Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 38: So Close, yet so far...

We continued to run for a while. The boosters finally synced and we linked to the Jefferson network. I am sure every alarm on the planet went off right then.

UNKNOWN BOOSTERS! DANGER! DANGER!

LOCATION FOUND! MEEP! MEEP! MEEP!

I am sure they had locked down the network to only known machines, boosters, computers, etc. but, I'd hardly be a Merry Prankster if I could have hacked around that. I'd actually made sure our "clean" boosters were considered 'known' some time ago. And I built a bot to help with anything the security folks might come up with. Not really intelligent, just ...adaptable.

We all tried to call our parents, but we got BII agents instead. Between gasping breaths and barely breathing gasps, we explained where we were and what was happening and can YOU HURRY UP AND ACTUALLY SAVE US ALREADY!?!

Oh the irony, adults had been trying to save us the entire time we were running around on this adventure when we didn't need it. We'd scoffed and smirked and rolled our eyes even when we were terrified. We didn't NEED saving. Until we did. And here and now, we needed that saving. We wanted out of this insanity. We hadn't seen Helmet die, but he was going to. And this was too much. What could I say? We were 12 and we'd had enough.

Beautiful irony that though.

Delicious even.

Tasty.

That I tried to get through to Mom though and the BII agent had intercepted it was going to be VERY bad for the BII agents later. Mom was going to eat them alive. Dad would have been infuriatingly reasonable. Mom on the other hand...someone had come between her and her scared and endangered beloved daughter. That BII agent might not make it out alive.

We ran and gasped and blurted out everything we could. They had our location and in a calm collected voice replied:

"Stay alive and keep coming towards us. Put as much distance between you and the Chinese as you can. Keep a data stream open and the Marines will be there in ten minutes."

We ran. We fell. We tried. Our lungs were about to burst. Up and over rough terrain, down the other side. We kept going as fast as we could.

Four minutes later, our signals were jammed.

The Chinese had found us.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 37: Really, world!?! Really?!

Captain Li fed up.  It wasn't anything fancy.  It was Chinese military rations.  Therefore, like most rations, not the greatest.  She really was trying to show she was sincere and meant us no harm.  Yes, it did occur to me she might have drugged the food, so we did pick at random the different things and tried them.  While American cuisine was pretty worldly, Jefferson had limited options and limited ingredients, since some plants and animals just couldn't be raised.  It meant we had our own cuisine in the making and Chinese, real Chinese, was rather different than ours.

It wasn't bad per se, but not what we were used to.

With a little food and some time to calm down, we were starting to get back into the snarky side.  We were still a little nervous.

Captain Li made one more request then: she insisted on collecting our boosters and the balklavas.  She didn't want us to contact the grownups before she was done with her mission and didn't want us to try to sneak away.  She would never think some frontier kids would ever be sneaky enough to get away and cause problems.  Especially not us.  Oh no.  She just wanted to be sure.  As a precaution, you know.

She was being snarky on top of cuting us AND being honest AND treating us like almost adults even.  This woman was dangerous.  She knew what buttons to press.  And despite knowing this, against my better judgment, I started to like her.

Something inside her battle armor meeped, apparently whatever direct neural link she'd ignored while talking to us and this was the backup talking to her.  Her eyes glazed over for a moment, distracted as she communed with her machine side and then she blinked and gave orders in Chinese.  All the other soldiers save one put on their helmets.

Captain Li turned to us and told us they were off to hunt the Indians.  She was leaving one soldier to watch over us and make sure nothing happened - whether to us or us escaping!  They would be back later, hopefully when their mission was accomplished.

With that, Captain Li and six soldiers left through the cave flap opening and the lone soldier who didn't seem to know English released the bug zapping drone again.  

We sat and sat and waited.  Boredom was killing us.  Worse than leeches and taxitos.  We were going more than a bit nuts.  Then Tom did the only rational thing we could do.  He took a nap!  WHAT THE HECK!

It was rational.  It was actually very smart.  It was also infuriating.  Then Jackie curled up as well and slept.  TRAITOR!

Two hours in, they woke up and Tom gave us is surliest grin I'd ever seen from him.  We returned the looked with the scorchingest glares we could muster.  Jackie we might not talk to ever again, but that "ever again" would probably last a whole two seconds.  But, you know, it was the thought that counted.

We were chatting quietly about nothing of import, trying to stave off death by boredom, when there was a CRACK! 

The soldier's helmet spun around and went bouncing.

She rose so fast it almost seemed like one second she was sitting and then she was standing.  Her gun pointed out the cave. Then somebody swung down and into the cave, totally smashing through the membrane covering door.  The soldier fired and it was deafening in the cave and we ducked to the ground and covered our ears.

CRACK!  CRACK!  CRACK!

She hit the person charging towards her.  The individual staggered, grabbed her and then stuffed something in her face.  We heard the buzzing and started screaming.  It was a bag.  A bag full of TAXITOS!

WE WERE ALL GOING TO DIE!  

She screamed too and when she inhaled...taxitos.  Uber yuck.  

She collapsed and the person who had attacked her collapsed on top of her.  We were cowering in the corner when the attacker pushed himself up and grabbed the zapper drone.  He flipped it on and it went to work.  Given how many seemed to be burned from the air near us, it was not a moment too soon.

The person pushed himself up and we saw: it was Helmet.

He'd come to save us.

Not that we were really in any danger, but...

It seems to me a lot of the danger we've been in on this adventure had been the adults thinking or doing things that got US in danger.  Well intentioned those actions might have been, they made this whole thing far more dangerous than we ever would have faced on our own.

Nonono, I'm not facing the fact WE went out into this situation on our own.  Nope!  Can't Make me!  Nyah!

Helmet moved to sit and looked at us.  He was in very bad shape.  The soldier had fired true.  if not for the armor, he'd be splattered all over the place.  He smiled at us and pushed himself up onto his knees.  Then he rummaged around and found our headgear.  He threw it to us.  We really, really quickly put it on.

He told Jaideep had died in the fighting and he'd escaped to try to flee to Shadwell to turn himself in.  However, he felt guilty about us and came looking.  He found our trail and followed us.  He had to hide like we had when the Marines came through.  Then he followed the rest of the way.  He saw there were too many soldiers to take on by himself, so he ordered his drones to attack the Chinese drones when they got close to the Church again.  That drew the Chinese off. And here he was.  For a little while.  It was obvious he didn't have long.

He removed his helmet.  And, yes, he was definitely not Indian.  Based on his accent and his appearance, probably Nigeria.  Almost certainly given everything we'd heard.  He had me come over and take something.  It was a small data drive and told me to take it home.  I did, but knew I had to get rid of it.  The Chinese were likely to find us and if I had that...not good.

He told us it was time to run again and wished us well.  He prayed something, something quiet and told us to go.  We did.  We ran.  We ran out of the cave as fast as we could and beelined towards Shadwell as fast as our still growing legs could take us.  As we ran, we synced with our boosters.  It takes longer when you are doing something else: we were calling home as fast as we could.

About ten minutes after, I stopped and picked a distinctive rock and hid the data drive under it.

And then we ran.

The boosters were still syncing.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 36: Adventure is...

My father once told me, in one of his pithy bits of Dad wisdom, that adventure was someone far away in deep deep trouble, terrified out of their mind, that happened some time ago and now was edited for the listener or reader.  Normally, he said, it was explaining in far, far more colorful metaphors.  I didn't believe him.  I had, with my enormous wisdom of my then eleven long years, rolled my eyes and basically snarked "Yeah whatever, dad."

Sometimes the grownups had a point.  Sometimes, even my Dad.  

As the Chinese soldier pointed his rifle - we knew it was a guy based on his voice this time despite armor hiding gender - at us, I was afraid.  And while I knew we were in deep sticky brown trouble, I thought we out of it.  But, no, the goddess of adventures, whomever she may be, obvious was not yet done with us and a proverbial tentacle reached out and grabbed us to pull us back in.  Just when we thought we were out.  We were pulled back in.  

We were scared.  No, terrified.  But we availed NOT to wet ourselves.  Ha!  We did better than Aneiren!

The Chinese soldier motioned for us to stand up.  We did.  Slowly and carefully.  No one wanted to be turned into a into a lot of Earthlife jelly.  That would totally poison the environment!  Can't have that!  Snark.

He motioned us to walk.  The fighting had stopped and he was moving us away from the battlefield.  He was also moving us away from Shadwell.  Sigh.

He moved us quite quickly though and in about ten minutes, he stopped us, popped a tent over us and had us sit down.  Weirdly, he didn't even bother collecting our needlers.  I guess we were not really a threat to him with them.  just after the Indians?  Indian and Nigerian? had done so, it felt a little weird.  They MIGHT be dangerous to him, a little bit, if there was some way to explode all the rounds at once, but no manufacturer would have designed it that way.  That was simply stupidly dangerous.  And with software bots now acting as lawyers, it would be an instant fail for the company: sued into oblivion in 3 milliseconds.  Never mind all the people hurt and probably killed.  We all know which of those the company ACTUALLY cared about.

We sat and waited and waited and waited.  We heard the American Marines come and land.  We waited for a day it seemed.  The soldier let us eat and let us sleep and when it was time for other calls of nature, he told us to dig a hole and carry our business afterward.  We did.  It was gross.  

We sat and waited did so for a day and night at least.  

When he seemed satisfied, he popped the tent and had us start marching.  We connected up with the rest of his squad.  We marched for a long time and we were exhausted.  They did not let us stop to rest.  We kept marching on.  Away from Shadwell.  Away from the site of the recent battle.  Away from the Church of the Sky Father Christ.  They seemed to know enough to keep under the Jefflife forest canopy and, eventually,  we made it to a cliff.  It wasn't much of a cliff, but it was hidden by from the sky by trees and there was a pile of rubble and excavations right there.

They had dug into the cliff and made a cave.  

And, yup, that's where we went.

Once inside, they sealed the cave and had a drone fly around with a small laser, burning all the taxitos out of the air.  They did a quick sweep, maybe they were afraid of the loogers?  And then they popped off their helmets.  All eight of them.

Half of the Chinese soldiers were women.  Not really a surprise, but, in a way, nice to see.  In fact, the leader of the squad was a woman.  She knelt before us and smiled.  She was not an American and that was apparently immediately.  Her smile was different.  However, it did seem to be genuine.  She was very polite as she introduced herself.

She was Captain Quon Li.  She was commanding the squad here on Jefferson. She, too, had a tail of woe about her ship crashing, but when she told her story she seemed to leave very little out.  She was part of the crew chasing the Indian ship.  She commanded the ground troops and they were here to catch the Indians.  Apparently, the Indians had been spying on something that they should not have.  The Chinese soldiers and ship were sent to stop them catch them and prevent them from taking whatever it was back to India or her colonies.  It was rather important and she could not allow the Indians to escape with whatever it was.

She explained India and China were not at war.  If the Indians escaped with the information, it might lead to war.  Or at least to the Indians and Chinese joining a war that was already taking place: a coalition of Nigeria, Indonesia and Brazil had attacked Europe's colonies when Europe had refused to open up one of its colonies (Othrys) to be an international world like Caerus, Nuwa, Nakshatra and Beira.  None of the great powers - America, China or India - were participating directly, she said, but they often supported different powers for their own reasons while trying to settle the whole thing as quickly as possible through peace talks.

India, it seemed had spied on something, and it might mean China and India might start fighting over it.

When she said Nigeria, I tried to keep my face from reacting, but ... I must have given something away.  Captain Li sighed when she saw.  

She said once they had taken care of the Indians, they would surrender to the American Marines.  They didn't want to fight a war with America and they knew they were in deep, deep trouble - ha! like we were not! - but still had a mission to do.  Too much was too important for this and, she said, she was not sure the American government and military would stay neutral or would not pass on whatever information the Indians had to someone or some government that ought not have it.

She was being really honest with us.  It was making my head swim a bit.  America and China were rivals, if not outright enemies.  America had alliances, I knew from class! with my smaller nations on Earth to help contain China or attempt to.  it was a pattern America had done with many, many circumstances in the past.  India was friendly, but still something of a rival to the US.  Yet her soldiers had lied to us and here the soldiers of our enemy were being honest.

How bizarre...

She then asked what we knew and, honestly, we told.  I didn't mention Helmet might be Nigerian, but I got the feeling I didn't need to.  When we were done, she reassured us we were no danger.  She was angry the Indians had involved us.

She then reached out and in the most incongruous thing I could think of and perhaps one of the most humiliating things she could have done, she booped my nose with her finger and winked at me.

GAH!

What the frak, world!  

Sorry about the language, but, really!  

Friends lie to you and nearly get you killed.  

And then!  And then!  Enemies are honest and try to cute you!  

What the frak, world!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Humanity Lectures (part 3)

After our last lecture, I was accused of being a Humanist and portraying the Humans has gods or the ultimate good. A large number of students came during my office hours and even more virtually complained.

I had no such intention and I am emphatically not a Humanist. I find Humanity to be fascinating in the same way astronomers find supernovas, geologists find basalt eruptions, xenologists find mass extinctions and epidemologists find viruses to be interesting. They are beautiful, horrific and fascinating in their power. Humanity was a force of nature above and beyond what ANY species can comprehend. And, yet, I as an individual do try to do so.

Value judgments have little place here. Humanity is dead and gone a long time ago. We have inherited a galaxy shaped by them. Could they have done better? Certainly. We'd have wanted them to. However, it's a very hypocritical thing to sit here with hindsight and make declarations. It's even more hypocritical when we don't even have perfect hindsight. My job as a researcher is to improve that very fundamental understanding about what Humanity was so we may learn from it. You as students are here to learn what Humanity was...and was not.

They were NOT the gods. yet they towered so much above the rest. They were NOT the devils. yet they committed atrocities that few would dare. They were not perfect. They often changed what they decided. They were not utterly flawed. They often forgave those who wronged them. They WERE an utter contradiction, beautiful and flawed, ugly and perfect within that concept.

Due keep that in mind while we move forward with this series.

Now then. Let us return to the topic at hand:

Humanity.

The previous lecture was on Humanity bursting onto the galactic scene. Since the feel from the class was they were portrayed as The Good Guys(tm) in that lecture. Let us talk of some of the highlights or low points, in Humanity's tread upon the galaxy.

There was a time when Humanity, after its eruption into interstellar space but before its total conquest of the Milky Way, that they were merely one amongst a plethora of powers.

When fought to a stand still once by the Vnon, Humanity signed a peace treaty with them. Officially for centuries, Humans were at peace with them and even made trade with the Vnon. But what had not been realized was as they were signing the treaty, the Humans had launched thousands of asteroids at the Vnon worlds. Even traveling at relativistic speeds, these would take a very long time to impact. But when they did, they shattered worlds. What was not smashed, the Humans occupied. In the name of Humanitarian concerns, of course. And the Vnon became a vassal species until their own extinction later.

However, the war that led Humanity to conquer the galaxy was the one with the brightest memory for the entire galactic whole though.

The war that saw Humanity begin its rise to conquest of the galaxy was one of their greatest wars with the Kalti. It was also one of the greatest crimes against sapients.

The Kalti smashed into the relatively new Union of Human Polities with all the force of a supernova: prior to the Humans' counterattack, the Kalti even reached the outskirts of the now lost Solar System. The Kalti were not merely attacking because they wanted conquest. They were not merely attacking because something small had happened. They were attacking because the Humans had unleashed the Great Terraformers upon the galaxy.

The Humans unleashed von Neumann machines upon the galaxy to seek out worlds within the habitable zone that were not yet human compatible and terraform them. Ever wonder why the majority of sentient species have a compatible biochemistry and breathe oxygen? This is why. Humanity unleashed these massive reproducing bots upon the galaxy to remake it into their home. They were not intending on destroying worlds with life already. At least complex life. And for the most part they did not.

The machines mostly copied themselves almost perfectly. However, in one in a million cases, the machine would have a corrupted program. In this case, in the region of galaxy occupied by the Kalti, that program ignored the 'no terraforming of worlds with complex life' rule. The Kalti were not oxygen breathers. The machines saw their worlds as not being inhabited. Worlds were damaged, millions of lives lost. The Kalti pleaded with the Humans to stop. The Humans mostly shrugged.

The Kalti had Just Cause and attacked.

The Humans rendered the Kalti extinct.

Other races that came to the aid of the Kalti, the Humans often wiped out.

Many of the worlds of these races were utterly destroyed. There are only small evaporating black holes in their place. Consider! Humanity took Total War to its logical extreme and utterly destroyed the worlds which brought to life sophont beings! Not just the entirety of a government or nation, not just the complete species, but even the worlds which the Kalti lived and including the world.

The human fleets would leap into a system, create, fling at relativistic speeds small quantum blackholes that would either decompose at their targets, bathing them in insane doses of evaporative energy or if sufficiently large enough, consume the entire planet.

Even so, the Kalti, stripped of their worlds, dogged fought on. Hiding in protoplanetary disks, asteroid fields and even amongst the free floating planets between stars. it availed them little in the end. They and their kind and their allies, are long since dead.

The Great Greening spread amongst the stars. Each time a new species faced a glitch, Humanity had a new war. A new war that extended their reach. A new war that crushed another rival. A new war that led to extending Humanity's grip on yet more space. And rendered more species extinct. The war that did not end until the last of Humanity's machines had reached ever corner of the galaxy!

Consider. Even though there were far more oxygen breathers than reducing breathers, thousands of species were rendered extinction. Hundreds of thousands of worlds with complex life were wiped out to be remade into redox atmospheres and biochemistries compatible with Humanity's. Even then, there were those that were redox breathers that fought to try to stop the Humans. The humans made their worlds into singularities as well. There is a reason the Galactic Nations have banned such weapons! There is a reason why von Neumann machines are also banned. None could allow such a travesty again.

The Great Greening is also a reason why it appears to be impossible at this point to identify Earth: hundreds of millions of planets within the galaxy are stocked with Earthlife after being terraformed. And none of them have continents that match what we think we know Earth had. There have been candidates, but all have turned out to have fossil records that reach back only to the Great Greening.

And, yes, even to this day, there are outbreaks of the terraforming machines. They seem to lurk in the galactic shadows and burst out upon worlds to terraform them. The local nations do fight back and often contain and eliminate the threat. Locally. Like a retrovirus, the terraforming machines seem to lurk in reservoirs across the galaxy. Ever there. Ever present. Ever waiting for whatever triggers them into action.

No. Humanity was NOT race of saints. They were not gods. They wielded power above and beyond, to be sure, but they also at times lacked mercy. Humanity had and has much to account for.

But seeing them one dimensionally, hating them, does not do any herm any good. It also denies some of the greatest feats the galaxy has ever known. And some of the greatest good.

But, yes, Humanity also conducted some of the greatest evil.

No species before or since has matched Humanity. In evil. Or good.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 35: Complicated, why so Freakin Complicated?!

My father once told me a religion should not set itself up to be testable.  That is, don't make a claim based on something that is easily proven or disproven, if you want people to have faith.  He said it was a problem with many religions, especially newer ones.  The older ones had, either intentionally or unintentionally, learned that rule.

While very different than religions - most of the time - lies are pretty similar in one way.  If they are easily proven to be untrue, then people believing them will be almost impossible.  Those that will believe them are almost assuredly not the ones you really want to buy in to your story.  It's always better to tell the truth.  Either own up to the situation and accept the consequences or be ready for the worse consequences if the truth comes out after you lie.  And it will come out.  It always comes out.  Even if you are the best liar in the world.

And then the payment for that lie will come due.

Jaideep had lied to us.  He thought we were just kids he could tailor his truth for for sympathy and help.  It's not a uncommon story: adults often lie to kids to get what they want.  Sometimes it is because the situation is very complicated and they want to simplify the situation.  They often leave out details make a certain narrative that makes sense.  Sometimes it is to make them seem like the victim or hero or just an innocent bystander that got caught up in something.  Sometimes it is to try to keep them from looking bad.  Really bad.  Sometimes, it is because they fear what the kids will think if they knew the truth.

The truth will out.  Some times it takes a long time.  Sometimes it's really quick as the lies are transparent.  Here and now, I would say the truth was freaking out Helmet really bad.

Cheenee.  Hindi for Chinese.

Wonderful.  Just wonderful.  Just freaking wonderful with whip cream and cherries and yummy sprinkles.

Where we were, captives of Indian soldiers on an American world with CHINESE soldiers looking for them.  Awesome sauce.  Really.  I'm thrilled.  This is my thrilled and happy face.  Don't believe me?  Why?  I'm so cute and amazing!  Really!  

Good.  That was a lie.  Less damaging than Jaideep's but, still, a lie.

Helmet shouldered his/her weapon and was scanning.  Jaideep scrambled and pulled on his own.  There were no lights to tell what was happening inside and he was saying.  Jaideep turned and seemed to be scanning off axis from Helmet.  Helmet then turned to Jaideep and began gesticulating wildly.  No words were heard.  It was pretty obvious Helmet was berating Jaideep.  

The tent popped and Jaideep began to leave.  Helmet gestured at us even more wildly.  Jaideep seemed to just ignore Helmet as far as we could tell.  Jaideep ran for cover and aimed his rifle: he seemed to completely ignore that we existed.  Even without verbal cues, it was patently obvious Helmet was furious and frustrated.  

Helmet turned to us and handed back our needlers and boosters.

Just then a drone the size of my thumb zipped past us.  I didn't recognize it.  Was it Indian?  Was it Chinese?  Was it American military?  I didn't know.  In that instant, Jaideep opened fire on whatever was coming from the direction the drone had come from and Helmet fired something from his or her rifle that chased after the drone.

Then, Helmet turned to us and in plain, accented English, said, "Run.  Do not slow down.  Do not look back.  NOW RUN!"  The words were harsh, but said in as kind a manner as could be. The weirdest thing was, his accent was NOT Indian. It was also not one of the American accents either. I could have sworn it was ... Nigerian. 

Helmet then turned and began popping off his, yes, his own drones from the back of his armor.

With that, we ran.  We climbed up and over a hill and down another and over another and down into an arroyo, a dried up stream.  We were thinking it would work like a trench if explosions started going off.  We ran down the arroyo bed pounding on sand and through Jefflife brush.  Trying to get away.

And as we ran, it hit me.  Helmet hadn't been angry or contemptuous of US.  He had been of Jaideep.  he didn't want us to get hurt because of what they were doing.  He thought Jaideep was risking OUR lives for whatever he wanted: information?  food?  We didn't know.  We didn't have TIME to know.

In that moment, my opinion of Helmet wildly changed.  It was a bit head spinning on top of everything else.

And as we ran, we heard explosions and the sounds of a huge swarm of drones crashing, clashing and exploding.

We had run for what felt like a long time when a really big explosion was behind us.  The explosion was so big it knocked us to the ground.  Stunned, we got up.  After a moment, we franticly checked our leathers and balkavas: we they torn?  Compromised?  Remember, that can be life and death out on Jefferson.  We were ok.

After a second of elation, we realized we were still close enough to get hurt!  We got up and started running again.  We ran up and over the hill and then down into another arroyo.  We ran and ran.

We stopped to breathe, plopping ourselves in a creepy bush again.  PLEASE don't let this one's fruit pop while we're in it!

We were panting and gasping.  

I could feel everyone smile, thinking we were safe.  The explosions had stopped.  We were ok.  All we had to do was contact our parents and we could be done with this adventure.  Not the butt chewing that was coming afterwards, but at least the really dangerous (but not the scary part) would be over.

I reached into my pack and started to fish out the other clean booster when I heard it.

"Ahem.  Excuse me."

I looked up.  We all looked up.  

There stood someone in powered armor.  Again.

It wasn't Indian.

It wasn't American.

It was Chinese.

Or so the shoulder flashing with a red flag and yellow stars indicated.

We were caught.

Again.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 34: Its an Interesting story, but do We Believe the Storyteller?

We were more than a little cautious with Jaideep.  He seemed friendly, but his suit was packing some pretty serious firepower: he just shredded a decade old Basilisk, probably 500 kg, within seconds.  Unnecessarily, I might add.  For those of us here on Jefferson, that was a real booboo in earning our trust.

He really didn't see the problem though.  Which was interesting.  Maybe other countries treat their worlds differently.  It's not something I'd ever thought about, really.  I had America and Jefferson to think of and, frankly, honestly, Shadwell was really my world.  Even with all the news flowing in like a river from Earth and America's interstellar colonies, even with the neural links and perfect Immies, Shadwell and its environs were the limit of what we worried about.  And, yes, that included its environment and nature and animals.  The killing of the Basilisk really did rub us the wrong way.

While Jaideep seemed friendly enough, his companion did not at all.  He or she refused to remove his/her helmet.  And refused to talk with us at all.  Whoever he or she was, just wasn't buying we were worth talking to, never mind, saving.  As if we really needed saving.

And, no, you couldn't make out whether the person inside that battle armor was a man or woman or even a robot.  They don't come with labels and they don't have pink bows on the helmets for girls.

We probably knew these woods better than they did by a LOT.  Their dead friend was a testament to that fact.  Jefferson was a beautiful and wonderful place that might just kill you if you were not careful.  As they now knew.

Even so, I had to wonder, why would Jaideep even consider "saving" us?  We were kids.  He was on some sort of mission.  He was here at risk of his life.  Why even bother with us when it would blow his cover?  Something didn't make sense.

I thought I wanted to try to make it make sense.  Veena and Rosa were right there with me it seemed.  Tom and Jackie were probably as well, but Tom was watching Jaideep's companion a lot and Jackie kept watching to see if there was a way out for us.  They were being useful and so, the other three of us thought we might better be, too.

We introduced ourselves and offered to share our food.  Jaideep seemed thrilled, way more so than he ought.  He might have been on field rations for however long he'd been on-world.  Rosa had some beef jerky, which he politely turned down, and Veena had some protein bars and some crisped vegetables.  Jaideep scarfed and his companion snarked something in Hindi.  

Veena was a very smart girl.  She even spoke some Hindi.  She also knew better than to let Sergeant Helmet know she knew.  I could almost hear her taking notes.  The funny part was, I could speak Hindi...or at least have it translated for me by my booster.  Alas, my booster was disconnected because of that freakin cockatrice and then my other, clean booster I hadn't connected.  And now Jaideep had his helmet off, we were recording and understanding.  Even so, even with the best machines, people seemed to still trust their own understandings better when another language was concerned and Veena knew Hindi.  At least enough.  And she'd be able to pull apart some of the nuances.  

Helmet still refused to remove.  Even with the offers of food.  Very annoying.

We were all sitting down and talking.  Jaideep was from Earth.  Helmet wouldn't say.  Yes, his friend , the corpse we found, had his helmet damaged when they were approaching Shadwell and had to leave it.  Yes, the critters got him. They had been forced to abandon Fernando at the Church complex.  Jaideep and Helmet were headed over to retrieve the body when they saw us about to be eaten - no, we weren't! - and Jaideep intervened.  Helmet was still sore over that.

Very sore.  

Actually, according to Jaideep, they were going to Shadwell to turn themselves in.  They were on a ship that jumped in system at one of the shadow jump points.  They were fleeing an enemy and wanted to seek asylum on Jefferson when their ship was damaged by the very meteor storm we watched on Constitution Rock.  Their ship tore apart during the reentry and only the three of them had survived.

Interesting, I thought, but something seemed off.

Rosa asked why they didn't just proceed on to Shadwell when their friend's helmet had been compromised?  After all, she said, it would have been safer.  Jaideep said it was complicated and they were surprised by the situation.  They might have made a mistake, but it was a cautious one.

I then flatly asked: "Why was his helmet damaged?"

Jaideep looked taken aback and was about to say something when Helmet - I ought to have picked a better moniker for that person! - growled.  Jaideep demurred and stated it was an unfortunate incident and didn't elaborate.  

That's when I absolutely knew, not just suspected, there was more here than what he was telling.  I also knew I didn't exactly trust these two.  Leaving out crucial details tends to do that.

Veena pointedly asked why Helmet refused to take it off.  Helmet retorted that someone had to keep a watch while they were fraternizing with local kids and, more importantly, Helmet didn't WANT to take it off.  Helmet had seen what the Jefflife could do to someone and thank you very much and have a nice day, no freakin thanks.

Wimp.  Chicken. 

We talked for some time and would have continued.  It was mostly small talk.  What about this animal?  Were we all born here?  Jaideep was from Mumbai.  Helmet remained mum.  etc.  

Part way along, Tom nodded at Helmet's boot and I realized the problem immediately: their boots on their battle armor in no way matched what we saw in Rosa's video.  My eyes widened, a bit too blatantly, but there was no helping it.  Jaideep noticed and was about to comment through a grimacing frown that had appeared on his face when Helmet's head whipped around and said a word that didn't need translation for us to get it. 

Cheenee.

And its implications were even MORE worrisome.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 33: Be Careful What You Wish For, You Might Just Get It

My father once told me, with a smirk on his face at the time, of course, that I really ought to be careful what I wish for: I might just get it.  Well, here and now, I got a small idea of what he meant.  After all, we Merry Pranksters wanted to be the ones to find the Indian soldiers hiding on Jefferson near Shadwell.  

Well, we did.

Unfortunately, the NEXT step in the plan: call the grownups while not getting caught, shot, killed or left for taxito bait, seems to have hit a snag.  Just a small one.  

Why?

Because, well, we DID find the soldiers and soldiers have far, far better tech toys in the turn of the 22nd century than do twelve year olds.  or so I would hope.  Otherwise, every invasion of every country or world would flounder at those raucous and terrible bastions of power, the American Middle School.

Hmm.  Nice image.  Early teens being so tech savvy and terrible, they chase the invaders from the country.  Sounds like a kid's Immie.  And utterly divorced from reality.

So divorced from reality, I am surprised they have a shared custody arrangement with your brain.  Reality and that idea could not share that brain of yours.  No way.  No how.  Nuh-huh.  They would be still in court centuries later and making the judge hate them both and wish he or she could find a way to end the case immediately and preferably by putting your brain in foster care, reality in jail (for crimes against humanity) and this idea in the loonie bin.

The reality of OUR situation was we were being marched, somewhat roughly, up into the Jefflife forest away from the Church of the Sky Father Christ and the causeway.  Their roughness was a weird juxtaposition with the fact they thought they had just saved our lives.  THAT reality was a bit more complicated.  We probably would have gotten away or at the worst, *I* would have been eaten.  They, I think, had the thought they had saved all of us.

bah.

grump, grump, grump.

I imagine part of the reason they were herding us away was because they had probably just set off virtually every satellite and drone looking for us on the planet.  That could only be worse because I had called Dad to get him to get the police to come get us and deal with the soldier's body.  The dropped booster - hey!  cockatrices are scary and that one is really scary being so big!  I'd like to see you do better, bub! - would probably send him into something of a Papa Freakout.  And that would lead to a cringe worthy, Mama-Freakout.  ANd that would mean the whole of the Marines would be freaking out, because Mom can motivate people in ways I've never seen possible before.  Terrifyingly possible.

We had moved off far enough into the forest that we couldn't see, but heard the American Marines arrive.  The distinctive whine-roar of their transports was loud and unique enough to not be mistaken for anything else.  Our captors seemed really nervous.  We, the oh-so-proud Merry Pranksters, were far, far more than nervous, but not much more than that...despite what Tom and Rosa and Veena and Jackie might claim!  Really!

I had image, oh so beautifully ironic images, of American missiles launched and killing all here.  Us, the Indians and all the beautiful and toxic Jefflife around us.  Oh the joy of that thought!  And, no, I did NOT throwup upon thinking that EITHER, despite what Tom said.

The Indians ushered us further forward and we marched for what seemed like an interminable period.  When Jackie gave the soldiers a dirty look, the smaller one shoved her.  We all glared and tried to keep from pondering the fact their armor could squish us like a rotten grape.

When we reached some point, the Indians stopped and pulled a largish object off the back of one of the soldiers.  They tossed it to the side and then PLOOP, up and over us came a tent.  A quick spray came off the tent poles that caused all of the Pranksters to cough.  

The two soldiers stood apart for a moment and then seemed to be in a very animated conversation.  They were gesticulating wildly at times and pointing at us.  For a second, I thought about trying to hack into their equipment and then, OH YEAH, REALITY!

Not only was I not likely to be able to do so, but if I did and got caught, I was burnt toast.  Worse.  Way worse.  Burnt jelly?!  Besides, I would need to pull out my other booster and warm it up again.  Pulling something out might just set them off anyways.  Oh, joy.

However, I wasn't sitting there like a quivering blob, thanks, Tom.  His embellishments are really bad and nothing to do with that obnoxious reality thing.  Trust me.

The soldiers seemed to stop arguing and one approached us.  We were all on the other side of the tent trying to look very inconspicuous.  He stood in front of us and paused.  He seemed to be taking us in.  To a soldier off world, we must have looked like the weirdness mini sized special forces team ever.  or the worst cosplayers.  Your pick.  However, to someone from Jefferson, we were not that outlandish at all.  Some of the gear was a bit much for a bunch of kids, okokok, more than a but much, but the general look was perfectly normal for a bunch of people doing some backpacking in the back country of Jefferson.

The soldier knelt so he would be looking up at us.  Very nonthreatening in appearance or so I think he thought he was being.  Small problem: powered, freakin, armor.  He then reached up and in the most disconcerting way possible took off his helmet: it looked like he twisted off his head.

He looked at us from his dark eyes ones like Veena's, and smiled.  His smile was a nice one.  Reassuring.  And then he introduced himself:

"Hi, my friends.  My name is Jaideep.  Who are you?"