While I am still working to complete the book, I have the finished cover art back. As usual Yvonne has done a bang up job!
While I am still working to complete the book, I have the finished cover art back. As usual Yvonne has done a bang up job!
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.
I have finished everything for the e-Book version to release. I still need to proof the hard copies, but I set the e-Book release date for Oct 18. If the proofs come back solid, the paperbacks will release on that date as well.
Sorry to you Audio book lovers, that is still a work in progress, but Tantor has already confirmed they want it, just need to do the paperwork. I have asked for the same reader Travis Baldree, as I think he did an awesome job on the first two.
Here is the pre-order link.
We are on track for an October release of the Dark Paladin. Yvonne has done her magic for the cover art. Here is a Proof of the cover.
In preparation for the release of The Dark Paladin, book 3 of the Ranger series, I am doing a 5 day free promotion of The Lost Ranger, book 1 of the series. The promotion will run from Sept 27 to Oct 1st.
It’s been a while since I have posted so I thought I owed everyone an update. We survived the hurricane without incident, and my wishes go out to those less fortunate than we have been.
I have completed “The Dark Paladin” Book 3 of the Ranger series and hope to get the cover art done ASAP. I think Yvonne might be on Holiday down under, but as soon as she is back to work I will get that going.
Book 5 of ALICE is about 20% complete, and is now my top priority.
The Dowry and Sword/Medallion are in my agents hands. He is working his magic to see if a traditional publishing deal is possible. Fingers crossed.
I have an idea for another book, something that has been floating around in the back of my head, but for now I am just taking notes as things surface, but trying not to get derailed from ALICE: Alliance.
OK to be fair to those that are Ranger fans, I figure I should post Chapter 1 of Book 3. Working title “The Dark Paladin”, I again caveat that this is a work in progress and could change before release.
Alex Rogers awoke to the repeated strokes of a tongue against his cheek and forehead, sure the activity intended to get his attention. He was positive it was Kinsey, his dog turned wolf, looking to wake him. Likely she wanted breakfast and this was her way of making it known.
“I’m awake,” he mumbled as he raised an arm in an attempt to brush her away.
The motion sent waves of discomfort through his back and arm. Before opening his eyes, he realized he felt stiff and damp, his warm bed suddenly cold and hard against his back. Reaching out to his left, he searched for the warm body of Cassie, his new bride, only to find what felt like a fern. A sudden panic set in as he turned his head and opened just one eye, his new bride not where he had left her the night before. Rolling back, he was treated to a view of partially obstructed sky, the surrounding evergreen trees intermingling their branches against the blue sky above him.
Struggling to make sense of the message his eye was relaying to his brain, he opened the other and turned his head the other way to find a small black dog sitting patiently nearby, staring intently at him and tail flying wildly behind her.
“Kinsey?” he blurted, spurring the dog to begin her licking once more.
“Enough ok,” he added as he brushed her away, pushing her to one side while sitting up.
The motion caused him to wince once more as the cold hard ground he had been lying on had done its work on stiffening his muscles. Scanning the area around him, Alex was worried, disoriented and confused. With no Cassie in sight, he had a quick flush of fear that it had all been a coma induced dream.
Dismissing that thought as unacceptable, he pushed the rising panic aside and tried to focus on his circumstances. The dense undergrowth of the forest rose up all around him, with just him and Kinsey in the small clearing more than large enough for the two.
“Where the hell are we?” he asked the dog as he paused to consider his situation.
The last thing Alex remembered was going to bed with his beautiful wife Cassandra, in their bedroom inside Castle Windfall. As Lord Protector and regent there, representing King Ben of Great Vale, he was directing the recovery of the city. Left in shambles after Prince Renfeld’s misguided war, Alex was working to rebuild the local economy and restore its peaceful place in the world.
Looking at himself for the first time, he discovered he was no longer in the sleep attire of the Lord Protector, but instead bore the jeans and flannel button up shirt of Alex Rogers, Seattleite and forest wanderer. The attire forced him to reconsider once more that he had he dreamt the last one plus year of his life as he lay unconscious here in the forest? As he struggled to reconcile his current predicament, a weak groan to his left drew his attention.
Jumping to his feet, he was elated and relieved to discover Cassie was no more than a few feet from where he lay. A wave of relief passed through him as he knelt down beside her prone form. His touch caused her to stir and he was greeted by her confused expression as she regained consciousness and scanned her surroundings.
“Here, let me help you,” Alex said as she tried to sit up on her own.
Turning to him as he spoke, he started to ask her more questions when a second sound drew both their stares. Alex watched as first Leander appeared, still partially hidden in the plant life, followed by Abrianna. Both had supposedly been in Great Vale and were surely not expected here, wherever here was.
“Are you guys ok?” Alex asked, as he watched the two display the same looks of confusion and lack of understanding that he had seen on Cassie’s face.
A sound beside him drew his attention back to his wife, as he watched her reply to his question. The problem was, he didn’t understand a word of what she was saying.
Cassie shivered in the cold as she struggled to wake. The bed felt hard beneath her and she could hear someone nearby spouting gibberish as she tried to sleep. A slight groan escaped her lips as she tried to move, reaching out to try and find Alex, sleeping beside her. It was then that she opened her eyes to find her husband hovering over her, the greenery all around them a clear indication they were no longer in their Windfall bed-chamber.
Watching Alex as he helped her up, she struggled to shake the disorientation she felt. The strange noises he made as he spoke added to her confusion.
“Alex, what happened? Where are we?” she asked in reply after she watched Leander and Abrianna appear nearby, the tall groundcover concealing their presence earlier.
She could see a look of confusion on his face as she spoke.
“I don’t think he can understand you,” Leander commented as he crossed over to check on Abrianna and then the pair closed in on Alex and Cassie.
“Where are we?” Abrianna repeated as she looked about them.
“I have never seen these woods before,” Leander replied as they watched Alex stare at them all in confusion.
Once more they watched as Alex spoke gibberish at them, the noises he made having no meaning to any of them.
“Brie, the learning spell, did it wear off?” Cassie suddenly offered, referring to the spell Abrianna had placed on Alex when they first met.
“Possibly, let me try another,” she replied.
Approaching Alex, she gently took both of his hands in hers and closed her eyes. Evidently Alex understood what was happening as he nodded in comprehension and closed his eyes as well. Cassie watched as the two stood motionless, Abrianna chanting quietly as she worked the magical spell.
“It’s not working, I can’t feel it,” Abrianna blurted as she opened her eyes, releasing Alex’s hands as she did so.
“What do you mean, you can’t feel it?” Leander asked.
“I mean, there is no magic here, we aren’t in A’nland.”
Alex recognized Abrianna’s attempt to work magic. Unable to understand any of his three companions, it was clear he had lost the ability to communicate with them. Now, he could tell she was repeating the learning spell that had enabled him to quickly come up to speed last time.
Previously, as she had performed this action, he had blasted both of them with an unintended, but instinctive, protective spell. In order to not repeat the event, Alex tried to relax, closing his eyes and reaching out to her with his senses as he had been taught. As he did so, he noticed that there was something different about the experience. Where he normally felt the rush of power as he opened himself to the world around him, now it was only the slightest trickle, no more than a gentle tingling at best.
Hearing Abrianna speak, he opened his eyes to see the frustration on her face, and he was still unable to understand the words. Scanning the woods about them, the familiarity forced Alex to come to the conclusion that they were, in fact, back in his world. That realization made him reassess each of his companions standing before him.
All were dressed in typical Pacific Northwest fashion, he and Leander in T-shirts with flannel long sleeve shirts over them. Both women had light jackets over fashion T-shirts and all four were in jeans and hiking boots. He now confirmed that these woods were the very same that he had wandered many times just outside of Seattle.
Standing there watching his three companions discuss what he presumed was the same conclusion of where, he started running the explanation of who through his head. For some unknown reason the four had been transported back to Alex’s home realm. Likely an action by the elves, he had to assume it was a Dark Elf reaction to his success in squashing both Prince Renfeld and Tantalus’s attempted rise to power.
His Earth, abandoned by both races of Elves long ago, or so he had been told, had seen the rise of technology replace magic and that was why Abrianna’s spell had failed. Alex didn’t even bother to try one of his own as he could feel the lack of the free energy that fueled his efforts in Cassie’s realm. It was a sudden bark from Kinsey that drew all their attention back to the present.
All four watched as the little black dog dove for the underbrush, chasing after some unseen critter. Just as quickly, she returned, reaching Cassie first, who knelt and stroked the dog affectionately while speaking unintelligibly.
“Look, I know you won’t understand a word of this, but follow me,” Alex said as he motioned to the other three.
Before departing, he then gave Cassie a quick kiss of reassurance, as much for himself as for her. While unhappy at their circumstances, he was delighted she was still by his side. Indicating they should follow, all three nodded in understanding as they headed in the direction Alex indicated. Taking the lead with Kinsey at his side, he retraced the steps that would take them back to the primitive dirt road that brought him to this place so long ago.
Walking along the barely discernable path, he could hear his three companions talking quietly amongst themselves. Likely giving voice to all the questions running through his own head, Alex had to wonder what they would find ahead. Doing the math, as he had learned from King Ben, the time he had spent away from here likely equated to sometime between five and six years. That time difference had allowed a former Confederate Officer from his world to reign as King in Cassie home realm over 150 years later.
Alex had no hope whatsoever that anything he had left behind was still around. His Jeep would have either been stolen, vandalized or simply towed off years ago. His home would have fallen into foreclosure and his job filled by another after his disappearance. All in all, he had no idea what he was going to do once they cleared the trees ahead.
Eventually stepping out onto the dirt road, Alex waited for the other three to join him before turning left and heading back to the spot where he had left his Jeep. The others had stopped talking as they studied the forest roadway cut between the trees. While rough by Alex’s standards, it was wider and flatter than most of the routes they had traveled in A’nland.
Following the road, Alex began to pick up his pace as he became anxious about their situation. It was a very long walk back to Seattle. His only hope was they could hitch a ride once they reached where this trail intersected I-90.
Rounding a bend in the road, Alex stopped dead in his tracks. There before him on the side of the road, sat his black Jeep, nosed into the woods and still where he had left it, apparently untouched.
“What do you mean no magic?” Cassie asked when Abrianna ceased her efforts with Alex.
“Just what I said. I can’t feel anything,” she replied in frustration.
“How can that be?” Leander asked.
“We aren’t in our world any more. I think we are in the realm where Alex comes from,” she said while indicating the trees around them
“Don’t you recall his descriptions of the forest,” she added.
“How did we get here?” Cassie asked while glancing at her husband, frustrated at her inability to talk to him.
To her, the language barrier felt like an invisible wall, keeping the pair apart.
“Dark Elves?” Leander stated more than asked.
“Maybe,” was all Abrianna would say.
It was then that Kinsey let out a bark and darted for the underbrush. Cassie hadn’t really noticed the little black dog, but instantly recognized her face as she reappeared once more.
“Can you understand me little one?” she asked as she knelt and stroked the dog.
It was then that Alex began speaking, motioning in a fashion that made Cassie understand he wanted them to follow. Accepting the kiss, her heart ached with desire to hear his words once more instead of the rambling nonsense.
Turning to follow her husband and the little black dog, Cassie scanned the area as she walked.
“I wonder what dangers lie in these woods? We are unarmed and without magic,” she commented to her companions.
“Alex once told me there wasn’t much to fear in his world outside of the cities. It was the villains not the creatures that presented the greatest dangers,” Leander replied.
“Why do you think we were all sent here?” Abrianna asked, changing the subject.
“It is quite odd that we were in Windfall and you in Great Vale, yet we all awoke here together?” Cassie offered up for consideration.
“I would have thought the Dark Elves would want Alex alone removed from power, and not all of us. What is to be gained by moving us all to a place of no magic?” Leander stated.
“It’s not just about magic, my love, or they need not include you. There is something greater afoot here,” Abrianna said softly, trying not to insult her intended.
“In Gundor Stronghold, the dragon warned Alex that the elves were not his friend. Do you think King Elion had something to do with this?” Cassie asked out of the blue.
“It is one of the possibilities,” Abrianna replied with a nod.
The three then traveled in silence until Cassie watched Alex step out onto an open area ahead of them. Following suit, they found themselves on a wide, relatively flat dirt road. Cassie was surprised at how consistently wide the path was cut through the trees in both directions. There was hardly any rutting in the roadway where the cartwheels should have pressed their way into the earth. She suspected it was not well traveled.
She watched Alex turn left and so they followed he and Kinsey as they worked their way down the road. Soon enough Alex stopped before them, staring at the way ahead.
“By all the gods, what is that?” they heard Leander say as they halted behind a stationary Alex.
Moving up to the driver’s door of the Wrangler, Alex found it locked. Inside, he saw several items on the driver’s seat, one of which was his keys. With the hardtop on rather than the canvas soft-top, he wasn’t going to simply slide a hand inside. Pausing for a moment to consider his optoins, he thought through the situation.
There was no way his jeep had set here for eight plus years like this, so it had been set up for him to find. As such, the locked vehicle had been provided specifically for him alone and recently or some opportunist would have smashed the window and taken it long ago. Stepping back as the others watched him, he slowly began circling the vehicle, checking the wheel wells and bumpers.
He found what he was looking for behind the spare tire mounted to the back of the vehicle. A magnetic hide a key box was secreted inside the tire carrier, up underneath the top of the hollow mount. Removing the key from the box, he opened the door and retrieved the loose items on the driver’s seat.
The keyring held not only the ignition key for the Jeep, but also several others he recognized, including his house key. In addition he found his wallet, holding a valid driver’s license and a considerable amount of cash. There were several credit cards as well, all current and in his name.
Finally, there was an envelope with a note inside, handwritten and addressed to him.
Alex, your service to A’nland can never be repaid. Remember all that you have learned there and we hope that it will serve you well in the challenges to come.
There was no signature, but the cryptic nature of the message confirmed to Alex that the elves had to be behind the whole thing. The most disturbing part was the gentle tone indicated it was the Woodland Elves, not the Dark Elves behind this.
Remembering those around him, Alex passed the page to Cassie, who in turn passed it to Abrianna. From their looks he could see the scribbles meant nothing to either of them. Moving to the passenger side of the Jeep, he unlocked the door and then motioned for Leander.
Sliding the passenger seat forward to allow access to the rear seat, he pointed to the opening. Indicating Leander should climb inside, Kinsey brushed passed both men and quickly leaped in first, demonstrating how it’s done.
Leander quickly followed suit with Abrianna a hesitant third. Placing the seat in its upright position, he then assisted Cassie into the front passenger seat. Before closing the door, he grabbed the seatbelt and started to buckle his wife into her seat. He could see the hesitancy in her eyes as she watched his motions, but made no move to stop him. Waving for Leander and Abrianna to repeat the action, he had to point out the buckle receivers next to Kinsey as each pulled the belts from the retractors.
Satisfied all were securely belted in, while noting the looks of confusion on all three faces, he closed Cassie’s door firmly. Rounding the front of the vehicle, he quickly climbed inside and inserted the key into the ignition. Belting himself in as well, he gave everyone a weak smile.
“Well, here goes nothing,” he declared as he turned the key.
The engine fired right up, the action startling all three passengers while Kinsey sat happily between Leander and Abrianna, familiar with the sound and its meaning. Alex did a quick check of his passengers, putting on his best smiling face before he put the Jeep in reverse and backed out. Turning tightly as he backed the vehicle out of its notch in the woods and onto the road, he easily cleared the trees.
Putting it in first gear, he started off down the road, doing his best not to jar his passengers as he picked up speed. Moving into second gear, he set a steady pace as he traveled the dirt path, slowing for the occasional washout or rut. He could hear his passengers passing comments back and forth as they made their way steadily through the trees.
At long last, they emerged onto asphalt, indicating they were nearing the I-90 freeway. Alex glanced at Cassie as she stared wide eyed at the broad concrete curve in the road that led them onto the freeway, heading west. Shifting as he gained speed, he soon had them westbound at 70 miles per hour. From the looks on their faces, he was sure all three with him were terrified as they made their way toward the city.
Yes I know its been forever since ALICE 4 was released, so in the spirit of full disclosure and proof I am really working on Book 5, here is Chapter 1.
Disclaimer: this is draft and may change before the final version is released.
General Jake Thomas sat astride his hovercycle as he scanned the valley below, his all encasing combat suit doing its best to dispel the beginnings of the desert heat. Stopped on a hilltop high above the surrounding countryside, he had a commanding view of the Nevada desert landscape. As he scanned the horizon, the clarity of the dry desert air never ceased to amaze him.
He could see for a hundred miles in all directions, the occasional dust trail against the clear blue sky betraying the moments of some remote person or persons. With horseback still the prevalent mode of transportation for a significant portion of the population, the sight before him was not unusual at all.
“What do you think?” Jake asked his companion, a smaller version of himself astride his own hovercycle.
“They don’t look very friendly,” was the short reply.
“That was my thought as well,” Jake responded with a nod and a smile.
Just a few miles away from where the pair had landed were almost a dozen armed men, all on horseback and moving at a relaxed pace. Jake noted there were two stragglers a bit behind the main group and he suspected they were acting as some form of a rear guard. He dialed up the magnification in his helmet and did a quick assessment of the entire group before deciding on a course of action.
When he was out riding like this, it was a regular occurrence for him to run across various small groups traveling from place to place. In most cases, it was families or groups of such likeminded people just looking for a better life. The men in this gaggle were not to be even remotely confused with that.
By now the group had spotted the two figures on the hilltop and halted their progress as they talked amongst themselves. Jake observed a pair of binoculars being passed from man to man and noted they didn’t seem too concerned as they sat there talking. After watching the group for a few minutes more to see if they gave him any indications of their intentions, he made up his mind on his own.
“Stay here and watch for trouble,” Jake said as he adjusted several settings on his hovercycle and then slowly rose into the air.
“Yes sir,” came the soft reply.
Both Jake and his companion were in their standard issue protective suits, so Jake had little concern over either of them being shot with a conventional weapon. That was part of his survey of this party, assessing the threat level of the visible weaponry. His conclusion was unless someone had a missile strapped to the underside of their horse, the two were relatively safe.
Moving at an easy pace himself, Jake slowly maneuvered his hovercycle into a position about twenty feet in front of the riders and set softly down. He had done his best not to spook the riders’ horses, however a couple of the mounts shuffled nervously on their feet as the riders worked to keep them calm. Climbing off his ride and taking great care to telegraph his moves so as not to provoke the men, he stopped a few feet from the group.
“Morning,” Jake offered.
“Morning,” one of the men replied in return.
“Nice ride you got there,” another commented as all studied the hovercycle behind Jake.
“Thanks. Where you boys headed?” Jake asked casually, trying not to sound confrontational.
“Not sure that’s any of your business?” the one Jake took to be the leader replied.
“Fair enough, just trying to help.”
“You some kinda local authority around here?” another man next to the leader asked Jake.
Jake considered the question for a moment. Between his combat suit and the hovercycle, it was more than obvious he wasn’t your typical drifter.
“Not really, but I do know those that are. Only stopped by to let you know there are reports of a group making trouble in the area. You see anyone on your ride in?” Jake asked innocently.
“What kinda trouble?’ came the reply.
“Oh, you know, shaking down the locals, raiding, pillaging and such. Haven’t killed anyone yet so they haven’t crossed the point of no return. Well, all but one anyway.”
By now the entire group had formed a semicircle around where Jake stood. He noted the two stragglers had not joined up with the others, forcing a quick survey of the area on his heads-up display. Satisfied with what he saw, he returned his attention back to the riders.
“Point of no return?’ one asked before a dirty look from the leader shut him up.
“Oh, you know, it’s the difference between a bully and a murderer. One gets a second chance.”
Before another word was spoken, the one Jake pinned as the leader pulled a handgun from his belt and fired several rounds at Jake. All found their mark but failed to deliver the expected results. That wasn’t to say Jake didn’t feel the effects of the rounds, he was sure there would be a bruise there by tonight.
“So, you would be the one that killed the Tonopah man?” Jake asked unphased by the action as he focused on the shooter.
Tonopah was nothing more than a water stop for travelers headed east-west to and from California and Utah. This group had wandered into the small town and quickly departed after taking supplies and shooting the proprietor when he objected. The killing had been an act of unnecessary violence.
“Get him!” The man shouted as he suddenly spurred his horse toward Jake, attempting to run him down.
The horse’s lunge surprised Jake, but he was still able to spin as the animal closed the short distance to his position. Rolling along the side of the horse as it passed, Jake grabbed the rider’s leg, pulling the boot from its stirrup and yanking hard, unseating the rider in the process. It was then an alarm sounded in Jake’s helmet, a proximity alert he had set before leaving his companion alone on the hilltop.
“Tim, can you hear me?” he asked as he watched two nearby men leap at him from horseback.
“Yes, dad,” was the cautious response.
Tossing one man as he flew through the air, Jake turned to find the other swinging at him with a rifle. Holding it by the barrel, the man was using it like a club.
“How close were you planning on letting those two behind you get?”
Not waiting for the response, Jake intercepted the butt stock with both hands, jerking the weapon free from its wielder and sending it flying at two more men still on horseback. The impact knocked them both from their saddles while the reminder of the group backed their mounts away from the fighting to watch. Pulling his handgun from its holster, Jake fired off several rounds, hitting the ground next to the prone figures struggling to get up.
“Enough! Unless you all want to die, cut the crap.”
Emphasizing the point, he executed the program he had present in the hovercycle. One of several he had worked out over the years, the craft quickly rose into the air at no more than twice his height and low enough to knock a man off his horse if he wasn’t careful. Nose down, the hovercraft quickly moved to a position just outside the farthest rider and began circling the group. Suddenly, both machine guns in the nose let loose a burst that dug into the earth and startled the horses, causing one rider to fall.
“OK!” Jake heard one man say as the all began dropping their weapons.
Motioning for everyone to dismount, Jake began to check the men still lying motionless on the ground. Satisfied none were dead, he stepped away from the group.
“Alice, please send in the pickup squad.”
“Already on their way,” came the simple reply.
LiMak was reviewing the duty logs of all Neutral Zone patrol ships from the last few kilocycles, trying to determine the source of the discrepancy in their data. Several of the sensors the NeHaw had placed all along the Neutral Zone, established with the Humans megacycles ago, kept alerting for trespass violations. However, when the NeHaw ships arrived at the location of the violations, there were no violators to be found, just empty space.
The boundary created after the treaty was established and had been mined on the NeHaw side with inhibitors that prevented the use of FTL drives. Once activated by the offending vessels drive signatures, they would continue to operate until reset. With the inhibitors triggered, the offender would be required to travel a good distance on repulser power, taking several cycles to do so, before they were outside the influence of the devices.
Once triggered, an all system alert would be sounded and the nearest patrol ship would be dispatched to confront the offender. While there had historically been very few incidents, and most of those identified as smugglers and not human combat vessels, each was treated with top priority.
Any NeHaw vessel could reset the devices, thus removing the hold it placed on the offenders, however that was the problem of late. With each recent alert, the responding NeHaw patrol craft arrived to find no vessel trapped in the field. In every instance, there were no sensor readings revealing any non-NeHaw ship, just empty space.
This is what had drawn them to their current position in this sector. Upon their arrival, they became ensnared in the same trap expecting to confront a Neutral Zone violator. Instead, they found the same empty space reported by other ship Captains. LiMak was just about to order the inhibitors to be reset when his ship’s pilot made an announcement.
“Sir, I see……. something,” the man announced.
“Can you be more specific?” LiMak replied, surprised at the man’s lack of specificity.
In the megacycles since General KaLob’s ascending to power, the NeHaw military had undergone a significant restructuring. Field Commanders were now allowed far more discretion on both their decisions and actions with much less concern about the repercussions of those choices back home. The changes had proven remarkably successful, but the increased moral was offset with a drop in the severe discipline of the old order. LiMak wasn’t sure it was missed by many.
“There, Sir. Something is masking the visible starlight,” the man said as he pointed out the bridge windows. As he spoke, he highlighted a particular part of space in the window using the optical overlay system.
Shifting his attention from the pilot and onto the space outside the ship, he concentrated on the area of space the man had outlined. After staring out the bridge window for a few microcycles, he suddenly noted a portion of the star field he had been watching blank out completely.
“There!” he heard the pilot exclaim as the man had apparently seen what he had.
“What do you see on the sensor displays?” LiMak asked his tactical officer as he continued to watch stars slowly blink off and then on again as something passed between them and LiMak’s ship.
“The sensors do not indicate anything is there sir,” the tactical officer replied.
“Is it a new form of cloaking? Have the Humans created a new ship?” LiMak asked.
“Possibly sir, but I don’t think it’s human. I am getting no readings at all, not even the trace emissions of repulser drives,” the tactical office replied.
“Perform a wide spectrum scan of the area, include the nonvisible wavelengths. See if there is anything reflecting off that ship?” LiMak asked his navigation’s officer.
“Yes sir,” was the reply.
“I have something…” the man replied hesitantly, after a brief pause.
“Explain,” he asked.
“I am not getting any reflections for the ship ahead, but what I can detect is a void in the area around it,” the man replied with pride.
“Can you get us any closer?” LiMak asked the ship’s pilot.
“I can try sir, but at this distance it might take some time,” the man replied as he began working to get the ship moving.
“Reset the inhibitors,” LiMak commanded, removing the impediment to their jumping to close the distance.
As he watched, LiMak could see the disturbance in space grow, measured by the number of background stars disappearing from view, as if the ship was closing on them. Suddenly, there was a field of stars where there had once only been blackness.
“What just happened?” he asked aloud.
“It is gone sir,” the navigation officer reported as he continued to check his readings.
“What on Earth was that?” LiMak asked, using the latest NeHaw slang for a place no one would ever want to go.
Thirteen-year-old Tim Thomas sat astride his hovercycle, parked on a hill, as he watched the scene below him unfold. Suited up in his riding gear, a derivative of the adult combat Battle Dress Uniform or BDU, he could clearly make out the exchange between his father and a group of locals they had happened upon. His riding gear, helmet and all, were configured for the younger, leaner wearer, without the militaristic appearance the adult version had.
He had his helmet magnification turned up so he could see the exchange involving his father and about a dozen armed men. While everything appeared calm, Tim had seen these interactions escalate quickly in the past. It was for that reason that his dad had insisted he wait here, well out of reach of their weapons, while he checked things out.
The decision had frustrated Tim, as he knew he had the same protection in his suit his father had, as well as the strength of several men. As it was with his other half brothers and sisters, Tim had inherited some of his father’s unusual abilities. In his case, he was exceptionally fast and strong, but with limited telepathic abilities. He had discovered his advantages over the other kids his age early on and paid a stiff penalty for the one time he had used it on another boy.
After a scuffle had broken out between himself and another boy, Tim had lost his temper and tossed the kid across the recreation room, breaking the boy’s arm in the process. The event was burned into his memory, although his father had not yelled or lectured him about his actions.
“Follow me,” he had instructed as he led Tim into the workout room three levels down.
Once inside, he had cleared out the occupants and then stared at him before finally commanding him.
“Hit me,” he said as he waved him forward.
Tim was sure it was a trick but did as he was told. For the next twenty minutes, his dad blocked his every attempt, sparing with him aggressively without actually striking him, and giving him a bruising that lasted for days.
“The next time you get angry, I had better find you in here taking it out on this equipment,” he had said before leaving him lying on his back in the center of the exercise mat, battered and exhausted. Tim could only nod in reply as he worked to catch his breath.
Only later did he learn that his mother and ALICE had been watching the whole episode, making sure he never got really hurt. He wasn’t sure if that made him feel any better, but he never again lost his temper with the other kids.
“Tim, can you hear me?” he heard over his headset, bringing him back to the present.
“Yes, dad,” he replied as he noted the tone in his dad’s voice. Tim knew he was about to be schooled.
“How close were you planning on letting those two behind you get?” he heard on his helmet audio.
Not pausing to check his instruments, Tim slammed the hovercycle into hover mode and braced himself for the violent ride straight up to five hundred feet AG, or above ground. Once he leveled off, he checked his displays, noting the two men with rifles, standing no more than a foot away from his previous position. From his current location, he now had a grand view of his father as he pummeled the last of the strangers that had thought to jump him, while the two below him could only stare up in wonder.
This wasn’t the first time Tim had watched a wandering group of drifters take on his dad, but it was the first time he had been this close to danger himself. In his mind, he might have been more than a match for the two below, given the opportunity, but he should have detected their approach long before and he knew it.
He watched as his father checked each of the fallen men, asking ALICE to verify they were still alive. Once finished he requested a pickup for the entire group, including the two who had been stalking Tim. It was standard practice to dispatch a combat team to collect the raiders and bandits after such an encounter and process them.
Each would be evaluated for retention or relocation based on the ALICE’s opinion of their value to the community. Ever since the truce with the NeHaw, an event Tim couldn’t even remember as it was so long ago, his dad and the other grownups had been working harder than ever to restore civilization on earth. Woefully understaffed, no one was dismissed out of hand as useless. It was a rare few that were relocated to places unknown.
Impatient to land, Tim knew better than to come down from his hover before his father told him too. Should he disobey the carefully explained instructions he had received years before, he would lose his exploration privileges. In this case it would be his mother who enforced that rule, not his dad.
After what seemed like forever, a helicopter arrived and Tim watched as it stopped a short distance away. He heard a few gunshots before everything went quiet. Confused at first, he realized they were picking up the two men who had been creeping up on him. He then watched as the helicopter rose once more and quickly landed near his father.
He had watched earlier as his dad had secured the unconscious men and then gathered all the weapons the men had been carrying. As the helicopter landed, several troops exited the rear ramp, jumping clear of the ramp before it had even fully opened.
“OK Tim, you can come on down,” he heard his father say as he watched the troops start loading the men into the helicopter.
Doing as he was told; Tim slowly lowered his hovercycle into position next to his father’s before dismounting and approaching the activity before him. Standing next to his dad, he could see into the helicopter bay, where the security troops, responsible for the policing of the areas around each ALICE facility, were seating each of the prisoners.
Tim had asked one time why they had a separate force for keeping the peace and one for fighting the battles that erupted from time to time as they worked to stabilize the planet. To his eye they all seemed to be equipped and act the same. His father had explained to him that combat troops made a very poor police force as they were trained to kill and destroy. Police on the other hand were trained to subdue and control.
He wasn’t sure he understood the difference, but his father made it sound important so he just went with it.
“That was a good move, jumping to hover until you understood the situation,” his dad commented as the two watched the helicopter being loaded.
“I didn’t know they were there,” Tim admitted slowly.
“I know. I wanted to see how you would react and you did the right thing,” he heard his father say with pride.
“Thanks,” Tim said without looking up at his dad.
“Sometimes, I just want to go for a ride without everything being a test,” he thought silently to himself.
For those of you that have been wondering where in the heck I have been hiding, I’m back. After taking several months to sort out work issues and searching for and buying a house, I am back to writing again. In celebration of a return to normalcy (well my idea of normal anyway) I am putting ALICE up for a free giveaway.
For everyone who only read it via Kindle Unlimited, you can get your own copy at no cost. From May 17th to the 20th, it will be available as a free download. That is all to inspire me to get Book 5 ALICE: Alliance finished and out this year.