As I sit here pounding away at the keyboard, I thought it might be time to let a little of the early work out for a look see.
Sara sat in her office, going over the latest reports from ALICE-3. Since Jake had established the truce with the NeHaw, either ALICE- 3 or Kola had operated along the Neutral Zone, acting as a remote forward operating station. Each with a large complement of fighting ships in their hangars, they were considered a significant deterrent to any NeHaw aligned world’s transgressions.
Not content to rely on the NeHaw deployed FTL inhibitors, the Earth had deployed a number of devices of their own make, derived from the unit recovered by Jake’s attack on the NeHaw raider base before the truce. Although far fewer in number than what the NeHaw had deployed, they were a reminder to all that both sides were keeping watch.
The information she had before her was just the latest in a string of sightings on the NeHaw side of the Zone. Becoming more and more frequent, they would detect a NeHaw patrol ship appear, linger for a short time and then disappear as if searching for something. While no confrontations had occurred to date, the fear was they were testing the barrier, looking for weaknesses on the human side.
Curled up in one corner of the room, Kona, the German Shepard Jake had rescued so long ago, lay quietly watching her. At first Sara had reservations about the dog, but those were quickly replaced with loving affection. Even though Jake had been her rescuer, Kona had taken to Sara from the first, always at her side and a constant guardian of the twin girls.
As if the thought of her daughters had given to action, one of her girls suddenly burst into her office, stopping short of her desk and staring intently at her mother as she did so.
“Words, Amber, I can’t hear you thinking like your father can,” Sara said with some irritation.
“I’m sorry mom. Jade and I were wondering if we could go see Aunt Bonnie and Julie,” she blurted out quickly.
Sara’s sister Bonnie was mother to the twin’s half-sister Julie, and the three girls had become very close as they all got older. The trio had been spending a considerable amount of time together. However, Sara was not fooled in the slightest about the request. Bonnie and Robert, together now for over 10 years, had recently decided to have a child of their own. The little boy, not quite a year old, had all three girls doting over him like he was their own. Robert Jr. by name, though everyone called him Bobby.
“We can take the noon transport and still be home before dinner? Aunt Bonnie said it was ok,” she added as she waited for her mother’s reply.
Sara was well aware that the regularly scheduled high speed transport could make the trip between the Nevada and Texas locations in less than an hour. Intended for ALICE personnel use only, no cargo, they ran regularly scheduled runs between all eight ALICE locations as well as London and Hong Kong. She knew it was safe and they would be well looked after.
There were other larger craft used for commerce and heavy lifting work that ran on regular schedules as well, but the kids had taken to using the smaller craft as their own personal taxis, as Jake had referred to them.
“Be home tonight, no staying over, we promised your father a family dinner,” she replied with a sigh.
Before she had even finished her sentence, the girl spun in place and rushed out the door.
“She said yes!” Sara heard in the distance before her door closed.
Pausing in her work, Sara decided to call her sister before the transport left, allowing her time to intervene if necessary.
“Hey sis, how’s it going?” Bonnie said in surprise, her face in the display causing Sara to smile.
From the background she could see Bonnie was hard at work in her own office as well.
“Did the girls check with you before asking me if they could come for a visit?” Sara asked suspiciously.
“Julie asked if would be ok if they came by, I told her it was up to you,” she answered.
“The story I got was you had already approved the trip,” Sara said with a laugh.
“It’s fine, they aren’t any trouble. I will admit walking into a room full of teenagers all sitting completely quite is a bit disturbing.”
“Yes, I just had to remind Amber to use her words. You would think we would be used to it by now,” Sara replied in frustration.
“And if I wear one of the headsets ALICE gave us so we could hear them, they stop doing it!” Bonnie replied with a laugh of her own.
Sara knew she was referring to the headset ALICE had originally designed for Jake to deal with the NeHaw emissions. Working not only as a transmitter and receiver, the original unit translated his words into NeHaw before transmitting them. The units provided the mothers of the gifted children only needed to receive and verbalize the telepathic transmissions for the wearer to hear.
“The twins tell me I am invading their privacy if I use mine,” Sara answered.
“Ok, well I will keep an eye out for them,” Bonnie responded, wrapping up the conversation.
“And send them home tonight, don’t let them talk you into staying over,” Sara added.
“Bye Sis,” Bonnie finished before cutting the link.
“Bye,” Sara replied before her screen went blank.
Turning back to her work, Sara smiled at the thought of how much better her daughters’ life was, their future prospects much brighter, than the way she and Bonnie had grown up.
Jake was leading his son back to the Nevada facility as the pair jumped ahead of the helicopter transporting the latest batch of trouble makers. He had seen the regional reports supplied by the community patrol, the reason for the morning excursion. Residents in the area had been complaining of a small group of armed men harassing the smaller towns and settlements, robing, stealing and just making a general nuisance of themselves.
He normally wouldn’t have gotten involved, preferring to allow the locals to handle things, but the death in Tonopah had escalated things. Working hard to bring the area back from the devastation created by the NeHaw attack so long ago, he couldn’t allow this group to continue on to other communities.
He dared not tell Kathy he was taking Tim with him on this run, unsure if he would even be able to find them, but wanted the boy to get some more experience in the open. No different than any other mom, she would be concerned for his safety, and angry at Jake for exposing him to danger. While never in any serious danger, even with the two jumping him from behind, Jake knew the boy’s abilities better than he did. Also, someday Jake might not be there to intervene.
Speeding over the Nevada desert at 150 miles per hour, Jake had them at just over 100 feet above the ground. He knew Tim loved to weave in between the hills, whipping back and forth as they followed the narrow valleys and dry river beds. Admittedly, Jake enjoyed the ride every bit as much as his son.
“Ok Tim, we have a dead end coming up, let’s take it up to 500 feet,” he said as he checked the display on the hovercycle dash. The map overlay indicated the dry riverbed they had been following narrowed to a channel far too small for their rides.
“Yes dad,” he heard in reply as he pulled back on the controls and watched the heads-up display altitude indicator in his helmet while tracking his son’s accent.
Clearing the height of the peak ahead, he was treated to a clear view of the valley beyond the rise before him, and a straight run home.
“Going down!” Jake said aloud as he led Tim back down the other side, punching 100 feet AG into the hovercycle and transmitting the setting to the other ride.
The setting prevented the hovercycles from dropping below 100 feet above the ground under the vehicles. It allowed for a dramatic decent, one Jake compared to a rollercoaster ride, without risking an overshoot and auguring into the hard desert floor.
“Weeeee,” he heard in his helmet as Tim couldn’t resist the outburst at the dramatic change in altitude.
All too quickly, they arrived at the ALICE facility hangar doors, the pair opening well before their arrival.
“Follow me in,” Jake replied as he slowed and lifted the AG limiter, permitting their decent into the black hole in the desert floor below them.
Dropping into the darkness, Jake led Tim into the hangar and then hovered just over the floor below as they slowly maneuvered their rides to the designated parking area.
“Don’t tell your mom about what happened today,” Jake said to the boy quietly as they removed their helmets.
“Don’t tell your mom what?” the pair heard in reply before Tim could answer.
At that point, the following helicopter appeared, dropping into the hanger and flooding the area with sounds of the whirling helicopter blades. The twin hoops atop the fuselage were remarkably quiet in Jakes opinion, but not completely silent, thus interrupting his reply.
“Jake, did you take Tim into another fight?” Kathy asked as it quieted, while watching the security team approaching the helicopter, a dead giveaway as to its contents.
“Not intentionally,” he lied.
“Jake, if anything ever happened to that boy…” she started.
“Mom, I’m fine. I’m in my suit and those two guys never even touched me,” Tim blurted out in reply as he tried to defend his father.
“What two guys?” Kathy shouted as she exchanged looks between the two suited figures.
“Go get changed,” Jake said as he waved Tim away while trying to think of a way to distract the enraged mother of his child.
“Jake so help me, if you get that boy hurt,” Kathy started.
“Kathy, you know I would never do anything to risk him,” he replied as he reached out to her.
She hesitated at first before she allowed him to draw her in, wrapping her own arms around him as he did the same.
“He was fine and he actually did very well. It won’t be much longer before he’s out in the world on his own and we can’t stop that. I want to be sure he’s ready,” Jake finished as he kissed her forehead.
“Yes, that’s what I worry about, he’s too much like his father,” she finished as she slipped from his embrace and slowly backed away before turning and walking off.
Watching Kathy walk away, Jake shook his head in exasperation. In the 10 plus years since the NeHaw truce was established, Jake had made no more progress in finding a solution to the living arrangements presented to him with his first rescue so long ago. Every time he thought he had the situation resolved and he and Sara could focus on each other, old issues would rise once more, dragging him back in.
Pushing that thought from his mind for now, he headed over to the helicopter, intent on focusing on the latest batch of trouble makers.
Seventeen-year-old Padma sat in her hide as she watched the two suited figures in the valley below, searching for her. Working on her own this time, with no spotter to assist, she had spent the morning avoiding the pair as they tried to track her in the desert landscape. Even now, she could see them moving along the sandy ravine she had used to cross the valley floor, before doubling back across the rocks to hide her change in direction.
Completely powered down so as to avoid giving herself away with a heat or power signature on their scanning gear, she watched through the optics of the scope on her rifle, her helmet off her head and sitting nearby. The optics of her rifle’s scope allowed her to zoom in enough to see the two as the alternated between the hand-held scanner and their own visual inspection of the surrounding area.
The graduation marks in her viewfinder allowed her to approximate the distance, using the known height of a human rather than projecting a rangefinder beam and risking detection. By her estimate, they were just over two miles distant and well within the range of her weapon, should she choose to take the shot. Sitting back in the recess created by the rocks and boulders around her, she was completely invisible, even from above.
Long before Jake had rescued her and her brother Jon from the scavenger gang in Las Vegas, she had been an expert at stealth and hiding. The pair of kids had spent years sneaking among the ruins of that city, scavenging to survive. That beginning had laid the groundwork for her as an exceptional scout sniper.
While just now coming of age for military participation, her status as Jake’s adopted daughter had permitted her to learn and train as soon as she was big enough to carry the rifle. At only five-foot-tall, she was perfectly suited to slip in and out of the tightest spots with ease.
Sandy, her adopted mom, was not as thrilled at her fascination with the military. Sandy had done her best to try and interest Padma in more traditional female interests. A noted fashion plate among the grownups, Sandy was always looking to interest her in clothes, makeup and girly things. Padma laughed as the makeup lessons had come in handy when practicing camo face paint in one of the survival courses.
“Scout Team 1 to base, heading east. Objective Alpha undetected,” she heard in her earpiece, the only thing operating under power.
“Acknowledged,” came the response.
The exchange was what Padma was waiting to hear. She had laid a false trail that would take the pair in the opposite direction from her hide and set them up for her shot. She quickly adjusted position as they would only be in her sights for a short time as they cleared the edge of the ravine before the trail evaporated before them.
Watching the pair slowly emerge from the protection of the ravine, she deftly flipped the power switch on the side of her rifle, stroking the trigger twice with the slightest adjustment of position.
“Crap!” she heard in the earpiece as she watched both figures dropped to the ground almost as one.
“Scout Team 1 down, request pickup,” she said as she triggered the mike on her earpiece.
Donning her helmet, she emerged from her hide just in time to hear the reply.
“ST1 down, acknowledged. Pickup en route. Good job girl,” She heard Master Sergeant Hillstead say.
She wasn’t positive but she thought she heard a tinge of approval in his tone.
Bonnie was just in time to see the transport land in the hangar, her daughter Julie at her side. Julie was fidgety as she waited for her younger siblings to exit the transport. At fourteen, she was a few years older than the twins, but the three girls were very close. It was something Bonnie attributed to her close relationship with her older sister.
The craft had no sooner settled onto the hangar floor when the door burst open and the twins leaped from the opening. Bonnie watched as Julie rushed forward, the whole thing done in silence. She wasn’t fooled by the displayed as she knew the three were telepathically chatting away, shielded from parental ears.
“Hi girls,” she said aloud after a moment.
“Hi Aunt Bonnie,” the pair replied in unison.
“Julie, I want you all to stay out of trouble. Remember we promised the twins would be home for dinner,” she admonished her daughter before waving the three away.
“Yes, mom,” she heard in reply as she watched the three dart off toward the main entrance.
She well knew they would be headed directly to her quarters where the nanny was caring for Julie’s little brother. With the three girls in attendance, there would be little for the nanny to do today but supervise, a welcome break, she was sure.
Movement on the far side of the hangar drew her attention as she watched her husband Robert directing a work crew. Carefully crossing over the busy hangar, she mentally ticked off several activities as she passed by. Loading and unloading of cargo was in progress as they moved materials for the various communities they now supported.
Responsible for a sizable chunk of North and Central America, she had inadvertently become in charge of one of the two most heavily used ALICE locations in the Americas. The South Dakota ALICE, known as Dakota, split the duties as the two were optimally placed to move materials both east-west and north-south.
Using what was once the Nebraska-Kansas border as their reference, she managed activities far south into Mexico and points beyond. James, the Dakota Commander, handled everything habitable north of Kansas, well into Canada and sharing duties with the ALICEs in Washington State and Maine at the edges. It was a lot of land but fewer inhabitance as the coastal communities were still the largest populations.
“Whatcha doin?” Bonnie asked as she slid up next to her husband.
“Oh, hi honey,” he replied as he paused long enough to pass her quick kiss before turning back to the activity before them.
“We found another stash of precious metals in New York. This is the last of it,” he indicated as they floated a pile of shiny metal bars off the back of a heavy lift helicopter.
Bonnie watched as the pallet was guided down the loading ramp and into the storage hangar that was their version of Fort Knox. While responsible for other things, it was still Robert’s prime responsibility to recover any sizeable stashes of gold, silver, platinum or similar metals the alien races considered valuable. As it was, they had already recovered more Platinum and Gold than they could spend in her lifetime.
She laughed to herself as the ever-present form of HeBak was there to observe the transfer. A permanent resident of her location since the treaty was established, the alien never missed a delivery of the precious metals that had brought him to earth in the first place. She knew the NeHaw race to be long lived, so the last ten plus years on earth probably didn’t mean as much to the being as it did to a human.
Still, she had to wonder how the alien considered his status. Free to leave Earth at any time, he had chosen to stay in his ship and other facilities stored in a hangar nearby. He was a frequent sight, wandering about, studying the humans and all their activities. To her, it seemed his two favorite pastimes were wandering the precious metals storeroom, a place under constant scrutiny but hardly under lock and key.
The other was the art storage, areas set aside for the recovered artifacts saved from collections all over the world. Every ALICE location had set aside a portion of their facility to store recovered artwork and other delicate historical artifacts for future generations. The effort was considered both insurmountable and a labor of love.
The alien’s interest in art was somewhat reassuring to her as they still considered the NeHaw a threat. The fact that he seemed to value the intrinsic beauty of the various pieces reinforced the concept of a civilized race rather than destructive foes.