonig arrived in the colorful port city of Corpus Christi, Texas. Teeming with an international jumble of travelers, merchants, mercenaries, pirates, mutants, thieves and so many others, Corpus Christi had survived the War and returned to its roots as a renowned trading post. The afternoon sun was bright and hot after a brief rain-shower, baking the populace and steaming the roads comprised of broken asphalt, mud, and manure.

    Lily and Verda left the docks and its transients behind, and moved on toward the Market along the Bayfront Science Park. Today was a Sunday, and the Shoreline Boulevard was bustling with global travelers and Texans from miles around.

    The gulls and birds sang while distant church bells rang for afternoon service. Street performers lightened the air with instrumentals; balladeers told stories as spectators flipped quarter-ounce coins into upturned hats. Children darted through the muddy streets, chasing a day’s adventure. Horse-drawn carriages loaded with goods navigated carefully down the broken venues that were long bereft of traffic signs and signals.

    Canvas awnings provided welcome shade, colorful banners gave a cheerful lining to the wonderful emanations of roasting meat, fresh fruit, ice, and ale, all of which were too enticing to pass up. The travelers enthusiastically agreed to upgrade their provisions.

    Texas was considered to be the hub of the new American Frontier. The Fifteen Optimal States of the East and the Ten United States of the West had both claimed the Lone Star territory. However, the nuclear devastation of Dallas / Fort Worth twenty-five years earlier in 2053 had poisoned the state’s central mass and made controlling the area difficult. Texas had become the de facto Neutral Zone in the Cold War between the States.

    Verda pointed to a long line near a merchant of dried meats and cheeses.

    “I think I will get in line now, the merchant may close soon.”

    “Good idea,” Lily replied, as she studied a fresh fruit stand across the street. The vendors were making ice; pouring water into a tub to be micro-filtered clean, misting through a solar cell freezer into a large transparent aluminum serving case, ready to be scooped and blended with bananas, citrus, cream, or syrup. Imported, expensive stuff, but honest-to-goodness iced cream was rare and made her mouth water.

    “Verda, I think we deserve something good, and it’s on me. It’s a short line over there,” Lily patted his shoulder. “Wait here.” She skipped off, weaving through the crowd.


    **

    Neither Lily nor Verda noticed the sharp eyes tracking them, following and detailing their every movement from the moment they disembarked from the Erlkonig. The watcher was Gifted, born of mutation from ancestors rooted in the Wastelands.

    Despite this man’s impish and pitiful appearance, his gift of observation and memory found him very lucrative employment as a spy. Over time he had mastered the art of invisibility through prose and act. He was remarkably confident among pure-strain humans, a rare trait for a mutant.

    The docks were an excellent place to spot fugitives coming or going from Corpus Christi; his sharp eyes were analyzing the dozen faces walking the gangway of the Erlkonig. He crept along the dock from a safe distance, beyond the range of clear human sight, never losing her profile. He followed the lines on the woman’s face, observed her walk and her body language. Everything matched the snapshot in his perfect memory. Then, he saw her large companion address her, mouthing the name, “Doctor Sloane.”

    He had the positive ID. He scampered off.


    **


    UNT Credit wasn’t good here, so Lily paid four of her twenty gold dollars for two iced drinks served in oversized grapefruit rinds, and smiled at the vendor.

    “Thank you.”

    The vendor didn’t return her smile; instead he was alerted, looking over her shoulder. Lily felt a shadow fall on her back; she spun around to see two very large men towering over her. They were fast and made a grab for Lily, but she was faster and ducked the two giants. She stumbled and dropped one of the drinks, and in a heartbeat of anger flung the other squarely in one of their faces. The other brute got hold of Lily’s wrist and arrested her flight.

    Her captor had the grip of a steel trap, she shrieked with rage as she struggled.

    “Come on then! Bring it!” Lily thrashed with all her might; connecting a solid kick to the groin, dropping him just as the fruit-covered brute secured her in a bear hug from behind.

    Lily heard a great roar, then she was free; her captor now rolling in the mud with Verda, grappling and gouging. The crowd in the street had cleared a wide spot for the spectacle and began heckling and cheering the bout. Professional gamblers began to bark odds on the fight. This kind of thing happened often here, no one would interfere unless property damage resulted.

    The first brute was curled up nursing his family jewels, so Lily whipped around to see if she could help Verda, who didn’t need it. He was an exceptional fighter in his day, trading blows with the man and getting in some good hooks. Lily cheered him.

    “Yeah! Get’em, Verda! Kick his ass!”

    Lily had just cracked a smile of victory over the unknown assailants when the world suddenly flashed white with a great shock of pain. The mud rose up to meet her face as she splashed down in a convulsion. Her mud-splattered opponent had recovered, standing over her with a buzzing shock baton in his hand and a satanic smile on his lips. The baton found Lily a second time and she screamed, splitting the air.

    Verda was growing winded but had the advantage over his rival. With another great roar he head-butted the fellow on the bridge of his nose, shattering the bone. The brute howled and fell with muddy hands clapped to his face, spouting blood and tears between his knotted fingers.

    Verda turned, breathing hard, to the face the man between himself and Lily. The fresher brute had recovered from Lily’s assault completely, wielding the baton lightly in one hand and began taking long swipes at Verda. Lily remained inert in the mud.

    Verda ducked a hard swipe of the baton and made a grab for it. The men began to struggle over the weapon. And then, the broken-nosed brute stumbled up behind Verda and struck him in the base of the skull, hard and with great savor. Verda sprawled from his grapple and fell to the earth, gasping and seeing stars. He rolled in the mud as the baton came down thrice in a final rain of blows.

    “YAHH!” The Broken Nose goal-kicked Verda in the ribs with his heavy boot and laughed, spurting fresh blood. It was over now; the crowd began to break up. The air buzzed with amusement and pity, gold coins clinked as bets were laid off.

    The Baton Wielder had turned to Lily and was gathering her up.

    “Whad abouth dith one?” Broken-Nose grunted, gesturing to Verda.

    The other lifted Lily on his shoulder and made for their horse-drawn cart nearby.

    “He’s not worth anything. Let’s go.”



    **

    A half-hour later, Verda sat alone, contemplating what to do next. He pressed handfuls of ice to his eye and held it, thinking.

    “You poor man. They took your friend, I saw the whole thing.”

    Verda lowered his handful of ice and looked up at the impish mutant. “Da? And what concern of yours, wretch? Leave me alone.”

    “Please, sir. I only want to help you. I have information about your friend. Who the men are, and maybe where they are going. All yours for a price, stranger.”

    “Piss off, creature!” He flung ice at him. The mutant only flinched.

    “It’s ten gold dollars, if you have it. A good price. Want a free taste? They’ve already left town, stranger. Decide now, weary traveler...last chance...”

    Verda locked eyes, judging whether to trust him. Honest or not, the mutant was confident. He reached in his coat and withdrew a fist of gold coins. He opened his palm but kept the treasure nigh.

    “Talk, then.”

    “Ah, very good. The abductors who took the woman are bounty hunters, you see, employed by the Caretaker of Amistad City, along the Great Wall of Texas.”

    “But why did they take her?”

    The mutant smiled, bearing a mouthful of misshapen teeth.

    “Don’t you know? She is wanted for treason! Her name and face are widely posted in the Badlands and are known to any bounty hunter that hails from the Optimal States. She was easily recognized I’m afraid.”

    “Why Amistad City?”

    “Amistad is an Optimal stronghold, built all around and inside the Great Wall itself, near the hydroelectric dam. The two bounty hunters are residents of the City, on their way now with your friend. They are traveling in a diesel transport and will arrive at Amistad by nightfall. The Caretaker is powerful, his words are the law. Colonel Green has given him absolute power, there is no question he will find her guilty of her crimes.”

    Verda narrowed his eyes. “How do you know so much?”

    “I have keen eyes and ears, friend. Information is my business.”

    “Your information is false! Doctor Sloane is not a criminal!” Verda scowled in frustration and spat congealed blood to the side. “What else is there? Speak.”

    The mutant turned up his palms and shrugged. “All I can say is that you’ll need help to reclaim her, you couldn’t possibly do it alone.”

    Verda stood and withheld the stack of coins above the mutant’s open hand.

    “What’s your name, mutant?”

    “Elijah,” he humbly reported, collecting his coins and bowing his head. “My name is Elijah. Good fortune to you, friend.” He grinned and scampered into the growing afternoon shadows.

    Verda watched him vanish, and realized that he was certainly right about one thing: he was going to need help.

    End Of Book One
     
  2. Michael_Kroh

    Michael_Kroh Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2006
    Location:
    Northern CA
    Book Two
    **

    Standing against the rush of open air, Commander Michael Kroh gripped the forward guardrail of Deck Two as the massive all-terrain wheels of the GTA Iron Horse buckled over a washout in Interstate 10. The roads were in dire condition these days; bumpy rides were the rule in most places. The Iron Horse and her crew were en route to the Southwest Regional Spaceport near the city of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

    The Armored Personnel Carriers of the Global Transport Affiliate were considered to be the most versatile wheel-dependant transports ever built by Man. The Iron Horse APC was of the Titan class, fully complemented with Bridge, Battle Platform, Sickbay, Crew & Guest Quarters, Mess, Promenade, Garage, Cargo Bay, Refinery, Brig, and Storage. Utilizing the latest in hydrogen and solar cell technologies, she could be refueled at any water source and negotiate the Frontier almost indefinitely.

    The United States in the West were slowly moving East, reclaiming her territories from the grip of Green’s Optimal government, using incentives of first aid, credit, reconstruction contracts, alternate energies, education, basic rights and peacekeepers. The GTA chewed away at the Frontier, establishing First Contact with enclosed civilizations and their strange little worlds. GTA transports also carried young Vulcan ambassadors in training, to soothe and nullify the widespread fear of extraterrestrial invasion. It was damned hard work, often dangerous, but the world was gradually coming together, bit by bit.

    The radio strapped to Kroh’s belt chirped for attention. He reached under his coat and tapped the PTT that coiled to his lapel. “Kroh here, go ahead.”

    “Commander,” called the young voice of Lt. Kara Rochelle at Operations, “We’re being hailed, New Mexico Outpost Four is standing by for your PIN.”

    “Be right down, Lieutenant.” Kroh tapped off and stepped carefully in the open air toward the manhole in the center of the Deck. He toed the access latch and the circular cover geared open. He hooked his arm around the fixed pole-and-ladder and slid down to Deck One, his heavy boots crashing onto the grated steel floor of the Bridge.

    An immense panoramic windshield cast of transparent aluminum allowed the natural afternoon sunlight to flood the Bridge, casting long shadows and keeping it warm despite the cooling system. Kroh removed his coat and hung it on the backrest of his command station. He gripped one of the many padded rails with one hand as the Horse rumbled down the ruined Interstate, as they all did when the APC was in motion. After a time one got used to moving about the superstructure in a half-walk, half climb.

    Forward and to the port bulkhead, Lt. Rochelle was comfortable at her station, wearing Levi’s denim and a white cotton shirt. The nineteen year-old had jettisoned her deck shoes and was nesting cross-legged and bare-footed in the chair that was too big for her. Her long red hair cascaded over a set of headphones she cupped to one ear.

    “Outpost is standing by, Commander,” Rochelle leaned forward to tap the return beacon. “PIN required, so it’s your eyes only.”

    “Thank you, Miss Rochelle, I’ll take it in my Ready Room.” He glanced at the Timex on his wrist, marking the time at 18:30 hours.

    She dabbed her face with a damp cloth. “Aye, sir.”

    The Helmsman of the Iron Horse was harnessed to his station at the center-left of the windscreen. Brian Gaines had a very simple mind operating inside his bald head, but the sturdy fellow was an excellent driver and was quite proud of his work. He found child-like delight in piloting the APC through the post-apocalyptic landscape.

    Kroh dropped a heavy hand on Gaines’ shoulder and raised his voice over the ambient hum of the electric engines.

    “How does she hold, man?”

    The drivers’ face broke open in a wide chuckle-headed smile. He raised his station to a full standing position so he could stretch his limbs.

    “I love the Interstate, Boss! Nice ‘n flat like glass! Hell, we’re cruisin’ at a steady 100 KPH on front-wheel drive only, hardly usin’ any juice at all!” He paused to chug warm water from a plastic bottle and reported a long, satisfying belch. “She’s awesome!”

    The Commander nodded in approval. “As you were, Helmsman. Steady as she goes.”

    Kroh turned for his Ready Room, just behind his command station to the port side. He slid through the narrow hatch. The efficient room featured a small desk, an enclosed single bunk and a tiny privy featuring an ultrasonic mist showerhead. Padded grab rails complemented the furnishings. Sunlight slanted through a small porthole in the bulkhead.

    Built into his aluminum desk were a small workstation and a keypad security lock. His battered black Stetson hat rested on the corner of his chair. Kroh punched his PIN number as he scooped up his hat and settled in. He rested his dusty boots on the tabletop, tipped his hat forward and crossed his arms, his chin low and waited for the dispatch to respond.

    A minute later, the speaker crackled to life. “This is New Mexico Outpost Four calling APC one-zero-zero-seven, PIN verified. Iron Horse, copy this transmission, over.”

    Kroh clicked on the return switch and leaned back again, lowering his hat. “Affirmative, Outpost. Commander Kroh here, I read you loud and clear. Over.”

    “Copy, Iron Horse. Uploading now, a critical TAD has been issued at eighteen hundred hours MST, your manifest has been suspended, over.”

    “Roger that, Outpost.” Kroh reserved. “What’s the story?”


    **


    “All senior staff, report to the Bridge.”

    Kroh’s voice boomed throughout the mobile habitats of the Iron Horse.

    “Captain Skyes, Doctor Sina, Mr. Jeffries, Mr. Steel, fall in.”
    “Just one person?” Asked Kara Rochelle at her Op station, facing center. The senior officers began to arrive on the Bridge. The Horse herself was now at rest along the eastbound shoulder of Interstate 10.

    All hands were seated at their workstations or standing by, facing Kroh at his central command station. He held up the decoded printout of the Temporary Additional Duty.

    “Just one.” He handed the paper to the Jamaican-born warrior, Captain Marjorie Skyes as she manned her station at Tactical to the center-right of the windshield, symmetrical to the Helm. Kroh continued.

    “Dr. Sloane is a scientific pioneer. She helped develop the faster-than-light propulsion technology known as warp drive, in cahoots with the infamous Doctor Zephrame Cochrane. More recently, she is the founder of the Starfleet Academy Project. Two days ago, bounty hunters abducted her in Corpus Christi and transported her to the Optimum’s Amistad Reservoir fortress along the border. The Doctors’ companion was severely beaten, but he survived and sought out his contact on the edge of the city.”

    “So the GTA has chosen to intervene.” Skyes stated the bottom line.

    Kroh leaned back in his chair. “And we are the emergency counsel. The Iron Horse is the only APC that can be spared for the effort. And just putting our asses on the line for this woman is a huge gamble of resources. Apparently, even the Vulcans hold the Doctor in high regard; there is a personal note from an ambassador Soval that we act quickly.”

    “Indeed,” graveled the voice of Mr. Steel, the young Vulcan diplomat whom established First Contact with the variety of humans the Iron Horse encountered. Steel was twenty Standard years old; he had lived fifteen of them on Earth. His dense black hair was still very long, indicating he had not yet passed his First Rites. His dusty cowboy boots rested on a padded rail. His Levi’s jeans, flannel shirt and denim jacket were his own and blended him naturally with the crew. The points of his ears were tucked away in his hat.

    “I have met Doctor Sloane, once when I was six years old. This was during the celebratory opening of the Vulcan compound in San Francisco fifteen years ago, she was an honored guest at the reception.” He removed his boots from the rail and straightened his hat. “I doubt she would recognize me today, however.”

    “Good,” Kroh acknowledged. “Then you can identify her.”

    He turned to his first officer. “Marjorie, Have your mercenaries pack their gear and up-armor two of the Crawlers. We’re likely to have a fight on our hands.”

    “Aye, Commander.” She relished the order. “We haven’t had a good bout in a while. The CATS can be ready in one hour.”

    “At your convenience, Captain. Doctor Sina?”

    Kroh nodded at his chief medical officer, Ibin “Ben” Sina. “Prepare the Sickbay. Expect some casualties.”

    The Doctor was of Arabic ancestry, a man of faith and a brilliant medical practitioner by any standard. He was renowned for his ability to heal; the Iron Horse was fortunate to have him aboard. He nodded solemnly at Kroh’s order, but said nothing.

    The Commander turned to Operations. “Miss Rochelle, time and distance to Amistad?”

    She swiveled around in her chair and activated her Westinghouse touch LCD, calling up a map of the Southwestern States. The results displayed on the 36-inch main viewer mounted above her station.

    After some quick number crunching she reported, “Approximately 800 kilometers, over relatively flat terrain. Let’s see...we’ll have to pass through Las Cruses and El Paso. That’ll take some time. We’ll hold our course east on Interstate Ten for most of the journey, turning off on Highway 277 south for as long as it can carry us.”

    Her fingers danced and slid on the touch screen, she continued her report as the Eagle satellite images panned and zoomed on the main viewer.

    “We’ll have to move off-road on the approach, the 277 bridge over the Reservoir itself won’t accommodate the Iron Horse. This will slow our exit. But we should still make excellent time on the journey, even at night. Off-roading around ruins shouldn’t be a problem. About twenty hours travel time under ideal conditions, Commander.” She turned to the group.

    “Then let’s get going. Miss Rochelle, lay in that course and send it to the Helm.”

    “Aye, Commander.”

    “Mr. Jeffries?”

    The Chief Engineer of the Iron Horse, Cyrus Jeffries leaned against a pad rail with his massive arms folded.

    “Sir?”

    “Rotate one of your technicians to relieve Mr. Gaines at twenty-two hundred hours, and drive at best possible night speed until zero-six-hundred tomorrow.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    “How are the batteries?”

    “Batteries are still in the green, Commander. I don’t expect we’ll need to change water ‘till we clear away.”

    “Good enough.” Kroh answered. “Everyone man your stations, time is short. Mr. Gaines, take us out.”

    “On the road again, boss!” The pilot spun around at his station and activated the drive systems, bringing the Iron Horse to life. He fastened his six-point harness and smashed an old hat on his shaved head, with the word “Survivor” embroidered on the brim. The APC crawled off the shoulder, its girth taking up both eastbound lanes of Interstate Ten.

    End Of Book Two
     
  3. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    This is a very fasinating take of the post-WWIII and pre-Starfleet era on Earth. I love the attention to detail you packed into your story, drawing up a post-apocalyptic world remiscent of something like Mad Max with a strong Trek flavor. It all feels very thought-out and creating a brand new universe is always a big challenge.

    I also like the idea of the APC which seems to be a model for how starships will later operate.

    I'm not usually a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories but at least here you know that things can only get better ... eventually.

    Great stuff, keep it coming.
     
  4. Michael_Kroh

    Michael_Kroh Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2006
    Location:
    Northern CA
    Thanks, CeJay. And you're right, world-building is tough work. This is great fun, going nuts and having fun with Trek on Terra Firma.

    Book 3 coming in a day or two...
     
  5. FredH

    FredH Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2004
    I am loving this setting!
     
  6. Ríu ríu chíu

    Ríu ríu chíu Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    May 10, 2005
    Location:
    Mr. Laser Beam is in the visitor's bullpen
    Me too! I would love to see what the Iron Horse would "really" look like...

    (I do have one small, entirely trivial question though. Where does the Iron Horse's crew come from? Does the GTA draw from whatever militaries it can find? I'm guessing it's not a service unto itself, since a commander generally doesn't outrank a captain)
     
  7. Michael_Kroh

    Michael_Kroh Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2006
    Location:
    Northern CA
    Update!

    Book 3 should be up Fri, or Sat at the latest.

    Explain!

    OK, The Iron Horse was originally a SNW 10 entry, compressed into a mere 7500 words. I felt the draft suffered from too much compression, so I've taken the week to de-compress the next chapter, and do it justice.

    Everyone, thanks much for reading, I'm glad you like it!

    Don't forget to check out Babaganoosh's Father's Day, it's his first fanfic!

    Oh, and some answers will be provided later in the story, and others will be (answered / debated / created) when the sources are posted after Book Four.

    Thanks again!

    Homer sleep now...
     
  8. Michael_Kroh

    Michael_Kroh Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2006
    Location:
    Northern CA
    Book 3


    Amistad City, Texas
    Optimal States Territory


    Amistad was protected by an outer security wall, but what made the City unique was how it hugged the massive Great Border Wall. The nearby hydroelectric dam provided an endless power supply, prospering this madness. The distant but strong crash of water from the spillway was refreshing after long days of confinement.

    The sunlit Courtyard reminded her of the Market she was abducted from. There was plenty of food, music, dancing, and an endless supply of booze. The crowd and festivities had been pouring in through the gates of Amistad since the day she got here. All of this attention, just for her. She wasn’t flattered.

    Locked in a steel cage, Lily had been paraded about the vast Courtyard as a war trophy, carried on the shoulders of six hulking laborers. The peasantry had flocked about the cage, she had been pelted with every foul word and bit of trash imaginable.

    “...The Vulcans come from HELL! Who are you to bring them here!...”

    The cage lowered and Lily was yanked out, her hands bound at the wrist.

    The crowd heckled and growled as four armored Optimal soldiers escorted Lily into the spacious Courtroom through tall double doors.

    The high walls were draped in deep red, featuring the Optimum’s black eagle. Spotlights spilled radiant pools around the center of the Court. Rows of crude bleachers opposed the platform where Lily stood. Cool air circulated the room.

    The spectators were then allowed to spill in, scrambling for the best seats. Dozens more continued to squeeze in after the stands were full.

    Laughter and catcalls died down to whispers, then silence.

    An ornately dressed Bailiff stepped forward, followed by the court functionary toting a bronzed gong.

    The Bailiff shouted, “All will rise in the presence of the Caretaker, Judicial ruler of Amistad!”

    ...gong...gong...

    Another tall gate opened directly opposite from the one Lily entered. From the darkness inside she heard the hissing and hum of hydraulic pumps. A throne emerged, mounted to a boom extending from the unseen, floating the occupant into and about the Court at a whim. The man was dressed in the official red and black robes of the Optimal Judiciary.

    The one known as the Caretaker was elderly, perhaps as old as seventy. His eyes moved about and saw everyone, the spectators quickly lowering their heads. Only Lily would meet his gaze. The throne centered high in the air; the Caretaker looked down on her as he picked up a pad and looked over its contents. A bit of mirth smeared his lip as he spoke.

    “You are Lillian Sloane, of San Francisco, California.” It wasn’t a question. His voice was remarkably strong. Lily squared her shoulders.

    “Yes. I am Doctor Lily Sloane, of the City’s Warp Physics Institute.”

    “Of course you are.” He motioned a gloved hand downward.

    “All but the accused may sit.”

    The Court was jammed with onlookers. Dozens had no choice but to stand.

    The court functionary sounded the gong twice as the Bailiff stepped forward.

    ...gong...gong...

    “The prisoner stands before this gracious court to answer for her multiple crimes
    against the Optimal States of America. His high Honor, the Caretaker of Amistad, will read the list of charges.”

    Lily braced herself. The Caretaker consulted his pad and spoke the charges aloud, the court functionary sounded off as they were read.

    “Treasonous relations with malevolent off-worlders...”

    ...gong...

    “Aiding a known terrorist state within Optimal borders...”

    ...gong...

    “And endorsing a secessionist ruling party.”

    ...gong...gong...gong...


    **


    Far in the back of the room, standing among the last arrivals to squeeze in, Kroh and Steel studied the scene in relative obscurity. With the spreading word of the trial, traffic coming in through the gates of Amistad was thick and allowed the two of them to infiltrate the fortress as spectators. Kroh leaned slightly and whispered to his diplomat.

    “Are you getting this, Mr. Steel?”

    The young Vulcan standing next to him patted the recorder slung at his side and nodded.

    The Caretaker lowered his throne to look Lily in the eye. “How plead you, criminal?”

    Lily felt the accusations to be amazingly fictional. She relaxed. “None of those charges apply to me, Your Honor. Not guilty. ”

    The spectators howled in disapproval, shrieks of guilt added to the sour chorus. The gong sounded several times as the crowd settled down. The Caretaker levitated his throne and splayed his hands theatrically, addressing Lily again.

    “But you are, and they do, beginning in the year two thousand sixty three!”

    Lily tilted her head thoughtfully. “First Contact with Vulcan. So what?”

    “You and your mentor, Zephram Cochrane, were the first recorded humans to surrender to the influence and conditions of the extraterrestrials. How do you plead?”

    “What? We didn’t surrender to the Vulcans! That’s nothing but propaganda! Our First Contact was...”

    “...And under their mind control, their influence, arranged the so-called United Nations of Terra. That puppet-string organization, my dear, is not recognized by this Court or its Sponsor.”

    Lily snapped back. “Oh, knock it off! The Vulcans advise the UNT, they don’t control it! You might consider the truth, that they don’t want to help us much at all! Most of their help has been formulaic, mathematical! Restricted!”

    “...SILENCE, CRIMINAL!!...” A soldier fired an automatic volley of rounds at the ceiling, his fistgun aimed high. “You will NOT speak over the Caretaker!”

    Lily bit her tongue, seething.

    The Caretaker motioned the soldier away. “The guilty party has the right to explain her crimes.” He feigned a stifled yawn. “This is a perfectly equitable Court.”

    The soldier lowered his weapon and backed away. The Caretaker eased his throne down to Lily’s eye level once again. He offered a look of sincerity as he spoke.

    “The Optimal citizens, their President, and Colonel Green only wish to restore America to its former glory, Doctor; protecting all of these people from this United Earth nonsense of yours. Is that so wrong? So evil?”

    His throne crept slowly upward. “Your people are bringing the fight to them, Doctor. Your GTA battle fleet is pillaging the livelihoods of simple Optimal citizens, in the name of Manifest Destiny; happily expanding the UNT for your glorious alien masters.”

    Lily had enough. She roared her case.

    “I don’t give a damn about your cowardly accusations! You hear me? You’re putting me on trial because you and your people are afraid of the future, afraid of changes! Afraid of losing control over your precious, post-war empires!”

    The crowd began to boo and hiss. Lily actually laughed in frustration.

    Every citizen in the UNT has remarkable freedom! We can work, hold residence, and build Credit in any nation we choose! I promise you, Caretaker, the dictatorships will crumble in less than thirty years, and your fate is sealed if you ignore the united world reaching out to help you!”

    “YOU are out of ORDER!” The Bailiff shouted.

    The soldier strode up to Lily and leveled his fistgun at her temple. The crowd hushed. Lily shot the soldier a mean look.

    “Dude, get that gun out of my face before I make you eat it.”

    The soldier glanced at the Caretaker and inhaled a quick dose from the stimulant dispenser on his breastplate, his arm wavering.

    She ignored the drugged sentry and addressed the crowd. “It breaks my heart to see you folks so willingly controlled! There’s a better world coming for your children, please don’t let them die for this regime!”

    Lily sat on the pedestal to let the adrenaline dissipate. She gathered up one knee and leaned on it.

    “I’ve done my job. My staff will build the Academy without me. Kill me two or three times if you want to, Your Honor, it won’t make a damn bit of difference.”

    She turned her head away from the throne and brushed her knee. “That’s it.”

    “Very well.” His throne rose in a high circle about the Courtroom. “The accused provided no evidence to sway the Court in the gravity of these charges.”

    The Courtroom was silent. He clasped his hands together.

    “On all counts, she is Guilty.”

    The crowd’s reaction was immediate, the applause sounded like a rainy day in Hell. Feet thunderously stomped the bleachers, the very smell inside the room changed with the exertions of so many. The Caretaker’s voice boomed over the Courtroom.

    “The day after this day, when the sun sets, all citizens are invited to gather in the Courtyard to cast their stones. She will face the ultimate penalty.”

    The deafening applause continued. The Caretaker’s throne recessed slowly into the darkness.

    “This Court stands adjourned.”


    **


    “It is fascinating,” remarked Mr. Steel, “how fear and ignorance can so easily transmogrify into law.”

    He and Kroh were outside the Courtroom, observing the satisfied crowd spilling into the Market all around them, going about their festivities with a wholehearted zeal. Kroh nodded to a rabble of drunken peasants taking gallery shots at a Vulcan effigy.

    “I apologize for them, my friend.”

    “No need, Commander.” The Vulcan diplomat tipped his hat to a smiling young woman passing by, and cracked a thin smile in return. “I found it to be an excellent case study. To witness and record such behavior helps my people to better understand the sociological complexity of the Human species.”

    The two watched as Dr. Sloane was escorted out in her steel cage, carried by her six hulking laborers. The crowd jeered and threw whatever was at hand. Four Optimal soldiers fired into the air, clearing the crowd back.

    Kroh and Steel separated and followed the throng down the bank of an irrigation channel cut from the great Reservoir. The channel flowed under a man-made tunnel, with the exiting water flowing from the unseen far end. The cage disappeared inside.

    The human and the Vulcan came together as they turned back toward the distant gates.

    “It’s an open run across the Yard,” Kroh said, looking back over his shoulder. “But a long one, over 1000 meters. Mister Steel, I’ll need you with the Captain for the retrieval.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    They made their way across the vast Courtyard toward the open gates of Amistad. The crowd was faster and thinner out here.

    “Steel, I can’t remember the last time you piloted a CAT.”

    “Eleven months, nine days, Commander.”

    Kroh and Steel boarded their Jeep. Kroh was gratified to finally sit down, he wasn’t as young as he used to be.

    The Jeep quietly made its way through the tall gates of wood and steel.

    A few kilometers down the road, Kroh slid his hand under his duster and tapped his PTT.

    “Lone Ranger to Silver, Lone Ranger to Silver, come in.”


    **

    End of Book 3
     
  9. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Great stuff right here. I love the way you incorporated the trial as we have seen Q perform it in TNG.

    It is a scary vision of the future of course which I can't really imagine to ever become reality ... well I hope it won't.
     
  10. Ríu ríu chíu

    Ríu ríu chíu Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    May 10, 2005
    Location:
    Mr. Laser Beam is in the visitor's bullpen
    Interesting. I'd always assumed that trial we saw was in the ECON (or, as the original script for ST:FC said, China) but I suppose it could be anywhere. :)
     
  11. Michael_Kroh

    Michael_Kroh Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2006
    Location:
    Northern CA
    Book Four


    Nine hours later...

    The Amistad fortress was finally dark and closed, save for a single lit tavern in the Market. The expansive Courtyard was patrolled, but otherwise deserted. The endless crashing water from the spillway had lulled the people to sleep for the night.


    **

    Ten kilometers away, the GTA Iron Horse pounded the terra firma, closing fast.

    The Bridge was awash in very dim light, as was the SOP for night cruising. The late-night detail made the assignment feel dreamy, unreal. The technical support staff of the Iron Horse worked together over busy comm lines, buzzing with work details.

    “Blast shields up, M-One.” Kroh ordered.

    Mercenary Frank Hedges (a.k.a. “The Hedge Trimmer”) manned the Tactical station for the Captain of the Guard, Marjorie Skyes, in her absence. He was an M1-class Mercenary, and he primarily conveyed orders to the M2’s, M3’s, and M4’s serving aboard the Iron Horse.

    M-One flipped a set of switches on the console. “Shields up, Commander.”

    Like giant eyelids, the blast shields locked into position, covering three-quarters of the vast transparent aluminum windscreen. All non-essential portholes along the APC winked shut with armor plate.

    The Commander thumbed a comm switch, paging the Garage. “Kroh to away team. Captain Skyes, Mister Steel, prepare to deploy.”

    “Ready, Commander.” Skyes answered. “The Cradle is hot.”

    “Make this trip worth while, Captain. And come back in one piece.”

    “Aye, man.”

    “Mister Steel, be careful.”

    “Always, Commander. Live long and prosper.”

    “Might we all, Steel.” He flipped off the switch.

    “M-One, you may give the order.”

    The M4’s would report to the Battle Platform. These less experienced Mercs would provide cover for the boots on the ground.

    “Alpha team stand ready with hands down, prepare to move up. Omega team, prepare to deploy.”

    The Omega complement of M2’s and Three’s would cover the Away team.

    Kara Rochelle, dressed in black fatigues and no-nonsense ponytail, called over her shoulder. “Commander, Amistad on horizon! Five point three-zero kilometers, mark!”

    The crew could clearly see The Great Border Wall on the horizon, blocking out the stars, and now the tiny points of guard towers along the outer wall of Amistad.

    “Mister Gaines, keep her steady...”

    Leaning back a bit, Kroh made a fist and pumped his hand open a few times. Men were about to die on his order, again. He clenched his jaw.

    “Lock missiles on target.”

    The Tactical station’s LCD array glowed red with potential targets. M-One tapped out the red markers overlying the gates of the City.

    “Missiles locked on target, Commander.”

    Kroh gripped his pad rails. “May luck favor the foolish.”

    The Commander of the Iron Horse took a deep breath.

    “Engage.”


    **

    Lily, despite her best efforts to stay awake, had fallen asleep in her dungeon and was dreaming of the Academy. She dreamed she had built it with her own two hands, and it was remarkable, stunning! A beacon of hope in the sunlit Bay...

    She breathed the salt air, touring the campus with Verda and ambassador Soval. And Zeph was here! Only that Zee was now a young man, startlingly handsome, with a beautiful young companion by his side...and the Borg were here...No, No, NO, the Borg are here, Zeph!...

    The Borg drones crawled about the Academy like ants, the students showing no resistance to the assimilation...Jean-Luc Picard was one of them, he turned his head and spotted her with a red beam...

    And...

    Then...

    Chaos reigned, thick and fast. Lily was literally rocked from her bed of stone and dumped to the floor.

    Her internal nightmare had been shattered by a real, external one. In her waking moments, surrounded by darkness, she thought she had dreamed the explosion...


    **

    End of Book 4
     
  12. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    So they go in guns blazing ... well, that should be fun.

    I also only just realized who Lily Sloane is. I don't know how well known the character is but perhaps it would be worth to drop a few more hints about who she is in beginning of the story.

    Some of her toughness during her trial makes a lot more sense to me now that I know who she is.
     
  13. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    More, more, more! Must have more!

    Just fantastic stuff, MK. The exploration of a little known era in Trek history, replete with land-based ‘starships’ bringing civilization back to the badlands where anarchy and despotism reign, is a phenomenal concept.

    These are the people to build the foundation that would allow the construction of Earth’s Starfleet, setting the stage for the NX-01 and all that followed her proud lineage.

    The inclusion of Lily Sloane gives us an early point of reference for introducing us to the Iron Horse’s stalwart crew. I must echo CeJay’s appreciation of the ‘post-atomic horror’ court scene.

    I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.
    :thumbsup:
     
  14. Kencorreia

    Kencorreia Cadet Newbie

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2007
    Location:
    Central Ohio
    WOW!!! Must read Book 5!!!!
     
  15. Michael_Kroh

    Michael_Kroh Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2006
    Location:
    Northern CA
    Book 5

    ***

    A rapid series of explosions rocked the Amistad fortress. No one in the City knew why, what, or whom.

    Moments later a second series of blasts lit up the Texas night.

    “The gates!” a sentry near the outer wall sprinted across the Courtyard, yelling at the top of his lungs. “They’re going to ram the gates!”

    ***

    The dimly lit Bridge of the Iron Horse shook with a numbing vigor as the APC pushed hard over the raw ground. An excited Lt. Kara Rochelle sharply reported from Operations.

    “Commander, the target is not fully compromised! The gates are still up!”

    Kroh gripped a pad rail, pulling himself up from his command station. He moved forward across the Bridge, grabbing the rails to stand by the Tactical array.

    “M-One, bring those gates down!” Kroh growled. “Full measure! Fire when ready!”

    Hedges was already working on it. “Aye sir, full measure!”

    Kroh pulled his weight to the Helm. “Best possible speed, Mister Gaines! Stand on it!”

    “Full ahead, boss!” The pilot shoved the accelerator down; the Iron Horse shuddered and surged with power, her engines whining.

    Kroh moved to Operations, hand-over-hand against the rough ride.

    “Lieutenant Rochelle! All hands down!”

    Rochelle clicked on the PA. “All hands down, brace for impact! Repeat, all hands down! Impact minus twelve...minus eleven...”


    ***

    The Iron Horse unleashed a third volley of rocket fire, pulverizing the gates and support frame to the outer wall. Heaps of glowing embers crashed and fell from the structure.

    The massive APC approached at better than 100 KPH; her bulk slammed into the ruins, buckling hard and breaking through what was left. She pulled over hard to starboard and began her braking procedure in a long, slowing orbital pattern around the Courtyard.

    Bright stadium lights lit up the Yard, exposing the area in full artificial daylight.

    Closer to the Great Wall, a chaotic stew boiled in the City. Dogs barked, Optimal soldiers scrambled, townspeople shouted and scurried.

    The Iron Horse swooped by the populace like a slowing passenger train. Some stopped and stared at the great machine, dumbfounded.

    The M4 mercenaries scrambled low and fast up to Deck Two, into the open air of the Battle Platform. Within seconds the armored turrets were unlocked and ready. The order was given, and the mercs opened fire, spitting lead at the stadium lights. The noise and fireworks were impressive; many of the ancient lamps exploded brilliantly. Townspeople and Optimal soldiers in the Yard scattered like mice.

    The Iron Horse had slowed her circle in the Courtyard, easing to a full stop.

    The M2 mercs poured out onto the Yard from several exits, staking positions by the natural cover of the APC and her giant wheels. The M3’s fell into position on the forward, aft, and flank rail platforms along the hull of the Iron Horse.

    The Yard and the Market were devoid of movement. The element of suprise had given the Away team a three to five-minute window of opportunity to extract Doctor Sloane. With any luck, they would be gone before the Optimal presence fully escalated into the Courtyard.

    The Optimum administration had misled their citizens and soldiers, but these were still people of America, brothers and sisters alike. They were human beings first, enemy second. Always, Kroh was adamant that the Mercenary teams apply lethal measures only when absolutely required to. They need only buy some time for the Away team.

    The underbelly of the Garage hosted the CATS in their sealed Cradle. The access doors separated and geared open; the airlock hissed in contrast to the outside air. Orange caution lights rotated, warning buzzers sounded in the Cradle as the two treaded CATS deployed, piloted by Captain Marjorie Skyes and the Vulcan diplomat, Mr. Steel.


    ***

    Many of the world's industrial concerns and commercial giants had collapsed after the War, but many others had survived or rebuilt out of great demand for their products. Levi-Strauss, for example, had resurrected itself in San Francisco long before the Terran Credit Monitor had been established.

    Levi's started small in the mid-2060's by rallying private investments of gold coin, and negotiated contracts with dozens of domestic and foreign cotton growers. Business began to boom. The company was very generous to its investors, employees, and the community. Years later, the company transitioned the limited Gold standard for the more lucrative Credit economy of the UNT.

    Denim clothing could be stitched by hand, but heavy equipment and powered tools of labor could not be. Many industrial concerns and essential commodity lines had to be Credit-infused to kick-start the Recovery.

    The integrity of the Caterpillar name had been important to the Reconstruction. An entirely new generation of construction and exploration vehicles emerged from the resurrected assembly lines. The yellow and black signature colors were welcomed around the world, a sign of progress and patriotism for all the recovering nations.

    The Bad Lands of the world, the areas still suffering from radioactive and biological poisons, needed special care. One of the primary duties of the Global Transport Affiliate was to carry the building blocks of recovery to these grotesque landscapes. They must navigate ruined cities, poisoned air, and harsh lands where most lifeforms would sicken or die without protection. The APC’s were secure, but the away teams would require a fitting exploration vehicle to survive such horrors.

    The Caterpillar Proving Grounds of Arizona had produced an environmental mech to answer the call, officially named the CXT “TreadWalker.” The efficient mech featured four independent treads, each track affixed to a hydraulic forearm and servomotor elbow. The vehicles were also designed to walk, run and climb in a quadruped mode.

    Agile and strong, these metal beasts could go just about anywhere. They were commonly called “Crawlers,” or taking a cue from their four-legged nature and their maker’s namesake, “CATS.”

    ***

    The two Crawlers were fast and nimble on their treads, cutting through the night. All was still in the Courtyard as they made straight away for the man-made river and the tunnel it flowed from.

    The Crawlers quietly whirred and clicked as they approached the mouth. Fast water rushed by.

    Skyes’ voice crackled over the comm.

    “Steel, you follow on this bank. I will traverse the far side”

    “Affirmative, Captain.”

    Skyes moved her hands and feet into the quick-harness to release the servomotor elbow-locks. The CAT’s four treads tilted forward a few degrees, lifting off the earth. Each arm featured a three-toed manipulator at its fore, now bearing the crawlers’ weight. The cockpit remained low.

    Skyes splashed forward and waded across the shallow river. Loose stones skittered as the agile machine stepped fast up the rough embankment. She gained the dry ground and set the CAT back down on its treads.

    Skyes and Steel moved the Crawlers swiftly along the narrow strips of earthen riverbank between the water and the wall. Both pilots switched to night vision cameras. The treads splashed and chewed the muddy banks as they covered ground. Before long the soft earth gave way to enormous stones and large chunks of broken concrete.

    Steel opened the channel. “It seems we must walk from here, Captain.”

    Skyes smiled. “Ask me again about your sense of humor, Steel.”

    Both CATS stood up on their feet. They gracefully gained the higher ground, and after a hundred meters or so of climbing over rocks and debris they could spot the lights of the lower dungeons further down the tunnel.

    “Steel, remain here and watch our backs.”

    “Aye, Captain.” Steel set his CAT down, back against the wall, resting on its treads.

    Skyes moved on alone, deftly and quietly as the mech could be, closer toward the Keep.

    She could see two armed sentries standing guard in front of a large wooden door. They were pacing around and shouting at each other. One wore a bloodied bandage over his nose. They seemed to be arguing about what they should do. They were not paying any attention to Skyes, as she kept the CAT nearly on its belly and took slow steps forward.

    She zoomed the lens and watched for the right moment, then charged at a full out run.

    The two sentries didn’t notice until they could hear it over the rushing water. And by then it was too late. In the island of light around the Keep, the CAT leaped into their midst.

    It was a grand entrance; Skyes kept the nose low and growled menacingly through the PA, playing with them. Both drew and fired rounds, the slugs glanced off the reinforced plating. Skyes took another intimidating leap forward, and that was enough to send the two packing down the tunnel.

    “Steel, you have company coming.”

    “I see them, Captain.”

    “Let them run. And give them a good scare, Steel.”

    “Of course, Captain.”

    Skyes turned her attention to the heavy wooden door. She sat the CAT on its haunches, lifting its forward arms high. With a quick, calculated thrust of the crawler’s forearm, the door was broken.


    ***

    End of Book Five
     
  16. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    A fantastic, action-packed installment… but alas, too short a one! Bombs, breaches, and bravado, it doesn’t get much better than this.

    Loving the little bits on economic recovery and industrial revitalization following WWIII. They both help set the background of the story, as well as shedding light on how something as large and advanced as the Iron Horse has managed to come about.

    Oh, and I must know more about this enigmatic young Vulcan ‘diplomat,’ whose diplomatic credentials seem to be accompanied by a large can of whupass. A Vulcan who wears denim and boots. Does he also sing Country & Western on Iron Horses’ karaoke night?

    So very many questions…
     
  17. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Good stuff but I agree that with Gibraltar that it felt a bit too light.

    The attack run on the city was over and done with in just a few lines. Now while I understand that everything here is happening very quickly I still think a little more detail wouldn't have hurt.

    You didn't spare any for the CATS. Those were real intersting machines and I liked how Skyes used them to scare away the guards.

    Good stuff, keep it coming.
     
  18. Ríu ríu chíu

    Ríu ríu chíu Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    May 10, 2005
    Location:
    Mr. Laser Beam is in the visitor's bullpen
    Yeah! Keep it coming! I love this - but it's been a couple of months. Let's have more! :thumbsup:
     
  19. Michael_Kroh

    Michael_Kroh Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2006
    Location:
    Northern CA
    Author's Note: This work is dedicated to Emily Rose Snyder, born 5-31-2007. Thanks to Ed Horsfall for contributing engineering advice and some light editing. Ken Correia, wish you were here. Love to Mom and Dad. To everyone, sorry for the long wait & thanks for reading. Lots more to come...


    Act Two

    Chapter Six


    ***


    "Steel, you have company coming."

    "I see them, Captain."

    "Let them run. And give them a good scare, Steel."

    "Of course, Captain."

    Captain Marjorie Skyes rested her CAT on its rear haunches, sitting the mech's torso upright and lifting the forward arms high. With a quick, calculated thrust of the crawler's forearm, the door was broken.


    ***


    Doctor Lily Sloane had flattened herself near the door of her spillway dungeon. She could hear the two sentries shouting outside, the very same two creeps that bushwacked her in Corpus Christi. She had pulled the boot from her left foot, hefting it's weight, ready to swing if they chose to come barging through the door. Come on in, fellas, Lily mentally taunted them. I'll smash that dude's nose all over again, like a tomato for sure...

    The sentries argued and bellowed incessantly about what they should be doing. She tightened her grip on the clumsy weapon and forced herself to breathe easy, trying to keep cool. Inhale...heartbeat...exhale...heartbeat...

    All at once, the shouting in the tunnel ceased, eclipsed by a great thumping ruckus of heavy metal.

    ...THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMPwwwrrrrrrrrrzzzz........

    Along with that crash of noise came an ear-pounding guttural roar that rattled the wall against her back. Lily instinctivley darted into the far corner behind the nook of her stone bed, quickly shoving her foot back into her boot. Gunshots sounded off, close by. She kept her cool, alright. The surge of adrenaline felt like icewater coarsing through her system. Something very bad was out there.

    ...wwrrzzzzTHUMP-THUMP........nnnn...wwwrrrrrrrrrr......

    In the blink of an eye, the heavy wooden door imploded with a great crash of debris. Splinters flew.

    "Holy Shit!" Lily yelled at no one and ducked behind the slab.

    A hydraulic armature with a motorized treadbelt reached in and brushed away the planks with a three-toed manipulator. Lily inched up to see the quadruped tracked vehicle more clearly, noticing the name Caterpillar embossed in black on each of its yellow armatures.

    Her brain buzzed with confusion. Is that one of ours? The metal beast hummed with modern efficiency. A cranial instrument pod with a heavy set of sharp jaws poked through. Lily heard a PA crackle from inside.

    "Doctor Lily Sloane," a bold Jamaican accent, a female, queried from inside. "Are you she?"

    Lily choked out the only response. "...Yeah?"

    The machine withdrew its head and settled down on its four tracks, lying as a housecat would. Lily heard an airlock hiss as the spine of the mech bisected and hinged open. The pilot was indeed a woman, a physically magnetic warrior of impressive stature and warm complexion. Armed with several blades and handguns, clad in form-fitting body armor and sporting heavy rings on her right hand. Ball bearings clacked in her braids as she knelt down and made contact.

    "M' lady...I'y am Captain Marjorie Skyes, of the GTA Iron Horse. We'y are here to get you out, on behalf o' the UNT. Can you move, Doctor?"

    A hundred questions stormed Lily's brain at once. She remained seated on the stone floor. "Yeah, sure...who are you, again?"

    In response, the Captain pulled an auto-injector the size of a ballpoint pen from her shoulder pocket; biting down on the rubber stop, spitting out the plug while clicking the coil-spring. She slammed the injector into the Doctor's leg, delivering a quick dose of nutrient and painkiller.

    Lily hated needles. "Ouch..."

    "Come on." Skyes lightly scooped up the Doctor like a small child and moved her quickly toward the CAT. Lily felt no effort in the warrior's carry, and she estimated that the stunning Captain Skyes could have lifted both herself and another bloke with just one arm...

    "Dy'ere 'a room for two, but she'ya tight fit." Skyes hoisted Lily up to the spine of the crawler, where she sqeezed into the efficient passenger nook. The Captain made fast work of getting on board and sealing the CAT. Skyes punched the sleep actuator and the drive systems surged back to life, the two women felt their ears pop with the cabin pressurization. Lily welcomed the jets of cool recirculated air. This thing smells like a new car, her long-term memory fondly recalled.

    "Hang a' tight Doctor! She's a carnival to ride!" The pneumatics whined and hissed, servomotors hummed as the CAT stood full on its four feet and backed up a few steps from the stone wall. Lily doubled her grip on the pad rails as the mech rocked and lurched away from the Keep. The harmony of servo-pneumatic swing complemented thier rythmic stepping.

    Skyes opened a channel. "Mr. Steel, report."

    "Steel here, Captain. The two sentries are quite eager to lead the way out for us."

    "Good. We'y are coming out now, mon. Will you scout the exit?"

    "On my way now, Captain." Skyes switched off the comm and clicked on her LED running lights, illuminating the tunnel as the CAT made gallant strides over the riverbank stones and broken concrete, toward the distant exit.

    In the space of a few seconds, everything changed for the worse, literally turning the escape plan on its' ear. Captain Skyes and Doctor Sloane did not get very far down the tunnel. The away team's best efforts could not deter the wishes of the Caretaker.


    ***


    The events outside the perimeter had jolted him from a peacful slumber...

    The sixty-five year-old Judicial Caretaker of Amistad City eased his legs over the side of his down feather bed and pulled an elegant black bedrobe around his shoulders, shaking off sleep while his calloused feet crept into thier easy shoes. Not yet awake, he stepped briskly across the flagstone of his master bungalow, overall more perturbed than frightened by the attack. With a quick pass of a crushed velvet drape, he departed his spacious adobe chambers, descending a narrow winding stairwell that led to the discreet Operations nook, a rough-hewn central nerve center of survillence and solitude deep within the Great Wall.

    The dusty shelves whithin the stifling, windowless room were haphazardly stacked with all manner of artifact technologies scavenged from the Consumer Age. Several closed-curcuit televisions lined the walls, illuminated with low-res images of the City. A stash of ancient PC towers, DVR's, and creaking VCR's captured images for the archive. To one end alone, Caretaker could view all of Amistad's residents in thier homes or workplaces from this dimly-lit room; he could see beyond the City's perimeter to the East and over the great Reservior to the Southwest, into Mexico. He was quite the voyeur, fond of studying the private lives of the people that his old friend, Colonel Phillip Green, had appointed him to protect over five years ago...


    ***


    Colonel Green's natural gift for strategy had kept him alive and alert into his later years, operating from his Capitol City of Louisville, Kentucky. Green had been advising the President to expand thier territory ever since the ECON cease-fire of 2054, so they might restore the shattered Forty-Eight States under the new Optimal Constitution. The first few years were a blitzkrieg, an iron fist of expansion into the tri-state area around Kentucky, while the Optimal government and its' army prospered with the fruits picked from newly assimilated communities that showed little resistance. Optimal Judiciaries from the Capitol were posted in each new territory, where they brutally and theatrically enforced the law in thier custom-built Courtrooms. Ten states were occupied in less than a decade.

    ...Then the occult of pointed-eared demons, the green-blooded creatures of darkness known as "Vulcan" had appeared in 2063, (from Hell, some said,) to enslave the weak-minded people of Earth. The thin guise of friendship they put on display didn't fool Colonel Phillip Green, no sir. His people were the remnants of the Old America, all that was left now, defiant in the face of the new UNT...he would not simply lie down and let the aliens' missionaries take over.

    ...The isolated fifteen Optimal States wallowed in the poverty and post-war ashes of the Consumer Age, while the twelve Restored United States in the West embraced a clean slate and were thriving within a globally symbiotic democracy...


    Phillip Green began to push back hard after the First Contact phenomenon began. The Colonel saw the neutral zone of Texas as a tipping point, a strategically vital bit of real estate that would give the Optimal States the edge to outlast out the pacifist insurrection in the West. Texas was also a gateway to Mexico, where the Optimal influence was strong. Drugs, food, slaves and gold were lucrative trades, and the Great Wall of Texas provided an excellent hub for such activity. The Wall also kept Optimal Americans from fleeing to the south, sneaking over the border in a vain hope to find something better.

    The Colonel's ambitious vision of a swift and orderly Optimal restoration of America were darkened with every passing year, and with every Western State he lost to the first contact of the GTA. As fast as he lost his territories and influence, Phillip Green's administration engaged more and more desperate measures to maintain his power base back home...

    He quickly learned how to exploit the Vulcan's distaste for aggression, how to exploit the slow, rocky path of the UNT. He effectivley twisted the mission of the GTA into a terrifynig ribbon of propoganda, creating a state of fear and confusion to keep the people in his favor. He began to manipulate and sacrifice these citizens in the name of God and the greater Good of humanity. The weak and ill were processed, the mutated human strains were hunted en masse or captured for their Gifts.

    Amistad City had once been an independant roughshod democracy, a healthy post-war community that owed its prosperity to the hydroelectric power station, the Mexican trade routes, and the still-viable waters of the Reservior and Rio Grande river. The City was deemed an essential cornerstone in the effort to capture Texas ahead of the encroaching UNT. So Phillip Green had sent a trusted friend to Texas with the resources to occupy Amistad City, and dictate Optimal law and justice to its' new citizens. The Caretaker had ruled absolutlely in the badlands for over five years now...


    ***


    The fully-armoured Optimal officer, General Mann, leaned over the workstation of a buzz-cut technician with thick lenses, the two of them bickering and sweating profusley. Caretaker strode into the poorly ventilated room, rooting his stimulant dispenser out of the deep pockets of his bedrobe. He shot a quick dose into each nostril, inhaling deeply. The dispenser dropped back into his pocket. There...better.

    His eyes opened, glassy and red. "Report."

    Mann, the burly Optimal patriot stepped forward, his own face already swollen red with an overdose of stimulant. What the officer lacked in speed or wit he compensated with unchecked loyalty. The prescription dispenser on his breastplate supressed any moral bearings, and so Caretaker often handed him very ugly work to do.

    "Amistad is recieving bombardment, we are under attack sir!" The officer blurted out.

    Caretaker glanced around the room and sniffed sharply, swallowing the drugs. "No shit."

    Mann tumbled on. "Caretaker, the central gates are badly hit and the forward guard towers are lost! The remaining tower details are confident the source is mobile and will ram the outer wall!" He puffed a quick a breath. "The minute-men are scrambling to engage on your order, sir! We don't know---"

    Another series of explosions rocked the perimeter of the Amistad fortress, browning out the overhead lights and knocking chips and clouds of dust from the walls. Some of the televisions fell from the shelves, one CRT set shattered into sparks and shards. Several more monitors showed only rolling static from destroyed remote mounts. A few moments later, the walls shook once more as the unidentified aggressor breached the weakened perimeter of Amistad.

    "LIGHTS!" Caretaker barked, shoving the technician's back to get him moving. "Get the border lights on, God pound you!" The tech moved fast, picking up a phone reciever and punching buttons.

    Caretaker turned to his loyalist officer, his glare very dry. "You were saying, General?"

    Mann grumbled his defeat. "There is no excuse I can offer, sir." He drew the wand from his dispenser, inhaling two good hits. This enraged Caretaker, who slapped the wand from his hand and face, quite hard.

    "That's it, Mann!" Caretaker chided, bearing teeth. "Keep sucking on dope instead of doing something useful! You've grown too soft here, soldier!"

    "Floodlights are now fully operational, Caretaker!" The technician dropped the reciever in the cradle. All three men turned to the video images of the brilliantly lit Courtyard, getting thier first precise look at the invading faction, watching the intruder slow her orbit near the spillway. Through the stone, they could faintly hear the shouts and cries of fleeing citizens in the City below.

    The technician hopped up and stepped over taped-up lengths of RF and AV cabling, reaching for a VCR. He rewound the image then held it still. "It's a GTA armoured transport carrier, sir! Six cars and packing!"

    Caretaker was rarely intimidated, but now he grated his teeth at the high-tech armoured nightmare in his Courtyard. The thing had the firepower and technical resources of a small colony, sporting giant wheels that would crush a full-size pickup truck. And there might be more of them coming...Damn...

    "They have come for the Doctor," Caretaker muttered, crossing his arms. "Yes, it must be. The Vulcans wish to reclaim their pet."

    General Mann snorted and spat on the stone floor. "Shit."

    The turret platforms at the fore and aft of the APC began to light up. The guns unleashed a torrent of rounds upon the stadium lights, destroying most of them and plunging the Courtyard back into a dim semi-gloom. The low-light video images showed several mercanaries pouring out of the parked Carrier and taking positions all around the hull.

    A pair of quad-treaded machines deployed from the aft car a moment later. The two units zipped away, approaching the spillway tunnel. Once at the mouth, one of the machines leaned its treads forward, standing up on four metal feet. Caretaker's eyebrow arched at the transformation, he studied the livley steps of the metal beast across the shallow water. It hopped up the opposing riverbank, sitting back down on its treads and scooting inside. The other mech followed.

    He turned to Mann. "Get a detachment topside to the reservioir, have them stand by to open the spillway; mobilize our heavy trucks to capture those track machines after we wash them out of the tunnel. And get the troops rallied immediately."

    The loyalist stepped forward and grunted. "Sir."

    "Open a full public address and give me the mic."

    Mann touched a few keys on an ancient comm panel, opening the hard-wired PA installed inside every home and shop in the City after the occupation. He quietly handed over the wired microphone.

    Caretaker swelled his chest. "Optimal citizens of Amistad, this is Caretaker speaking, your attention please...You are witnessing the Vulcan invasion firsthand, ladies and gentlemen. The alien invaders have enslaved our American brothers in the West, and have now sent thier insurgents to conquer the great State of Texas. Effective immediately, every Optimal citizen will be required to volunteer an assembly of the Human Shield; all minute-men will ensure cooperation and provide escort to the Courtyard. Remember that Colonel Green and the President stand behind each and every one of you, they would remind you that this is not a time for timidity. Resistance must be absolute if the Human race is to survive the Vulcan assimilation of our good mother Earth."

    Caretaker handed the mic to the technician, who was buffing his thick lenses on his shirt. "Loop that and play it everywhere in the City, english and espanol." He paused a moment. "And be quick to notify the Capitol. Activate the emergency beacon and try a direct-wire to Kentucky if you can manage it."

    The busy technician abruptly nodded. "Yes, sir."

    Caretaker moved for the exit, brushing past his officer. "Do your best to capture those machines, General. Mobilize every heavy vehicle we have to disable them. I don't intend to give up the Doctor and her team so easily."

    "Yes, sir. What about the Carrier?"

    Caretaker tempered himself and stopped, explaining to the simpler man.

    "Assemble the Human Shield, General. Our good citizens will do the rest. The UNT missionaries will not kill local populations in cold blood, you see. Not when they are valued as potential coverts. The Shield will stifle the mobility of the Carrier and make it difficult for their mercanaries to return the fight. Understood?...Fine. Get moving and don't mess it up."

    Caretaker turned to leave. Mann saluted him.

    "It begins, Caretaker."


    ***


    "Let them run. And give them a good scare, Steel."

    "Of course, Captain."

    The young Vulcan diplomat waited paitently in his sleeping crawler, its back against the stone convex arc of the spillway tunnel. Soon the panicked sentries came splashing and sloshing his way, close enough now to "entertain" them.

    Steel woke the CAT from its' sleep mode, the mech roaring to life. He clicked on LED running lights, hundreds of tiny superbright lamps along the body lines of the beast that shone with fantastic blue-white intensity. The spillway tunnel filled with a white-blue shine, flatly blinding the two men. They fell over in a terrible panic, tripping over one another in the shallow water. Steel stood his crawler up on its four feet, hydraulics whining, playfully crunching forward on the riverbank with heavy, exaggerated steps.

    ...wwrrrTHUMP-THUMP...wwrrrTHUMP-THUMP...

    Steel gained the waters' edge, then crouched low and pounced the CAT airborne off the rocky bank. He landed square in the water on all fours, the splash and spray was magnificent. A throttled growl escaped over the PA, Steel began his slow advance, punching fierce holes in the water with the CAT's metal paws. The submerged LED's on the paws shone brilliantly in the churning froth of riverwater. The two frightened sentries thrashed about and pleaded with the machine advancing down on them. The head of the beast lowered in close, its' scraped metal jaws dripping dirty water.

    "NO! Please NO!" They threw their hands up to block the blinding LED lights. "Please don't kill us! They told us to bring her here! Right?! It's the Caretaker, hear me?! You want the Caretaker!"

    Steel flashed on the mech's cutting laser, licking a quick bolt in the water between the two. That got them moving again, in a waterlogged sprint toward the mouth of the tunnel, with the young Vulcan diplomat keeping a playful stomping pace behind them.


    ***


    ...You are witnessing the Vulcan invasion firsthand, ladies and gentlemen...

    Every residence, every place of business, every corner of Amistad carried the looping proclamations of the Caretaker. The nightmarish droning of propoganda carried loudly, repeating, echoing in english and spanish over the chaos of kicked open doors and the shrieks of helpless citizens pulled from thier homes by their Optimal protectors.

    Urged by armed minute-men into tight groups, they stumbled out into the vastness of the Courtyard. Families found each other in the chaos and clutched together out of fear and cold. Lost children wailed in the crowd. Many folks were completley lost, or panicked, or both.

    Their fear was doubled at the sight of the APC they were urged to stand in front of. Most tried to keep thier distance, despite the Optimal soldiers coersing them at gunpoint. Some groups dared to stand closer than others, and these were mostly young men shouting dares and taunting the invading Carrier. Some threw rocks, bouncing them off the forward car.

    Throngs of civillians now stood between the Iron Horse and her away team's escape vector. The mercanaries on the ground were holding thier fire, giving up thier ground, hopping back aboard. The Carrier blasted its air trumpets, shattering the night and huddling the entire audience...


    ***


    In the Caretaker's operations nook, General Mann carried out his duty, reporting to his administrator over a remote line.

    "Operation Human Shield is affirmative, Caretaker. Minute-men reporting a forty-percent mobility into the Courtyard."

    "That is acceptable, General." The tone of approval crackled over the artifact paper-cone speaker of the technician's comm panel.

    "We have utility drivers and a tow detail standing by. And we are standing ready to open the spillway on your order sir."

    "Excellent." Caretaker hissed over the line.

    Faintly, Mann could hear the air trumpets of the Carrier report in the Courtyard. That moment fit the Caretaker as a good one to strike out.

    "They've had enough time, I think...NOW! Open the spillway now!!"


    ***


    The radio crackled in Steel's pointed ear.

    "Mr. Steel, report."

    The Vulcan continued to stomp playfully along as he opened the channel. "Steel here, Captain. The two sentries are quite eager to lead the way out for us."

    "Good. We y'are coming out now, mon. Will you scout the exit?"

    "On my way now, Captain."

    Steel switched off the LED running lights and accelerated the mech to a full gallop. He pushed hard past the two fleeing sentries, who had scrambled up the stone riverbanks desperately to make way for the beast. The Vulcan left them several meters behind as he reached the mouth of the tunnel. In the distance, he heard the Iron Horse report with a blast from her air trumpets.

    His eyebrow and ear twitched at what he saw and heard next. He processed the stimuli quickly...

    Firstly, he noticed the Courtyard had filled in with dozens of the very citizens of Amistad City, and all along one riverbank of the spillway... The Optimal soldiers had stayed closer to the Great Wall, behind the exodus with weapons trained on them...

    Curious, Steel noted. The Caretaker would desperately sacrifice his people to protect his only influence...

    Secondly, his ears twitched at the torrential flood of a billion litres of water rushing behind him.

    The spillway...

    The Vulcan moved fast, but not quickly enough to avoid the spill. The CAT was swept up in the wall of water, picked up and pushed out like a small toy...


    ***


    "CATS are away, Commander." Operations officer Lt. Kara Rochelle called over her shoulder, brushing her generous red ponytail off her shoulder and down the back of her black denim fatigues.

    "Very well, Lieutenant." Commander Michael Kroh anchored a stiff arm against the transparent aluminum forward windscreen of the Bridge, leaning down low to peer through the gap between the blast shields. On Kroh's left at the Helm, Brian Gaines had taken a moment to cool himself down now that the APC had finally come to a full stop. He'd popped the top off his water bottle and given himself a good dousing, pouring some into his Survivor hat and smashing it back onto his shaved head.

    The operation was off to a good start, at least. It could've been worse. More people could have died so far, and any death Kroh accounted for personally bestowed him a great weight. Like the ghost of Marley, Kroh had woven a ponderous chain of guilt over the decades, from the many dark situations and unforseen responsibilities thrust upon him during the War and ever since that time. His mother had raised him to respect God's living things, and the burden of guilt multiplied with every life extinguished on his action.

    What the hell are we doing here, Kroh chewed internally as he studied the random movement in Courtyard through the transparency. We're just truck drivers, technicians with a few hired guns...Ambassador Soval is going to answer directly for this mess when we get home, I swear...Risking the lives of the crew, breaking several UNT humanitarian laws, all of this just for some old friend of his...Out here in Texas, no less...The neutral zone...

    Rochelle trained her surviellence cameras on the scuttle of activity coming from the city. The hi-res color images showed something erratic...desperate. She smoothed her hands apart on her console's touch LCD, zooming the image. Kroh also saw the random flurries of movement in the darkness, and now could hear the distant echo of a public address. He couldn't make any sense of the words...

    "What's that noise?" Kroh pushed away from the windscreen and stepped over to her workstation. "Tune it in, please."

    "Aye, sir." Kara pulled on a surdy set of headphones and activated the microphone sweeps on the hull of all six cars of the Iron Horse, pulling in a wide range of sound from the outside. Kroh leaned against a pad rail near Operations, his ear cocked forward. Rochelle twisted an analog knob, fine-tuning the PA from the City. Caretaker's voice flooded the Bridge.

    "...Great state of Texas. Effective immediately, every Optimal citizen will be required to assist with an assembly of the Human Shield; all minute-men will ensure cooperation and provide escort to the Courtyard. Remember that Colonel Green and the President stand behind each and every one of you, they would remind you..."

    Kroh jerked a thumb across his throat. "Enough. Record it."

    Rochelle clicked off the propaganda. "Recording, Commander. It's also in espanol."

    Kroh scratched at the stubble on his chin, thinking. He tapped the PTT on his lapel, coiled to the radio on his belt.

    "M-One!" Kroh gripped the pad rail a bit higher and pulled himself upright, waiting patiently for the senior mercanary to call back from the Foreward Battle Platform above them, where Kroh had sent him to watch the less experienced men.

    His radio crackled. "Hedges here, Commander."

    "Call the M-2's off the ground; redeploy them along the hull with the M-3's. Make it fast, we're going to have civillians on the field!"

    "Copy that, M-2's off the ground, civillians on the field."

    Kroh tapped off and pushed away from the rail, moving hand-over-hand out of habit to his command chair.

    "Commander, we have a lot of movement outside!" Rochelle blurted out. Looking upward to her main viewer, she tapped away at her console, aiming cameras at the trouble and applying digital filters to compensate for the low light condition.

    "Put it on the forward viewer, Rochelle." Kroh ordered calmly, as so not to excite the young officer. "Let's have a good look at what they've got for us."

    Rochelle was gratified to have plenty to do, she worked quickly and cheerfully as she could manage under the battlefield stress. She had come far in her first year, growing from a shy sprite of a stammering girl into a capable young officer that beamed with potential.

    "On forward viewer, Commander." The 42-inch forward LCD viewer refreshed its' display, obtusely mounted above the windscreen. From his command station, Kroh looked up slightly and studied the images as Rochelle shuffled them around...indeed, citizens were gathering in the Courtyard...at gunpoint...

    "Right out of the Colonel's playbook." Kroh muttered.

    Gaines was leaning forward with his head sideways, pressing his cheek against the transparent aluminum to see for himself. Rochelle swivelled her chair a few degrees. "Away team is four minutes out, Commander. Beg your pardon sir, the Colonel's playbook?"

    Kroh's radio chirped. "One moment, Lieutenant." He tapped his PTT. "Kroh here."

    "Hedges reporting, sir. All M-2's are on board, Commander."

    "Affirmative, M-One. Non-lethal rounds, and employ defensive measures only."

    "Ahh...Yeah, confirmed, sir...What about the turrets, they are negative on availability of non-lethals, over."

    Kroh used his left thumb to crack his knuckles in succsession.

    "Four M-2 units will keep the turrets hot for a threat condition. They are to fire on my direct order only."

    "Affirmative, sir. Wetwork on the turrets only, on your order, over.

    "Very good. Kroh out." He tapped off his PTT and gestured at the stale assortment of data on the forward viewer. "Miss Rochelle...refresh these images, please. Copy a full record for the archive."

    Rochelle quickly centered her chair and updated her work. "Yes, sir...We have refugees approaching the Iron Horse, a group of what appears to be the residents of Amistad City. The Optimal soldiers are aggressivley coersing them...It looks like a genocidal defensive perimeter strategy." She glanced over at Kroh. "Is that what you meant by the Colonel's playbook, Commander?"

    Kroh crowned his black Stetson and lowered the brim. "This is a proper example of that, yes. Green is certainly a man of poor taste, and has a bad habit of exterminating his own people to retain power, Miss Rochelle. The Caretaker is gambling that he can drive us out by turning our own humanitarian code of conduct against us."

    Kroh looked back up to the viewer, watching the dozens of citizens stagger outdoors at gunpoint, some half-asleep in bedclothes and others absolutley terrified. "Is the number of civillian units increasing?"

    Rochelle jabbed away at her console, crunching data. "Yes..."

    "At what rate?"

    "Ah...I'd say about fifty per minute average sir, the efficiency suggests they've drilled this exercise before. They'll have two or three hundred in the Courtyard within just a few minutes." She jabbed a new search window open, checking her census records. "Hmm...ahh...Amistad's last known population count was over two thousand permanant residents." She glanced at the chronometer. "And the away team is now six minutes out and overdue, Commander." Rochelle turned about in her chair, genuinely worried.

    Indeed, there were over a hundred people now, pressing closer to the Iron Horse and up the riverbank of the spillway. Some were throwing rocks at the APC, Kroh could faintly hear them bounce off the hull. And the away team was late. Come on, let's go...

    Kroh pulled himself up and over to the Helm. "Blast the trumpets, Mr. Gaines. Push these people back a bit"

    Gaines blasted the horns of the Iron Horse, sending out a long trumpet wail that had all the citizens ducking down and backing off slightly, caught between the APC and the Optimal soldiers. That seemed to buy some time, as the crowd moved more cautiously against the machine.

    Kroh burned with mounting frustration. His fist dropped on the comm. "Jeff, are we ready to move out?"

    The speaker grill swelled with Engineer Cyrus Jeffries' strong and trusting basso voice. "All systems in the green, just say--"

    He was interrupted, they were all interrupted, by the geyser of water jetting from the spillway. They all stood frozen in place, watching millions of litres spray from the mouth of the tunnel, and soon his team with it.

    "The away team!" Gaines and Rochelle called out together.

    Kroh saw it too, they all did. One of the CATS was thrown from the tunnel, tumbling out like a rag doll against the torrent. Two humans washed out close behind, and a moment later the second crawler came tumbling after...


    ***
     
  20. Dulak

    Dulak Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Location:
    Pacific NW
    Interesting treatment of a little delved into era in Federation pre-history. A very bloody one. I half kept expecting Q to show up, but the time is plenty bloody all on it's own.