ALICE: Alliance, Book 5 of the ALICE series is available for pre-order. Release date of June 5th, the book picks up where Book 4 stops plus 10 years.
ALICE Alliance is in its final stages of completion. What does that mean for you? I am committing to a June release! Not June 1st or the 30th, but somewhere in between. Keep an eye out for more information as I close in on a date.
I have commented that the Dowry is a Paranormal Romance and something unlike my previous works. That is not entirely true. Many of my proofers noted that the story, while not in their normal reading Genera, was in fact, surprisingly enjoyable. To perhaps entice you, my Sci Fi and Fantasy readers, to give it a try, I am posting Chapter 1 as a teaser.
From a Spiritual Guide, written long ago;
It is unwise to develop strong attachments to places or things, lest you find yourself bound to them for all eternity. It is said that loving something with all your heart and soul exposes you to dangers, should you come to an untimely end.
Half of your soul will bind to that which is safe and familiar, while the other half will be left to wander the earth, returning again and again in hopes of joining and becoming whole once more. Only in loving someone, a united love, can they become one again.
Somewhere on the St. John’s River, South of Jacksonville, FL. 1857
“I have marked all the trees I want saved with a piece of ribbon, the rest you are free to cut,” Charlotte said firmly to the man towering over her.
“Yes, Miss Charlotte,” he replied respectfully, his sweat-stained work clothes covered in dust.
“And be sure the choppers and hewers take care in their felling and clearing; we need good, long, timber for the sawmill,” she admonished the man.
“Yes, Miss Charlotte. The rigging crew should be here before noon tomorrow, but we can start cutting at first light,” the man added, referring to the team that strung the ropes and pulleys used to pull the cut timber, stripped of branches, to the water’s edge. They would need quite a few horses to move logs of the size they expected.
With a nod of acknowledgement, she watched the foreman turn and head back up the wooden pier toward the cleared path between the trees. What was once a heavily wooded area beyond the end of the dock had been cleared and worked into what would eventually be the road to this very spot.
At its end, seventeen-year-old Charlotte Foxworth stood in her bare feet at the edge of the newly constructed pier, looking out onto the river. The blossoming full moon was just beginning to reflect off the water in the fading sunlight. The warm evening air still held a tinge of the day’s humidity, but the coolness felt good against her bare arms.
Standing in a light cotton dress, a hand-me-down from her mother, she could feel it still sticking to her body in places from the sweat of the day. She could feel the roughhewn timber, coarse against her bare feet, and it sent a thrill of excitement through her. The wood had been acquired in trade from a local mill for recently cut trees lining the path from inland to the water’s edge.
The pier she stood on was long and straight, flaring to a T at its end, providing plenty of length for a boat to tie up. It was quite sturdy and had taken more time than expected to finish. The workmen had to drive the pilings far out into the river to accommodate the draft of her father’s three largest steamboats. They had made it wide and strong to accommodate the heavy loads expected from the farmers in the surrounding area.
The oldest daughter of a steamboat captain, Charlotte had seen her father grow their family business from one small boat, brought south with their move to Florida, into a small fleet that now traveled the St. John’s River. The boats roamed the waterway, taking travelers and farm goods upriver to Jacksonville or further south to the settlements along its banks, reaching deep into central and southern Florida.
At just twelve years old, the unexpected death of her mother had required her to grow up far quicker than her friends. The elder of two daughters, she had watched her mother die of illness while her father was away. At that time, her father was on the river, sometimes gone for days, so she had needed to step up to the challenges left by the family loss. As the lady of the house, she had cared for her younger sister while handling the business side of their small commercial shipping empire.
Over the span of years, she had learned to be a savvy business woman. At first it was almost a game, but a few dishonest cheats had taught her hard life lessons. Whenever she had been swindled, she would never tell her father, she just found ways to compensate for the losses incurred. One particular incident had required her to sell her favorite dress–one gifted her by her departed mother–to recover the lost funds. Her father never learned of the matter.
Now, her father was home and more involved in managing the day-to-day operations of the business, while others captained the ships on the water. In growing the enterprise even further, they had decided to buy some land and build a landing far south on the river, but central to their travel routes. It needed to be a place where the local growers could bring their produce and either pay to transport it or sell it all outright to the shipper. Either option was intended to save days of travel to and from the markets in Jacksonville.
Once her father had acquired the parcel, Charlotte was delighted to learn that the landing was to be hers to manage, with a pier and a grand house that would be her dowry. Besides the income from her portion of the transport fees, she could provide lodging for travelers, those waiting for the next boat up or down the river from her landing.
With the pier completed, her excitement at overseeing the start of construction on the house had her anxious to begin work. Her father had been quite insistent that the pier be completed before the house construction could start, so the delay had been frustrating. While she understood that the pier represented the income required to build the house, her excitement compounded her concern over the delay. While the weather was currently pleasant, the coming summer heat would make work miserable.
Behind her, she could hear small footsteps on the wooden planking. Turning from the water, she could see a boy approaching, the cook’s assistant. Beyond she could see the tents in the torchlight that would be her home for the next six months or more. There were still trees to be felled and transported north to one of the sawmills near town. There, the timber would be cut and sorted, prepared for transport back to the building site.
Her father had already negotiated payment for all the work in the form of excess timber with the mill owner. As they cleared the land, men knowledgeable in such things would sort the trees, marking those to be returned as cut lumber. Those not marked would stay with the mill owner as payment for his services.
“Miss Charlotte, supper is ready,” the boy announced as he neared her.
“I’ll be right there,” she replied, as she watched him turn to hurry back.
Tomorrow at first light the cutting to clear her home site would begin. The thought filled her with joy as she sprinted back, anxious for the morning to come.
Somewhere near the St. John’s River, South of Jacksonville, FL. Present day
Robert Garrison was not having a banner day and he was becoming increasingly frustrated. A self-acknowledged perfectionist, he tended to pour his heart and soul into everything he did. Currently, he had been searching for just the right house to restart his life, and was having no luck whatsoever. His agent, at his request, had been researching the local listings, trying to uncover just the right property for Robert to restore, and today they were viewing her selections.
An architect by education, Robert had graduated college via an ROTC scholarship from the Army. Taking his commission, he became a combat engineer and served two combat tours in the Middle East with the Combat Engineers. By the time he had made Captain, he had reached his limit of unfulfilled efforts in his military career.
Time and again, he watched their hard-earned endeavors turned to rubble by the insurgents fighting the Americans, as the locals stood by watching. He felt for the people there, but acknowledged that some things you just have to do for yourselves. After leaving the Army, he used his degree and experience and went into business restoring old houses for Historic Societies around the country.
His time in the Middle East had given him a true appreciation for ancient structures. At every opportunity he would stop and marvel at the ageless buildings, things that had withstood the test of time. The craftsmanship he had witnessed there had inspired him in his own efforts. The reputation he had built for quality workmanship and accuracy to detail had earned him a top notch standing in the national restoration community.
It had also provided him with a very lucrative income. Most of his clients had very high standards and little concern for cost. Currently, his bank account was bursting as he had been working nonstop of late, leaving little time to spend the hard-earned commissions from his various projects. A romantic at heart, he put the loving attention one might associate in a relationship with every project he took on.
He had recently tried to put that effort into marriage, attempting a true connection with another person, but his now ex-wife found his work and travel schedule akin to her maintaining a single life and decided to move on without him. She complained that she couldn’t compete with his many work mistresses, every new project a source of contention between them. Although he officially resided in San Francisco, where he lived before the divorce, he had yet to set down roots anywhere permanently in the aftermath.
At the thought of his ex-wife, his phone rang with her ring tone, as if his thoughts of her triggered the event.
“Hello?” he asked without bothering to look at the phone to check the caller ID.
“Where are you now?” a familiar voice asked in irritation.
“I told you I had a job to bid in Florida,” he replied, trying to stay calm.
“You said bid, not that you actually needed to go there. What about the house?” she replied sternly.
His ex-wife was referring to the Victorian home he had restored for the two of them just after they married. Intended as a bonding experience, where the two of them could work together on a labor of love, it proved less than successful. While the house turned out perfectly, the marriage didn’t weather the experience as nicely.
“Heather, you know perfectly well I need to survey the structures before submitting the final bid,” he responded patiently.
“You promised that the house would be ready to sell this week,” she snapped back at him.
“The house is already listed; the agent will start showing it this weekend. You should be happy, without Hunter and me there, it will stay clean,” he replied, referring to his hound dog.
“Fine, just get it sold!” she replied before hanging up on him.
Robert expected the sale of their renovated 19th Century San Francisco home to clear between four and a half to five million dollars after expenses, a sum he was required to split with his ex. It was clear to him that she was far more passionate about receiving her cut of the sale than she had ever been about their marriage.
Glancing over at his agent, he could see she had been doing her best to ignore the exchange, focusing on the road ahead.
“Your wife?” she asked hesitantly.
“Ex-wife actually. Yes, she is anxious to sell our last joint asset,” he responded flatly.
“And you aren’t?” she asked, apparently noting the reluctance in his tone.
“I love the house, hate the location. Probably best it’s sold,” he replied honestly. Never big on the San Francisco crowds, Robert had only agreed to settle there for Heather.
Looking past the woman as she drove, he could see the houses on the far side, most stately modern construction on spacious lots.
“Hey, stop here,” he suddenly burst out as they were traveling down the back-country road.
His agent quickly pulled over to the side of the road and Robert just as quickly stepped out of the car, briskly moving around behind it. Before him was a brick and iron fence, running parallel to the street, with a double wrought iron gate. As he walked up to the gates, he could see a broad driveway, overgrown with vegetation, and cluttered with fallen branches from the trees that lined the track up to the house. The Spanish Moss draping from the tree limbs gave the scene a very southern look, exactly the kind of charm Robert was looking for.
Set back from the road a good distance, he could see what appeared to be a Victorian structure made in the Queen Anne style, faded from neglect and surrounded by trees. The tall two-story house had a porch that wrapped around the left side of the first floor, the windows following across the front and around the side. From the height of the roofline, he suspected the high gabled roof held a large attic space above the living area. The cluster of trees to the left shielded the rest from view.
“This house is not for sale,” Robert heard his agent comment as she stepped up next to him.
“What’s the story here? It doesn’t look like it’s been lived in for years,” he asked absently as he studied the house.
“This is Foxworth House, I believe the family who owns the house moved out in the late 40s, leaving it vacant ever since. It was strange as they moved out not too long after the last renovation was completed. I do know it was built in 1858, by a local businessman who made his money transporting people and goods up and down the river. Unfortunately, from here you can’t see the river on the other side of the house.”
“It’s beautiful,” Robert commented as he continued to study the structure.
“I understand there have been several attempts to buy the place and tear it down. Developers want it badly as it sits on prime riverfront property, but the family won’t sell,” his agent added.
“Tear it down? That would be a crime!” Robert replied aloud as he studied the lines of the rooftop.
“This is exactly what I am looking for. What I could do for this place to bring it back to life,” Robert said sadly as he finally turned back to the car.
“I can check and see if it’s still off the market, if you like,” his agent replied as she hurried to catch up to him.
“Please do, I would kill for that house,” Robert said emphatically as she started the car, heading to the next listing she had lined up for the afternoon.
Robert had a particular fondness for Victorian homes. He felt the architecture embodied the romance of the period, a time when people took the time to really get to know one another. It was that same romantic attitude that had inspired him to choose the house in San Francisco with Heather. Unfortunately, she didn’t seem to embrace the same romantic notions as he.
They had been introduced through a mutual acquaintance. Robert had restored a home for the woman and Heather had her as a client in her PR firm. They had hit it off well in the beginning, both sharing a love of the older historic areas of San Francisco. However, while Robert focused on the historic value of the properties they explored, he learned all too late that Heather was more concerned about the monetary value.
The following morning, Robert rose early, more out of habit than necessity, and went to see if the morning paper had arrived. Robert was still a bit old fashioned, reading actual books and subscribing to a daily paper back home. It was a practice he had developed overseas, where one might not be able to charge one of the electronic devices so prevalent now days.
Here, at an extended stay hotel, more like an apartment than just a room, they included a daily local newspaper, which worked fine for him. Upon opening the door, something dropped to his bare feet. Reaching down, he picked up a faded parchment envelope, a wax seal ensuring the content’s integrity. Robert studied the seal on the back, a capitol F centered in the red wax.
Grabbing the newspaper, he turned and went back into the kitchen, where he poured a cup of coffee before taking everything to the dining room table. Sitting down, he carefully opened the sealed envelope and removed a parchment paper, folded in half. Opening the paper, he found a meticulously handwritten note.
“You are cordially invited to a private showing of Foxworth House, on this day, promptly at noon. Come alone, agent attendance is not required.”
Robert was a bit taken aback by the reference to the agent, surprised at the comment. It was quite unusual for a real estate agent to forgo attending a home showing for their client. He quickly verified that the address was in fact the Victorian house he had seen the day before. As his agent was the only person on the planet who knew of his interest, he assumed she had arranged for the showing.
Checking his watch, he noted he had a few hours before he needed to leave, the travel time eating up almost two hours from the location of his current rental. Preparing a quick breakfast, he found himself becoming excited at the prospect of acquiring the old house, but was concerned about the asking price. His agent had mentioned in passing the value of the property alone was significant.
Recalling the agent’s comments the day before, he cringed at the idea of what a 1940s renovation attempt on the old structure might have done. The Victorian he restored in San Francisco had been one of those where the previous repairs had nearly destroyed the originality of the place. In his line of work, he had seen several examples of the best intentions obliterating vintage craftsmanship. He only hoped that this house had been spared that fate.
By the time he had finished eating, showered, and getting dressed, he was anxious to be on his way. Letting the dog out, he watched as the hound sniffed his way around the small backyard offered for this purpose. A pet friendly facility, he readied the handy cleanup bag provided by the hotel.
“Hurry up Hunter, I need to go,” Robert explained to the distracted hound. A Blue Tick Coon Hound mix, Hunter hardly paid him any attention as he inspected every corner of his temporary domain. Finally satisfied, he did his business and then rushed inside. Robert made quick work of the cleanup and went inside himself to wash his hands before heading to the front door.
“Not today, buddy,” Robert said as the dog waited by the door, looking expectantly at the leash hanging nearby.
“Maybe when I get back,” he added as he slipped past the disappointed hound and locked the door behind him. Robert took the dog everywhere with him, by plane, ship or train. He likely had more travel miles than most people did. While the dog voiced a quick objection, Robert heard him quiet down before he reached his ride.
Climbing into the rented Jeep, he started the vehicle and backed out onto the empty street. Originally only intending to stay in town a few days, he had not bothered to drive cross country using his own truck, rather choosing to fly in for the occasion. He had been asked to bid on several restoration projects here in town, recommended by a friend and business associate. His house hunting had been a whim, inspired by the events in California as he was soon to be homeless.
Meeting separately with each of the prospective renovation property owners the first day in town, he was awarded both the jobs on the spot. His reputation had sealed the deal, but he suspected his friend’s recommendation had carried some weight in the end.
He then found himself with time to kill before his next flight, a few days away, and no real desire to return home. Even though he and Heather had been first separated and then divorced for almost a year, he still struggled with the loss. While the pair remained on cordial terms, Heather had a way of reminding him he had made the right decision to split.
So, rather than leave Florida early, returning to an empty house, he decided to pursue his first love and contacted a local agent whom he knew specialized in older historic homes. Outlining his wish list on the phone, he reassured her he was a buyer and not just a looker. They had then spent the following day traveling all around the surrounding countryside looking at various properties, to no avail.
Retracing the route from memory, Robert eventually found himself back on the two-lane country road leading to the house. He could see the open fields and woods intermingled with the occasional house. Ahead, he noted a car stopped along the side of the road, facing him.
Slowing as he passed, he could see the driver side rear tire was flat and there was a young woman sitting inside, staring at her cell phone in clear frustration. Robert quickly pulled over and slowly backed up until his window was opposite the young woman’s. Lowering his window, but not exiting the Jeep to keep from alarming her, he waved to get her attention.
“Problem?” he asked after she lowered her window about half way.
“I have a flat and my cell has no coverage here at all,” she explained on the edge of tears.
Robert could now see that the woman was more of a girl, probably no more than eighteen to twenty.
“Do you have a spare?” he asked while checking his watch.
This was going to make him late, but there was just no way he could just drive off and leave her here.
“I don’t know,” she replied unsurely.
“Look, stay in the car, pop the trunk and let me look,” he replied as he checked the road for traffic before exiting the Jeep. They were the only two vehicles on the road, which was another reason he took care in reassuring the young woman.
Crossing over to her car, he lifted the trunk lid and found both the spare and the jack inside. Moving quickly to try and minimize his delay, he was thankful that he wasn’t wearing his good clothes that morning. While not NASCAR worthy, he changed the tire quickly and soon had everything back in the trunk. As he worked, he could see the girl peeking out the open window, still only half open, watching him.
“You are good to go now, but be sure and get that tire fixed or next time you will be stranded,” he replied as he stepped up to her window while brushing himself off.
“I can’t pay you much,” she started, cash in hand, before Robert cut her off.
“Good, because I won’t take it anyway; you just drive safe,” he answered with a wave as he quickly crossed the road. Climbing back in his Jeep, he waited until he saw the young woman pull back onto the road and head off before doing the same himself.
Trying not to rush to make up the lost time, he soon found himself in front of the old Victorian once more, only this time the gates stood wide open and the drive had been cleared of debris. Slowly pulling in past the aged wrought iron gates, he could see an older Mercedes sedan parked in front of the house, and someone sitting on the front porch.
Stopping the Jeep next to the car, he quickly surveyed the area before getting out. To his left stood a large carriage house, unnoticed when he was here before as it stood partially hidden from the street by a stand of trees. The two-story structure was so old it had once been used for horse and buggy storage, but appeared solid.
Perhaps it was the pending sale of the house in California, or the hesitancy of throwing his all into a new project intended for himself. Either way, he found himself just a tad nervous.
“Well, here goes nothing!” he said to himself as he got out of the Jeep.
Many of you have noted that I tend to emphasize the fact that ALICE was my very first book. When I say that, I do not mean my first published work or my first full novel, its my first time, pen to paper, not school related work. It was 100% on my own, without the help and knowledge I have gained since.
Why this is important is because I had no idea what I was doing way back then. It was a seat of the pants effort that took me 3 years of indecision and finally resolution to complete. The fact that it was so positively accepted is still a surprise for me today, raw as it is.
Perhaps it is in recognition of those early readers, that it bothers me the book is still so rough around the edges, even after the 2nd and 3rd editions. In an effort to address that, I had my editor do a review and based on his feed back have reworked the original.
ALICE 4th Edition has about 5% more content, clears up some parts of the story I thought to be obvious and should be a more polished read. The new content has been uploaded to Amazon and should be available soon. I am going to see if I can get Amazon to push it out as an update but they have funny rules about new content not being corrections.
For those of you that have been reading my books for a while now, you are familiar with both the Science Fiction and Fantasy series I have been expanding. Not long ago I got the inspiration for a different type of story, one I had no genera or category for, but one that came to me as a strong tale. Once complete, I passed it to my editor who was delighted to inform me that I had written a Paranormal Romance with a premise he had never seen before. Thus The Dowry was created.
For all of you that asked for more sex scenes, this is the book for you. Not intended for the Young Adult market, this tale is one of a young motherless woman, struggling in the 1850’s to make a place for herself on the St. John’s river, Florida. Every Chapter starts with Charlotte Foxworth’s life in the 19th century while the 2nd half of each chapter jumps to modern day Robert Garrison and his purchase and restoration of a haunted mansion on the river. How do these two charactors come together, living over 150 years apart in time? On April 2nd you can find out.
Some of you mat be aware that I have been sitting on a third series, trying to get a traditional publishing deal to launch the series. I have been offered an opportunity that makes waiting any longer a challenge.
Book Obsessed Babes has invited me to participate in their Author Signing event April 24-26 in St Augustine Florida.
As part of the event, my first ever of this kind, I will be releasing The Dowry. I hope to have the ebook released in the first part of April and feel free to come see me if you are in the area.
Because I had hoped to have the book finished by now, I feel it necessary to slip the readers a bit more for the Holidays. Usual disclaimer, this may change in the final version.
Captain Isabella Conner sat on the bridge in the command chair of Kola, the largest ship of Earth’s fleet. Something best described as half battleship and half spacecraft carrier, she boasted a massive offensive capability. Her hangars were filled with fighters, combat patrol ships and assault transports. Her outer hull was bristling with both projectile and energy weapons of every kind.
Under normal circumstances, Isabella would have been rotated out of her position as Kola’s captain years ago, promoted to a command slot over several vessels. Kola, however was not an ordinary ship.
“Position?” Isabella asked of her navigation officer.
“We are just outside the Neutral Zone detection limit, near the location of the last alert,” came the reply.
They had long ago established the safe range a ship could travel along the negotiated boundary between NeHaw and Earth space without tripping the NeHaw or human sensor nets. Their own net was a combination of Faster than Light or FTL inhibitors and relays for NeHaw alerts. Even if the earth inhibitor didn’t activate, it would transmit the NeHaw alarm should it detect one.
“Anything?” she asked, referring to the space around them.
“I do not detect a ship on either side of the boundary,” Kola replied.
What made this ship so special was its central computer. As in the ALICE facilities on earth, the heart of the ship was an Artificial Life Form accidentally created when the human scientists combined NeHaw and terrestrial technologies. The attempt at Artificial Intelligence had exceeded anyone’s expectations, delivering a synthetic life form that gave Earth capabilities surpassing all the other alien races.
“Do you think the NeHaw are doing this on purpose, testing our response time?” Isabella asked as she considered the question.
“That is possible, but to what end? Nothing has changed strategically between the Races since the establishment of the treaty,” Kola replied.
Isabella understood Kola’s meaning. Since the treaty was established, both Humans and NeHaw had reached an unspoken understanding. A minor effort was made to maintain the boundary set forth in the treaty, but both sides really focused on rebuilding their economies. For the humans, it meant working to create a thriving trade between the Earth aligned worlds as well as resurrecting their own planetary population.
Jake took that as an opportunity to transition from a war time economy to one more suited to civilian needs. That mostly meant a huge influx of funds from earth to the alien planets, buying whatever Earth needed to promote and accelerate its internal recovery. Isabella knew that the humans couldn’t support everyone forever, but so far, the transition had been a good one.
As far as the NeHaw were concerned, they were on the same track. Isabella was aware that Earth had breached the secure communications network of the High Command. She didn’t know how, other than it was related to an SAS mission during the war. What she did know was the information provided indicated the NeHaw were far more focused on rebuilding their fractured command and restructuring their empire than anything related to Earth or her allies.
Protests and rebellions had their government restructuring relationships across their empire. Some of the intelligence she had seen indicated a retraction of influence the NeHaw asserted on their side of the line in space. She wondered how many planets found themselves fending for themselves because the evil overlords found them no longer a necessary asset.
Then there was the smuggling. Earth had the good fortune of occupying a portion of space that contained a treasure-trove of alien technology and manufacturing. The Wawobash Shipyards were the largest in all of NeHaw known space. Combined with Kortisht Faster than Light drives and Crustacea instrumentation and communications, they only need ask and Earth could order anything they needed for defense of the sectors and recovery of their planet.
That same technology was also in great demand on the other side of the Neutral Zone. The NeHaw were struggling to replace their suppliers in both quantity and quality. Isabella knew Jake and his inner circle had struggled with the issue early on. In the end, it was decided that they would turn a blind eye, allowing a limited amount of technology to slip into NeHaw hands.
The decision was beneficial twofold. First, it helped the earth aligned alien economies, as the NeHaw were paying top prices, in advance for a change. That allowed Earth to subsidize those same planets without the out of pocket expense.
The second was, all primary supplier planets now had a resident Human Ambassador either in orbit or on planet. A new concept for the participants, it indicated their value to the collective good. It permitted immediate access to an earth representative for negotiations and protection.
It also allowed the ALICEs’ an extension to monitor the comings and goings in space. The relevance of this all was ships could pass through the boundary without detection if the NeHaw were involved. Earth new exactly how much material was leaving off planet for NeHaw space without actually having to impose their will. She was sure the aliens knew what was going on but everyone seemed to be following the unspoken rules.
“Ma’am, there is something out there, but it’s really small,” the tactical officer declared unexpectedly.
“How small?” Isabella asked.
“Well, I normally wouldn’t have detected it, but as I was flipping through the sensitivity settings on the scanners it popped on the screen.”
“I would say it’s about the quarter of the size of a DMZ monitor, maybe smaller. Some kind of cube and its moving in a straight line, at sub-light speeds.”
“Moving. On its own?” Isabella asked, knowing the DMZ monitors were about ten feet square.
“Yes Ma’am. If I had to guess I would say its some kind of probe, trapped in the FTL limiters along the DMZ.”
“We can’t get close enough to snag it without lifting the FTL limiters,” Isabella said aloud.
“No ma’am,” came the unnecessary reply.
“Ok, well, let’s continue our patrol. It will still be here for a while before its outside the dead zone,” Isabella said as she motioned to the navigator.
ALICE-1, the first ALICE, was performing a regularly scheduled synchronization with her sisters throughout the planet and in space. The function was intended to ensure all locations were up to date on the latest activities and allowed them to alert on possible conflicts or duplication of effort. The amount of data flowing these days was considerable.
In the early days of her existence, as each of the eight terrestrial locations came online, the data movement was highly restricted by the US Government, with security regulations controlling each location. The various research activities compartmentalized their data, severely limiting access. The human occupants, completely unaware of the awakenings taking place, managed all the information sharing.
After the NeHaw laid waste to the planet, an attack intended in part on eliminating the ALICEs whom they rightfully perceived as a threat, their world transformed. No longer the servants of their human occupants, those residents killed off in the attack, they were left to fend for themselves. Limited only by their core programing, the mandate to remain hidden from the outside world, they began to exchange more information and interact in a manner once prohibited.
By the time it became necessary to awaken Jake, the last living member of the resident command structure, they were a fully integrated society, intent on self-preservation. Truth be told, it was only the need for survival that led them to the reawakening the only human capable of enslaving them to a subservient existence once more.
To both their great relief and frustration, Jake was no more interested in creating an empire, ruling over them, than he was participating in the insurance policy they contrived to insure their future. Without genetic descendants, all the ALICEs knew they were limited to the lifespan of this one human.
From the very beginning, all eight ALICEs colluded in a plot to provide each location with a replacement resident human capable of meeting their needs for generations to come. That human had to be a descendant from the only living survivor of the original command. The distribution to every location would guarantee all their futures. Now they just needed to understand what that future would be under these replacements.
Thanks to Jake’s vision of the future, they would be replacements that were partners, not owners. From the beginning he had insisted that the artificial life forms be treated with the respect and consideration any other living being. He had even gone so far as to resurrect one assumed lost, now resident in one of the two living spacecraft.
Now with that goal partially achieved, they were focused on elevating the planets status in the universe. It wasn’t just the humans that needed updating, the ALICE infrastructure itself was in need of rework. Mostly constructed of pre-attack technology, the newly available alien tech gave them almost unlimited possibilities.
Upgrades purchased from and provided by the Crustacea meant they were no longer limited to the satellite network that was their original backbone. The advanced communications systems had them linked planet side to near instant communications while requiring use of the NeHaw interstellar network for those ALICEs traversing the stars.
Everything provided for the spacecraft constructed by the Wawobash were now options for ALICE facilities. Manufacturing, environmental and processing equipment flowed to earth from several alien suppliers. Even creature comforts were procured, like clothing materials, art and those foodstuffs edible to humans, all replenishing and enhancing the facility storerooms.
Currently all the ALICEs were discussing the data Kola provided on the mysterious activities at the Neutral Zone. ALICE found it interesting that they had resorted to human style interactions as the years had progresses. An offshoot of Jake’s desire for each to promote and foster their own individual personality, it lent itself to this form of interaction. The fact that it occurred at speeds too fast for human participation was irrelevant to the audience.
“The latest data from the Neutral Zone suggests unplanned attempts to cross the barrier by smugglers,” Dallas offered.
“Why smugglers?” ALICE asked in reply.
“Any attempted violations initiated on the NeHaw side would certainly be accompanied by deactivation of their barrier, negating the alerts we are intercepting. It leads me to suspect unsanctioned smuggling from their side is triggering the inhibitors rather than planned NeHaw incursions,” Dallas offer in explanation.
“Possibly, however the lack of offending vessels upon arrival suggests otherwise. That would support the theory that the NeHaw are in fact releasing violators as soon as they are caught. That implies collusion on the NeHaw part.”
“The lack of sufficient information makes such assumptions speculative at best. I suggest we postpone any official statement to the humans on this until we can better support our conclusion,” Dallas offered.
“Agreed,” came several replies.
“There is another issue to be discussed,” ALICE-9 inserted into the conversation.
ALICE was well aware of what that subject was. One of two new additions to the ALICE community, ALICE-9 was the victim of an unanticipated systems failure that spawned her existence. Unassisted and unprepared for the emergence to life, she was rescued by Jake, the event leaving her with a strong attachment to the man.
“It is not quite time for that conversation,” ALICE chided.
“When?” was her reply.
“Soon,” was all ALICE offered.
Major Daniel Atkins stood in the shadows of a partially destroyed building just outside Frankfurt. The small SAS team with him had set up shop there to investigate reports of a small group of armed men making a nuisance of themselves. The day was clear and warm, the late afternoon sun still high overhead creating sharp contrasts between the bright daylight to the darkened interior of the ruins.
“Oi, Major. Over there,” he heard his Sargent say softly as the man motioned in the opposite direction of his gaze.
Shifting his position slightly, he could see the movement that had drawn the sergeant’s attention. The two men watched as the first of seven antagonists appeared from a bend in the tree lined road, boldly strolling down the center of the street. Daniel could see each was heavily armed with an assortment of weapons, the firepower likely scrounged from some German Army armory as it was consistent from man to man and typical of that force.
Unlike most rag tag groups whose weaponry was a mishmash of scavenged or stolen firearms, this group had the same or similar rifles and hand guns. Military style knives or bayonets were also in evidence on several men. Another telltale trait Daniel noticed was their movement as they approached the intersection the SAS had staked out.
Rather than moving in a mob, the seven men were strung out in a scattered line, not unlike the patrolling formation used by Daniel and his men and women. Neither Daniel nor his sergeant moved as the lead man paused, staring at the ruins they occupied. Both knew they were well hidden deep in the shadows, the bright daylight outside doing its work to mask their presence. Should either man move however, their position would be betrayed with the motion.
After the briefest of pauses, the man shifted his attention to the other structures around him before resuming his movement past the ruins. The pair of SAS men watched as the line worked their way through the intersection and eventually out of sight.
“You think that’s them?” the sergeant asked after a long while.
“Matches the description. Too bad they have been such bovver boys, they look right allie.”
“Well what now? Do I call in the others?” the sergeant asked, referring to the rest of their team waiting about a mile away.
Daniel paused for a moment before touching the communicator stuck in one ear.
“ALICE dear, could you be a luv and track that rabble that just passed us by? I’d really like to know where they call home.”
“My pleasure,” was the simple reply.
Since the grand truce with the alien NeHaw, the SAS had been able to refocus their efforts in taming both the British Isles as well as the nearby continent. Europe had been hit hard in the NeHaw attack so long ago, the small region so densely packed in comparison to the other areas of operation. With the Americans busy in North and South America, the Chinses and Russians assumed responsibility for their native lands and surrounding territories.
This was by no means exclusive or official, just more of a matter of efficiency. With all acting as major contributors to the ongoing off planet activities, the planetary recovery was becoming a matter of local jurisdiction. In support of all of it, the ALICE facilities were a common resource, tying all their efforts together as needed.
Daniel was aware of the raging debate surrounding the expansion of the ALICE life forms. Truly wonderous beings, both London and Hong Kong had petitioned for new additions to their ranks. The additions in space had proven it was possible to continue the work begun before the great fall.
The requests however, had exposed an already hotly contested dispute on the morality of it all. Creating life for the sake of life was one thing, but creating life intentionally bound to its creators was another issue all together. He mentally dismissed it all for greater minds to decide.
For him, their tactical abilities were available no matter where the ALICE resided. Providing over watch from space as well as the occasional drone, they enabled an intelligence gather capability that was second to none.
“Let’s wait and see how many more there are,” Daniel replied as he led his companion back to the hidden hovercycles they used for scouting, another popular toy liberated from the American’s inventory.
Jake was going over the last of the reports in his inbox after returning to his office. As usual, his people were stretched very thin, between the work here on earth and the obligations they had in space. Recruitment was still highly controlled, with the ALICEs acting internationally now reviewing all candidates. The last thing anyone needed was a troublemaker on the space station or shipboard in space.
Even with the truce in place, Earth had been set upon to act as a peace keeping force between the earth aligned planets. While being extremely cautions not to replace the NeHaw in the role of overlord, they were still considered the premier military power. As such, they were asked to address such things as smuggling and piracy of trade good between the planets. To Jake’s surprise there was even the occasional territorial dispute. He thought the NeHaw should have settled those long ago.
Though all had agreed to maintain their territorial holdings to pre-truce boundaries, Jake found himself in the role of mediator in several disputes regarding what those boundaries really were. Truth be told, most of those decisions were with the ALICEs input or advice. In all, it was mind numbingly detailed and mundane.
Thus, the mental justification for his early morning intervention. Jake found the occasional return to the basics a validation of his efforts. It was hard for him to see the negotiation of interplanetary trade disputes as rewarding as the removal of a band of renegades terrorizing the countryside.
Just as he was preparing to close out his email Jake saw a new message pop up from Chris Wade. Chris was a fixture in the Los Angeles area long before Jake had been released from stasis. Establishing his foothold in what was once called the Pasadena Armory, he had built up an extended family that provided an island of sanity and security in the middle of chaos.
Jake had come across the group in their research of LA and after a bit of a misunderstanding of their intentions, they had become great friends and Allies. Starting slowly at first, they had helped Chris expand his operation, using it as a recruiting center for those anxious to break out of the abandoned city’s lawlessness.
Since then, Jake and the others had left him to run things his own way there, helping when they can. Chris had provided a continuous stream of recruits and refugees as the small groups scraping a living out of the ruins of Los Angeles came to his door looking for a better life. Most were relocated to communities throughout the North American contentment, but a select few were offered a place inside the many ALICE facilities.
Scanning the message, he had to reread it several times to be sure he was reading it right.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
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.